Word Studies in Genesis Chapter II (Part 1)

In Brief Bible Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp.19-24, by Sidney A. Hatch.

v.7. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

We come now to a description of the creation of man, a creation first announced in Genesis 1:26-27. Here in 2:7, it is the creation of Adam. That of Eve is reserved for verses 18-25.

Genesis 2:7 is the golden text of Biblical anthropology. In this regard, it is the most important verse in all the Bible, and absolutely essential to an understanding of man’s nature.

It may be divided rather conveniently into three parts: The formation of man, the inbreathing of his life, and the result or product of that combination.

It was “the LORD God” (Jehovah Elohim) who created man. Here He creates the first Adam. In Luke 1:35 He creates the second Adam.

It hardly seems necessary, therefore, to refute the idea, apparently based on a misunderstanding of John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, that Christ created all things and therefore created man. Jesus Christ is not Jehovah.

The Lord God “formed” the man. The Hebrew verb is yatzar which means to form, fashion, or mould. The participle form is often translated “potter,” which indicates that God is the divine potter, and man is His ceramic. Isaiah expressed it well, when he said, “But now, O LORD, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isa. 64:8).

God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee” (Jer. 1:5). The plain statement, “I formed thee in the belly (womb),” indicates that the power of embryonic development is of God, and may recapitulate what He did on the sixth day of creation.

The material out of which God formed man is called “dust” or, in Hebrew, ’aphar. Very rarely, Gesenius says, is this word used of fine dust, such as blown by the wind (Lexicon, pp. 645-46). It means earth or clay, and, in the context here, would refer to loose earth or soil.

’Aphar, incidently, is the word Job used when he said, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

The words for “man” and “ground” are the familiar ’adam and ’adamah. The relationship of the two is obvious: Man is the creature from the soil, an ’adam from the ’adamah. (This relationship is also evident in our words “human” and “humus.”)

The verb root for ’adam and ’adamah is ’adam which means to be red or ruddy. The adjective “red,” used in Isaiah 63:2 of the garments of the Messiah, is ’adom. And the word for “blood” is dam. All this suggests that the first man, Adam, was of a red or ruddy complexion.

This completes the first part of Genesis 2:7. the formation of man. In the words of the Psalmist, we may assume that man was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Or, to use the words of Paul, “fitly joined together and compacted” (Eph. 4:16).

One thing, however, is still lacking in man, and that is “life.” We read, therefore, that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”

The verb for “breathe” is naphach which means to breathe or blow. With the preposition used here (Hebrew be-), it means to breathe into or blow upon.

It is interesting that this same verb and preposition are used in Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones. There we read: “Thus saith the LORD God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (vs. 9). Thus the resurrection of the dead recapitulates the steps at creation and is, in itself, a re-creation. The body is formed again from the dust or soil of the earth, and then the breath of life is again breathed into it.

The word for “breath” is neshamah. Its usage here, and elsewhere in Scripture, would indicate that is more than air or atmosphere of the earth. It comes from the person of God.

In the phrase, “breath of life,” the two nouns are probably in apposition to each other: “Breath, that is, life” (cf. the note in The Companion Bible). The “breath” or neshamah, then, which God blew upon Adam, was the life-force or vital principle.

The fact, however, that God deigns to breathe into man His own “breath” or neshamah does not mean that God is giving to man an “immaterial entity” or some form of immortality. Nor can this “breath” be construed to be the “image of God” (as the comment in Skinner, Genesis, p. 57, might indicate).

In Genesis 7:22, in the record of the flood, neshamah is used of all the animals. All or everything that had the breath of life died (cf. here the New International Version translation).

Psalm 150:6 would seem also to include the animals as having neshamah: “Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD.” Literally here, it is, “all the neshamah.” Wherever, and into whatever, the vital force of Jehovah extends, let it praise the LORD! Such is the glory of the future kingdom.

It should be mentioned that both neshamah and ruach, “spirit,” are in Genesis 7:22. This is indicated by the margin of the King James Version: “the breath of the spirit of life.”

In view of this evidence, it seems reasonable to identify neshamah as the vital principle or life-force from God which is in all living things, not just man. Also, when speaking of the vital principle in living creatures, neshamah and ruach are identical. Compare here Psalm 146:4 which says of man: “His breath (ruach) goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

(Part 2 to follow).

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2 Responses to Word Studies in Genesis Chapter II (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Afterlife » Blog Archive » Word Studies in Genesis Chapter II (Part 2)

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