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.”
There are other interesting occurrences of neshamah, of course. Two which especially indicate its significance are Job 32:8 and Job 34:14-15.
In the first of these passages, Elihu exclaims, “But there is a spirit (ruach) in man: and the inspiration (neshamah) of the Almighty giveth understanding.” A.B. Davidson comments here that both “spirit” and “life” refer to God’s spirit of life breathed into man when He brought him into existence. It is a spirit of intelligence as well as of life (Job 33:4. The Book of Job, p. 224).
In interpreting Job 32:8, two factors must be taken into consideration. Man’s thinking is done in the brain, not by an immaterial entity through the brain. Secondly, the verb in the final clause is in the Hebrew causative conjugation (hiph’il), and may be rendered, “causes them to be intelligent.” The neshamah, then, causes a person to be intelligent in the sense that it is the life-energy that makes the brain function.
In Job 34:14-15, the life-giving aspect of neshamah is obvious: “If he (God) set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit (ruach) and his breath (neshamah); all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust (‘aphar).”
“Life,” in Genesis 2:7, is the familiar Hewbrew word chayyim. Its verb is chayah which means to live, be alive, or have life. Chayyim is also used of the animals in Genesis 7:15: “They went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life (ruach chayyim).”
Chayyim is actually masculine plural in form, but the singular “life” is the correct translation. Chayyim is used in Genesis 7:11 of “Noah’s life.” We would not say. “Noah’s lives”!
Many Hebrew words are used more often in the plural. This is called by various terms: Abstract plural, plural of excellence, plural of eminence or majesty, etc. Somehow it strengthens or intensifies the idea iof the singular. The plural chayyim sums up the abstract idea of the qualities of a living being now being in Adam (on such plurals, cf. Gesenius, Grammar, p, 397; also A.B.Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, p. 18).
We must be careful not to read into the plural chayyim what is not there. I once heard a conference speaker say that the plural form of this word indicated the trichotomous nature of man: Adam was “body, soul, and spirit”!
We would not say, however, that the animals were trichotomous, or the “tree of life” which is literally, “tree of the chayyim” (Gen. 2:9). Such methods of interpretation are facetiously known as “eisegesis,” reading into something what is actually not there. (In the same way, some schools of thought would read the doctrine of the trinity into the plural form ‘elohim.)
We come now to the conclusion of verse seven: “and man became a living soul.” Literally, “and the ‘adam became a soul of life (nephesh chayyah).”
We have pointed out previously in these studies that the Hebrew phrase, nephesh chayyah. “soul of life,” is also used of animals in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24 and 30. It is used again in reference to the animals in 2:19.
“Soul of life” or “living soul” simply means “living creature” or “living being.” Man has this in common with the animals. It is impossible, therefore, to read into this expression any Platonic or Greek idea of “immortal soul.”
Man also has chayyim or “life” in common with the animals, and, he and the other animals were both “formed” from the “ground” or “soil.” That the other animals were also “formed” from the “soil” is indicated by Genesis 2:19 where both ‘adamah and yatzar occur.
The question may be asked then, What is it, in man’s nature or constitution, that makes him different from the animals? The answer is simple: Man’s body, his form or shape, is made in the likeness of God’s image. That this refers to outward form or shape is indicated, not only by the Hewbrew words in Genesis 1:26-27, but also by such New Testament passages as James 3:9: “Therewith [i.e. with the tongue] bless we God . . . and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.”
We have in Genesis 2:7 what is often called the “creation equation” of man: Moulded dust plus breath of life equals a living creature. It is, we affirm again, the golden text of Biblical anthropology.
When it comes to the nature of man, all the rest of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of this passage. A so-called progressive revelation does not alter its meaning, or change the record as to what man is. Truth advances, but it does not evolve into something different.
Perhaps more than any other passage of Scripture, Genesis 2:7 illustrates how the first three chapters of Genesis are the seedbed of all truth. To neglect this verse, or to refuse to accept its plain teaching, can be distrastrous. It can affect not only a Christian’s anthropology, but also his eschatology or doctrine of last things. There is no Platonism in Genesis 2:7!
Click here to read Word Studies in Genesis Chapter II (Part One)