Through the ages, many philosophers have spoken of man as though he were divided into two distinct parts: soul and body. This isn’t the biblical view, though. In Genesis, the fundamental division is not between body and soul, but between dust and breath (life)—between unformed matter and living beings.

Here’s how Genesis 2:7 expresses it: “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [or ‘living soul’].” To create Adam, God did not insert a soul into a body. Instead, Adam entered the world as a unified being, a “living soul” brought to life by the breath of God.

Adam was aware of his unique position from the beginning, since, among animals, he alone was capable of tilling the earth. The human body allows man to carry out distinctly human activities, like gardening. And even though the body is physical, it is almost transparent—it reveals man’s identity, giving visible form to his inner life.

Here, with this understanding of his own body, man becomes a partner with God. Making a covenant with Adam, God says, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16–17).

Up to this point, Adam had only known life; how could he understand the concept of death? The word “die,” a completely new one, appears before man has any experience of what it means. But the word is presented as the total opposite of all that Adam has been given. Adam realizes that his life is entirely dependent on God. God breathed life into man, but that breath still belongs to God. When it is taken away, man returns to dust. In this way, the free choice between life and death was set before Adam.

At that moment, the choice between death and immortality became part of what it means to be human. As a living soul called to communion with God, man faced this choice from the beginning.

Originally posted 2019-05-21 12:24:49.