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. Genesis 2:7 (KJV)

What is the meaning of "breath of life" here? Is there any relation between spirit of man?


3 Answers 3


The phrase in Hebrew is נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (nishmat chayyim). The Hebrew word typically translated as "spirit" in English is רוּחַ (ruach).

Here is a link to a Jewish understanding of the distinctions between neshamah, nefesh, and ruach.

However, it is my belief that neshamah and ruach are probably equivalent to one another.

For example, in Genesis 2:7, it is said that God inspired into man the נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (nishmat chayyim), or "breath of life" (A.V.).

Later on in Genesis 7:21-22, where the narrative is speaking about all those who died on the face of the earth in the flood (viz. "And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man..."), regarding them it says, "...all in whose nostrils was the breath of life..." (A.V.). Here, the phrase "breath of life" is translated from the Hebrew phrase נִשְׁמַת־רוּחַ חַיִּים (nishmat ruach chayyim), which is like saying "the nishmah of the ruach chayyim."

Grammatically, I would understand this phrase as nishmat being in apposition (genitive of apposition) to ruach chayyim, and thus meaning, "the nishmah, that is to say, the ruach chayyim."

In summary, it seems as though they are equivalent.

@Fraser Orr: Yes. That would be prefential. But, you could still read it as: nishmat, that is to say ruach, chayyim.

  • A better view of the appositive: 2 Sam. 22:16; Psa. 18:15
  • In parallelism: Job 4:9, 33:4; Isa. 42:5
  • With epexegetical vav: Job 34:14
  • 1
    Question for you: were nishmat ruach chayyim actually appositive, wouldn't you expect it to be ruach nishmat chayyim or nishmat chayyim ruach? I don't have tools here but I don't think ruach chayyim is a common expression.
    – Fraser Orr
    Dec 6, 2012 at 18:05

Word studies without reference to structure will not give us the full picture. Adam is a triune creature: Genesis 1 portrays him as physical, Genesis 2 as social and Genesis 3 as ethical.

So the initial breath is physical and the later breath is ethical. Adam's disobedience meant that he missed out on the "ethical breath" of God.

Genesis 1 is construction process: the world is formed (Days 1-3) and filled (Days 4-6) with a "future" on Day 7.

In Genesis 2, Adam is formed and filled (physically) then he is "de-formed" that he might be filled socially. Forming is always Adamic (usually involving a creation of empty spaces) and filling is Evian, or bridal. Adam is the house and Eve is the fragrant smoke.

In Genesis 3, whether Adam has been "formed" under the tutelage of the Law is being tested. The filling available here is ethical. The test is designed to take him from a natural state to a supernature, that is, being like God, but by God's means, not that of the serpent. Adam must be an obedient priest before he can be a ruling king and representative prophet. He must obey the law (priest), rule over the serpent (king) and repeat the law to the mother of all (prophet). It is "Leviticus/Numbers/Deuteronomy."

So there is a physical breath, which Adam shares with the animals (Genesis 1) but the animals are not called to obey any Law. Adam represents them, as a union between heaven and earth, made of earth but to be filled with heaven. Unlike animals (physical breath) man does not live by bread alone. Man also requires a steady diet of truth, the "breath" of the Spirit from heaven.


Adam named the animals. Before the fall, animals were subject to him. God had handed his creation to Adam, except the tree of good and evil.

It is erroneous to assume man was triune or use the theory of the mystery of the Trinity to read into the statement "God created us in His Image".

Adam had a body which was lifeless until God breathed into him "The Breath of Life" He then became a living soul. This Soul was Adam with the 5 senses! The only exception was his body was incorruptible. This definitely points to a bi-partisan of man; body and soul.

  • Welcome to BH-SE. I edited you answer. Please take a moment to review the edit and the reasons I listed for them. You are free to roll back edits on any of your own posts. However, those who edit are endeavoring to help improve your post for this site. This answer would be even stronger if you provide a focused confident answer from your own perspective (with textual, contextual support and citations), carefully showing your work (the logic from one step to another). Avoid responding to or refuting another answer as it only clutters and distracts from your own answer.
    – user2027
    Mar 2, 2014 at 17:28

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.