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This question comes out from a comment .. The Q was closed, so I couldn’t respond via a comment reply, so I’ll both ask it here, (open it up), and also respond here ...

GEN 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

If man ‘became’ a living ‘creature’ [some translations say ‘soul’], what was he before this? Nothing?

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I read the account in Gen 2 rather simply without trying to add lots of theological overtones.

The record in Gen 2:7 is entirely phenomenological:

Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

There are three actions recorded here -

  1. God forms man, not ex-nihilo, but from the dust of the ground. That is, God takes soil/clay and molds a figure that is lifeless
  2. God "breathes" into the nostrils the breath of life - a phrase coined in numerous places as defining the difference between something being dead or alive such as: Job 33:4, Gen 1:30, 6:17, 7:15, 22, Rev 11:11, Isa 2:22, Dan 5:23, Josh 10:40, etc.
  3. Man becomes of "nephesh" = soul or living creature. The same word is used of animals in Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:19, 9:4, 5, 10, 15, 16, etc. It is also used to describe people, Gen 12:5, 14:21, 17:14, etc. See also Eccl 3:19 which says that all these creatures have the same breath [of life].

The Bible also describes the reverse process as well:

  • Job 34:15 - all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust.
  • Job 10:9 - Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?
  • Gen 3:19 - By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
  • Ps 104:29 - When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
  • Ps 146:4 - When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. ("thought perish", KJV)
  • Eccl 12:7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit/breath [of life] returns to God who gave it.

The "breath" of life is just the act of breathing as recorded in numerous places, Gen 7:22, Deut 20:16, Josh 10:40, 11:11, etc.

Thus, not only humans are described as "nephesh" = "souls", but so are animals and other living creatures.

I also observe that whatever "the breath of life" is, it is an on-going debt we have to God for existence as per Col 1:17 and Dan 5:23. Note especially, 1 John 5:11, 12 -

And this is that testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

UPDATE:

There is probably an allusion to God forming man "from the dust of the earth" (Gen 2:7) in John the Baptist's remark in Matt 3:9 and Luke 3:8 -

For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham

That is, God can take any non-living thing and create life.

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  • Your first point, ‘God forms man’ - should be ‘God forms man’s body’. Man was ‘created’ in Gen 1. Your numerous references to ‘returning to dust’ also point to man’s body - not man. As asked elsewhere, what was created in Gen 1:27?
    – Dave
    Mar 7 at 22:27
  • @Dave - "God formed man" NOT Man's body is a quote from Gen 2:7 as per the text. However, I agree with your stement if you wish to make such a distinction.
    – Dottard
    Mar 7 at 22:29
  • Asking for a clarification - so if ‘God formed man’, here in Gen 2, is this where man was created?
    – Dave
    Mar 8 at 2:01
  • The creation of man is described in three stages as outlined above. The story is an expansion (more detail) of that in Gen 1:26, 27
    – Dottard
    Mar 8 at 2:29
  • @Dave - actually, the word, "man" in Gen 2:7 is "h'adam" or "mankind" as per Gen 1:26, 27.
    – Dottard
    Mar 8 at 3:42
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You are correct -- man did not exist before Genesis 2:7. The section this verse is in, is in "the generations of the earth" section, not the first chapter creation of the earth section. In other words, Genesis 1 provides the overview of all God created, while Genesis 2 provides details in reference to mankind (the generations).

What is man?

Body -- from dust, returns to dust

Spirit -- life force from God, returns to God at death. The word for "breath" in Genesis 2:7 is "rauch" which is used all over the OT for spirit. This is not Holy Spirit, but the spirit of man that knows nothing about God (see I Corinthians 2:11). This is what gives man life itself.

I Corinthians 2:11 -- for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

The fusion of these produces the living being (the person him or herself, a living soul).

What was created in Genesis 1 regarding man and woman?

The Hebrew is indefinite (as to time) on these creation verses regarding man. For example...

Genesis 1:27,28 -- And creating is the Elohim humanity in His image. In the image of the Elohim He creates it. Male and female He creates them. 28 And blessing them is the Elohim. (Concordant version).

Instead of a one-time act, it is a process God started that will not be complete until Christ finishes his redemptive work.

To support this I provide the following.

  1. Christ is the image of God (Colossians 1:15). If man was already in the image of God, Christ would not have had to sacrifice himself. If Adam was fully in the image of God, he couldn't have sinned let alone transgress a direct command from God.

  2. Genesis 5:3 -- And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth

The image of man is not the image of God.

  1. Romans 8:29 -- For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Since believers have the need to conform their thinking and actions to Christ, who is the image of God, they necessarily are not in that image now.

  1. II Corinthians 3:7 -- But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

God began the process of creating man in Genesis 1:27. Note this highly informing verse. God says this after Adam and Eve's disobedience.

  1. Genesis 3:22 -- And saying is Yahweh Elohim, "Behold! The human becomes as one of us, knowing good and evil.

Knowing good and evil is related to being in God's likeness. Considering this, and the truth that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the earth (Revelation 13:18), we see man's so-called fall was really the first step in becoming like God.

Eventually, God will be All in all, every person reflecting His image fully, even as Christ does now.

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Lets look a little closer at this verse ...

GEN 2:7 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 being.

Here, God ‘formed’. yāṣar. Not bārā - Create, to be made - bārā. whereas ‘formed’ - to ‘shape’, ‘form’' ‘frame’ - yāṣar. That is, these are not the same.

What did God ‘do’ in Genesis 2? He made (yāṣar) something - out of, or using ‘the earth (ʿāp̄ār - dry earth, dust, mortar). A body. A body for who? For the man he created (bārā) in chapter one.

But, some suggest this should be interpreted this way....

What did God ‘do’ in Genesis 2? He made (yāṣar) something - out of, or using ‘the earth (ʿāp̄ār - dry earth, dust, mortar). He made man. But then those who interpret this like this then need to explain what happened in chapter one, which, for them, is the same. And, there are reasoned explanations that do this.

So either God made man, or, he made man’s body.

In Genesis 2, ‘man’ became a living (ḥay) creature. ‘ḥay’ always refers to ‘physical’ life. But, the original Hebrew explicitly says man ‘became’ a living creature. (Significantly... some second temple writings, based on the Septuagint used in the days of Jesus, often translate to ‘speaking spirit.). So let’s carefully consider this .... If ‘you’ become ‘something’, then ‘you’ must of ‘been there’ beforehand.

Man was created in the beginning. Genesis chapter 1. Created as a spirit. In Genesis chapter two, they (man= male and female he created them) received their bodies which God formed(made out of) earth. (ok, the female body came out of man’s body). They needed ‘earth’ bodies, because they were created (Genesis chapter one) for the earth - Which wasn’t ready for them until Genesis chapter 2.

So, man is spirit, possesses a ‘soul’ [identity], and lives in a [physical] body so that he can interact with this [physical] earth.

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    The word "spirit" does not occur in Gen 1 or Gen 2 except in Gen 1:2 which describes the hovering of God's Spirit over the waters. How is it possible to deduce anything about man being a spirit being in Gen 1?
    – Dottard
    Mar 7 at 21:35
  • @Dottard Correct, the word ‘spirit’ does not get used. So you tell me, ‘what’ was created in Gen 1:27? Soul? “How is it possible to deduce anything about man being a spirit being in Gen 1?” - By considering the rest of scripture, starting with Gen 2 - hence this Q, then Gen 3 - what ‘died’ when Adam ate?, the N.T. - Paul’s numerous references to man’s spirit, e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
    – Dave
    Mar 7 at 22:22
  • please do not base a whole doctrine on a single text that appears to support a given position. Paul's comment in 1Thess 5:23 cannot be used any more than my comment about what Santa Claus brought me last Christmas. It is a common idiom about the whole person.
    – Dottard
    Mar 7 at 22:26
  • @Dottard Hebrews 4:12? And, I look foreword to your answer to my Q!
    – Dave
    Mar 7 at 22:30
  • John 6:63, The words that I speak to you they are spirit and they are life - lots of metaphors here. Here is a Q for you - what is the difference between soul and spirit? No dualist has even answered this question.
    – Dottard
    Mar 7 at 22:37

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