Is man a two-part (dichotomous) or three-part (trichotomous) being? Could he in fact be both? Is it possible thatmade Adam to be a three-part being but at the fall he became a two part being?
Genesis chapter one gives us the overview of creation, all the way from the creation of space until the pinnacle of God’s creation: Adam. The other creatures, fish, birds, or land animals, the creeping things; all the creatures that God made are lumped together in a few verses. However, the text spends much more time on Adam and in fact, we are told that God said:
Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in theHe created him; male and female He created them, (Genesis 1:27).
Genesis chapter two then focuses solely on the creation of Adam and the privileges and responsibilities that God gave him. Concerning his creation, the text elaborates and states that God formed Adam from the dust of the ground. However, that was not all that God did. The text says:
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).
This verse demonstrates that Adam was made (physically, earthly) from the dust (he and we are carbon-based life forms). However, God also breathed into Adam. What we must not miss is that the animals (see Genesis 7:15) also have breath in their lungs but God did not breathe into them. There is something special about the breath that Adam received directly from God. Adam receiving the breath of God is unique and thus he is also spiritual. To put it another way, Adam had a material (physical, earthly) part, that is to say his body, and he also possessed an immaterial (soulish, spiritual, heavenly) side, that is to say his soul or spirit.
Man’s Non-material Makeup
Over the centuries scholars of the Bible have debated whether or not man consists of two parts (dichotomous – “cut in two”) just body and soul/spirit or in three parts (trichotomous – “cut in three”), body, soul and spirit. A. H. Strong in his book, Systematic Theology, articulates the essence of the essential elements of human nature:
Man has a twofold nature,—on the one hand material, on the other hand immaterial. He consists of body, and of spirit, or soul. […]Man is as conscious that his immaterial part is a unity, as that his body is a unity. He knows two, and only two, parts of his being—body and soul.
Strong notes that I Thessalonians 5:23 (“may your whole spirit and soul and body”), which is the principle passage relied upon as supporting the trichotomous view, may be better explained in that “soul and spirit are not two distinct substances or parts, but that they designate the immaterial principle from different points of view.”[i] After all, there are many verses where soul and spirit are used interchangeably. If we are to divide the immaterial make up of man into soul and spirit, then what are we to do with the heart, mind, and conscience? They are also immaterial parts of man that Scripture repeatedly makes reference to. Lastly, there are verses that speak of only two parts of a man, as though it constitutes the whole of his being. The following list demonstrates how soul and spirit are used interchangeably.
- his spirit was troubled, (Genesis 41:8)
- my soul is cast down within me, (Psalm 42:6)
- now is my soul troubled, (John 12:27)
- he was troubled in the spirit, (John 13:21)
- give his life [soul – psuekhen ψυχὴν] as a ransom for many, (Matthew 20:28)
- yielded up his spirit, (Matthew 27:50)
- And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 emphasis mine)
- spirits of just men made perfect, (Hebrews 12: 23)
- I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, (Revelation 6:9)
The Place of the Holy Spirit
What we are observing is that man was created as a three part being. God created Adam to be a three part being; the material (body) and immaterial (soul/spirit) were uniquely his and the third part was the “compartment” for the Holy Spirit. At the time of Adam’s creation, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, actually indwelt Adam. However, when Adam disobeyed God through sin, he lost the Spirit of God that had up until that point indwelt him. Thus he truly began to die physically; corruption (data loss) of his genetic code (on a physical level) began and the spiritual connection that he shared with God was immediately broken. Thus, the Holy Spirit that was to that point dwelling in Adam departed, leaving him spiritually empty and dead; therefore man was left as a two-part being with a “God-shaped hole in his heart” (cf. Pascal). The Holy Spirit is the one who comes and dwells in us when we turn from darkness to light and receive the Lord Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins. Let’s go back to our text and understand how that could be possible.
When God Breathed the First Time
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed [vayipakh וַיִּפַּ֥ח] into his nostrils the breath of life [nishmat khayim חַיִּ֑ים נִשְׁמַ֣ת]; and man became a living soul [l’nephesh khaya לְנֶ֥פֶש חַיָּֽה] (Genesis 2:7).
The obvious feature to note is that God Himself did the breathing. What beautiful imagery: After having created the universe with the stars, sun, moon, animals, vegetation etc., God bent over Adam’s body which he had just formed, (like a potter molds the clay), and breathed into Adam’s nostrils. Both the Hebrew word yatzar (יצר) and the Greek word plasso (πλάσσω) carry the idea of forming or fashioning wax or clay.[ii] This may have taken God but a moment – however, if we consider the fact that God could have created the world and all therein in less than a microsecond but decided to go slowly and create in six whole days, then when it came to the creation of man He would have given the greatest care! In fact, we could envision the Word of God[iii], Jesus the Son, in His preincarnate state[iv], carefully taking the dust (carbon atoms and such) of the earth in His hands, pushing, shaping, and molding Adam as a potter would do. Once Adam looked like God, that is to say he resembled the image (shadow) of God; He then gently leaned over this beautiful but still lifeless formation. Opening His mouth, God breathed deep into the nostrils of Adam and then Adam opened his eyes to see the tender but glorious face of the One who had just made him!
This breath of God animated Adam’s body in a manner similar to the animals in that they also have breath (neshama[v] נשׁמה) in their nostrils. But it was also so much more, for we know that God did not breathe directly into the animals. Thus the breath that God breathed into Adam must have been so much more than the mere animation of the body (spark of life). It was also the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.[vi]
When God Breathed Again
To see evidence of this picture we must fast forward approximately four thousand years to just after the resurrection of Jesus. We find the disciples after the crucifixion behind closed doors for fear of the Jewish leadership. Jesus makes a sudden appearance and walks through a wall in his resurrected body. “And when he had said this, he breathed (literally “inbreathed”) [enephusesen ενεφυσησεν] on[vii] them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’” (John 20:22).
The Greek word enephusesen (stem: emphusao εμφυσάω) used in the passage above is the same exact word and form of the word that the Greek Septuagint in Genesis 2:7 uses to translate the Hebrew word (vayipakh וַיִּפַּח root naphakh נפח). This correlation is noted in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
This word used only once by the LXX translators in Gen 2:7 where God breathed on Adam and he became a living soul. Just as the original creation was completed by an act of God, so too the new creation, was completed by an act from the Head of the new creation, (Thayer’s εμφυσάω entry).
The same root (emphusao εμφυσάω), though slightly modified, also shows up in Ezekiel 37:9 (37:8 in Greek) and is the same exact Hebrew word as in Genesis 2:7.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath [ruakh הָרוּחַ]; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe [naphakh נפח, Greek εμφυσάω emphusaw] on these slain, that they may live,” (Ezekiel 37:9).
It would truly seem that when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples, He was in fact doing the same thing that He had done to Adam those many thousands of years ago, (the text in Ezekiel 37 will ultimately be fulfilled in the resurrection of the dead – to be discussed in my next book.) Thus, while Adam consisted inherently of two parts, material and immaterial, Jesus Himself breathed not only the life force but also the Holy Spirit; the point at which Adam sinned is when the Spirit departed leaving him all alone. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, appears to document that as well: “Concerning the formation of man, says thus: […] God took dust from the ground, and formed man, and inserted in him a spirit and a soul. This man was called Adam,” (Josephus Antiquities, Book 1, Chapter 1:2, emphasis mine). The notes from the NET Bible also give a hint at this:
The Hebrew word נְשָׁמָה (n’shamah, “breath”) is used for God and for the life imparted to humans, not animals (see T. C. Mitchell, “The Old Testament Usage of N’shama,” VT 11 : 177-87). Its usage in the Bible conveys more than a breathing living organism (נֶפֶשׁ חַיַּה, nefesh khayyah). Whatever is given this breath of life becomes animated with the life from God, has spiritual understanding (Job 32:8), and has a functioning conscience (Proverbs 20:27), (NET Bible Notes Genesis 2:7, emphasis mine).
The Targum of Onkelos (Genesis 2:7) also hints at the idea that the Spirit indwelt him: “And the Lord God created Adam from dust of the ground, and breathed upon his face the breath of lives, and it ["the breath of life"] became in Adam a Discoursing Spirit.”
John in his Gospel makes an interesting observation “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified,” (John 7:39). Thus, because Jesus had not yet been crucified and raised from the dead (glorified), no one as of then had received the Holy Spirit. We have seen already that Jesus showed up and inbreathed the Holy Spirit (in) the disciples.
When the Spirit Comes On and Not In
However, just before Jesus ascends to the Father, He tells them “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon (επί) you,” (Acts 1:8). We know that the Spirit came upon men of the Old Testament for specific times and purposes. The Spirit came upon Jephthah for a time in order for him to route the Ammonites (Judges 11:29). He came upon Samson (Judges 14:6, 19) to defeat the Philistines but left due to Samson’s sinful life (Judges 16:20). The Spirit also came upon David (1 Samuel 16:13) and others. However, the imparting of the Spirit before Jesus’ death and resurrection was a temporary and transient experience. The Spirit was not actually in the ancient men. He came upon them but not in them; the Lord came upon them for a specific job, but not to indwell.[viii]
Adam a Son of God
Remember that Adam was the only person who was created directly as a son of God. John stated that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given, but those who would believe would receive Him. By believing in the name of Jesus one can become a son of God (John 7:39 and 1:12). Thus sons of God today are marked by those who have the Spirit:
- For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, (Galatians 3:26).
- You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:15-16).
- Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, (1 Corinthians 2:12).
- And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6).
- Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you, (Romans 8:11).
Paul says that we have become a new creation in Christ. As new creations we are adopted by God becoming sons of God. The down payment of the Holy Spirit is evidence that we are new creations and are now waiting for the “full package” when we get to heaven. Therefore we conclude that the Holy Spirit must have indwelt Adam prior to his fall because he was classified as a Son of God. We are sons of God because we are direct creations of God “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation,” (Galatians 6:15). We share that feature with the angels, whom we shall be like in heaven. However, God did not form them from the earth, nor did He breathe into the angels and so we possess something that sets us apart from them as far as being sons of God is concerned. The work of the cross was the correction of what had been lost 4000 years before. The Spirit was breathed into Adam, the first (earthly) son of God, he lost it, and now the Spirit dwells in the sons of God who we have become by believing in Jesus’ name. The Spirit is the guarantee or down payment of what is coming.
[i] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, 1893, 243.
[ii] πλάσσω Thayer’s Greek Lexicon of the New Testament.
[iii] According to the Targumim, one called the Memra [word], who was in the beginning with God creating with Him. According to the Jerusalem Targum the Word created man. “And the Word [Memra] of the Lord created man in His likeness, in the likeness of the presence of the Lord He created him, the male and his yoke-fellow He created them,” (Targum Jerusalem, Genesis 1:27).
[iv] “For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. But what else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also His Son?” (Theophilus, To Autolycus. Book 2, ch 13-30 Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2).
[v] “Human life is described here as consisting of a body (made from soil from the ground) and breath (given by God). Both animals and humans are called “a living being” (נֶפֶשׁ חַיַּה) but humankind became that in a different and more significant way. The Hebrew term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “being”) is often translated “soul,” but the word usually refers to the whole person. The phraseנֶפֶשׁ חַיַּה (nefesh khayyah, “living being”) is used of both animals and human beings (see 1:20, 24, 30; 2:19),” (NET Bible Notes Genesis 2:7).
[vi] See also: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men,” (John 1:4); “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will,” (John 5:21); “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,” (John 5:26); “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit,” (1 Corinthians 15:45); “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life,” (1 John 5:12).
[vii] In the Greek text enephusesen (ενεφυσησεν) is followed by the dative which is complementary to the word en εν which follows the Hebrew in Genesis 2:7 extremely well.
[viii] Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again, (Numbers 11:25, emphasis mine). But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon (Judges 6:34 emphasis mine). Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, (Judges 11:29 emphasis mine). And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart (Judges 14:6 Emphasis mine). Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, (Judges 14:19 emphasis mine).
Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed […] and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David, (1 Samuel 16:13 emphasis mine). See also: Judges 3:10; 15:14; 2 Chronicles 20:14; 24:20.