Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1997, 2010, 2012, 2016
Westminster Confession of Faith IV:2
The Creation of Man
Man at creation was not as he is now. The fall changed him in very specific ways. He did not change into a different physical being. He was changed in moral and spiritual ways. Five different moral states of man can be distinguished in Scripture: his estate at creation, his condition after the fall, his condition when redeemed, his condition after death but before the final resurrection, and his eternal estate after the final resurrection.
When someone tries to explain the nature and moral state of man aside from what God has specially revealed about him, a dangerous anthropology, psychology, and sociology is produced. Some desire to justify the obvious guilt and moral corruption of man by redefining his basic nature. Others modify their view of man in an attempt to soften the bold realities that necessitated the incarnation of God the Son, as the person of Jesus.
Many today have accepted without much critical examination the assumptions of modern humanism which build a view of man that makes him little more than a highly evolved animal without absolute moral responsibilities. They often blame the biblical view of man for society’s ills. Some attempt to separate individuals from their actions and thoughts in an effort to insulate them from responsibility for what they do and think.
The Manner of the Creation of Man
Some of God’s creation was shaped into its intended condition mediately using secondary means. The language of Genesis One describes processes following natural principles which are part of the nature of the energy-matter continuum. These principles, or “physical laws”, are the handiwork of the Creator. They declare God’s glory day and night (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:20).
In Genesis 1:11-12 the earth was commanded to bring forth vegetation. It does not say that the earth generated the genetic code for vegetation. It does indicate that the covering of the earth with vegetation was a process that took place after an initial act of special creation. Clearly there is no indication in this chapter or anywhere in Scripture, that all life has evolved from a single genesis of living matter, or from a relatively small number of initial molecules of proto-life forms. However, there is an indication, as we see in the example of man’s present physical diversities, that the forms God created modified with time to produce forms of life differing outwardly from those originally created. Today we see many races of humans with various eye and hair colors, and many other characteristics obviously passed on genetically. But the changes always stayed within the boundaries of the original categories (or “kinds”) of living things God immediately created.
The creation of man was immediate and from previously existing, non-living molecular matter. He was neither formed from already living creatures, nor out of nothing. He was made “of dust from the ground” (aphar min ha-adamah).
Genesis: 2:7, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
It helps to look at some of the terms used in Genesis 2:7 and those related to them. The Hebrew word translated “man” is “adam” (אדם). It is the common word for “man, mankind.” It is also the name given to the first man, “Adam”. The word translated as “ground” is “adamah” (אדמה) which means, “ground, land, territory, inhabited earth.” The term translated as “dust” is “aphar” (עפר). It refers to “dry loose earth, dust, debris, mortar (dried mud), elements, particles.” A similar term, “adom” (אדֹם) means “red” or “red lentils”, probably a later derivation for objects that resembled the color of red soil. There is no reason to presume that Adam was made from red earth, or that he was originally red in color as some have theorized.
The terms used indicate that man was not made ex nihilo, but from previously created particles, or “elements”. We would assume that those particles included carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen together with lesser amounts of other elements that are found in living matter today. This leaves no room for theories of macro-evolution that would account for the physical body of man by presuming that it developed from non-human life forms.
Man is presented as the climax of God’s creation. He becomes the center of the unfolding of redemptive history and the focal point as the last created entity. He was made in the image of the Creator, and given the mandate of having dominion over all of the other created things on earth (Genesis 1:26,28).
The Nature of Man at Creation
This dichotomy of man implies that he has a physical body (σῶμα) and a non-physicalal body called the soul (ψυχή). That’s how we’re described where Scripture teaches about our actual nature. A key text is Genesis 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.” (from the ESV)
All Humans have a Body: a physical essence
Genesis 2:7a “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground …”. The word translated as “formed” is “yatsar” (יצר) which means “mould, form, shape”. The word for “dust” is “aphar” (עפר) which means, “dust, mud, powder” of the Earth (that is from the basic elements — not from previously living creatures).
All Humans have a Soul: our non-physical essence which is “spirit” in its nature.
Genesis 2:7b “… and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The word translated both as “breathed” and “breath” is based on the root word “neshamah” (נשׁמה ) which means, “breath, wind, soul, spirit”. The word behind “creature” is “nephesh”(נפשׁ). It means “soul, life, person, creature, that which breathes.” The word translated as “life” and “living” are both “Khai” (חי) which means, “living, alive, living thing.”
Romans 8:10 “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
2 Corinthians 7:1 “…let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit…”
Some reject this in favor of the idea that man is “tripartite” (three differing essences: body, soul and spirit). This “Trichotomy” view of man did not originate from Scripture.
Plato and the early Gnostics figured that since God’s essence was spirit, and he could not sin, therefore the part of man that sins could not be of that same nature. This forced them to presume another essence in man neither of body nor of spirit that did the sinning. The Semi-Pelagians say that sin was only to be found in man’s body and soul, and that the spirit was free from sin.
The Apollinarians believed that Jesus had no human spirit, but only a human body and soul. They say the Divine Logos came upon Jesus and replaced his human spirit. They therefore denied the true humanity of Jesus.
Freud and the Neo-Freudians divide man’s immaterial part into three aspects: id, ego, super-ego. Some psychologists who claim a christian orientation replace Freud’s terminology with more biblical expressions. The id is our animal instincts (soul), the super-ego is our conscience (spirit), and the ego is the self-conscious arbiter (the will). This can’t be supported from Scripture without distorting the context of verses used. There is no biblical governing principle to define the terms in this way. Therefore there are many variations of this view among its proponents. This approach often blames the soul for sin and makes the will the referee which determines the course of a person’s sanctification. This has become a favorite view of the more humanistic branches of the church.
The Tricotomy view uses some verses to justify it’s position. One primary verse often cited is Hebrews 4:12 “for the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Those who take this position assume that this verse proves that the soul and spirit are distinct substances since they can be divided.
The word translated “division” is merismou (μερισμου). The root word is used twice in the book of Hebrews, here and in 2:4. In 2:4 it’s about the “distributions” or “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. In other places it is also used of distribution and division of some unity into parts. It’s used in Mark 6:41 where Jesus divided the fish to feed the five thousand. It doesn’t show division between two different substances, but the dividing up of a single kind of thing so that it can be distributed. The Greek word used of dividing between two distinct things would be diamerizo (διαμεριζω).
God’s word is like a sword that pierces deeply into man to pierce into (divide up) the soul, the spirit, the joints, and the marrow. Claerly the thoughts and intentions of the heart are not completely isolated substances (intentions are also thoughts). The forced interpretation of the trichotomists obscures the full context of the text.
Tricotomists also usually cite 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “…may your spirit and soul and body be preserved…” This passage doesn’t say there are two distinct non-material substances in man. Similarly the human nature is described in Luke 10:27 “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind…” If taken the same way we would have a “Quadcotomy”, 4 parts, or 5 if “strength” isn’t just physical). In Deuteronomy 6:5 is speaks of man and his heart, soul, and might. Obviously these verses are not intended to say that the spirit and soul are distinct components of the human on the same level of uniqueness as his physical body.
Those defending the Tricotomy view often make reference to 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. Verse 44 mentions two bodies: the “natural body” [“soma psuchikon” (σωμα ψυχικον) “soul body”], and the “spiritual body” [“soma pneumatikon” (σωμα πνευματικον) “spirit body”]. When the whole context is considered it’s clear that these are not separate parts of a Tripartate human person.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;
43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
There’s no distinction of substance being made. Just the opposite is the point of the Apostle here. It’s the same body being spoken of in each case. The perishable body is buried, then it’s raised imperishable having been glorified. The “soulish” or “natural” body is buried, but it’s raised up as a “spirit” body. But they are one and the same thing as to identity. If not, then there is no hope in the resurrection. Another identity altogether would be raised. The quality is changed in the resurrection, not the essence itself.
While the words “soul” and “spirit” are often used as exact synonyms and used interchangeably, yet they also have their own spheres of meaning. Just as the physical body has many functions and members (eyes, ears, hands, feet, body, head), so also the non-physical part of man is spoken of as having multiple functions, members, and uses (soul, spirit, mind, heart, emotions, will, thought, understanding, and intentions). These terms do not teach that there are over nine different essences of the non-physical part of man.
We call the more biblical view realistic dualism. There are two distinct essences in every human person working in union (body and soul). Together they form the individual person with a complete human nature. The soul exists and functions without a body for a time after physical death which demonstrates a true distinction of the two as to essence. The soul or the functions attributed to it influence the behavior of the person as expressed through his body.
Man’s non-physical part is one singular essence.
Man was created in the image of God
The concept of image implies an analogy. Humans unlike the rest of creation in some sense correspond with their Creator.
Westminster Shorter Catechism question #4 presents a well attested summation of what God is. It says, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”
We should expect to find in those words areas of correspondence which constitute the image of God in man.
1. Man was created with a material and a spiritual element in his nature.
2. Unlike God, man is finite, temporal, and changeable.
3. Man was made to experience being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
To borrow the words of the catechism we can say, “Man is body and spirit, finite, temporal and changeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”
Also, unlike any other creature, man was given the duty of exerting dominion over the rest of God’s material creation. He represents the ultimate dominion of the Creator over all things (Genesis 1:28).
Man’s mutability in moral duty raises questions best taken up under WCF 9 (freedom of the will).
The confession clarifies that in creation, the will of Adam, though created in perfect righteousness and true holiness, was not locked in by fixed moral inclinations. The possibility of transgressing God’s moral principles existed. By the eternal decree of God such a transgression was a certainty, and was directed to implement the full revelation of the Creators nature including his holiness, justice, and goodness.
Some have wondered where the soul of a newly conceived human comes from? The Bible gives no direct answer to that question. Two main theories attempt to give an answer.
The views of “Creationism” is that the soul of each newly conceived human is added by direct creation by God at the moment of each baby’s conception. [see the discussion in Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology Vol. II, chapter 3.] There are a couple of problems with this position. It’s difficult to reconcile God’s moral holiness with directly creating a soul already in bondage to evil. Satan, the fallen angels, and humans were all created in “innocence” but later fell into rebellion. There’s no biblical examples of something being created already in an evil state. It also presumes that acts of special creation continue all through history and take place all over the world every day. In Genesis 2:1-2 it seems to imply that the direct creation of new essences ended with the events of Genesis 1. Any special acts of creation were marked out as exceptions, miracles.
The other view is that of “Traducianism” It proposes that the soul of a newly conceived human derives from the parents just as does the body. This explains how sin is passed on from generation to generation in a way similar to how our DNA is passed on biologically. Nothing new is created out of nothing. The soul is fallen in Adam who represented all humans. [see the discussion in W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology Vol. II, chapter 1.]
Questions for Review and Thought
1. In what five states does man exist?
2. What is the motivation of modern humanism in its view of man?
3. Does the Scripture teach that man was created ex nihilo? explain
4. What arguments do Tricotomists use to defend the division of the non-physical part of man into two essences?
5. What foundation exists in Scripture to support that man is made up only of two essences: physical and spiritual?
6. How might we define the “image of God” in man?
7. Compare the arguments of Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology Vol. II, chapter 3) with those of W. G. T. Shedd (Dogmatic Theology Vol. II, chapter 1) concerning the issue of Creationism and Traducianism in the origin of the soul.
8. Compare man’s possibility of transgression and of doing acts of righteousness in each of his five states.
(Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.)