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What is Man?
by Don Costello
4/30/2008 / Bible Studies
Ever since abortion became legal in 1973 there has been a battle within Christianity about the nature of man and when personhood begins. There is no doubt the pro-life side has used the Scriptures more accurately and righteously in their effort to point to when personhood begins and thus change hearts and minds about abortion. Abortion is the taking of a human life and the only way the pro-abortion side can try to stop the truth from changing hearts and minds is to suppress, or to twist it. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:2 of those who handle "the word of God deceitfully"; he also wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-8 that in the last days men would rise up in the church who, "resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith," (verse 8). We can see this corruption of God's Word taking place within the church world, particularly pertaining to the issue of abortion; I use the term "church world" loosely. These men and women are twisting and perverting God's Word not only to justify the slaughter of the innocent, but also justify their sin of protecting and upholding this murderous idolatry as a Constitutional right. They do both within the so-called church world by handling the Word of God deceitfully, and by resisting and suppressing the truth. One of these groups is called The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. They have a website that issues press releases, follows news about the pro-abortion philosophy, has links to other websites, and an area where you can donate time or money. They also have a Resource area where they post position papers by a number of experts to defend abortion. In a number of these articles they attempt to use the Bible to back up their ungodly philosophy; within these positions, these individuals mix a little bit of truth with a whole lot of poison. Of course there is a disclaimer at the end of the articles stating the views are those of the author and may not represent the member groups of the RCRC.
One of these papers is entitled, Is the Fetus a Person? The Bible's View, by Dr. Roy Bowen Ward. In his argument Dr. Bowen cites the Old Testament revelation of the nature of man, then uses it to promote abortion. Why Dr. Bowen leaves out the New Testament is unknown, but the fact is both of the Old and New Covenants are God-breathed, i.e. inspired, but the New Testament is a better covenant and gives a more concise and thorough revelation of the nature of everything, including the total makeup of man. The reason for this is because the Old Testament does not deal with the deeper aspects of the spiritual realm, as the New Testament does. The New Testament does not contradict the Old Testament revelation but actually builds on it. Using the New Testament revelation on the nature of man along with the Old Testament revelation demonstrates the insufficiency of using the Old Testament revelation exclusively. It also shows that including the New Testament revelation actually destroys the pro-abortion reasoning they erroneously draw from the Old Testament revelation.
Dr. Bowen writes, "Long before the abortion debate, scholars of the Old Testament agreed that the most important Hebrew word describing a human being was nephesh,(Strong's number 5315), a word that occurs 755 times in the Hebrew Bible". Not only is that absolutely correct, I will add that even now, 33 years after Roe v. Wade, long into the abortion debate, Old Testament scholars still agree that it's the most important Hebrew word describing a human being. In his paper Dr. Bowen quotes a number of passages beginning with Genesis 2:7 and a few experts in Hebrew, and correctly comes to the conclusion that Adam did not become a person until after he began to breathe. That's entirely true.
Genesis 2:7 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." The Hebrew word for "soul" is nephesh. According to the Blue Letter Bible website www.blueletterbible.org, it is used 753 times in the Old Testament, 475 times it is translated "soul", 117 times "life" 29 times "person", 15 times "mind", and 15 times "heart". The definition in Strong's is "a breathing creature, i.e. animal, vitality", www.blueletterbible.org/tmp_dir/words/5/1143632011-3305.html. E. Jacob, one of the sources Dr. Bowen cites, describes nephesh as "the usual term for man's total nature", www.rcrc.org. Using Genesis 2:7, and armed with the "man's total nature" definition, Dr. Bowen theorizes correctly that Adam did not become a nephesh/person until after he began to breathe, but he wrongly concludes that since a fetus in the womb does not breathe and does not breathe until after they are born, the fetus in the womb is not a person either. Therefore aborting a baby before they are born is not the same as ending a person's life because the fetus is not a person. A big problem with this reasoning is that the creation of Adam and Eve, the first two humans, is unique when compared with the rest of humanity. The human race is numbered in the billions from creation until the present. Of the whole human race, only the first two were created as lifeless bodies and their spirit was breathed into their lifeless bodies from the breath of God. All the rest of us were started from a fertilization of the egg by sperm and formed in the womb of our mothers. The reason for this is the responsibility included in the dominion command to the first two humans who were created in the likeness and image of God and all their offspring, us. Part of the obedience to the command to take dominion over the earth was to be fruitful and multiply. Instead of God multiplying mankind in the same way as he created Adam, forming each of us from the dust and breathing into us the breath of life, He gave Adam and Eve (and us) the wonderful blessing of being one physically with our spouse, as the means to multiply, exclusively in marriage of course. What would God receive in return for delegating to us the wonderful blessing of sexual intimacy in order to multiply? There are a couple of verses that tell us. The first is Psalm 127:3 "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward." The second is Malachi 2:15 where God is speaking about marriage: "And did not he make one?...And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed" Praise God! He wants more godly children.
At the moment of fertilization, i.e. conception, the spirit of the individual, the person, is created. Over a nine month period our bodies are formed in the womb. All during the pregnancy we are living, though not breathing, spirit individuals. Before God breathed into Adam, Adam was just a lifeless corpse. He wasn't a person, but the reason why is because he didn't exist. It was just a lifeless body until God breathed into him the spirit of life. The spirit of Adam was created when God breathed him into the lifeless body. The fetus on the other hand is not lifeless but alive in the womb, it's not breathing but it is alive. To compare the lifeless body of Adam to the full of life forming body of a baby in the womb is ridiculous, because they are two completely different beginnings.
Continuing on the exclusive use of the word "nephesh", to describe the totality of man, there is no doubt that nephesh is the Old Covenant term describing the whole of man, and it was sufficient for the time, but there is a greater revelation of spiritual truth concerning the total makeup of man in the New Covenant. This greater revelation will reveal the insufficiency of the pro-abortionists' use of nephesh to describe the totality of man.
The first time nephesh is used in Genesis 1:20, it is translated "life" and is used to describe every living creature in the water and the birds that fly in the air. The second time it is used in Genesis 1:21, it is translated "creature". Although the word is translated most of the time to describe a man in the general sense, it is not used exclusively for that definition. Here we see that it is also used in the general sense to describe living creatures, hence, Strong's definitions of "a breathing creature, i.e. an animal" or of course a man. Man, according to Genesis 1:26 and 27, was created in the "likeness" and "image of God", but God is not a nephesh, God is a Spirit, according to John 4:24. If man was created in the likeness and image of God, then man must be a spirit. This matches what the rest of Scripture says about the nature of man and it is in the whole counsel of God we see the greater revelation of spiritual truth about man. In addressing the nature of man "wholly" as in the totality of man, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Man is three parts, spirit, soul and body. Man is a spirit, he has a soul and he lives in a body. The spirit of man and the soul of man are not the same, because they can be divided, according to Hebrews 4:12, that says, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,"
A spirit is an eternal creation; in the case of man, the spirit man will never cease to exist, because he is eternal. Though man had a beginning, he will not have an end. He will either live eternally with Jesus, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "and so shall we ever be with the Lord", or suffer eternally in the lake of fire according to Revelation 20:15: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." In appearance, the spirit of a man looks exactly like the physical man. We know that from 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3, where Paul writes that when he was caught up to heaven he did not know if he was in his physical body or not. When a person dies, their spirit and soul separate from their physical body and if they are born again they go to heaven, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8, that to be absent from the body is "to be present with the Lord." The physical body, on the other hand always returns to the dust. Right now in heaven, there are countless "spirits of just men made perfect" according to Hebrews 12:23, while there physical bodies have long dissolved into dust.
All of these New Testament facets of the nature of man are not revealed in the Old Testament term, nephesh, and that is because the New Covenant is a better revelation. The exclusive use of nephesh to accurately define the nature of man is at best the ignorance of spiritual truth, and at worst, the fruit of a deceitful heart in an attempt to justify the sin of abortion.
As Jesus said in Matthew 22:29, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God."
My name is Don Costello. Ever since I received Christ in November of 1976 I have had a passion to study and know God's word.My wife Melissa and I have 5 children.
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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