Any discussion of what it means to be human should begin with looking at who God made man to be in the beginning. As we posited last month, science, medicine, and psychology can provide helpful information about what it means to live as a human, but they cannot answer the question of exactly who and what man was created to be. For that, we have to turn to God’s Word in Genesis.
There are two critical passages in Genesis that discuss the creation of man: Genesis 1:26-31 and Genesis 2:5-9, 18-25. These two passages in Genesis both describe the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, but in different ways. We’ll begin with looking at Genesis 2 first as it is the more detailed of the two accounts.
In Genesis 2:7 we read, “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.” With these words we see how different the creation of Adam was from the creation of every other living thing. With the plants, animals, land, seas, and heavenly bodies, everything was created out of nothing. God simply spoke, and whatever he spoke came to pass. God said “let there be light,” and there was light (Gen. 1:3). Nothing was used to create any of the plants or animals apart from God’s voice. But the creation of man was different. God could have simply spoken Adam into existence exactly as He did the animals. But instead, God formed Adam from the dust of the ground so that we might know who we are as human beings, distinct from the rest of all of creation.
God first formed for Adam a body from the dust of the ground. Like every other living creature, man has a body. Even though various ideologies deny the importance of the human body (more on this in a future article), it is intrinsic to our human nature to have a body. God has given us a body and soul, along with our eyes, ears, and all our members, as the Catechism says. God has formed and fashioned us so that we could live in the body as caretakers of his creation.
But just as having a body is an essential part of our human nature, it is not all there is to our human nature either. For after God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth, Genesis tells us that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” On the surface, this might seem like just a generic description of how God made the first Adam to breathe. However, the meaning of this verse is substantially deeper when we realize that in Hebrew the word for “breath” and “spirit” are the exact same word (ruach). God breathed into Adam his ruach, his “spirit.”
This feature makes us as human beings distinct from all the rest of creation. While animals and plants share with us living bodies, man alone is distinct in creation as being not only a physical creature (animal) but also a spiritual creature. As human beings, we are not just bodies but also souls, and our souls are made to spiritually be receptive to God and His Word. In us who live after the fall, this is disrupted by sin, which we will discuss in a future article. But all human beings have both body and soul after God’s original design with Adam and Eve.
Genesis 1:26-27 provides another very important detail to the picture of who God created us to be as human beings: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
From these crucial verses we learn that our parents Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. This is difficult to understand, because how can we who are created be in the image of the invisible God? Some Christians understand the image of God to refer to man’s reason. While it’s true that reason is something that sets humans apart from the rest of creation, our reason is limited and fallible, unlike God’s (1 Cor. 1:25). Furthermore, Scripture testifies that the image of God was lost after the fall into sin. Genesis 5:3 shockingly tells us that Adam father a son Seth in his own image and likeness, and not in the image of God. The image of God cannot simply be man’s reason, because reason isn’t totally destroyed by the fall (though it is corrupted). Therefore the image of God must mean more than just man’s reason.
The image of God properly speaking is the holiness and righteousness with which God originally created Adam and Eve (see Eph. 4:24). Prior to their temptation, Adam and Eve lived as human beings who were totally perfect in God’s eyes. They were sinless in thought, word, and deed before God and in a right relationship with Him. But as we said before, this image is exactly what was lost when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. They became, with all their descendants, subject to sin and death. The image of God with which God created humanity was lost by sin. Though we are still human beings, because of sin we are not who we are created to be.
However, Jesus, the perfect image of God (Col 1:15, Heb. 1:3), took on our flesh and died so that he might restore the image of God to all those who by faith receive his perfect righteousness. Those of us who are baptized into Christ have the image of God, that is, his righteousness and holiness, by being connected in faith to Jesus, who is the righteousness and holiness of God. For Christians, this crucial gift given to humanity is being restored (Eph. 4:24).
So man is both body and soul, matter and
spirit. Originally he was created in the image of God, in perfect purity and
sinlessness. Through sin the image was lost, but in Christ it is being restored
to everyone who is in Christ Jesus. Despite what the world might think, being
without sin and righteous in God’s eyes is critical to living the way God
designed us to be. Of course, in this life we have that righteousness only by
faith in Jesus, but in the life to come God will finally wipe away all sin from
our lives and we will live in purity and holiness before Him forever. For that
we can only say, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus!”
Next month we’ll discuss in more detail how our human nature has been affected by the fall into sin, and how Christ has redeemed us and is at work to restore us. Thank you for reading!