What is man?
Nov 10, 2018
After David fought and killed Goliath at the young age of 18, he must have understood that this experience set a prophetic pattern for the overcomers who ultimately were to subdue the earth under the feet of Christ. This was also the first psalm that I ever memorized. I was in first grade at the time, and at night before going to bed, our boarding school parent in the Philippines taught us one verse per night until all of us had memorized it. I never forgot it.
I discovered many years later that it was God who had ingrained this psalm into my heart. Little did I know at the time that this was also the Apostle Paul’s favorite, and that he had quoted it more than any other passage in his epistles: “Thou hast put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:6). This states the intent of God in regard to creation, and Paul understood it to be a foundational statement about the Restoration of All Things.
That is quite a revelation for an 18-year-old shepherd boy. In Psalm 8:3, 4 he also wrote,
3 When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, 4 what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?
In the universal picture, man seem so small. The earth, man’s home, is just a tiny speck of dust among the stars. The great expanse (“firmament”) above was an occasion of revelation to the young prophet. Man seems so insignificant, and yet, he says, “Thou hast put all things under his feet.” God gave man dominion (authority) to rule the universe.
Whether or not there is life elsewhere in the universe is for others to say, but if so, it is still clear to me that man is unique among them. They would have a vested interest in earthly affairs and in the outcome of man’s struggle. The salvation of man would have an effect upon them and ensure that harmony would be re-established throughout the entire universe. Colossians 1:20 says,
20 and through Him to reconcile all things [ta panta, “The All”], having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
The third heaven, which is where the throne of God is located, needs no reconciliation, but “the heavens” in general—especially the second heavens, where spiritual warfare has been waged since the beginning of time—certainly needs to be reconciled. When the battle concludes in victory, it will indeed be reconciled. The question is this: Who or what will benefit from the reconciliation of “things in heaven”?
Yet the focus of our attention here is the question, “What is man?” David’s question was mostly about man’s tremendous authority and responsibility. Paul’s interpretation applied it to Jesus Christ, the Firstborn Son among many who would be born afterward. My focus centers on the nature of man himself and how he was formed.
The Living Soul with a Body and Spirit
Adam was made “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7 KJV). It was good, along with all that God created. Adam had a soul and was a soul. In other words, Adam’s identity was bound up in his soul. Hence, when he sinned, it could be said that his soul sinned (Ezekiel 18:4). For this reason, the soul was sentenced to death. It became mortal, and because the soul ruled the body, his body too became mortal.
Those who do not understand body, soul, and spirit, are often confused, because most of them think that the body is mortal and the soul is immortal. But Scripture never treats the soul as being immortal. It is the spirit which is immortal, and it is said to return to God when a person dies.
The real question is: Who are you? When we were conceived and born of earthly parents, our identity was in our soul. Later, when we heard the gospel, the word begat a new creation in us, and we experienced a shift of identity. We became the new spiritual man, no longer being a soul. This transfer of identity was accomplished in the divine court legally, rather than biologically.
So let us break down the process and see the mechanics of biblical salvation.
Dirt was Created; Man was Shaped
Dirt was created (bara), and Adam was formed, fashioned, or shaped (yatsar) out of material that God had previously created. He became a living soul in a body made of good dirt. For this reason, God named him Adam, a word taken from the Hebrew word adama, “earth.” The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:47, “the first man is from the earth, earthy.” If we were to use the Hebrew language, we would say that “the first man is from the adama, Adam.”
Adam means “earthy,” that is, “of the earth.” There was nothing wrong with that, since the earth was pronounced “very good” in Genesis 1:31. God used good material to shape Adam’s body. His soul was not physical, but neither was it spiritual. The soul was somewhere in between. It was mental (or psychological), not physical or spiritual.
Adam’s soul was positioned to rule the body. His soul could function perfectly in its calling as long as it remained subject to the authority of his spirit which in turn was “filled with the Spirit.” The natural order was that Adam’s spirit was in perfect harmony and unity with the Spirit of God. Spirit, soul, and body functioned in perfect order and harmony at the beginning.
The overall purpose of Adam (and man in general) was to take that which God had created and shape it (yatsar), thereby adding functionality and value to God’s creation. The need for form or shape was already implied in Genesis 1:2, “the earth was [or “became”] formless and void.” Whether it was formless from the start or later became chaotic is for others to debate. The point is that the earth was chaotic by the time Adam was put on the earth, and he was given the task of subduing it under God so as to bring order out of chaos.
Since God had also formed Adam himself, man had an innate example of what it meant to give shape and form to that which God had already created. Being the result of a shaping process himself, Adam would have done this naturally prior to his sin. This was inherent in his mandate to tend the garden and to be fruitful in every way.
Yet his calling to form and shape things extended beyond the physical creation. He was also called to learn things and thereby shape the soul, allowing it to grow in godly knowledge and truth. A soul that remains subject to the authority of the spirit is a divine artist and sculptor that can shape truth into anything that manifests and expresses the nature of God.
Then came the great disruption. Adam sinned, and this created disharmony between spirit, soul, and body. First, the soul disobeyed the leading of the spirit, driving a wedge between the two. The soul thus usurped the authority that had been given to the spirit.
As a consequence, God judged Adam with the death penalty, making him mortal. Although he continued to live for many more years, life became the process of dying. In biblical law the death penalty is imposed when the nature of the sin is such that restitution is not possible. The law of restitution is designed to repay the victim of sin and thus to restore the lawful order, bringing the conflict to a resolution and obtaining forgiveness for the sinner.
In the case of Adam’s sin, he incurred a debt that was beyond his ability to pay. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:24, 25 calls it a debt of “ten thousand talents.” A talent was a weight of 3,000 shekels. A talent of gold was 131 lb. Troy. A talent of silver was 117 lb. Troy. To incur a debt of ten thousand talents of either gold or silver was Jesus’ way of letting us know that the debt was unpayable. So it was with Adam’s debt as demanded by the law of God.
Mercy Factors in the Law
In the law of God, there are built-in mercy factors. Although the law demands full payment of all debt, a creditor was allowed to forgive any portion of the debt at his own discretion. We call this the law of Victims Rights. The judge has no authority to forgive sin, unless he is willing to take upon himself the liability for all that he forgives. (Jesus did this.) But yet the law upholds the right of the victim to forgive. (Jesus did this, too, in Luke 23:34.)
In the end, all debt throughout the land was limited by the law of Jubilee, where we find that all debts are cancelled every 49 years on the national calendar. The law of Jubilee reveals God’s heart of grace and mercy.
Another example is the law of resurrection, which ends the death penalty itself. It is found in Leviticus 19:32, which says,
32 You shall rise up before the grayheaded [seybah, “old age, gray hair”], and honor the aged [zakan, “old man, ancient], and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
This suggests that God Himself was to be revered as the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9). When He appears with “the hair of his head like pure wool,” all rise. In the next verse, we read that the dead are raised in honor of the Aged One who has arrived on the scene. Resurrection ends mortality, although most of the dead will be judged by the “river of fire” (Daniel 7:10), or, as Moses put it, “the fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV). The law was also pictured as a fire in Luke 12:49 in the context of Jesus’ parable about the law of flogging for certain sins (Luke 12:47, 48). In other words, the “fire” in this case is the law of flogging, not a literal fire.
The point is that even the death penalty comes to an end. The first death is mortality; the second death comes later when all are held accountable for the works done during their life time. In the case of the second death, of course, the law of Jubilee itself limits all judgment (debt) to a particular time frame. Grace wins in the end, because, as James 2:13 says, “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Jesus Christ as a Man
Jesus Christ came as a man in order to qualify as the recipient of Adam’s dominion mandate in Genesis 1:26. In the beginning God had given man authority over the earth, and this authorized him to give form and shape to God’s creation. That mandate was passed down to his descendants as part of their Birthright. The other half of the Birthright, of course, was the fruitfulness mandate in Genesis 1:28. Authority was thus given to bring forth fruit.
Adam’s sin caused him to fail in his mission. He abused his authority and was therefore unable to bring forth fruit. Adam’s sin was imputed to his descendants as well, making them all mortal (Romans 5:12) and unable to bring forth the ultimate fruit of the Kingdom.
Jesus came not only as a man but as the next in line to receive the Birthright. He succeeded where Adam failed. Adam had been called to subdue the earth and rule it as King of the Earth. Jesus received what Adam lost, and therefore it is clear that the two missions were essentially the same. Adam was called to subdue the earth and put all things under His feet. When Adam sinned, this calling was passed down as a Birthright to his descendants—all of whom failed to complete that mission.
Finally, Jesus Christ received it, and He succeeded. That plan is yet unfolding in history, but Scripture assures us that He will win in the end. Not many understand the full process by which He will subdue the heavens and the earth, but our faith is in His ability to keep His New Covenant promise to the earth (Genesis 9), to all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3), and to each individual, present or not (Deuteronomy 29:14, 15).