The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
God’s Creation of Man (2): Created a Living Soul
Concerning the manner of the creation of man, Scripture informs us in Genesis 1:27 that “God created man (Adam) in his own image” and, further, in Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man (Adam) of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
We may well caution ourselves at this point that we must not think finitely and earthly concerning the divine work of creation, nor imagine that we can comprehend the work of the infinite Creator. Nevertheless, the Lord God Himself unfolds to us in this language something of His own marvelous work of creation and reveals to us something of the work that He performed. And all that Scripture tells us reveals that in man there is created in every respect a special creature of God.
God formed man of the dust of the ground. While the animals were simply called forth from the earth and thus given their distinct form, Scripture points us to the fact that when God created man in His own image, forming him from the dust of the ground and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, the Lord God did something other than merely causing the earth to bring forth man. Man is created by a special act of God. Even the form, the impress, of his nature, both body and soul, is different from that of the animals. On the one hand, God did not form a mere body, a clay image, lifeless. This is often the crude conception which is presented of this work of the Almighty. That man is body and soul is perfectly true. But we are inclined to separate that body and soul, as if the body were a mere material house in which the soul dwells. But this is not the presentation of Scripture. How would we conceive of this? Did God make a mere form of clay? Or did He make a living human body? Or did He make something like a corpse? Or did God perhaps make an animal from the dust and then make of that animal a man by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life? Moreover, what is that breathing into his nostrils the breath of life? Must we crudely conceive of God as performing some kind of act of artificial respiration upon a clay image or upon a lifeless corpse? All such conceptions are precluded by the language of Scripture. For Scripture reminds us, on the one hand, that in whatever it tells us it is telling us concerning the marvel of creation, the unfathomable work of God whereby He calls things that are not as though they were; on the other hand, it reminds us that God specially formed man, and that, too, by one creative act with a twofold aspect.
Man is created, not by two separate acts of God but by one creative act, even though this one creative act of God has two aspects. By this one creative act God formed man’s one nature with its physical and spiritual sides. Thus, Genesis 2:7 presents the creation of man. He is so created that by the one act of God his physical and psychical, or spiritual, parts are so closely connected that he is one personal, thinking, willing, rational, and moral creature. Note that the text informs us that God formed man of the dust of the ground, that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, and, thus, man became a living soul. The whole man, therefore, by his being formed from the dust and by the inbreathing of the breath of life, is a living soul, according to the text. We may also note that by this expression as such, man, while he is indeed distinct in his position and nature, is put in the same class as the animals. The animals, as we noted earlier, are also called living souls in Scripture (Gen. 1:20, 24).
What are the implications as to the nature of man in this expression? There are especially three factors to be mentioned.
1. Man is a being that moves freely upon the face of the earth, even as do the animals. This, as we saw in connection with the creation of the animals, belongs to the nature of a living soul: it moves upon the earth freely by an impulse from within.
2. It is emphasized that man is of the earth; earthy, when he is called a living soul. As formed from the dust of the ground, man is an earthy creature. Thus the apostle also teaches us in I Corinthians 15:45, 47, 48. After he informs us that the first man Adam was made a living soul, he writes: “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” By virtue of his creation man is closely related to the earth from whence he is formed. He lives an earthly life. As created, he cannot reach to heaven. He is dependent upon the earth for his very subsistence, and from it his life must constantly be sustained. He has earthy sensations and perceptions: an earthly eye with which he perceives earthly things, an earthly ear that can hear earthly sounds, an earthly sense of taste and touch and smell that brings him into contact with earthly objects. He is in all his existence earthy, and bound to the earth. And so we read also that there are things which eye cannot see, and ear cannot hear, which have never arisen in the heart of man, things which only the Spirit of God can reveal unto him.
3. As a living soul man is mortal, that is, able to die. As he was created, indeed, death had no dominion over him. But he was not beyond the reach of death. The possibility was there for man to fall and to die.
Let us also note the significance of the preceding items. This explains, in the first place, why God’s revelation of the things of the kingdom must necessarily come to us in the form of human language and an earthly Bible. It explains why, in the Bible, heavenly things must needs be pictured to us in earthly forms and symbols. That is the only way in which we can, in our present state, have any understanding of and contact with heavenly things. We cannot yet see face to face; for we are of the earth, earthy, and as such can see only in a glass darkly. In the second place, this explains also why we must be changed in order inherit the kingdom of God. That kingdom is heavenly, and we are earthly; as the apostle says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50). There must be a change from the mortal to the immortal, from the natural (or psychical) to the spiritual, from the earthy to the heavenly, before we can possibly inherit the everlasting kingdom of glory.
In the third place, this explains in part the tension in the life of the Christian. This is not merely a tension of the sinful and the holy, of the carnal and the spiritual, but also a tension of the earthy and the heavenly. That is why a spiritually healthy child of God, who lives in the hope of the city that hath foundations, can nevertheless be reluctant to depart from this present life and can cling to this life as long as possible. The Christian is betwixt two: the earthy and the heavenly. In regeneration he received the beginning of a new life, a life which is both holy and heavenly. Yet, as long as he is in the body, he is earthy; he is bound to the earth by many ties. Death is, from the point of view of our earthy existence, a being unclothed, and we do not like to be unclothed. Yet, at the same time, we desire to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, when mortality is swallowed up of life. But to be clothed upon with our heavenly house it is first necessary that we be unclothed, that is, stripped of all that which is of the earth, earthy. For man was made a living soul, and the flesh and blood of that earthy living soul cannot possibly inherit the kingdom of God.
Yet, man is more than a mere creature of the earth, earthy. Like the animals, he is a living soul. But the animals are living souls whose life, or soul, is in their blood. Pour out their blood upon the earth, and there is nothing left anymore of the existence of the animals. Not so with man. His very creation reveals this. While of the animals it is said that God called them forth from the earth, and while in that sense it is also said of them that God formed them from the ground, yet, Scripture points to the distinct and special character of man in the very narrative of his creation. For we read that God “formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and so man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). Moreover, Genesis 1:26-28teaches very plainly that by this creative act there is created in man the position of dominion over the earthly creation. There is a sharp boundary, therefore, between man and the creature nearest him, the animal, and between man and all the earthly creation.
This design to be lord of the earthly creation is, in the first place, evident evening man’s physical organism. This is to be expected; man is one, and his physical organism must also needs be adapted to the whole of his existence and nature. While he is made a little lower than the angels, he is so made that he must and can exercise dominion over all the earth, and subdue it. While man is indeed limited to the sphere of things earthly, he stands at the pinnacle of created things, as their lord. Even his physical organism as specially formed from the dust of the earth bespeaks this: it is created as an instrument and manifestation of his lordship. This need not be belabored; it is self-evident. Man is not as to his nature like the beasts. His upright bearing, his intelligent face, his finely shaped hands—all these bespeak the fact that he was as to his physical side created above the rest of the earthly creation, created to be king, created, too, so as to be capable of bearing the image of God.
But above all, Scripture makes the distinction that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This aspect of man’s creation is absent from the creation of the animals altogether. This can mean nothing less, in the light of what Scripture tells us about man as a living soul, than that man was so formed that he is a personal, rational, and moral being. The animals are purely earthly and material living souls: their soul is in their blood. Man was made a psychical body, a body fit to be the instrument for a personal spirit. By the inbreathing of the Spirit of God, he is formed into a personal, rational, moral spirit. God so wrought upon man that he became a personal being, with mind and will, with a moral nature, capable of standing in a free, personal, covenant relationship of friendship to the living God, capable of being adorned with the image of God, as he was originally, so that “he might rightly know God, his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 7). By virtue of the two-sided act of God whereby He created man a living soul, man was so created that he was a creature capable of occupying the position of lord of the earthly creation and servant of the living God.
This also means that man’s existence does not end with his physical and earthy end. He is a personal spirit who continues to exist even through physical death, which is not to be confused with immortality in the Scriptural sense. Mere continued existence is no immortality. There is continued existence either in everlasting death, under the wrath of God, or in everlasting life and immortality in the heavenly tabernacle of God. But Scripture points us to this fact of man’s being a personal spirit, standing in relation to the living God. It tells us, for example, that when the dust returns unto the earth, the spirit shall return to God who gave it. It reminds us: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” And it teaches us that the rich man opens his eyes in hell, while Lazarus is carried into Abraham’s bosom.
Such, therefore, is man’s creation. He is on physical-psychical-personal being. He is related to God, yet he is earthy. He is dependent upon the creation, yet he is lord over the earthly creatures. He is created as the bearer of the image of God—a personal, rational, moral being—and created actually bearing that image, too; yet, he is capable of falling into the bondage of sin and of perverting that image into its very opposite. He is created living, yet also mortal and capable of dying and returning to the dust.
For, as we indicated before, the first man Adam, according to Scripture, was made a living soul. He is not the last man. He is not a quickening spirit. But as far as the spiritual is above the natural, the incorruptible above the corruptible, the immortal above the mortal, the heavenly above the earthy—so far is the last man, Christ, above the first man, Adam.
Nor is there any process of evolution between those two, Adam and Christ. Between them lies the chasm of sin and death—the chasm that is bridged only by the wonder of sovereign grace. Or, if you will, between them lies the whole process of sacred history. The first man, Adam, who was made a living soul, did not regard his honorable position; he violated the covenant of God and fell into the abyss of sin and death, dragging with him all that bear the image of the earthy.
But God in His eternal and sovereign purpose of election and redemption had provided some better thing for us. Even the fall of the first man was to serve that purpose, must serve to make room for the coming of the last man, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord from heaven, who is made a quickening spirit. He came in the fullness of time—He, the Lord from heaven, in the likeness of sinful flesh. He died to blot out the guilt of our sins, the sins of all His own. He is raised and exalted into heavenly glory, immortal glory, and has received the promise of the Spirit, in order that He may impart to all His own His incorruptible and immortal and heavenly resurrection life, and, finally, raise them all up at the last day. In and through Him this mortal shall put on immortality and this corruptible shall put on incorruption. We who have borne the image of the earthy shall bear the image of the heavenly and shall inherit the kingdom of God. It is in this light, therefore, that we must understand the creation of the first man Adam. He was created, and he was created specifically as the kind of creature that he was, with a view to the great work of our God, the revelation of the wonder of grace, which is the object of our study in sacred history.