The Soul of Man
It is written, “The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [nishmat chaim]; and man became a living being [in Hebrew a living soul—Nefesh Chaya]” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV).[i] Thus, God created man in His image, male and female He created us.[ii] We are therefore complex beings comprised of a body formed by the hand of God and made from the dust of the earth, and a soul, a spirit that God breathed into us. While certain basic instincts and emotions chemically derive from our physical bodies, our God-breathed souls contain the more profound essence of who we are. For this reason, we are not like any other creature.
Judaism teaches that our soul is comprised of three parts: the breath of God (neshama), the wind of God (Ruach), and the soul itself (nefesh).[iii] These function as one singular and indivisible unit. The word Nefesh comes from the root nafash, which means rest. It is interesting to see how in Christ God has promised us an eternal rest. In other words, an imperishable body and soul that will rest forever in His spirit. Yeshua demonstrated this when He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Some theologians refer to our created nature as a triune of the body, soul, and mind, even comparing us to the triune nature of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible, on the other hand, tells us that we have a physical aspect and a spiritual aspect to our created being—in other words, we have two parts. One is temporal and the other spiritual. Paul said, “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44). Even so, our physical and spiritual bodies are indivisible, they are one organism, meaning they are incomplete and cannot operate in their fullness without each other.
The spirit of man is the exact image of who we are but lacks any physical attributes unless contained within a physical body. All the parts of man work together as one complex being; our physical side comprises our brain and processes our thoughts, memories, emotions, and feelings, and our spiritual nature which contains our soul and gives us volition and consciousness, and brings life to the inner man.
Scientists are incapable of studying this spiritual realm because they cannot tangibly see it. However, for those who believe, and this belief comes from God, we know that we are more than just flesh and bones, that deep inside every person is a soul that thirsts for something beyond the temporal. It yearns for the supernatural, for it is written, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
We know this present body will eventually die and return to the earth. Our soul on the other hand, which came directly from God, has an eternal quality to it because God is eternal. God took part of Himself and placed it in each person. In other words, our soul came from God's innermost essence in the same way that breath comes forth from a person's lungs. And because our soul was initially part of God, it has immeasurable value.
Everything else in existence was created out of nothing, Ex Nihilo. It has lesser value because of its created nature, but how can we measure the value of something that came from God? It is impossible. Therefore, Yeshua said, “lay up for yourselves treasures [souls] in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 13:44). These are the souls of men and women that we have led to the Kingdom of God. All else is temporal.
Paul tells us that, “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Romans 7:23). For this reason, the flesh of man shall die and return to the dust of the earth, and with it forever are buried the righteous judgments of God against the flesh for the sins of man, and the final judgment of God against the unredeemed soul. Therefore, Yeshua warned His disciples, saying, “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
In scripture, the soul of man is called the heart.[iv] The heart of man is the seat of our emotional and intellectual life, for out of this flows our moral and spiritual, as well as our physical being. The heart is also the seat of thought (mahshebot libbo), emotion, feeling, volition, and consciousness. Therefore, in Judaism, the mind, heart, and soul of man are considered one in the same.[v]
Yeshua said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He was not telling His disciples to love God with three separate aspects of our created being. He was telling us to love God with everything that we are—one created person comprising a body and soul. And He was telling us that everything within our created person (our thoughts, emotions, feelings, volition, and consciousness), was to love God first and primarily above anything else, even our flesh and soul.
At the fall of man in the Garden of Eden humanity became separated from God, and through this separation, our whole being became corrupt, for it is written, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). However, God has made provision for atonement and redemption of our fallen souls through the shedding of His blood, which is in Christ, Yeshua. It is written, “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). That which sustains the flesh is the blood, for without it there is no physical life, and that which sustains our soul is the Spirit of God.
In Christ, God has given us a new heart and a new spirit,[vi] and He has made us a new creation in Him.[vii] So, while we now have a new spirit that is connected to God and sets our hearts on the things of the Kingdom, the brain and mind which process the deeper aspects of the spirit of man must still be renewed daily.[viii] Why? Because it is wired to remember the old rebellious nature, and this memory continually taunts us to return to our old sinful ways. For this reason, the apostle Paul recognized a battle raging in his mind.[ix]
The human brain is the most remarkable organism in existence. Without the brain, we are unable to think and reason, but even more importantly, we are unable to feel and express the deepest emotions of the human heart. The brain, therefore, is the portal that connects our physical and spiritual natures, for it both processes and feeds to the heart that which is experienced in the natural, and expresses in the physical realm that which is felt deep inside our soul. Think of it as a computer, but it is much more than just a machine. It is sentient and can learn, adapt, store, program, and reprogram itself. It is not artificial intelligence. It is intelligence.
When our spirit responds to something physical, the brain chemically produces our reactions and feelings. Conversely, when our body reacts to something spiritual, these reactions and feelings again are processed in the brain. For example, if we set our heart on things that are hateful, our brain is likely to process hateful feelings. If we set our heart on things that are loving, our brain will likely respond with warm feelings. When the Spirit of God touches the heart of man, the involuntary response will affect both our spiritual soul and physical being. The result is feelings, emotions, and even physical stimulation, such as tears or goosebumps. God is real and physically present in our lives.
External experiences can also influence or trigger inner emotions. For example, if someone treats us with hate, we are likely to respond with our own hateful or fearful emotions. However, our brains can reason with our feeling and emotions, and even suppress and override them resulting in actions that might be contrary to what we are experiencing. For example, we might feel anger towards a person because they mistreated us, yet the Holy Spirit can stimulate receptors in our brain that remind us to love our enemies. It is written, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). We might not feel any loving feelings now towards that person, but we can surrender to God and rationalize the proper biblical response. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:18).
The Fall of Man
“And God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed” (Genesis 2:8). Here in the Garden of Eden, man walked in intimacy and fellowship with God, spiritually connected to Him as one. Mankind had not sinned yet, and there was no death. There was no separation between God and man, and we were His children. Soon after, a struggle began in our minds, a battle between the will of God and the will of man.
Later we see another picture of this cosmic struggle in the Book of Genesis where we read, “And Jacob was left alone. And a Man wrestled with him until the ascending of the dawn. And He saw that He had not prevailed against him. And He touched on his hip socket, and Jacob's hip socket was unhinged as he wrestled with Him” (Genesis 32:24-25). “And Jacob called the name of the place Face of El, because I saw God face to face, and my life is delivered. And the sun rose on him as he passed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh” (Genesis 32:30-31).
Here, we see the spirit of God wrestling with the soul of man, and God chose to relent, to submit to man’s will. However, this would only be for a season when man would rule and have dominion apart from God’s Kingship. In wrestling with God, humanity has never walk upright in its full glory.[x] Jacob limped on his thigh, and the children of Israel have faltered this day. For more than six-thousand years, God has allowed man to choose his way, and the result has been a world filled with death and destruction. However, one day soon, at the coming of the dawn, at the return Christ, a new day will begin. The Son of God will rise in His glory, and every knee shall bend, and every tongue confesses that He is Lord.[xi] Yeshua will rule the nations.[xii]
This battle, although told explicitly of Israel, in fact, represents all humanity. This expression of man’s free will was not only the first sin of Adam but has remained the greatest sin of all creation. Adam’s sin was not just willful disobedience to be independent of God but was an expression of his free will to be just like God.[xiii] Therefore, the fall of man was more than just a singular act of disobedience resulting in God’s stern punishment against humanity. No, Adam’s desire to be like God created a chasm between man and God Himself. Why? Because, God is one, and there can be no other gods in addition to Him.[xiv] Anything else would divide God’s singularity and unity of existence, and this is not something He will allow.
God will not copy or replicate himself because He is One. It is written, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). There is nothing within God that is divided. Even the entire creation is unified with Him and would not continue to exist without Him.[xv] For He created the world out of nothing, and the world would cease to exist if He removed Himself for even one moment because something created out of nothing cannot continue to exist unless the one Who created it wills for it to live.
In our desire to be independent and separate from God, we have become orphaned children. Now equipped with the knowledge of good and evil, humanity has gone in a direction that has and remains opposite of God’s desire in every sense. For it is written, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2); “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
However, mankind was not created by God to be sinful, except that apart from God where our focus is on our selfish and lustful desires, we can become nothing but corrupt, or worse, evil. For the greatest sin is idolatry, and the highest form of idolatry is worship of the self—this manifesting itself as Pride and arrogance. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23).
Pride sets man’s actions contrary to God’s will. Therefore, what God created and established as good, our sinful nature perverts in the opposite direction. God created marriage as a loving union, and man destroys marriage by acts of sexual immorality. And, so it is with every aspect of our fallen nature.
Yes, God has turned man over to his demise, to be in control so-to-speak of his destiny, but not to live in an eternal body. For God foreknew the consequences of man’s decisions, that apart from God we would cease to exist. It is written, “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22).
While we view death as a curse (and it is), for those of us who are in Christ, God has turned death into a blessing. “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). For, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Our physical death now permanently frees us from the bondage of our sinful nature that dwells within our mortal bodies. Our soul has now returned to its source, to Yeshua, to the one who breathed His Spirit into our physical bodies.[xvi] And now He is breathing once again. “[For] It is written, The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).[xvii]
The Temporary Covering of Sin
When the Lord created the nation of Israel, He not only established a governing system of laws that defined God’s moral standard of conduct for humanity, He also set a temporary covering for involuntary sin. Unfortunately, God’s Mosaic Covenant left uncertainty about permanently removing our sin, and it did nothing to alter our sinful nature.[xviii] The law gave us a cycle of yearly repentance and cleansing but also left us in anticipation that was intended to direct us to the need for a Savior, a Messiah who would deliver us from this vicious and endless cycle of sin and death.
Israel was to continually ask this question: What about the purification of the deeper levels of our souls, the place in our hearts that is beyond the flesh that cannot be purified by external water purification rituals, and that cannot be redeemed by the flesh of an animal, not even our own? The question remained a mystery.
As an interim measure, the Lord gave three sacrifices to the Temple. The scape-goat, which was to remove the personal guilt of the Israelites. The red heifer, which was to take away the defilement of death that which stood between God and man. And the living bird offering, which was dipped in water and blood for purification from leprosy, the living death of personal sinfulness. The Old Testament dispensation had within its sanctuary no real provision for complete spiritual purification.
This full removal of sin and spiritual redemption, the removal of personal sinfulness and personal guilt resulting from the consequences of the fall of man, and the rescue from the ensuing spiritual death, all lay beyond the reach of the Temple provision and pointed directly to the Messiah who was to come. Every death, every case of leprosy, and every Day of Atonement was a call for God’s advent. And although not completely understood as to their meaning, these three offerings provided hope of the coming redemption through Yeshua.
Therefore, under the Old Covenant, sin was not really blotted out or removed, but was only put away from the people, and put away temporarily until Yeshua would come. Those following the law and acting in righteousness were not earning their salvation. They were submitting their will to God and receiving the outward, but not the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit so that He might guard their souls against the shadow of death. “For You have delivered my soul from death, My eyes from tears, And my feet from falling” (Psalm 116:8).
If we understand that God only required these temporary offerings and sacrifices for their foreshadowing of the coming of Yeshua, then we see that even the covering of sin could affect only the outer layers of the soul. The priests were only given authority to offer animal sacrifices that covered sins that were not attached to the soul. Just those connected to the flesh and the outer expressions of the soul—our thought, speech, and action.[xix] “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Throughout scripture, we are warned against sin because it is a sin that hardens our hearts and separates us from God. The more we sin, the more distance we place between God and us. This increasing distance is called the descent of man. King David understood this, for he said: “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). However, despite our sin, God reaches out and then waits for us to respond. And it is our soul that responds to the Spirit of God. For it is written, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
A Living Sacrifice
God foreknowing man’s fate created and foreshadowed a path for our redemption, speaking prophetically to Adam when He said: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return… Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:19-21).
Paul said, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Therefore, we know from these scriptures that our flesh is destined to return to the earth from whence it came, and that our short existence in these bodies is comparable to someone living in a tent; a temporary dwelling made of animal skin.
Therefore, God, knowing that the punishment for sin was death, placed the sinful nature of man on his flesh allowing a foreshadowed covering for the sins through the shedding of animal blood, thereby allowing our bodies to become a living sacrifice, and leaving the deepest things of the heart to be redeemed through the blood of Yeshua. Paul said, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (Romans 7:18).
And how are we to become a living sacrifice? Yeshua told His disciples that He was glorified in His suffering—His death on the cross.[xx] Yeshua did not receive His glory through His powerful teachings, wisdom, parables, prayers, miracles, or even His miraculous healings. No, even before heaven and earth were created, He was glorified in His suffering. For it is written, “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).[xxi]
Yeshua told His disciples that He would share His glory with us. He then said we would be persecuted for His name’s sake and thereby exalted in heaven for our suffering. [xxii] We also, like Yeshua, will be glorified in our suffering. I hear people often pray, “Send Your glory from heaven and show me Your glory.” The Lord said to me, “Turn to your brother and see my glory in His suffering.” Like him, we also will be glorified in our suffering, and our flesh will become a living sacrifice unto the Lord as we surrender and give everything to follow Him. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
We know that our fleshly bodies will not be redeemed, and with it forever will die the sins of the flesh. God has allowed the sacrifice of animals to cover the sins of man temporarily, but He has always guarded our souls. For the soul of man is not a creation. It is part of the essence of God. So, it seems that the death of the flesh covers the sins of the flesh, yet the crucifixion of Yeshua reaches much deeper, for His blood not only ransoms but also redeems the sins of the heart of man. Praise the Lord for His redemption of our souls.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[ii] Genesis 1:27.
[iii] Rabbi Kaplan, Aryeh. The Soul—Understanding the source of our soul and its eternal essence. The Handbook of Jewish Thought, Vol. 2, Maznaim Publishing.
[iv] Genesis 34:3.
[v] Kaufmann Kohler, Tobias Schanfarber, Executive Committee of the Editorial Board., Adolf Guttmacher. Heart (Hebrew Leb or Lebab). Jewish Encyclopedia.
[vi] Ezekiel 11:19.
[vii] 2Corinthians 5:17.
[viii] 2Corinthians 4:16.
[ix] Romans 7:23.
[x] Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus and means Salvation. Jesus is the English form of the Greek spelling Iesous. Early forms of the Hebrew name Yeshua are also Yehoshua, meaning GOD is Salvation and pronounced Joshua in the English language.
[xi] Romans 14:11.
[xii] Revelation 2:27, 12:5, 19:15.
[xiii] Genesis 3:5, 3:22.
[xiv] Genesis 20:3.
[xv] Hebrews 1:3.
[xvi] John 1:3-4.
[xvii] John 3:5-8.
[xviii] 1 Corinthians 15:56.
[xix] Lesson in the Tanya—Iggeret HaKodesh, middle of Epistle 25. The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun. Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society. Chabad.org.
[xx] John 12:27-28.
[xxi] John 1:29.
[xxii] John 17:22, 1 Titus 1:12.