The Uniqueness of Man
Luke 1:44, “For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” When we look at that verse in the English it looks as if the baby is leaping is caused by joy. This is the preposition “for” which in English is a multi-functional preposition. It can be used in a number of different contexts. But what we have here is interesting phraseology in the Greek. It is not the normal word that one would expect for joy, which is the word CHARA, it is the preposition EN plus AGALLIAO, another word for exuberance or exultation. This is a word that is used for exaltation in the Psalms to translate the word “joy” when the context is salvation. So that relates to the fact that the Messiah is coming and there is joy because of His coming. But this phrase “in” does not have the idea of cause. Cf. Ephesians 2:8, which is not “because of faith” which would be the preposition DIA plus the accusative, it is the phrase DIA plus the genitive. When you have DIA plus the accusative, that expresses cause. DIA plus the genitive indicates intermediate means, “through faith” is Ephesians 2:8. So here we don’t have DIA plus the accusative which expresses causation. What we have is EN plus the dative which usually indicates some kind of means or instrumentality. But even that is an unusual idea in this kind of context, and according to the latest edition of the Greek lexicon Arndt and Gingrich this usage is the mark of circumstance or the condition under which something takes place. So this is the condition under which the leaping takes place. So the joy, then, is not necessarily that of the fetus. The English translation makes it look like the baby is having joy, but that is a particularly troubling concept on a number of fronts.
Genesis 2:7, “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 next issue that we need to address, developing from this verse, is the answer to the question: What is man? “And the LORD God” – emphasis on the LORD as Yahweh, the creator of Israel and the one who is in a covenant relationship with Israel; therefore bringing into play at this stage a moral quality to God. What is being referred to when using the idea of morality is that God is a holy God. That word “holy” is over used and doesn’t have a lot of significance and meaning in our every-day language. It is a word that has to do with the fact that God is set apart. He is unique in His righteousness and His justice. So we refer to that as part of His integrity. God is holy. He is righteous and just, which means righteousness is the absolute standard of His character, it is absolute perfection, and justice is the application of that standard to His creatures. What we are saying here is that the Hebrew tetragrammaton, YHWH, is directly related in the minds of the Jew to the Mosaic covenant that God has given to Israel. That covenant is preceded by a preamble that is called the Decalogue or the ten commandments. God has one commandment He is about to give Adam in Genesis 2, but in Exodus He has ten commandments that precede the giving of the Mosaic law. When the Jews thought of Yahweh they thought of His covenant which imposed the righteous standards of God on people. So whenever we see the use of the term Yahweh in the Scripture part of the the baggage that that word is carrying is this quality of righteousness. It brings in the fact that there is a moral mandate placed inherently upon man as the image of God.
“ … and man became a living soul/being.” The word for soul in the Hebrew is nephesh. In the Septuagint the Hebrew word nephesh was translated PSUCHE, which we usually transliterate “psyche.” These are important words which we tend to translate into English with the English word “soul.”
We are answering the question from this verse, What is man? The Psalmist asked, What is man that thou art mindful of him? … you have made him a little lower than the angels,” but he will be elevated eventually above the angels. Why is it important to begin here with understanding man? We can’t start with human observations because our observations are always going to be limited and affected by the fact that we are sinners with an orientation to rebellion against God and rejection of God’s absolutes. That does not mean that empiricism and rationalism do not have their place, do not have their value and some significance, but they must operate within the framework of revelation. What happens as a result of the fall is that fallen man rejects, blocks out, special revelation of Scripture so that he is left with empiricism, rationalism and mysticism operating independently. Illustration from Genesis 2: When God places Adam in the garden, let’s say God didn’t give him any revelation. All Adam has is his unfallen, unaffected five senses and his reasoning—better than anything we have. Under this idea Adam can go out and investigate all the trees, all the animals, and come up with many different conclusions based on his observations of the data. Yet there is one conclusion that he could not come up with by observing the data. He couldn’t learn that by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die. He could only learn that from revelation. So observation is good to a point but it is limited. There are certain things we can only know because they are revealed to us by God. So reason and empiricism operate within the boundaries established by revelation. We have to start with a biblical anthropology, a biblical understanding of man and his nature. What we see is that this affects many areas of study. It affects biology. If we study biology without taking into account the fact that man was created from the dust of the soil as God says, then we are going to have a skewed view of biology at some level. It affects anthropology, which is a branch of sociology in the study of man and the development of humanity. It affects sociology and psychology.
Then we get into another part of this subject in this chapter as look at man’s relationship to nature, because he is set over nature and there is quite a difference between the human viewpoint concept of man and the divine viewpoint concept of man. In human viewpoint paganism, which goes all the way back to the ancient world, is the idea that there is a continuity of being. This is the idea that there is no major distinction between anything in nature and man and God. As we go up the chain of being from nature, to man, to god, there is only a difference of complexity and a difference in degree, but there is no difference in kind. So they are all part of the same chain. The only difference between gods and man is that the gods have more power and more ability. For example, in ancient Greek mythology the gods are prone to all the same foibles and failures and flaws as any human being, but they are blown up in their magnitude. Their powers are greater but the are still human beings. Man is just another extension of nature. Ultimately there is no difference between man who is just another biological creature, another kind of animal. That is the whole continuity or chain of being idea. Yet this is not what the Bible teaches in terms of divine viewpoint. In terms of human viewpoint man is then part of nature, he is just another cog in nature. This idea has radical implications on how one views the environment and technology and the use of nature in technology. Whereas the biblical view, the divine viewpoint, what we have is the creator-creature distinction. The creator is wholly and completely distinct from His creation. This is the biblical teaching of ex-nihilo creation, that there is a distinction between the creator and the creature; and they are not the same, they are completely different in kind. In creation there are two distinctions, the animals and the rest of nature on one level, but over them and completely separate is man. He is unique in all of creation; he is not another animal. The Bible teaches that man was set over nature to rule nature and to have dominion over nature.
The word PSUCHE is a real blight on our understanding. If we are of western European descent, either physically or intellectually, then we have been infected by a false view of the soul/PSUCHE, and that is because we are all heirs of the intellectual tradition of the Greeks— Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. Plato had a certain view of the soul that really dominated later Greek thought. It became a major problem in Gnosticism and Docetism. The Gnostics saw this dualism and separation between what they called spirit and matter. In their thinking spirit was good and matter was inherently evil. So the soul/PSUCHE in Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought is in the realm of the spirit. Plato had the idea of pre-existent souls. There is one important implication from the idea of a pre-existent soul. That is, that the soul can exist without the body. That gives the idea that the soul is important and the body is somehow less significant. This is where the idea that matter is evil comes from. The body is material, so it is evil. The error in this is that it downplays the body. How did that affect thought? In the early church it affected thought in monasticism. Monasticism was heavily influenced by this whole idea form neo-Platonism, and so that affects their view of sex. God creates Adam and Isha from the very beginning to enjoy sexual relations as something that is pleasurable, and it is not merely functional, i.e., for the purpose of having children. But in medieval thought in the early middle ages and the early church fathers there was picked up this idea from Platonism that anything associated with the body is not that; so therefore sex isn’t that good and should be restricted to only producing offspring and if you have sex for pleasure that is a sin. So we have to recognize and be very careful how we handle the idea of soul because we don’t want to pick up this sort of autonomous idea from Plato that the soul can have an independent non-bodily association.
Four observations on the nature of man
1) Man’s unique creation. When we look at this in terms of divine viewpoint and human viewpoint what we see in human viewpoint is that man is the product of chance plus time. He just happened and is a cosmic gamble. Self-image is the emphasis in human viewpoint and in contrast to this we have in divine viewpoint the image of God. Genesis 1:26-28. For the believer the issue is not self-image, it is the image of God or the image of Christ. What happens at the fall is that image of God is marred and distorted and corrupted by sin. It is not destroyed or erased; it is simply corrupted. But at regeneration there is a new birth, a spiritual birth, and then for the Church Age believer there is a renewal that takes place in the believer as he grows and advances in the Scriptures, and this is called the image of Christ—Colossians 3:10, “And have put on the new self [which comes with regeneration], who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to—KATA plus the accusative, according to a standard—the image of him that created him.” Romans 8:29, we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, so there is a renewal of that image taking place through progressive sanctification as the believer matures and grows. This shows that there is an importance to man that is based not on who and what man is or what he does—his value isn’t based on what he does. His value is based on the fact that he was created in the image and likeness of God and even though born a fallen sinner he still bears that image. The image is the totality of man. There are two errors that people have slipped into over the years. The first is that the image is the physical body of the human being. This is the distortion that you find in Mormonism. Their idea is that God has a physical body. On the other hand, to avoid idolatry and a too-heavy emphasis on the material body, Christians have tended to restrict the image to just the invisible or immaterial. The human soul never exists without a body.