In the Hebrew Scriptures the question "What is man?" is asked twice. David's reflections in Psalm 8 are widely known and are quoted in the New Testament book of Hebrews. In contrast, the passage in Job 7 is rarely remembered. But both are worthy of careful consideration.
But how do we define humanity? What is a human being? These questions have exercised the minds of philosophers from time immemorial. But in this lesson we are concerned with what God's Word reveals about the nature of people.
What does God reveal about man?
"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 being [soul, KJV]" (Genesis 2:7).
"Behold all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4; compare Ezekiel 18:20).
Genesis 1 tells us that man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Then chapter 2 reveals a little more detail about the specifics of that creation. God created man out of matter, "the dust of the ground." The Bible nowhere reveals him to either be or to possess an "immortal soul." All such ideas representing man as possessing immortality in his being are nonbiblical concepts originating from distinctly nonbiblical sources.
Scripture tells us plainly that the soul is something that can die or be destroyed. It is not immortal! Jesus said not to fear "those that kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). (For a more complete explanation of this crucial topic, please request our free booklet What Happens After Death?)
Though man clearly does not possess an immortal soul, is there an important nonphysical component of man's being?
"But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding" (Job 32:8).
Apparently this "spirit in man" adds that essential nonphysical ingredient that gives humans their innate capacity to learn and understand on a level vastly superior to animals. Paul indicates it imparts the ability to know "the things of a man" (1 Corinthians 2:11).
What happens to the spirit in man when one dies?
"Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Is this spirit in man conscious apart from the man's brain and body?
"For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
"For in death there is no remembrance of You [God]" (Psalm 6:5).
Many verses in the Bible show us that the state of death is compared to human sleep (Daniel 12:2, Luke 8:52; John 11:11-13; 1 Corinthians 15:19-20). The dead, however, will be awakened to consciousness by Jesus Christ at the time of the resurrection (John 5:28-29; John 6:39).