When the topic of evolution and the Bible is brought up, one of the many concerns people have is how that fits with humans being “in the image of God.” But before we can go there, we have to address the underlying question: What does it mean to be “in the image of God” anyway?
For years and years and in different movements and corners of the body of Christ, I have heard this question asked and answered in many different ways. Let’s look at some of the ideas I have heard, and then I’ll share what I believe Genesis implies about the topic.
Theory A: God is three parts, and so are we
In the charismatic church, many leaders and teachers put emphasis on teaching about the Tripartite (three-fold) nature of humans. This comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where people are refered to as being “Spirit, Soul, and Body” – as well as other scriptures alluding to this metaphysical anatomy. I also believe humans are tripartite, and I did a whole investigation of the topic here.
So, in many areas of the charismatic church, I have heard it taught that humans being composed of three parts is what it means for us to be “made in the image of God.”
While this three-ness is indeed a similarity between humanity and God, I don’t think it actually is a good identification of what Genesis is implying when it first mentions humans are made in God’s image. There’s nothing in the immediate context of the passage to suggest three-in-one is the main point of being made in God’s image, nor is there anything about being three-in-one in any other verse about being in the likeness of God in the rest of the Bible. So to make this the main point of “being made in the image of God” is maybe as a conjecture and musing based on disconnected scriptural ideas, but I’m not sure it’s really the best case in the context of the passages where the actual ideas of “the likeness of God” are presented. If there were nothing else to go on, I’d say its workable and there’s nothing specifically wrong with it – other than that it tends to overshadow the obvious and immediate meanings which I’ll get to later.
But the other problem with it as the dominant theory on Imago Dei (the image of God) being specifically about being in “three parts” is that this setup is not exclusive to humans. Animals are also repeatedly referred to in the Bible as being “souls” (although English translations tend to obscure this badly; do a study on the Hebrew word nephesh for more clarity) and obviously they have bodies, and less often (sparsely, but it is there) they are referred to as having spirits. So if animals are three-part beings too, it might bode well for discussing the implications and validity of evolution in theological circles, but it still doesn’t help arrive at what this unique, “being in the image of God” thing is that is supposed to be a specifically human thing.
Leaving my charismatic brethren, we’ll go to a theory I hear often from mainline and non-charismatic evangelical Christians:
Theory B: God is a moral agent, and So Are We
I don’t know what the hangup is …or love affair…that the church has with God and morality, as if the be-all of God and man is morality, but here it shows up again in this theory. (I’ve written before of how I think it’s an unfortunately bad apologetic to try to “prove” God with the “morality exists, therefore a moral God must exist” line – see here, but this seems another symptom of the same obsession.) While the entire gospel is about how we fail so desperately in terms of moral righteousness and that grace is the answer to it all, we still hang on to thinking morality is the highest aspect of humanity. Our obsession with morality is right up there with why we as the church often seem to think the Ten Commandments needs to be displayed on secular government property, but I digress. From here we tend to go to arguments and discussions about whether or not animals can display true empathy, or morality, with some presenting arguments that actually seem to be “yes” to some degree or another, while others hold out saying those animals don’t quite meet the human standard (obviously, as they are not human.) But this is probably all very unnecessary.
Surely God is really into fairness and justice, truth, law-giving, and most specifically keeping His own oaths, but you’d be hard pressed to define Him as specifically “moral” by any usual definition of the word (that might be a topic for another day.) But if you want to use the word “moral” to describe God, you’d have to note that the God of the Old Testament assumes all rights to transcend human morality and stand somewhat over and above it. At any rate, we’ll save all those moral questions and debates about God for another day but….
Let’s just note that in Genesis, the promise of “knowing good from evil” is not something that Adam and Eve were endowed with as part of being “made in God’s image.” Instead, the ability to become moral agents was something that another being, other than God, first offered Adam and Eve AFTER they were designed and created. (Until then, humanity’s only morality was to do as God says and not do as God forbids, rather than figuring out good and evil for themselves.)
Why then, “being able to make moral decisions” would therefore be considered as what it means to be made in the image of God is beyond me, as the very concept seems uncannily like a repetition of the very lie that satan offered to Eve, “You shall be like God, knowing good from evil.” While perhaps this is a type of “being like God” – it does not seem to have been the specific likeness of Himself that God was aiming for during the creation of humans in Genesis, but rather a similarity to God perhaps that came later as an add-on via the forbidden fruit, after the fact. At any rate, to view humans as “moral like God” seems almost like a Deist perspective to me, or perhaps a hangover from the enlightenment period’s humanist view of humankind.
Theory C: God has arms and legs and stuff, so, so do we
I’m not sure this theory is worth covering but since I’ve heard and read people arguing for it, it doesn’t hurt I guess to mention it. Most folks read the Bible and when it speaks of God having hands or nostrils or whatever normally “human” body parts may be ascribed to Him, they see this as anthropomorphism. But that wouldn’t be everyone’s viewpoint. Instead, some folks see physical attributes of humans being a reflection of some sort of metaphysical anatomy that God has. Ok, sure, why not? I can’t say for sure what “shape” God’s spiritual form takes. But still, I don’t think this is what Genesis is aiming at when it talks about male and female being made in God’s image. Why not?
(Because in my opinion,)
Genesis actually makes it fairly clear what it means to be “made in God’s image” right in the context of the first mention of the notion.
So here’s theory D: Being made in God’s image means taking dominion over the Earth.
Ok, I can see why this theory isn’t particularly attractive. After all, the word “dominion” generally isn’t a very nice sounding word unless you’re playing a first person shooter video game or something. And that’s just it: the dominion mandate in Genesis has to be one of the most abused concepts in all of Christianity. Sinful humanity, and particularly religiously sinful humanity, has a way of really messing up anytime it has rights to power.
But that’s what’s there in Genesis:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28 RSV
God is the ruler of the universe, the head honcho, the one who is greater than all of creation, and he makes humans – to be His representatives on the Earth. They are the top of the food chain…errr…wait, that’s not what I meant – but they are the leaders of all the animal kingdom and all the created realm, as an echo (or image) of God’s leadership.
Adam is made both high priest and high king in Eden, along with his bride Eve. Together they are going to rule the galaxy (or small patch of Earth…whatever people knew about at that point in time.) In short, Adam and Eve are proxies – God’s government on Earth. (At least pictured so before the “fall.”)
And there are extensions of this. Jonathan David and Melissa Helser come to mind as they have an entire ministry geared towards releasing the creativity of musicians and artists and basically everyone who will listen – and one of their main points of teaching is that God is Creative, and so humans walking in true creativity is our inheritance as the image-bearers of the Father. I see this as an extension of the dominion theme – because one of the reasons that God is the one who has dominion is that He created everything one way or another – and so humans being creative therefore the more beautiful form of “taking dominion” in the Earth than that previously mentioned first-person shooter game would conjure up. Of course, stewardship, kindness, meekness (for these inherit the Earth), these are all Biblical themes about what the responsibility of having “dominion” actually looks like…and of course as the Helsers would remind us, beauty and creativity.
When I told my friends on FB I was writing on this topic, several stepped up to bring forth this very theory, and to also introduce me to the writing of Mike Heiser. Here follows my friend Eric Weiss’s quote introducing me to Mike (thank you Eric and Mike):
Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Hebrew and ANE scholar for Logos Bible Software, says that the phrase means to be given authority to act as God’s representative. I.e., being made in God’s image meant that mankind was in charge of God’s earth and God’s creation:
“This last example directs us to what the Hebrew preposition translated in means in Genesis 1:26. Humankind was created as God’s image. If we think of imaging as a verb or function, that translation makes sense. We are created to image God, to be his imagers. It is what we are by definition. The image is not an ability we have, but a status. We are God’s representatives on earth. To be human is to image God.
“This is why Genesis 1:26–27 is followed by what theologians call the “dominion mandate” in verse 28. The verse informs us that God intends us to be him on this planet. We are to create more imagers (“be fruitful and multiply … fill”) in order to oversee the earth by stewarding its resources and harnessing them for the benefit of all human imagers (“subdue … rule over”).”
So why the heck does any of this matter?
Because there is theory E, which I’ll call the “theory of all the theories.”
Theory E: Jesus is the ultimate “image of God”.
For just as Adam (and Eve) were the image of God which became corrupted, Jesus (and those who ultimately rule with Him as His bride) is the image of God, uncorrupted – in a NEW CREATION. Just as Jesus said to the Pharisees that Abraham was not their father as they were claiming, because they didn’t ACT like Abraham would have acted, so also we have failed to really be God’s proxies and look and act like Him in this creation. But there is a new Adam (and Eve) and a new creation, and this one is not corrupted. This one will see a New Heaven and New Earth ruled over in all the beauty that God ever intended. And Jesus, as human and new Adam, laid down His life as the ultimate act of selflessness, dominion taking turned on its head in the truest way.
And this, this is ultimately what it means to be in the Image of God.
When I talk with people about how Genesis 1 and 2, or the flood narrative, or other assorted things in Scripture are not literal history, the number one concern that people tend to bring up fairly quickly goes something along the lines of (with a huge note of caution, concern, and alarm) :
“Wait – if you don’t take Genesis 1 and 2 literally, then how do you know what else in the Bible to not take literally – and how are you sure that Jesus is a literal person and His story should be taken literally??”
Right. Well, first, I don’t always know in every case what in the Bible is literal, what is literal while simultaneously figurative, and what is just not. I’ll just be honest and put that out there. But as to Jesus being literal, I think most people asking this question might already sort of have a sense of the answer, because as I write it it’s going to seem almost too easy I think. But fear has a way of blinding us to truths we already know, so sometimes encouragement is just the voice which reminds us of what we DO know, unencumbered by those fears. But here is my reply:
No way, that would be my shortest blog post ever! So let’s look at this a little deeper. Now, it just doesn’t work to go backwards on this – to say that, “In order for Jesus to be real, we have to claim that Genesis 1 & 2 must be literally real too” might seem to have noble motives behind it, but it’s just not a good path to go down. Jesus’s reality does not hinge on Genesis – rather, Genesis’s reality hinges on Him. After all, if Jesus isn’t real, most Christians aren’t going to give a hill of beans if Genesis is (at least until the dust settles for them somewhere between Atheism and Judaism.) And if Genesis indeed isn’t plain history, me lying about it to prop up Jesus’s reality is bound to get us all into hot water sooner or later, and just isn’t generally the type of foundation anyone would want Jesus to have for a claim to His reality.
So to elucidate: In the context of the verse above from Colossians, the topic is about practicing rituals from the the Old Testament (the Torah) like the Sabbath or New Moon or what have you – and that these things have their place, but that Jesus is more “real” than all of those (aka, He is the real, the fulfillment, the actuality of what all those things are.)
Here are more verses on the same general tone, this time from the writer of Hebrews:
They [people living out the instructions of the books of Moses] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the patternshown you on the mountain.”
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood,and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
We know that Jesus during His Earthly ministry showed up and had this strong preference for speaking in parables and stories. We tend to think that this is a uniquely Jesus-y thing – that everything in the Bible is stone cold factual reality and history (except for poetry, of course) apart from Jesus’s very unique and quirky way of getting a point across. AND, we tend to believe that Jesus told stories in order to really “get at the heart” – to really, truly, illustrate a point in a way that a straightforward teaching might not be able to. But this isn’t what Jesus or the writers of scriptures had to say about the reason for this style of revelation. As uncomfortable as it may be to consider, it seems Jesus’s motivations in story-telling were more about a motive to CONCEAL, than to reveal:
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,and may indeed listen, but not understand;so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” Mark 4:10-12
This is, by the way, a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 6:8 and 6:9–
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
Now, why on Earth or in Heaven God would have such a motive is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and I’ll be up front and say I’m not even going to claim to have a real grasp on it either. But the idea that God has some delight in concealing things is also seen here:
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” ~ Proverbs 25:2
So we have Jesus, concealing truth by using parables. Could – Would – God the Father also use parables, stories that conceal truth, stories that are God-breathed but not literally historically true (nor even immediately clear in their intended meanings and use?) We are told that Jesus is the fulness of God in flesh, and the express image of His person and that “did nothing He did not see His Father doing” – that in fact, He and the Father are One. So could – would – God the Father possibly do similar things?
Actually it’s not totally the right question to ask – it’s not a matter of whether or not God would do the same things as His Son, but whether or not His Son was pretty much walking in His Father’s footsteps – doing the same things His Father always does, had already done.
So we gotta ask the question: What is WITH this shadowy, copy tabernacle stuff anyway? Have you ever asked, “Why bother?” Or, “Why would God do it that way – set up an entire religion for thousands of years when that who system wasn’t even His main goal?” He is an incredible concealer, isn’t HE? While at the same exact time an amazing Teacher.
Maybe it’s unseemly to focus on such things, after all, people are already questioning God’s character and motives in the blogosphere without me bringing up more uncomfortable things about how He does His God-thing. But while I’m not going to explain too much of the whys, let’s just take a good look at the thing and acknowledge that it’s there in Scripture – because it is.
So here in Psalm 78 is what my friend calls, “The Case of the Missing Parable.” Asaph starts out announcing that he’s about to tell a parable, a dark saying:
And then you can read the rest, all 72 verses which recount seemingly no dark sayings or parables whatsoever, just the seemingly literal, plain, historical (and if I’ll be honest, a bit boring) retelling of the history of the people of Israel and God’s works among them. My mischievous friend likes to read the whole long wordy thing aloud (which takes several minutes) to folks he ends up having this discussion with, and then matter-of-factly closes the book and looks up innocently enough to shrug and say, “Where’s the parable?”
Maybe we shouldn’t make too much out of Psalm 78’s parable – or maybe we should make a whole lot out of it. Maybe we should just read it as a subtle hint from a God who conceals things and tantalizes His Kings and Priests to seek Him out.
So let’s bring this full circle:
We know that Christ is the fulfillment of all that went before Him, of everything in the Scriptures. We know that He *is* the substance, the reality. We know our salvation is found in Him, not in the first Adam, nor in Abraham, nor in Moses or even in King David. We know it’s not altars made with tools, circumcisions made with hands, temples made by men, or the blood of bulls and goats that means anything. It’s not the keeping of days, it’s not the eating or abstention from certain foods, and it’s not even physical bloodlines from Abraham that makes someone a real child of God. So why are we so entirely horrified and frightened to think that these things we know are shadows and types and copies might not even in some cases even be “real?”
When the sun shines on you as you walk down the street, does it matter to you if your shadow on the ground has a real beating heart in it, or if it is a real person? And if you went to your kid’s school and there was a show for all the kids involving shadow puppets, are you going to get upset and feel your child was deceived if you find out that the shadow puppets were just some lady’s hands?
If you were, you’d seem at best really…silly. And at worst, really unhinged.
Kids are OK with enjoying and learning from shadow puppets. The ancient Hebrews were OK with Ancient Near East Creation Mythology. Then in the “fulness of time” when God decided His people were at the right point in the timeline, the lights came on and the shadow puppets disappeared.
Sort of. Yes, the REAL was finally here. But even He couldn’t stop telling stories that weren’t exactly literal reality…because, that’s just not how it’s done – and it’s not the Way He is. But He the Story Teller – and the Story Himself – were and are and ever will be completely real, to the point of being the very nature and substance of Reality “I am Who I am” Himself.
I wrote this a long time ago in response to a discussion that was going on in a community of Christians I was walking with. It’s a response to a view of “spirit and soul” that is widely taught, and comes largely from the teachings of Watchman Nee, but is found often in other writings from the “deeper life” movement (or somewhat in the teachings of Andrew Wommack.) While I appreciate Watchman Nee’s contribution to the body of Christ through his teachings to a very large degree, I do think after having lived under his understanding of things for several years of my life and finding some of those teachings bearing some not-so-great fruit in my own being, that I needed to look deeper into some of the things I had been taught. As a result, I came to some different understandings on the topic of soul and spirit than what Nee and others teach.
To begin with, I took a look at the verse that seems to be mentioned most often in conversations on this topic, which is this one:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ” (Hebrews 4:12 NAS)
This verse is often thought of, and quoted as saying, that the Word divides BETWEEN soul and spirit. Those who hold to this type of interpretation often suggest that a person can be moved either by their “soul” or their “spirit,” and that the Word of God somehow sets a believer free from being “in his soul” (referred to in shorthand as “being soulish”), to instead be “in his spirit.” In this line of teaching, that which occurs or originates from within the “soul,” is thought to be insubstantial and unspiritual; and that which originates from or occurs within the “spirit” of a believer, is believed to be righteous and pure, of God, in concert with His true nature and will, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I believe that if these ideas are taken as an entire package, that they amount to an erroneous and cumbersome teaching, because this teaching fails to recognize the essential and rightful role of the soul in our ability to experience and access what flows through our spirits, and it puts a yoke on believers’ necks to perform some imaginary feat of placing their soul on the back burner while their spirit takes dominion over it. In some cases too, this teaching also contributes to the belief among intellectual theological type people, that that which is emotional (again, “soulish”) is inconsequential and even dangerous to one’s spiritual walk with God. (I’m not saying anyone should base their spiritual life on emotions, either, but when you’re done reading about the spirit/soul topic and want to take it deeper, I’ve been writing about the role of emotions in our relationship with God over here.)
So how do I personally believe this verse (Hebrews 4:12) should be interpreted?
The first clue to me that perhaps the usual interpretation is not correct, is that in no other place in scripture do we find any apostle warning us that it is terribly important to “walk in the spirit, and not in the soul.” I mean, there’s just no emphasis on anything like this anywhere in any verse in all of the New Testament. Instead of drawing a dichotomy between being soulish and being spiritual, the epistles of Paul instead emphasize the difference between being “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit.”
The second clue for me is that in the line about the “division of soul and spirit,” there is usually no mention of the word “between.” This is important, because often the verse is quoted and interpreted as saying “piercing as far as the division BETWEEN soul and spirit,” but very few Bible translations actually use the word BETWEEN. For your perusal, here is a list of translations with the way they translate the phrase – and notice that while “between” and other synonyms are occasionally used, most translations don’t indicate such a word is in the verse.
First, versions that don’t say “between” –
New International Version even to dividing soul and spirit
English Standard Version to the division of soul and of spirit
Berean Study Bible
even to dividing soul and spirit
Berean Literal Bible
even as far as the division of soul and spirit
New American Standard Bible
as far as the division of soul and spirit
King James Bible
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
International Standard Version
until it divides soul and spirit
New American Standard 1977
and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit
Jubilee Bible 2000
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
King James 2000 Bible
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
American King James Version
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
Webster’s Bible Translation
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit
World English Bible
even to the dividing of soul and spirit
Here are some Bible versions that do use “between” or some similar word.
New Living Translation cuttingbetween soul and spirit
even to the point of dividing soul from spirit
Holman Christian Standard Bible
as far as the separation of soul and spirit
Aramaic Bible in Plain English
it pierces to the separation ofsoul and spirit
GOD’S WORD® Translation
cuts as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet
Weymouth New Testament
even to the severance of soul from spirit, and penetrates between the joints and the marrow
Here are some versions that seem to subtly agree with what I’m going to argue in the next few paragraphs is more correctly indicated:
Young’s Literal Translation
piercing unto the dividing asunderboth ofsoul and spirit, of joints also and marrow
American Standard Version
piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow
reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow
Darby Bible Translation
penetrating to [the] division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow
English Revised Version
even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow
Now, in and of itself this absence of “between” certainly doesn’t prove what the verse does or doesn’t mean, especially since some versions actually do translate “between” or some similar sense into the verse, but being infrequently used it did seem worth a better look; especially since my premise is that I don’t think it actually belongs there anyway (more on why, as we continue.)
So, the next question to explore is – what sort of word is sitting there in the Greek text that indicates what type of “division” soul and spirit are subjected to by the Word? It turns out that the word “division” here in the Greek is the word *merismos* (μερισμός).
Merismos (μερισμός) is defined by Strongs as meaning, “a division, partition, or separation.” There is only one other scripture (quoted below) where this exact word is used, and in that particular verse, *merismos* or division, is demonstrated to be occuring WITHIN a spirit – within, in fact, the Holy Spirit – as opposed to division occuring between the Holy Spirit and some other thing:
Hebrews 2:4 reads: “…God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts [and the word “gifts” in this verse is the word we are researching which is “merismos”, aka, “partitions/divisions”] of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
So why not then approach our original verse in question, from two chapters later in Hebrews, the same book of the Bible, in the same way? Since it is clear that a “spirit” can be divided, then maybe it is reasonable to consider that Hebrews 4:12 is not suggesting that the Word of God divides BETWEEN soul and spirit, but rather that it beneficially creates a division within the soul of a person in some way, and similarly also divides and provides distinctions or divisions within the spirit of a person?
If this is indeed what the Word does, could it not be described or worded by saying that what would then be occurring here is the “DIVISION OF SOUL AND SPIRIT,” just as most Bible translations word it?
But traditionally, because “soul and spirit” are listed as a pair, we normally have the default assumption that the sword is dividing up the pair, and separating the soul from the spirit in some sense. Remember however, that the word “between” isn’t found in there at all. But furthermore, this interpretation of division BETWEEN the soul and the spirit really doesn’t make sense when applied to the remainder of the verse.
Take for instance the next phrase in question, which reads: “of both joints and marrow.” For years I read over this verse and thought it was saying “bone and marrow” but actually it doesn’t say that; it says “joints” and marrow.
They are both parts of the skeletal system to be sure, but marrow and joints aren’t really a logical intertwined pair that could be divided, like one might think of dividing marrow from a bone. In fact, it would be much like saying that the Word of God divides the tree sap from the acorns…. sure, tree sap and acorns are somewhat connected, but they are not really a complimentary pair that could or would require separation, whereas in contrast, tree sap and a tree trunk would be a suitable example of a logical pair that could be “divided.”.
But the real explanation of this verse seems to be found in the final phrase,which contains one more “pair” of things that are divided, in the idea that the sharp sword “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Here is where the type of “division” that I (and others) am proposing as what this verse describes seems to be revealed as the most reasonable – for why would we suppose that the division would occur BETWEEN the thoughts and intentions of the heart, as if the thoughts need to be somehow separated from the intentions. Does it not seem much more harmonious with the rest of scripture and even your own spiritual walk, to understand that this verse is saying the Word of God divides – aka, judges – both the thoughts AND the intentions of your heart?
And isn’t this what the Word of God does? It helps us understand which of our thoughts are of God, and which of our thoughts are not of God? And doesn’t it similarly help us discern …or judge…. or divide…. which of our intentions align with God, and which of our intentions are not aligned with God?
But aside from all this, there is more contained here in this verse I think to help us truly understand what the soul and spirit of a person are, and how they form what and who we are. I believe that the actual literary style of this verse is meant to draw a parallel between the three pairs I just explored, and that they correspond to and help explain one another. The three pairs are:
1) soul and spirit 2) joints and marrow 3) thoughts and intentions.
If you line them up like this, it is at least highly conceivable that these three are all somewhat congruent, things which are either all the same thing or at least which correspond to one another pair by pair, and as I’ll continue to discuss, they seem to match up quite nicely. So, if these three are taken as corresponding pairs, then we could conceptualize that in this verse, going across you get that “soul = joints = thoughts”, AND that “spirit = marrow = intentions.”
Now, what on earth does the author of Hebrews mean by corresponding the “soul” with the idea of a “joint?” Here are my thoughts on that. Adam was created from the Earth. He was a lifeless sculpture, a mere body, until in Genesis 2:7 reads that God breathed His breath (hebrew: neshamah, spirit) into Adam. When this happened, the rest of Gen 2:7 says that “Adam became a living SOUL.” From this we see that a body, plus a spirit, equals a soul.
The soul is essentially what forms as your physical being (your brain and your nervous system and hormones, which all affect how you think and who you are) come together and intersect with your living spirit (which comes from God and returns to God.) This then is the mystery as to why Hebrews 4:12 parallels the word “soul” with the word “joints,” because a joint is the result of the coming together of two things.
(For my scientifically inclined friends: It is important to note that this is not a truly biological description of how life works, but it is a metaphysical description of our physiology as beings which have both a physical and spiritual existence. And I might write a blog post to delve into that more at some point!)
The word “soul” in Greek is the word “psuche,” from where we get the English words “psyche” and “psychology.” It pertains to your awareness, your consciousness – with all your thoughts and emotions and perceptions as a self-aware living being. In a word, your soul is basically “you.” The word soul in some verses can only legitimately be translated as your “life” – your existence.
As Descartes once famously described “the soul” when he said, “I think, therefore I am,” and similarly the writer of proverbs wrote, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” – the soul is Biblical term for the experience of being a person, of having thought, of having feelings, being aware of and participating in your own existence, of being a living being. The scripture in fact makes mention of God Himself having a “soul” – and since we know that nothing evil dwells in God, it therefore stands to reason that the soul is neither inherently unspiritual, (since God Himself IS Spirit) or even a merely fleshy thing.
It IS true that it is the faculty of a human’s spirit which is most directly in union with God’s Spirit; and it is true that it is the human spirit which most directly receives from and communes with the Holy Spirit. But it is the SOUL – your mind, your self awareness, your heart – where you and I become aware of what is occuring in our spirits. You cannot readily perceive anything of your own spirit without doing so through your soul, because your soul is your life, your self, your thoughts! And there is verse after verse which confirms this – take for example the verses in Romans which speak of the “mind” (which is an aspect of the soul) being either “on the spirit” or “on the flesh.”
The soul is the gatekeeper: this is why it is impossible to realistically speak about someone being “in their soul rather than in their spirit” – because the soul is simply the place where either the flesh or the spirit is being expressed. Either one takes place through the soul.
As long as we are alive in a body, our souls become a fulcrum, because they are able to focus on input coming from both the flesh (body), and from the spirit (which can also be joined to Christ’s spirit through believing in Him.) The more one focuses on what the flesh is experiencing and wants, the more the soul is flooded with feelings, thoughts, and emotions based on the flesh. And the more one focuses on what the spirit is experiencing and wants, the more the soul is flooded with feelings, thoughts, and emotions based on the spirit.
So then, if our soul is our mind and feelings and self-awareness, what then do we experience our spirit as? The Spirit, as the deepest God given life and breath within us, refers to the deepest part of our being, and this parallels marrow because marrow is the innermost part of the bone, and is then also corresponded to our intentions, which are the innermost part of the counsel of our hearts. Our intentions are the aspect of our hearts where, if we have received Christ into our innermost beings (hearts), God is at work to cause us then to “will and to do according to His good pleasure.”
In people who have not received Jesus into their spirits, input from the spirit is limited to earth-bound spiritual realities. Thus, people who are attuned to their spirits without Christ may still be acutely aware of their own life energy which God gave them in His breath, and they may use their spirits to connect to the general energy of life surrounding the creation, or in more spiritually developed individuals, they may be able to perceive other peoples’ souls and spirits, and encounter angels or in some cases demons. Everyone has some limited spiritual awareness even if they do not know what it is that they are perceiving.
In general, advanced spiritual abilities were not meant to be used apart from the safety and power of a vibrant spiritual connection to God afforded by imbibing Christ’s Spirit into our Spirits, and have been forbidden as witchcraft. When Christ is indwelling, spiritual abilities are meant to be developed almost exclusively as an outgrowth of intimacy with Him and His indwelling power within us.
One’s soul can be sensitized to spiritual input of the wrong type and care must be taken to cultivate sensitivity to God’s Spirit first and foremost – which tends to grow along with the soul growing in sensitivity to the love of God and the soul growing in its love for God. Love (and other emotions that are various shades of love) become a bond that connects our existential awareness to the Spirit of Christ and God in our own spirits, and which makes us more and more fixated on our spirits in the right way, thus subduing sinful inclinations coming from our flesh.
Intentions and emotions that originate in our spirit eventually make their way to our souls; and so our souls, if tuned to the Spirit, can be incredibly powerful instruments for the Lord’s use. On the flip side, our souls can be ensnared with input from the flesh, whether natural desires like hunger, or sinful desires like self-righteousness. The goal then is to see the spirit triumph over the flesh in the war for the soul’s attention – but once again, notice the issue isn’t soul vs. spirit, but rather flesh-oriented soul vs. spirit-oriented soul.
Now, it should be stated that the flesh in and of itself is not bad – we need to care for our flesh and “nourish and cherish it” as Paul says. But our flesh is not hooked up to God’s Spirit the way that our spirits are, so we need to make sure we learn to drink from His Spirit via our spirits so that our flesh’s needs and wants don’t dominate us more than His do. What’s best for our soul is best for our flesh as well – because as we learn to walk by and receive from the Spirit in our spirit, our flesh receives good things from the Spirit as well.
If God’s Spirit within our spirit is given dominion in the soul, then the soul will carry out the Spirit’s desires and enslave the flesh to its whims. But if you, or rather, your soul gives the flesh provision to dominate attention over the spirit, then the soul (you) will carry out the flesh’s desires and enslave the soul AND spirit to its whims, until the spirit is strengthened by the wooing of God’s Spirit within with grace, love, and power, to set the soul (you) free from the deception of sin to repent and choose agreement with the Spirit once again. When our hearts are single upon Christ, our flesh is “reckoned dead” by an attitude informed by the Word, we give no place to the enemy, and then all of our thoughts and emotions – whether in our souls or in our spirits – are in tune with and proceeding from cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 4:12 then is basically saying that the Word of God goes deep within us and reveals everything, from the shallowest to even to the deepest parts of every faculty of our being. It divides up our soul, showing us whether the various aspects of our soul (our mind, our emotions) are loving our flesh or loving God. And it divides up our spirit, showing us at what points our spirit is moving in harmony with His spirit, or contrary to Him. This is why another verse talks about keeping our spirits blameless – our spirits have been joined to the Lord “as one spirit with Him,” sort of like a marriage. IF our souls – our minds and emotions – tune into the Lord’s spirit in our spirit, the fulcrum of our souls allows the presence and substance of Christ to flow across it as a bridge and flood even our flesh with His glory and love and power. But it works the other way – if we tune into the sinful inclinations of the flesh, those types of thoughts and desires flood across the fulcrom of our souls and quench, subdue, and inundate our spirits with opaque earthly input that blots out the light of Christ’s Spirit shining in our spirits, and taints our spirit with the dust of this realm.
So the point here is that it is not really all that important to know whether or not what you are “feeling” at any given time is occuring in your spirit or soul. We don’t need to go around doing some sort of internal gymnastics to figure out if we’re operating out of our soul or or spirit; but we do need to be pierced and divided by the Word of truth so that in every area of our being, whether spirit, soul, or body, that all three are blameless (aka, working in conjunction with God’s will and for His glory by functioning in cooperation with HIS Spirit. ) If you embrace and connect with an awareness of the Holy Spirit within you, your soul is latching onto the Spirit within your Spirit and things are heading in the right direction.
Via our souls, we can either walk with God’s Spirit (like a harmonious marriage) or start to turn our spirits away from Him (thus grieving Him – like a disharmonious marriage.) Our spirits are permanently joined with Him – but when we have allowed via our soul for our spirits to become tainted by our flesh, we may sense that defilement the more we then turn our attention to Christ in our Spirit. It is important to keep our spirit blameless before Him by receiving His Word into us which is able to separate, cleanse, and wash us from all unrighteousness as we receive and yield to it, and finding where to be agreeing with that Word as we confess our sins to Him.
So there you have it – my thoughts on this subject. It makes no sense to “stop being soulish” in our efforts to be spiritual, as everything spiritual about us only is accessible to us in our souls. But if we are truly spiritual, our souls will be places of His glory every bit as much as our spirits or our bodies, and there is no reason to disregard our souls as somehow unspiritual, for they work in complete cooperation with our spirits when we seek to walk in the Spirit.
Jesus never condemned the “soul” as being inferior to the Spirit, as many often teach. What He did teach is that if we seek to find our life (the Greek word is for life in this verse is also the word psuche / SOUL), we will lose it, but if we seek to lose our souls, we will find them. Somehow I think we get wrapped up in the part about losing our life (souls), but the reality is that as we give our life (souls) over to Christ, we FIND them. And this is a good thing! He WANTS us to find our life (souls) in Him! We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Some of those areas are the domain of the Spirit; and some are the domain of the soul, and some pertain to your body: regardless, we are to LOVE the Lord with every facet of our being.
People thoroughout scripture are recorded as pouring out their “souls” before the Lord in prayer; they were not criticized for praying soulishly or emotionally. And many of us experience physical manifestations when we are praying; and many of us experience emotions and visions and ideas and all sorts of things that would normally be thought of as belonging to the body or the soul, rather than the Spirit. But the fact is that the Spirit of God tends to want ALL of us; His aim is to have every part of us for His use!
Many times people preach that the soul is the realm of emotions, and that the spirit is something else. The soul and the spirit both can have “feelings” of one sort or another. But the fact is, that scripture is FILLED with examples of people and even the Lord Himself having emotional type things in their spirit, although the emotions of the Spirit feel and are different than emotions that are the normal workings of the soul, even though they all flood into the soul in order to be perceived. Feelings are not inherently unspiritual or insignificant; neither are they necessarily spiritual or significant. A few verses about emotions in our spirit:
1 Sam 1:15:
And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of
sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink,
but have poured out my soul before the LORD.”
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish
of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has
Twice in the past 48 hours someone has asked me about the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Luke – and how it traces Jesus right back to Adam. The question is then, “If Adam was not a real, historical person, why is He in Jesus’s genealogy?” Or, conversely, “How do you know who in Jesus’s genealogy was real and who wasn’t real?”
I have stated before that I do believe Adam is *real* in some sense, in that, possibly there really was some person back in the history of Mesopotamia who God used as the starting point for revelation about Himself, revelation that would become the lineage of the Jewish people. This *real* person was mythologized, and honestly I don’t know that the genealogy leading back to him is historical, hardcore fact or not. My guess would be…not.
But to someone earnestly asking the question of “if Adam isn’t a *real* person, what do you do about him being in Christ’s genealogy in Luke?” I guess I’d have to offer this – your problems are a lot bigger than what to do with Adam in the list of people in Luke. Behold:
The entire genealogy found in Luke leaves itself wide open for all sorts of conjecture and concern and critique on a much broader level than the fact that it leads back to a possibly mythical or mythologized figure, because it’s completely a zillion miles apart from Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. The question you first have to ask is: which genealogy can be trusted at all? Over the years people have tried to explain away the discrepancies between the two genealogies as “well, one is Mary’s genealogy, and the other is Joseph” but I think that’s really creative damage control, damage control that actually doesn’t control for the damage at all. Both genealogies SAY they are the genealogy of JOSEPH, not Mary.
And they disagree right from the start –
about who Joseph’s dad is (Matthew says “Jacob” while Luke says “Heli.”) It just gets worse from there. Luke takes 19 people to get back to Zerubbabel, while Matthew only takes 10 people – but that is where the genealogies first agree on something, that Joseph is a direct descendant of Zerubbabel. They both say Z’s dad was Salathiel, but then they disagree on Z’s grandfather’s name (Matthew says his name was Jechonias while Luke says his name was Neri).
The real problem starts at that juncture, however – because even if someone wants to say that one of the genealogies is from Mary, and the other from Joseph, what really-really-really doesn’t make sense nor work is that while they both led back to Zerubbabel and Salathiel, neither one of them agrees on a single name after that point until David. Luke takes 20 people to get from Neri to David, while Matthew takes 14 people to get from Jechonias to David, with not a single common person in the lists until David. This just isn’t solved in the least by construing these genealogies as being from each of Jesus’s earthly parents.
Another problem, of particular interest to the query about who in the genealogy is real or not real, is that Luke inserts Cainan into the genealogy between Shem and Abraham, which is not present in the Hebrew Bible’s rendering of Genesis (although it is found in the Septuagint.) Is the Septuagint accurate on this point, or did Luke copy an error from the LXX? (see http://www.errancy.org/cainan.html)
Now on what I think might be a more refreshing note, I see a parallel between how Genesis has what has often been noted as “two” creation stories (the first is Genesis 1:1-2:3, the second is Genesis 2:4-25), and the fact that Jesus is given “two” beginnings, two stories of his genealogy, in the gospels. Just as each creation account in Genesis is concerned with expressing a different angle of divine truth, so also the genealogy of Jesus in each book is concerned with Jesus’s lineage in two different facets: one is concerned with Jesus as the descendent of Abraham and David, and the other, as a descendent of both man and God. Thus one genealogy tracks back to Abraham and stops, and the other one tracks to Adam (man) and then to God. As always, the concern/question I have with the scriptures very often has little to do with “did this really happen/is this person really real” as much as it has to do with “What is the Holy Spirit inspired message in this story?” One approach ultimately runs up against the inevitable “errancy” found in the scriptures, an “errancy” I believe that was put there as a signpost from God to say, “It’s not the letter of this that matters, but what’s hiding in the message underneath the letters.”
(End note: This of course can take us right back to an earlier posting about what the Bible means when it talks about being descended from someone to begin with, and the allegorical language employed there: Adam and Eve, and Original Sin )
I got in an unplanned discussion with a friend today about Adam and Eve and not taking Genesis 1 and 2 literally. I’ve written about my views on that before but there are some rubber-meets-the-road questions about how the gospel segues with that viewpoint, that I am asked pretty routinely. The difference is that today I took the time to write out some replies, which I thought I would share here.
My friend asked the million dollar question (or posed the million dollar objection, whichever 🙂 ) which was:
“When you remove the idea that there was a literal Adam and Eve from the picture, you set up a scenario that says Original Sin does not actually exist. In other words if there were other human beings who had been born before the Fall, then there’s still a race out there that hasn’t fallen potentially and therefore does not need a savior?”
My first reply to my friend was thus:
“This is somewhat off the main topic of what you are bringing up, but just for the record: “original sin” is a term that is somewhat modern compared to antiquity, and postdates the break of the eastern church from Catholicism – the entire Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t believe in “original sin” but something called “ancestral sin” which is a somewhat different spin on the topic – not particularly relevant to a discussion of whether or not Adam and Eve are the first humans, but worth mentioning nonetheless. (http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin)
Since that has next to nothing to do with the main discussion here but is offered just as an informative freebee, I just thought I’d throw it out there, hit send, and then reply to what you’re actually writing about. I’m not mentioning this because I believe in the Eastern Orthodox perspective per se, but simply to point out that there are a lot of unexamined ideas that we inherit as Christians about something even as seemingly straightforward as our belief in “original sin” which turns out to be not so straightforward as we’d like it to be, after all. ”
Then I hit send, and wrote my next post, the one that everyone wants to dig into anyway:
I personally don’t believe that removing a literal Adam and Eve from the picture sets up a scenario that original sin doesn’t not actually exist, at least, not in a way that would deny the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice – because I think the Adam and Eve story is parable, it’s meaning is to reveal truth – truth about Gods reasons for sending His son. Just as like 2 chapters later in Genesis we read stuff like, “Jubal was the father of all who play the pipe” and “Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” I don’t take to means that anyone who ever played the pipe, or lived in a tent and has livestock, is literally the descendants of one of these two guys (and why? because when the [literal, proportedly worldwide] flood came, everyone would have been wiped out except Noah’s descendants, and unless Noah was descended from all three guys…this isn’t talking about NATURAL descent, but spiritual descent. )
If we’re going to interpret scripture with scripture, then we need to look about how scripture interprets what it means to be “the father” or “the mother” of someone – and if two chapters after Adam and Eve, we see scripture speaking metaphorically about what it means to be someone’s descendent, that should give us something to chew on. Sin is transmitted through spiritual descent, just as righteousness is transmitted through spiritual descent. Sin resides in the flesh, but so also can righteousness reside in the flesh (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.) Just as in Christ, “all are made alive” through yes, “one man” – one is not a physical descendant of Christ in order to inherit His righteousness. Neither does one have to be a literally physical descendant of the “one man Adam” to inherit his spiritual unrighteousness. This is one of the reasons that Jesus could rail at the pharisees and tell them that they weren’t children of Abraham when push came to shove:
John 8 38-39, ESV: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.…”
Sure, they were physically literal descendants of Abraham, but what counts in the spirit realm is who one is spiritually descended from. To be a descendant of Abraham is to descend from the faith of Abraham, not from the flesh of Abraham. Likewise, Adam *means* man, Eve means *woman*: He represents the condition of the flesh which is not choosing the tree of life (Jesus) to eat from but rather the knowledge of good and evil (earthly morality/the conscience without the Spirit of God.) – the Adam and Eve story, among other things, is revealing the condition of a human without a vital connection by the Spirit to the life of God in the Heavenlies.
So, there was my answer. I didn’t really get into the issue of whether or not there were other people around before “Adam and Eve” although I think the age old question of “Who did Cain marry?” hints at that. But it wasn’t important to go there, because the main idea of why it even matters is in the above material. Of course, I find that I learn the best as I discuss my viewpoints and others viewpoints together, so feel free to add or question or tweek or say anything at all as long as it is respectful and civil, below 🙂