This question is so important that it is five times asked in the Bible. First in the book of Job, 7:17 “What is man that thou shouldst magnify him, and that thou shouldst set thine heart upon him?” Again in Job 15:14 “What is man that he should be clean, and he that is born of a woman that he should be righteous?” Also in Psa. 8:4 “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?” Again in Psa.144:3 “Lord, what is man that thou takest knowledge of him, or the son of man that thou makest account of him?” and finally in Heb. 2:6, the same as in Psa.8:4.

It must be that this question is important or it would not be so many times repeated and with such variations. We will search for an answer. If we should answer the question according to a matter of fact view of the condition of things in the world today we should say that man, considered as a whole, is a poor, miserable creature. He appears to be a failure, a wretched abortion. He is a beast of burden; an oppressed slave; a toiling, ill-requited, downtrodden bond-servant, degraded, ignorant, godless, corrupt and wicked. I am speaking of the masses; of course we should judge of the race by the majority of its members; and the above is a truthful description of the race of man as a whole; those who do not come under this description are exceptions and not the rule. Take mankind as a whole, civilized, heathen, barbarous and savage, and the above description is not by any means as dark as the reality. If you want to see a word picture of the race drawn out of all its awful hideousness by an inspired pen, read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans; also Rom. 3:9-19. Truly “man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble,” he “drinketh iniquity like water,” and is “soon cut down like the grass.” Such is man as we see him today, “like the beasts that perish.”  In regard to this humiliating view of man it is sufficient to reply , as in the preceding article, that man is in the rough, not yet finished, and hence, uncouth, defective and ill-developed.

There is another reply to this question “what is man?” it is the orthodox answer, the prevailing view among Christians. It is about as follows. Man is a dual being, composed of soul and body (some make him triune, mind, soul and body). The body is simply the house, the perishable tenement of clay, in which the deathless soul, the real man, dwells. He was created perfect in the beginning; an immortal soul in a perfect body. He fell, and now is liable to death, physical and eternal, unless he repents and believes on Christ; that is his body will die; but his soul will live forever in bliss or woe. Of this false and unscriptural view I have only space at present to notice briefly the immortal soul part. I will just glance at the account of man’s creation and see if from that we can draw any evidence that God put an immortal soul in man when he made him. The simple account is as follows: “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 phraseology here has given some impression that after God had made man’s lifeless body he put into it as the vivifying power an immortal soul; but the passage says nothing of this kind; even from the imperfect translation that we have here in the common version no immortal soul doctrine can legitimately be drawn. The language implies that man was a dead soul before the breath of life was breathed into him, and that when he received that breath he became a living soul. The idea of immortality, or distinct identity of the soul, or that the soul is the real man and the body is only a casket for it, neither and none of these notions are hinted at in the most distant manner.  In fact the account rather favors the view that the body, the part that was made of dust, is the real man; for it reads. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils (the man’s) the breath of life” etc.  It seems that man was formed before the breath of life was breathed into his nostrils; certainly the passage favors this view more than it does the view that the immortal soul is the real man.

But now let us have the correct reading of the verse. I will quote from Young’s translation. “And Jehovah God formeth the man dust from the ground, and breatheth into his nostrils breath of life and the man becometh a living creature.” Now look at verse 19.  “And Jehovah God formeth from the ground every beast of the field, and every fowl of the heavens, and bringeth in unto the man, to see what he doth call it; and whatever the man calleth a living creature that is his name.” Beasts are called the same as man, living creatures; the phrase is exactly the same in the original, in both cases. From the account there is just as much evidence that beasts have immortal souls, as that man has one; especially so if we compare with these verses, chap. 7:22, where we learn that “the breath of life” is in the nostrils of beasts as well as in man and if it means an immortal soul in the one case it must in the other. The fact is no such doctrine as immortal soulism is taught in the Bible, either here or elsewhere; it is altogether man-made; it is Babylonish in its origin, and is founded on the falsehood of the father of lies, “Ye shall not surely die.” Man is destined to become immortal when he is finished; but that is the crowning glory of his creation and hence is the last step, the putting on of the cap-stone of perfection, to make him immortal to begin with would be like trying to make a chimney by commencing at the top and building down. If we see the truth set forth in the preceding article we shall understand how absurd as well as unscriptural this immortal soul doctrine is.  In “God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9) he does not lay the capstone first, but the foundation. Immortality is the final goal, not the starting point; it is the crown of the “perfect man” (Eph. 4:13), not the swaddling bands of his infancy.  I would say very emphatically that all our theology will be wrong if we start out with this great overshadowing error of all Christendom, the immortal soul.  As the phrase itself is utterly unscriptural so is the idea, and no less is it contrary to Scripture, than to common sense and reason. When man was first created he was just what the scripture says he was, “a living creature:” and from that mere animal, natural condition, he will be developed into a “perfect man” in the likeness of God, incorruptible and immortal.

Now we return again to the main question. What is man? We have answered this question according to present appearances, and according to the traditions of men, let us now see what. the Bible says. In the context of the passages we have noticed there is no answer except in Psalms 144:3, 4, where we are told that “Man is like to vanity; his days are as a shadow that passeth away;” an answer that applies to the present unfinished condition of man, and in Psa. 8, quoted more fully in Heb. 2.  In Psa. 8, things that are not are spoken of as though they were; the as yet unfulfilled purpose of God is spoken of as though it were already accomplished. We are sure of this because Paul makes it clear in Heb. 2, where the Psalmist is quoted and explained; this latter passage we will now notice particularly. Commence at the 5th verse. “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak; but one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou madest him for a little while (see margin) lower than the angels; thou crowndest him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands. Thou has put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. “But now we see not yet all things put under him.” In this last clause we have the enunciation of the same principle as in Rom. 4:17. The Psalmist quoted speaks exactly as though man had already received dominion, but Paul says, “not yet.” Why then speak as though the work was already done?  Because God “calleth those things that be not as though they were:” and herein is infinite comfort. These declarations of universal dominion for man; “all in subjection under him” seem almost to good to be true, especially when we compare them to his slavish condition now; and yet so sure are they of ultimate realization that God speaks of them as already accomplished; they must surely come to pass; and man instead of being the slave shall be the master of God’s creation. But now let us read on a little further. “We see not yet all things put under him, but we see Jesus.” Well what of that? What has Jesus got to do with the question, what is man? Jesus was pure, immaculate, unsinning; it is right that he should have dominion; he is worthy of it; but what has to do with corrupt, fallen, sinful man? Just this, Jesus is the pattern man of God’s finished creation. He is the sample, the standard, after whom all the redeemed are to be fashioned. Hence we see the significance of this reference to Jesus. We see not yet all things put under man, but we see JESUS, the pattern man, and hence we can tell what man will be when he is finished. Suppose a man had the rough material to make a great number of machines; he first finishes off one of the machines and gets it perfectly adjusted in every part, as a pattern to go by in finishing the rest. You go into his factory and see this mass of material and you ask, “What are you making?” The artisan replies, “All this that you see is only rough material; come this way and I will show you what I am making,” and he takes you to the machine he has finished off; “there,” he says, “that is what I am. making.” You would have no difficulty in understanding what he meant. You would see at once that the finished machine was a sample or pattern of what the others would be when the material was all worked up. So the apostle points to Jesus in just the same way. “What is man?” a poor, wretched slave of sin, corrupt and tending to corruption. Yes, that is true, but God intends to make him a noble lord of creation, perfect and complete in the image of God. But now we see not yet this great work accomplished except in the case of one individual, Jesus Christ. He has passed through the entire process of creation, and been finished, perfected; hence He is “the beginning of the creation of God.” Now if you wish to know what man is—i.e., what is his destiny—look to Jesus the finished man, the only finished man, and you will see a perfect pattern of “the perfect man.” To me there is blessed comfort in this. I am glad that the apostle points us to Jesus when we ask, “What is man?” Sad indeed would be the answer if we had to make it up from the degraded condition of man today. Not much better would it be if we had to accept the answer that modern orthodoxy gives; man is a being made perfect and immortal; but he lost that perfection, and now his destiny is an endless heaven or an endless hell, with the chances thus far in the history of the race about a hundred to one against the former and in favor of the latter. Such a view is sad in the extreme, and it looks as though man’s maker had made a terrible mistake somewhere. But how blessed to turn from all this confusion and just “look to Jesus” for an answer to the question. “What is man?” i.e. mankind, the race; the answer is Jesus. He is the great representative man, the “Forerunner,” the “Beginning,” the “First fruit,” and “if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

Thus the ever blessed Book gives us a grand and cheering answer to this greatest problem of life, what is man? It is an answer that at the same time brings comfort and hope to the believer, and reflect honor and glory upon the Creator. Jesus is the pattern. He partook of flesh and blood because the “children” (Heb.2:14), were in this fallen condition. He passed through all the experiences of sorrowing humanity that “having suffered, being tempted, he might be able to succor them that are tempted.” “He was made in all points like unto his brethren, that he might be a faithful and merciful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”  His perfection is the type of our perfection, for “we shall be like him.”  His triumph is the pledge of our victory. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men unto condemnation, so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”  The human race is God’s masterpiece, the crowning glory of his creation, and, as the sculptor takes a piece of marble and first gives it to an ordinary workman to block out the statue in the rough, and then with his own skillful fingers fashions the stone into a figure that almost seems to breathe and speak, so God, the Great Master Workman, gets man out in the rough first, using many agents to hew and hack the obdurate material; then he finishes him with an infinitely skillful hand, molding and fashioning him until He makes him the facsimile of himself, and pronounces him “very good.” To use another figure, every human being is a rough jewel. God is the great Lapidary; and, as in the laboratory of nature, the black, unsightly carbon is transformed into a radiant, flashing diamond, so in the laboratory of grace, sinful, fallen man, under God’s manipulation, comes at length to shine in all the glory of the divine image. “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Man can reduce the diamond to carbon, but he cannot transform the carbon into diamond; God by his natural laws alone can do that.  So man can degrade and debase himself, but to life himself he has no power. He must cry out, in utter self-despair, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” Then God lifts him from the “horrible pit,” and brings him at last to “walk upon high places.” But let me add that God is not obliged to wait until we are willing for him to work in our behalf. Even when we are stubborn and disobedient, God is dealing with us for our good, although we do not know it. Our very sins are made in the end the means of our training and discipline. Every Christian knows this by experience; it is also a clear teaching of the Bible. Read Jer. 2.  Notice how God charges Jerusalem with their wrong-doing, notice how he “pleads” with them (verse 9), and sets forth the “two evils” they had committed. Then he asks, “Why is Israel spoiled?” and gives the answer in verse 19, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee,” etc. How wonderful is God’s way with man! Man by his perversity changes blessings into curses, but God alone in his goodness and might can transform curses into blessings.   And so the work of God shall go on in spite of all opposing forces; for by God’s power all opposition will not only be neutralized so that it shall not retard the divine purpose, but it shall be transformed into co-operation so as to advance his designs; and thus “all things” shall help toward the glorious consummation the creation of man in the image of God. And the time shall come at last, when “there shall be no more anything accursed.” Rev. 22. N.V.*margin

*i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)











WHAT IS MAN [A. P. Adams]          1


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