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Aspects of Man (Part I)

We’re in STII, and working through the doctrine of man.

Last time we talked about the creation of man, and what it means to made in the image of God.

As we’ve been saying, there are many implications for life and culture, when it comes to the doctrine of man. This is true for both in the church (and outside the church). It’s a topic that tends to generate a lot of emotional debate between Christians and non-Christians…

And so, we’ve been trying to lay out why it’s not just a point of intellectual discussion, but one that has consequences. And we’re going to continue to seek to draw those out as we go along.

Today we’re going to talk about the various “Aspects of Man.” And we’re only going to develop an OT theology in this episode.

There’s a lot here, so next we’ll hit the NT.

But this will be a survey of how the OT understands what it means to be human. And we’re going to develop this by looking at the language (and terms) the OT authors use.

The Aspects of Man in the OT

The term “aspect” is used on purpose. We’re not speaking of parts, which can be separated, but of a different perspective, or way of looking at something. An example would be the viewing of a statue from various aspects, or positions, to get a fuller sense of what it is and looks like

The biblical data is not expressed in compartmentalized terms; rather it views man in a holistic manner. “It is considering the makeup of man, we must be particularly careful to examine the presuppositions we bring to our study. Because there are non biblical disciplines which also are concerned about man, the possibility that some of their conceptions might affect our theological construction looms large. Whether it be an ancient Greek dualism, or a modern behavioristic monism, we need to be on our guard against reading a non biblical worldview into our understanding of Scripture” (Erickson, 520).

This idea of Greek dualism comes from Plato who argued that there are two realities;  the material and immaterial.

You’ll see this in many writings today, where theologians and pastors approach various issues through a dualistic perspective. They treat the physical body and soul as two distinct realities that, therefore, need to be addressed in different ways. It’s not completely wrong, but it’s incomplete (and we’ll hopefully show why).

It’s a faulty anthropology because it sees, and therefore, approaches the human person as if a human is made up of parts-- rather than approaching the human holistically. There are aspects to man, but not “parts”-- and this is key.

Introductory Issues:

OT Anthropology

“We can never gain a clear understanding of the mystery of man if, in one way or another, we abstract mere components of the whole man” (Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, 194).

“This task [building an OT biblical anthropology] demands insights into the premises of the Semitic imagination and mind… Concepts like heart, soul, flesh, and spirit… are not infrequently interchangeable in hebrew poetry. In poetic parallelism, they can be used as terms for the whole man, almost like pronouns (Ps. 84:2)... this has been well characterized as the ‘stereometric of expression’... Stereometic thinking thus simultaneously presupposes a synopsis of the members and organs of the human body with their capacities and functions. It is synthetic thinking…”  (Wolff, Anthropology of the OT, 7-8).

“Thus man is seen in the bible as a whole… Man divided against himself is straight Platonism, it is never the thought of revelation…” (Monk, The Biblical Meaning of Man, p. 14).

NT Anthropology

“The NT view of man must be deduced from a wide range of apparently disparate material. In fact, the NT does not set out in so many words what man is. It does not supply a psychological account… there is little support for an analytical approach to man’s nature… Of all the NT writers, Paul gives the fullest expression of an OT doctrine of man… The main ideas which Paul uses to describe various aspects of man are soul, spirit…., flesh…, body…, heart…, and mind…. To those may be added the important concept of conscience… and the characteristically Pauline idea of the inner man… The foregoing evidence has demonstrated the wide variety of Paul’s terms for aspects of man and the impossibility of constructing a consistent psychology. Indeed, psychology is the wrong word to use, since Paul is so strongly influenced by the hebrew idea of the whole man that Greek notions of separate functions have only a minimum impact on Paul’s thinking” (Guterie, NT Theology).

In other words, psychology has little place in the thinking of Paul. You cannot take a psychological approach to understanding what it means to be human.

The main aspects of Paul’s thinking, when it comes to man, are physical and spiritual; not  psychological. And this is huge if you let it settle in your thinking.

Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, is primarily and characteristically Hebrew in his anthropology, and… even where his ideas… come nearest to a Greek form, or are clothed in a Greek terminology, they are a legitimate outcome of OT conceptions.” (H.W. Robsinson, “Hebrew Psychology in relation to Pauline Anthropology.”)

In other words, Paul’s construction of what it means to be human is radically biblical, rooted from the OT, and has little to do with secular notions (or philosophies) of humanity.

This is the presupposition we’ll be working with as well.

We’re interested in what the bible calls man; not with how we can make sense of what the bible is saying says, but in the light of what modern science, philosophy, secular anthropology, etc. has to say about man.

Key Terms:

OT Terminology

(basar); (connect to the NT term sarx).

‘Flesh’ in the sense of meaning ‘meat.’

Gen. 2:21 (human).

Ex. 21:28 (animal).

‘Body’ in a more extended sense, referring to the physical aspect of humans-- it’s the idea that part of what it means to be human is that there is a physical material to you (Ps. 109:24 -- “My flesh has grown lean, without fatness:).

It can refer to the blood or marital relationship (Gen. 29:14, 37:27).

It can refer indirectly to another aspect of humanity. And this is where it begins to move beyond the mere physical.

This is the most significant sense of the term, and is critical to understand that this is what is usually what is meant when the word is used. (And here is where you can already begin to see the holistic understanding of man in the Bible).

Can refer to the inner attitude of the person (Ps. 63:1, 84:2).

It also refers to the innate frailty of impotence of humanity (Ps. 6:3; 2 Chron. 32:8; Job 10:4).

“All flesh” is also used as an idiom to speak of the human race (Gen. 6:12-13; Job 12:10; Isa. 40:5-7).

The anthropological significance of basar -- it is consistently used to describe man in a state of weakness and inability.

The issue here is what we see a lot of in many theologies, especially when it comes to the idea of trying to explain sin. It’s Greek dualism, plain and simple.

This was very prominent in the early church, and gave rise to the Monastic movement. Paul dealt with early aspects of this in Colossians 2:20-23.

The book of 1 John is filled with indications that it was a problem with those to whom he was writing (“the whole idea that you can be doing one thing physically, such as hating your brother, but ‘spiritually’ you are fine). Christians often fall into this error when they try to simply deny their physical bodies something in an effort to root out sin, missing the whole point. The “flesh” that is sinful and fallen is not resident in the cells and flesh of the physical body.

"Significantly, there is no indication that the flesh [the actual physical body] as such is evil or even a source of evil. But a person as flesh is recognized as weak and lacking in strength” (Dyrness, Themes in OT Theology).

“The antithesis of flesh and spirit is found occasionally in the OT. It is not, however, the antithesis of two principles, but of man’s weakness and God’s strength. But an internal dualism is never found in the OT and would deny the very foundations of OT anthropology." (TDNT)

(nephesh); usually connected with the NT term "psuche."

Meaning of the term: (data drawn from Burton, Spirit, Soul, and flesh).

The term refers to “the soul, the seat of appetite, emotion, and the like, with no implication of a separate entity, or of the possibility of separate existence:”

Used to refer to the “seat of physical appetites, health, vigor.” (Job 33:20; Prov. 6:30, etc.)

Used to refer to the “seat of emotions of all kinds--desire, courage, hope, fear, love, hate, sorrow, discouragement, vengeance, or by metonymy, the emotions themselves” (Job 30:25; Ps. 86:4).

Used to refer to the “seat of moral action, especially when joined with language of [heart]” (Gen. 49:6; Deut. 6:5, etc.) *This is the most important aspect of the term, when studying anthropological issues.

Used to refer to the “seat of mentality” (Esther 4:13; Psa 139:14).

The point is that nephesh is used to speak of the soup from which physical, emotional, moral, and emotional realities flow. It makes no indiction between physical and spiritual, but is a term that shows the OT writers understood man to be wholistic. They refused to make any kind of distinction between the physical and spiritual.

Nephesh is also used in a very broad sense to speak of “a living being-- a being that possesses life, but as distinguished from an inanimate object.”

So the phrase, nephesh hayya (“living being”) is a general term for any creature that has life.

Most commonly, though, it applies only to man.

Anthropological significance of nephesh -- The term is primarily used to speak of the creatureliness of the person.

“Today, we are coming to the conclusion that it is only in a very few passages that the translation ‘soul’ corresponds to the meaning of nephesh… nephesh is designed to be seen together with the whole form of man, and especially with his breath; moreover man does not have nephesh, rather, he is nephesh-- indeed, he lives as nephesh. (Wolff, Anthropology of the OT).

In older theologies, it was common to see the term as being connected with the soul of man alone. It’s now being seen that the biblical data simply does not support this. It is a term that refers to the holistic person-- and is a reference to the spring from which a creature has it’s creatureliness.

In short, you could understand it as a reference to that which separates man from God.

(ruah); usually connected with the NT term "pneuma."

Meanings: (drawn from TWOT).

“Air in motion, four winds. In living beings the ruah is their breath, whether of animals, men, or both… (Gen. 7:15; Isa. 42:5).

“Ultimately, breath signifies activity and life.”

A person's spirit is said to be consumed when he is sick or faint (Job 17:1).

In God’s hand is the breath (or ruah) of all mankind (Job 12:10; Isa. 42:5).

In light of this, the unique feature of human life is not the physical, but the spiritual (i.e., the mental and personal disposition).

This is something that’s divinely caused.

You can have all the physical components of a person, but that does not necessitate life itn that person.

[After a person dies, you can’t just fix the physical and see life reinserted back into that physical body]. It is something divinely created. It is God who puts the breath [or ruah] in person.

Anthropological significance of ruah --

There is what is called by some "a theo-anthropological” aspect to this term [i.e., ruah]. This simply means that when considering the spirit of man, we need to see it in relation to the work of God.

In other words, when the Bible uses this term in relation to man, it is often used of our relationship to God. There is an inextricable connection between  man and His Creator. He holds our life in His hand.

(leb); usually connected with the NT term "kardia."

“The concrete meaning of leb referred to the internal organ and to analogous physical locations. However, in its abstract meanings, ‘heart’ became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature. In biblical literature, it is the most frequently used term for man’s immaterial personality functions, as well as the most inclusive term for them since, in the bible, virtually every immaterial function of man is attributed to the ‘heart’ (TWOT).

It is rarely used to refer to the physical organ.

“By far, the majority of the usages of leb refer either to the inner or immaterial nature in general, or to… emotion, thought, or will” (TWOT)

So it expresses the totality of man’s nature and character, both inner and outer (1 Kgs. 8:23; Psa. 9:1).

It speaks of the emotion (1Sam. 2:1; Prov. 14:30).

It speaks of the desire or longings of a person (Psa. 21:2; Prov. 6:25).

It refers to the thought functions, decision-making, and reasoning aspects of a person (Gen. 6:5; Ex. 7:23; Deut. 8:5).

It speaks of a person’s wisdom and understanding (1 Kgs. 3:12; Prov. 11:12).

It’s used to talk about the seat of a person’s will (Judges 9:3; 1 Kgs. 8:18; 2 Chro. 12:14).

It also refers to a person’s conscience (1 Sam. 25:4; 2 Sam. 24:10; Job 27:6).

The anthropological significance of leb --

The term is most commonly referring to the innermost being of man. It’s the mission-control center of a man.

The heart is the “symbol for the focus of life” (Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament).

The heart is the place from which our emotions, decisions, judgments, desires, hopes, dreams, religious, and moral conduct all flow.

Other terms:

Kidneys (Psa. 16:7; Jer. 17:10).

Bowels (Prov. 20:27; Jer. 31:33).

Bones (Psa. 6:2; Prov. 16:24).

*These are terms the Hebrews used when they wanted to say what we mean when we’ll say something like “I have a gut feeling; or I feel it in my bones.”


So this is an OT survey of the biblical language.

The key point with this whole episode is to understand that we will error if we try to understand man as having constituent “parts.”

Rather, we must understand man holistically. He has multiple aspects, and they’re all interrelated.

This is where much theology, pastoring, and modern approaches to dealing with the problems of man go wrong. Much of it begins with a faulty approach to what man even is.

If you understand man as somehow having “parts,” then you must develop approaches to each deal with each “part.” But if you understand man holistically, you must approach him holistically.

Even here, you can begin to understand the implications for things like counseling approaches, and the various approaches to ministry.

And so there’s a lot to talk about here, and why this is such an important doctrine to get right.

But this is sufficient for now. Next time we’ll take a look at how the NT authors speak about man.


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