Maxey - Thrasher Debate

Eternal Destiny of the Wicked
Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction
(An In-Depth Biblical Discussion)

Saturday, March 30, 2002

Comments by Al Maxey on
Body, Soul, Spirit and
"Created in the Image of God"

I want to thank Thomas for his latest contribution to this discussion. He is obviously dedicated to his beliefs and to His God, and for that I commend him. Unfortunately, to lift a phrase from the apostle Paul, it is a zeal and devotion, in my view, "not in accordance with knowledge" (Romans 10:2). Thankfully, I do not regard this to be an issue that bears directly on one's salvation (although false teaching regarding this issue does lead to tremendous confusion and distress for many), thus I continue to regard Thomas as a dear brother in Christ and a faithful servant of our Master. He just happens to be one with whom I differ on a number of issues, and one whom I believe to be tragically misinformed. The biblical concept of "unity in diversity," however, allows for such a reality as exists between us, and so I rejoice in our uniqueness in Christ, and additionally in the opportunity Thomas has provided for me to engage in this study with him.

As alluded to above, there is very little in Thomas' last article with which I can conscientiously agree. The temptation, of course, is to immediately address each item at length in an effort to refute them from the Scriptures. Prudence suggests, though, that some of these matters are best dealt with later in this discussion when that particular aspect of our debate assumes central focus. Thus, there are statements made by Thomas in his last contribution that I will only mention in passing, if at all, in this current response. Silence should not be taken as endorsement, however. They will be dealt with at the proper time in our debate. The temptation to run ahead of ourselves is always present, but I shall try to resist it.

Having said the above, let me comment on a few of the points in Thomas' post that I feel need some clarification at this juncture in our discussion. Then I shall present what I perceive to be the biblical perspective of the nature of man.


With Thomas' first chart (the reader may want to refer back to that chart), in which he listed the three major types of death, what/who are being separated, and the resultant state/impact of that separation, I am in almost total agreement. Physical death is indeed a separation of body and spirit. Spiritual death is a separation of sinners from God, as is eternal death. I have no argument at all with Thomas over what/who are being separated in each of these. We agree.

With regard to the resultant state/impact of "eternal death" I too believe it is an everlasting separation from God, and that the nature of this punishment will be experienced in "hell/eternal fire." Obviously, Thomas and I differ on the nature of that punishment, but we both agree that the resultant state is one of everlasting separation from the Lord. Later in this debate we will examine in greater depth exactly what that signifies for the unredeemed.

Thomas declares the resultant state/impact of "spiritual death" to be a continuing in sin, and thus "no fellowship with God." I also agree with this. "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world" (Eph. 2:1-2). "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God" (Isaiah 59:2). Although, to the best of my recollection, the phrase "spiritual death" never actually occurs in Scripture (this is a phrase created by men), nevertheless most of us understand the concept being conveyed. There is a separation between God and the sinner who willfully persists in his/her sin; a separation likened figuratively to death. Such a person is obviously NOT literally, physically deceased, but continues to be fully animate and functioning in the world. What has "ceased to be" is relationship and fellowship with God. This, then, is the resultant state of one who is said to be "spiritually dead," but who obviously is still very much "physically alive." It is not the person himself who is literally, physically dead, but it is rather a death of the person's relationship and fellowship with deity. Thus, it is characterized as "spiritual" to distinguish it from "physical." It would be just as accurate to describe the former as "figurative" and the latter as "literal."

With regard to Thomas' statement on "physical death," I agree that it is a separation of body and spirit. The resultant state is that the "body returns to dust." This is what the Bible teaches, as Thomas has noted in the chart. Where Thomas and I differ on this chart, however, is concerning his assertion that the "spirit resides in Hades/comfort or torment." I reject that notion completely. "The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Thomas obviously embraces the concept of dualism with respect to the nature of man. In other words, man can be divided into two separate viable entities, one of which can survive apart from the other, and even survive the death of the other. Thus, the body can die, but the spirit or soul lives on in either comfort or torment, according to Thomas. I believe this is false, and will seek to present the biblical alternative later in this post. I merely point out here, at this juncture, my disagreement with this one aspect of his chart in which he suggests this "spirit" of a man somehow survives physical death and subsequently "resides" in some Hadean holding place. What returns to God who gave it is NOT a separate "living being" (the real us, as Thomas would seemingly maintain), but something else entirely. What that is will be explained later in this post.

Concerning 1 Timothy 5:6 (speaking of a "wanton widow" who "is dead even while she lives"), Thomas continues to be "puzzled." For some reason he cannot seem to fathom the distinction between physical and spiritual death (between figurative and literal applications). Notice Thomas' confusion here: He rightly stated, "So, Al teaches that when a person dies physically the ENTIRE PERSON is dead." That is a correct representation of what I teach (and what I believe the Bible teaches).

Thomas then partially quotes a statement I made about this "wanton widow" and concludes: "So, when one dies physically, the ENTIRE PERSON does NOT become extinct! Therefore, when the entire person dies, the entire person does not become extinct! Consequently, physical death is NOT extinction of the entire person! Yet, when I asked Al, 'Is he (Al) denying that he believes "death" is extinction, annihilation, or cessation of existence?' he answered, 'No, I am not denying that at all. I am affirming it.' So he is affirming that death IS 'extinction, annihilation, or cessation of existence'! That is what I meant when I said his position was 'puzzling.' So, when a man dies PHYSICALLY, does he cease to exist or not??? Does he become extinct? Is he annihilated? Does any part of man survive when he dies?"

It appears that Thomas feels I am contradicting myself; that I am one moment teaching physical death is a total extinction of being, but the next suggesting it is not. This, of course, is not true, but his confusion is due to his apparent inability to distinguish between physical and spiritual death (between literal and figurative applications). His confusion in this particular instance is also facilitated by his failure to properly understand that which he only partially quoted above with regard to the "wanton widow." Let me provide that entire quote below:

Thomas incorrectly concluded from my statement above: "physical death is NOT extinction of the entire person!" A careful reading will demonstrate that is NOT what I was suggesting. What I was suggesting is that this woman was "dead" with regard to relationship with God due to her sin, but that PHYSICALLY she was very much alive and functioning in the world about her. One can be alive physically (literal application) and still animate and functional in the world, but dead "spiritually" (figurative application) with respect to fellowship and relationship with the Lord. I stated above that Thomas was "partially correct in saying, in this particular case, that death 'is not cessation of existence or extinction'" because the woman was still PHYSICALLY alive. That is why I immediately stated above, "In the PHYSICAL sense, that is correct."

Physically, the woman had not died. Thus, she was ALIVE. The only "death" in view is what has come to be known as "spiritual death," and that is NOT in reference to the physical body. "Spiritual death" is figurative, and refers ONLY to loss of relationship and fellowship with deity (it makes no statement about one's physical condition in the present world). I continue to be somewhat amazed, and even a little amused, that Thomas seems incapable of grasping this distinction between the two. I have had others read my statements, and they perceived the distinction immediately, so I don't think it was for want of clarity in my presentation. Thus, I guess I'M a bit "puzzled" over why this concept eludes him!

In answer to his question posed above: --- YES, when a man dies PHYSICALLY, the entire person is dead; he ceases to be. That is NOT true, however, when one is merely referring to the severing of relationship and fellowship with God due to one's continuance in SIN while still living on the face of the earth. This so-called "spiritual death" is a separation from God involving relationship and fellowship, and it has NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER on the person physically (at least not with respect to "death"). That person PHYSICALLY remains very much alive and animate. Thomas, I don't know how to make that any clearer to you than I already have.

What is even more puzzling to me is that Thomas clearly seems at times in his post to grasp this concept. For example, after expressing his above puzzlement he wrote: "Note: Al contends that in spiritual death the PERSON still exists, but SOMETHING (the relationship with God) does not." He then repeats it a few sentences later: "Notice again that Al contends that in spiritual death the PERSON still exists, but SOMETHING (the relationship with the Father) does not." He then states, "I am going to agree with this statement." Well, if Thomas AGREES with this statement, then WHY the "puzzlement?" PHYSICAL death is the death of the PERSON (the entire person). So-called "SPIRITUAL death" is merely the severing of that living person's relationship and fellowship with God while that person continues to EXIST on the face of the earth. What is so difficult about this concept? Apparently nothing, since in his second chart Thomas points out that in "Spiritual" death what EXISTS is "The Person" and what does NOT EXIST is "Fellowship with God." Again, this is EXACTLY what I have been saying. Thus, Thomas and I agree on this, and perhaps NOW his puzzlement has been alleviated!!

Where Thomas and I do NOT agree is with regard to the remainder of his assertions in Chart #2 (the reader should refer to that chart in Thomas' last post). He lists the three types of death in that chart, and then lists "What Does Exist" and "What Does Not Exist." In the center section (pertaining to Spiritual Death) we agree. The person exists (literally and physically), but the relationship and fellowship with God does NOT exist. That is correct.

Section #1, however, is entirely false, in my opinion, and section #3 is only half correct. The latter section deals with Eternal Death. Thomas declares that "Fellowship with God" does NOT exist. That is correct. However, Thomas asserts that "The Person" DOES exist. That is false. Those who experience "eternal death" in the lake of fire CEASE TO EXIST. More will be said about this as our debate continues (after all, this is the basic focus of the entire debate: Is the eternal destiny of the wicked perpetual torture or ultimate extinction?). We still have much territory to cover before arriving at deeper investigation into that specific question.

In section #1 Thomas' dualism again presents itself. He asserts that after Physical Death "The Person" still exists, but what does NOT exist is "a physical, bodily indwelling." In other words, although the BODY is now dead, the PERSON himself is still alive (that "person" just no longer "indwells" the physical body). He wrote: "In each case of death, the PERSON continues to exist!" I believe Thomas is dead wrong (pun intended) on this point, and I shall address it more fully later in this post (as I present the biblical perspective of the nature of man) and later in this debate when we begin to examine the nature of the final disposition of the wicked.


I had pointed out in my previous contribution to this debate that what Thomas "has failed to perceive is the Jewish concept of the nature of man." To this my opponent replied, "Actually, I have little concern for the 'Jewish concept.'" And therein lies part of our problem. A sound, legitimate hermeneutic MUST have concern for the perception of the original writers and readers of a text. We are thousands of years removed from those to whom the Scriptures were originally addressed, not to mention other significant factors such as culture, ethnicity, religion, language, world view and the like. Assuming that OUR present day view of the nature of man was THEIR view is a dangerous assumption. The influence of ancient Hellenism, for example, has dramatically altered man's view of himself, and that impact is felt to this very day. I will seek to demonstrate this as I deal with the biblical view of man as opposed to the common view espoused by many today (Thomas among them).

Let me just say that I was greatly impressed (positively so) by one of Thomas' statements. He wrote: "I do not believe that immortality is 'something inherently ours,' as Al implies that I do! Except for the case of God, where immortality exists (whether of angels, the devil and demons, the human spirit, or the human body in the resurrection), it is conferred by God -- it is not inherent, but DERIVED." That is a very, very important admission on Thomas' part, and I am thrilled to hear him say this. This places him head and shoulders above some of his fellow "traditionalists" who DO insist upon the inherent immortality of the "soul" or "spirit." Indeed, some have suggested boldly that we are just as immortal as God, and that we CANNOT die ... ever!!! I agree with Thomas and the apostle Paul, however, that the Lord "ALONE possesses immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16), and any immortality man may one day experience will be conferred upon him as a gift from God, not something he has always possessed as his inherent right by virtue of his nature. This assertion by Thomas will become a vital one as we progress in this debate, and it will directly impact the very proposition under scrutiny in this exchange between us. I encourage the readers to note carefully, and remember, this declaration by Thomas.

With regard to "the eternal fire," and his exposition of Jude 7, I must disagree with my brother in Christ. I got the distinct impression that he sought to distance the people of Sodom and Gomorrah from the "eternal fire," and was suggesting the fire THEY experienced was something different. He seemed to be suggesting the "eternal fire" was only for the wicked at the last day. Perhaps I misunderstood Thomas on this point, and if so I ask him to correct me. Here is his statement that led me to this conclusion:

Again, perhaps I have misunderstood Thomas here, but he seems to intentionally drop the term aionios when speaking of the fire sent upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and applies it only to final punishment of the wicked. This leaves me to wonder if Thomas does not believe the people of Sodom and Gomorrah experienced, in their physical destruction, the effects of God's "eternal fire." Thomas, does "eternal fire" in Jude 7 apply to the physical destruction of those people in those cities at that specific time, or does it ONLY refer to the future punishment of the wicked in the lake of fire? I would be interested in your perspective, and exegesis, on this.

Shifting gears, Thomas observed: "A significant part of Al's 'evidence' in this debate consists of quotations from an array of supposed 'scholars.' ... I wonder if my opponent realizes that I can produce a multitude of quotations from 'scholars' who agree with the views I hold, and who disagree with his? ... my quoting from such men would not prove my position true any more than his quoting men proves his true!"

I agree fully with what Thomas has declared above. Yes, both of us could quote a host of men (known and unknown, reputable and otherwise) who agree with our respective positions. And, yes, this in no way serves the purpose of providing proof or validation of one's views. Such is not my intention, any more than I believe it is Thomas' intention when he provides information and quotes from extra-biblical sources. There are times when someone has expressed a thought or concept far more succinctly than I could. Thus, I share that as representative of my own (perhaps more eloquently stated than my own feeble efforts).

It is also important for the readers of a debate to perceive (especially when a concept may be new or strange to them, as mine will be to some of the readers) that the view espoused is NOT the isolated raving of a lone lunatic!! I know, I know ... It may be the universal ravings of a legion of lunatics!!!! Seriously, though, when one can demonstrate that a concept has been successfully promoted and defended throughout man's history, and by some of the "giants of faith" in religious history, this tends to cause some to give the matter a more serious look. It certainly doesn't PROVE the doctrine, but when reputable scholars for centuries have ably proclaimed and defended such a teaching, one should not discount that body of testimony lightly. THAT is my only point, Thomas -- to motivate the readers to more serious reflection upon a most vital issue, rather than simply dismiss it out of hand as the fantasy of one man. Having "a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us" (Hebrews 12:1) CAN be a motivating force to greater reflection.


I had asked Thomas if Jesus had actually provided a true "substitutionary" death for mankind at the cross. I was pleased to see Thomas respond in the affirmative. He wrote, "I would say, 'Yes.' In dying upon the cross, Jesus did what we could not do -- He was 'a person ... serving ... in place of another.'"

I then asked if Jesus had paid our debt IN FULL with this "substitutionary" sacrifice. He wrote, "Yes, when Jesus died upon the cross, He 'paid it all' (the FULL PRICE)." After this I asked if a human sinner, who died in his sins, would be forced to pay a GREATER penalty than Jesus paid in His "substitutionary" sacrifice. Thomas replied, "If by 'greater price' you mean 'greater than what Jesus' paid,' then 'No!'"

I appreciate the answers Thomas has provided. I agree with each of them. However, this poses a problem for those who embrace the traditional view of eternal punishment. If the "wages of sin" is perpetual torture, Jesus did not pay that price. If indeed this is the penalty that must be paid, then He did not pay it. Dr. Basil F.C. Atkinson, of Cambridge University, wrote: "It is sometimes forgotten that we have in history at the center of our faith an open example and illustration of the punishment of sin ... the facts of the suffering and death of Christ Jesus prove conclusively that the punishment of sin is death in its natural sense" (Life and Immortality: An Examination of the Nature and Meaning of Life and Death as They Are Revealed in the Scriptures, p. 103). Brother Curtis Dickinson concurred in his book: "If the punishment for our sins is not ACTUAL DEATH, then Christ could not have made atonement for us BY HIS DEATH" (What the Bible Teaches about Immortality and Future Punishment, p. 16).

James A Nichols, an influential 20th century theologian, wrote, "Take also the case of the death of Jesus. This is admittedly a penal death in our place, so it should be considered as a fair example of punishment awaiting the lost sinner. His sufferings obviously took place before his death. They were sufferings both physical and mental. At last came death on the cross. Now, no one supposes that after his death his soul was delivered over to the tormentors" (Christian Doctrines: A Presentation of Biblical Theology, p. 142).

Thomas admitted: "If you are asking whether Jesus was tortured in eternal separation from God, then 'No.'" Thomas is exactly right on this point. Jesus did NOT suffer (and is not currently suffering) perpetual torture. He did NOT pay that price. Jesus has demonstrated, however, that the penalty for sin is exactly what the Bible declares it to be: DEATH. He DID pay THAT price!! And He would have remained dead had not a very special promise been made to Him: He would not be abandoned to the grave; He would be delivered. That promise has NOT been made to the wicked. Thus, when THEY experience the "wages of sin" (death) there will be no future rescue. Just as in the death of Christ we have a demonstration of the fate of the unredeemed, so also in His resurrection to life do we have a demonstration of the fate of the redeemed. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15:17-18). "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20).

Thomas wrote: "If (as you believe) the wicked will receive temporary torment before becoming extinct, Jesus didn't suffer that either!" On the contrary, Thomas! That is exactly what He suffered!! Notice again the analysis by Dr. Nichols above.

Thomas claims that Jesus PAID IT ALL, that He took the penalty upon Himself for sin IN FULL. This statement is simply not true IF the penalty is perpetual torture in the lake of fire. This statement IS true if the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). If the wages of sin is perpetual torture in fire, then the wicked will be forced to suffer an infinitely greater penalty than Jesus paid for the sins of mankind. Indeed, the suffering and death of Christ would be trivial in comparison. On March 16, 1967, in a letter to brother Jim Bill McInteer, a person who signed the letter "A Very Discouraged Christian" wrote, "I'd much rather have been hanged on a cross, suffered about three days, than to burn forevermore. Forevermore is quite a bit longer than three days or thirty-three years." This person was feeling the burden of his own sin, and feeling he could not live in such a way as to obtain heaven, and was distressed over the seeming disparity between what men would be forced to suffer and what Christ supposedly suffered as their substitutionary sacrifice. That is a real problem for the traditionalist who proclaims perpetual torture as the penalty for sin --- the penalty we have been told Christ Jesus PAID IN FULL.

It seems to me that if one is going to answer the questions I posed to Thomas in the way Thomas has, that one must take a long hard look at the view which proclaims perpetual torture as the "wages of sin."


Thomas has asked four questions of me, and I will do my best to respond to them.

  1. When "God created man in His own image" (Genesis 1:27), what was made "in the image of God" -- the physical body, the spirit, the breath, or something else?

    • I will answer this question in the latter part of this current post when I deal with the nature of man.

  2. If the wages of sin for the unredeemed is "utter extinction forever," did Jesus pay that price?

    • The wages of sin is DEATH (Romans 6:23). When you are dead, you cease to be. Unless God intervenes in some miraculous way, that extinction is forever!! When Jesus gave up His life the potential was indeed "forever extinction." However, God had made a special promise to Jesus that He would not be abandoned to the grave forever (Acts 2:27). Thus, by the power of God and through special promise, Jesus was lifted up out of death. In essence, the same promise is made to all men prior to their physical deaths through the gospel. If they will submit to Him, they too will be lifted up out of death and will live forevermore. Those who do NOT submit to His gracious offer will indeed be raised, will be judged for that refusal, and will be returned to death. In the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord we have a demonstration of the destinies of both the redeemed and unredeemed --- Death on the one hand, Life on the other!

  3. Do you believe that Jesus' death upon the cross was the cessation of life for the ENTIRE PERSON, not just a part of him?

    • Yes.

  4. Which of the following individuals exist now?

    • Only Elijah (in your list of names) is currently living, although the exact nature of that existence, and where, is beyond our comprehension. He was spared physical death, and was physically taken by the Lord. I'm convinced that his body underwent some dramatic change to enable it to exist in some radically different sphere, but I have no clue as to what that must have been (Jesus' raised body also seemed to have been different in some remarkable ways, thus it apparently had experienced change). The aged apostle John was not even willing to speculate --- "it has not appeared as yet what we shall be," but "we know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2). Someone asked a similar question of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:35. His response was that it would basically be a glorious, imperishable body ... "we shall be changed" (vs. 52). For anyone to go too far beyond that would be mere speculation. Whatever this resurrection body is, I think it is what Elijah and Enoch now enjoy. Beyond that I dare not assume too much.

    • Adam, Abraham, Moses and Paul (whom you listed) are all dead. I would echo the words of Peter: "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). A few verses later Peter declares that David has not ascended into heaven (vs. 34). Thus, these persons have ceased to be in the cognitive sense, although their dust is undoubtedly somewhere on the planet. At one point Moses was summoned from the dust of the ground to appear with Elijah (after all, our God IS the God of the living and the dead, and none are beyond His reach), but he was likely returned there when his purpose for appearing was fulfilled. Again, there is much about that particular situation we simply do not know. As for Lazarus (Luke 16), he was merely a fictional character in a parable, thus never existed to begin with. I will have more to say about him when I examine in some depth in a future post this parable of our Lord (which I will probably do in my next post).


Thomas wrote, "I do not cite Matson's remark as proof of the truth of my position, but only to indicate how obvious it is, even to an atheist, what the New Testament says about the eternal destiny of the wicked."

Yes, even an atheist can be mistaken in his biblical interpretation!! Much of that misinterpretation is likely the result of centuries of pagan influence upon Christendom, an influence so pervasive that these misconceptions have become part of our common language and culture. So common, in fact, that even our dictionaries often perpetuate the falsehoods in their definitions of key terms. This can be seen in other areas also, such as the terms "baptism" and "church." Who hasn't been distressed when reading the dictionary definitions of these terms?

Many atheists find the traditionalist perspective of final punishment more than they can swallow, and it leaves them with a negative view of Christianity and our God. Brother John Clayton, a former atheist and a devoted disciple whom I've known for many years, wrote, "In my 33 years of working with atheists, skeptics, and struggling believers, one of the most frequently articulated challenges to God is His justice. What kind of a God is it that would send a person to horrible eternal pain and suffering? ... All of the pious and complex attempts to justify this situation do not work with atheists, skeptics, and most struggling believers. One solution to this problem is to suggest that what the Bible really teaches on this subject is eternal punishment, not eternal punishing. The analogy sometimes used is that a person executed for a crime is punished, but is not tortured forever. If God allows a person to exist and then puts them back into non-existence if they do not accept His Grace, there is not the punishing forever and yet Hell is real" (Does God Exist? Jan/Feb, 2001, p. 24). Several years earlier he had written, "I have never been able to be comfortable with the position that a person who rejected God should suffer forever and ever and ever. ... If a person who rejected God just died, there would be no real problem" (Does God Exist? Sept/Oct, 1990, p. 20).

In a personal letter to me (dated October 16, 1990), brother John Clayton wrote, "I think the thinking part of the Church is really being stimulated by Fudge's book and is really coming to a recognition that a lot of the traditional teachings on heaven and hell really don't stand up in an examination of the facts." Later in the letter, after discussing the view of the nature of man and final punishment that I have been preaching for many years now, he wrote, "There is a great deal of intellectual appeal to that and a much more logical approach than some of the traditional concepts of hell. I hope all of us who are willing to think will continue to examine this concept."

Well, I shall let the above rather lengthy comments on Thomas' last post suffice. The remainder of this current post will be an examination of what I perceive to be the biblical teaching on the nature of man. I will introduce the subject by giving the basic "Jewish" concept (as perceived in the OT writings), and then deal specifically and in some depth with the concepts of Body, Soul and Spirit. I shall then conclude by examining the significance of the idea that mankind was created in the "image of God."


In his section dealing with the nature of man Thomas made the following observation: "I believe that man is basically a two-fold being: BODY and SPIRIT/SOUL. ... The point I want to emphasize is that there is more to man than the physical body." Later, he states this again: "The primary point I want people to understand from these passages is that THERE IS MORE TO MAN THAN HIS PHYSICAL BODY! When the body is dead, the PERSON still exists as a SPIRIT BEING."

I think Thomas has pretty well declared his position in the above statements and by his interpretations of the several passages he provided in his last post. Needless to say, I completely disagree with his position and his interpretations. The Scriptures Thomas provided, by the way, are the standard "proof texts" paraded by traditionalists every time this subject comes up, and they are consistently misinterpreted through the "theological spectacles of heathen dualism." Rather than attempting to refute the interpretations of Thomas on each of these passages (these will be examined later in various contexts throughout this debate and I shall challenge his views on these passages at that time), I think it would prove more constructive at this juncture to simply (though in some depth) provide what I believe the biblical teaching on the nature of man to be. Thus, the remainder of this current offering will focus on that theme.


"What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" (Psalm 8:4). We all know that he is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), but exactly what IS the nature of man? Mankind has been asking this question, and seeking the answer, almost from the beginning of time.

One of the important truths conveyed in the OT Scriptures, as the nature of man is considered, is that man is a unified whole, rather than a loose fusion of separate entities. It was much later that the pagans began to influence the thinking of the people of God in the direction of two (dichotomy) or three (trichotomy) distinct parts. This dualistic manner of conceptualizing human beings has persisted throughout most of Christian history, and began in the so-called intertestamental period to influence the Jewish thinking as well.

"A human being is a totality of being, not a combination of various parts and impulses. According to the Old Testament understanding, a person is not a body which happens to possess a soul. Instead, a person is a living soul. ... Because of God's breath of life, the man became 'a living being' (Gen. 2:7). A person, thus, is a complete totality, made up of human flesh, spirit (best understood as 'the life-force'), and nephesh (best understood as 'the total self' but often translated as 'soul')" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 61). "The Old Testament truth that people exist as a totality remained firm in New Testament writings" (ibid). "The New Testament illustrates four specific and distinct dimensions of human existence, but the writers of the New Testament affirm with the Old Testament writers that a human being is a totality, a complete whole" (ibid).

"In the Bible, a person is a unity. Body and soul or spirit are not opposite terms, but rather terms which supplement one another to describe aspects of the inseparable whole person. Such a holistic image of a person is maintained also in the New Testament even over against the Greek culture which, since Plato, sharply separated body and soul with an analytic exactness and which saw the soul as the valuable, immortal, undying part of human beings. ... According to the Bible, a human being exists as a whole unit and remains also as a whole person in the hand of God after death. A person is not at any time viewed as a bodyless soul" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1295-1296).

Dr. Everett Ferguson, a dear brother in Christ, in his book Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries (ACU Press), comments on some statements found in the noted second century work The Epistle to Diognetus (in which are found the statements: "The invisible soul is imprisoned in a visible body" and "The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tent"). Dr. Ferguson observes: "From the standpoint of the Biblical doctrine of man, one can fault the author for his Greek distinction between body and soul. The sharp separation he makes is more in accord with Greek philosophy than it is with the Biblical view of the unity of the whole man" (p. 198). Everett later comments, "The author's anthropology is faulty" (ibid).

"The ancient Hebrews did not approach man dualistically as have the Greeks nor, by implication, the general public of contemporary Western society" (Dr. Arnold De Graaff and Dr. James Olthuis, Toward A Biblical View Of Man, a paper produced for the Institute For Christian Studies, p. 81). "Man is not a soul imprisoned in a body. Both belong together in a psychosomatic unity. ... There is not dualism in the sense of separation, as though there could be full man either as body alone or as soul alone. ...together they make up the one man" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 134).

"The English translation ... 'soul' has too often been misunderstood as teaching a bipartite (soul and body: dichotomy) or tripartite (body, soul and spirit: trichotomy) anthropology. Equally misleading is the interpretation which too radically separates soul from body as in the Greek view of human nature. Porteous states it well when he says, 'The Hebrew could not conceive of a disembodied soul.' ... As R.B. Laurin has suggested, 'To the Hebrew, man was not a body and a soul, but rather a body-soul, a unity of vital power'" (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, p. 496). "What is essential to understanding the Hebrew mind is the recognition that man is a unit: body-soul" (ibid, p. 497).

I have risked drawing a rebuke from my opponent by giving several quotations here, but it is important to note the growing number of scholars who have perceived the doctrine of dualism to be anti-biblical and totally opposed to the true holistic nature of man. This realization is especially vital to our present debate, for "what Christians believe about the make-up of their human nature largely determines what they believe about their ultimate destiny" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 21). "A survey of the studies produced during the last fifty years or so, reveals that the traditional dualistic view of human nature has come under massive attack. Scholars seem to outdo one another in challenging traditional dualism and in affirming Biblical wholism. ... Christianity is coming out of a stupor and is suddenly discovering that for too long it has held to a view of human nature derived from Platonic dualism rather than from Biblical wholism" (ibid).

Thus, as we examine the "parts" of man (body, soul, spirit) we need to keep in mind that these are NOT separate living entities that perhaps can survive apart from one another, and even prosper. Rather they are integral aspects of the whole man, and do not rise to higher, fuller life when freed from one another. Such a concept is pure paganism, and it has no basis in the Scriptures and certainly has no place in the teachings of Christianity.

The biblical view of the nature of man is probably best perceived in Genesis 2:7 -- "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." One could perhaps present this passage as an equation:

B + B = B
Body + Breath = Being

Let's notice each of these three concepts more closely, especially since some traditionalists see in this verse justification for the doctrine of "immortal soulism."


"Of the thirteen words which refer to the animal or human body, the most frequent is basar, 'flesh.' It can designate the body as a whole, but the form or shape of the body or of its parts is not what is important. The focus is on the function or dynamics" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 202). The Greek word most often utilized for the body is "soma."

The body of man was formed from the physical elements that also make up the earth about us. According to one source on the Internet, "A chemical analysis of man's body reveals that it consists of 72 parts oxygen, 13.5 parts carbon, 9.1 parts hydrogen, 2.5 parts nitrogen, 1.3 parts calcium, 1.15 parts phosphorus, and small amounts of potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, silicon, iodine, and fluorine. The first six elements listed in this paragraph, therefore, make up more than 99% of man's body."

Although one might want to verify these figures with those better equipped to know than I, nevertheless the point is made that our human bodies consist of common elements found in the physical creation. Phrased more poetically: we are formed from the dust of the ground. In Genesis 3:19 man was informed, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Abraham, as he ventured to speak to the Lord, acknowledged, "I am but dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27). "For He Himself knows our frame (what we are made of); He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).

Solomon, in speaking of both men and animals, declares, "All came from the dust and all return to the dust" (Eccl. 3:20). He later observes, "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was" (Eccl. 12:7). In Psalm 104, which speaks of the animals, we are informed that the Creator "dost take away their spirit, they expire, and return to their dust" (vs. 29). With regard to the physical composition of man and beast, it is the same. Neither has an advantage over the other in this area (Eccl. 3:19-21). If God should decide to withhold breath/spirit from both, "all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust" (Job 34:15).

"The wordplay between 'adam' and 'adama' (ground, soil) in Gen. 2:7 suggests the relatedness between humanity and the created world" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 615). "There is a wordplay in the Hebrew text of Genesis 2-3 that indicates an intimate relationship between man (adham) and the ground (adhamah). God formed man of dust from the ground (Gen. 2:7; 3:23), made him to till the ground (2:5; 3:23; cf. 2:15), cursed the ground because he sinned (3:17), and decreed that he should return to the ground whence he came (3:19). The emphasis throughout Genesis 2-3 seems to be on the frailty and transitoriness of all God's creation, whether vegetable, animal, or man" (John T. Willis, The Living Word Commentary: Genesis, p. 102-103). "Our study of the meaning and use of 'flesh--bashar' in the Old Testament shows that the word generally is used to describe the concrete reality of human existence from the perspective of its frailty and feebleness" (Dr. Samuel Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 62).

I would imagine there would be little debate between Thomas and me over the physical body of man (and by "man" I refer to both male and female -- Gen. 1:27). Our bodies are mortal, and thus subject to death. At some point, unless we are privileged to be alive at the Parousia, we shall die (Heb. 9:27). Thus, our bodies will return to the ground ... dust returning to dust.

The promise of our Lord, however, is that He will awaken us from our "sleep in the dust of the ground" (Daniel 12:2) and we shall be changed, this mortal shall put on immortality (1 Cor. 15), and we shall thus be enabled to forever dwell in the presence of our Lord. The hope of the child of God, therefore, is intricately linked with the resurrection of the body from the dust of the ground. Without resurrection, either Christ's or our own, we have perished!!


Obviously the physical body is not inherently immortal. Indeed, after the fall, man was barred from the garden and the tree of life (Gen. 3:24) lest he "take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen. 3:22). Thus, the body itself is destined to die (suffer the loss of life; return to the ground). For some (the redeemed) the hope exists of one day awaking and putting on "everlasting life" (Daniel 12:2), but that is yet future. At present there is nothing inherently immortal about our physical bodies.

Thus, the traditionalists (those who believe in man's inherent immortality) must search elsewhere for that special "immortal something" that is part of man's makeup. Some assume it is the "spirit" of man that is immortal. Genesis 2:7 declares, "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the BREATH of life; and man became a living being." It is this "breath of life," this "spirit of life," that is proclaimed by some to be immortal, and which consciously survives the death of the physical body.

"In the Hebrew there are two words for breath -- neshamah, and more commonly ruach. In general, they are used interchangeably for 'breath' and 'spirit'" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 36). The Greek word employed is "pneuma."

"In the OT Hebrew 'ruah' means first of all wind and breath, but also the human spirit in the sense of life force and even personal energy. ... It is explicit that God is the source of human breath. ... In the NT Greek 'pneuma' can mean wind. It can also have the meaning breath. ... Both 'spirit' and 'mind' are used of the whole person and not simply of component parts" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1248).

The body of man is animated and sustains life as long as the "breath" dwells within it. In other words, a BREATHING body is a living body; a body where the breathing has ceased for an extended period is a dead body. God animated the physical body by placing within it the "breath of life." Life is a gift of the Life-Giver. He can also withdraw it. Psalm 104:29, speaking of animals, declares, "Thou dost take away their spirit/breath, they expire, and return to their dust." When the breath departs from the body, the body returns to the dust. Solomon points out that men and beasts "all have the same breath/spirit" (Eccl. 3:19).

This is an interesting fact, and a troubling one, for those who would suggest the "immortal part of man" is the "spirit." Animals have the same spirit!!! Thus, if this is the immortal part of man, why not also of the other living creatures? The simple fact of the matter is, when the breath is withdrawn, men and animals die. God is the Giver of this gift of the breath of life, and thus this life-force returns to Him who gave it. "The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit/breath will return to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). This passage does not suggest some "immortal spirit" (which is the real us) flies off to heaven to dwell with God. It merely declares the life-force has departed the body (thus rendering it a dead body). Since God is the Giver of this life-force, it is depicted as returning to Him.

Notice Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the valley of dry bones). The prophet was asked, "Can these bones live?" (vs. 3). Ezekiel didn't really commit himself, so the Lord said of the bones, "Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive" (vs. 5-6). The prophet watched as the bodies were recreated and reformed. "But there was no breath in them" (vs. 8). Then he was told to prophesy, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life" (vs. 9). He did so, and "breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet" (vs. 10). This is almost reminiscent of Gen. 2:7, isn't it? God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living being! The breath is the life-force of the body. Without it the body is dead. And this gift of the breath of life comes from God. "In Him we live and move and exist (have our being)" (Acts 17:28). "He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).

It should also be pointed out that "spirit" is not infrequently used in Scripture to represent the less physical aspects of man's being --- personality, emotions, attitude, and the like. Thus, one might be "mean-spirited" or have a broken or contrite spirit (Psalm 51). These terms do not suggest an immortal being trapped inside the body, but merely reflect the mental and emotional aspects of man's nature. "In both the Old and New Testaments, spirit is used of humans and of other beings. When used of humans, spirit is associated with a wide range of functions including thinking and understanding, emotions, attitudes, and intentions. ... Spirit is used extensively with human emotions. ... A variety of attitudes and intentions are associated with spirit" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1300).

Some suggest that Psalm 31:5 ("Into Thy hand I commit my spirit"), which was voiced by Christ on the cross, proves that the "spirit/breath" is the immortal something which survives death, and is that immortal, conscious, personal part of us that lives on with God. However, the "spirit" of both men (good and wicked) and animals is withdrawn unto God. This seems to preclude such dualistic notions (unless you want heaven infested with the "immortal spirits" of rodents!!). All that is suggested by this expression is that the one expiring is entrusting back to God the gift of the breath of life. The confident hope of such a statement, of course, is that He will bestow it again and raise us back up to life. Paul, as he contemplated his impending death, wrote confidently: "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until/for that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). I think Paul also knew that his breath of life was in good hands, and would one day be bestowed again!

"There is no indication in the Bible that the spirit of life given to man at creation was a conscious entity before it was given. This gives us reason to believe that the spirit of life has no conscious personality when it returns to God. The spirit that returns to God is simply the animating life principle imparted by God to both human beings and animals for the duration of their earthly existence" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 74). "Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His breath/spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:3-4).


Well, if it isn't the spirit/breath which is that "immortal something" within us that survives the death of the body, then it must be the "soul." Right? This is the one that most traditionalists choose as the immortal part of man. In fact, the expression "immortal soul" has become a very common expression. The readers might be surprised to discover, however, that the phrase "immortal soul" NEVER appears in the Bible ... not even once!! I am assuming Thomas already knows this fact!

"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living SOUL/being" (Genesis 2:7). Some traditionalists virtually equate this last phrase (living soul) with "immortal soul." But, that is NOT what the passage says. God put breath within this body and the body became a living being. The exact same words are used of animals in the Scriptures. Further, it doesn't say man was GIVEN a soul --- it says man BECAME a soul. Big difference!!

A fellow minister once told me: "The one thing which distinguishes man from monkey is his 'living soul.' To my knowledge this expression is used ONLY of man; I don't find it used of bugs or bulls." Thus, according to this minister, that which makes man unique among the living creation of God is: man has a "living soul," and those other life forms do NOT. And, again, this "living soul" is equated with "IMMORTAL soul."

It would probably shock a great many to know that the phrase "living soul" is actually used more often in Genesis with reference to animals than with reference to man!! Notice some of these other passages where "living soul" IS used of "bugs and bulls."

Lest you think "poor demented, deluded Al" has REALLY lost it here, let me quote from an article by a well-known and respected scholar in the churches of Christ: Dr. Jack P. Lewis (who was formerly a professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion). In an article entitled "Living Soul," which appeared in the March 16, 1976 issue of FIRM FOUNDATION, he began by quoting Gen. 2:7 and then he wrote the following (I am only quoting a small portion of that article):

As Dr. Lewis has pointed out, many of the translations (perhaps following the lead of the KJV, and its self-proclaimed desire to provide "variety" in translation) have rendered this term "living CREATURE" when it is used of animals, but "living SOUL" when speaking of man. And yet the term is exactly the same for both in the original!!

The word itself simply conveys the concept of "BEING," or "LIFE." When God took this body He had created from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life, that body then BECAME a living, breathing BEING. This is said of both man and animal. And that is ALL the original text says!!! Nothing is ever said in these passages about either man or beast (or bug or bird) being anything other than "living BEINGS."

"Soul" is not what a living, animate physical body HAS, rather "soul" is what a living, animate physical body IS. They cannot be separated. "Body and soul cannot be observed separate from one another. Body and soul do not form two separate substances. Instead, they comprise the one individual human in inseparable union. ... Also in the New Testament body and soul are two inseparable aspects of the one human being -- Matthew 6:25" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 202).

"The Hebrew word nephesh is a key Old Testament term (755 times) referring to human beings. ... A person does not have a soul. A person is a living soul (Gen. 2:7). That means a living being that owes life itself to the Creator just as does the animal (Gen. 2:19). ... The soul does not, however, represent a divine, immortal, undying part of the human being after death as the Greeks often thought" (ibid, p. 1295).

Brother John T. Willis, in his commentary on Genesis (Sweet Publishing Company), writes, "The Hebrew expression nephesh chayyah, which some insist on translating 'a living soul,' is used of fish and marine life in Genesis 1:20,21; land animals in 1:24; beasts, birds and reptiles in 1:30; and beasts and birds in 2:19. If 'soul' means the eternal part of man ... in Genesis 2:7, it must mean the eternal part of a fish ... in Genesis 1:20, 21; etc." (p. 103-104). "The word translated 'being' in the RSV (nephesh) means the whole person" (ibid, p. 104).

"While man became a living soul, he did not thereby automatically become an immortal soul, or being. The same Hebrew term, 'living soul,' is applied to the lower animals. In fact, nephesh (soul) is four times applied to the lower animals before it is used of man -- in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30. And out of the first thirteen usages in Genesis, nephesh is nine times used of the lower animals. ... Man BECAME a living soul -- a single entity, an inseparable unit, a unique individual. ... The soul is the living person or being himself, not a separate, independent 'something'" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 34-35, 39).

"Far from referring simply to one aspect of a person, 'soul' refers to the whole person" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1245). This word, like "spirit," can also be used figuratively to refer to the seat of emotions, in place of personal pronouns, or to refer to one's entire self/being. It also can refer to life itself. When Jesus spoke of the destruction of both "soul and body" in Gehenna, He was referring to the fact that only God has the power to destroy not only the body, but also the very BEING of a person. Men can only kill the body, but God can always raise it right back up. Only God can so destroy a person's BEING that nothing exists!! Thus, "soul" conveys the idea of not just a physical body, but the very BEINGNESS of the person!! MAN can end another man's "being" temporarily; GOD can end a man's "being" forever!!!

The "soul" is even said to reside in the blood!! "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11). In Gen. 9:4 we are told the "soul" IS the blood. This simply means the LIFE of the body. It in no way speaks of some "immortal something" actually living in the blood, or being the blood. Just as life is connected to breath/breathing, so also is life connected to the coursing of blood through one's veins. Without either the body is dead (a dead soul, not a living soul).

"The word translated 'soul' contains no idea of a spiritual existence. ... Really the word refers to the natural life of animals and men, maintained by breathing, or in some way extracting oxygen from the atmospheric air" (Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1, p. 19). Brother T. Pierce Brown, in an article entitled "Soul and Spirit" (Gospel Advocate, June 14, 1979), wrote, "A consideration of EVERY (emphasis his) passage in which these terms are used leads us to the conclusion that the term 'soul' is a term that was applied in the Bible to every being that normally has sensory capacities (life), whether or not they have that capacity when the term is applied to them. For example, one might see a body of a dead person and say, 'That poor soul is dead.' The Bible uses the term that way, even as we do, and it has nothing at all to do with the immortality or mortality of the soul. It simply means that the PERSON (the one who HAD life -- soul -- sensory capacity) is dead."

"A doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not stated in the Bible and is not clearly defined in early rabbinical literature" (Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion). "Summing up, we can say that the expression 'man became a living soul -- nephesh hayyah' does not mean that at creation his body was endowed with an immortal soul, a separate entity, distinct from the body. Rather, it means that as a result of the divine inbreathing of the 'breath of life' into the lifeless body, man became a living, breathing being, no more, no less. The heart began to beat, the blood to circulate, the brain to think, and all the vital signs of life were activated. Simply stated, 'a living soul' means 'a living being'" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 46).

Although the Bible does not teach this doctrine, in 1513 A.D. at the Fifth Lateran Ecumenical Council, the Pope issued a decree (aimed primarily at Luther and his associates) that condemned "all who assert that the intellectual soul is mortal." It was declared that the soul was immortal, and "we declare every assertion contrary to the truth of illumined faith to be altogether false; and, that it may not be permitted to dogmatize otherwise, we strictly forbid it, and we decree that all who adhere to affirmations of this kind of error are to be shunned and punished as detestable and abominable heretics and infidels who disseminate everywhere most damnable heresies and who weaken the Catholic faith."

Brother Curtis Dickinson, a longtime acquaintance, wrote, "The Pope's decree turned many from hope in a resurrection to belief in an immortal soul" (The Witness, Vol. 35, No. 11, November, 1995). Needless to say, this decree brought forth strong opposition from those who sought to teach the truth of the Scriptures. Luther declared it was the Pope, not the Bible, who taught, "the soul is immortal." In his Table Talk Luther declared -- "Now if one should say that Abraham's soul lives with God but his body is dead, this distinction is rubbish. I will attack it. That would be a silly soul if it were in heaven and desired its body!!" William Tyndale (1484-1536), an English Bible translator and martyr, wrote, "And ye, in putting them (the departed souls) in heaven, hell and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection." Tyndale argued that if souls were already in either bliss or misery, "then what cause is there of the resurrection?" And what cause is there even of judgment? In another part of this same writing, Tyndale said -- "The true faith putteth forth the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put that the soul did ever live. And the Pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the fleshly doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they cannot agree. And because the fleshly-minded Pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine, therefore he corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it. If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for the resurrection?"

Yes, the doctrine of "immortal soulism" is a pernicious doctrine of demons, and it undermines some of the basic core doctrines of Christianity. It had its seed in the lie of Satan in the garden and has been perpetuated by pagans and the Catholic hierarchy. Sadly, many even in the Lord's church continue to preach it from the pulpits to precious unsuspecting souls.

In summation, the nature of man is: Body + Breath = Being!! Man is a unified whole, not a conglomeration of distinct entities. Man IS a living being; man does not POSSESS a living being! Man is entirely mortal in nature; no part of him is inherently immortal. Thomas, sadly, has embraced the dualism of paganism. My prayer is that he will one day see through this deception and come to perceive the biblical Truth with respect to the nature of man.


I will conclude this lengthy post by addressing Thomas' question to me pertaining to the significance of man being "in the image of God." Imago Dei is a theological term signifying a unique, though somewhat mysterious, relationship between deity and humanity. "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).

The Hebrew word for "image" in this passage is "tzelem," which refers to the nature or essence of a thing and not necessarily the physical form. Similarly, the word for "likeness" in this passage is "demut," which is used to indicate a simile, not an exact replication of actual form. Thus, the verse is not suggesting that man resembles God in physical appearance (head, arms, legs, feet, etc.), but that the resemblance is with regard to aspects of God's essential nature. Even then, it is only a "likeness," not total equality. For example, the passage seems to imply that part of the "likeness" and "image" is with regard to rulership over creation, and yet man's authority, though greater than the rest of creation, is lesser than God's. It is only in the image or likeness of, not equal to.

"Neither of the words imply that persons are divine. They were endowed with some of the characteristics of God. There is a likeness but not a sameness" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 688).

"This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created" (Genesis 5:1-2). "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6). "For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God" (1 Cor. 11:7). "With it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God" (James 3:9). See also Psalm 8, in which there is at least an implication of such.

The traditionalists have assumed, and actively proclaim, that these passages declare man is immortal by nature (since he is created in the image of the immortal God). This is merely an assumption, however, since the Scriptures make no such claim for the terms "image" or "likeness." It is also an illogical claim, for why would this single attribute of divine nature be the one given to man? Why not the others? Why not eternal pre-existence, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, or any other strictly divine attribute? "There is no valid reason, then, why immortality alone should be singled out as the one unique characteristic intended by the phrase 'image of God.' We must therefore conclude that creation in the divine 'image,' or 'likeness,' no more proves man's immortality than it proves his eternal pre-existence, omniscience, omnipotence, or possession of any other exclusively divine attribute" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 32). "Early theologians were greatly influenced by Greek philosophy in their interpretation of the image of God. They saw an individual as a spirit being living in a physical body. This Greek dualism was the background out of which the early Christian theologians drew their understanding" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 688).

Many feel the ultimate testimony as to the "image of God" is seen in Jesus, "who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). "And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation" (Col. 1:15). Thus, it is suggested by some that the best way to determine the true "image of God" is to discern the nature of Jesus Himself. What were the qualities of His life which made Him God-like, so that when one saw Him one saw the Father? It is also suggested that we may truly realize this special quality within us by being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).

As one can imagine, there are many theories as to the significance of being created in the "image" and "likeness" of God. Thomas Aquinas regarded this as the human ability to think and reason, to use language and art, far surpassing the abilities of any animals. Thus, being in the image of God, for some, refers to intellectual and relational abilities not found in animals -- the ability to think and reason, specifically to make moral decisions.

Others feel it refers to the powers of self-transcendence and self-awareness. Thus, we are creatures capable of being introspective, retrospective or prospective. We may reflect upon the past and anticipate the future, and even discern the workings of God in nature, history and our own lives. It is awareness far superior to that of the rest of creation. Still others regard "image of God" to refer to man being gifted with mind and intelligence, or the power of choice, or the capacity to love and express emotion, the existence of will, conscience, imagination and moral responsibility. Some see it as the capacity for worship.

The rabbi Maimonides suggested that by using one's intellect, one is able to perceive things without the use of the physical senses, an ability that makes man "like" God. The PBS television show "Faith and Reason" stated "Humans differ from all other creatures because of their rational structure -- their capacity for deliberation and free decision-making."

Brother Ron Rose, in "Heartlight Magazine," wrote, "Mankind was designed to reason independent of instinct, to dream and sing and express emotion, to create and build and invent, to feel love and compassion and hope, to ask why and why not." The Holman Bible Dictionary declares, "More accurate is the suggestion that the image consists in humankind's lordship over and stewardship of creation, for this is the theme of the following verses -- Gen. 1:28-31" (p. 675).

In my view, the best explanation is the one given by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi in his book (p. 44) to which I have referred several times. He writes:


I realize this has been a very lengthy post, but I don't apologize for thoroughness in exposition of crucial concepts conveyed in God's holy Word. When God speaks we do well to give it our full attention and best effort to discern the intent of His declarations.

The nature of man is a most important doctrine to correctly grasp. Many other doctrines, including the final destiny of both righteous and wicked, depend upon our understanding of exactly who we are and the extent, or limitations, of our human potential.

I hope this present contribution to our debate has given Thomas, and the readers, a better appreciation for the biblical teaching on the nature of man. As lengthy as this treatment was, it truly only scratches the surface of what could be presented. I hope it will thus provide an impetus for each of you to engage in further study of the Word. That was my intent.

I believe Thomas has embraced long-standing traditional misconceptions with regard to the nature of man, and this has led to fallacious doctrines in other areas as well. I too once embraced these misguided notions, and thus understand well Thomas' current thinking. However, it is dead wrong. I can only hope and pray that through discussions such as this people will come to perceive the Truth and forever cast aside the false teachings of traditionalism derived from paganism. May God truly bless each one of you unto this end as you follow this published debate.

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