What is Man, Anyway?

Psalm 8:4

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

This post includes a few thoughts from / following on from an interesting conversation on Sunday.

Deuteronomy 6:5

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Mark 12:30, 33

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Matthew 22:37

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

The Key Point — to Love God

The point of these passages is not to give a full theological definition of a human being, but rather to emphasise the command to love the Lord our God with all of our being.  Thus, while these passages use slightly different terms to describe our total being, it is secondary to the key point, which is to love God.

The Secondary Question — What is Man?

This secondary question, admittedly not the primary focus of the passages, is what do these terms tell us about the nature of man?  What aspects of man are in view when Christ talks about the mind?  The heart?  The soul?

The scribe to which Christ was talking in Mark replaced “mind” with “understanding” (or intellect), and Christ said that he answered wisely, so perhaps that helps us know a little better what “mind” meant.  But there are other passages which talk about the nature of man.

Perhaps directly related to these that we’ve looked at is Hebrews 8:10:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

Then, there is the well-known verse in I Thessalonians 5:23, which uses “spirit” and “soul” in parallel:

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then there is Luke 12, where Christ simply refers to the body and the eternal nature of man:

4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

Genesis 2:7 says that man became a living soul when God breathed into him the breath of life — but animals which breathe and live are not made in the image of God, and are not souls in the same way we are.

Can We (and Should We) Answer This Question?

So, sometimes man is talked about as body, soul, and spirit.  Sometimes, he is heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Sometimes, he is body and something else.  What is man, and how do we Biblically define the components that make up a human being?  It is an interesting philosophical question, but it isn’t really the focus of Biblical teaching.  Perhaps we should step back and look at the first mention of man in the Bible.

Genesis 1:26

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

We’re made in God’s image.  He intended us to be a reflection of Him.  The Bible tells us much about man, but does not precisely define him, in part because it’s not where Scripture turns our focus.

If I’m standing next to a mirror in a public place, and I see my wife coming in the mirror, I’m not going to carefully analyse her reflection, I’m going to turn around and look at her.  God wants us to see Him in His created reflection, and look to Him.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason that Biblical discussions of the nature of man are limited and fragmented.  Man is only the reflection.

But the very fact that we are made in God’s image makes us ponder — if we can’t really entirely nail down the nature of man, if we can’t really define who and what we are, and man is but a reflection, a limited-dimensional image of a multi-dimensional and multi-faced Being, then….

How will we comprehend God?

And how great is our God!

Romans 11:33

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!



About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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2 Responses to What is Man, Anyway?

  1. Ken Arney says:

    1 Corinthians 12:13 is a verse I have never been able to understand. Your comment on the mirror has helped me to better grasp the meaning.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Ken. You aren’t the only one to struggle with that verse. I think it is one of many passages which use the nature of man or human relationships to reflect or shed light on spiritual truths.

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