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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Humanity, Humankind

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This article is concerned with what is referred to today as humankind, and in former times as mankind or man; that is, humanity as a whole, human beings, the human race. Concerning the distinctiveness of men and women within that race see MEN; WOMEN.

Made in God’s image

Basic to any study of the nature of human beings is the fact that God created them in his own image (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). They are therefore unique among all God’s earthly creatures. They have a God-given authority over the material world in which they live (Genesis 1:26; Psalms 8:3-8) and a God-given capacity for fellowship with the unseen, sovereign, eternal God (Acts 17:26-27).

Because human beings exist in God’s image, the Bible makes no attempt to divide them into different ‘parts’, such as physical, spiritual, moral, mental, emotional and the like. The human being is not a collection of components, but a unified whole. The whole person exists in God’s image (see IMAGE). The Bible uses words such as ‘body’, ‘mind’, ‘soul’, etc. not to indicate the number of parts that make up the human being, but to indicate different aspects of human life as it appears in different contexts.

For example, we must not think that, because Jesus told people to love God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, they are made up of four parts (Mark 12:30); or that, because Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to be kept blameless in spirit, soul and body, they are made up of three parts (1 Thessalonians 5:23); or that, because Jesus spoke of the destruction of soul and body, they are made up of two parts (Matthew 10:28). Some of these words are used in different ways by different people at different times. Sometimes two words may have virtually the same meaning; other times they may have quite different meanings.

Aspects of human life

Both ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ have a range of meanings in the Bible. The basic meaning of ‘soul’ (Hebrew: nephesh; Greek: psyche) has to do with a person’s (or animal’s) existence as a living being. It is often translated ‘life’ or ‘person’ (Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:24; Genesis 2:7; Exodus 1:5; Ezekiel 18:4; Ezekiel 18:27; Matthew 16:26; Acts 2:41; Acts 2:43; Philippians 2:30; see SOUL). The basic meaning of ‘spirit’ (Hebrew: ruach; Greek: pneuma) has to do with that unseen, life-giving force that comes from God – the ‘breath of life’ that he gives to all persons (and animals), that belongs to him, and that he takes back at death (Genesis 7:22; Numbers 16:22; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Hebrews 12:9; James 2:26; see SPIRIT). With regard to these meanings, we might say that people are nephesh (living beings) because they have ruach (the life-force that comes from God).

However, the Bible uses both nephesh and ruach (and their Greek equivalents in the New Testament) to refer to certain aspects of human life where human beings are different from other animals. Human emotions, will-power and understanding may in some cases be linked with the soul (Genesis 42:21; Deuteronomy 6:5; John 12:27; Acts 4:32), in others with the spirit (Exodus 35:21; Psalms 77:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 8:12; 1 Corinthians 14:14-15).

More importantly, the higher and spiritual aspect of human life that other animals do not share may be called the soul (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:11) or the spirit (Romans 8:10; 2 Timothy 4:22). The physical and non-physical aspects of humans may be referred to as body and soul (Matthew 10:28) or body and spirit (1 Corinthians 7:34; 2 Corinthians 7:1). That aspect that continues in a bodiless existence after death may be referred to as a soul (Acts 2:27; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4) or a spirit (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 3:18).

Such bodiless existence is only temporary. God’s purpose is not that people should live endlessly merely as souls or spirits. His purpose is that they find their full salvation as whole people in resurrected and glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-54; see BODY).

Soul and spirit are not the same. Yet it is not easy to distinguish between them (Hebrews 4:12). We should not think of them as two ‘parts’ which, put together in a certain proportion, make up the inner life (as hydrogen and oxygen, put together in a certain proportion, make up water). It is probably better to think of them as the inner life viewed from different aspects. The Bible most frequently refers to this inner life as the heart. Depending on which aspect of the inner life is emphasized, the heart may refer to the soul (Deuteronomy 4:29; Acts 4:32), the spirit (Psalms 51:10; Psalms 51:17; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11) or the mind (1 Samuel 2:35; Hebrews 10:16; see HEART; MIND).

Failure and triumph

The story of the Bible is the story of human failure and God’s gracious salvation. God intended people to live in harmony with their Creator, their fellow human beings and their physical environment, and to have peace within themselves. But because of sin, all these relationships are in a state of conflict instead of harmony, tension instead of peace (Genesis 3:8-24; see SIN). People have become, so to speak, infected by the disease of sin, and this infection affects every part of their nature. The tendency to do wrong is within the nature people are born with. This ‘diseased’ human nature is commonly called ‘the flesh’ (Psalms 51:5; Romans 5:12; Romans 8:7; Romans 13:14; see FLESH).

Through their sin, people have placed themselves under God’s judgment. They are guilty before a holy and just God, and can do nothing to escape condemnation (Numbers 32:23; Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:3; Hebrews 10:31). God, however, has provided a way of salvation.

God took human form in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived the human life perfectly and finally died to bear sin’s punishment on behalf of his fellow human beings (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 4:15). Through Jesus Christ, the human race can regain what it lost through the man Adam. Human beings can enjoy what God intended for them from the beginning – harmony with their Creator, their fellow human beings and their physical environment, along with peace within themselves. The image of God that was spoiled by sin can be restored through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; see IMAGE, sub-heading ‘The perfect man’).

The evil consequences of human sin may be summarized under the word ‘death’ (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1). Christ reverses all those evil consequences. The salvation that he has achieved includes even the conquest of physical death (Acts 2:24; Hebrews 2:14-15; see DEATH; LIFE). Those who trust in Christ for their salvation can look forward to the fulfilment of that salvation when Christ returns and raises the dead (Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:49-57).

Whatever glory God intended for the human race will be experienced by those who are united with Christ. Their whole person will experience this glory, and therefore they must, in their whole person, remain devoted to God and blameless in behaviour till Christ returns (Mark 12:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; see RESURRECTION). For those who refuse Christ’s salvation, there is nothing to look forward to but fearful judgment (Hebrews 9:27; Hebrews 10:27; see JUDGMENT).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Humanity, Humankind'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 23rd, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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