The 'breath of life'
While this verse indicates the difference between the physical body and the living being within (the “breath of life”) the verse is not discussing the creation of the species of man/humanity. Its use of these terms serves two purposes: To illustrate the difference between the physical body and the spirit-person within; and utilize this fact allegorically to describe the appearance of the living being – the spirit-person – within the spiritual realm.
Remember that the first chapter of Genesis already discussed the creation of the physical universe and all the species, including man, within the six “day” period.
This description is not a redundancy. It is another discussion: It is the discussion of how each of us, the living beings or living souls, are parts and parcels of God. Each of us spirit-persons is God’s children.
The Hebrew verse here is וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־ הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־ הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃.
While this verse has been construed to say that God created man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into the man, this translation is incorrect.
The key to the verse’s meaning is in the first Hebrew words and the last Hebrew words:
The first words are הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃. These indicate that the Supreme Being formed or fashioned something.
The last words in the verse are חַיָּֽה׃ לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ. These indicate “living soul” (King James translation) or “living being” (this New International Version translation). These are also consistent with the lexicon.
God creates living beings
Now is this living being the same as the physical body? The translation of this verse seems to indicate this. However, we know this is not true.
How do we know this is not true?
The living being (or soul) is of a spiritual substance, while the physical body is a temporary physical substance. The physical body is a temporary vehicle for the living being, or soul. This can be proven scientifically. Consider just a few reasons we can clearly establish this:
1) When the physical body dies, the life leaves, yet all the physical elements (all the body parts, organs, cells, molecules, blood, lymph and so on) are all still there in the dead body. Nothing physical is missing.
2) Clinical death research has established that the living being can leave the body, rise up above it, and observe the events surrounding their former body even though the body lies there unconscious.
3) Clinical death research has also established that the living being can leave the room where the body lies and observe events occurring outside the hospital, such as what a relative might be doing, even at a distant location.
4) Many have experienced leaving their body (called out-of-body experiences) and observing remote things without a clinical death (when someone legally dies in the hospital).
5) When there is no living being present in the body after death, the body begins to decompose.
6) We tend to deny the aging of our bodies. No one feels we are old, even though we might have an old body on.
7) Most cells are replaced within a few years, and all of the molecules making up the body are recycled within five years. This means that we are functionally wearing a different body every five years. It might be compared to a waterfall, where the water in the waterfall is always changing.
These points and many others confirm that we are separate from our physical bodies. We might lose an arm, a leg or even have a heart replaced, but we are the same person inside.
Noting these facts, we can now understand this verse a little differently. Yes, this verse is describing how God created living beings. But did He create them out of the “dust of the ground,” as many have translated and interpreted?
'Dust of the ground'
The Hebrew word אֲדָמָה (adamah) which is being translated to “ground” is related to the word אָדָם (adam). אָדָם (adam) can be translated to ‘man, human being, mankind’ as well as Adam, symbolically the first man. And אֲדָמָה (adamah) can refer to the earth or ground, or it can refer to a particular ‘land, territory or country.’
In other words, אָדָם (adam) can refer to the individual, and אֲדָמָה (adamah) can refer to the world where that individual comes from.
We must remember that this discussion is steeped in allegory and symbolism. Consider, for example, a verse later in this discussion (Genesis 2:21-22), where God made woman from the ribs of the man. Is this not a clear sign of allegory and symbolism?
Going back to this verse (Genesis 2:7), נָפַח (naphach) אַף (aph) is being translated to “breathed into his nostrils” and נְשָׁמָה (nĕshamah) חַי (chay) is being translated to “breath of life.” Is this really what this means?
While there is little argument for the translation of “breathed into him,” the “breath of life,” נְשָׁמָה (nĕshamah) can be translated to ‘breath,’ but also to ‘spirit’ or even ‘God’s spirit.’ We are talking about, in other words, the living spirit coming from God’s spirit.
So God breathed the living spirit into Adam’s nose?
Again, this is steeped in allegory, as well as symbolism. Let’s break down the symbolism of the verse in its entirety:
‘Adam’ here symbolizes the independent living beings created by God to exchange love with Him. Each of us is a living being, and each of us was created by God to exchange a particular type of relationship with Him. However, God also gave each of us the freedom to love Him or not. More on this later.
‘Dust’ and ‘ground’ אֲדָמָה (adamah) thus symbolize the spiritual essence and spiritual territory that we each are made of and come from. We are each spiritual beings, and we are made of spiritual ‘dust’ from the spiritual dimension.
‘Breath of life’ here illustrates that our essence is spirit, a reflection of God’s spirit. In other words, we are each a part and parcel of God. We are not God, but God created us from Himself, as separated living individuals. We thus are made of God’s essence.
‘Breathed into his nostrils’ is simply a symbolic way to communicate how we were created by God with God’s spirit. Just consider what happens when a person is given CPR after drowning. Should we breathe into their lungs, the air from our lungs becomes utilized by their body in order to give them oxygen? Our breath is thus infused into their body. This is an allegorical way of describing the fact that each of us is infused with God’s spirit. We are ‘cut from the same cloth’ so to speak.
We must understand that these are spiritual concepts being communicated to those who have forgotten our spiritual identity, and only have material concepts to compare to. Thus, allegory and symbolism are required.
Let’s consider an example. Let’s say that we fly on a plane to a tropical island where the natives have never seen an airplane – and they didn’t see our airplane land. They come to us and ask us: How did we arrive on their island? Because they have never seen an airplane we cannot explain it to them. So instead, we say that we flew on a giant bird and arrived on the other side of the island. We might say this because we know they have seen many birds so they can relate to the concept of a big bird.
Note that some might say that it is misleading for the visitors to say they flew on a giant bird because there are certainly many differences between a bird and an airplane. However, under the circumstances, this was the only way to communicate with any clarity that the visitors flew in because this was all the natives could relate to.
In the same way, this description of how God created us living beings must compare the process to something the audience could relate to. It may seem inaccurate to those who have scientific minds today. But this would relate perfectly to those who heard this symbolic story of Adam and Eve through the oral tradition thousands of years ago.
Describing another dimension
As we will see in the coming verses, this allegorical story of Adam and Eve also serves to try to describe a place of another dimension – the spiritual world – for those whose physical minds could not conceive of such a place. It is specifically for this reason that this verse and story has been mistranslated and misunderstood.
Those who do not realize their true identity as spiritual and their origin as coming from the spiritual dimension has no right to be attempting to translate or interpret this text. They are simply wandering in the dark, trying to guess what these ancient spiritual teachers were describing.
The bottom line is that this verse describes that each of us was created by God in the spiritual realm from Himself. He ‘breathed’ His life into us to make us independent living beings that indeed reflect Himself. We each carry God’s essence, yet not God’s completeness. We are made of God, but we are not God. We are God’s independent associates, created by Him to exchange a relationship of loving service with Him – should we choose to, because real love also requires freedom.
We can thus offer a more appropriate translation of this verse:
The LORD God formed the living being from the essence of the spiritual realm; and into him was infused God's spiritual qualities, which produced the living being..