Questions From Readers
● How is the “breath of life” mentioned at Genesis 2:7 related to the “spirit” of man mentioned elsewhere in the Bible?
Genesis 2:7 thus describes the creation of the first man, Adam: “And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” Pointedly it can be said, the Scriptures show that in ‘blowing into Adam the breath of life’ God gave the formed body both life force (or, spirit) and the breath or breathing needed to sustain life.
We can better appreciate this conclusion by first noting from the Bible some other details about “spirit.”
The Hebrew word that is often translated “spirit” is ruʹahh. It can convey a number of distinct meanings, depending on how it is used and on the context. For example, in some cases ruʹahh denotes an invisible movement of air and so can be rendered “wind.” (Ex. 10:13; Zech. 2:6) Also, the word can be used for a “spirit” person, an invisible being such as an angel, or even for God. (1 Ki. 22:21, 22) And ruʹahh can designate God’s invisible active force (holy spirit), as at Psalm 104:30, which mentions the “spirit,” or active force, that Jehovah God employs in creating.
However, Psalm 104:29 illustrates another meaning of ruʹahh—life force. We read: “If you [God] take away their spirit, they expire, and back to their dust they go.” Yes, as this and many other texts show, both humans and animals have an impersonal life force, or spirit, that is present in every living body cell. The Bible shows that without this vitalizing spirit a human or an animal is dead.—Eccl. 3:19; 9:10; Ps. 146:4.
You have that spirit of life, or life force. How can you sustain it? Well, you need to eat, drink and rest. More immediately vital, though, you need to take in oxygen, to breathe, for if you stopped breathing for just a few minutes you would die. Actually, breathing is the prime visible evidence that a person is alive or has the spirit of life in him. Thus the Bible closely connects, or even puts in parallel, “breath” (Hebrew, nesha·mahʹ) and “spirit” (ruʹahh). Genesis 7:22, for instance, says about the men and the animals that died in the Flood: “Everything in which the breath [nesha·mahʹ] of the force [or, spirit, ruʹahh] of life was active in its nostrils . . . died.”—Compare Isaiah 42:5; Job 27:3-5.
Hence, what happened when God created Adam?
First Jehovah made a human body. But it was lifeless or dead. What did it need to become alive and to be a living soul? A simple blast of air or breath into the dead lungs would not be enough, no more than if we tried artificial breathing into the lungs of a long-dead corpse. For that newly created body to be and continue alive, both the spark or spirit of life and breathing were needed.
Consequently, when Genesis 2:7 says that Jehovah blew into the body “the breath of life” it must indicate, in that case, more than just breath or air moving into lungs. It was the “breath of life.” Yes, at the same time God must have provided Adam with the “spirit” or spark of life and the breath needed to keep him alive.
What happens, though, when a person dies? He stops breathing as a result. Soon the spark of life, or life force, in his cells ceases. He is then beyond the help of artificial respiration. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says: “The dust [of his body] returns to the earth just as it happened to be and the spirit itself returns to the true God who gave it.”
It is not a matter of an invisible immortal soul or anything else literally going out of the body, traveling to heaven and being received by God. It simply means that if that dead person is ever to live again, this will be up to God. Jehovah is the One who can remember and resurrect him—forming a body for him and putting the spirit of life in it.