Does the breath of life refer to the human spirit?
In Genesis 2:7 we are told that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and he became a living soul. This verses raise some important questions. What did God do when He breathed into Adam’s nostrils? “Does the breath of life refer to the human spirit?” Is the breath of God the Holy Spirit? What does it mean that Adam became a living soul? We are going to discover the meaning of these terms as used in Scripture : the breath of life, the breath of God, and the living soul.
Genesis 2:7 tells us how the first human, Adam, was created. It says,
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. Genesis 2:7 (NASB)
The Hebrew word for “breathed” in the verse is napah. The basic meaning of the word is to blow, to breathe, to sniff, and to gasp. The exact meaning of the word refers to the movement of air. Napah is never used to refer to the spirit, the human spirit, or the Holy Spirit. That means the expression “breath of life” simply means that God blew into Adam’s nostrils. God caused him to live.
The English term, breath of life, also occurs three more times in the Old Testament (Genesis 6:17; 7:15, 22). But this time the Hebrew word for “breath” in each verse is a different Hebrew word. It is ruah. It can be translated as breath, wind, and spirit. That would seem to imply that the breath of life refers to the spirit of man. But when we examine the context of the passage in which ruah is used for “breath of life,” we discover that it does not refer to spirit. It refers to the air we breathe. For example, Genesis 6:17 is about the flood that occurred during the time of Noah. It says,
Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. Genesis 6:17 (NASB)
So the breath of life refers to the air that animals and humans breathe The verse clearly tells us that God planned to drown the animals and humans by the flood water.
Therefore, napah describes what God did to Adam and ruah describes the air that Adam breathed. The breath of life refers to the life-giving air we breathe and not the human spirit. Without the air we breathe, we would die. God designed the air so that our bodies can breathe and live. The term soul refers to the life-force that causes our bodies to function. It causes our lungs to inhale and exhale and the other body parts to function.
Some have asked if the breath of God (Job 4:9; 27:3; 37:10) is the Holy Spirit. The answer is no. For the context of each verse reveals the breath of God is another term for breath of life with the idea that God gives it. God is the giver of the breath of life.
The “breath of life” occurs only one time in the New Testament, in Revelation 11:11. The verse tells us that God gave the two witnesses life again by saying the “breath of life” was given to them. That is, they returned to life or began to live again.
So, does the breath of life refer to the human spirit? No! The breath of life refers to the life sustaining air that animals and humans breathe. God is the designer and giver of the breath of life. Isaiah 42:5 reminds us that God gives breath to the people on this earth. It says that God, “. . . gives breath to the people on it.”