Copyright 2019 by JWA
The normal Hebrew word for soul (living being) is nephesh, corresponding to psyche in the Greek NT. “The soul is, properly speaking, the animating principle of the body, and is the common property of [both] man and beast.” Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, 56. See Gen. 1:21, 24; 2:19 and Lev. 24:18 [lit. He that smiteth the soul of a beast].
The word ‘soul’ is frequently translated ‘person’ in English since the soul represents the person. [Girdlestone, op. cit.] Sometimes it is translated ‘life’ (Ex. 21:23). ‘Blood’ is sometimes used to represent the life of someone and the soul is the seat of life.
The spirit and soul of man are not synonymous terms. However, the spirit of man comes from God’s Spirit and is seated in the soul in such intimacy that speaking of the human soul includes that ‘space’ occupied by the divinely implanted spirit. A good analogy is this: The human soul is kind of like a lockbox that contains the spirit. Thus, when we speak of the “soul,” we refer to both the “soul” (the lockbox) and the “spirit” (what’s contained inside it)
So, in the Fall of man, it was not the soul (the animating life principle of the body) that was so corrupted, but what happened was the ‘death’ of the human spirit. Hence the need for a rebirth (the body did not die, the soul did not die, but the spirit died in the sense that the umbilical cord of communion between God and man was broken).
It is the gift of the human spirit, created by God’s Spirit, that creates in man his personhood, that invisible life whereby we are “enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will.” Girdlestone, Ibid, p. 60
Lower animals have a soul like man only in the sense that they are living beings. What they lack, man possesses, which is an everlasting spirit embedded in that soul, a spirit which bears the image of God, a likeness in the form of personhood.
Note that for the first time (v.7), the Hebrew word Elohim (God) is combined with Yahweh (the Lord) to form “The Lord God.” This compound term identifies God more specifically in terms of relationship. “The God we are talking about is this God, and no other who may be called a god.” In other words, the God who is, and was and ever shall be is none other, Moses is telling us, than Yahweh (Lord in English), the God who entered into a covenant relationship with Israel in the time of Moses. Without elaboration, God established that relational connection by this double name.
“gan” = Hebrew connotes normally “an enclosed garden”
“Eden” = Hebrew means “delight, pleasure.” Thus, Eden was a district wherein God created this enclosed garden of exquisite beauty and perfect provision.
God tested Adam and Eve by putting two trees in the middle of the garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We must not misunderstand this nomenclature. The “tree of life” does not mean a tree whose fruit is magically invested with chemical potency that imparts to the eater the gift of fullness of life (which implies also unending life). Rather we are to understand this tree as a testing tree, a tree that tested whether the original pair would choose God’s promise of the fullness of life by refraining from consuming its fruit or would they bypass that particular tree (tree of life) to which that reward was attached (full and unending life in communion with God) in favor of tasting of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so they could experience God-like wisdom—i.e. the perfect knowledge of good and evil, knowing independently, without recourse to God, what is favorable and disfavorable to their existence on this planet? Would they elect to be independent of God and self-sufficient or would rely strictly on Him, not only for moral knowledge, but functional knowledge of the best way to run their lives? This was the one and only law God gave them in the beginning, not to eat from this tree.
When Moses says that God “planted” a garden, this is an example of anthropomorphic language, which means that God is described from the human standpoint to help our finite minds understand Him and also for elegant simplicity.
The word Mesopotamia means “between two rivers,” namely the Tigris and the mighty Euphrates, where God placed the Garden of Eden. The Tigris runs somewhere in the neighborhood of ancient Ashur, the capital of ancient Assyria (the words are related).