We understand from God’s Word that man does not have an immortal soul. Rather, man is a mortal soul! (See Genesis 2:7; Psalm 146:3-4; Psalm 104:29, Authorized Version throughout, unless otherwise noted. Compare our free booklet, “Do You Have an Immortal Soul?”) Thus we must understand that at death, the soul is dead. It has no inherent immortality in it. Christ said: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). Thus man is flesh; of the dust of the ground. And when he dies, he returns to dust. We also see that, as with mankind, this same fate befalls animals (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). In Ecclesiastes 3:21 we find these words: “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” Yes, when a man dies: “…the dust [shall] return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Although both humans and animals have a spirit, the spirit in man is quite different from the animal spirit. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:11, that a man only knows and understands “…the things of a man,” because he has a spirit in him. He would not understand “…save the spirit of man which is in him… even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” It takes the spirit in man to understand the things man does in this life. The animal spirit does not reveal such knowledge. And it takes God’s Spirit in a man to understand the things of God. For more information on the little-understood Biblical concept of the spirit in man, and God’s Holy Spirit, please read our free booklets, “The Theory of Evolution–A Fairy Tale for Adults?” and “Are You Already Born Again?”
But exactly when does this spirit in man enter into a human being? At one time, the Church felt that this occurs at birth, when the human being takes his first breath of air outside his mother’s womb. The Church used for this conclusion the analogy of Adam’s creation, when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). It was later concluded that Adam’s creation was quite different from the way that man comes into existence today; and that man receives the spirit in man earlier, at the time of conception. But for what reasons was this change in thinking made?
Several Scriptures support this change in understanding, which was made by the Church under Herbert Armstrong after a detailed study of the Scriptures. Certain of these Scriptures are cited, herein.
1) David said that God knew him while still in the womb. Psalm 22:9-10 says: “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” Since God knew him in the womb, this suggests that God had given him the human spirit while still in the womb.
2) Isaiah was inspired to write in Isaiah 49:1: “…The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.” The same conclusion applies as under #1.
3) The LORD is quoted from Jeremiah 1:5, as follows: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” This also seems to suggest that God gave Jeremiah the human spirit at the time of conception – before He actually began to form him in his mother’s womb.
4) In speaking of Jacob in Hosea 12:3, God says: “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God.” We read in Genesis 25:22 that “the children STRUGGLED TOGETHER within her”; and Genesis 25:26 states that Jacob “took hold on Esau’s heel” — that is, he did not want Esau to come out first. As we saw, Hosea 12:3 clarifies that Jacob had already taken Esau’s heel “in the womb.” It is also interesting that some translations (Elberfelder Bible; Lamsa; Luther; Zuercher) render Hosea 12:3 in this way: “He DECEIVED his brother in his mother’s womb…” Others translate this verse as follows: “In the womb he tried to supplant [or, supplanted] his brother…” (NRSV; REB; NAB; Tanakh; Moffat). Regardless of which translation we use, they all seem to indicate motivation through the human spirit.
5) Speaking of John the Baptist, we read in Luke 1:15. “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy [Spirit], even from his mother’s womb.” Since he had the Holy Spirit, while still in his mother’s womb, he must also have had the human spirit, while still in his mother’s womb; that is, prior to his birth. In verses 41-44 of this chapter of Luke, we read: “And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy [Spirit]: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” Again, there appears to be motivation through the human spirit by – in John’s case – the power of God’s Holy Spirit within him.
6) When the angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph in a dream, he said to him: “… fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy [Spirit]” (Matthew 1:20). The angel was giving to Joseph the understanding that the LIFE which was within Mary was of God! Christ already “lived” in His mother’s womb, prior to His human birth. As with John the Baptist, Jesus Christ had the Holy Spirit from His mother’s womb, beginning with the very moment of His conception. Unlike John, who had only a measure of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ had the Holy Spirit in its fullness, without measure (compare John 3:34). Since He had the Holy Spirit in His mother’s womb, He must have had the human spirit in his mother’s womb as well.
It is therefore Biblically sound to conclude that a human being receives from God the spirit in man at the time of conception within the mother’s womb, thus giving him what we understand as human intellect. (Unlike Christ and John, who received the Holy Spirit in the mother’s womb, today, we receive the Holy Spirit as adults, after our conversion, repentance, and baptism).
Therefore, based on the Scriptures we have examined, it appears a fetus already receives the spirit in man at conception, and if it is aborted at any time prior to birth, the spirit in man will return to God. At the time of the resurrection, God will place the spirit of the (aborted) fetus in a newly created body. This means that the fetus will receive the opportunity to live again, through a resurrection from the dead. The resurrected child will then have the opportunity to qualify to enter into the Kingdom of God, which opportunity has been given to us today. For more information on this astonishing aspect of God’s plan, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”