Introduction to Man
Importance of Anthropology
Adam as a Historical Person
Importance of Anthropology
There is an old saying, “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.” Life is often hectic, and most people rarely contemplate what is most important. But few matters are as significant as considering who we are and why we exist. King David was a busy man, but as he looked to the heavens and saw the moon and stars, he thought deeply and asked, “What is man that you [God] are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4). Against the backdrop of God’s wonderful creation, man seemed small and insignificant. David’s question is one that all should contemplate.
The psalmist’s question, “What is man?” relates to the doctrine of anthropology. The Greek term anthrōpos means “man” or “humanity.” So anthropology is the study of humankind. But anthropology must be pursued from the proper standpoint. Secular universities and schools offer courses on anthropology, but they do so from a man-centered perspective. By excluding God from the discussion, they miss who man really is and how he fits in this world. To properly understand man, one must do so from a God-centered perspective.
Why is anthropology so important? First, anthropology is a topic where the student studies himself. What could be more personal and practical? Anthropology answers ultimate questions like, who am I? Why am I here? Why am I able to reason and feel? What is my purpose in life? Where am I headed?
Second, created last on the sixth day of creation week, man is the high point of God’s creation. As Louis Berkhof notes, “Man is represented as standing at the apex of all the created orders. He is crowned as king of the lower creation, and is given dominion over all the inferior creatures.” With the doctrine of man we learn that man is unique. This helps inform man’s role in the created order.
Third, anthropology helps us understand our relationship to God. Since man is a creature in God’s image, we learn how he is supposed to act and relate to God. Those concerned with the biblical doctrine of man can learn what God thinks of and expects from them.
Fourth, a biblical anthropology helps address specific issues like abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, transgenderism, and environmentalism. Much of the world today is confused and acts sinfully in regard to these issues since the world operates from a faulty view of God and man. But an anthropology from God’s perspective instructs us truthfully on these and other issues. A biblical anthropology guides us in applying a Christian worldview to critical matters facing our world.
Fifth, a biblical view of man refutes false philosophies. Secular naturalism asserts that there is no God and that the universe is only material. Man is just an accidental collection of molecules that randomly evolved from lower life forms with no intentional design. Since man is here by chance, nothing he does has real value or eternal significance. He is just a higher form of animal. Humanity itself will one day expire, being snuffed out of existence.
Some philosophies of the last century emphasized certain aspects of mankind. Communism stressed that man is primarily an economic being driven by material needs. It alleged that history is the inevitable progression of man from slavery to feudalism to capitalism and then to the highest ideal of communism, where there will be no private property and where the state will own all. Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) asserted that man is primarily a sexual being with his behavior stemming from sexual motivation. Postmodernism has taught that people are products of their social settings and that no transcendent moral realities exist. Supposed “truths” are mental constructs, meaningful only to people within certain cultures. Grand stories or metanarratives that help people understand their place in a bigger story are viewed with scorn.
Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have claimed that man’s destiny is a spiritual or mystical union with an impersonal force such as Brahman. Like a drop of water placed in the ocean, man’s goal is to lose personhood, feelings, and desires in order to achieve impersonal union with the divine, whatever that may be.
But all false views of man are refuted by a biblical anthropology that reveals man to be a direct creation of a personal God who designed man with dignity and purpose to serve God. To know what to do, we must know who we are. This is the benefit of a Scripture-based doctrine of man.
Since humanity consists of both male and female, is it appropriate to use the term man to refer to humanity? The Hebrew term translated “man” in the Bible, ’adam, is used for both mankind in general and man as a male distinct from a woman. The universal sense of ’adam is found in Genesis 1:27 and 5:1–2:
So God created man [’adam] in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)
This is the book of the generations of Adam [’adam]. When God created man [’adam], he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man [’adam] when they were created. (Gen. 5:1–2)
In both passages ’adam (or “man”) includes male and female. Yet ’adam (or “man”) is also used of the male as distinct from the female, as the following two examples reveal:
And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man [’adam] he made into a woman and brought her to the man [’adam]. (Gen. 2:22)
And the man [’adam] and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:25)
So there is scriptural support for using man for mankind. Some think that using man reflects a negative bias against women and that therefore only terms like humanity or humankind should be used. These terms certainly can be used to describe humanity, but man has long been an appropriate term for humanity and should not be avoided. The use of man for all humanity is also consistent with the concept of male headship in the family and male leadership in the church. In both 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 1 Timothy 2:8–15, Paul used creation truths to emphasize functional distinctions between men and women in the church. This chapter will use terms like humanity, humankind, and persons to refer to mankind in general, but man in its broader meaning is also appropriate and will be used.
The origin of the physical universe has emerged as one of the most significant biblical battlegrounds in the twenty-first century. Secular and Christian communities both debate the veracity of the creation accounts in Genesis 1–2. Even many Christians seriously question the biblical record and strongly prefer scientific conclusions over the testimony of Scripture. Today, only a minority of theologians hold to sudden creationism, the view that the creative process described in Genesis 1 occurred in six literal and consecutive days. Many assert that the universe is millions or even billions of years old and that a long interval existed between the origin of the earth and the first human beings.
A full discussion of the various creation views is beyond the purpose of this chapter, but the position presented here is sudden creationism. This is the view of Scripture and the context for understanding the creation of man on day six. Key truths, including the greatness and power of God, are lost when one abandons the plain sense of Genesis 1 and 2 that the earth was created directly by God in six literal days.
The creation of the universe was not a long process, nor was the creation of man. The power and glory of God were manifested in a sudden creation, which included both earth and man. Specific statements about God’s power in creation occur throughout Scripture:
You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Neh. 9:6)
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
“who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself.” (Isa. 44:24)
Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. (Jer. 32:17)
Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (Acts 14:15)
You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Heb. 1:10)
Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)
In addition to these strong affirmations that God created the universe, the Bible also makes definitive assertions concerning the nature of the creation. To illustrate how the fourth commandment of Sabbath rest should be celebrated, God, through Moses, referred to creation as the model:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:8–11)
Man is to labor for six days because God made the heaven and the earth in six days. Since the days of work were measured in twenty-four-hour segments, the periods for creation that served as the prototype also had to be of equal duration. The same logic also applies to the seventh day of rest. Unless days of equal length were intended, the illustration would be meaningless.
The writer of Hebrews addressed how the world came to exist: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3). God spoke the universe into existence (Ps. 33:6, 9). He did not use preexisting matter (Rom. 4:17). Nor is matter eternal. Creation was ex nihilo—the material and spiritual creation came into being from nothing.
The majesty of creation reflects God’s power, glory, and dominion: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). No mechanistic process of evolution could point to the greatness and power of God. Only sudden creationism testifies to God’s power from the start. Paul declared, “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
A sudden, divine act of creation is supported by the truth that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Humans could not have evolved into the image of God, because there is no time gap between man’s creation and man being made in the likeness of God. Thus Genesis 5:1 records, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.” God, in a moment of time, created man in his image. Evolutionary process cannot account for man’s unique nature or for the fact that mankind was infected by sin. God sent his Son to redeem mankind, not the multitudes of other life forms.
Evidence for sudden creationism is also found with Jesus Christ. Jesus was directly involved in creation himself: “All things were made through him [Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Also, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). Most alternative explanations of creation require a significant interval between the creation of matter and the origin of man. Yet Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’ ” (Mark 10:6). Jesus claimed that man was a part of the creation from the beginning and not a subsequent development.
Jesus’s creative miracles also speak to this issue. Jesus created wine out of water (John 2:1–11), and twice he created food to feed thousands (Matt. 14:13–21; 15:34–39). These miracles occurred immediately, apart from any process or passing of time.
Evidence for sudden creationism can also be gleaned by looking at the coming glorification of believers. In a moment God will resurrect and glorify the bodies of his people (Dan. 12:2; John 5:29; Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:16–17). They will be instantly re-created from the dust of the earth. This is like a repeat of the creation of Adam, only this time, not just one body will be re-created but millions. Since multitudes will be given re-created bodies in the resurrection, how easy must it have been for God to create just Adam and Eve in the beginning?
In addition, what God will do to this earth at the end of its existence is evidence for sudden creationism. In a rapid exertion of divine power, God will destroy the present cursed earth and universe in a fiery atomic implosion. In its place he will create a “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:10–13). The new will not evolve from the old. In a rapid exertion of divine power, God will quickly and powerfully destroy and create, ushering in the final age. If he will suddenly create the new universe out of nothing, it is reasonable to hold that God initiated the present one in the same manner.
Genesis 1–2 also contains support for God creating the earth in a short period of time. First, the term translated “day” (Heb. yom) in Genesis 1 refers to either the period of light within a twenty-four-hour cycle or the entire period of both darkness and light (twenty-four hours). The one exception is Genesis 2:4, where “day” refers to the entire period of creation.
Second, the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) when accompanied by a numerical adjective such as “third” or “fourth” (i.e., an ordinal) is never used figuratively. It is always a twenty-four-hour period. In addition, the Hebrew plural for “day” is never used figuratively in the Old Testament outside a creation context (e.g., Ex. 20:9).
Third, the terms “evening” and “morning” in Genesis 1 are never used figuratively in the Old Testament. They always describe a twenty-four-hour day. God defines “day” in Genesis 1:5 as a period of light and then darkness. After creating light (Gen. 1:3) and causing a spatial separation between the darkness and the light with respect to earth (Gen. 1:5), God established the cycle of light and darkness as a principle measurement of time—one day (Gen. 1:5). This cycle is one full earth rotation or a twenty-four-hour day.
Together these points show that God created the earth and everything in it in six consecutive twenty-four-hour days. The human species did not evolve from lower life forms but was created by divine fiat through the exertion of God’s divine will from lifeless dust (Gen. 2:7; 3:19; Eccles. 3:20; 12:7). Further, the female did not evolve from the male but was personally and immediately fashioned by God (Gen. 2:21–23; 1 Cor. 11:8, 12). When woman (which would constitute a mutation in any other system of origins) came from man, there were no major time gaps to allow for her to “develop.” Because male and female came into being in a close time sequence, this demands God’s creative power as proposed by the sudden creationism model.
As a capstone point, the New Testament witness to Genesis 1–2 confirms the testimony from the Old Testament. The New Testament directly quotes or alludes to Genesis 1–2 more than thirty times. In each instance, the New Testament writers understood the Genesis text in a normal, nonsymbolic, and nonfigurative sense (e.g., Matt. 19:4; Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:38; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10; 1 Tim. 2:13; 2 Pet. 3:5).
Adam as a Historical Person
Another issue of debate concerns whether or not Adam in Genesis was a real person. The church has historically affirmed that Adam was a historical man, yet with the acceptance of evolutionary science, some now claim that this is not the case. Those who believe that the earth is millions or billions of years old will not accept that God fully formed the human Adam a few days after creating the universe. However, Genesis presents Adam as a real historical man, not the result of eons of evolution.
The simplest and most natural interpretation of Genesis 1 declares that God created the specific person Adam on the sixth day of creation. Genesis 2 then offers more detail on the creation of Adam and Eve. Adam’s connection with other historical persons supports the claim that he was indeed a specific person. Adam is the father of Cain, Abel, and Seth (Gen. 4:1–2, 25; 5:1–3). Adam is also said to have had conjugal relations with his wife Eve to bear Cain and Seth, and Genesis 5:3 further states that Adam fathered Seth at age 130. These details cannot be legitimately identified as poetic or figurative language describing something other than reality.
The long list of Adam’s descendants who lived and died until Noah in Genesis 5 confirms that Adam is a specific historical person. So Genesis 5:1 explicitly declares, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” Adam is real, just like those who descended from him are actual persons. Not only is Adam’s creation mentioned, so too is his death. Adam died at age 930 (Gen. 5:5).
The theology of seed in Genesis affirms a literal Adam. The Hebrew term for “seed,” zera, is used six times in Genesis 1, all concerning vegetation. The presence of seed means each plant and tree will produce other vegetation after its kind. In Genesis 3:15, God promises that a coming “seed of the woman” (NASB) will eventually defeat the power behind the serpent (Satan). The rest of Genesis develops the seed theme as God unfolds his plans to save and restore mankind. Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob are part of God’s seed plan. They are the offspring of Adam, and just as they are real persons, so too is Adam, their ancestor. Also, one should not accept the historicity of Genesis 12–50—including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and then disconnect this section historically from the persons in Genesis 1–11. The promised seed line of Genesis 3:15 and its relation to all of Genesis does not allow this separation.
The New Testament writers also affirm Adam as a historical figure. Jesus’s genealogy in Luke includes Adam (3:38). This is consistent with 1 Chronicles 1:1, which also includes Adam in its genealogy. The apostle Paul clearly believed in a literal Adam. In Romans 5:12 and 14, Paul states, “Sin came into the world through one man [Adam],” and “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam.” Paul treats Adam as a person, just as he treats Moses as a person. Further, in Romans 5:12–21, Paul makes several comparisons between Adam and Jesus, showing that both are literal heads of humanity who bring certain consequences for mankind. The man Adam brings death, guilt, and condemnation to all who are in him (i.e., all who possess human life, with the exception of the Lord Jesus), while the man Christ Jesus brings life, righteousness, and justification to all who are granted spiritual life through their faith-union with him. If Adam is not a person, then the comparison collapses, including Jesus’s role as the One who represents mankind as Savior. Rejecting the historicity of Adam truly undermines the gospel itself.
In similar fashion, Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus several times in 1 Corinthians 15:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45)
The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Jesus] is from heaven. (1 Cor. 15:47)
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:49)
Paul’s point is that just as we humans bear the image of Adam, so with the coming glorification we will bear the image of Jesus. The comparison assumes that both Adam and Jesus are historical persons who represent humanity. Jesus as a person can only be a “last Adam” if Adam was also a real human being. Further, in 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul makes an argument for functional distinctions between men and women in the church because “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” His point would make no sense if Adam were merely a symbolic figure.
The historicity of Adam is not a trivial matter. A literal Adam is foundational for understanding the origin and history of the human race, the nature of humanity, the origin of sin, the beginning of human and animal death, the need for salvation, the basis for historical events in Genesis, the reason for functional order within the church, and even the future existence of mankind.
Created in God’s Image
Man Created Directly by God
Man as Image of God (Imago Dei)
Jesus as Image of God
The Bible’s Storyline and the Image of God
Man Created Directly by God
Man’s existence is wholly a result of divine creation. Such recognition leads to a biblical anthropology that addresses three aspects of man’s existence: (1) man’s ontology or essence, (2) man’s relationships, and (3) man’s function.
Genesis 1:1 declares, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the eternal transcendent cause of everything. In six literal twenty-four-hour days, God made all things material and immaterial (see Col. 1:16). Genesis 1 is structured to highlight the creation of man on day six. Being created last highlights man’s significance. Also, for the first five days and the beginning of day six, the phrases “Let there be …” or “Let there …” are used to describe God’s creative acts (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24). Yet with the creation of man, a different phrase is used: “Let us make man …” (Gen. 1:26). This shift stresses that man is unique within God’s creation. In addition, the word “then” in Genesis 1:26—“Then God said, ‘Let us make man …’ ”—marks the creation of man as special.
The purpose of man is also highlighted in Genesis 1–2. Only passing reference is made to the creation of the sun, moon, stars, plants, and living creatures in Genesis 1. Yet Genesis 2 is wholly devoted to the creation of mankind, including how the first man and woman were made. Also, various terms such as “make”/“made,” “create,” and “form” emphasize God’s active involvement in the creation of man:
1. “Make”/“Made” (Heb. ‘asah)
Then God said, “Let us make man.” (Gen. 1:26)
And God saw everything that he had made. (Gen. 1:31)
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. (Gen. 5:1)
So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:7)
2. “Create” (Heb. bara’)
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. (Gen. 5:1–2)
3. “Formed” (Heb. yatsar)
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground. (Gen. 2:7)
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Gen. 2:8)
God’s direct creation of man is affirmed throughout Scripture. Psalm 100:3 states, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his.” Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning [i.e., God] made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4). James referred to “people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9).
Man’s creation by God carries significant implications. First, humans do not exist in a vacuum. The precondition for man is God, and man can only be understood from the starting point of the Creator. While addressing pagan philosophers at Athens, Paul started with creation, namely, “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). He then said that people only exist and function because of God: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The only reason we are alive is because God exists, created us, and sustains our lives. Some people try to imagine that there is no God, but in reality, there would be no act of imagining and no people to do the imagining if God did not exist. Something cannot come from nothing. No one times nothing does not equal everything. Persons do not come from the impersonal. To imagine no heaven and no God is to imagine nothing at all. God is the precondition for everything.
Second, direct creation means that man is not God. Man is neither divine nor the highest being in existence. A metaphysical or ontological gap exists between God and man. Man can never be God, nor should he seek to be God. The Mormon leader Lorenzo Snow stated, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” This is false. God was never man (Christ’s incarnation as the God-man being the one unique exception), and man can never be God. Hosea 11:9 declares, “For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.” Creatures will always be under the eternal Creator who made them.
Third, as a creature, man is obligated to submit to God. Man is not free to do whatever he desires, as if his actions have no consequences with God (cf. Eccles. 11:9). Everything man does must be viewed in light of God’s will for him. According to Romans 1, the primary problem with fallen man is that he acts independently from his Creator. He does not give God glory, and he serves creatures rather than the Creator. Paul said that unbelieving people “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).
To show that people cannot act independently of God, Jesus told the parable of the foolish rich man, who lived for himself only to find that God would hold him accountable that night: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ ” (Luke 12:20). People often act independently and convince themselves that they can live apart from and in defiance of God, but without repentance and saving faith they are accumulating wrath for themselves. Paul warns people not to take God’s patience and kindness lightly (Rom. 2:4), since doing so means “you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). Even with perfect conditions on the coming new earth, the people of God will serve God; they do not become God. Revelation 22:3 states, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it [the New Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him.” Even in the paradise of eternity, sinless human beings will joyfully serve and worship God.
Fourth, man has a unique role in God’s creation. Genesis 1:26–28 reveals that man is called to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it. The psalmist declared, “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man” (Ps. 115:16). Even in eternity, man will reign forever on the new earth (see Rev. 21:1; 22:5).
Fifth, man was created to give God glory. Isaiah 43:6–7 describes God calling his “sons” and “daughters” to come to him, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Here God says that his people are created for his glory. Paul declares that Christians have been “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Everything man does should be for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Man as Image of God (Imago Dei)
Understanding mankind involves grasping the fact that man is God’s “image” and “likeness.” As Beck and Demarest state, “The implications of human persons created in the image of God are immense for theology, psychology, ministry, and Christian living. Ramifications of the imago embrace issues of human dignity and value, personal and social ethics, relations between the sexes, the solidarity of the human family … and racial justice.” Passages that explicitly refer to the “image” (Heb. tselem) or “likeness” (Heb. demuth) of God include the following:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26)
God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)
This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. (Gen. 5:1–2)
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 9:6)
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God. (1 Cor. 11:7)
With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. (James 3:9 NASB)
The Hebrew term for “image” signifies a “copy” but also carries the idea of “representation.” In the ancient world, a king or ruler would place an image or idol of himself in his realm to symbolize his sovereignty there. When others saw the image, they knew who had control. Likewise, God’s image bearers represent God in the world. But unlike lifeless statues, God’s image bearers are alive. They should operate as God’s representatives and mediators on the earth. Thus, “image” has implications for kingship. While God is the King, God created man as a king, a vice-regent and mediator over the creation on God’s behalf.
Complementing this word, the Hebrew term for “likeness” (demuth) can refer to “pattern,” “shape,” or “form.” It signifies something patterned after an original. Its use in Genesis 1:26 indicates that man is patterned after God; he is a son of God. This understanding is supported by Genesis 5:3, which reveals that Seth was a son in the “likeness” of his father, Adam. To join these two meanings together, we can conclude that because he is a son of God, man may function as God’s representative.
IMPLICATIONS OF HUMANS BEING MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE
Though human beings are not divine, the fact that they are created in the “image” and “likeness” of God carries significant truths. First, the image of God is affirmed for all persons—male and female alike. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” While distinct genders, both male and female are equal as persons and equal in value.
Second, even after the fall (see Genesis 3) all people still possess the image and likeness of God. This is affirmed in Genesis 5:1–3 for both male and female and for the offspring of Adam and Eve:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
Genesis 9:6 says that capital punishment is the appropriate penalty for murder since man is still the image of God: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” After the flood humans are still the image of God. Similarly, James 3:9 condemns cursing people since they are “made in the likeness of God.” This also affirms that people after the fall still bear something of God’s likeness. God’s image bearers were certainly marred with the curse, but the image and likeness of God, though distorted, was not obliterated.
Third, the image of God explains mankind’s need to live in relationship with others. The triune God is three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the foundational definition of the essential nature of God. For all eternity, the members of the Trinity have enjoyed perfect, personal communion with one another. If God were simply a solitary, unipersonal being—like false gods—he could not be eternally loving, because prior to creation there would have been no one to love. But God is love, and that love was perfectly expressed in eternity past within the Trinity (John 5:20; 17:24, 26).
The love of God is also directed toward his creation. God loves the world (John 3:16) and especially his own children (John 13:1; 15:9; 16:27; 17:23, 26; Rom. 5:5), who are empowered by him to love their enemies (Matt. 5:42–48), fellow believers (John 13:34–35; 15:12–13), and God himself (John 14:21–24). Thus, man is designed in the image of God as a relational being, who is not only able to relate to other people and to God in a loving way but is also required to do so in order to experience fulfillment (Gen. 2:18, 22–24).
Fourth, the image of God is connected with man’s task to “rule” and “subdue” the earth on God’s behalf. Immediately after declaring that man is made in God’s image and likeness, God says, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26). Then God says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28, NASB). The Hebrew term for “rule,” used twice in Genesis 1:26–28, is radah and means “have dominion,” “rule,” or “dominate.” Later, in Psalm 110:2, the term refers to the Messiah’s future rule: “The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule [radah] in the midst of your enemies.” Also, the Hebrew word translated “subdue” in Genesis 1:28 is kabash, which means “bring into bondage,” even by forceful means. The term is used in 2 Samuel 8:11 concerning King David’s subduing of nations.
Both “rule” and “subdue” are linked to kingly authority and show, as Eugene Merrill observes, that “man is created to reign in a manner that demonstrates his lordship, his domination (by force if necessary) over all creation.” This authority is seen in man’s naming of the animals, a demonstration of dominion (see Gen. 2:19–20). Thus, there is a royal and kingly aspect to man being in the image of God.
This authority to rule over creation is not the sole possession of Adam and Eve. God says, “Let them have dominion” (Gen. 1:26). The plural “them” could refer specifically to Adam and Eve, but such a limitation is unlikely. Since Adam and Eve were to multiply and fill the earth, “them” probably includes all mankind coming from Adam. Mankind as a whole, through Adam, was given authority to rule and subdue God’s creation.
Man’s right to rule the creation is affirmed in Psalm 8:4–8:
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. (NASB)
Hebrews 2:5–9 states that in “the world to come,” mankind will rule over the earth. Hummanity will do so through the ultimate man—Jesus the Messiah, who will also share his reign with those united to him (see 1 Cor. 15:27; Rev. 5:10). Man is God’s image bearer who functions as a mediator-king on earth. God tasks man to manage the world as his representatives.
HOW IS MAN THE IMAGE OF GOD?
Three views have been offered in answer to the question of how exactly man is God’s image: substantive, functional, and relational. First. the substantive view says that the image of God is inherently structural to man. It is a characteristic within the makeup of man. The image is part of man, not just something he does. Some have asserted that the image is the physical body of man or some physical characteristic like walking upright. Some say that the image is a psychological or spiritual quality, such as reason, memory, will, or moral capacity.
Second, the functional view asserts that the image of God is something humans do. Since Genesis 1:26–28 links the image with ruling and subduing the earth, some believe that the image is man’s dominion over creation. German Protestant theologian Hans Walter Wolff (1911–1993) stated, “It is precisely in his function as ruler that he [man] is God’s image.”
Third, the relational view claims that relationship is the image of God. Summarizing this view, Millard Erickson writes, “Humans can be said to be in the image or to display the image [of God] when standing in a particular relationship, which indeed is the image.” This perspective was popular with neoorthodox and existential theologians. Support for the relational view is found in the way that the image of God is closely connected with man being created male and female (Gen. 1:27). Since the concept of relationship is central to man’s connection with God and people, the image is viewed as man being in relationship.
So which position is correct? All three views are closely connected to the image of God, and truth can be gleaned from each of them. The best view, however, is that the image of God is substantive or structural to man. Function and relationship are the consequences of man being the image of God structurally. This view acknowledges the importance of function and relationship, yet it casts structure as the basis for accomplishing function and relationship. Since man is the image of God, he is able to exercise dominion and experience relationships. According to Genesis 1:26–28, man is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26a), and then he is tasked with ruling and subduing the earth and being in relationship (Gen. 1:26b–28).
What is this structure that makes man the image of God? It is best not to narrow the structure to any one characteristic or quality. The image permeates man’s being. The structure probably consists of the complex qualities and attributes of man that make him human. This includes his physical and spiritual components. The image could also be linked to personhood and personality and to the powers to relate and operate. It could be connected with thinking and reasoning. Grudem may be closest when he says, “Every way in which man is like God is part of his being in the image and likeness of God.” All that makes one a human person is related to the image of God. The following characteristics help to further define man as an image bearer:
Ontologically, man is a living, personal, self-conscious, active being with personality. He is a complex unity of soul/spirit and body. While God is spirit (John 4:24) and grants a spirit to man, the bodily component of man is related to the image of God. Robert Culver notes, “There is something about the human body which is analogous to something in the Godhead.… It is apparent that while the human body, per se, is in no respect an image of the God of the Bible, all of man’s physical nature was originally created to bear that image.”
Volitionally, man has a will and the ability to select between various choices. He can discern right from wrong. This volitional aspect separates man from the animals and other creatures mentioned in Genesis 1–2.
Intellectually, man has a rational mind. He is aware of himself, his environment, others, and God. He can think critically and logically. He possesses memory, imagination, creativity, and language skills for communicating and understanding the thoughts of others.
Emotionally, a human experiences a wide range of emotions and feelings, such as fear, anger, guilt, anxiety, regret, shame, happiness, and joy. He can both laugh and cry. Also, human emotionality is complex, as people can experience two or more emotions almost simultaneously. For example, parents can feel sadness, pride, nervousness, and happiness when their daughter moves out of town for college.
Relationally, man is equipped to participate in relationships with God and with other people. Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love others (Matt. 22:36–40). Only persons can give and receive love.
Functionally, man has what he needs to fill, rule, and subdue the earth on God’s behalf for God’s glory. Males and females have bodies able to reproduce and interact with a physical environment. Humanity possesses the ingenuity to implement a successful strategy for the earth.
While not God himself, man reflects the image and likeness of God in wonderful, complex, and mysterious ways.
Jesus as Image of God
The best way to understand the image of God is to look at the Lord Jesus, in whom it is perfectly revealed. Paul refers to Jesus as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), connecting Jesus with humankind. He also says, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The Greek term for “image” is eikōn and compares to the Hebrew term for image, tselem. It conveys both “representation” and “manifestation.” God is spirit and is thus invisible, but Jesus as the God-man is the image of the invisible God.
In addition, Hebrews 1:3 declares, “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” The Greek term for “imprint,” charaktēr, refers to a “stamp” or “impress” made on a coin or stamp. So Jesus as the last Adam is the perfect imprint or stamp of God. When we look at Jesus, we see everything God intended for man. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Jesus fully manifested the divine image in three connections: with God, with people, and with creation. In doing so, Jesus shows humanity how to manifest the image properly. First, Jesus manifested the foundational nature of the triune God by his relationship to the Holy Spirit and by his fellowship with the Father. He loved and perfectly obeyed the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, Jesus loved people. He loved those who hated him. And John 13:1 says of Jesus, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The phrase “to the end” translates the Greek phrase eis telos, meaning “infinitely” or “eternally” (cf. John 17:23). The greatest command for man is to love God and to love people (Matt. 22:36–40). Jesus exhibited perfect love for both. And third, Jesus displayed mastery over creation with his miracles and healings. When he walked on water, multiplied bread and fish, or calmed a storm, Jesus showed absolute control over nature, a dominion that will be fully manifested in his coming millennial kingdom on the earth (Isaiah 11; 35).
The Lord Jesus made God’s image visible. God is calling and saving sinners to be conformed and transformed into the image of his Son. Paul says, “For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). He also states, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). God is at work in believers to make them more like his Son. Consequently, they increasingly evidence what the image of God is to be. Growing more like Christ in sanctification is manifesting the image of God. The image of God is not some mysterious, abstract doctrine. Jesus is the image of God in action and the model to follow.
When Christians are glorified at Jesus’s return, the transformative process will be complete. As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” In discussing the coming resurrection, Paul declared, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). Before Jesus comes, we are being transformed into Christ’s image, but at his coming, in a moment, we will be like him.
The Bible’s Storyline and the Image of God
The image of God relates to the Bible’s storyline in the following ways:
Creation: Man, including both male and female, is created in the image of God. Like his Creator, man evidences both unity and diversity in a relationship of love. “Man” comprises both male and female, yet male and female are distinct in gender and have differing roles. At creation man functioned in proper relationships with God, other humans, and creation.
Fall: Man violated the Creator/creature distinction by acting autonomously and rebelling against God. The image of God became marred but not lost. Man’s threefold relationships suffered: (1) in regard to God, man is spiritually dead; (2) in regard to humans, tension plagues men and women, and women must suffer pain in childbirth; (3) in regard to creation, the earth now works against man and frustrates him, and the earth will swallow up man in death.
Incarnation (Jesus Christ): Jesus, the God-man, is the perfect image of God. He manifests the image exactly by perfectly loving God, loving people, and exercising authority over nature. Those who belong to Jesus through saving faith become new creatures, and by their love they display the restored image of God, although imperfectly before the final resurrection. Sanctification is the process by which Christians are being conformed to the image of Christ, who himself is the perfect image of God.
Restoration: When Jesus returns, Christians will be glorified and made like Jesus. They will perfectly exhibit the image of God forever.
The Human Constitution
Three Views of the Human Constitution
Various terms are used to refer to human persons in Scripture. Five of the more common terms include body, soul, spirit, heart, and conscience. It is helpful to examine each of these.
Man’s constitution includes a physical component. According to Genesis 2:7, “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground.” A link exists between earth and man. Man comes from the ground. Just as the creation is material, God’s image bearers possess a material element, often called a “body.”
In the Old Testament, two primary Hebrew terms refer to “body.” Gewiyyah occurs twelve times for a living body (Gen. 47:18; Neh. 9:37) or a dead carcass (1 Sam. 31:10, 12). Basar, often translated “flesh,” occurs 266 times. It refers to (1) a blood relative (Gen. 29:14; 2 Sam. 5:1); (2) humanity collectively (Gen. 6:12–13; Job 34:15); (3) every living thing (Gen. 9:15–17); (4) the material substance of the body (Gen. 2:23; 17:14; Job 19:26); (5) the whole person (Lev. 17:11; Pss. 16:9; 63:1; Eccles. 4:5); and (6) the person as weak, dependent, and temporary (Gen. 6:3; 2 Chron. 32:8; Ps. 78:39; Isa. 40:6).
In the New Testament, the Greek word for “body” is sōma. It can refer to (1) the physical body (Mark 5:29; Rom. 8:11; Gal. 6:17; James 2:16); (2) the whole person (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:28; Phil. 1:20); and (3) the fallen, carnal nature (Rom. 6:6; 8:13; Phil. 3:21).
Genesis 1:31 states that everything God made was “very good.” This includes the human body. The creation of the physical world is the context for the making of man. God gave man a physical body to rule a material world (Gen. 1:26, 28). The bodies of Christians are also the residence of the Holy Spirit. Paul asked, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor. 6:19). The body is so essential to being human that God will give people a resurrected body fit for their eternal dwelling (John 5:25–29; Rom. 8:23).
The goodness of the body has been rejected by many in history. Dualistic philosophical traditions connected with Plato convinced many that the human body—and in fact, all matter—is inferior. Socrates, for instance, believed that the human body was a prison for the soul. He longed for death so he could be released forever from his carnal frame. Gnosticism threatened Christianity with its overspiritualized and antimaterial views. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the human body and material realities are illusions (maya). Even many in Western societies today believe that heaven or the ultimate ideal is an eternal, bodiless existence.
The biblical view of the human body, however, starkly contrasts with these unbiblical philosophies. Adam’s body at creation was sinless and deathless, but sin brought dramatic change to the human body. God promised death for sin, and with Adam’s sin, his body experienced decay leading to death, passing its corruption to all human bodies. The current body is a “lowly body” (Phil. 3:21) and a “body of death” (Rom. 7:24). Bodily cravings and desires contribute to man’s sinful state, and thus the body needs discipline (1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Tim. 4:8). It longs for redemption from corruption (Rom. 8:23). Although nonglorified bodies cannot enter God’s eternal kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50), there is hope for the body. Jesus died and was raised bodily, and he is the firstfruits of the resurrection to life eternal and the guarantee that others will be raised bodily as well (1 Cor. 15:20–24).
Paul likened existence without the body to nakedness (2 Cor. 5:3). He longed for a glorified body whose source is heaven (2 Cor. 5:1–5). The church will experience resurrection of the body at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13–18). This is a great hope for Christians who “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20–21). Old Testament saints and martyred saints during the tribulation period will be resurrected at the time of Jesus’s kingdom (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:4).
Bodily resurrection, though, is not just for believers. The wicked will be resurrected for eternal punishment (Dan. 12:2). Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29). Just as righteous saints are raised, so too the wicked will rise and receive a body fit for punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11–15). In this present age, death brings a temporary separation between body and spirit (James 2:26), but with God’s resurrection program, all people—believers and unbelievers—will possess a body fit either for eternal life on the new earth or for eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.
Another important aspect of man’s nature is the soul. The Hebrew word for “soul,” nephesh, occurs about 750 times in the Old Testament. In regard to humans, nephesh often refers to a person in his entirety as a living being. Genesis 2:7 states that after forming man from the dust of the ground, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature [nephesh].” In Exodus 4:19, God told Moses, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life [nephesh] are dead.” Again, nephesh here is synonymous with being a person.
There are also places where nephesh carries the narrower sense of referring to only the immaterial part of a person. While giving birth to Benjamin, Rachel’s soul left her body: “Her soul [nephesh] was departing (for she was dying)” (Gen. 35:18). In this example the soul is distinguished from the body since it leaves the body. Sometimes nephesh refers to the life principle that animates the body. Leviticus 17:11 declares, “For the life [nephesh] of the flesh is in the blood.” It can also be linked with interior functions of the person, such as intellect, will, and emotions: “My soul [nephesh] continually remembers it [afflictions] and is bowed down within me” (Lam. 3:20).
The Greek New Testament word for “soul” is psychē and occurs around 110 times. It is translated as “soul,” “life,” and “I.” This term denotes (1) the whole person (Acts 2:41; Rom. 13:1; 2 Cor. 12:15); (2) the essential being or seat of personal identity, often in relation to God and salvation (Matt. 10:28, 39; Luke 1:46; John 12:25); (3) the inner life of the body (Acts 20:10; Eph. 6:6); (4) the intellect (Acts 14:2; Phil. 1:27); (5) the will (Matt. 22:37; Eph. 6:6); (6) the emotions (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34); and (7) the moral and spiritual life (Heb. 6:19; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3 John 2).
At physical death, the soul survives and is immediately in God’s presence. In the parable of the rich man, God told the foolish rich man, “This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20). This rich man would die, but his soul would be in God’s presence for an accounting. Similarly, in Revelation 6:9, saints killed on earth find their souls in heaven: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Rev. 6:9). Thus, the soul returns to God at physical death.
Ultimately, all souls will be united with resurrected bodies. At Jesus’s return to earth, the martyrs of Revelation 6:9–11 will be resurrected so they can reign in Jesus’s kingdom on earth (Rev. 5:10). Revelation 20:4 states, “Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Souls in heaven will one day receive a physical, glorified body.
The immaterial part of man is also referred to as “spirit.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruakh which occurs 378 times in the Old Testament. The term is used for wind (Gen. 8:1; Amos 4:13), physical breath (Job 9:18; Ps. 135:17), the Spirit of God (Pss. 51:11; 106:33; Isa. 42:1), and the life force of lower creatures (Gen. 6:17; Eccles. 3:19, 21).
In regard to human beings, ruakh refers to (1) the whole person (Ps. 31:5; Ezek. 21:7); (2) the vital power of life from God that animates the body (Gen. 2:7; Judg. 15:19; Job 27:3); (3) the inner life, including the seat of intellect (Gen. 41:8; Ezek. 20:32), spiritual understanding (Job 20:3; 32:8), wisdom (Ex. 28:3), will (Dan. 5:20), and emotions (1 Sam. 1:15; Prov. 15:13); and (4) the openness of the soul to God (Ps. 51:10; Isa. 26:9).
The Greek term for “spirit” is pneuma. As with ruakh, the word pneuma can refer to various realities. In an anthropological sense, it connotes the life force that animates the body and departs at death (Matt. 27:50; Acts 7:59; James 2:26; Rev. 11:11). It refers to the self that interacts with God. Pneuma often refers to interaction with God and the spiritual realm (Rom. 1:9; 8:16; 1 Cor. 14:14; Rev. 21:10). And it is commonly used of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18).
In sum, ruakh and pneuma are used in Scripture to refer to (1) wind or breath (Gen. 8:1; John 3:8), (2) an attitude or disposition (Matt. 5:3), (3) the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Matt. 1:18, 20), (4) angelic spirits (1 Sam. 16:14; Matt. 8:16; Luke 7:21), and (5) the human spirit (Gen. 41:8; Acts 17:16). The most common sense of ruakh in the Old Testament is “wind,” while in the New Testament pneuma most often refers to the Holy Spirit. Concerning human beings, “spirit” often signifies the capacity of humans to be in relationship with God, and “spirit” is sometimes used interchangeably with “soul” (Ps. 31:5; Eccles. 12:7; Heb. 12:23; Luke 1:46–47).
The Bible says much about the heart—not the physical organ but the control center of a person and the seat for thoughts, attitudes, motivations, and actions. The Hebrew words for “heart” are leb (598 times) and lebab (252 times). In regard to humans, these two terms can refer to the whole person (Ps. 22:26) or to the core of the inner life (Ex. 7:3, 13; Ps. 9:1; Jer. 17:9). From the heart flow “the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Both good and evil thoughts stem from the heart (Gen. 6:5; 1 Kings 3:12; Job 8:10). Intentions come from the heart (Ex. 35:5; Dan. 5:20), as do emotions and passions (Deut. 19:6; 1 Sam. 1:8). Conscience is linked with the heart (1 Sam. 24:5; Job 27:6). Actions are from the heart. Isaiah 32:6 declares, “For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity.”
The Greek word for “heart” is kardia. It refers to the governing faculty of the person (Matt. 18:35; Rom. 6:17; 2 Cor. 5:12). Jesus reaffirmed the Old Testament teaching that all thoughts and deeds flow from the heart: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adultery, sexual immorality, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19). He also said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45 NASB). The heart is also the source of the intellect: “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’ ” (Matt. 9:4; cf. Acts 8:22).
All people are born with a dark and evil heart. God’s evaluation of mankind at the global flood was this: “Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). God also said, “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Jeremiah 17:9 similarly declared, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick: Who can understand it?” (NASB). Concerning unbelieving people, Paul observed, “Their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
God changes evil hearts by replacing them with new ones. In the new covenant passage of Ezekiel 36:26, God declared, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Also, Jeremiah 31:33 promised that God would write his law on those new hearts. Jesus himself declared, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8), and he also said, “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15 NASB). Paul referred to “those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22), while the writer of Hebrews proclaimed, “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb. 10:22 NASB). The Christian experiences a new heart that loves God, desires to obey him, is purified, and produces good fruit.
God has created everyone with a conscience, the faculty of moral evaluation concerning right and wrong, good and evil. Connected with self-awareness and rational capacity, the conscience alerts a person concerning the morality of his or her actions. The conscience functions like a divine moral referee. Failure to heed the conscience often leads to guilt and shame.
Although the concept is clearly there, the Old Testament has no specific term for “conscience.” For example, Solomon asked God for “an understanding mind” so he could “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Abigail told David that he should “have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause” (1 Sam. 25:31).
The Greek term for “conscience” is syneidēsis, which occurs thirty times in the New Testament, with more than two-thirds of these occurrences found in Paul’s writings. Romans 2:14–15 explains the conscience. There Paul said that Gentiles who lack access to the written Mosaic law still know what God requires of them. How? “They [Gentiles] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Rom. 2:15). As God’s image bearers, all people are born with an innate knowledge of right and wrong based on God’s law. The conscience reacts to behavior based on its compliance with that moral law or its violation of it. While asserting his love for fellow Jews, Paul declared, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 9:1).
Lies and error can override the moral law that God has given each person and thus misinform the conscience. Sin can also blunt and sear the conscience. Both lead to dangerous and deadly situations. Paul stated, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15). He also described “the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). The warning light of conscience should never be violated.
In 1984, an Avianca Airlines jet crashed in Spain. The recovered black box of cockpit recorders revealed that several minutes before impact, the plane’s automatic warning system repeatedly told the crew, “Pull up! Pull up!” The pilot, thinking that the system was malfunctioning, snapped, “Shut up, Gringo!” and switched the system off. Minutes later, the plane slammed into a mountain. Everyone on board died. This tragic story illustrates the catastrophic results of misinforming the conscience or ignoring its warnings.
Three Views of the Human Constitution
Generally speaking, man is described by several terms: body, soul, spirit, heart, and conscience. But how many actual components or elements does a person possess? One? Two? Three? More than three? The main views of the human constitution are considered below.
Monism is the view that the human person is one element. Man is a unified self, not a combination of multiple parts. Secular materialism asserts that matter is the only substance in the universe. No God or spiritual entities exist. There is no soul or immaterial part to anyone. All mental and spiritual activities are chemical products of the brain. Man is a lump of thinking matter. At physical death, there is no immaterial part to survive. A lesser-held monistic view, idealism claims that all reality is composed merely of mind or ideas. George Berkeley (1685–1753) espoused the notion that ideas or perceptions are the only existing realities.
John A. T. Robinson, in his work The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (1952), argued that there is no distinction between soul and body. Robinson claimed that the ancient Hebrews had a unitary view of the human person and that they lacked a word for “body” comparable to the Greek term sōma. Allegedly, the distinction between body and soul is a Greek idea foreign to Hebrew and biblical thought. With this perspective, body and soul are not contrasting realities; instead, they are interchangeable synonyms. The same is asserted for terms like “flesh” (Gk. sarx), “soul” (Gk. psychē), and “spirit” (Gk. pneuma). These are synonyms for the whole person. Thus, in this view the Bible does not teach a distinction between body and soul.
Dichotomism holds that man is a two-part being consisting of a body and an immaterial element called either “soul” or “spirit.” No real distinction exists between the two terms, which are interchangeable. Dichotomism, then, affirms the human person as a combination of body and soul/spirit. This view differs from materialistic monism, since dichotomism asserts that reality and humanity consist of more than matter; a spiritual element also exists. While a person has a physical body, the soul/spirit animates the body and survives physical death.
Christian dichotomists point to Genesis 2:7, where God’s creation of man involved God forming man from the ground (material) and God breathing life into him (immaterial). Jesus also affirmed a distinction between body and soul in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Additionally, the Bible says that the immaterial element survives physical death. The souls of martyred saints appear in heaven in Revelation 6:9–11. Both the rich man and Lazarus exist after their deaths, according to Luke 16:19–31. And in the midst of being stoned, Stephen expected Jesus to receive his spirit (Acts 7:59).
Trichotomism also affirms that man consists of multiple parts, but it holds that man is a three-part being comprising body, soul, and spirit. The term trichotomy comes from the combination of the Greek terms tricha, “three,” and temno, “to cut.” The first element of man is the body, which is the material part of a person. The second part is the soul, which is the psychological element of man and the part that enables interaction with people and the natural world. The soul is the basis of reason, emotion, personality, and social interaction. The third part is the spirit, which is usually identified as the religious element that perceives and responds to spiritual matters and to God. Whereas the soul is said to interact with horizontal areas related to man’s experience with people and nature, the spirit interacts with vertical matters such as man’s experience with God. The presence of spirit allegedly distinguishes humans from animals.
Two passages are often used to support trichotomism. First Thessalonians 5:23 states, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). Here all three components—“spirit,” “soul,” and “body”—are mentioned side by side. Hebrews 4:12 also mentions both soul and spirit: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit.”
Trichotomism was popular among the Alexandrian fathers of the early church, especially Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–ca. 215) and Origen (ca. 184–ca. 254). This view went through a general decline until the nineteenth century, when it became more popular.
EVALUATION OF THE THREE VIEWS
Materialistic monism must be rejected since it denies the existence of God and all spiritual realities. Idealistic monism must also be rejected. Reality is not simply all mind or spirit or ideas. God created a physical universe with material creatures and declared them “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Furthermore, God did not create our senses to deceive us into thinking that we interact with a material world.
Christian forms of monism rightly assert that the human person is a unified self, but they fail to recognize diversity within the unity. The Bible affirms a distinction between body and soul (Matt. 10:28) and an immaterial part that survives physical death (Rev. 6:9–11). Paul expected physical death to place him in Jesus’s presence (Phil. 1:23), and Jesus said that the repentant thief on the cross would be with him that day in paradise (Luke 23:43). The reality of an intermediate state refutes Christian variations of monism.
Both dichotomism and trichotomism correctly affirm that man consists of more than matter. The dividing issue centers on whether there exists a substantive distinction between soul and spirit. The biblical evidence indicates that there does not. “Soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably in Scripture, and both terms indicate similar functions in relating with God, other people, and nature. So it is difficult to argue that they are distinct parts of a person. Some verses even place “soul” and “spirit” together in parallel form, showing that the same concept is in view:
Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit [ruakh];
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul [nephesh]. (Job 7:11)
My soul [nephesh] yearns for you in the night;
my spirit [ruakh] within me earnestly seeks you. (Isa. 26:9)
And Mary said,
“My soul [psychē] magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit [pneuma] rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46–47)
These passages demonstrate that “soul” and “spirit” in the Bible are interchangeable and address the same realities. In Isaiah 26:9 and Luke 1:46–47, the soul is even interacting with God, meaning that such activity is not restricted to the spirit.
The following two examples also reveal that “soul” and “spirit” refer to the same entity. First, Jesus expresses grief over his coming suffering:
Now is my soul [psychē] troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour?” (John 12:27)
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit [pneuma]. (John 13:21)
Second, two passages describe saints in heaven:
And to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits [pneuma] of the righteous made perfect … (Heb. 12:23)
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls [psychē] of those who had been slain for the word of God. (Rev. 6:9)
But what about 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12? Must these texts be seen to support trichotomism? No. Scripture gives the immaterial aspect of the person different terms, but not every designation means a distinguishable part. At times, terms can be piled up or combined for emphasis. In Luke 10:27, for example, Jesus mentions loving God with all one’s “heart,” “soul,” “strength,” and “mind.” He uses four terms and does not even mention “spirit.” So should we conclude that there are four or five or even more parts to the human person? No, the immaterial part of the person can be called “soul,” “spirit,” “heart,” or “mind,” and yet sometimes these designations can refer to the whole person. So these are overlapping concepts, not distinguishable parts. The dichotomism position, therefore, has the strongest scriptural support.
Yet is there a better designation than dichotomism? Since Scripture presents a person as a unified yet complex self, the designation “complex unity” is preferred. The material (body) and immaterial (soul/spirit) function together in one person, embracing both unity and diversity. This complex unity is conditional, since death in a fallen world separates body and spirit (James 2:26). Yet this separation is temporary, since all people are headed for resurrection, a reunion of body and spirit in eternal forms. The concept of complex unity even parallels other realities. For example, there is one God, yet God is also plurality. God is Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus is one person, yet he is both God and man.
Man as a complex unity also covers all aspects of a person’s physical and spiritual needs. While discussing the importance of saving faith, James mentions the importance of meeting physical needs: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16). Also, God’s salvation eventually brings restoration to the whole person. The Holy Spirit regenerates dead sinners, making them spiritually alive to God (Titus 3:5), yet Jesus will also redeem and glorify their bodies (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:20–21).
Origin of the Soul
Evaluation of the Three Views
Personhood is the expression of an immaterial soul/spirit. But what is its origin? Is the soul created directly by God at conception, or is it passed down from one’s parents through natural processes? There are three main views concerning the origin of the soul: preexistence, creationism, and traducianism.
Some, like the ancient Greeks, have believed that souls preexisted before conception. The early church theologian Origen (ca. 184–ca. 254) taught that God originally created a fixed number of spirits, some of which were joined to material bodies and became humans. Islam also holds to a form of preexistence before birth. This view has no biblical support and has rightly been rejected by orthodox Christians—Origen excepted.
Creationism teaches that each individual soul is created by God sometime between conception and birth rather than being transmitted from one’s ancestors, as the body is. Scriptural support for this view is drawn from Genesis 2:7, which states that God created Adam’s soul and joined it to his body. Likewise, Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that at death, “the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Isaiah 42:5 describes God as Creator of heaven and earth, “who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” Zechariah 12:1 says that God “formed the spirit of man within him.” Also, God is “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). Considerable support for the creationist view can be found in church history; Jerome (ca. 340–420), Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), and John Calvin (1509–1564) affirmed this view.
Traducianism says the soul is transmitted from parents to children by the natural procreation process, just as the body is. While God certainly is man’s Creator and while Adam’s body and soul were created directly by God, the constitution of all persons after Adam is passed on through God-ordained human procreation. Direct creation of each body and soul is not required. God uses the secondary means of human procreation. Traducianists argue that Adam cannot be used as support for creationism since Adam is unique as the first man and since his situation is not normative for his descendants. Genesis 5:3 states that Adam had a son in his own likeness and image, and this probably includes the soul. Adherents of the traducianist view in church history include Tertullian (ca. 160–ca. 220), Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 330–ca. 395), and Martin Luther (1483–1546).
Evaluation of the Three Views
The traducianist position seems best. An important weakness of creationism is that God’s direct-creation acts are said to have ceased on the sixth day of creation. If creationism were true, then God would have been constantly involved in “out of nothing” creation acts since the sixth day of creation. But this notion goes against the fact that God rested from creating on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1–2).
Further, there is no scriptural evidence to conclude that while human bodies are created through natural means, souls are created directly by God. The creationist view introduces an unnecessary asymmetrical element into the origin of a human person. While it is true that several verses speak of God making a person’s soul or spirit, that is also true for the body. David stated, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Ps. 139:13, 15). These statements do not mean that the body is created directly by God apart from natural procreation. God is man’s Creator, but God also ordained human procreation for the filling of the earth (Gen. 1:28). God uses natural means for procreation, yet he is the Ultimate Cause of the process. As a complex unity of body and soul/spirit, our entire being, including the soul, is a result of the God-ordained procreation process.
Gender Created by God
Gender and Marriage
Gender and Procreation
Modern society is becoming increasingly confused on gender and gender roles. This is sad since gender is strategic to God’s purposes for mankind and since God has clearly revealed his will on the matter. The foundational section for the creation and purpose of gender is found in Genesis 1–2. Other passages supplement the truths there.
Gender Created by God
God created gender and human sexuality. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Jesus repeated this truth: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4). Gender is not vague, flexible, or personally determined by preference, nor does it occur by accident or through evolutionary process.
Genesis 2 adds detail to the creation of the first man and woman. Man was formed first from the dust of the ground, and then God breathed into him the breath of life. With this breath, “the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). Later, God took a rib from the man and fashioned it into a woman (Gen. 2:21–22). Thus, the first man and woman were created directly by God as part of the “very good” creation (Gen. 1:31).
In addition to being created by God, the man and the woman were created differently. God formed man from dust, but God did not create the woman in the same way. God took a rib from Adam to make the woman (Gen. 2:22). So woman was made from man. Far from an incidental detail, this has significance for functional distinctions between men and women. When discussing order between men and women in the church, Paul highlighted this point by saying, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man” (1 Cor. 11:8). In explaining why men are to do the teaching in the church, Paul declared, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). The roles that men and women have in society, the family, and the church are grounded in the differences between men and women that God instituted at creation.
Gender is deeply embedded in human identity and is established at conception. When a sperm carrying an X chromosome fertilizes the ovum, a girl is produced, while a Y chromosome brings a boy. When a child is born, often the first reaction is, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” At birth, all recognize that gender exists. Parents do not choose the gender of their child or say that it does not matter. Neither do they have to wait to see if the boy will later become a girl or vice versa. Gender is defined permanently at conception and revealed at birth.
Both God’s creation of gender and the biological reality of gender show that sexuality is objective. It is not subjective, as if it could be determined by the whims of individuals and societies. No person can legitimately claim that he or she is really another gender, nor can anyone truly change his or her gender. Gender confusion is addressed in Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” God commands women to present themselves as women, and men to present themselves as men. For a woman to dress like a man or vice versa is considered “an abomination,” an extreme offense against God. This shows that God expects the person to live in accord with the gender God granted him or her at birth.
Sadly, transgenderism is becoming more acceptable in some societies. This occurs when a person identifies, dresses, or presents himself or herself contrary to his or her God-given biological gender. This includes transvestites or crossdressers. Still, in spite of what is true and obvious, gender is increasingly seen in modern culture as subjective. Supposedly, a male can declare himself a female or vice versa, and society must accommodate such a claim. Some even use medical technologies to attempt gender alteration. But gender confusion and tampering assault God’s creative purposes for humanity. The Christian worldview affirms that gender and the biological structure of our bodies matter. They have a purpose granted by God. They are not the product of evolutionary accident with no moral implications but are gifts from God to be used for his purposes and glory. Since God made male and female, he is the starting point for defining gender. Deviating from God’s plans for gender and sexuality is rebellion against God (see Rom. 1:24–27).
Gender and Marriage
Male and female were created for relationship, not isolation. As God evaluated the newly created male, he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). So God would make a “helper” (Heb. ‘ezer) to assist Adam. The other creatures were wonderful, but they were not suitable for the man. Desire for human companionship is thus not faulty, as if it were a postfall development. Adam was not wrong for desiring human companionship, and it is not a challenge to man’s relationship with God. God desired and designed humans for relationships.
When God made the woman from Adam’s rib, he brought her before the man, and Adam then exclaimed,
This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man. (Gen. 2:23)
Adam immediately realized that the woman was the suitable companion for him. His incompleteness gave way to wholeness. This woman was like him. She was “bone of my bones” and “flesh of my flesh.” Yet she was different. She was designed to complement him and bring fulfillment to his life. She brought femininity to complement his masculinity. He named her “Woman,” because she came from man.
Genesis 2:24 then summarizes God’s intent for man and woman: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The marriage relationship involves leaving father and mother to become “one flesh” in marriage. The term for “leave” (Heb. ‘azab) is forceful and means “abandon” or “forsake.” Also, the word for “hold fast” (Heb. dabaq) means “strong personal attachment and devotion.” It is later used to prescribe how Israel should show its commitment to God—“But you shall cling [dabaq] to the Lord your God” (Josh. 23:8). The result of this marital clinging is becoming “one flesh.” This unity certainly involves the sexual union at the heart of the oneness, as well as the children who are one from two. Yet it goes beyond that so as to involve mutual dependence in all areas of life. Oneness and intimacy should permeate the relationship.
Marriage is a gracious and good institution from God. It is intended to be a blessing. First Peter 3:7 calls it “the grace of life.” Proverbs 18:22 declares, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” In Matthew 19:4–6, Jesus reaffirms the one-flesh union of man and woman in marriage. Paul also says, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). Ultimately, marriage points to Christ and the church: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31–32). Marriage should illustrate the loving relationship of Christ and his church, with the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife responding to her husband’s loving leadership as the church responds to Christ (Eph. 5:22–33). Though marriage is subject to the curse after the fall of man, Christians under the control of the Holy Spirit should experience peaceful, productive, and fulfilled marriages. Believers must marry only other believers (1 Cor. 7:29; 2 Cor. 6:14).
Marriage has only one definition, and it is sanctioned by God: the union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:23–24). Marriage is to be a public, formal, and officially recognized covenant between a man and a woman. Prolonged conjugal cohabitation does not establish and is not equivalent to marriage (John 4:18). Where a valid marriage has been established prior to faith in Christ, the couple should keep the covenant and remain married (1 Cor. 7:24).
Gender and Procreation
The man-woman relationship in marriage is designed for procreation. According to Genesis 1:28, God blessed the male and female and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” The God-designed biological structures of male and female produce children.
Mankind was to expand beyond the first man and woman and reproduce so that the earth would be filled with others bearing God’s image. These children in turn were also expected to multiply and fill the earth. God would use procreation to save mankind and restore the creation after the fall. When Adam and Eve sinned, God told the power behind the serpent (Satan), “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The “offspring” of the woman would experience an ongoing battle that would culminate in a “he” who would give a fatal blow to the power behind the serpent. When Eve gave birth to her first son, Cain, she declared, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen. 4:1). Some believe that this could be translated, “I have gotten a man—even the Lord.” If so, Eve may have believed that her first son, Cain, was the deliverer God promised in Genesis 3:15. Later, Lamech thought his son Noah could be the promised deliverer: “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands’ ” (Gen. 5:28–29). Both expectations of a deliverer went unfulfilled. Cain murdered his brother Abel. And Noah, while greatly used by God, was also a sinner and not qualified to be the promised Savior (Gen. 9:20–23). Eventually, Mary’s son, Jesus, was born to be the promised “offspring,” or “seed,” who would restore all things (Acts 3:21; Gal. 3:16).
The procreation command given to Adam was repeated to Noah: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ ” (Gen. 9:1, 7). This mandate was necessary after the global flood, when all but eight persons perished. A major threat to multiplying and filling the earth, however, was the murder of fellow humans. So with the Noahic covenant, God sanctioned capital punishment for those who murder God’s image bearers: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6). God gave man the right to protect life by executing those who kill their fellow image bearers. This shows how valuable God considers human life to be.
After the fall, the curse on the woman meant giving birth would be painful. God told Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). Procreation, with all its blessings, is painful for the woman in a fallen world and is often filled with tragedy. Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin (Gen. 35:16–18). Some children will die in the womb, and others will have their lives cut short by abortion. Some women who desire to have children will be barren (Gen. 30:1).
The dangers of giving birth will be removed during the Messiah’s coming kingdom after Jesus’s return. Isaiah prophesied of that time, stating, “No more shall there be in [that city] an infant who lives but a few days” (Isa. 65:20), and, “They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them” (Isa. 65:23). Jesus’s millennial kingdom will reverse the painful and tragic consequences of the fall for women and children (Rev. 20:1–6). Since there will be no marriage in the eternal state after the millennium, there will also be no procreation (Matt. 22:30).
Satan and men continually attempt to pervert all that is good in God’s creation, including gender and marriage. This corruption occurred quickly in Genesis. Once Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately became aware of their nakedness: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen. 3:7). Innocence was replaced with guilt and shame (Gen. 3:8–10). Even the holy gift of their physical, sexual relationship was polluted. Gone was its purity. Wicked and impure thoughts were introduced. By sewing fig leaves, the first couple attempted to cover their shame, and ever since, clothing has been a universal expression of human modesty.
Sexual perversion also spread quickly. Polygamy appears in Genesis 4:19. Demonic sexual perversion occurs in Genesis 6:2. Other deviations include lewdness (Gen. 9:22), adultery (or near adultery) (Gen. 12:15–19), fornication (Gen. 16:4), incest (Gen. 19:36), rape (Gen. 34:2), prostitution (Gen. 38:15), and sexual harassment (Gen. 39:7). Homosexuality appears on a large scale in Genesis 19.
Marriage is good and holy, but homosexuality is a perverse rebellion that threatens God’s intent for marriage and family. God did not create men to engage in sexual acts with other men, nor women with women. In recent times homosexuality has reached a level of acceptability that is unparalleled in human history. Societies that once saw it as the deviation it is, now promote it as acceptable. When the twenty-first century dawned, no country had legalized homosexual marriage. But since then, several countries have done so, including the United States, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
The Bible presents homosexuality as sin and explicitly states that practicing homosexuals will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10). Homosexuality perverts God’s design that marriage reflect Christ’s relationship to his church: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31–32). Marriage illustrates the relationship of the Lord Jesus to his church; the loving headship of a husband pictures the loving headship of Christ over his bride, and the joyful submission of a wife pictures the joyful submission of the church to her Lord. By tampering with the participants of marriage, homosexual activity or homosexual marriage distorts the gospel picture that God intended marriage to portray. It defies the will of the Creator, threatens what is good, and hurts those involved in this practice.
In Genesis 1:27, the Hebrew words for “male” and “female” are emphatic, giving the sense of “the one male and the one female.” Only one man and one woman existed in the beginning, so that monogamous, heterosexual marriage could occur. This is God’s paradigm for marriage. Based on this paradigm of one man and one woman established at creation, the rest of Scripture strictly forbids any sexual activity outside marriage—including all fornication (Acts 15:29; 1 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 13:4), adultery (Ex. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; Matt. 19:18), bestiality (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:23; 20:15–16; Deut. 27:21), and homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27).
Homosexual unions cannot rightly be called “marriages,” since they involve only one gender, possess no ability to procreate, and cannot provide the kind of sexual companionship God intended. Nor do they picture the relationship between Jesus and his church. Homosexuality is not another option for two consenting adults; it is an aberration of God’s design for the procreation, pleasure, and preservation of the human race. In 1 Timothy 1:9–10, Paul denounced “immoral men and homosexuals” as those who are “lawless and rebellious” and act “contrary to sound teaching” (NASB). The Greek word he used for homosexuals, arsenokoitais, literally means “males in the marriage bed” and seems to have been drawn from the terminology of the Septuagint (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). This term itself underscores that homosexual acts deviate from God’s norm for the marriage bed.
HOMOSEXUALITY IN GENESIS
God’s opposition to homosexual behavior is illustrated in his response to the men at Sodom in Genesis 19. During an angelic rescue mission to save Lot, the inhabitants of Sodom demonstrated the appalling extent of their lust. A savage mob from every part of the city was consumed by immoral lust. Even after being blinded, they groped for the doorway (Gen. 19:10–11). Lot recognized their homosexual passions as inherently wicked (Gen. 19:7), and God destroyed them for their great iniquity (Gen. 18:20–33; 19:23–29).
Some say that the incident was simply a breach of ancient hospitality laws, but such an idea ignores the context. The mob did not want “to know” (Gen. 19:5) Lot’s guests in a social way. Their intentions were entirely sexual, as evidenced by Lot’s condemnation in verse 7, where he calls their actions “wicked.” Also, Lot offered his daughters in verse 8, where the same verb “to know” is used. Though their violence deserved condemnation, their homosexual lust was particularly despicable to God, a point Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6–7 make certain. Thus, it is not merely violence or even homosexual rape being condemned. It is any homosexual act or lifestyle. Because the Sodomites were so perverse, the Lord destroyed the entire city with fire and brimstone. The term sodomy, coming from this incident, refers to homosexual behavior practiced by the Sodomites.
Both Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6 affirm that sexual perversion was the primary characteristic of the city and the main reason it was judged. Jude writes of “Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them” that they “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh” (NASB). By using a word for “sexual immorality” (Gk. ekporneuō), Jude reveals that their homosexual behavior was especially despicable in the eyes of God. The “strange flesh” they pursued were Lot’s angelic guests, whom the men of the city thought were male visitors (Gen. 19:5). Peter said that Sodom and Gomorrah were characterized by “the sensual conduct of the wicked” and were therefore “condemned … to extinction” (2 Pet. 2:6–7). Lot, though, was regarded as righteous because “he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Pet. 2:8). Lot and his daughters were spared, while the people remaining in Sodom and the surrounding cities were destroyed.
Sodom establishes that depraved men cannot pursue sensuality and ungodliness and escape God’s judgment (Matt. 25:41; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; Eph. 5:6; 1 Thess. 2:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 10:26–27; Rev. 6:17). Scripture refers back to Sodom and Gomorrah over twenty times as an illustration and warning concerning what will happen to those who live such ungodly lives (cf. Matt. 10:14–15; 11:23–24; Luke 17:28–32).
HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE MOSAIC CODE
The Mosaic legal code declares that homosexuality is detestable in the sight of God. Leviticus 18:22 states, “You [men] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” And the consequences are equally clear: “For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people” (Lev. 18:29). The prohibition is also reiterated later in Leviticus: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Lev. 20:13).
Homosexuality is listed in Leviticus 18 and 20 in the context of other sexual sins and is treated as morally equal to adultery, incest, and bestiality. The fact that Christians are no longer under the Mosaic code does not mean that God’s attitudes toward these sexual sins, including homosexuality, have changed. The New Testament reaffirms that homosexual activity is sin.
God’s view of homosexual behavior is revealed in the word “abomination.” The word occurs repeatedly in this context (Lev. 18:22, 26, 27, 29, 30; 20:13) and is also a term found frequently in the book of Deuteronomy (see Deut. 7:25; 12:31; 17:1, 4; 18:9–14; 27:15). Just as idolatry is a perpetual offense to God’s moral character, so also is any perversion of God’s design for marriage.
HOMOSEXUALITY AND ROMANS 1
The apostle Paul reiterates the prohibition against homosexuality in Romans 1:26–27:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Both male homosexuality and lesbianism are in view in this passage. God’s judgment falls on both because they involve unnatural acts. The word translated “relations” (Gk. chrēsis) was a common way to speak of sexual intercourse and in this context refers to homosexual acts. Such behavior stems from “degrading passions” driven by selfish lust, not love. They are a twisted expression of God’s creative design. When man forsakes the author of nature, he inevitably forsakes the order of nature.
Marriage is a sacred institution, and any sexual activity with someone other than one’s spouse is strictly forbidden by God (Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4). This includes not only fornication and adultery but any form of homosexuality, since these are contrary to the divine design established at creation.
Beginning of Personhood
End of Human Life
Destiny at Death
Beginning of Personhood
Like the issue of gender, views of human personhood have also been distorted by modern society, which often denies personhood to those whom the Bible considers persons. According to the Bible, all human beings are persons who possess dignity because they are made in God’s image. This includes the very young, the very old, and everyone in the middle.
When does personhood begin? Various views concerning the beginning of personhood have been offered. Only one is biblical. Personhood begins at conception.
Scientific fact demonstrates that human life begins at conception, when all twenty-three pairs of chromosomes are complete. The fertilized egg then contains a fixed genetic structure (DNA). Between days twelve and twenty-eight, a heart begins to beat. Blood cells form at day seventeen, and eyes begin to form at day nineteen. Between weeks four and six, brain waves can be measured. At one month, the embryo looks like a distinct human person. Fingerprints exist at two months. The skeleton, circulatory system, and muscular system are complete by the eighth week. The manifestation of personhood appears rapidly after conception.
Yet not all associate human personhood with human biological life. Some speculate that personhood begins after conception but before birth, perhaps with the development of brainwaves or the viability of the fetus. In 1973, with its infamous Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the concept of “person,” as used in the United States Constitution, applies only at birth. As a result, millions of people in the womb have been killed because they are deemed “nonpersons.” The bioethicist Michael Tooley even argued that personhood does not begin until self-consciousness, well after birth. In his work, Abortion and Infanticide, Tooley argued that full personhood is not achieved until about one year of age.
The Bible refers to babies in the womb as persons, with no indication that any process must occur after conception before personhood begins. For example, when Isaac prayed that his barren wife, Rebekah, could bear children, we are told, “And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her” (Gen. 25:21–22). Here a close connection exists between “conceived” and “children.” Job similarly connected conception with personhood when he declared, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’ ” (Job 3:3). So Job was a person, “a man,” at his conception. Luke 1:41 likewise records, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Elizabeth then said, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). The one in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) is called a “baby” and expresses emotion—“joy.” God also referred to Jeremiah as a person before his birth: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5). Other passages refer to God’s intimate knowledge of and involvement with people in the womb (e.g., Job 10:8–11; Ps. 139:13–16; Isa. 44:24).
In addition, Exodus 21:22–25 strongly shows that the unborn are to be considered persons:
When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
This passage indicates that if a pregnant woman is hit by a man and the child within her is born alive without sustaining harm, the man who struck her must pay a fine. But if the child is harmed, then the law of retaliation must be enforced, including death if the child dies (“pay life for life”). The baby in the womb must be a person since the death penalty is required if the baby in the womb is killed. Any baby in the womb is a person and should be treated as a person.
Personhood is not a development; it is an event. It occurs at conception. Attempts to separate personhood from biological human life are unscientific, arbitrary, and dangerous. All that physically constitutes a person is made immediately at conception. Biological human life means that personhood exists. A human life is a person. Separating human life from personhood has resulted in the killing of persons in the womb through abortion and has even led to the murder of babies after birth. Beck and Demarest note that four conditions must exist for an act to be considered murder:
1. A person must be killed.
2. The person must be killed intentionally.
3. The victim must be innocent.
4. An unlawful or sinful motive must be involved in the killing.
They also rightly conclude, “Abortion as commonly practiced today satisfies these criteria.”
End of Human Life
In a fallen world, human death is the harsh and inevitable final reality. Death involves the separation of the spirit from the body (James 2:26). At physical death the body returns to the ground, where it decays. Except for those alive at the rapture who are taken to heaven without dying, and for the rare examples of Enoch and Elijah, death overcomes everyone. God told Adam that if he sinned, death would come (Gen. 2:17). Romans 5:12 states that “sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin.” Genesis 5 functions much like a graveyard as it records the descendants of Adam who lived and then died. Solomon stated that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccles. 3:1–2) and that one day “the silver cord” of life would be “snapped” and the body would return to the earth (Eccles. 12:6–7).
Death is “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14) and is used by Satan to cause fear and slavery (Heb. 2:15). Paul referred to death as an “enemy” that must be defeated (1 Cor. 15:26). Not only does death extinguish life, it leaves behind the carnage of grief. When Sarah died, Abraham wept and mourned for her (Gen. 23:2). When Jacob died, his son Joseph “fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him” (Gen. 50:1).
While death is often viewed as natural, death is an intrusion into God’s creation. God created humans for life, not death. In his original state, man was not created to die, though death was nonetheless a possibility if he rebelled against his Creator. Jesus conquered death by his resurrection, and the fact that death will be finally removed in the coming eternal state (Rev. 21:4) demonstrates that death is not inherent to being human.
God holds sovereign control over life and death. First Samuel 2:6 states, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” Job said, “In his [God’s] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). In the future, death will be thrown into the lake of fire after the great white throne judgment, prior to the eternal state (Rev. 20:14).
The Bible links death with a person’s final breath (Job 14:10). Genesis 25:8 says, “Abraham breathed his last and died.” The same is said of Ishmael (Gen. 25:17). On the cross, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37).
The reality of personhood begins in the womb and extends to this final breath, the end of life. The Bible treats all humans through death as persons with dignity. Since being in God’s image is structural to being human, there never comes a point when a person becomes anything less than a full person. This includes the elderly and the severely handicapped. Some argue that personhood exists only if someone can function in a certain capacity. But that makes personhood dependent on what a human does rather than on who he or she is. Understanding this point rules out the killing of people whom society might deem unworthy of living. A biblical understanding of human life places a barrier before the termination of a life simply because that person cannot “contribute to society,” however that may be defined. From conception to last breath, all human beings are God’s creations and should be treated as such.
Destiny at Death
What happens to a person at death? The stakes are high on this issue, impacting greatly how we should live in the present. There are several views.
CESSATION OF EXISTENCE
Those holding to a naturalistic worldview believe that death means the cessation of existence. Since naturalists believe that reality and humans consist only of matter, death of the body means a permanent end to one’s existence. Since consciousness and thoughts are tied only to brain tissue, once the human body dies, all consciousness and thought totally cease. Nothing carries over to a next life. The body is buried or cremated, and that is the end. People live on only in the memories of those who knew them. And even these memories fade as those who knew them also die. In this view, the universe is headed for eventual extinction.
The ancient philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) is one who denied an afterlife. For him, because death is ceasing to exist, it should not be feared. No divine judgment awaits, and since death is the end of self-awareness, it is a nonissue. The atheist Richard Dawkins, who similarly asserts that death is nonexistence, argues that people should be satisfied that they lived at all. Knowing that they have lived, Dawkins says, indicates that they are the “lucky ones,” who “won the lottery of birth against all odds.”22
CONTINUATION OF THE SOUL ONLY
Some believe that people possess an immaterial soul that survives physical death to exist in another realm—whether in heaven or some soulish existence. The physical body, however, is temporary and will not be resurrected. Only the soul is immortal. The Greek philosopher Socrates (ca. 470–399 BC) believed that the body was a prison for the soul. He longed for physical death so his soul could be released from its carnal encasing and move to a greater spiritual existence. Plato (ca. 428–348 BC) also believed that the soul alone survived death. This view of the immortality of the soul has been promoted by some adherents of Protestant liberalism. Harry Emerson Fosdick (AD 1878–1969) said, “I believe in the persistence of personality through death, but I do not believe in the resurrection of the flesh.”
Annihilationism teaches that only some people will cease to exist. Unlike the cessationist view, annihilationists affirm that believers will live forever, experiencing the resurrection of the body. The wicked, however, will at some point be snuffed out of existence. Advocates suggest that this could occur at physical death, at a coming judgment, or after a finite period of punishment in hell.
This view proposes an asymmetrical relationship in the destiny of the saved and the lost. The saved will be granted immortality and live forever, while the lost will cease to exist. Allegedly, passages that speak of “eternal” or “forever” punishment for the lost do not mean never-ending, conscious torment. It is only the consequences of being extinguished that last forever. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–1990) claimed, “Everlasting death is destruction without end …, the destruction of obliteration.” For Edward Fudge, the biblical language of a lake of fire is a symbol of “irreversible annihilation.”25
Two supposed theological beliefs undergird the annihilation view. The first is that God’s character is inconsistent with conscious, eternal punishment. Allegedly, God’s love cannot be harmonized with such a destiny. The second is that immortality is not inherent to man’s existence. Immortality is granted to those who trust in God, while it is refused to those who are lost. It is a reward for those who receive salvation but is withheld from those who do not.
The notion of soul sleep, or psychopannychia, asserts that physical death brings a temporary end to one’s conscious existence until a subsequent day of resurrection. Just as a person can be in a deep sleep for many hours with no memory of the sleeping period, so too a gap in consciousness occurs between death and resurrection. This view denies an intermediate state of conscious existence after death and affirms that the souls of believers sleep rather than going immediately to heaven. Proponents claim scriptural support for soul sleep in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten,” and Daniel 12:2, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Defenders of soul sleep include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Christadelphians.
Reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul, asserts that at physical death the soul of a person inhabits another entity, such as a human or animal. Most often linked with the Eastern religion of Hinduism, reincarnation is the belief that all living things experience a cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths until they achieve an impersonal union with the highest reality. In Hinduism this highest reality is Brahman. Then the cycle of reincarnation ceases. Since union with the divine is very difficult, most experience reincarnation thousands of times and more. The law of karma allegedly governs the reincarnation process. Karma functions like a law of cause and effect that determines one’s existence in the next life. If one acts properly, karmic debt can be released, and one can attain a higher form of existence. However, acting improperly increases karmic debt and lowers one’s existence in the next life—perhaps even to a lowly creature like a worm.
Reincarnation is held by millions of Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. Increasing religious pluralism has brought reincarnation to Western societies. Forms of reincarnation are found in neo-paganism, witchcraft, the occult, and New Age philosophies. The 2009 Pew Research Center poll “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths” revealed that 24 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation.
ENTRY INTO AN INTERMEDIATE STATE AWAITING RESURRECTION
The traditional Christian view is that the soul/spirit lives in an intermediate state between death and bodily resurrection. While the human person is a complex unity of body and soul/spirit, death causes a temporary separation of body and soul. The body returns to the ground, while the soul resides in another realm. The soul of the believer resides with God in heaven, but the soul of the unbeliever is separated from God in hell. At the coming resurrection, the souls and bodies of all people will be united forever in the final heaven or hell.
EVALUATION OF VIEWS
The biblical evidence strongly sides with the view that souls enter into an intermediate state awaiting resurrection. The case against the other views is found mostly in the strong evidence for this understanding, which is based on three truths: (1) the human person possesses an immaterial soul; (2) an intermediate state exists; and (3) there is a coming resurrection.
That the human person possesses an immaterial soul was discussed in previous sections on the soul and the human constitution. In regard to the intermediate state, Paul said that being separated from the body meant being with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). He also said that departing to be with Christ was better than his current life on earth (Phil. 1:22–24). Moses and Elijah’s presence at Jesus’s transfiguration reveals their conscious existence beyond their earthly careers (Luke 9:30–31). Both the rich man and Lazarus existed after their deaths (Luke 16:19–31), and Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that day (Luke 23:43). Stephen also prayed that Jesus would receive his spirit while being stoned (Acts 7:59–60). These examples refute the perspectives of the cessation of existence, reincarnation, and soul sleep. Conscious life exists after physical death.
Multiple passages also teach a coming resurrection of the body. Job expressed hope in his bodily resurrection in connection with his Redeemer’s presence on the earth: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26). Concerning the coming kingdom of God, Isaiah declared, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isa. 26:19). Daniel stated, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Like Daniel, Jesus warned of the bodily resurrection of the righteous and wicked in John 5:28–29. Paul said that Christians look forward to “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23) and that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Additionally, Jesus is described as the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23); since Jesus was raised bodily from the grave, one historical resurrection has already happened.
The Bible’s clear teaching on the coming bodily resurrection refutes the view that only the soul continues after death. Furthermore, this notion does not account for the goodness of the material realm in God’s creation, including the body (Gen. 2:7). Rather, it holds man’s destiny to be a purely spiritual existence and treats the body as an encumbrance gladly to be discarded.
The annihilation perspective denies the testimony of Scripture that the wicked will experience eternal, conscious torment. The Bible uses the language of “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41) and says that the “smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11) and that “they have no rest, day or night” (Rev. 14:11). Having no rest indicates self-consciousness. Finally, Jesus set eternal life and eternal punishment side by side in Matthew 25:46: “And these [the wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” As eternal life is unending for believers, so too will eternal punishment for the unbeliever be unending. The relationship between the two is symmetrical, not asymmetrical.
Man and Society
Ethnicity and Nations
Ethnicity and Nations
An important but often neglected part of biblical anthropology concerns ethnicity and nations. Approximately 196 nations currently exist on the earth, consisting of thousands of ethnic groups. How do the various people groups fit into God’s purposes?
Just as God is both unity (one God) and plurality (three persons), God’s image bearers evidence unity and diversity. Humanity is unified since all humans are descendants of Adam, yet many ethnic groups and nations exist. Paul referred to both unity and diversity in mankind when he stated, “And he [God] made from one man [Adam] every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). People come from “one man” (unity), but this leads to “every nation” (diversity/plurality).
Adam, who transcends ethnic diversity and nations, was the head of the human race. God created Adam and Eve with the genetic ability to produce a multiplicity of races and various skin colors. God commanded man to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:26–28). Later revelation makes clear that this multiplying and filling would involve differing people groups. Genesis 10–11 records various peoples stemming from Noah’s three sons. Paul says that God “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their [i.e., the nations’] dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).
After the global flood, Noah represented mankind as the one from whom diversity would again emerge. Noah’s sons—Ham, Shem, and Japheth—became the heads of various peoples in the world. Genesis 9:19 states, “These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.” Often misunderstood, the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9:18–27 was a prediction of Israel’s eventual victory over the Canaanite inhabitants of the Promised Land. It was not a curse on Noah’s son Ham nor a prediction that dark-skinned descendants from Ham would be slaves of other groups.
The table of nations of Genesis 10–11 is central for understanding the importance of ethnic groups. It is also the backdrop for God’s plan to use Abraham to bless all peoples (Gen. 11:27–12:3). The catalyst for diversity is the Tower of Babel event described in Genesis 11:1–9. Sinful people settled in the land of Shinar and built a tower to make a great name for themselves and stay located in one place (Gen. 11:4), rebelling against God’s command to fill the earth (Gen. 9:1). God thwarted their plans by confusing their language. This was the origin of multiple languages, and it caused people to scatter over the earth.
Dispersion is connected with the spread of descendants from Noah’s three sons. Genesis 10 records the descendants of Japheth (Gen. 10:2–5), the sons of Ham (Gen. 10:6–20), and finally the sons of Shem (Gen. 10:21–31). This genealogy of descendants from Noah’s sons occurs before the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, indicating that the spread of people groups was not God’s judgment but was part of God’s plan from the beginning.
Eventually, the ethnic makeup of the Old Testament world reflected diversity. There were Asiatics (Israel and their Semitic cousins—Canaanites, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites), black Africans (Cushites/Ethiopians), black-African Asiatics (Egyptians), and Indo-Europeans (Philistines, Hittites). The Old Testament focuses mostly on Israel, but God’s call of Abraham (from the line of Shem) reveals God’s intent for blessing the world. A “great nation,” Israel, will come from Abraham. The purpose of Abraham and Israel is worldwide blessing: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). God’s later promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 stresses the broader concept of “nations” being blessed.
People units can vary, ranging from families and tribes to clans, larger groups, and nations. Israel itself went from Abraham to Abraham’s family via Isaac and Jacob and then extended to a larger people group (Hebrews) and eventually to a nation (Israel). Revelation 5:9 promises that God’s salvation will extend to “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
From Genesis 12 to Malachi, the Old Testament emphasizes Israel, yet it also discusses blessings to other groups. Genesis 49:8–10 reveals that a leader from the tribe of Judah will be the one to whom the nations will give obedience. During the exodus from Egypt a “mixed multitude” journeyed with the people of Israel (Ex. 12:38), which probably consisted of both foreigners, including some Egyptians, and families that were a mixture of Egyptian and Hebrew peoples. Moses himself married a Cushite, an African woman from near Ethiopia (Num. 12:1).
Exodus 19:6 states that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests for God to the world. If Israel acted rightly, she would attract other nations to the God of Israel (Deut. 4:5–6). The Mosaic law mandated that the people of Israel treat foreigners well. They were not to abuse or oppress them (Ex. 22:21). Instead, they were to deal with foreigners like native Israelites: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34).
Some Gentiles in the Old Testament believed in the God of Israel. Rahab the prostitute, a Canaanite woman, helped Israel and became an example of a Gentile with faith (Heb. 11:31). Ruth, a Moabite woman, expressed faith and became an ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:5). During Jonah’s time the people of Nineveh repented and avoided God’s wrath for a time.
Yet the Messiah needed to arrive for Gentiles to participate in Israel’s covenants and promises as Gentiles, without converting to Judaism. Paul reminded Gentile believers, “Remember that you were at [one] time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11–12). Jesus’s death and his new covenant break down the dividing barrier between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14–16).
Tragically, Israel in the Old Testament era did not obey God. Not only did Israel fail in being a testimony to other nations, she actually worshiped the gods of the nations. As a result, God made the people captives to Assyria and Babylon and then later to Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Yet the prophets foretold a coming restoration of the kingdom to Israel, and they promised blessings to the nations. Isaiah predicted a day when God would establish international harmony from Jerusalem and when the nations would come to learn the law of God (Isa. 2:2–4). He taught that God would raise up an ultimate servant of the Lord, an ultimate Israelite, who would restore the nation Israel and bring blessings to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:1–6). Isaiah also foretold that foreigners would be included among God’s people (Isaiah 56). And Amos said that the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Israel would mean blessings for the nations of the world (Amos 9:11–15).
As the New Testament opens, Jesus is the One who will bless both Israel and Gentiles. Thus Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:31–32). The angel Gabriel told Mary that her son Jesus would reign from the throne of David over Israel forever (Luke 1:32–33), and when the Magi visited Jesus in Matthew 2:1–12, Gentiles worshiped Israel’s King. In Matthew 8:5–13, Jesus praised the faith of a Roman centurion and said that Gentiles would participate in God’s kingdom banquet before unbelieving Jewish leaders.
Early in his ministry, Jesus directed the message of the kingdom solely to Israel (Matt. 10:5–7), yet after Jesus’s death and resurrection, the gospel was proclaimed to the entire world, with Jesus himself commanding his followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). On the day of his ascension, Jesus affirmed the expectation of a restored kingdom for national Israel yet proclaimed the necessity of taking the gospel to all people groups of the world (Acts 1:6–8). As the book of Acts records, the gospel spread from Jerusalem to Samaria to the broader Gentile world. The Jerusalem Council also testified that the resurrected Son of David brought messianic salvation to Gentiles as Gentiles (Acts 15:13–18), which meant that they did not need to be incorporated into Israel or keep the Mosaic law.
Reflecting these historical developments, the apostle Paul gave clear teaching in his epistles about ethnicity for the church. Thus, Galatians 3:28 explains that believers equally share salvation and spiritual blessings in Christ regardless of race, gender, or social status. Ephesians 2:11–3:6 says that believing Gentiles are coequal with believing Jews in the people of God and participate together in the covenants and promises mediated through Israel. Believing Gentiles do not become spiritual Jews; instead, Jews and Gentiles share common life together in the church. The unity among Jews and Gentiles is grounded in the death of Jesus and the removal of the Mosaic law (Eph. 2:13–16). And so Colossians 3:9–11 speaks of a renewal in Christ “in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman” (NASB). Salvation is equally accessible to all groups.
The last book of the Bible also describes universal blessings. Representatives of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will be saved by Christ and will reign when the kingdom comes to the earth (Rev. 5:9–10). Revelation 7:4–9 reveals the salvation of both the tribes of Israel and people from all nations. Revelation 21:3 uses the Greek term laoi to refer to the “peoples” of God (ESV mg.), showing ethnic diversity on the new earth. Revelation 21:24, 26 testifies that nations with their kings will bring contributions to the New Jerusalem. And Revelation 22:2 says that the leaves of the tree of life maintain healing and harmony among the nations. Never again will ethnic or national hostility exist, only harmony.
A biblical theology of ethnicity and nations reveals the following truths and principles:
1. All people of every ethnicity are made in the image of God.
2. No people group is superior or inferior to any other.
3. Racism is a heinous sin in that it denies full personhood to certain people groups, thus violating the dignity of all God’s image bearers.
4. Israel was chosen to be the nation through which God would restore fallen humanity and bring salvation and restoration to all the world.
5. Salvation is provided to all through the ultimate Israelite, Jesus the Messiah, who will restore the nation of Israel and bring blessings to the Gentiles through salvation.
6. The death of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant bring unity to all who identify with Jesus. True racial unity and harmony are found only in Jesus the Messiah, not simply in education, social reform, legislation, or any other man-centered attempts.
7. The church should evidence racial harmony and serve as an example to the world of God’s intention.
8. When Jesus returns, he will rule the nations from Israel and will bless all the nations (Isa. 27:6; Rom. 11:12).
9. In the eternal state, nations and governmental leaders will exist in harmony.
God is a God of order, not chaos. Human government is an institution created by God to provide social order in the world.
BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN GOVERNMENT
The most extensive discussion on the purpose of government is found in Romans 13:1–7:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Peter expressed the same view of human government in 1 Peter 2:13–14:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
Several truths come from these two passages.
1. God has appointed human government (Rom. 13:1–2) as his “servant” (Rom. 13:4). Government is part of God’s common goodness to mankind.
2. Since God appointed government, resisting government is resisting God. Those who resist its authority will be judged (Rom. 13:2).
3. One purpose of government is “to punish those who do evil” (1 Pet. 2:14). Thus, the one in authority is “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). Government functions as God’s mediator to curb evil.
4. Government has the right to carry out capital punishment: “He does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4). When Pilate told Jesus that he had the authority to crucify him (John 19:10), Jesus did not dispute this, but he did inform Pilate that his authority came from God: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
5. Another function of government is to approve and praise those who do good (Rom. 13:3; 1 Pet. 2:14). Peaceful, law-abiding citizens need not fear the authorities. Few governments will harm those who obey their laws; rather, they seek to honor them.
6. Government is a cause for “terror” to those who do bad things (Rom. 13:3). Those who break the law must be afraid of the consequent punishment. Even the most godless governments can deter criminal behavior.
7. All people, and especially Christians, are to be “subject” to human government (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13). The word “subject” was used of a soldier’s absolute obedience to his superior. The one exception arises if obeying a civil command means disobeying a command of God (Ex. 1:7; Dan. 3:16–18; 6:7, 10). In this case, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
8. Obeying government eases one’s conscience (Rom. 13:5).
9. People are to pay taxes and show respect to governing authorities (Rom. 13:7). Jesus affirmed taxation when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21).
HUMAN GOVERNMENT IN THE UNFOLDING STORY OF SCRIPTURE
While societies existed after creation, God established the power of government as a mediatorial institution after the flood. Cain murdered his brother Abel and feared personal retribution. “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me,” said Cain (Gen. 4:14). Yet God protected Cain by placing a mark on him that warned of vengeance for any who tried to kill him (Gen. 4:15). Lamech also killed a young man who struck him (Gen. 4:23–24). Cain and Lamech were murderers who feared retribution but not by a civil magistrate. Cain moved on to build a city east of Eden in the land of Nod and named it after his son Enoch (Gen. 4:16–17). This is the first city mentioned in the Bible.
The force and ultimate threat of government began after the flood, when God introduced capital punishment. He declared that he would “require a reckoning for the life of man” and that “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:5–6). Here God granted government the right to inflict capital punishment on those who murder a person made in God’s image. This is not to be done in acts of personal vengeance but by an established government given the responsibility and right to punish wrongdoers.
An attempt at a centralized human government occurred in Genesis 11:1–9. Those building the Tower of Babel in the land of Shinar wanted to make a name for themselves by remaining in one location in disobedience to God’s command to fill the earth (Gen. 9:1). God viewed their proud plans as defying his will, so he confused them by miraculously introducing differing languages. The long list of ethnic groups in Genesis 10–11 was the result of the dispersion from Babel.
At the time of Israel’s patriarchs, social interactions occurred on a smaller level through families and groups of families gathered into tribes. Later, the growing Hebrew people that descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were enslaved by the government of Egypt, the superpower of that time. After the exodus from Egypt, the Hebrew people became a kingdom themselves (Ex. 19:6), and the Mosaic covenant functioned as Israel’s constitution. Under Joshua, land was given as the place where Israel would operate its government. Genesis 17:6 revealed God’s intent for Israel to eventually have a king, and Saul became the first king of Israel. The next king, David, received the Davidic covenant, which promised an eternal kingdom over Israel and the world with an heir of David reigning forever (2 Sam. 7:12–19; Luke 1:32–33).
Israel, however, was characterized by disobedience, which led to captivity and dispersion. Israel’s kingdom, both leaders and people, failed to run a righteous government. The kingdom reached its highpoint in 1 Kings 8–10 when God’s presence filled the temple and when the Abrahamic promises of land, seed, and universal blessing seemed on their way to fulfillment. Even governments outside Israel were seeking the wisdom of Israel’s king, Solomon (1 Kings 10:1–13, 23–25). But Solomon’s idolatry (1 Kings 11) put the kingdom of Israel on a trajectory that led to the twelve tribes dividing into two kingdoms and eventually getting dispersed throughout the nations. Israel’s government ended in failure, not only for the Hebrews but also for the world it was designed to bless. This monumental failure would be devastating but not terminal.
Human governments in a fallen world are always mixed with corruption and wickedness. Babylon, in particular, was a city that represented self-glory, pride, and opposition to God’s purposes, both religiously and politically. The governments of Egypt and Assyria were godless, although God still used them as his instruments. While interpreting the statue dream of the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel revealed that five successive governments—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and a coming revived Roman Empire—would rule the world until God’s kingdom from heaven arrived dramatically and crushed these Gentile governments. Then the kingdom of God, centered in Israel, would be the preeminent global power on the earth (Daniel 2). Isaiah predicted that when God’s kingdom would be established, even traditional enemies like Egypt and Assyria would become the people of God alongside Israel (Isa. 19:24–25).
Central to a righteous government is a righteous leader. Concerning the coming Messiah, Isaiah predicted, “The government shall be upon his shoulder.… Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom” (Isa. 9:6–7). In reference to this Davidic leader “from the stump of Jesse,” Isaiah also said, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist” (Isa. 11:5), and, “With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isa. 11:4).
When Jesus arrived, he was identified as the rightful descendant of Abraham and David who would rule over Israel (Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32–33). Yet the people did not believe in him, and thus his kingdom reign over the nations awaits his second coming. At that future time he will come with his angels to judge the nations of the earth (Matt. 25:31–46) and establish his reign. The twelve apostles will then rule under him with the church over a restored nation of Israel (Matt. 19:28; Rev. 2:26–27; 5:10).
Yet shortly before Jesus’s return, Satan will be exercising rule over the nations through the Antichrist whom he will empower (2 Thess. 2:3–12; Revelation 13), and the city of Babylon will function as his capital (Revelation 17–18). When Jesus returns, however, he will “strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15).
Nations and governments will exist during Jesus’s millennial kingdom, since Revelation 20:3 says that Satan will be removed from the earth at that time so “he might not deceive the nations any longer.” This means that nations will exist in that era. Isaiah 2:2–4 reveals that the Lord will then make executive decisions on behalf of the nations and will establish international harmony. When the thousand-year reign of Jesus is nearing its end, Satan will be released from his prison and “will come out to deceive the nations” (Rev. 20:7–8). Those who join him from the nations will be destroyed by fire from heaven (Rev. 20:9–10).
Nations will also exist in the eternal state. Revelation 21:24, 26 refers to “nations” and “kings of the earth” that “bring their glory” into the New Jerusalem. The leaves of the tree of life will maintain harmony among these nations (Rev. 22:2), and these nations will reign over the new earth in the presence of God the Father and Jesus the Son (Rev. 22:1–5).
Human culture has roots in Genesis 1–2. The command for man to rule and subdue the earth and its creatures (Gen. 1:26, 28) is often referred to as “the cultural mandate” since man was to use his abilities and status as God’s image bearer to control the creation on God’s behalf. This included the land, vegetation, animals, birds, and aquatic creatures. In Genesis 2:15, God put Adam “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Man was given an earthly vocation, and this created culture.
Culture includes works, art, music, education, and all areas where man interacts with his environment. God is the Creator of culture, and man is called to carry it out on God’s behalf. The human ability to develop God-honoring culture was damaged by the fall in Genesis 3. Man came under a death sentence, and the environment and all its components were cursed. Mankind would labor hard, but the ground would work against him with thorns and thistles and would eventually consume him in death (Gen. 3:17–19).
Still, culture developed with the events of Genesis 4. Jabal, Enoch’s descendant through Lamech, became the first cattle rancher or dweller with herds. He was “the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” (Gen. 4:20). Jabal’s brother, Jubal, became the first to compose and play music. He “was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Gen. 4:21). Another son of Lamech, Tubal-cain, was the first to specialize in metals. He “was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” (Gen. 4:22).
Even with these cultural developments, the period before the global flood of Noah’s day was characterized by dominating wickedness (Gen. 6:5). After the flood, the Noahic covenant promised stability in nature as the foundation for carrying out God’s plans. This would have positive results for farming and agriculture: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22).
Noah focused on agriculture: “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard” (Gen. 9:20). Yet Noah’s sinfulness was manifest when “he drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen. 9:21). Culture was also adapted for collective yet nefarious uses, such as in Genesis 11, when people gathered in the land of Shinar (modern-day Iraq) to build a tower into heaven:
And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:3–4)
The details of “brick for stone” and “bitumen for mortar” show cultural prowess in architecture, although here men used it to make a great name for themselves and stay located in one area against God’s command to multiply (Gen. 9:1). God was so concerned about this rebellious act that he came down from heaven to thwart their plans by confusing their language and causing the people to scatter over the earth (Gen. 11:5–9). God continues to intervene in judgment to thwart man’s cultural ingenuity if it opposes his purposes (cf. Rom. 1:18–32).
During the time of Israel’s patriarchs, culture focused on pasturing flocks (Gen. 37:13–17). The people constructed temporary dwelling places in winter, and in spring they sought pastures for their flocks. Later, the Hebrew people intersected with Egypt, which had a sophisticated culture for its day. While imprisoned, Joseph interacted with Pharaoh’s “chief cupbearer” and “chief baker” (Gen. 40:1–2). When placed in leadership in Egypt, Joseph helped the Egyptians gather grain for an upcoming drought (Gen. 41:53–57). As the Hebrew people became enslaved in Egypt, they were tasked with building “store cities” for Pharaoh (Ex. 1:11).
Moses was trained in the culture of Egypt (Acts 7:22), although his loyalty was with God’s people—the Hebrews. When the Hebrews were freed from Egypt in the exodus, they plundered the wealth of the Egyptians (Ex. 12:36). The Mosaic covenant given at Sinai contained cultural instructions such as the building of the tabernacle, which would be at the center of Israel’s worship life. Two gifted artisans, Bezalel and Oholiab, would head up this work, and Exodus 31:2–6 displays their great ability:
See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you.
Yet Israel’s wicked use of culture manifested itself when the people constructed a golden calf to worship (Exodus 32). The contrast between Exodus 31 and 32 highlights culture in a fallen world. As God’s image bearers, men are capable of great cultural works, yet apart from God’s will, culture can be used for idolatry and wickedness.
Culture was prominent in the life of David. He was a gifted musician and psalmist. His example shows that musical instruments should be used to praise the Lord, including trumpets, tambourines, strings, pipes, and cymbals (Ps. 150:3–5). Solomon also invested much artistic effort and materials in building the glorious and beautiful First Temple (1 Kings 7–8). When the queen of Sheba saw Solomon’s wisdom, the temple, the food on Solomon’s table, the order of his servants, and their clothes, it took her breath away (1 Kings 10:4–5). She was overwhelmed by the beauty and order of Israel’s culture during this high point of Israel’s kingdom.
Unfortunately, both Solomon and the people of Israel become enamored with the idolatrous cultures of other nations. This would lead to divine judgment in the form of dispersion and enslavement. Babylon’s conquest of Israel brought the destruction of the temple and the plundering of its gold and precious items (2 Kings 24:13). While in captivity, Daniel and three associates became an example of being educated in the ways of Babylonian culture without compromising their devotion to the God of the Bible. They refused to partake of the king’s food or worship a golden statue (Daniel 1 and 3).
While railing against Israel’s covenant disobedience, the prophets of Israel also foretold of a future restoration of Israel with cultural glory. Isaiah 60:5–7 depicts this flourishing time:
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.
Kingdom conditions would also include agriculture, architecture, and interaction with the animal kingdom, according to Isaiah 65:17–25.
When Jesus arrived, he proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom of God in all its dimensions (Matt. 4:17), yet both the leaders and people of Israel rejected him (Matthew 11–12). Nonetheless, Jesus’s death atoned for sins and laid the basis for the reconciliation and restoration of Israel, all nations, and all things (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20; Rev. 5:9–10). When Jesus comes again in glory, there will be a “new world.” Those who left all to follow him will receive houses, family members, and lands in his kingdom (Matt. 19:28–29).
During the present era, Satan is the ruler of this evil world system (Eph. 2:2). He continues to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 8:44; 1 Pet. 5:8). The high point of his deception will come during the future tribulation period when the city of Babylon will commit religious, economic, and political rebellion (Revelation 17–18). That is Satan-inspired culture at its worst. Yet the final Babylon will come to a wretched end when the Lord Jesus returns. Satan will be removed from the earth (Rev. 20:1–3), and the nations will flourish under Christ’s leadership (Isa. 2:2–4). Jesus’s coming kingdom will include a restoration of culture (Isaiah 11; 35; 65–66). Even the eternal state will possess the best of human culture, as the nations and kings of the earth bring their “glory” into the New Jerusalem. This “glory” probably refers to the cultural contributions from the nations. All culture during this time will exist for the glory of God, and its headquarters will be the New Jerusalem, made of pure gold and precious jewels (Rev. 21:9–21).
In sum, God created culture. He made a diverse world and tasked man to rule and subdue it for his glory. There is no dichotomy between God and culture or man and culture. God expects man to successfully rule over his creation (Ps. 8:4–8), although the complete fulfillment of this expectation awaits Jesus’s kingdom in the “world to come” (Heb. 2:5–8). Culture in this fallen world is infested with sin, so there must also be a purging with fire of all negative remnants of a fallen world, including fallen human culture (2 Pet. 3:8–13). On the new earth, culture will always point to the glory of God. Heaven’s culture will do so with absolute holy perfection.
Biblical Theology of Man
The doctrine of man can be summarized as follows:
At the culmination of a literal six-day creation, God created man in two genders—male and female. Starting from the first man (Adam) and the first woman (Eve), mankind was mandated both to multiply and fill the earth and to rule and subdue the creation on God’s behalf. These are man’s primary responsibilities.
Man was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God, which means that he is like God in some ways and that he represents God on the earth. Man is both a king and a son. Yet at the same time, he is not God. Man is inherently tied to the earth and the created order, though he is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Humanity is placed into three relationships: (1) with God, (2) with other humans, and (3) with creation. As God’s image bearer, man is constituted to relate to all three effectively. Each human person is also a complex unity of body and soul/spirit. As a volitional and reasoning being, man is called to love God and to show his allegiance by obeying God.
Man, however, disobeyed God and failed the kingdom command to rule and subdue creation. He died spiritually, and the process of physical death began. His relationship with other humans suffered, as did his relationship to the earth, which began to work against him. Man was still the image of God, but this image was marred and distorted by sin. Man became totally corrupt in his being, and he could do nothing to save himself. Hope was not lost, though, as God initiated a plan to save mankind and reverse the curse through a coming seed of the woman. Humanity fell, but a coming specific man would be the Savior of the world. Adam and Eve and their descendants anticipated this coming Deliverer, though they did not know the timing of his arrival (see Gen. 4:1; 5:28–29). Man’s right to rule the world was affirmed even after the fall (Ps. 8:4–8), although in this present age he is not ruling the earth successfully. That ability awaits the “world to come” (Heb. 2:5–8).
God raised up people, saved by grace through faith, to further his plan to save mankind and creation. These included covenant heads such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. But each of these men was sinful and unable to be the Savior. Israel as a nation would be used to further God’s purposes, although the nation too showed itself to be sinful. The same was true for the kings in the line of David, who were supposed to model obedience and righteousness in Israel yet also failed.
When Jesus arrived, he was the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), the Messiah, and the ultimate seed of the woman (Gal. 3:16). In other words, he was (and is) the ultimate man—God’s man. He was the perfect image of God, who manifested God’s intent for humanity. Jesus fulfilled God’s plans for man. He was righteous and obedient. Relationally, Jesus loved God and loved people infinitely. Functionally, he showed his dominion over the earth by his miracles.
Jesus presented himself as King and his kingdom as near (Matt. 4:17). Yet the people did not receive him. With his death Jesus atoned for the sins of God’s image bearers and laid the basis for the kingdom of God and the restoration of all things (Col. 1:20; Heb. 2:5–9; Rev. 5:9–10). Jesus ascended to heaven as the exalted Messiah and sat down at God’s right hand in heaven, ruling his spiritual kingdom of salvation while awaiting his earthly rule from his Davidic throne at his second coming (Ps. 110:1–2; Matt. 25:31; Rev. 3:21).
Based on Christ’s atoning work and the establishment of the new covenant at the cross, those who are united to Jesus receive salvation and are being conformed to the image of Christ, who is the perfect image of God. Sanctification is the process by which God’s people in this age become more like Christ, increasingly manifesting what the image of God is supposed to be. Yet this world is still evil, and man’s successful rule over the earth awaits Jesus’s kingdom at his return. When Jesus returns to earth, he will bind Satan and remove his presence from the earth. Then, with those who belong to him, Christ will rule for a millennium over an earthly kingdom that fulfills the kingdom mandate of Genesis 1:26–28. Jesus will rule the nations (Psalm 2) and share his rule with his saints (Rev. 2:26–27; 3:21).
When Jesus fulfills man’s destiny on the earth and finally and fully succeeds where the first Adam failed, his kingdom will transfer to the Father’s kingdom in the eternal state (1 Cor. 15:24–28; Revelation 20–21). As a result of the work of the ultimate man, Jesus, the earth will have been successfully ruled and subdued, Satan will have been defeated, unbelievers will have been judged, and the curse will be forever removed. The saints of God will eternally enjoy a perfect relationship with God, other people, and the new creation. Man’s task will be a success because of Jesus! The last verse describing activity on the new earth proclaims, “And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). What has been impossible for thousands of years will happen—the story ends well for redeemed humanity!
 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 399–451). Crossway.