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Chapter 17
Chapter Summary
The Christian view of humanity holds that a human being is a creature of God, made in the image of
God. This contrasts with three contemporary views of humanity. Direct human creation by God provides
a more satisfactory explanation for human origin than the evolutionary account. Furthermore,
progressive creationism is the best interpretation of both the biblical and scientific data. Finally, seven
conclusions are reached about the theological meaning of creation. [ (2015). Introducing Christian
Doctrine (p. 177). Baker Publishing Group. Retrieved from]
Images of Humankind
The doctrine of humanity is a particularly opportune one for us to study and utilize in our dialogue with
the non-Christian world. It is an area in which contemporary culture is perpetually asking questions to
which the Christian message can offer answers. Because so many different disciplines deal with human
nature, there are many different images of humankind. It will be helpful to us, in developing our
Christian theological conception, to be aware of at least three of the more prevalent ones.
A Machine
One of these perspectives has to do with what the human is able to do. The employer, for example, is
interested in the human’s strength and energy, the skills or capabilities possessed. On this basis, the
employer “rents” the employee for a certain number of hours a day. That humans are sometimes
regarded as machines is particularly evident when automation results in a worker’s being displaced from
a job. A robot, being more accurate and consistent, often performs the work better; moreover, it
requires less attention, does not demand pay increases, and does not lose time because of illness.
The chief concern of those who have this conception of humans will be to satisfy those needs of the
person (the machine) that will keep it functioning effectively. The health of the worker is of interest not
because of possible personal distress but in terms of working efficiency. If the work can be done better
by a machine, or by the introduction of more advanced techniques, there will be no hesitation to adopt
such measures, for the work is the primary goal and concern. In addition, the worker is paid the
minimum necessary to get the task accomplished.[1]
In this approach, persons are basically regarded as things, as means to ends rather than as ends in
themselves. They are of value as long as they are useful. They may be moved around like chess pieces,
as some large corporations do with their management personnel, manipulating them if necessary in
order to accomplish the intended ends.
An Animal
Another view sees the human primarily as a member of the animal kingdom and derived from some of
its higher forms. Humans have come into being through the same sort of process as have all other
animals, and will have a similar end. There is no qualitative difference between humans and the other
animals. The only difference is one of degree.
This view of humanity is perhaps most fully developed in behavioristic psychology. Here human
motivation is understood primarily in terms of biological drives. Knowledge of humans is gained not
through introspection but by experimentation on animals.[2]
Human behavior can be affected by processes similar to those used on animals. Just as Pavlov’s dog
learned to salivate when a bell was rung, humans can also be conditioned to react in certain ways.
Positive reinforcement (reward) and, less desirably, negative reinforcement (punishment) are the means
of control and training.
A Pawn of the Universe
Among certain existentialists particularly, but also in a broader segment of society, we find the idea that
humans are at the mercy of forces in the world that control their destiny but have no real concern for
them. These are seen as blind forces, forces of chance in many cases. Sometimes they are personal
forces, but even then they are forces over which humans have influence, such as political superpowers.
This is basically a pessimistic view that pictures people as being crushed by a world that is either hostile
or at best indifferent to their welfare and needs. The result is a sense of helplessness, of futility.
Albert Camus captured this general idea in his reworking of the classical myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus had
died and gone to the netherworld. He had, however, been sent back to earth. When recalled to the
netherworld, he refused to return, for he thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of life. As punishment he
was brought back and sentenced to push a large rock to the top of a hill. When he got it there, however,
it rolled back down. He trudged his way to the bottom of the hill and again pushed the rock to the top
only to have it roll back down. He was doomed to repeat this process endlessly. For all his efforts there
was no permanent result.[3] Whether immersed in fearful thoughts about death, the forthcoming
natural extinction of the planet, or nuclear destruction, or merely in the struggle against those who
control political and economic power, all those who hold that a human is basically a pawn at the mercy
of the universe are gripped by a similar sense of helplessness and resignation.
The Christian View of Humanity
By contrast, the Christian view of humanity is that a human is a creature of God, made in the image of
God. This means, first, that humanity is to be understood as having originated not through a chance
process of evolution, but through a conscious, purposeful act by an intelligent, infinite person. The
reason for human existence lies in the intention of the Supreme Being. Second, the image of God is
intrinsic and indispensable to humanity. Whatever sets humans apart from the rest of creation, they
alone are capable of having a conscious personal relationship with the Creator and of responding to him.
The human also has an eternal dimension. The finite point of beginning in time was creation by an
eternal God, who gave humans an eternal future. Thus, when we ask what is the good for the human,
we must not answer only in terms of temporal welfare or physical comfort. Another (and in many senses
more important) dimension must be fulfilled. Yet the human, to be sure, as a part of the physical
creation and the animal kingdom, has the same needs as do the other members of those groups. Our
physical welfare is important. Since it is of concern to God, it should be of concern to us as well.
We cannot discover our real meaning by regarding ourselves and our own happiness as the highest of all
values, nor can we find happiness, fulfillment, or satisfaction by seeking it directly. Our value has been
conferred on us by a higher source, and we are fulfilled only when serving and loving that higher being.
Many of the questions being asked directly or implicitly by contemporary culture are answered by the
Christian view of humanity. In addition, this view gives the individual a sense of identity. The image of a
human as a machine, for example, leads to the feeling that we are insignificant cogs, unnoticed and
unimportant. The Bible, however, indicates that everyone is valuable and is known to God: every hair of
our head is numbered (Matt. 10:28–31). Moreover, the Christian view accounts for the full range of
human phenomena more completely and with less distortion than does any other view. And this view
more than any other approach to life enables us to function in ways that are deeply satisfying in the long
The Biblical Account of Human Creation
When we speak of humanity’s origin, we are referring to something more than merely its beginning, for
“beginning” refers simply to the fact of coming into being. Theology, however, does not ask merely how
humans came to be on the face of the earth, but why, or what purpose lies behind their presence here.
The biblical picture is that an all-wise, all-powerful, and good God created the human race to love and
serve him and to enjoy a relationship with him.
Genesis contains two accounts of God’s creation of humans. The first, in 1:26–27, simply records (1)
God’s decision to make humans in his own image and likeness, and (2) God’s action implementing this
decision. Nothing is said about the materials or method used. The first account places more emphasis on
the purpose or reason for the creation of humans; namely, they were to be fruitful and multiply and
have dominion over the earth (v. 28). The second account, Genesis 2:7, is quite different: “the LORD God
formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man
became a living being.” Here the emphasis seems to be on the way God created.
Direct Human Creation in Scripture
The biblical picture of the creation of the human race by God certainly appears to conflict sharply with
the evolutionary account of humans’ having come into existence through the work of natural forces. In
fact, the disputes that have taken place between the church and science over evolution have centered
mostly on the origin of the human race. Perhaps the most pertinent issue here is the extent to which we
view the creation of humans as direct. Did God directly create the entirety of Adam’s makeup, both
physical and psychological, or did he simply take an existing higher primate and modify it, conferring on
it the image of God, so that it became a living human being? This issue separates theistic evolution (in
which God created the first organism and then worked within the process of evolution, occasionally
intervening, however, to modify what was emerging [e.g., infusing the human soul into a previously
existent physical form]) from both fiat creationism (in which God created every species in a brief period
of time) and progressive creationism (in which God directly created each of the various “kinds,”
including humans; these separate creations constituted a series of steps over a long period of time).
A major factor in determining our answer to the question of whether all of human nature was a de novo
(“new”) creation or whether some of it was derived from the process of evolution is the hermeneutical
approach that we take to the opening chapters of Genesis. One approach is to maintain that the passage
does not say anything specific that would bear on scientific questions about the origin of the human.
This seems unduly extreme and unwarranted. A more reasonable approach is to ask what type of
literary material we are dealing with in the first three chapters of Genesis.
It certainly appears that in Genesis 1–3 not every object is to be understood as merely that object. For
example, the tree of which Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat is not merely a tree, but “the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil.” The serpent appears to have been not merely a speaking serpent, but the
evil one himself. Is it not therefore quite possible that the “dust” used to form Adam (Gen. 2:7) was
something more than physical particles of earth? Could it represent or symbolize the inanimate building
blocks from which organic matter and hence life came? Or could it, as theistic evolutionists sometimes
suggest, represent a prehuman life form?
One question that must be faced is whether the symbolism is consistent. The word “dust” occurs not
only in Genesis 2:7 but also in 3:19.
For dust you are
and to dust you will return.
If we understand it in 2:7 to represent an already existing creature, we are faced with two choices:
either the meaning of the term must be different in 3:19 (and in 3:14 as well), or we have the rather
ludicrous situation that upon death one first reverts to an animal. It should be noted that in those severe
degenerative cases where a person becomes virtually subhuman, the change occurs prior to actual
death. It would be better, then, to let the (clearer) reference to dust in 3:19 interpret the (less clear)
reference to dust in 2:7.
We are creatures of God, made in the image of God.
A second problem for the theistic evolutionist is the expression “and the man became a living being”
(Gen. 2:7). The words translated “living being” are also used to describe the other creatures God had
made earlier (1:20, 21, 24). This seems to indicate that Adam became a living being at the point of God’s
special activity in 2:7, which contradicts the theistic evolutionary view that he was already a living being
(though of a different sort) prior to this time. In light of such considerations, we conclude that the
biblical data favor the view that humans were directly created in their entirety by God.
Direct Human Creation and Science
What of the scientific data, however? How do they fit with progressive creationism? Do they preclude
direct creation? We note that evolutionists have long been seeking the missing link between humans
and the highest primate. Nothing has been found that can be clearly identified as such; indeed, it is
unlikely that such a linkage could ever be proved. Progressive creationism, then, would seem to be the
best interpretation of both the biblical and the scientific data.
One frequently raised question is: Where does Adam fit on the fossil record? A Christian anthropologist
used to answer this question semifacetiously, “If you will tell me just exactly what Adam looked like, I
will tell you.” This points to the fact that we are given very little detail about the physical characteristics
of Adam. It also underscores the fact that physical appearance is not the major criterion of humanity. So
to answer the question, we must first ask what defines humanity, not theologically, but
Among the suggestions as to the distinguishing mark of humanity are tool-making, burial of the dead,
and the use of complex symbolism or, more specifically, language. Tool-making of an elementary
fashion, however, has been found among chimpanzees. James Murk argues that burial of the dead
presupposes only fear of the unknown, which in turn presupposes only imagination, not moral sense.[4]
The third suggestion, the use of language, seems to have the fewest difficulties. This would correlate
Adam (and thus the beginning of humanity) with a great outburst of culture about thirty thousand to
forty thousand years ago, the time of Cro-Magnon man. There are some difficulties with this date,
however, especially in view of Neolithic elements (e.g., agriculture) found in Genesis 4. Since the
Neolithic period began about ten thousand to eight thousand years ago, we have the problem of a gap
of twenty thousand years between generations. Several possible solutions for this problem have been
proposed. However, this is an area in which there are insufficient data to make any categorical
statements; it will require much additional study.
The Theological Meaning of Human Creation
Now that we have briefly looked at the doctrine of human creation, we must determine its theological
meaning. Several points need special attention and interpretation.
1. That humans are created means that they have no independent existence. They came into being
because God willed that they should exist and acted to bring them into being and preserve them. This
should cause us to ask the reason for our existence. Why did God put us here, and what are we to do in
light of that purpose? Since we would not be alive but for God, everything we have and are derives from
him. So stewardship does not mean giving God a part of what is ours, some of our time or some of our
money. All of life has been entrusted to us for our use, but it still belongs to God and must be used to
serve and glorify him.
This also helps to establish human identity. If who we are is at least partly a function of where we have
come from, the key to our identity will be found in the fact that God created us. We are not merely the
offspring of human parents; neither are we the result of chance factors at work in the world. We are
here as a result of an intelligent being’s conscious intention and plan, and our identity is at least partially
a matter of fulfilling that divine plan.
2. Humans are part of the creation. As different as they are from God’s other created beings, they are
not so sharply distinguished from the rest of them as to have no relationship with them. We are part of
the sequence of creation, as are the other beings. The origin of humans on one of the days of creation
links us far more closely with all the other created beings than with the God who did the creating. This
means that there should be harmony between us and the rest of the creatures.
When taken seriously, our kinship with the rest of creation has a definite impact. The word “ecology”
derives from the Greek oikos, which means “house,” thus pointing to the idea that there is one great
household. What the human does to one part of it affects other parts as well, a truth that is becoming
clearer as we find pollution harming human lives and the destruction of certain natural predators
leaving pests a relatively unhampered opportunity.
By virtue of our origin, we have a kinship with the rest of God’s creation, and in particular with the
entire human race.
3. The human, however, has a unique place in the creation. Despite our created status, there is an
element that makes us distinct from the rest of the creatures. On the one hand, all creatures are said to
be made “according to their kind.” The human, on the other hand, is described as made in the image
and likeness of God. Humans are placed over the rest of the creation, to have dominion over it. This
means that humans are not fulfilled when all of their animal needs have been satisfied. The
transcendent element designated by the unique way in which the human is described and thus
distinguished from the various other creatures must be kept in mind.
4. There is a kinship among humans. The doctrine of creation and of the descent of the entire human
race from one original pair means that we are all related to one another. The negative side of our
common descent is that in the natural state, all persons are rebellious children of the heavenly Father
and thus are estranged from him and from one another. We are all like the prodigal son. But if the truth
of the unity of humanity is fully understood and acted on, it should produce a concern and empathy for
other people. We will rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15), even
if they are not fellow Christians.
5. There are definite limitations on humanity. As creatures, humans have the limitations that go with
being finite. Our finiteness means that our knowledge will always be incomplete and subject to error.
This should impart a certain sense of humility to all our judgments, as we realize that we might be
wrong, no matter how impressive our fund of facts may seem. Finiteness also pertains to our lives.
Humanity is not inherently immortal. And, as presently constituted, we must face death (Heb. 9:27).
Even in the human race’s original state, any possibility of living forever depended on God. Only God is
inherently eternal; all else dies.
Finiteness means that there are practical limitations to all of our accomplishments. While humanity has
made great progress in physical feats, the progress is not unlimited. A human may now execute a high
jump of eight feet, but it is unlikely that anyone will, within our atmosphere, ever jump a thousand feet
without the aid of artificial propulsion. Other areas of accomplishment, whether intellectual, physical, or
whatever, have similar practical limitations on them.
6. Limitation is not inherently bad. There is a tendency to bemoan the fact of human finiteness. Some,
indeed, maintain that this is the cause of human sin. If we were not limited, we would always know
what is right, and would do it. But the Bible indicates that having made the human with the limitations
that go with cre …
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