Since the publishing of Charles Darwin's book "The Descent of Man", the secular world has tended to view mankind as just an evolved animal. This materialist reductionist view means there is nothing to man but the cells that make up our bodies. But this view has a number of problems for which a proper theological understanding of mankind can answer.
In this lesson we are going to look at two areas of humanity that will aid us in establishing our view of what humanity is. In short we are trying to answer the question, "What is man like?" The first is the creation of humanity in the image of God. The second is the makeup of man from that image as we relate to God.
Man—In One Image
As created beings we share commonality with the rest of creation—plants, animals, etc. However, we are distinct from the rest of creation as well. One could say that humanity is the pinnacle of God's creative force. At the end of the last day of creation God made man and woman. This timing sets us off a little bit from the rest of creation, but the element that really distinguishes humanity from plants and animals is the image of God. Look at Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And 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." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
In theological jargon this doctrine is called the imago dei (image of God in Latin). Since it is an important factor in the makeup of humanity and also the distinguishing feature of humanity we should strive to know in what way are we in God's image.
When most people read "in our image, after our likeness" they think the phrase is redundant, but there are two different ideas in that passage. The Hebrew word for image means shade or shadow. The great kings of the earth would mark their lands with statues or symbols of their own image, so the shadow or silhouette would mark the extent of their authority. Recently on our trip to Eureka Springs on the grounds of The Great Passion Play, we went to see this giant Christ of the Ozarks statue we called "big Jesus" one afternoon, and parked our motorcycles in the shade of big Jesus, and looked at the vast shadow of his image. To me this is the reminder that all of mankind is always in the shadow of God's domain and authority. The second phrase "after our likeness", means similitude. Just how man is similar to God? There are some Bible verses that can aid our understanding.
Genesis 5:1—This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.
Genesis 9:6—Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
1 Corinthians 11:7—For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
James 3:9—With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
2 Corinthians 3:18—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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
In all of these passages we see two things. First, humanity is unique. How we are made and how we act both are in direct correlation to the likeness of God. So the rest of creation is in some sense unlike God. This means that we need to see the importance of humanity over against other creations. We should be good stewards of the world God created and called good. As we are under God's dominion he gave man dominion over the rest of creation. We should be especially good to other humans since they all possess this quality of God's image. It is always a disturbing site to see people that treat animals better than some humans. God has not intended for us to be on the same level with animals since He has given us His image. We are unique from the rest of creation. A recent study on gene expression was trying to understand the differences between man and chimpanzees since our protein coding DNA is similar, but our bodies are so different. The abstract spoke of "the evolutionary chasm that exists between humans and chimpanzees", and that is only considering our physiology, which is actually the least of our differences.
Second we need to note that the likeness in which we are made is related to the person of God. God is a spirit and does not have a body, but God is also a person. This means that He has relational qualities. In the Trinity there is an interrelation between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In that relationship a likeness was created and given to humanity so we too can relate to one another and relate to God. This means that it was God's intention for us to be in a relationship with our Creator. He wants to know us and relate to us because He gave us His quality of personality so we can know and relate to Him. It is true that in the animal Kingdom we find examples of relationality and even communication, but none compare to the abilities of humanity. We have the capacity to know and be known by God.
Unfortunately humanity fell (see Genesis 3) and sin was introduced into the created world. This affected the relationship between humanity and God, but it did not eradicate the imago dei. Humanity still has the capacity to know God and relate to Him, even if only a little. Moreover, because God is love, He sent His son to come and restore the broken relationship that sin caused between humanity and God. Those who are in Christ Jesus now have the ability to know God and be known by Him again. Our imago dei is restored to set us on the path of continually growing into the likeness of God.
In application, the image of God in our lives means a few important things. First, it means that we belong to God. Everything does belong to God because He created it, but we are His special creatures that He has given His image to and we must be reminded whose we are (especially if we are Christians!). Second, it means that we should pattern our lives after Jesus. In Romans 5 we are shown that sin came through Adam, but righteousness came through Christ. Jesus has re-established humanity by becoming human. He is the example of what true humanity should be in God's image. So we should live our lives in the example of Christ. Third, since we are created in God's image, we should recognize that we are most human when we are living in a proper relation to God. When we rightly subject ourselves to God and seek a relationship with Him we are living the humanity God intended. Fourth, we should work. Humanity was not created to simply exist, Humanity existed to subdue and rule the world, which was God's will. As proper humans in God's image we should strive to work and do God's will daily. Finally, we need to see that being made in God's image means that we are valuable. This value is because God thought us were worthy of bearing His image. We must not forget this point. Satan constantly wants us to believe that we are alone, or that because of sin we are worthless. Not so, we are made in God's image, sin can tarnish but not erase that image.
Man—As One Person
The second aspect of our humanity that we need to consider is how we are constructed. In the Bible there are many ways that the persons are spoken of consisting.
The first major view is the dichotomist view. This view believes there are two parts to humanity—body and spirit/soul (thus the di, which means two). This is the most widely held view throughout the history of the church. Throughout the Bible it is clear that there are at least two parts to humanity. We can call these two parts the material and the immaterial. The material part is the body, that which we can see and feel. The immaterial is the part that we cannot feel or see, but know it exists. Clearly we have a body. We see God create it in Genesis 2:7 with His very breath forming man from the dust of the ground. The body is an important part of who we are, so we must strive to take care of our body while we have it on this earth. (practically speaking, we should go to the doctor, work-out, eat healthy, abstain from bodily immorality, etc.)
The question that divides the positions concerns the immaterial aspect of our person. In the Bible the terms that are used are soul and spirit. When we die we will give up our body and a part of us will go away until we are untied once again with our glorified bodies. This part for the dichotomists is the soul/spirit part. In the Bible the words for soul and spirit seem to be used interchangeable. Often soul could also be translated as life, and it is the spirit that gives life, and departs at death so they are closely related:
And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), (Genesis 35:18)
And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, "O Lord my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him." (1 Kings 17:21)
Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. (Psalm 31:5)
And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, 'into Your hands I commit My spirit.'"
The dichotomist (two-part) view then would see the terms in the Bible for soul and spirit as being interchangeable and applying only to the immaterial part of a person.
The other major view is the trichotomist view. This sees three parts to the human person—body, soul, and spirit. Those who hold this view do not hold that soul and spirit are used interchangeably, but are distinct parts of the human person. They will appeal to verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:23— Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we clearly see that Paul is addressing three different parts of a person. If they are interchangeable, why would he list three?
Of these three the body is the only part a naturalist would recognize. 1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
So last week we looked at God in three persons Father, Son, and Spirit, all as God in relationship with each other. So a part of the threeness of man must be our ability to relate to God, to know God, and be known by Him. It is clearly the spirit of man that is designed to relate to God. Remember the Greek word "spiritus" meaning breath is the way God animated man to life in the beginning. Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
When we studied creation last year the one creation day lesson I worked hardest on, but was the least satisfied with, was the 6th day including the creation of man. I think the reason for this was my focus on the body and evidence that would refute evolution. In retrospect though, it is not the body of man that provides the clearest differences for humanity. It is the soul including the mind, not the brain (the human computer) but rather the software that runs on that computer. We spoke last week about abstract reasoning (to understand an immaterial God) being unique to humanity, but there is much more. Humans are ultra-social even compared to other primates, with one study finding human 2 year olds many times more highly refined in their interactions and ability to learn from each other than adult chimpanzees. Even in creation God did not consider man to be complete until he was in a relationship with God and with woman.
Humans are unique in their God-awareness. The Hebrew word Yir-ah rendered as the "fear of God" means reverence or awe. It is not dread or terror "pachad" but a god-sense that includes our need to worship. Studies confirm Humans are also unique in altruism, even to the point of self-sacrifice. Only humans make use of symbolic language to enable us to accumulate knowledge and pass it to the generations; a capability specific to the special revelation making recorded scripture possible. Furthermore the consciousness of humans our self-awareness and introspection is useless in evolutionary terms, but makes us moral beings as God intended. The cheetah chasing a herd of antelope aren't saying "no don't take the baby antelope that would be wrong", animals are not capable of moral judgments.
As God exists Father, Son, and Spirit so man exists body, soul, and spirit. We are made with distinct capabilities, endowed to equip us to relate to God, other people and the rest of creation in a way that is uniquely human. We carry the image of the immortal God, and live for His purpose; this is the doctrine of man.