The Doctrine of Man (part 1)

February 14, 2009     Time: 00:44:49

[Opening Prayer]

By way of review, Defenders is a class in Christian doctrine. We are surveying the broad field of Christian doctrine. As you can well imagine for any such survey, this has taken us several years to get where we are.

In our survey we began with the doctrine of revelation. In this section of the class we talked about such topics as God’s general revelation in nature and conscience as well as his special revelation in Jesus Christ and miraculous acts of history and then in his written word, the Bible. We talked about theories of biblical inspiration and biblical authority.

After that we moved to the doctrine of God in which we examined at length the nature and attributes of God. As we do this doctrinal survey, we occasionally take an excursus – or a detour – to do some apologetics to wrestle with difficult questions about that area. On the existence of God we spent a long time talking about arguments for the existence of God – the project of natural theology, why it is most rational to believe that in fact a personal Creator and Designer of the universe who is the source of moral value and goodness does exist. We talked about the Trinity – God’s triune nature – and about his attributes.

That led into the area of Christology, or the doctrine of Christ. Here we talked about both the person and the work of Christ. We talked about his person as one person who has two natures – a divine nature and a human nature. Therefore he is truly human and truly divine. We gave a model for that to try to show that that in fact makes good sense and that this is not a contradiction or a logical incoherency, as well as looking at the scriptural data that supports that. Then we talked about the work of Christ which was his atoning death on the cross. We saw different theories of the atonement and how the atonement works to remove sin and give us Christ’s righteousness imputed to our account.[1] We talked about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and its historical nature. We surveyed the historical evidence for the resurrection consisting of the facts of the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the transformation of the disciples in coming to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Then, finally, we’ve been talking now about the doctrine of creation in which we turned our attention to God’s relationship to everything external to him. We saw that the Scripture teaches creation out of nothing, that God and God alone exists in a self-existent and necessary way. Everything else is contingent or dependent upon him for its being and for its coming into being. That took us, again, into an excursus into modern science and the evidence for the finitude of the past and the beginning of the universe and its creation out of nothing. We talked then about God’s conservation of the world in being – how he not only brought it into being but he preserves it in being moment by moment. And his concurrence with everything that happens in the world so that everything that happens does so by God’s causal power. We then talked about God’s providence – both his ordinary providence in which everything that occurs occurs either by the direct will or at least permission of God, and then his extraordinary providence or his miraculous acts in history where he produces events which would not have happened given the natural causes located at the time and place of the event. Then we talked about the spiritual realms of creation. Not only has God created physical creatures and things, but there are also invisible spiritual dimensions of the created world populated by angelic and demonic creatures. We talked about the nature and work of these creatures and the struggle in which they are engaged that involves us as well.

That brings us now up to today where we want to begin to talk about the Christian doctrine of man. This will be the Christian teaching on humanity – the nature of humanity, what is a human being, and the condition of man.

[Hands out the outline and recommends students take notes.]


[Student asks where to get the recordings of the classes. You can get all the Defenders recordings at][2]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I haven’t. I think there are other good books already out there. For example, if you would want me to recommend a book on Christian doctrine that surveys this material, I would recommend Bruce Milne’s book called Know the Truth which is a fine book on Christian doctrine published by InterVarsity. There are good books out there already that I think you can avail yourself of.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: We’ll talk next about the doctrine of salvation. As we will see, I am going to handle the doctrine of sin under the doctrine of man, and that will set us up for talking about the Christian doctrine of salvation.


Let’s go ahead and plunge into the topic for today.

We are going to be talking about Christian anthropology. Psalm 8 says, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” This is the question of man that is posed by the psalmist. What is man that you, God, are mindful of him? Theological anthropology seeks to answer that question in terms of man’s relationship to God. It seeks to answer the question “Who man is?” in terms of man’s relationship to God. In that respect, theological anthropology contrasts with empirical and philosophical anthropology.

There are two aspects to theological anthropology, or the Christian doctrine of man. First will be the doctrine of man as created in the image of God. Man is created in the image of God. Secondly will be man as a sinner before God. Those are going to be the two broad areas that we will deal with in treating the doctrine of man. Man is created in God’s image, and then man as fallen and sinful before God.

Let me say a word about each of these fields of anthropology before we look at man as the image of God.

By empirical anthropology, I mean a kind of collection of various sciences which investigate the different aspects of humanity through the observation of analyzable phenomena, experiments, and the logical consequences of those data. There is a whole cluster of human sciences that try to answer respectively in their fields these various observable aspects of human being based upon analyzable phenomena, experimentation, and then logical consequences of that data.

For example, we have biology which studies the physical origin of man – how the human species came on the scene. There are also questions in brain science on the relationship of the brain to states of consciousness. How does the brain relate to states of consciousness or the mind? In psychology, psychoanalysis and psychological studies of human being would be part of empirical anthropology. Then of course social studies which studies culture and the development of various societies. Man is a social being. All of these would be examples of empirical anthropology at work. So empirical anthropology spans a diversity of these various disciplines. They all seek to answer the question, “What is man?”

Philosophical anthropology tries to answer the question, “Who is man?” It tries to achieve a self-understanding of man in light of an analysis of human being – what it is to be human.[3] This will usually be bound up with certain ethical considerations – questions about right and wrong and what is moral for human beings to do. Philosophical anthropology would be concerned with ethics in many cases.

Some examples of various philosophical approaches to anthropology would include materialism, for example – that man is a purely physical organism with no immaterial or spiritual aspect to his nature. An expression of this, for example, would be the French philosopher La Mettrie who referred to man as L’homme machine – Man, the Machine. That is all man is, says La Mettrie. He is just man, the machine. He is a purely physical organism. Or the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach had a nice way of expressing this materialistic anthropology. Feuerbach said “der mensch ist, was er isst” – that is to say, “man is what he eats” – it is a pun. Man is what he eats – he is just a purely physical organism.

By contrast with materialism, idealism would be a different approach to philosophical anthropology. In idealism it is the mind which is constitutive for man. By the mind I don’t mean the brain – that is a physical organism that sits in your skull. The mind would be that self, that self-conscious “I”. An example of this would be someone like the German philosophy Hegel who thought that spirit was at the essence of man’s nature and is constitutive for humanity.

Another philosophical anthropology would be existentialism. According to existentialists individual authentic existence comes about by free choice. It is by making free choices that a human being realizes his own uniqueness and creates meaning and destiny for his life. So authentic individual existence is produced by free choice of the individual. Examples of an existentialist approach would be the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. According to Sartre, man is condemned to freedom. He is thrown into existence as a free being. There is no predetermining set of values. No God-given destiny. No purpose-driven life, so to speak, except that purpose that you, yourself, as an individual create. We are condemned to freedom. We determine our own meaning and value by our free choices that we make as individuals.

Another philosophical anthropology would be Marxism. For Marxism, it is society which is constitutive for man. Man is a social being who is economically determined. So everything is driven by economic factors that govern the evolution of human society. Part and parcel of Marxism would be commitment to human perfectibility. Human beings are not fatally flawed. By manipulating the economic system you can perfect human nature so as to create a perfect society – the paradise of the proletariat where the working class takes over society and everyone lives in perfect harmony.

All of those would be different examples of philosophical approaches to the subject of anthropology.[4]

Theological anthropology also seeks to answer the question “Who is man?” – the same question that the philosophers approach. But it differs in that the answer to that question “Who is man?” will be given in terms of man’s relationship to God. It is his relationship to God that determines the correct answer to the question, “Who is man?”

Theological anthropology will usually stress that it belongs to the nature of man to be the image of God on Earth. Man is the image of God, and yet he also is a sinner before God. He is fallen.

There is a third aspect of theological anthropology which we might say would be “man redeemed by grace through Christ.” Man as he is created, man as he is fallen and sinful, and thirdly man as he is redeemed and restored in Christ. But that is usually handled in the doctrine of salvation, so we will not deal with that third aspect until we get to the doctrine of salvation. Here we want to think simply in terms of man as created in God’s image and man as fallen and sinful.

On the Christian view of man, man is by nature in the image of God. And yet he now stands in rebellion to God. There is a sort of paradox in the Christian doctrine of man, namely, that the so-called natural man (as Paul refers to people apart from Christ, apart from the Spirit, in Corinthians) really is not the natural man. The natural man is not the natural man. The natural man (man in his nature) is in the image of God – created in the likeness and image of God to relate to him. The so-called natural man is really quite unnatural. He is fallen. He is sinful. He is separated from God. So there is a sort of paradox in the Christian doctrine of who man is.

What is the interrelationship between these three various approaches to anthropology? It is very, very widespread, almost conventional wisdom, to say that there is really no relationship between theological anthropology and empirical anthropology – these are just like apples and oranges, they don’t mix. There is no overlap. Since there aren’t any empirical data for theological perspectives on human beings, there can’t be any sort of conflict between empirical anthropology and theological anthropology. They are complimentary domains that don’t overlap or intersect. But I think that this widespread viewpoint really represents a collapse of theological anthropology. It represents a kind of theological capitulation or cowardice which is afraid to speak to issues of empirical anthropology from a theological perspective. It represents a kind of retreat of theology into safe havens of unverifiable and unfalsifiable assertions. That will indeed prevent theology from being falsified by the discoveries of empirical anthropology, but it does so only at the expense of making theology irrelevant to the natural world in which we live.

In fact, I think that theological anthropology does have important empirical consequences, and that therefore there is an overlap domain of commonality between empirical and theological anthropology. For example, theological perspectives on the origin of human beings will have something to say with respect to the biological theory of evolution and how human beings came on the scene. Also with respect to materialism – if we believe that man is constitutive of a body and soul and that the soul is an immaterial substance that is not determined by the body, we are going to take a very different perspective on human beings than do materialists who think that we just are brains and a nervous system in a body (we are just a sort of bag of chemicals on bones). You are going to have a very different view of what a person is on such a perspective. This will impact debates, say, over freedom and determinism.[5] Typical materialists or physicalists are determinists who don’t believe that there is any free will. Of course if there is no free will that is going to affect your view of human accountability and moral values. Whereas if you do believe there is an immaterial self who is free, that is going to make a difference with respect to whether you believe in determinism or not. So there are, I think, areas of overlap between theological and empirical anthropology that we need to face.

Obviously, theological anthropology can come into conflict with philosophical anthropology. Philosophical approaches to the doctrine of man that don’t take account of his relationship to God will be regarded as at least inadequate if not false by Christians. Anyone who seeks to answer the question “What is man?” from the human side alone (leaving God out of account) will have an answer that is at best incomplete and probably just downright false. So theology and seeing things from God’s standpoint is going to come into conflict, at least potentially, with theories of philosophical anthropology.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was, “Who coined the term, ‘The Ghost in the Machine’?” That is another one of these wonderful phrases that is worth knowing. That was Gilbert Ryle who was a materialist. He didn’t believe that man had a soul or an immaterial self. He was a British philosopher. Ryle ridiculed the notion that we are souls in bodies, or connected with a body, by referring to that as the doctrine of the “ghost in the machine” - that there is a sort of a machine that we are (L’homme machine). Our physical organism, our physical body, is like a machine, and there is some sort of a ghost that inhabits this machine in some way. That is how Ryle characterized the doctrine of the soul and the body.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes. Right. This was not meant to be an analogy. This was meant to be ridicule.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is right. Metaphysics is a field of philosophy that tries to answer the questions of what is ultimately real – what is ultimate reality. “Meta” means “after” or “beyond.” And “physics” would be the doctrine of the natural world. So someone that is doing metaphysics is someone who is going beyond merely the physical sciences and asking what is the nature of ultimate reality. Obviously this will deal with the existence of God if you believe that there is a non-physical being who transcends the universe and brought it into being. Don’t be misled by going into Barnes and Noble and seeing a section in the bookstore labeled “Metaphysics” and what you find there is all this New Agent gobbledygook from Sedona. That is not what metaphysics is as a field of philosophy. Metaphysics is simply the field of philosophy that deals with the nature of ultimate reality. Questions in the area of metaphysics will include things like materialism versus dualism and the nature of man, the nature of time and space, the nature of being. That was Aristotle’s definition of metaphysics – it is the study of being as being. What is the nature of being. That is the ultimate.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: She asked about her course in physical anthropology. That is interesting that they would even call it that in her college curriculum. The study of early man. That would overlap insofar as the Bible speaks about Adam and Eve, for example, and “Are these real human persons that actually lived at some point on the surface of the Earth and had children and sired the human race?” That would obviously be an area of overlap with physical anthropology.

Student: [inaudible][6]

Dr. Craig: I certainly do think that there are truths here that are apprehended by these folks. I especially, frankly, appreciate the writings of existentialists like Sartre and Camus and others who I think clearly see the nature of the human predicament in an atheistic world. If there is no God then ultimately everything is meaningless and purposeless and absurd. It is so interesting to see them flounder in trying to find a solution to the human predicament. So I think you are right in saying there are truths here that are apprehended.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I am not sure what you mean by that. The spiritualist first in the sense that God is the source of all reality including the physical.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I am going to argue that man is both spiritual and physical right from the beginning.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is what I understand as well. I never read his statement myself, but I’ve also heard this – that Sartre, near the time of his death as an old man, did renounce his atheism and conclusions to which it led. But I’ve never read that firsthand.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Simone de Beauvoir is the person you are speaking about. Yeah, it was said he [Sartre] had gone crazy. Some people are saying the same thing about Antony Flew – that Antony Flew, now believing in the existence of God (I think it is fair to say) on the basis of intelligent design, they say he is getting old and is not thinking so sharp. But Flew ridicules them. He says he always followed the evidence where it leads, and he thinks the evidence of intelligent design is overwhelming and leads him to believe there is an intelligent Creator and Designer of the world.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Featherless-biped. We are obviously bi-pedal, so that is OK. We are not birds because we don’t have feathers. That wouldn’t distinguish us . . . it depends on what you think about animals, whether animals have souls. Because there are bipeds (or were) that are not human beings that are featherless and would have an animal soul like Tyrannosaurus Rex for example. Right? We are better than that. You have to be careful with these definitions.


Let’s go ahead and take a look and begin by speaking of man in the image of God. If you have your Bible, I encourage you to get it out and look up some verses with me.

We want to look first at the biblical data concerning man created in God’s image. The first reference to this comes in the book of Genesis 1:26:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

There you see it said that man is made in the image and likeness of God.

Turning over to Genesis 5:1 we have a similar statement: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.”

Finally, over in Genesis 9:6 we have capital punishment prescribed. I will read verse 5 to give the context.

Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.”

There, again, it is affirmed that man is made in God’s image three times in the book of Genesis.[7]

You will notice there are actually two words that are used here: “image” and “likeness.” It says sometimes he creates man in his image; other times it says in his likeness. I think there is really no theological difference between these two. It is just a kind of Hebrew literary style to have this kind of parallelism or repetition. They are basically synonyms – he is made in the image and likeness of God. Notice that there is no indication that this is lost through sin. In Genesis 9:6, this is a passage after the flood of Noah, after the fall of man. And it prescribes that if someone kills someone then he shall also be killed in turn. Why? Because man is made in the image of God. So there is no suggestion that the image of God in which we are created is something that is lost through the fall or lost through sin.

In fact, in the New Testament we have references to human beings created in God’s image. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 11:7. “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” Here it refers to human beings, or to men, as being created in the image of God. This is obviously in a post-fall situation. So the image of God is not lost through sin.

Finally, James 3:9. Talking about the control of the tongue James says, “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.” The image and likeness of God in which we are created is something that is enduring. It is not something that is lost through the fall. We remain even as sinful persons in the image and likeness of God.

That is the first aspect of the way the concept of the image of God is used in the Bible. There is also a second way in which it is used, and that is Christ as God’s image. The verse here is Colossians 1:15. It says, “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” This is a sense that is different in which we are created in the image of God. Here Christ is, as it were, the visible face of God who is invisible. He is the image, the visible manifestation, of the invisible God. That is a different sense of speaking of God’s image than the sense in which we are created in God’s image.

Finally, there are passages in the New Testament that speak of man in Christ as being in his image. Romans 8:29, for example, says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Here he talks about this process of sanctification by which we are brought into conformity to the image of Christ and made to be like Christ.

Also 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”[8] Here, again, we have this concept of this progressive transformation of our character into Christ’s likeness, into his image. This is obviously, again, a different sense of the concept of the image of God than is used in Genesis or in the references to man being created in God’s image. This is man as he is in Christ, as he has been sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ.

That is the biblical data with respect to the image and likeness of God.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I personally don’t think that there is a significant difference between man’s being God’s image and being made in his image. In fact, if you look at ancient (I believe it is) Egyptian usages of the idea of “image” it will often talk about an emissary that Pharaoh will send as being Pharaoh's image, so when you deal with this emissary you are dealing with Pharaoh himself. This is his image who is sent. In that sense, man on Earth is kind of the image of God in that he is now the lord of the planet under whose dominion are the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air and the beasts of the land. He is sent here to exercise the Lord’s dominion as his image. I do think that there is a sense in which we can say man is the image of God. But that is a very different sense than saying “Christ is God’s image” as Paul says in Colossians. I think he is thinking of Christ as (in the words of the theologian John A. T. Robinson) “Christ is the human face of God.” Which is a very nice expression. God is invisible, but Christ is the human face of God and is in the image in that sense. That is different than man as God’s image.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a good question. I think what it shows is that human beings were created on this Earth not with the intention and natural state of being under the dominion of Satan. This represents a fallen condition. How that exactly happened, as we said, the Scripture just doesn’t say very much about this. But in some way or another Satan was given free reign to be the god of this world, and human beings (having fallen) now find themselves, in a sense, under his authority and dominion and fighting against him. But that isn’t the natural way it is supposed to be. The natural way it should be is that man is the ruler over these things and exercises his dominion over them, and should live in a sinless and perfectly good environment. That would be the natural way things ought to be, but things are fallen and perverted and now in some way (as we said in the last section) Satan is the god of this world and exercises authority. We are under this [inaudible] sort to speak – under his dominion. Of course in Christ we are free from that and have the victory over him, but we are (as I said before) living behind enemy lines.


Next time we will proceed to look at attempts to systematize this data and different ways to understand what it means to say that man is created in God’s image.[9]



[1] 5:11

[2] 10:12

[3] 15:09

[4] 20:00

[5] 25:05

[6] 30:03

[7] 35:13

[8] 40:00

[9] Total Running Time: 44:49 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)