The Doctrine of Man (part 3)

March 01, 2009     Time: 00:34:05

We have been talking about the doctrine of man. We had come to the evaluation portion of the question of man in God’s image. You remember that I suggested that the Protestant Reformers are correct in seeing no distinction between image and likeness. The image of God and the likeness of God is really synonymous. This is just Hebrew parallelism. Therefore man is created in God’s image and likeness. It means the same thing. But I think that they erred in thinking that the image of God was something that is primarily relational. Here the Catholic theologians were correct in thinking that the image of God is a permanent feature or property of human being that is not lost as a result of the Fall. Therefore we are, even as sinners, in the image of God. We are in the image of God even as we are fallen, though our relationship with God can be broken.

I suggested that we think of the image of God as being our status as persons. This is what sets us apart from all the rest of creation. Human beings are persons just as God is personal, and therefore can serve as his representative here on Earth. Man can have rationality, freedom, and relationship with God. It is our status as persons that really encapsulates all of these various properties that are characteristic of man in God’s image.

I suggested that this concept of God as the infinite personal God is something that is almost unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. We can think of God as a personal being, but God is also an infinite being.

Insofar as God is infinite, there is this great chasm that separates him from the rest of all creation. There is nothing else that is like God; everything else is contingent, created, finite in its existence. So man finds himself on the side of the creatures in this order, whether it be the animate world of animals and plants or the inanimate world of matter. There man is unlike God.

But insofar as God is personal, here man stands on the same side of the chasm as God does and is thereby differentiated from the rest of the created order – whether animals, plants, or material existence.

As I say, this is almost unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The gods of Greece and Rome, the pagan deities, were certainly personal – think of Zeus, Athena, and other gods and goddesses – but they weren’t infinite. They were very fallible and limited. The gods of the religions of the East as in Taoism and Buddhism and Hinduism are infinite conceptions. God is the all, everything. Finitude is basically illusory. Yet, that type of a god is certainly not personal. But the God of the Bible is the infinite personal God. He is both infinite in his attributes but also personal. Insofar as man is created in God’s image, he is like God despite his finitude.

Of course, in relationship to God man finds that he has lost his original righteousness in which he was created in the garden in which God and man enjoyed an unencumbered relationship as man walked with God.[1] Then during the state of sin in the fall that relationship between God and man is disrupted so man finds himself spiritually separated from God and no longer in fellowship with God because of his sin. Then in the state of grace in Christ, we have forgiveness of sins and redemption in Christ and the relationship with God is once again restored. There is certainly a relational rupture that is caused by sin, but that is not a rupture in man's personal character. He is still a person. He is still in the image of God. But this person is no longer standing in proper relationship with God as a result of sin.

So I think that captures nicely what the biblical data suggests about man in God's image and our relationship with him.

The idea of man as being in the image of Christ is a quite different discussion and different idea. There the idea is that as we are in this state of grace and are filled with the Holy Spirit we are being changed or sanctified to become more Christ-like in our character. So Paul can talk about being conformed to the image of Christ as we grow more and more Christ-like in our walk with him. That would be a quite different concern – that moral image of Christ that we are brought increasingly into conformity to.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You are referring to a kind of theology that was very prevalent especially in the first half of the 20th century and would be represented by a theologian like Karl Barth, the great German (actually, I guess he was Swiss, but wrote in German) theologian. His neo-orthodoxy theology. You are quite right – it emphasized so strongly the “other-ness” of God, God is wholly other, he is utterly unlike us, and therefore God is in that sense unknown. He can only be known in Christ. I think that that was the pendulum swinging far to much in reaction to liberalism. Barth was in reaction to classical 19th century liberalism which tended to make God domesticated and accommodated him. Barth swung the pendulum in the other direction making God wholly other, unapproachable, and unknown apart form Christ. I think the doctrine of the image of God in man militates against that. It says, no, no, there isn't a disanalogy here that is complete. Yes, in this respect, we are unlike God – God is different. But he is not wholly other. God is personal as we are personal, and therefore we have properties to a finite degree that God has to an infinite degree, like intelligence, volition, consciousness, and so forth.


Let's move on to the next section which is a discussion of the nature of man. Here we want to look at the biblical data pertinent to man's nature.

First we want to say a word about some of the Old Testament scriptures with respect to man's nature. There are a couple of words in the Old Testament.[2] There are a number of Old Testament words in Hebrew that are relevant to the nature of man. For example, one of these is nephesh which is usually translated “soul.” If you think of a person's soul, the Hebrew word would be nephesh. The Hebrew word ruach is the word that is usually translated as “spirit.” The word besar designates “flesh.” These could indicate different aspects of the human being. But these terms cannot be pressed for technical precision in the Old Testament because sometimes the word nephesh or “soul” is actually used for a whole person, not just his immaterial soul. In fact sometimes there are passages in the Old Testament where nephesh actually refers to corpses or dead people. Far from referring to the immaterial soul it is used in reference to the body. I'll give you a couple of examples. Leviticus 21:11. There it is giving a command and says, “nor shall he approach any dead person nor defile himself even for his father or his mother.” The word translated “person” here is nephesh. He should not approach any dead (literally) “soul.” Obviously, it is not talking about a dead soul. It is talking about a dead body – a dead corpse. Or Numbers 6:6, “All the days of his separation to the LORD he shall not go near to a dead person.” The word there is nephesh. So these words for soul and spirit and flesh cannot be pressed, as I say, with some sort of technical precision.

When we come to the New Testament, we want to take a look at what we might call Paul's anthropological terms. Paul uses three terms to speak of human beings that are important.

The first one is soma which is the Greek word for “body.” Then psuche, which is the Greek word for “soul.” The third word is sarx, which is the Greek word for “flesh.” So body, soul, and flesh are terms that Paul uses to speak of human beings. I think one of the most important of these is the first term – soma – which is, as I say, normally translated as body.

Why is this important? Under the influence of existentialism and materialism the concept of soma has been reinterpreted by many modern theologians to mean not the physical body[3] but rather the whole person – the self or the “I” of an individual. The soma doesn’t actually represent the physical body, but the whole person in abstraction from the body. This is important because this will impact, for example, how you understand the resurrection. The New Testament clearly affirms the resurrection of the body – of the soma. But if the soma doesn’t refer to the physical material body but just means the self – myself, “I” - then that would be quite consistent with saying that there is no resurrection of the corpse in the tomb. Instead what is raised is just the person in abstraction from his body, and there really is no physical resurrection. This is why you get certain modern theologians say, “Of course I believe in the resurrection. I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” They could even say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body” and yet deny the fact of the empty tomb. They believe Jesus’ body rotted away in the tomb, and they deny that our graves will ever be empty as well while affirming with a straight face the resurrection of the body. Why? Because the word “body” has been reinterpreted to mean not the physical body but the self in abstraction from the body.

It is also important because this will impact how you view human beings. If the soma is not the physical body but just the self then that leaves open the notion that we really aren’t composed of a distinct soul and body. Christian materialists (and by materialists here I don’t mean materialists in the sense that Bryant was talking about this morning where he was addressing materialism in the sense of consumerism – buying things, a material focus) – I’m talking about materialists here in the sense of physicalism. The person who believes that the only thing that exists is matter and energy in its various configurations. He is a materialist in the sense that he is a physicalist. He doesn’t think that any non-physical realities exist. Or if there are some non-physical realities (say numbers or sets or something like that in mathematics) these are causally irrelevant. They don’t effect anything. The number 3 doesn’t have any impact upon anything. So physicalists or materialists will appeal to this to say that the human being is not composed of soul and body, and when the Scripture speaks of the body it is not really referring to the physical body that I have. I remember meeting, for example, one Christian materialist – Nancy Murphy – who teaches out at Fuller Theological Seminary. I met Nancy for the first time many years ago at a conference at the University of Notre Dame. She announced to me after being introduced that she was a materialist. I couldn’t believe my ears. I said, “You are not serious!” She said, “Yes. I am.” And I said, “What about God? God’s not a material entity, right?” And she said, “Oh, well, I make an exception in his case.” What she was saying is that although she believes God is not a material object, we are. We are just chemicals in a bag of skin on a skeleton basically. We are just material beings. As I say, she teaches at an evangelical seminary. Christian materialism is a view that is growing today and is represented today at Christian colleges and seminaries. So it is very important that we have a correct understanding of Paul’s anthropological terms like soma, psuche, and sarx.

What is the argument that is given for thinking that when Paul uses the word soma (which means “body” in Greek) that he is not really talking about the physical body? That he is really talking about the self or the person? What is the argument? The main argument that is used to justify this equation of the soma with the self is that in Paul’s letters he uses the word soma and personal pronouns like “you” and “we” interchangeably.[4] He will say of something that the soma does this or that, and then he will use a pronoun like “we” or “you” and the antecedent of that pronoun will be soma. The argument is that since “we” and “you” are personal pronouns, these are persons, the antecedent to which these pronouns refer (soma) must also mean the person - “we,” “you.” Not the body. Otherwise you couldn't use these personal pronouns with soma as their antecedent. The idea here is that the antecedent to which the personal pronouns refer is soma, and therefore soma doesn’t just mean the physical body. It means the person. Therefore soma refers to self or person.

It seems to me that this argument is a poor one, and that the fallacy is that it assumes that the use of the word soma does not restrict the referent of the personal pronoun in some way. I think it clearly does. We use it this way in English. For example, suppose I say, “She slapped his face.” I could also say, “She slapped him.” I used the personal pronoun “him” to refer back to his face. But I am not equating “him” with his face. I realize the face is just a part of him so to speak. I am using a personal pronoun in saying “She slapped him” but the antecedent of “him” is “face.” She slapped his face. The pronoun is restricted in its referent by its antecedent to some physical feature of that person – namely in this case his face. Even in English we will use personal pronouns with antecedents that don’t refer to the whole person but to a physical aspect of that person.

When you look at Paul’s usage of soma with personal pronouns like this in the New Testament, they are all cases like this. Let me give you some examples.

Turn to Romans 6:12-14, 16a.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body [soma] so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves [there you see the personal pronoun] to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you [personal pronoun again], for you are not under law but under grace. . . . Do you not know that when you present yourselves [personal pronoun] to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey . . .

I think it is very clear that this is a case like “She slapped is face. She slapped him.” The range of the pronoun is restricted by the antecedent to the physical. I think this is very evident because if you look at the verse Paul talks for example about the lusts of the body which is physical. He uses the word “the members of your body” which refers to our physical appendages. He speaks of using them as instruments of unrighteousness or righteousness, which again would talk about the use of the body for God. So the whole orientation of this passage is physical. He is talking about presenting your bodies to Christ as obedient servants, and not presenting your bodies to sin and obey its lusts.[5] Therefore he can say present yourselves to Christ. It is a case, again, where the word soma restricts the range of the personal pronoun to an emphasis on the physical and on the bodily.

Another example is 2 Corinthians 4:10-13. Here he says,

we are . . . always carrying about in the body [soma] the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we [there you have the personal pronoun] who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

There you see the personal pronouns again. Again it is very evident that Paul’s concern here is with the bodily and the physical. He talks about the persecution that they are enduring, having the treasure in earthen vessels, the outer nature wasting away. That is the context. He uses the word “flesh” - that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh (or sarx), which is here a kind of synonym with the body. Again, I think it is very evident that Paul is speaking of the physical body which is presented to God.

Or take Ephesians 5:28-29. “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies [soma]. He who loves his own wife loves himself [there you have the personal pronoun]; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” Again, I think it is evident that he is talking there about your body. He uses the word “flesh” which is a synonym to body and talks about nourishing and cherishing it (your flesh). Again, the range of the pronoun is restricted to the physical body or the physical dimension of man by the word soma.

So I don’t think this argument – that Paul uses soma as the antecedent for personal pronouns – does anything to show that the word soma doesn’t mean physical body anymore than saying “She slapped him” referring to “She slapped his face” means that the face is not a material thing but refers to the whole person.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a very good question, and I think there is a diversity of views. You are absolutely right. You watch the debate with Bishop Spong that I had, and he says, “I have always believed the resurrection. I believe the resurrection. I will believe it till I die.” He says this earnestly and with a straight face, but it is very evident, as you say, that he has bought into this existentialist understanding of soma. He doesn’t really believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus because he has reinterpreted soma.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I was not aware of that – that this is Jehovah’s Witnesses’ exegesis as well. That is extremely interesting. It shows it has importance in dealing with cultic people as well.

This really is the only argument for thinking that soma doesn’t refer to body. It is the word for body. The only argument given by those who deny that is this argument based upon the use of personal pronouns.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, we can. She asks, “What about extra-biblical literature? Can’t we see how soma is used there?” Absolutely.[6] When you look at these you will find in no case does soma refer to the whole person in abstraction from the body. I am going to quote someone next week who has done a thorough study of this – Robert Gundry. He has a book published by Cambridge University Press called Soma In Biblical Theology. Gundry has examined all of the extra-biblical uses of the word soma in Greek literature and shows painstakingly that it is never used to refer to the person in abstraction from the body but always refers to that physical part of the human person, or at least the physical side of life of the human person. That is a good point, and Gundry’s book, I think, is the key work in this area. I’ll same something more about that next time.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You are making a good point, too, about how you treat then the reliability of the Gospel narratives which clearly do say that the tomb was discovered empty. What these theologians will typically say is that the empty tomb story is a legend. It is a late developing legend that crept into Christian tradition decades and decades after Jesus was dead and gone and got written down and incorporated into the New Testament. As you may remember from our study of the resurrection material, that old line that was taken back in the 40s and 50s and was very popular is increasingly difficult to maintain these days because we have such good evidence that the empty tomb story is not a late developing tradition but is extremely early. It goes right back to within the first few years after the events. It is found in the pre-Markan passion story (that is to say, the story of the passion that Mark utilized in writing his own). We have independent traditions in Matthew and Luke that they don’t get from Mark. You also have independent traditions of it in the Gospel of John. I think it is actually implied by Paul, if not explicitly mentioned, in 1 Corinthians 15. So there is really good evidence for seeing this as a very early tradition. Therefore those who want to deny it are really quite on the defensive today. The majority of New Testament historians have come around, actually, to regarding the empty tomb as being a part of the picture of the historical Jesus, treated completely neutrally as a historian would treat any old historical document.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Let’s have a look. I thought this might come up. That is Romans 7:24. “Wretched man [he uses anthropos for man] that I am! Who will set me free from the body [soma] of this death?” I think he is talking there about his physical body.


To wrap up this section today, we’ve seen that the argument for thinking that soma is something essentially non-physical and immaterial is not a very good argument. What I want to do next time is look at how Paul does use the word soma. I think we’ll see that he consistently uses it to refer to the physical body. What we’ll do next time is look at Paul’s uses of the word soma and then we’ll take a look at how he uses the word psuche (or “soul”) and finally the word sarx (or “flesh”). That is what we’ll do next time.[7]



[1] 5:19

[2] 9:50

[3] 15:23

[4] 20:16

[5] 25:00

[6] 30:00

[7] Total Running Time: 34:05 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)