Doctrine of Man (Part 1)

September 16, 2013     Time: 00:40:30


Today we start a new locus in our survey of Christian doctrine. For the past many months – it seems like over a year – we have been studying the Doctrine of Creation. When you think that the Doctrine of Creation includes within its scope everything in existence apart from God himself, it is no surprise that it would be a subject that would merit such lengthy and in depth discussion. But having completed that locus now, we turn to a brand new section of the course and this is going to be on the Doctrine of Man.

Psalm 8 raises the question, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” There are different approaches to answering this fundamental question about the nature of man. Theological anthropology attempts to answer this question in contrast to what we might call empirical anthropology and philosophical anthropology by exploring the question with regard to man’s relationship to God. Theological anthropology in contrast to empirical and philosophical anthropology sees the answer to the Psalmist’s question to be found fundamentally in our relationship with God. The Doctrine of Man, or theological anthropology, typically includes within it two subsections. First would be man as created in the image of God – what is man by nature? Then, secondly, would be man as sinner – man in his fallen state of alienation from God. Man justified in Christ and restored to his relationship with God will typically come in the Doctrine of Salvation, or soteriology, which we will look at later. So there are two subsections in the Doctrine of Man – man in the image of God and then man as sinner.

Empirical Anthropology

Let’s draw the contrast with these other approaches to anthropology. Empirical anthropology can be defined as a collective name for a whole series of sciences which respectively investigate different aspects of man through the observation of analyzable phenomena, through experimentation, and through the consequences of that data. So, for example, empirical anthropology would include studies on the biological origins of man – where did the human species come from? It would study the relationship of the brain and states of consciousness – the famous mind-body problem. Psychoanalysis and psychology would be included in empirical anthropology as would be social studies. All of these would provide partial answers, at least, to the question “What is man?”

Philosophical Anthropology

Philosophical anthropology, by contrast, tries to answer the question “Who is man?” If the empirical anthropologist tried to answer the question “What is man?” the philosophical anthropologist explores the question “Who is man?” That is to say, philosophical anthropology seeks a self understanding of man in light of the analysis of what it is to be a human being. This will usually be bound up with ethical considerations – what our moral obligations and prohibitions are – and the intrinsic worth of human beings and human rights.

There are various approaches to philosophical anthropology as you might imagine. For example, one of these would be materialism or physicalism or naturalism. This has a very long pedigree. Particularly influential in modern materialism would be conceptions of man like that of La Mettrie[1], the French thinker who talked of man as L’homme machine – “man the machine.”[2] This is very similar to what Richard Dawkins says about human beings today – that we are machines for propagating DNA. The L’homme machine is the notion of man as just a mechanistic device – a “moist robot” as I think one contemporary naturalist puts it.[3] The German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach[4] had a nice way of expressing this materialistic view of man that is very catchy. He said “der mensch ist, was er isst” – that is to say, “man is what he eats” – a pun in German at least. Man is what he eats – he is just a purely material organism. Another school of philosophical anthropology in contrast to this would be idealism which would be represented in German philosophy again by Hegel[5] who thought that it is mind, or spirit, which is constitutive for man. What it means to be human is to be mind as opposed to material. Yet a third philosophical approach to anthropology would be existentialism. Existentialism emphasizes individual authentic existence by free choice through which a person realizes his uniqueness. So the emphasis in existentialism is on individual authenticity which is achieved through radical freedom thereby realizing one’s uniqueness. Another example would be the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who was an atheistic existentialist.[6] Sartre says that man is condemned to freedom. There is no essence of man which precedes his existence and defines who he is. Rather, man is condemned to freely define his own existence because he does not have an essence established by God in advance. He determines his own meaning and value. So existentialism seems to lead to a sort of radical relativism about the meaning and value of human life. Finally, one might mention Marxism or Marxism-Leninism – another philosophical anthropology. According to Marxism, society is constitutive for what it is to be a human being. This is a kind of economic determinism. Far from having freedom of the will, man’s choices are determined by the economic status of society into which he is born. This view of man has a view of human beings involving the perfectibility of human existence. If the state can be made to respect and work for the interests of the masses then the masses can achieve a kind of perfect society – a perfect humanity – so that there is no inborn sinful fallenness of man that would prevent having a perfect society in which human beings live. Those are all examples simply of various philosophical approaches to the subject of anthropology and the question, “Who is man?”

Theological Anthropology

In contrast to both empirical and philosophical anthropology, theological anthropology approaches these questions with respect to man’s relationship to God. Like philosophical anthropology, it also seeks to answer the question, “Who is man?” What is the meaning and nature of human existence?[7] But it finds the answer in relationship to God, usually as involving man being created in God’s image and then as a fallen being – a sinner – before God. As I say, man as justified in Christ would typically belong to soteriology, or the Doctrine of Salvation. But man is created by nature to be in the image of God though he now stands in rebellion to God. So there is a kind of paradox in Christian anthropology; namely, the so-called natural man is not really the natural man! Man as he was created to be, by nature, is in the image of God; he is innocent and not fallen – that is the way Adam is presented in Genesis prior to the fall. But what Paul calls the natural man today is fallen humanity. So Paul’s natural man is not really the natural man. Sin doesn’t belong to man by nature; it is a corruption of human nature. Human nature in its uncorrupted form is the image of God.


What is the inter-relationship between these different approaches to the Doctrine of Man? Well, some persons think that theological anthropology is excluded all together. Obviously, if you are a materialist or a naturalist then there simply is no room for answering these questions with respect to our relationship to God. For many people on the modern scene who are influenced by secular philosophical approaches, theological anthropology is simply out of the question.

Among those who do take a theological approach, it will be very frequently said that there is no relationship between theological anthropology and empirical anthropology. They try to separate empirical studies of man from theological approaches to the question so that there can be no conflict between the two. If these are utterly non-intersecting domains of study then there can be no conflict arising for theological anthropology from empirical anthropological studies. This, however, seems to me to be a cave-in or a failure of nerve on the part of theologians. It involves a retreat of theology into an unverifiable and hence irrelevant sanctuary. It achieves security and safety from the studies of empirical anthropology only at the expense of becoming irrelevant to the real world in which we live. It seems to me that theological anthropology has empirical consequences. For example, about the nature of human evolution and the origins of humanity or about materialism and the mind-body relationship – are we simply chemical machines or is there an immaterial part of our nature? Freedom versus determinism – is everything we do and think determined by the input of the five senses and our genetic makeup or do we have genuine freedom of the will? In all of these ways, theological anthropology and empirical anthropology have the potential of either verification or falsification of theological positions.

It is clear, I think, that theological anthropology can come into conflict with philosophical anthropology. The philosopher seeks to answer the same question – “Who is man?” – but totally from the human side without taking any account of what God has to say about the matter or what difference God would make to the question “Who is man?” whereas the theologian seeks God’s viewpoint on human nature and on who we are. So obviously conflict can arise between theological and philosophical approaches to anthropology.[8]

So it seems to me that, again, what we want to find is an integrative approach – a synoptic approach – which will take into account all of the insights of empirical, philosophical, and theological anthropology. The Christian worldview is properly a synoptic worldview that integrates all of the sources of knowledge that we have in order to answer life’s deepest questions.


Question: The way you defined things, it seems like, properly done, philosophical should be just what you are saying the theological should do. It is also interesting the way you defined existentialism. I never knew it was defining what yourself is – that is very close to Paul (inaudible) when you get close to God you see yourself more as he intended you to see in his image. So defining and finding – I can see how especially somebody who would embrace the evidence and try to do the things you say would just turn into a theological Christian.

Answer: I was speaking there of atheistic existentialism. There are Christian existentialists, clearly, who would not ignore the relevance of God to the question of “What is man?” So the conflict that I imagined here would be between people who pursue this philosophical question from a purely secular point of view. For someone like Sartre, since there is no God to define the nature of man, we literally have no nature objectively. Each person can just create his own meaning and value in life which results in all sorts of great difficulties that Sartre himself struggled with. I would agree with you that, for the Christian philosopher, he will also take into account all sources of knowledge including revelation from God and therefore seek to have an integrative sort of approach as I have suggested. So when I talked about philosophical anthropology I was thinking of purely secular approaches.

Question: You mentioned Sartre struggling with his existentialism and denying and having problems with certain things in the world like, for example, he was radically against the Vietnam War. Did people ever attack him or bring that into light to say how hypocritical that was?

Answer: Sartre wrote an essay in the aftermath of the Second World War called “Existentialism is a Humanism.” In this, he seemed to take back the obvious implications of his view that our existence is prior to our essence and that therefore we are free to create whatever values we want. He said that a philosophy that leads to mass extermination and genocide is not an equal option with its opposite. Therefore, he recoiled, I think, from the implications of his own view for which, yes, he has been, I think quite rightly, criticized. I think that what he saw was that he could not really live with the implications of his own system in view of the Holocaust and therefore, I think, inconsistently pulled back in affirming that existentialism is a kind of humanism that affirms the value of human beings. I don’t see any reason to think that would be the case on atheism. It has been very interesting to note more recent philosophers like Alex Rosenberg that I debated in February at Perdue[9] or Joel Marks[10] are biting the bullet with respect to this question and are saying what Sartre felt he couldn’t say – namely that our lives are utterly meaningless, utterly valueless, and to think otherwise is to lack the courage that the atheist needs to have if he is to stare the consequences of atheism in the face without blinking.[11]

Question: Could you say more words about why we want to have a synoptic . . . why are we considering . . . these seem to be mutually exclusive. I can understand considering all of the facts but their conclusions, why do we want to have in our philosophy something that . . .

Answer: What I mean by synoptic is that it would be a worldview that takes advantage of all of the sources of human knowledge. The naturalist will often say that the physical sciences are our only source of knowledge and that, therefore, the physical sciences will lead your worldview by the nose and you have to follow out to its logical conclusions whatever physics says. But I think the philosopher rightly protests that this is a sort of blinkered view of the sources of human knowledge. There are sources of human knowledge that are non-scientific in nature. Mathematics and logic, for example, would be sources of knowledge that are not based upon empirical science. Even an example that someone gave in a review[12] I read of Rosenberg’s book – literary criticism. He pointed out that literary criticism tells us that in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins is not the hero of the story. Now that is not something you can discover through physics or biology or chemistry but clearly that is a piece of knowledge. The person who understands Pride and Prejudice sees that that is a true statement. So the philosopher I think will rightly insist that the sources of human knowledge are much broader than science alone and ought to be taken into account. And the theologian will then say, but there is also divine revelation which is a source of human knowledge and that needs to be considered as well. But I don’t think the theologian should say, “Well, I am going to discount these other sources of knowledge.” That would be as blinkered as the scientistic person who says there are no other sources of knowledge other than science. So I think the theologian should rightly say that, as Christians, we want to have an integrated, or synoptic, worldview that will draw upon the resources of all of the sources of human knowledge including divine revelation and try to construct a view that is then true to what we know about the world. That is what I meant and I do think that that is a legitimate project.

Question: To follow up your discussion about Sartre, Bertrand Russell says in Why I Am Not a Christian that the universe will grind to a halt and we are an accidental collection of particles and there is no meaning and no purpose. He says something interesting – he says, “Therefore you should build a habitation of your soul on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

Answer: Yes, this is in Russell’s A Free Man’s Worship – a kind of confession that he wrote of what the naturalist or atheist should believe. As someone earlier points out, Russell was one of these, like Sartre and Nietzsche, who stared atheism in the face and did not blink and drew the consequences. So he says that the whole temple of human achievement is going to be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. Someday in the far future everything will be dissolved, science says that the universe will suffer some sort of thermodynamic heat death and human civilization – everything! – will come to an end. And Russell says only within the scaffolding of these truths, only upon the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be henceforth safely built.[13] A very profound statement of the human predicament. This is another point (in answer to someone earlier) – I find in the writings of people like Sartre and Russell perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the human predicament to which then I think we, as Christians, can speak. Let’s hear from these atheists what their own worldview implies and realize the poignancy and the anguish of such a worldview. That will, I think, then enable us to better speak to that human predicament.[14]

Man as the Image of God

Biblical Data

Man as the Image of God

Let’s begin with our first subsection – man as created in the image of God. The classical term for this in Latin is the imago dei. Man is created in the image of God – the imago dei. Let’s look first at the biblical data pertinent to man as the image of God.

Let’s turn to the classical biblical passage on this subject, which is Genesis 1:26:

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 air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Notice here that two words are used to express the resemblance of man to his Creator. The first is the word “image” or, in Hebrew, “tselem” which has the idea of a resemblance or an image. The second word translated “likeness” is “demut.” Man is said to be created in God’s image after, or according to, his likeness. There is probably, in the Hebrew text, no difference between the two. It is not as though these represent two aspects of man’s nature – image and likeness. It is simply a kind of parallelism to describe the resemblance or relation of man to God. This is also referred to in Genesis 5:1 where it says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness [demut] of God.” Finally, Genesis 9:6 is the command concerning capital punishment, “Whosever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image [tselem].” These are the passages in Genesis that describe man as made in the image and likeness of God. We might also compare to this Genesis 5:3 which speaks of Adam begetting his son Seth. Genesis 5:3 says that Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Here the offspring of Adam is also said to be in Adam’s image and likeness in the way that Adam is in the image and according to the likeness of God.

That is the locus classicus for the image of God in Scripture. But there are also a couple of passages in the New Testament that speak of this as well; for example, 1 Corinthians 11:7. Here Paul says, “For a man ought not to cover his head,” – he is thinking here of covering one’s head in worship. “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.” Here we have a reference in the New Testament to man as being created in God’s image. Finally, in James 3:9, speaking about controlling our tongue, he says, “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God.” The word in the Greek for likeness is “eikon.” That is the word for image – the eikon of God, or the image of God.[15]

So in both the Old Testament and the New Testament we have this notion of human beings as being special and singled out as being created in God’s image unlike all of the rest of the biosphere. None of the other animals are created in God’s image.

You will notice there is no indication that this image or likeness is lost through sin, even after the fall of man. In the command in Genesis 9:6, concerning capital punishment where a person who sheds man’s blood shall also be killed himself, it says that man is in the image of God even in his fallen state. So there isn’t any indication in the biblical text that this image and likeness to God is something that is lost through the human fall into our sinful condition.

Christ as the Image of God

So man is in the image of God is found in both the Old and New Testaments. There is another use of the word image with respect to Christ as God’s image. Christ is the image of God. Colossians 1:15 says that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” In a special sense, Christ is God’s image.

Man in Christ as the Image of God

Finally, thirdly, man in Christ is said to be conformed to God’s image. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” Here we are said to be destined toward conformity with Christ’s image. Also, 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Here we are said to be sanctified in being brought into the likeness of Christ, the Lord. Finally, Ephesians 4:24 says, “and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” So there is a kind of image or likeness to Christ to which believers are destined and progressing.

This is the biblical data with respect to this concept of the image of God. Man is created in God’s image, Christ as God’s image, and then man in Christ as being brought into the conformity with the image of Christ.


Question: If man in Christ conforms to the image of God then does that imply that the fallen state is out of the image of God?

Answer: That would seem to be a correct inference. Insofar as the image of Christ, or of the Lord, to which we are going to be conformed suggests that those of us who are in a fallen, corrupted state are not yet in that image. So here it is rather different than the idea of being created originally in God’s image and now this is an image toward which we are moving. So, yes, I think you are right. This has a kind of goal orientation to it and those who haven’t yet reached the goal aren’t yet in that image. I think that is the implication.[16]

Question: The Greek seems to agree with you regarding demut and tselem – they seem to be interchangeable. Because in the Greek it doesn’t say two things – it just says it is in the eikon of God in Genesis 5.

Answer: You are talking about in the Septuagint?

Followup: Yes. The Septuagint writers agree with that; that they are just the same thing and they compress both.

Answer: So you are saying that they used the same word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for “image” and “likeness.”

Followup: Yes, it just says “in the eikon of God.” So instead of saying image and likeness – instead of tselem and demut – it is just “in the eikon of God”. It compresses both into one word.

Answer: All right. I had not looked at what the Septuagint says. What he is speaking there of is the Greek Old Testament which the New Testament writers knew and used. So this was an ancient translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language so that Hellenized Jews and others could read the Scriptures in the language of the day. His point is that the word “eikon” is used to translate this idea of the image and likeness.

Question: I have to ask, in view of the writing in James; clearly it says we are discussing males in the image of God. So are females just a lesser image of God, as secondarily reflected through Adam or are we left to just find our own existence through existentialism? [laughter, and a few “Thank you!” exhortations from some of the female audience members!]

Answer: I was afraid someone might bring that up! OK, so let’s go back to the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:7 where Paul says, “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.” Now, notice the asymmetry there – he does not say “woman is the image and glory of man.” He doesn’t say that. He knows that woman is created in the image of God just as much as man is. So he says “man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” But she is just as much in the image of God as he is. I am not importing something into the Scripture in saying that. When you go back to Genesis and look at the locus classicus for this notion – Genesis 1:26 – it uses the plural. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,” and then verse 27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Clearly, in Hebrew thinking, man and woman alike are created in God’s image. So mankind is created in the image of God and mankind comprises both male and female – they are equally in the image of God. I don’t think Paul is contradicting that when he says “woman is the glory of man.” He doesn’t mean to suggest that women are created in man’s image rather than in God’s image.

Question: Could you compare the sense in which Christ is the image of the indivisible God and that in which Adam was created as the image of God?

Answer: We will say more about this when we begin to analyze these. All I have done so far is pretty much just read the passages. But we haven’t really discussed their import. I think that, as you intimate, when Christ is said to be the image of God, this is clearly a very different sense than Adam’s being in the image of God. There, in Colossians, the contrast is between something that is visible and something invisible. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. But Adam isn’t the image of God in that way. He is not the visible representation of God himself. We will have to differentiate the different ways in which image is used. I think an earlier question also brought out that when the Scripture speaks of us as being conformed to Christ’s image, again, this is a very different use of the word “image” than the notion of man as created in God’s image. I’ve simply read the passages that speak of the image of God or the likeness of God but I think we will see as we unpack this that not all of these are talking about the same thing.

Next time we will begin to look at various attempts to systematize and make sense out of this biblical data.[17]


[1] Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709 - 1751) was a physician and philosopher. He published L'Homme machine (“Man a Machine”) in 1747 which was a materialistic, atheistic work in which he argued that consciousness is related to physical causes. Hence, he denied dualism (that is, he denied that man was comprised of a soul separate from the body).

[2] 5:11

[3] The term “moist robot” was actually coined by Scott Adams, creator of the “Dilbert” comic. “Free will is an illusion. Humans are nothing but moist robots.” See and for examples.

[4] Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (1804 - 1872) was a German materialist, atheist philosopher whose work later influenced Karl Marx.

[5] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) was a German philosopher with liberal, unorthodox Christian ideas.

[6] Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980) was one of the main philosophical thinkers of 20th century existentialism.

[7] 10:00

[8] 15:00

[9] For a video of this debate, see (accessed May 19, 2013).

[10] For example, see Joel Marks’ opinion piece “Confessions of an Ex-Moralist” at (accessed May 19, 2013).

[11] 20:02

[12] “According to Professor Rosenberg, naturalism treats literary criticism as fun, but not as knowledge. Does he really not know whether Mr. Collins is the hero of ‘Pride and Prejudice?’ Every normal reader has that sort of elementary literary critical knowledge.” - Timothy Williamson, “On Ducking Challenges to Naturalism,” September 28, 2011, New York Times online blog at (accessed May 19, 2013).

[13] “That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.” – Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” (1903) – see's%20worship.htm (accessed May 19, 2013).

[14] 24:58

[15] 30:05

[16] 34:57

[17] Total Running Time: 40:30 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)