Doctrine of Man (Part 3)

September 30, 2013     Time: 00:29:56

Last time we were talking about the issue of the image of God in man and what this means. I suggested that those who see some sort of a fundamental dichotomy between an ontological understanding of the image of God and a functional understanding of the image of God are guilty of making a false dichotomy. In fact, the reason that man can function as the image of God is precisely because of certain properties which he has ontologically. So it is the ontology that is the basis for the function.

We saw that God is the personal, infinite God. That is to say, on the one hand God is personal (tri-personal), but on the other hand God is infinite – omnipresent, eternal, omnipotent, perfectly good, and so forth. Insofar as God is personal, man is like God and unlike the rest of the created order (animals, plants, and inorganic material). But insofar as God is infinite, man stands on the side of the chasm which belongs to creatures. Man is himself a finite created thing and in that respect is like animals, plants, and inorganic substances.

To say that man is in the image of God ontologically, I think, is to say that man is personal. He is a person in the same way that God is a person and he has the essential attributes of personhood. Though he is not infinite, he has these to a finite degree. Therefore, this enables him to function in certain ways – in relation to God as God’s co-regent on this planet in stewarding the planet and its resources. So I would understand the image of God in man to involve both ontology and function and the function flows out of the ontology.

In relationship to God, of course, man is separated from God in virtue of his sin. But that is not destructive of the image of God in man. Man is still a personal being, still in the image of God, even though his relationship with God is ruptured because of the fall into sin. So, in his state of original righteousness – or, perhaps better stated, in his original state of innocence – there is an open and free flowing relationship between God and man unobstructed by sin. But then in man’s fallen state as a sinner the relationship between God and man is now severed. There is an obstacle, namely man’s guilt and sinfulness, that prevents him from being related to God in the way that he was created to. He now finds himself alienated from God and estranged from God in this fallen state. But then finally in the state of grace man finds his relationship with God restored through Jesus Christ. Now, in the state of grace, man is able to experience the relationship with God that he was created to have albeit a relationship of a flawed and fallen creature but forgiven and redeemed and regenerated in Christ. So I see this as something that is not related to the image of God and man. Fallen man, like man in the original state of righteousness, is in God’s image but this has to do with the relationship with God that man was created to have that is ruptured in his fall and then restored in Christ.[1]

Finally, when the New Testament speaks of being conformed to the image of Christ, this is yet a third category which has to do with our sanctification. Insofar as we are in Christ and are being sanctified by the indwelling Holy Spirit and bearing the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and so forth – we become like Christ and so bear his character or his image in ourselves.

This is how I would understand the image of God that man is created to be.


Question: Just for clarification (because earlier we were talking about persons) – to separate man from, let’s say, other animals, would you take that as Aristotelian because we are able to rationalize or reason? Is that what differentiates them from having personality?

Answer: I would see rationality as essential to personhood. I think this would involve things like self-consciousness and freedom of the will as well. So self-consciousness, rationality, freedom of the will would seem to be necessary and sufficient conditions for personhood.

Question: Do you believe that on, let’s say, something like an evolutionary model that personhood emerged over time or would you try to make it more of a distinct act like one person was picked out and – bang! – they have freedom of the will now?

Answer: Obviously, there can be higher and lower animals in terms of their intelligence, right? Porpoises and chimpanzees exhibit higher degrees of intelligence than turtles and lizards and other reptiles for example. So clearly there can be a sort of grade in terms of increasing intelligence. But it would seem to me that there isn’t any sort of half-person. Either you are a person or you are not a person and there isn’t any sort of in-between. So even if, in the evolutionary process, you have beings of greater and greater intelligence emerging, at some point it would seem to me there needs to be imbued in some creature a soul which has the sufficient cognitive faculties for full rationality, freedom of the will, and self-consciousness. Absent that, you don’t have a real person.

Question: Are you going to get to communicable and non-communicable attributes of God?

Answer: No, because that was more when we talked about the attributes of God. When we did that other chart of personal and infinite, that is originally from that early section of the class on the attributes of God. I explained the difference between the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God and said that I really didn’t find that to be the most helpful rubric for classifying God’s attributes, especially since I don’t think that God has certain attributes like simplicity or immutability or timelessness. So the number of incommunicable attributes gets winnowed down to very, very few. It would be things like aseity and necessity perhaps. I found it more useful to distinguish between the attributes God has in virtue of being personal and those in virtue of which he is not a person. I am not going to say anything more about that now unless you had a specific attribute in mind.

Followup: Not necessarily. It seems like we talked about that before but never really why certain attributes are communicable whereas others are not.[2]

Answer: Right. Well, I think that is part of the problem! What is the rationale for this? For example, take eternity. Usually, this is thought to be an incommunicable attribute of God because God is timeless whereas everything else is in time. But, that is not clear to me. In the first place, it is not clear that God is timeless as we saw when we looked at Scripture. Very often Scripture speaks of God as being everlasting throughout all time. As the Psalmist says, “Before thou hast created the earth and the world from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”[3] And it thinks of God as an everlasting duration rather than outside of time. And there could be creatures that are timeless. Think of abstract objects, for example, like numbers. These would seem to be prime candidates for things that exist timelessly. So this attribute isn’t really incommunicable, it seems to me. It could be communicable and it is not clear that God has it. I just found that that attempt to say that God’s attributes can be conveniently divided between those that can be communicated to creatures or shared by creatures and those that creatures cannot share isn’t really that helpful or discriminating. As I say, it seems to me that in terms of attributes that creatures cannot share because they are creatures, about the only ones I could think of would be something like divine aseity – being self-existent. Because everything else is created, so it can’t be self-existent. Maybe necessity because everything is created at some point in time and there are no co-eternal things with God then God’s necessity would maybe be incommunicable to things. But beyond that, it doesn’t seem that there are a whole lot of incommunicable attributes. The difference, for example, between God’s omnipotence and our potency is just one of degree. We both have power – God has power, we have power – but he has infinite power and we have finite power. So there is no difference in the attribute per se, it is just the quantity. Similarly for omniscience – God knows certain things to be true and we know certain things to be true but he knows infinitely more than we know. So that is a communicable attribute even though God is omniscient and we are not. I guess I just don’t find that to be all that helpful.

Question: What evidence do we have that God’s attributes are communicable to us? Namely, our understanding of the universe through cosmology and also our understanding of evolution and biology are natural ways of seeing the world. What evidence is there that we would know that God is communicating his attributes or interjecting himself in the world as opposed to just setting it at a start?

Answer: To say that the attributes are communicable doesn’t mean that we have a divine attribute. It just means that, for example, as God is personal, we, too, are persons. And how do you know you are a person? Well, you know it through self-acquaintance. God is powerful. We are powerful. How do you know you are powerful? Well, because you have causal ability to influence things. How do you know that you share the property of knowing things? Well, because you do know them! There are things that you undeniably know to be true. It seems to me that it is obvious that there are lots of attributes that God has that we also share and I’ve listed some of these.

Followup: The question is the other way around. We know those about ourselves because we are ourselves. But what evidence do we have that we would know them about God?

Answer: That would require you to go back to the lectures on the existence and nature of God. There I said there are two sources for our knowledge of God. One would be divine revelation – he reveals himself to us in this way. And the second would be perfect being theology – God is by nature the greatest conceivable being.[4] If there were anything that could be conceived of that were greater than God then that would be God. There are certain properties that a greatest conceivable being has to have in virtue of being the greatest being conceivable. So the marriage of perfect being theology with divine revelation will enable us to flesh out a doctrine of God that will teach us a considerable degree about his properties and attributes.

Nature of Man

Biblical Data

Old Testament

Let’s go on to the next subpoint which is the nature of man. First we want to look at the biblical data pertinent to man’s nature.

The Old Testament includes a number of anthropological terms referring to man’s nature. For example, nephesh is the Hebrew word for “soul.” Another anthropological term would be ruach or “spirit.” Besar is “flesh,” designating the physical body. However, these anthropological terms in the Old Testament do not draw clear distinctions between different aspects of man. Indeed, sometimes the word nephesh or “soul” is actually used to refer to dead corpses. It is used for the physical body that has perished – of a corpse. For examples of this, look at Leviticus 21:11. It gives the instructions for the priest and says “he shall not go in to any dead body, nor defile himself” and the word for “dead body” there is not besar but it is nephesh or “soul.” Similarly, Numbers 6:6, “All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body.” So nephesh, though the word for “soul,” can actually be used to refer to the physical body. In English, this same usage has been adopted. For example, we’ve all heard the nursery rhyme about Old King Cole who was a merry old soul. Nobody thought that Old King Cole was a disembodied, unextended, immaterial substance! So when we say that Old King Cole was a merry old soul, we are not necessarily referring to that immaterial part of human being.

New Testament

In the New Testament, we confront in Paul’s letters a number of anthropological terms that are significant in the nature of man. First among these would be the word soma which means “body.”

Unfortunately, under the influence of materialism and existentialism, mid-20th century theologians came to reject the distinction between the soul and the body. It was claimed by theologians like the German New Testament theologian Rudolf Bultmann (an extremely influential mid-20th century German theologian) that soma actually refers, not to the physical body, but to the self – the “I,” the whole person in abstraction from the body. Under the influence of existentialist philosophy, Bultmann took soma to mean “I” or the person, the individual, but not the body.

This is extremely important because if that is correct then Paul’s affirmation of the resurrection of the body doesn’t necessarily imply the resurrection of this physical substance. Rather, it would simply mean the self lives on – the resurrection of the “I.”[5] To say, “I will be raised bodily from the dead” would simply mean “I will continue to exist” so someone like Bultmann could affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus while believing that the tomb contained the corpse of Jesus which rotted away and that no one will be raised physically from the dead. I think you can see how important it is that we understand what the proper reference of soma is. Is it the body or is it simply the whole person in abstraction from the body?

Robert Gundry, a very fine New Testament scholar, has subjected Bultmann’s exegesis to a withering criticism in his book Soma in Biblical Theology.[6] What Gundry argues is that soma is never used in the New Testament to denote the whole person in isolation from his physical body. Rather, it is used much more to denote the physical body itself or the man with special emphasis upon his physical body. Let’s look at how Paul uses the word soma in this way.

First, critics like Bultmann will often allege that because Paul uses the word soma and personal pronouns like “we” or “I” or “you” interchangeably that proves that soma actually refers to the person. If I were to say to you something like this: “You should present your body as a living sacrifice to God” I might also say “You should present yourself as a living sacrifice to God” and this would show that the word “body” really just referred to yourself – to you, the person – not to your physical body. Because the personal pronouns can be used interchangeably with the word soma, soma simply refers to the person. But Gundry points out that the presupposition of this argument is that the pronoun, when used for soma, expands the meaning of the word soma rather than restricts the meaning of the pronoun. This is, I think, unjustified. The word soma rather than being expanded by the pronoun can actually serve to restrict the reference of the pronoun. Gundry gives the following example.[7] Suppose you say “She slapped his face.” Well, you might also say “She slapped him.” Now, obviously, the fact that you can use the pronoun instead of his face doesn’t mean that a person’s face refers to the whole person in abstraction from the body. Rather, the expression “his face” limits the meaning of the pronoun to that part of him that she slapped. So “she slapped his face” restricts the meaning of “She slapped him” so as to specify the physical face. When you look at all of the places where Paul uses soma interchangeably with personal pronouns, you find that they are exactly like this. In every case, the emphasis is on that physical aspect of human being.

Let’s look at some examples. Romans 6:12-14 and 16a, Paul says,

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. . . . Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey ...

So this is a passage where you have soma used interchangeably with these personal pronouns.[8] But I think it is obvious from the context that the emphasis is on the physical body because Paul talks about your mortal bodies, he talks about obeying the passions that are in the body, and he uses the word “members” to designate the members of the physical body – don’t yield them to sin as instruments of wickedness. So all of this emphasis will be on bringing the physical body into submission to Christ. The passage in no way proves that soma can refer to an individual in abstraction from his body. Rather, here the emphasis is physical and on bringing the body into submission to Christ – to God.

Similarly, take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 where Paul says,

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, [notice there the personal pronoun – “we” are being given up to death for Jesus’ sake] so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Again, I think, clearly the emphasis in the context is on the physical body. Notice he is talking here about physical persecution that they endure. He goes on to talk about the difference between the outer man and the inner man. He talks about having this treasure in earthen vessels. Clearly, the emphasis in the passage is on the physical body and not the person in abstraction from his body.

Ephesians 5:28-29, Paul says in giving charge to husbands,

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.

Again, I think that the physical orientation of the passage is very evident from the use of the word “flesh” as a synonym for body – no man ever hates his own flesh but takes care of it. That is a synonym for cherishing one’s body and therefore one’s wife. Again, the interchange of pronouns with soma by no means implies that soma refers to the person in abstraction from his body. Rather, in every case where these pronouns are used in interchange with the body, the emphasis is on the physical life and body of the person involved.

I find Gundry’s case compelling. It seems to me when you read those passages the emphasis is clearly on the physical, even the sexual, aspects of the human person and therefore these do not in any way go to sustain Bultmann’s claim that the soma refers to the self or the “I.”

What we will do next time is look at Paul’s other uses of the word soma in various contexts in his letters, and I think that we will see that in those other usages as well the emphasis is equally physical.[9]


[1] 5:16

[2] 10:05

[3] cf. Psalm 90:2

[4] 15:04

[5] 20:02

[6] Robert H. Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

[7] cf. Ibid., pp. 29-30.

[8] 25:14

[9] Total Running Time: 29:55 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)