Anthropology: What is Man?
One of the blessings, or curses, of being human is the ability to question our very existence and then the nature of that existence. Whether humans choose to believe we are simply the most highly evolved life-form or the crown of God's creation, both materialists and theists have to agree that there is something unique about the creature known as Man1.
Non-negotiable aspects of Man that God has revealed in His Word serve as dogmas for all who claim to be followers of Christ. The first of these arises from the very beginning (Genesis 2:7), that man Man is a created being. Hence, we are not divine or even “droplets of divinity” trapped within fleshly houses; in fact, since Man is not his own creator, there is no capacity within to discover deity. Instead, Man is described as a “living creature” just like all the other animals of creation with one major distinction: Man was the last to be created, for God chose to create Man “...in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) as both male and female (v.27). Since the image of God is stamped on every human being, each individual is equal in personhood & importance regardless of sex, race, or status. However, the concept of Man as living creature can be taken too far with monism theories which limit Man's nature to just the elements which compose the body such as mere atoms as in secular humanism or as spirit energy (i.e. ch'i a fundamental building block of the universe) as in pantheism. Thus, it is necessary to see Man consisting of at least two congruent parts, a body and an immaterial soul. Either extreme is incompatible with God's revelation. Man as just a body without a soul is just another animal whose existence is limited to the here and now, which logically concludes in hedonism. Man as just a soul manipulating a puppet of flesh is a another form of Gnosticism, which Christ's apostles denounced vehemently in the New Testament epistles (because they experienced the presence of perfect Man in Jesus Christ). Thus, it is essential to recognize the whole of Man, both body and soul, which are both created at the time of conception and not before (i.e. did not exist eternally prior to birth in some disembodied state as in pre-existentianism).
Man as created being touches on two other areas of theology which are covered in greater depth within their respective doctrines, but bear mentioning here. First, God did not need to create Man, for, as explained in Theology Proper, God would cease to be God if He needed anything, let alone Man. Second, Man was created essentially good but is now existentially estranged. At the end of the Creation account of Genesis, God declared all of His creation “good,” including Man; however, Man's failure of God's one command led to the systemic corruption of sin that mars God's image in Man as seen in greater detail within Hamartiology. Thus, every person since the Fall, save Christ alone, has carried a sin nature in need of redemption.
Negotiable aspects of Man are regulated to the details and means of Man's aspects. Believers in Christ are free to disagree on the exact composition of Man and the ramifications those understandings have on the Christian experience. For while scripture is clear that men and women bear the image of God, it is unclear as to exactly what that image entails. Many have proposed definitions ranging from: Man's physical likeness of God (which seems difficult to reconcile with the fact that God is spirit), Man's reason or intellectual thought, Man's soul/spirit or conscience which animals lack, to Man's inherent capacity and need for relationships and a sense of community. Ultimately, the image of God in Man may be one, none, or all of these possibilities. Likewise, while Christians must hold to at least a Dichotomous view of Man composed of body and soul, many Christian traditions hold to a Trichotomous view of Man's nature consisting of body, soul, and spirit. In this latter view, the third component is received upon regeneration (after salvation) and is the purest part of Man which can best worship God. Again, while Christians must hold that the soul comes into existence at the same time as the body, how it comes into being may be contested. Historically, the view of Creationism has held that God creates the soul within a mother's womb, while the view of Traducianism has held that the father and mother contribute to the creation of their child's soul just as they contribute to the creation of their child's body. The most hotly contended area for disagreement is the role of women in ministry. While scripture affirms the equality and importance of both male and female, certain passages raise distinctions and key differences between the two genders. While minor views on the topic exist (such as the Women Silence and Plural Ministry approaches), the two most supported views are Complimentarianism, which states that the different genders are modeled after the equality of personhood and importance of the Trinity with different and subordinate, yet complimentary, roles, and Egalitarianism, which states that there is total equality in ministry and family roles regardless of gender and any subordination of the sexes occurred as a result of the Fall. Believers are free to find scriptural support for any of these claims so long as they understand the conclusions of their decisions ultimately influence and are influenced by other doctrines of theology.
How Christians should live in light of the essentials of Anthropology. The implication of the doctrine of Man should lead believers to a wholesome and holistic view of our species. A wholesome view should arise since Man is revealed to be the crown of God's creation, and thus with a God-given purpose while on this earth. As a result, each individual should acknowledge the role of that purpose within their own life. Furthermore, since all men and women are created as image bearers of God they are inherently of value with inalienable human rights. This should play a role in charity and care for the oppressed and outcast of society. It also maintains that human life and dignity should be preserved wherever it resides.
A holistic view of Man as at least body and soul should lead to the dual preservation and tending of both. Since Paul reveals that Man's earthly body will be the “seed” of the resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15), the body should be maintained as a temple to the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:18). Thus, self-control over fleshly desires should not denigrate into the degradation or mutilation of the body to the advantage of the spirit, nor should the body be used or abused through wild and gluttonous living to be disregarded at death. Conversely, elevation of the body and cares in the physical world should not lead to the neglect or starvation of the soul.
According to the bible God holds a higher view of Man than most people hold of themselves. Ironically, this means that Man's age-old quest for immortality is in vain, for Man is already immortal according to God. Only when we realize this will we be equipped to treat one another as such.
1The term “Man” here designates the whole of humanity to include both male and female. This choice of terminology is determined not by the generic “he,” but to remain true to the sense of the original Hebrew text.
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