Man - Baptist Faith & Message, Article 3
by Daniel Block
John R. Sampey Professor of Old Testament Interpretation;
Associate Dean, Scripture and Interpretation, School of Theology
The Baptist Faith and Message statement on man highlights two aspects of the human condition that set this species of creation apart from all others: man's noble status and man's ignoble state.
In its celebration of the creative power of God, Genesis 1:1-2:4a also celebrates the distinctive nobility of man.
There is no doubt that in the mind of the author of this text the creation of Adam represents the climax of creation: 1. Adam is created last; 2. Adam is presented as the product of divine deliberation; 3. The description of the creation of Adam is more intensive and extensive than any aspect of creation; 4. The account uses a special verb to describe the creation of Adam, which always involves a special creative act of God; 5. Once Adam is on the scene the Lord can pronounce the created world "extremely good" (v. 31); 6. Adam is expressly created as "the image of God."
The last point is especially significant, for, according to the Scriptures, what separates man from other creatures is not fundamentally his superior intelligence or more complex evolutionary development, but his status as the image of God.
Theologians today interpret our "image-ness" in terms of human rationality, spirituality, intellectual freedom, relationality (to God and fellow human beings) or triunity (body, soul, spirit). But within the biblical literary context and the ancient Near Eastern cultural context, "imageness" had more to do with the role played by man than with an ontological quality about man.
As the image of God, man is divinely authorized to serve as his representative (not representation) and charged to function as his deputy (cf. Gen 1:26-28; Ps 8). According to Genesis 1 and 2, man was endowed with the needed qualities to govern creation on God's behalf as he would were he personally and physically present.
In this regard the Israelites' view of man differed fundamentally from that of the world in which they lived. Whereas in Babylon the status of "image of divinity" was reserved for kings and priests, the Bible democratizes the notion - the children of Adam as a race in general and individual members of the race in particular, are all invested with this status. This revolutionary idea has extremely significant anthropological and ethical implications.
First, in accordance with the biblical perspective that all humankind originates in a single pair of parents, all human beings inherit equal nobility in the sight of God. Therefore, any view of the human species that diminishes the dignity of any member on any grounds (gender, race, intelligence, physical form, circumstances of conception) is to be repudiated.
Second, in accordance with the biblical perspective that Adam as a race was created male and female, any view of the human species that blurs the fundamental distinction between male and female is to be repudiated.
Third, in accordance with the biblical perspective that each person is an image of God, parenthood is elevated from a merely procreative act to a co-creative act - God involving a man and a woman in the creation of new images of himself.
As a corollary, willful abortion represents arrogant interference in a divine creative act, and it is to be repudiated.
Fourth, in accordance with the biblical view that all human beings serve as representatives of God, any act directed at another person, whether for good or evil, is an act directed at God (Prov 14:31; 17:5; Matt 25:31-46; James 3:8-10). All pious professions aside, our disposition toward God is most graphically expressed in our treatment of fellow human beings, especially those deemed socially inferior.
But the Scriptures also present another, sadder side to the picture. If they are clear in portraying humankind as uniquely endowed with divine dignity, they are equally clear in emphasizing humankind's unique and utter depravity.
Because of sin, which may be understood fundamentally as rebellion against God, we all come under the curse of God. In accordance with the biblical perspective of the entire human race as united in descent from Adam, the guilt of Adam's sin falls on all, and estrangement from God in whose image we are made extends to all.
But thanks be to God, the biblical story does not end here. Through God's Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God, the redeemed enjoy the removal of that guilt and are restored to fellowship and communion with their Maker.
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