The doctrine of humanity seeks to answer some common questions. Who am I? Why am I here? What does the future hold for me? Is there a purpose for creation, and humanity in particular?
I’m sure that most of us have at least occasionally asked these questions. And the answers to these questions are important. How one answers them though will be impacted by what one believes about God and his purpose for his creation. The answers will also be impacted by what one believes about the Bible; is it a reliable guide to what God has done, is doing, and will do? Or is it merely an outdated religious text with no relevance to today?
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Table of contents
- Two Alternatives to Who We Are
- The Origin of Humanity
- Made in God’s Image
- Human Constitution
- Free Will
- Why Humanity?
Two Alternatives to Who We Are
For some, there is no creator, we are merely a product of chance, have no purpose for being, and our existence is merely a blip on the timeline of history. In that case, nothing I do will ultimately matter. Making the most of the brief existence I have should be my goal in life. And if others get in the way of that then I am justified in moving them out of the way. Granted, few people who hold to the opening sentence actually follow through on the previous sentence, but it is really the logical conclusion.
But what if we believe that God exists, that he created us, and that he has a purpose for us? And what if we hold that the Bible is indeed his inspired word to us? Then we should have quite a different view of humanity and our place within the creation. Being an intentional creation of a purposeful God is quite a contrast to being simply an unlikely and accidental by-product of chance. Who I am is significant and what I do matters; not just now, but potentially for long after this brief existence comes to an end.
I believe this second alternative to be true. And the rest of this article will reflect that position.
The Origin of Humanity
Where did we come from? How did we get here? The Bible tells us that God intentionally made us. That he formed us from the dust of the earth; he made us in his image; revealed himself to us; and placed us in paradise. And the simplest reading of the Bible says that we were made as is just a few thousand years ago.
Dating the Origin of Humanity
Science tells us that the first human like ancestors appeared on the earth 2.5 million years ago. And that the first modern humans appeared around 200 thousand years ago. That humans, like all life, evolved from a common single cell ancestor. That we are a product of the same laws that produced the rest of the creation and keep it functioning. Science produces a timeline that looks something like the following:
- Creation of the universe – 13.8 BYA (Billion Years Ago)
- Creation of the earth – 4.5 BYA
- First life on earth – 3.87 BYA
- First life on land – 500 MYA (Million Years Ago)
- Earliest human ancestors – 2.5 MYA
- First modern human (homo sapiens) – 200,000 YA
- Oldest known cave paintings – 40,000 YA
- Oldest permanent settlement – 25,000 YA
- Domestication of sheep – 11,000 B.C.
- Jericho settled – 9,000 B.C.
- Invention of the wheel – 5,000 B.C.
- Invention of writing – 3,200 B.C.
By way of comparison, the following are some common dates for biblical events:
- Creation – 4,000 B.C.
- Abraham – 2,000 B.C.
- The Exodus – 1,400 B.C.
- King David – 1,000 B.C.
Reconciling Science and the Bible
So how does one reconcile what appears to be two distinct accounts of our origin? Some reject the scientific account, while others reject the biblical account. While in between these two extremes are a couple of attempts to reconcile the two; theistic evolution and progressive creationism.
This is a view that rejects the scientific evidence that is contrary to their understanding of the Bible. Instead, it holds to a specific, rigid, and literal interpretation of the creation event in Genesis. God created Adam and Eve as fully formed adult humans who then became the ancestors of all of today’s humanity. This is the view of pretty much all young earth creationists, but also of some who accept that the earth and life on it are very old.
This view is at the opposite extreme from the previous one, rejecting any authority of the biblical accounts and building solely on scientific findings. In this view humans are simply one of the millions of life forms that have evolved from a common ancestor in a purely naturalistic fashion. Humans are not a product of a purposeful creator; rather they have just evolved a different set of attributes than other life. This view had no place for any directing force, including God.
Theistic evolution asserts that evolution is not just a blind naturalistic process. But, instead, that God serves as a guiding hand behind it. In the theistic evolutionary view, God allows the natural processes to perform their work. But God is involved enough to ensure that evolution produces what he has intended. This view is fully compatible with the scientific explanation for our development as humans, and is not incompatible with the biblical account; so long as one does not try to hold too rigidly to a literal 6 day creation a few thousand years ago. In this view, there may or may not be a literal Adam and Eve.
This view is also compatible with science and an old earth interpretation of the biblical account. It differs from theistic evolution by positing that there are periodic creation events. That God, at different times in history, created all of the types of life on the planet. And from those events life evolved into the bewildering variety found today, as well as throughout history.
I believe that science has much to teach us about the creation and I am unwilling to reject it as a learning tool. But I also believe that the Bible is inspired by my creator and is also useful to teach me about spiritual matters, including where I came from. As a result I have to reject either of the extremes; looking instead for a position that is faithful to the teaching of the Bible and the discoveries of science. Both theistic evolution and progressive creationism offer viable reconciliations of the Bible and science.
Adam & Eve
No discussion of human origins is complete without including Adam and Eve. Were they an actual first couple from whom we are all descended? Or are they fictional, maybe representative of humanities origins.
The apostle Paul seems to have believed that they were real and that the account of the fall in the third chapter of Genesis was real history. In Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 Paul talks about Adam as if he were a real man, identifying him as the one through whom sin came into the world. The question concerning the reality of Adam is tightly connected to one’s view of inspiration and inerrancy. If the Scripture is strictly inerrant, then it follows that Adam must have been a real person. With a more limited view of inerrancy there is room for Paul to have believed that a fictional Adam was real, and the lessons he draws from the third chapter of Genesis are valid for us.
Made in God’s Image
In the initial creation account of man, Genesis 1:26-27, we are said to be made in God’s image. But what does this mean? Obviously we do not look like him, since he is spirit and we are not. Over the years I have wondered if it was a reference to our being body, soul, and spirit, similar to his triune nature. Or maybe being created in his image means that we are made to conform to some picture he had of us, similar to an artist painting a picture.
But it seems most likely that we are made to be like him in some fashion. We are intelligent creatures, capable of abstract reasoning. We are also moral creatures, having an innate sense of right and wrong. And, we are able to express unselfish and sacrificial love. All things that God can do, yet are foreign to the rest of creation.
The Significance of God’s Image
But what is the significance of being made in God’s image? It would appear that all of humanity is made in God’s image, not just some subset of us. It is not only white middle class hetrosexual Christian males that are made in God’s image. But also those with a different skin color, gender, educational or economic situation. Also those who worship a different god, have a different sexual orientation, or are convicted felons. All of us are made in God’s image and should be treated as such; treated with respect and value.
Of interest to this discussion is Jesus encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians in Matthew 22:15-22. In response to their question about paying taxes, Jesus asks for a coin. When shown a coin he then asks whose image is on the coin. They responded that it was Caesar’s image, to which Jesus responded, give to Caesar what was Caesar’s, and to God what was God’s. It was Caesar’s image on the coin that identified it as his. In the same way, having God’s image on us signifies his ownership. The image was a sign of ownership.
It is obvious that humans are material creatures, flesh and blood, and I know of no sane person who would deny that. But is that all that we are? Or is there also a non-material part to us? Many today would deny that we are anything other than material beings; that our consciousness is nothing more than chemical processes operating in our brains, giving the illusion of something more than a purely physical being.
But is it possible that chemical processes alone can give rise to consciousness like we have today? That seems unlikely to me. The Bible claims that we are more than just material beings, but that we also have a soul and/or spirit. I say soul and/or spirit because it is unclear from the Scripture if it uses soul and spirit as two distinct components, or if they are somewhat interchangeable. But what is clear is that our consciousness, thoughts, will, and emotions are more that just the result of a chemical stew. And further, the Scripture affirms that this soul/spirit will survive the death of our physical bodies, someday being reunited with some form of a body and, at least for some, will continue into eternity.
Did God create man with a measure of free will? Do we have the ability to make independent choices? Can we act in a way that is contrary to God’s will? Some will say no to this, because it would seem to diminish God’s sovereignty. In this way of thinking, if God does not make every decision that happens, then he is not really in control.
But this seems contrary to the bulk of Scripture where we find humanity repeatedly instructed in how we should live. And nearly as often we find them rebelling against God’s instruction, doing their own thing instead. If we did not have to ability to make choices, then why tell us how to live. And if we could not make choices, how could we be responsible for seeming to act contrary to God’s will. Without the ability to make choices, without free will, we are really only puppets on a string.
Autonomous Moral Agents
The Scripture is clear that humans are created as autonomous moral agents. This is seen from the beginning, where Adam is given clear direction concerning the Tree of Knowledge. Adam can freely chose to obey God, or to disobey him. Because of Adam’s disobedience, our wills have become corrupted, and we have lost the ability to please God. But nonetheless, we still retain the ability to make free moral decisions.
Is God’s sovereignty challenged by granting humanity free will? I do not believe so. As a parent I am able to allow my young child to select from a variety of Happy Meals at McDonalds without compromising my ‘sovereignty’ over them. In the same way, surely God is able to maintain his sovereignty over me and his creation, in spite of my ability to choose some things for myself.
So just why does humanity exist? As mentioned above, some will say we exist for no reason; it is just a fluke that we exist and we have no purpose or future. But for those who believe that we are an intentional creation of a purposeful God, it is only reasonable to accept that we were created for a purpose. But for what purpose? Scripture indicates that that purpose is one that is only fully met beyond this life; that life here is only a preparation for God’s ultimate purpose for us. That specific purpose is not clear, but I am reasonably certain that it is more significant than sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, and eating bon-bons.
I am able to live my life here, through all that comes my way, with confidence that God is preparing me for something beyond my imagination. While I may not know the purpose for which I was created, it is good to know there was a purpose and that God will see it through to completion. And I look forward to finding out just what he created me for.
Systematic Theology Post List
- An Introduction to Systematic Theology
- The God of General Revelation: What Creation Tells Us
- The Doctrine of the Bible
- The Doctrine of the Nature of God
- The Doctrine of the Work of God
- The Doctrine of Humanity
- The Doctrine of Sin
- The Doctrine of the Nature of Jesus Christ
- The Doctrine of the Work of Jesus Christ
- The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
- The Doctrine of Salvation
- The Doctrine of the Church
- The Doctrine of Last Things
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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