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 most of us have occasionally asked these questions. And the answers 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 Or is it merely an outdated religious text with no relevance to today?
Two Alternatives to Who We Are
Some will argue that 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 my brief existence 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.
- The invention of the wheel – 5,000 B.C.
- The 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 became the ancestors 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. Instead, 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 creation, and I am unwilling to reject it as a learning tool. But I also believe that my creator inspired the Bible, and it 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 humanity’s 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 talked 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 drew 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 heterosexual 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 with respect and having 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 asked for a coin. When shown a coin, he then asked whose image was 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 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 than just the result of a chemical stew. 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, then he is not 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 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 could freely choose to obey God or 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 McDonald’s without compromising my ‘sovereignty’ over them. In the same way, surely God can maintain his sovereignty over me and his creation despite my ability to choose some things for myself.
So why does humanity exist? As mentioned above, some will say we exist for no reason; it is just a fluke that we exist and 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 bonbons.
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.
- An Introduction to Systematic Theology (5/21/2021) - This is an introduction to the topic of systematic theology. It will be providing some general guidelines for a systematic study of theology.
- The God of General Revelation: What Creation Tells Us (5/28/2021) - Does God exist? How can we know that? And if he does exist, what is he like? What can we learn about God apart from the Bible?
- The Doctrine of the Bible (6/12/2021) - From the human perspective, the Bible is a diverse collection of literature written over a long period of time. From a divine perspective, it is the authoritative guide to faith and practice.
- The Doctrine of the Nature of God (12/30/2017) - What is the nature of God? This post is a quick look at the attributes of God, the Trinity, his will, and some commonly raised questions.
- The Doctrine of the Work of God (1/7/2018) - What is the work of God? It involves creation of the cosmos as well as providence, the sustaining and governance of his creation.
- The Doctrine of Humanity (3/2/2017) - Who are we as humans? Where did we come from? Why are we here? The doctrine of humanity provides answers to those questions.
- The Doctrine of Sin (3/19/2018) - The doctrine of sin is one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith. It describes an aspect of our nature that is opposed to God.
- The Doctrine of the Nature of Jesus Christ (4/12/2018) - The nature of Jesus . . . He is the second person of the Trinity. And he is both fully God and fully man, perfectly united into one person.
- The Doctrine of the Work of Jesus Christ (4/29/2018) - The primary work of Jesus is offering himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus' atonement for us is essential for our salvation.
- The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (6/4/2018) - The Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity, brings conviction of sin, enables life as a believer, and equips for service in the Kingdom.
- The Doctrine of Salvation (6/27/2018) - The doctrine of salvation encompasses our initial salvation experience, our ongoing walk with Christ, and our final deliverance.
- The Doctrine of the Church (7/29/2018) - What is the church? What is it's purpose? Questions about government, baptism and Lord's Supper. These are topics addressed by the doctrine of the church.
- The Doctrine of Last Things (9/15/2018) - The doctrine of last things includes the global events preceding Christ's return, as well as the more personal aspects; what happens to me in the end.