Doctrine of Man in the Old Testament

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In the Genesis account of creation man's presence in the world is attributed directly to God. By this act alone, as the God of love and power, man was "created" (bara', 1:27; 5:1; 6:7) and "formed" (yasar, 2:7 - 8). By this creative act man was brought into existence in a duality of relationships, at once to nature and to God himself. He was formed of the dust of the earth and was endowed with soul life by the breath of God. God is the source of his life, and dust the material of his being.

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Man's Nature

Man, then, did not spring out of nature by some natural evolutionary process. He is the result of the immediate action of God, who used already existing created material for the formation of the earthly part of his being. Man has thus physiological similarities with the rest of the created order (Gen. 18:27; Job 10:8 - 9; Ps. 103:14, etc.) and consequently shares with the animal world in dependence on God's goodness for his continuance (Isa. 40:6 - 7; Pss. 103:15; 104, etc.).

Throughout the OT the relationship of man to nature is everywhere stressed. As man shares with nature share with man in the actualities of his living. Thus, while nature was made to serve man, so man on his part is required to tend nature (Gen. 2:15). Nature is therefore not a sort of neutral entity in relation to man's life. For between the two, nature and man, there exists a mysterious bond so that when man sinned the natural order was itself deeply afflicted (Gen. 3:17 - 18; cf. Rom. 8:19 - 23). Since, however, nature suffered as a result of man's sin, so does it rejoice with him in his redemption (Ps. 96:10 - 13; Isa. 35, etc.), for in man's redemption it too will share (Isa. 11:6 - 9).

But however deeply related man is to the natural order, he is presented nonetheless as something different and distinctive. Having first called the earth into existence with its various requisites for human life, God then declared for the making of man. The impression that the Genesis account gives is that man was the special focus of God's creative purpose. It is not so much that man was the crown of God's creative acts, or the climax of the process, for although last in the ascending scale, he is first in the divine intention. All the previous acts of God are presented more in the nature of a continuous series by the recurring use of the conjunction "and" (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). "Then God said, 'Let us make man.'" "Then", when? When the cosmic order was finished, when the earth was ready to sustain man. Thus, while man stands before God in a relationship of created dependence, he has also the status of a unique and special personhood in relation to God.

Man's constituents

The three most significant words in the OT to describe man in relation to God and nature are "soul" (nepes, 754 times), "spirit" (ruah, 378 times), and "flesh" (basar, 266 times). The term "flesh" has sometimes a physical and sometimes a figuratively ethical sense. In its latter use it has its context in contrast with God to emphasize man's nature as contingent and dependent (Isa. 31:3; 40:6; Pss. 61:5; 78:39; Job 10:4). Both nepes and ruah denote in general the life principle of the human person, the former stressing more particularly his individuality, or life, and the latter focusing on the idea of a supernatural power above or within the individual.

Of the eighty parts of the body mentioned in the OT the terms for "heart" (leb), "liver" (kabed), "kidney" (kelayot), and "bowels" (me'im) are the most frequent. To each of these some emotional impulse or feeling is attributed either factually or metaphorically. The term "heart" has the widest reference. It is brought into relation with man's total phychical nature as the seal or instrument of his emotional, volitional, and intellectual manifestations. In the latter context it acquires a force we should call "mind" (Deut. 15:9; Judg. 5:15 - 16) or "intellect" (Job 8:10; 12:3; 34:10), and is frequently employed by metonymy to denote one's thought or wish with the idea of purpose or resolve. For one's thought or wish is what is "in the heart," or, as would be said today, "in the mind."

These several words do not, however, characterize man as a compound of separate and distinct elements. Hebrew psychology does not divide up man's nature into mutually exclusive parts. Behind these usages of words the thought conveyed by the Genesis account, that man's nature is twofold, remains. Yet even there man is not presented as a loose union of two disparate entities. There is no sense of a metaphysical dichotomy, while even that of an ethical dualism of soul and body is quite foreign to Hebrew thought. By God's inbreathing the man he formed from the dust became a living soul, a unified being in the interrelation of the terrestrial and the transcendental.

Throughout the OT the two concepts of man as a unique and responsible individual and as a social and representative being have emphasis. Adam was both a man and yet mankind. In him individual personhood and social solidarity found expression. At times in Israel's history there is emphasis on individual responsibility (e.g., Ezek. 9:4; 20:38; cf. chs. 18, 35), while the "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not" of the law and the prophets is characteristically singular, being addressed to the individual is not viewed atomistically but in intimate connection with, and representative of, the whole community. So does the sin of the single individual involve all in its consequences (Josh. 7:24 - 26; cf. 2 Sam. 14:7; 21:1 - 14; 2 Kings 9:26). On the other hand, Moses and Phineas stand before God to plead their people's cause because they embody in themselves the whole community. In the intertestamental period, however, this awareness of solidarity passed from being a realized actuality in the social consciousness of the nation to being increasingly an idealistic and theological dogma.

From this perspective of racial solidarity in the first man it follows that Adam's sin involved every individual both in himself and in his social relationships. Because of Adam's transgression everyone is affected in the whole range of his being and in the totality of his societal living.

In the NT

The Teaching of Jesus

In formal statements Jesus had little to say about man. But by his attitude and actions among men he showed that he regarded the human person as significant. To Jesus man was not just a part of nature, for he is more precious in God's sight than the birds of the air (Matt. 10:31) and the beasts of the field (Matt. 12:12). His distinctiveness lies in his possession of a soul, or spiritual nature, which to forfeit is his ultimate tragedy and final folly (Matt. 16:26). Man's true life is consequently life under God and for his glory. It does not consist in the plenitude of earthly possessions (Luke 12:15). The sole wealth is therefore the wealth of the soul (Matt. 6:20, 25). Yet while emphasizing the spiritual aspect of man's nature, Jesus did not decry the body, for he showed concern throughout his ministry for total human needs.

This view of man as a creature of value was for Jesus an ideal and a possibility. For he saw all individuals, whether man or woman, as blind and lost and their relationship with God broken off. Although he nowhere specified the nature of sin, he clearly assumed its universality. All men are somehow caught up in sin's plight and enmeshed in its tragic consequences. Thus, all who would live to God's glory and eternal enjoyment must experience newness of life. And it was precisely this purpose that Christ came into the world to accomplish (Matt. 1:21; Luke 19:10). It follows therefore that it is by one's attitude to Christ as the Savior of the world that individual human destiny is finally sealed.

The Pauline Anthropology

Paul's declarations regarding the nature of man are generally stated in relation to salvation so that his anthropology throughout serves the interests of his soteriology. Foremost, therefore, in his teaching in his insistence on man's need of divine grace. Paul is emphatic about the universality of man's sin. Because of Adam's fall sin somehow got a footing in the world to make human life the sphere of its activity. Sin "entered the world through one man" (Rom. 5:12; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1 - 2). Consequent on Adam's trangression, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). To meet man in his plight, Paul sets forth the gospel as a righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (cf. Rom. 3:22 - 25).

In this context Paul contrasts the "old man" of nature (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) who is "after the flesh" (Rom. 8:4, 12; Gal. 4:23, 29, etc.) with the "new man" in grace (Eph. 4:24; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) who is "after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5; Gal. 4:29). He speaks also of the "outer nature" of man which perishes and his "inner nature" which abides and is daily being renewed in Christ (2 Cor. 4:16; cf. Eph. 3:16) and of the "natural man" (psychikos anthropos) and "he who is spiritual" (1 Cor. 2:15; cf. 14:37).

In contrast with the second Adam, the first Adam is "from the earth, a man of dust" (1 Cor. 15:47), but is yet "a living being" (vs. 45). Though man on his earthly side "bears the image of the man of dust" (vs. 45), he can by grace through faith be made to "bear the image of the man from heaven" (vs. 49). Man in himself is a moral being with an innate sense of right and wrong which Paul speaks of as his "conscience" (21 times.) This conscience can, however, lose its sensitiveness for the good and become "defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7) and "seared" (1 Tim. 4:2).

As the chief exponent of the application of Christ's saving work to personal life Paul can hardly avoid reference to man's essential nature and makeup, and inevitably such allusions reflect the OT usage of terms. At the same time, while he does employ his words with the same general meaning as in the OT, they are more precisely applied in his epistles. The most significant terms in his anthropological vocabulary are "flesh" (sarx, 91 times), which he uses in a physical and an ethical sense; "spirit" (pneuma, 146 times), to denote generally the higher, Godward aspect of man's nature; "body" (soma, 89 times), most often to designate the human organism as such, but sometimes the carnal aspect of man's nature; "soul" (psyche, 11 times), broadly to carry the idea of the vital principle of individual life.

Paul has several words translated "mind" in the English versions to specify man's native rational ability which is in the natural man seriously affected by sin (Rom. 1:8; 8:6 - 7; Eph. 4:17; Col. 2:18; I Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:15). But the mind transformed brings God acceptable worship (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23) and so becomes in the believer the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; cf. Phil. 2:5). The term "heart" (kardia, 52 times) specifies for Paul the innermost sanctuary of man's psychical being either as a whole or with one or another of its significant activities, emotional, rational, or volitional.

Sometimes Paul contrasts these aspects, flesh and spirit, body and soul, to give the impression of a dualism of man's nature. At other times he introduces the threefold characterization, body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23), which raises the question whether man is to be conceived dichotomously or trichotomously. The interchangeable use of the terms "spirit" and "soul" seems to confirm the former view, while the fact that they are sometimes contrasted is held to support the latter. Yet, however used, both terms refer to man's inner nature over against flesh or body, which refers to the outer aspect of man as existing in space and time. In reference, then, to man's psychical nature, "spirit" denotes life as having its origin in God and "soul" denotes that same life as constituted in man. Spirit is the inner depth of man's being, the higher aspect of his personality. Soul expresses man's own special and distinctive individuality. The pneuma is man's nonmaterial nature looking Godward; the psyche is that same nature of man looking earthward and touching the things of sense.

Other NT Writings

The rest of the NT in its scattered allusions to man's nature and constituents is in general agreement with the teaching of Jesus and of Paul. In the Johannine writings the estimate of man is centered on Jesus Christ as true man and what man may become in relation to him. Although John begins his Gospel by asserting the eternal Godhead of Christ as Son of God, he declares in the starkest manner the humanity of the Word made flesh. Jesus does all that may become a man, all that God intended man should be. What people saw was a "man that is called Jesus" (John 9:11; cf. 19:5). It is against the perfect humanness of Jesus that the dignity of every man is to be measured. By uniting himself with man, God's Son has made it clear for always that being human is no mean condition. For he took upon himself all that is properly human to restore man to his sonship with God (John 1:13; 1 John 3:1). Such too is the theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews. James declares that man is created in the "likeness" (homoiosin) of God (3:9).

Historical Development

From these biblical statements about man's nature, the history of Christian though has focused on three main issues.

Content of the Image

The most enduring of these concerns is the content of the image. Irenaeus first introduced the distinction between the "image" (Heb. selem; Lat. imago) and "likeness" (Heb. demut; Lat. similitudo). The former he identified as the rationality and free will which inhere in man qua man. The likeness he conceived to be a superadded gift of God's righteousness which man, because of his reason and freedom of choice, had the possibility to retain and advance by obedience to the divine commands. But this probationary endowment man was to forfeit by his act of willful disobedience for both himself and descendants. This thesis of Irenaeus was generally upheld by the scholastics and was given dogmatic application by Aquinas. In Aquinas's view, however, Adam had need of divine aid to continue in the path of holiness. But this aid, in its turn, was conditioned on Adam's effort and determination to obey God's law. Thus from the first, in Aquinas's scheme, divine grace was made to depend on human merit.

The Reformers denied this distinction between image and likeness upon which the works - salvation of medievalism was reared in their insistence upon the radical nature of sin and its effect upon the total being of man. Thus did they maintain that salvation is by grace alone and by faith alone as the gift of God.

Some moderns have revived Irenaeus's distinction under new terms. Emil Brunner, for example, speaks of the "formal" image to express the essential structure of man's being, which is not greatly affected by the fall. The "material" image on the other hand, he regards as quite lost by man's sin. Reinhold Niebuhr has returned to the scholastic distinction more closely as regards both terminology and thesis. Those who do not admit a different connotation for the terms have sought to identify the content of the image as either corporeal form or pure spirit. Schleiermacher speaks of the image as man's dominion over nature, a view expounded in more recent days by Hans Wolff and L Verdium.

Karl Barth conceived of it in terms of male and female, although he stresses at the same time that only in relation to Christ is there a true understanding of man. The Reformed position is that the image of God in man consists in man's rationality and moral competency, but that it is precisely these realities of his being which were lost or marred through sin. Others consider personality as the ingredient of the image, while still others prefer to see it as sonship, contending that man was created for that relationship. But by his sin he repudiated his sonship, which can be restored only in Christ.


The Origin of the Soul

In the light of such passages as Ps. 12:7; Isa. 42:5; Zech. 12:1; and Heb. 12:9, the creationist doctrine that God is the immediate creator of the human soul has been built. First elaborated by Lactantius (c. 240 - c. 320), it had the support of Jerome and of Calvin among the Reformers. Aquinas declared any other view to be heretical and so followed Peter Lombard, who in his Sentences says, "The Church teaches that souls are created at their infusion into the body."

The alternative view, traducianism (Lat. tradux, a branch or shoot), expounded by Tertullian, is that the substances of both soul and body are formed and propagated together. Favored by Luther, it is consequently generally adopted by later Lutheran theologians. In support of the view is the observation that Gen. 1:27 represents God as creating the species in Adam to be propagated "after its kind" (cf. Gen. 1:12, 21, 25). And this increase through secondary causes is implied in the following verse (cf.vs. 22; 5:3; 46:26; John 1:13; Heb. 7:9 - 10) and in the passages which suggest the solidarity of the race and its sin in the first man (Rom. 5:12 - 13; I Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:3).

From its stress on the continuing kinship of God and man, the Eastern church has favored creationism. Here God is regarded as acting immediately to bring individual life into being. The Western church, on the other hand, by emphasizing God's otherness from the created order and the depth of the yawning gulf between the human and divine consequent on man's sin, sees God's contact with man in the world as more distant. Traducianism, therefore, in which God's relation to individual conception and birth is held to be mediated, has had from the third century wide support.

The Extent of Freedom

Consonant with his idea of the imago Dei as grounded in man's nature as rational and free, Justin Martyr set in motion the view that every man is responsible for his own wrongdoing, which was to become a characteristic note of the Eastern church. Thus Adam is seen as the primary type of each man's sinning, and his fall is the story of Everyman. Western theology, by contrast, regards Adam's transgression as the fountainhead of all human evil, but against Gnosticism refused to locate its source in individual life in the material of the body. Tertullian traced sin to humanity's connection with Adam, through whom it has become a natural element of every man's nature. Yet he allowed some residue of free will to remain.

In Pelagius and Augustine these two views came into sharp conflict. Pelagius taught that man was unaffected by Adam's transgression, his will retaining the liberty of indifference so that he possesses in himself the ability to choose good or evil. In the light of Rom. 5:12 - 13 Augustine maintained that Adam's sin has so crippled man that he can act only to express his sinful nature inherited from his first parents. The inevitable compromise appeared in the semi - Pelagian (or semi - Augustinian) synergistic thesis that while all men do inherit a bias to sin, a freedom of decision remains that permits at least some men to take the first step toward righteousness. In the Calvinist - Arminian controversy of the seventeenth century the conflict was reenacted. Calvin contended for the total depravity of man; man "has no good remaining in him." Therefore the will is not free to choose the good; so salvation is an act of God's sovereign grace.

Arminius allowed that Adam's sin had dire consequences and that each posseses a "natural propensity" to sin (John Wesley), while maintaining, at the same time, that it belongs to every man of his own free will to ratify this inner direction of his nature. On the other hand, it is possible for any man, by accepting the aid of the Holy Spirit, to opt for God's way, for he still possesses an inner ability so to do.

In the Pelagian - humanist scheme all men are well and need only a tonic to keep them in good health. In the semi - Pelagian (semi - Augustinian) - Arminian doctrine man is sick and requires the right medicine for his recovery. In the Augustinian - Calvinist view man is dead and can be renewed to life only by a divinely initiated resurrection.

H D McDonald
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

S B Babbage, Man in Nature and Grace; E Brunner, Man in Revolt; G Carey, I Believe in Man; S Cave, The Christian Estimate of Man; D Cairns, The Image of God in Man; W Eichrodt, Man in the OT ; W G Kummel, Man in the NT ; J Laidlaw, The Bible Doctrine of Man; J G Machen, The Christian View of Man; H D McDonald, The Christian View of Man; J Moltmann, Man; J Orr, God's Image in Man; H W Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man; R F Shedd, Man in Community; C R Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Man; W D Stacey, The Pauline View of Man; T F Torrance, Calvin's Doctrine of Man; C A vanPeursen, Body, Soul, Spirit; J S Wright, What Is Man?

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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