Systematic Theology

This session was taught at the Christ Church Manchester School of Theology on Saturday 29th February 2020. The CCM School of Theology was set up to serve local churches in Manchester and beyond.

Topic: The Doctrine of Humanity

In this session, we look at the doctrine of Humanity.

Speaker: Andrew Bunt

Andrew is a staff member at Kings Church Eastbourne, an author and a regular speaker on various theology topics. 




The Doctrine of Humanity

Humanity as Created

• Foundational truth: humans are the created, not the creator. Who we are is defined in relation to who created us.
• As created creatures, we are placed in a position subordinate to our creator and so have an obligation to worship and obey him (Rev. 4:11).
• Why were we created? To bring glory to God (Is. 43:7). Not because God needed us (Acts 17:24-25) or because he was lonely (John 17:23-24). Glorifying God is not about dry duty; we glorify God by enjoying him and we find joy in glorifying God (John 10:10; Ps. 16:11; 84).
• Vital for understanding the gospel. Can’t understand sin if we don’t recognise we are the created who have obligations to worship and obey our creator. Sin is failing in these obligations (Gen. 3; Rom. 1:18-32) and so salvation is restoration to these obligations (John 17:20-26; Eph. 1:3-14).

Humanity in Genesis 1-3

• Genesis 1-3 are the vital foundation of a biblical understanding of what it means to be human.

Humanity as the Pinnacle

• Genesis 1: Creation of humans is longest part of the account; only of humans does God say, ‘Let us make’; only humans are created in God’s image; only humans are given dominion; only after humans is creation
‘very good’.
• Genesis 2: Creation of humans is most detailed part; humans given role of working and keeping the garden; humans given command about the trees; humans given companionship; humans name the
• But pinnacle not goal. The end goal of creation is that humans would enjoy sabbath rest with God (Gen. 2:1-3).

Humanity Called to Rule

• Humans are given a role: we are to rule as God’s representatives on the earth.
• Gen. 1:28 ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’
• Gen. 2:15 ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.’
• Theme is celebrated in Psalm 8 and then taken up and applied to Jesus in Hebrews 2.

Humans are Created to Work and to Rest

• Work is part of God’s good creation. It comes before sin enters the world (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). Sin makes work harder (Gen. 3:16-19), but it is still a good thing. Work is necessary for human flourishing.
• Rest is also part of God’s good creation. God’s sabbath rest at the end of creation (Gen. 2:1-3) is meant to be a model for us (Exod. 20:8-11). Rest is necessary for human flourishing.

Humans are Relational Creatures

• Humans are designed to be in relationship. We cannot thrive on our own.
• Designed to be in relationship with God:
– Creation ‘in the image of God’ may suggest this.
– Gen. 2 portrays intimate relationship with God. Gen. 3 shows that the disruption of this relationship is a terrible thing.

• Designed to be in relationship with other humans:
– Gen. 1:26 ‘Let us make … in our image, after our likeness’ – The plural may indicate that as God exists in relationship, humans are also created to exist in relationship.
– Gen. 2:18 ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ – Has a broader application than marriage.

Humans are Sexed and Sexual Creatures

• Humans are sexed creatures – we are created as male or female (Gen. 1:27).
– Diversity of male and female within humanity may reflect the diversity within unity within the Trinity (Gen. 1:26-27).
– Both males and females are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Completely equal in worth and dignity.
– Male and female are given identities. Something you are and which you express, not something you become or attain to or perform.

• Humans are sexual beings – we are created with sexual desires.
– Implied in Gen. 1:27-28 (‘male and female … be fruitful’). Jesus says part of reason for creation as male and female is for marriages (Mark 10:6-7; Matt. 19:4-5). Made explicit in Gen. 2 narrative.
– Gen. 1 suggests an important link between sex and procreation.
– Gen. 2 shows that sex is designed and reserved for one-man, one-woman marriages: a one flesh reunion of what was separated when woman was taken out of man. Reunion element is important.
– Rest of Bible will show that this union is designed to portray relationship between God and his people (e.g. Hosea 1-3) and ultimately Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2).

Humanity in the Image of God

• Hugely important and hugely debated element of what it means to be human.

Understandings of the Image of God

• Three broad ways of understanding the image of God:
– Substantive – Defines the image as being linked to a particular element of a person (e.g. rationality or original righteousness).
– Relational – Defines the image as being about the ability to relate and especially relationships between male and female.
– Functional – Defines the image in terms of a function that humans should perform (e.g. to multiply, fill and subdue).

Discuss: What do you think it means to be created in the image of God? Why do you think this?

What Does the Bible Say?

Genesis 1:26-27
• Meaning is not made explicit, but a few possibilities:
• Relational – The relational view can be argued from the idea of plurality introduced in ‘let us make’ and ‘in our image, after our likeness’. This may link with the creation ‘male and female’ which is placed in parallel to ‘in the image of God’.
• Functional – Can be argued from the plan (v.26) and subsequent command (v.28) for humans to fill and subdue the earth. May also be support from the ancient Near Eastern context where ‘the image’ of a king represented his power and authority and where kings were sometimes said to be ‘in the image of god’ and so their ruling representatives on earth.
• However, these two things could both be true of humans but not part of the image of God.

Genesis 5:1-3
• Seth said to be fathered in likeness of Adam. Can’t be a relational or functional reading, must be about general family likeness.
• Substantive – Arguments for a substantive reading often use Gen. 5:1-3 and the idea of a general family resemblance to argue that the image must be a resemblance between God and humans not shared by
other creatures (e.g. rationality or original righteousness). But problematic. Are those who don’t have the determined ability or characteristic not in the image of God?

Genesis 9:6
• Context: After the flood as God makes a covenant with Noah. Wider context evokes Genesis 1.
• Image given as reason why capital punishment is to be instituted for murder and thus as reason why humans should not kill other humans. Image is a marker of worth: that the life of the person is worthy of
protection and preservation. By contrast, animals can be killed and eaten (vv.4-5).

James 3:9
• Context: James is talking about the power of the tongue and the need to learn to tame it.
• Implied that tongue should not be used to curse another human because they are created in image of God. Again, image is about worth. Because they are created in the image of God, humans are worthy of honour and protection and should not be cursed.


• No exact content or meaning of the image is ever specified, but its effect is clear: it marks those with it as worthy of honour, protection and the preservation of their life. (1)
• Gen. 5:1-3 suggests the idea of a general likeness, akin to the likeness between father and son.
• Image is therefore about humans being like God in unspecified ways and the likeness means they are worthy of honour, protection and the preservation of their life. The image is a mark of protection given to
humans by God.

Is the Image of God Lost or Distorted Through Sin?

• Commonly believed that the image has been either completely lost or partially distorted through sin.
• Strongest argument in support is the possibility that New Testament texts talk about salvation as a restoration of the image of God in a human (e.g. Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10; 2 Cor. 3:18). If salvation brings
restoration, sin must have brought distortion.

(1) The only other place the image is mentioned is in 1 Corinthians 11:7. Little is said in the passage which helps us isolatethe meaning of the motif.

• However, there are good reasons to think that the image is static and unaffected by sin:
– It is never stated in Scripture that sin removes or damages the image.
– When the image is mentioned after the Fall (Gen. 5:1; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jam. 3:9), there is no hint that it has been damaged.
– The texts which are read as being about a restoration to the image of God, are actually about conformity to Christ, who, as God incarnate, is the perfect representation of God. (2)

• Why this is really important: In Scripture the image is what designates a life as worthy of protection and preservation. If the image is lost or damaged through sin, how damaged can it become before the person
loses the right to life? If the image can be lost or damaged, the function it plays in Scripture – God’s seal of protection on human lives – is lost.

(2) For a defence of this view see this blog and the articles cited there: ‘Losing the Image’(

The Image and Personhood Theory

• In biblical thinking, the image of God functions as personhood does in secular anthropology.
• Secular anthropology distinguishes between a human being and a person.

Human Being Person
Material Non-material
No moral rights (when alone) Has moral rights
External trappings True self
Not valued Valued
Dispensable Not Dispensable


• To be a human being with personhood is to have the right to life (hence opposition to murder and suicide), but it is possible to be a human being and not to have personhood, and thus not have the right to life.
• What makes a human being a person? Various options: consciousness, self-consciousness, rationality, autonomy, ability to communicate et al.
• See personhood at play in ethics of life and death, e.g. euthanasia.
• If personhood is rooted in something other than being human, some adult humans may not qualify as a person and thus their lives are not worthy of protection and preservation. Euthanasia and assisted suicide
always imply this, even if it isn’t explicitly stated.
• Because of the underlying logic, it is a very small step from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary. As soon as personhood is separated from humanness, some people lose the right to life.
• Image of God is not additional to humanness. It is core to being human, therefore every human life – regardless of any other factor – is worthy of protection and preservation. Image of God is a vital safeguard.

The Human Constitution

• Of what is a human composed? Are we just a body? Or a body and a soul? Or do we also have a spirit? Are the spirit and soul different or the same? Which part is most important?

The Classic Views

  • Monism – A human consists of one part, the body. No existence without the body. In Scripture, ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ refer to the whole of a person.
  • Dichotomy – A human consists of two parts, the body and soul/spirit (both the same thing).
  • Trichotomy – A human consists of three parts, the body, the soul and the spirit. Soul encapsulates non-physical elements (e.g. emotions, will, intellect). Spirit is the part which relates to God.

Discuss: Which perspective do you think is correct? Why do you think this?

What Does the Bible Say?

• Humans do consist of a physical element (the body) and (a) non-physical element(s). Evidence:
– Human existence continues after death (e.g. Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23-24)
– Death defined as separation of the non-physical from the physical (e.g. Gen. 35:18; Eccl. 12:7; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5:8).

• The non-physical element is called both ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ and these seem to be the same thing.
– The terms can be used interchangeably (e.g. Isa. 26:9; Luke 1:46-47; John 12:27 with 13:21).
– There is no consistent differentiation between the two.

• Two difficult texts:
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ‘…may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ – Probably multiple terms used for emphasis (cf. Matt. 23:27; Mark
– Hebrews 4:12 ‘For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow…’ – Focus is on word of God’s
power to penetrate, not to separate things. Joints and marrow aren’t really separable either. It’s hyperbolic language.

• On balance, it seems that in terms of ontology (i.e. being) the dichotomy view is correct, but functionally we are meant to operate as monists (body and soul working together).
• This is why death (separation of body and soul/spirit) is such an awful thing and why Christian end-time hope is resurrection (reunion of body and soul).

The Human Constitution and Modern Identity

• Modern secular conceptions of identity are dualist: we have a body and an internal true-self. The true-self is prioritised as the real us and source of identity.
• This is seen in secular views on sexuality and gender:
– Sexuality – Sexual orientation (internal feeling) is deemed to be part of the true-self and so identity. Therefore, it is our internal feelings and not our body which dictate what sort of sexual relationships we should or shouldn’t take part in.

– Gender – Gender identity (internal feeling) is deemed part of the true-self and so identity. Therefore, it is our internal feelings and not our body which dictate our gendered identity. The body is insignificant and can therefore be ignored or even changed to line-up with the true-self.
• Very different from the biblical picture where the body and soul/spirit are meant to function as one. Both tell us about who we really are. Not meant to separate or pit against each other.
• Reclaiming an appreciation of the goodness of the body is vital for understanding Christian sexual and gender ethics.


Recommended Resources

General Treatments

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Various editions). See especially part 2, chs. 1 (‘The Origin of Man’), 2 (‘The Constitutional Nature of Man’), and 3 (‘Man as the Image of God’).

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Various editions). Part 1, ch. 15.

Marc Cortez, Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010)

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (IVP, 1994). See especially chs. 21(‘The Creation of Man’), 22 (‘Man as Male and Female’), and 23 (‘The Essential Nature of Man’).

Bruce Ware, ‘Systematic Theology I’ (Lecture Course):

‘25. Introduction and Human Origins’ (

‘26. Human Nature and the Soul’ (

On Specific Topics

Andrew Bunt, ‘Identity in Christ’, Three talks (

Andrew Bunt, ‘The Freedom of the Gender Binary’, Blog series

Andrew Bunt, ‘The Image and Ethics’, Blog series

Timothy Keller, ‘Identity in Christ’, Talks from a conference run by Living Out:
Written summaries:

Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Baker Books, 2018)

John Piper, ‘A Beginners Guide to Freewill’ (

Brian S. Rosner, Known By God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity (Zondervan, 2017)

Paul R. Williamson, Death and the Afterlife: Biblical Perspectives on Ultimate Questions (Apollos/IVP, 2017)





To see more theology training from Christ Church Manchester, you can visit our School of Theology, or why not consider subscribing to our theology podcast on iTunes.