Category Archives: 4 – The Doctrine of Man

The New Covenant

6 Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old [old = the ministry of the Levitical priests] as the covenant he mediates is better [than the Mosaic covenant], since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34)

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

During the past week my family and I continued to study the covenants between God and man, guided by Wayne Grudem’s consideration of them in Chapter 25, “The Covenants Between God and Man” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), in our family Bible reading time. In the previous week we’d considered the three covenants of Covenant Theology–the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption, and the Covenant of Grace–and the first seven of the eight dispensational covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967)–the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, and the Davidic covenant. In the past week we studied the eighth of the dispensational covenants, the new covenant described in the passage quoted above, Hebrews 8:6-13 (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

We began by considering what Jesus said about the new covenant when instituting the Lord’s Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” and Paul’s comment on what Jesus said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26; we also read one of the Synoptic records of what Jesus said, Luke 22:20). We observed that the “cup” (or the Lord’s Supper itself) symbolizes the new covenant, that “new” distinguishes the covenant from the Mosaic covenant, that “my blood” indicates that Jesus’ forthcoming death on the cross constituted a sacrifice to God, that we are to observe the Lord’s Supper regularly, and that Jesus is going to come again.

Next we considered what Paul said about the relationship between the promises of the Abrahamic covenant and the obligations of the Mosaic covenant, the Law, in Galatians 3:15-29. We included this passage in our study because some theologians view the new covenant as the Abrahamic covenant extended to Gentiles, something suggested by God’s telling Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Paul affirms that the promises of the Abraham covenant were not cancelled by the Law, “The law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Galatians 3:17), and he explains that God added the Law to reveal people’s sin and how much they need a Saviour, “It [the Law] was added because of transgressions, until the offspring [Christ, according to 3:16] should come to whom the promise [the promise of the Abrahamic covenant] had been made” (3:19).

Then we considered Jeremiah 31:31-34 (quoted above). We observed that the new covenant was to be between God and Israel / Judah, that it would replace or renew the Mosaic covenant, and that it would include these promises:
– God would write His laws in people’s minds and hearts instead of on tablets of stone.
– God and His people would have the relationship that I identified as His goal in my last post, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12; cited in 2 Corinthians 6:16).
– There would be no need for any of His people to teach others to know Him because all of them would know Him.
– God would forgive their sins.

Finally we considered Hebrews 8:6-13 (quoted above). After noting that the description of the new covenant in 8:8-12 is a quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34, we observed that Jesus Christ is mediator of the new covenant (8:6) and that the new covenant replaced (not just renewed) the old covenant (8:13). As well we inferred from Hebrews 9:15, “He [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance,” and 1 Corinthians 1:24, “those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles,” that the new covenant includes the Church as well as Israel.

J. Rodway Williams concludes his consideration of the new covenant by demonstrating that–except for the promise of an eternal inheritance, which can’t be fulfilled for a person until after this life–all “promises of the new covenant…are completely fulfilled” (Williams, page 303; see Bibliography).

Bibliography

To prepare for our family study of the new covenant, I read the expositions on the new covenant in my Bible dictionaries / encyclopedias and theological books and the comments on 1 Corinthians 11:25-26, Galatians 3:15-29, Jeremiah 33:31-34, and Hebrews 8:6-13 in some of my commentaries. Although I benefited from all of them, these stood out to me:
– Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Volumes XX-XXI of The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960. Pages 423-64.
– McCaig, Archibald. “Covenant, The New.” In The International Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 4 volumes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-88. Volume one, pages 795-97.
– Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things To Come. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonderan, 1958. Pages 116-28. Pentecost argues that Jeremiah 31:31-34 applies just to Israel and not to the Church and that it won’t be realized until the Millenium.
– Pink, Arthur W. An Exposition of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954. Pages 436-59.
– Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988-92. Volume one, pages 299-303.

The Covenants Between God and Man

“I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12, ESV; cited in 2 Corinthians 6:16; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Since He made man, God has told people how He wants them to act and made promises to them of how He will act toward them in various circumstances. The Bible contains several summaries of man’s obligations and God’s promises which theologians call “covenants.” Although the dictionary defines a “covenant” as “a solemn agreement between two or more persons or groups to do or not do something specified,” all the covenants between God and man recognized by theologians were imposed by God rather than arrived at by consultation between Him and man. His basic idea in all of them is expressed in what He told the Isralites in the passage quoted above.

During the past week my family and I have been considering in our family Bible reading time the covenants between God and man recognized by theologians, guided by Wayne Grudem’s consideration of them in Chapter 25, “The Covenants Between God and Man” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) and, because it focuses on the three covenants of Covenant Theology rather than on the dispensational covenants that I was familiar with from The New Scofield Reference Bible, by the resources listed in the Bibliography at the end of this post. Throughout the post I’ll refer to those resources by author and/or title; see the Bibliography for more information about them.

Covenant Theology, which was developed by some of the early Reformers, identifies three covenants: the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption, and the Covenant of Grace. Although my family and I read all that Grudem says about them, here I’ll give just definitions of them. The Covenant of Works is the covenant that God made with Adam and Eve on creating them. The Covenant of Redemption is the covenant between God the Father and God the Son regarding the salvation of mankind. The Covenant of Grace is the covenant between God and His people, mediated by Christ, regarding His providing salvation for them. The best survey that I have of Covenant Theology is Osterhaven’s article on it in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (279-80), and the fullest exposition that I have of it is Berkhof’s in his Systematic Theology (211-18; 262-301).

However the Bible actually portrays God as entering into several covenants with people, each of them being imposed by Him and including an obligation and a promise. Here I’ll comment briefly on the first seven of the eight covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible: the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant. Covenant Theology calls the Edenic covenant “the Covenant of Works” and views the other covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible as forms of the Covenant of Grace. When our family encountered each of them in our reading of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, we read the Bible passage(s) establishing it and noted how it qualified as a covenant. I’ll consider the New Covenant in next Tuesday’s post.

The Edenic Covenant

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 living thing that moves on the earth. . . . 29 Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and very tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. . . . 16 You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it shall surely die. (Genesis 1:28-30 [God is speaking to Adam and Eve] and 2:16-17 [God is speaking to Adam])

Although the word “covenant” isn’t used in the Biblical account of the Edenic covenant, the essential parts of a covenant are there: two parties–God and Adam / Eve), an obligation–God’s commands in the passages quoted and “to work [the Garden of Eden] and keep it” (Genesis 2:15), and a promise–eternal life (it is implied in the threat of death for disobedience). Moreover Hosea 6:7, “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant,” implies a covenant relationship between God and Adam.

The Edenic Covenant is also known as the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Life. Grudem prefers “Covenant of Works” because “participation in the blessings of the covenant clearly depended on obedience or ‘works’ on the part of Adam and Eve” (Grudem, page 517). On the other hand, J. Rodman Williams argues, “It is not a ‘covenant of works’ in the sense that man is granted life on condition of obedience, as if eternal life would be achieved by <i>not</i> eating of the forbidden tree. Rather, this life is granted to man through his continuance in fellowship with God and partaking of the ‘tree of life.'” He prefers “Covenant of Life” because “life–eternal life–is the promise” (Williams, 277-78).

The fullest accounts that I have of the Edenic Covenant besides the one in Grudem’s Systematic Theology (516-18) are those by Berkhof (pages 211-18) and Williams (pages 276-79).

The Adamic Covenant

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his head. (Genesis 3:15; God is speaking to Satan)

Again the word “covenant” isn’t used in the Biblical account of the covenant but the essential parts of a covenant are there. Imposed on Adam and Eve by God after their fall and conditioning mankind’s life until Jesus’ return, it includes the curses put on Satan (Genesis 3:14-15), Eve (3:16), and Adam (3:17-19) and the promise of a redeemer (3:15).

The fullest accounts that I have of the Adamic covenant are those in The New Scofield Reference Bible (page 7, note 2) and by Berkhof (pages 293-94).

The Noahic Covenant

9 Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you . . . 11 that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. 12 . . . This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all generations. I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth…16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. (Genesis 9:8-16; God is speaking to Noah and his sons)

The Noahic covenant consists of a promise made by God to Noah and his sons, their descendants, and all living creatures–that another universal flood would not occur–without an obligation being placed on them. It is the first of God’s covenants with man to include a sign, the rainbow.

The fullest accounts of the Noahic covenant that I have are those by Berkhof (pages 294-95) and Williams (pages 279-80).

The Abrahamic Covenant

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 4 So Abram went as the LORD had told him . . . to the land of Canaan. . . . 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there [at Shechem] an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7)

The Abrahamic covenant consists of a promise made by God to Abraham that if he would go to a land which God would show him God would give him and his descendants that land, he would have so many descendants that they couldn’t be counted, and all families of the earth would be blessed in him. When Abraham was in that land (Canaan), God renewed His promise to him several times (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; and 22:15-18). On one of those occasions God gave him a sign that he would possess Canaan (15:8-17), and on another of them God instituted circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant with him and his offspring (Genesis 17:9-14). God reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15).

The fullest accounts of the Abrahamic covenant that I have are those by Berhof (pages 295-97), Pentecost (pages 65-94), and Williams (pages 280-89).

The Mosaic Covenant

3 Israel encamped before the mountain [Mount Sinai], 4 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel” 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Following this God gave the Israelites numerous rules collectively referred to as “the Law”, including the familiar Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), and they participated in a ritual confirming the covenant between God and them (24:3-8). Paul refers to the Mosaic covenant as “the old covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:14). I’ll consider what he and others refer to as “the new covenant” and contrast it with “the old covenant” in next Tuesday’s post.

The fullest accounts of the Mosaic covenant that I have are those by Berkhof (pages 297-99) and Williams (pages 289-94).

The Palestinian Covenant

Deuteronomy 29:1 says, “These are the words of the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb [another name for Mount Sinai].” Bible scholars disagree on whether “these” refers to what precedes or what follows the passage and on whether “the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab” was a new covenant or a renewal of “the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.” The Scofield Reference Bible takes “these” to refer to Deuteronomy 29-30 and “the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab” to be a new covenant, and it calls the new covenant the “Palestinian Covenant.”

However I understand “the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab” to be a renewal of “the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb” and “these” to refer to both what precedes and what follows Deuteronomy 29:1, comprising at least Deuteronomy 27-30 and possibly even Deuteronomy 1-30. As Donald C. Stamps observes, “To conquer the land of Canaan successfully would require their [the Israelites’] commitment to this covenant [the Mosaic covenant] and the assurance that the Lord God would be with them” (The Full Life Study Bible, page 291).

The Davidic Covenant

8 Now, therefore, thus therefore shall you [Nathan the prophet] say to my servant David, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all my enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I shall establish his kingdom forever. 14 I shall be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:8-16)

Psalm 89 also describes the Davidic covenant. The covenant includes promises by God to David that He would establish the kingdom of his son, Solomon, who would build a house for Him (Solomon’s Temple), and that He would establish David’s house and kingdom forever. It also includes an obligation on David’s offspring to be faithful to God, His warning that He would punish them if they forsook Him and His law. Hebrews 1:5 applies “I shall be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” to Christ.

The fullest accounts of the Davidic Covenant that I have are those by Pentecost (pages 100-15) and Williams (pages 294-303).

Bibliography

To prepare for our family study of the covenants between God and man, I read numerous articles and book chapters about them. Listed below are the ones, besides Grudem’s Systematic Theology, that I’ve cited in this post. Note that Berkhof and Osterhaven are from a Covenant Theology perspective and The New Scofield Reference Bible and Pentecost are from a dispensationalist perspective.

The New Scofield Reference Bible. Edited by C.I. Scofield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. I was given a copy of the 1917 edition by my parents on my tenth birthday and a copy of the 1967 edition by my first wife shortly after it was published. It has notes on the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant.
The Full Life Study Bible. Edited by Donald C. Stamps. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992. It has articles on God’s covenants with Abraham, the Israelites, and David and on the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
– Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1939. Its chapter “Man in the Covenant of Works” (pages 211-18) and its section “Man in the Covenant of Grace” (pages 262-301) consider the covenants of Covenant Theology. “Man in the Covenant of Grace” includes a chapter, “The Different Dispensations of the Covenant” (pages 290-301), that considers God’s covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Israel and the New Covenant.
– Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant Theology.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, pages 279-80. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.
– Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things To Come. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonderan, 1958. It has chapters on the Abrahamic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant.
– Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988-92. Its chapter “Covenant” (Volume One, pages 275-303) considers God’s covenants with Adam (the Edenic covenant), Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David and the New Covenant.

Actual Sin

What happens when a Christian sins? Are there degrees of sin? What is the unpardonable sin?

During the past week my family and I considered these questions in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of them in Chapter 24, “Sin” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

What happens when a Christian sins?

The New Testament speaks often of the harmful effects of a Christian’s sinning. For example, Paul warns that it will enslave him to sin, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to death” (Romans 6:16). Thus God disciplines the Christian who sins, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10) and threatens him with the loss of heavenly reward, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives [when it is tested by fire], he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

These passages raise the question of whether or not a Christian can lose his salvation. Grudem asserts that he can’t, arguing that as a child of God–“Beloved, we are God’s children, now” (1 John 3:2)–he is a permanent part of God’s family. Referring to the warning of Jesus in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Grudem suggests that a long-term pattern of disobedience to Christ by a professed Christian indicates that he never was a true Christian.

However on the basis of such passages as Hebrews 6:4-6, “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt,” I believe that a Christian can apostatize and lose his salvation.

I’ll consider this question more fully when my family and I read in our family Bible-reading time Chapter 40, “The Perseverance of Saints (Remaining a Christian),” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

Are there degrees of sin?

In my last post I defined sin as the breaking of the law of God. Moses told the people of Israel, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deuteronomy 27:28, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV), indicating that breaking any of the laws that God had given them would make them guilty before God and liable to punishment by Him. James tells his readers the same thing, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law'” (James 2:10-11). Thus, in one sense all sins are equally bad because our committing any of them makes us guilty before God.

However some sins are worse than others because they bring more dishonour to God or because they cause more harm to ourselves or others. When God showed Ezekiel in a vision four scenes of idolatry in the Temple, He referred to them as “great abominations…still greater abominations…still greater abominations [and] still greater abominations” (Ezekiel 6:6, 6, 12, 15). In pronouncing woes on the scribes and Pharisees, he recognized that they had tithed scrupulously but said that they had “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

Moreover those sins that are done deliberately are more displeasing to God than those that are done unintentionally. Thus under the Law provision was made for unintentional sin’s being atoned for but deliberate sin was to be punished: “If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person . . . and he shall be forgiven. . . . But the person who does anything with a high hand . . . that person shall be cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:27-30).

As well God expects more of leaders than of others. Thus Moses and Aaron were not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their not following exactly God’s instructions for providing water to the people. And James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

What is the unpardonable sin?

On one occasion when he was accused of casting out demons with the help of Satan, Jesus asserted, “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29; see also Matthew 12:31-32 and Luke 12:10). Grudem’s consideration of the unpardonable sin follows Louis Berkhof’s closely.

Both Berkhof and Grudem identify these views of what the unpardonable sin is:
– a sin that could be committed only while Christ was on earth
– unbelief until the time of death
– apostasy by genuine believers
– malicious, wilful rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to Christ, attributing it to Satan

Both argue for the fourth view, claiming that the sin consists “not in doubting the truth, nor in a simple denial of it, but in a contradiction of it that goes contrary to the conviction of the mind, to the illumination of the conscience, and even to the verdict of the heart” (Grudem, page 509, quoting Berkhof). Berhof continues, “In committing that sin man wilfully, maliciously, and intentionally attributes what is clearly recognized as the work of God to the influence and operation of Satan” (Berkhof – see Bibliography below, page 253).

Both also observe that since the unpardonable sin doesn’t include repentance, “we may be reasonably sure that they who fear that they have committed it and worry about this, and who desire the prayers of others for them, have not committed it” (Grudem, page 509, quoting Berkhof).

Bibliography

All my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias and systematic theology textbooks have comprehensive articles/chapters on sin, the topic of this and last Tuesday’s posts. These are the articles/chapters cited from them in the posts:
– Berkhof, Louis. “Man in the State of Sin.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 219-261.
– Erickson, Millard J. “Sin.” Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 511-599.
– Strong, Augustus Strong. “Sin, or Man’s State of Apostasy.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 533-664.

Original Sin

What is sin? Where did it come from? How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us? Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?

During the past week my family and I considered these questions in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of them in Chapter 24, “Sin” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

What is sin?

Sin is the breaking of the law of God. However ultimately it isn’t against God’s law but against God Himself. Thus David says after his committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the murder of her husband, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Moreover it includes not only performing acts but also having attitudes that displease God, this being shown by the Ten Commandments’ including “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 2:17; ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) among its prohibitions. Grudem views “sin” as including failure to conform to God’s law in moral nature as well as failure to conform to it in acts and attitudes, but I can’t find any Bible passages that designate “sinner” someone who hasn’t committed actual sins and so I disgree with Grudem’s view.

Various other suggestions have been made as to the essence of sin. Millard J. Erickson considers two of them, selfishness and sensuality, and concludes that a better alternative is that the essence of sin is putting anything ahead of God (Erickson, pages 529-30; see Bibliography below). His view is supported by the first of the Ten Commandments being “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and by Jesus’ saying that the most important of the commandments is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Despite God’s having created Adam and Eve “in his own image” and viewing them as “very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31), the Bible describes mankind as universally sinful:
– “There is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46; Solomon is praying at the dedication of the Temple).
– “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3; quoted in Romans 3:12).
– “No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 142:3).
– “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
– “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2).
– “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Where did sin come from?

Isaiah 14:12-15 and other Biblical passages suggest that sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion of angels against God, bringing sin into the universe. Later, as described in Genesis 3:1-7, he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and they did so, bringing sin into the world. Thus sin resulted from choices freely made by angels and humans. Being sovereign God could have prevented both angels and humans from sinning but, for reasons known only to Him, He allowed sin to enter the universe and the world despite His personal hatred of it.

Genesis 3:8-24 identifies several consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin on them:
– They were ashamed of being naked and tried to clothe themselves (Genesis 3:7; compare 2:25).
– They tried to hide from God (Genesis 3:8), realizing that their relationship with Him had changed.
– Eve would have pain in the bearing of children and would be ruled over by Adam (Genesis 3:16).
– Adam would experience hardship in working the ground for food and his body would die (Genesis 3:17-21).
– They were expelled from the Garden of Eden (3:22-24).

How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?

According to Grudem, we inherit the sin of Adam in two ways, our being counted guilty because of it and our having a corrupted nature because of it. This inherited sin is commonly designated “original sin,” but Grudem calls it “inherited sin” and its two aspects “inherited guilt” and “inherited corruption.”

Grudem claims that “all sinned” in Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” refers to our sinning in Adam rather than to our committing actual sins. He argues that all members of the human race were represented by Adam when he was tested in the Garden of Eden and so God counted us as well as Adam as guilty when he sinned. Others argue that the whole human race was actually in Adam rather than that it was just represented by him; again God would view us as well as Adam guilty when he sinned. Still others don’t agree that we are counted guilty because of Adam’s sin, their thinking that it would be unfair of God and not believing that Romans 5:12-21 teaches it. Augustus Hopkins Strong provides a table of the main theories (Strong, page 628; see Bibliography below).

However all agree that we do inherit a sinful disposition from Adam. This is clearly affirmed in Psalms 51:5, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And anyone who has raised children knows from experience that we are born with a tendency to sin. This doesn’t mean that we are totally depraved. By God’s “common grace” (I’ll have a post on “common grace” later), people do much that is good. But according to Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” they can’t do anything on their own that will satisfy God.

Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?

Grudem devotes over two pages to a consideration of this question. His answer is that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins but that God normally saves the children of believers before they are old enough to understand and believe the Gospel. He affirms that they are guilty (1) because he believes that everyone sinned in Adam and (2) because he believes that everyone is born with a sinful nature and that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner. He affirms that God saves at least some children, on the basis of such passages as Psalm 22:10, “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God,” and 1 Corinthians 7:14, “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

However, I don’t believe that everyone sinned in Adam (see “How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?”) and, although I recognize that everyone is born with a sinful nature, I don’t believe that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner (see “What is sin?”). Thus I don’t believe that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins. I view God’s attitude towards infants and children to be the same as that expressed by Jesus in this familiar incident: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 18:15-16).

Bibliography

All my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias and systematic theology textbooks have comprehensive articles/chapters on sin, the topic of this and next Tuesday’s posts. These are the articles/chapters cited from them in the posts:
– Berkhof, Louis. “Man in the State of Sin.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 219-261.
– Erickson, Millard J. “Sin.” Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 511-599.
– Strong, Augustus Strong. “Sin, or Man’s State of Apostasy.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 533-664.

The Constitution of Man

During the past week my family and I read Chapter 23, “The Essential Nature of Man” in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem considers how many parts there are to man and the origin of the soul. He supports the dichotomist view that man consists of two essential parts–the body and the soul/spirit–and the creationist view that a person’s soul is created by God. On the other hand the systematic theology textbook that I used at Bible college, Henry Clarence Thiesen’s Lectures in Systematic Theology (see the bibliography at the end of the post), supports the trichotomist view that man consists of three essential parts–the body, the soul, and the spirit–and the traducian view that a person’s soul is inherited from the person’s parents. As I did in our family reading, I’ll follow Grudem’s presentation here, but I’ll also draw on the presentations in the books listed in the bibliography.

How Many Parts Are There to Man?

Everybody agrees that we have a physical body. Most people feel that we also have an immaterial part, a “soul,” that will live on after our body dies. Some people believe that we also have a third part, a “spirit,” that relates to God. The view that we have three parts is called trichotomy, the view that we have two parts is called dichotomy, and the view that we have only one part is called monism. Since the Bible is clear that we have a soul that is distinct from our physical body and will live on after we die (Genesis 35:18; Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:43, 46; Acts 7:59; Philippians 1:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 6:9; 20:4), I won’t consider monism here. Following Grudem, I’ll present Biblical evidence for dichotomy and then arguments for trichotomy and responses to them.

Biblical evidence for dichotomy:
– “Soul” and “spirit” are sometimes used interchangeably. For example, Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted) and people who have died and gone to heaven are called “spirits” in Hebrews 12:23 and “souls” in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4.
– The Bible says that at death either the “soul” or the “spirit” departs. Examples of the former are “Her [Rachel’s] soul was departing, for she was dying” (Genesis 35:18) and “This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20; God to the rich fool). Examples of the latter are “Into thy hand I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5; David to God) and “He [Jesus] bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
– Man is said to be either “body and soul” or “body and spirit.” When he sent out the twelve apostles, Jesus told them, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). On the other hand, Paul says, “Deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”” (2 Corinthians 5:5) and James says, “The body apart from the spirit is dead” (James 2:26).
– The “soul” can sin and the “spirit” can sin. According to Grudem, trichotomists usually agree with dichotomists that the soul can sin but generally think of the spirit, when renewed, as free from sin. However such passages as “A stubborn and rebellious generation…whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Psalm 78:8) and “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1) imply that the spirit can sin.
– Everything that the “soul” or the “spirit” is said to do, the other is also said to do. Trichotomists hold that the soul includes our intellect, emotions, and will and that our spirit relates to God. However the Bible also refers to the spirit as thinking and feeling and the soul as praying and worshipping. Examples of the former are “Jesus perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves” (Mark 2:8) and “Jesus was troubled in his spirit” (John 1:21) and of the latter are “I [Hannah] have been pouring out my soul before the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:15) and “To you, O LORD, I [David] lift up my soul” (Psalm 25:1).
Grudem opens and closes his presentation of the Biblical evidence for dichotomy by emphasizing the overall unity between body and soul. When God created man, He “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). When Jesus returns, our bodies will be raised and reunited with our souls/spirits to live with him forever (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).

Arguments for Trichotomy and Responses to Them:
Grudem presents seven arguments made by trichomists and then gives his responses to them. I’ll give his responses with the arguments.
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” clearly speaks of three parts in man. Grudem suggests that Paul could be giving synonyms (“spirit” and “soul”) for emphasis as Jesus does in Mark 12:30, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” However, although in Mark 12:30 all four terms are synonymous, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “body” is clearly not synonymous with “spirit” and “soul,” suggesting that perhaps “spirit” and “soul” are also not synonymous.
2. Hebrews 4:12, “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,” clearly speaks of the separateness of the soul and the spirit. Grudem responds as he did to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 by suggesting that “soul” and “spirit” are just additional terms for our inner being rather than separate parts.
3. 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 identifies three kinds of people–“people of the flesh” (3:1), “the natural person” (2:14), and “the spiritual person” (2:15)–with “the natural person” and “the spiritual person” seeming to refer to Christians dominated, respectively, by the soul and by the spirit. Grudem responds that in the context “spiritual” seems to mean “guided by the Spirit” rather than “dominated by the spirit.”
4. 1 Corinthians 14:14, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful,” implies that Paul’s mind does something different than his spirit does. Grudem argues that nothing in the passage suggests that Paul regards his spirit as different from his soul and that he could just as easily have said “my soul prays but my mind is unfruitful.”
5. Many trichotomists claim to have a spiritual perception of God that they know is different from ordinary thinking and feeling. Grudem concedes that Romans 8:16 confirms that we have a “spirit” within us with which we perceive God but argues that such passages as Luke 1:46-47 (quoted above) show that we could just as easily refer to it as our “soul.”
6. Some trichotomists argue that both humans and animals have a soul and that it is our having a spirit which makes us different from animals. Observing that our souls and bodies relate to God in ways that animals can’t, Grudem suggests that what makes us different from animals is the spiritual abilities that God gives our souls and bodies rather than a separate part called a “spirit.”
7. Trichotomists argue from Romans 8:10, “If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness” (RSV), that when we become Christians are spirits become alive. Grudem cites such Bible verses as Deuteronomy 2:30, “the LORD your God hardened his [Sihon the king of Heshbon’s] spirit,” to show that unbelievers have a spirit and argues that in Romans 8:10 Paul means that when we become Christians we as whole persons become alive rather than that just one part of us becomes alive.

Although admitting that the arguments for trichotomy have some force, Grudem concludes that they aren’t strong enough to overcome the evidence given in “Biblical evidence for trichotomy” (above) that “soul” and “spirit” are often interchangeable and/or synonymous. He also hypothesizes that by identifying the spirit with relating to God and thinking of it as distinct from our intellect, emotions, and will trichotomists could come to rely on “spiritual” discernment rather than on Bible study for guidance. However he doesn’t give any evidence to support his hypothesis.

One of the questions which Grudem asks at the end of the chapter is which view the reader held before reading the chapter and which he or she held after reading it. Before reading the chapter I held the trichotomist view, but now I realize that there is Biblical evidence for each view.

Where Do Our Souls Come From?

Two views have been common in the history of the church–creationism and traducianism. Creationists believe that a person’s soul is created by God and sent to the person’s body sometime between conception and birth. Traducianists believe that a person’s soul is inherited from the person’s parents at conception.

Biblical evidence for creationism:
– “Children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).
– “The spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
– “God…gives breath to the people on it [the earth] and spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5).
– “the LORD…formed the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1).
– “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9), referring to God.

Biblical evidence for traducianism:
– “God created man in his own image…and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,'” (Genesis 1:27-28).
– “He [Adam] fathered a son in his own likeness, after his own image” (Genesis 5:3).
– “Levi…was still in the loins of his ancestor [Abraham] when Melchisedek met him [Abraham]” (Hebrews 7:10).

Creationism accounts better for Jesus’s being born without sin, but traducianism accounts better for our being born in sin. If you’d like an explanation of the preceding statement, please ask for one in a comment on this post and I’ll give it in a reply to your request.

Louis Berkhof concludes: “The Bible makes no direct statement respecting the origin of the soul of man, except in the case of Adam. The few Scriptural passages that are adduced as favoring the one theory or the other, can hardly be called conclusive on either side. And because we have no clear teaching of Scripture on the point in question, it is necessary to speak with caution on the subject” (Berkhof, page 200; see the bibliography below). I agree.

Bibliography

Considerations in systematic theology textbooks that I found especially useful in my personal study of the constitution of man besides Chapter 23, “The Essential Nature of Man,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology are:
– Berkhof, Louis. “The Constitutional Nature of Man.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 191-201. Berkhof supports dichotomy and creationism. He provides surveys of views held in the history of the church.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. “Essential Elements of Human Nature” and “Origin of the Soul.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 483-497. Strong supports dichotomy and traducianism.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. “Man’s Psychological Constitution” and “The Origin of the Soul.” Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Pages 159-162 and 164-167. As observed above, Thiessen supports trichotomy and traducianism.

Man as Male and Female

During the past week my family and I read Chapter 22, “Man as Male and Female” in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem argues that God’s creating man as male and female shows God’s image in personal relationships, equality in personhood and importance, and differences in roles and authority. Unfortunately it seems to me that he exaggerates the resemblance between man’s being male and female and God’s being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in order to provide Biblical support for his view that, although males and females may be equal in personhood and importance, males should exercise authority over females in marriages (Chapter 22) and in the church (Chapter 47). Nevertheless in our family reading we read his entire presentation and here I’ll share from all of it.

Personal Relationships

In making us in His image, God made us so that we could attain interpersonal unity. This can be especially deep in our physical and spiritual families. Between men and woman, it finds its fullest expression in marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). In quoting the passage, Jesus describes a husband and a wife as “what…God has joined together” (Matthew 19:6).

Grudem claims that God created two distinct persons as male and female rather than just one man because it reflects the plurality of persons in the Trinity. He responds to two objections that might be made to his claim, (1) that God is three persons but Adam and Eve were only two persons and (2) that not only were Jesus and Paul unmarried but also Paul discouraged others from marrying in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. However he doesn’t refer to the more serious objection that God is one being but Adam and Eve were two beings.

Equality in Personhood and Importance

When God created man, He created both male and female “in his image” (Genesis 1:27) and “in his likeness” (Genesis 5:1-2). If men and women are equally in God’s image, they must be equally important to God.

The equality in which men and women were created is emphasized in the new covenant church by the Holy Spirit’s being poured out on both on the day of Pentecost, by both being baptized in water (in the old covenant only men received the sign of the covenant, circumcision), and by Paul’s assertion that there is neither male nor female in the church.
– “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel, ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy'” (Acts 2:17-18, quoting Joel 2:28-19).
– “Those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
– “For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

Thus when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:7, “He [man] is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man,” he isn’t denying that woman was created in the image of God. He is simply saying that there are differences between men and women that should be reflected in their appearance, such as having their head covered or uncovered in public worship. He goes on to emphasize woman’s independence of man (and man’s of woman) in verses 11-12. Proverbs 31:10-31 makes it clear that godly women should be honoured.

Differences in Roles and Authority

In my November 4 and 5, 2013, “The Trinity – Distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” posts I showed that although the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal in deity they have different functions and are different in authority. Similarly although males and females are equal in importance to God, there are differences in roles and authority between them. Paul makes the difference in authority between them clear in 1 Corinthians 11:3, saying, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Just as the Father has authority over the Son although they are equal in deity, a husband has authority over his wife although they are equal in personhood.

Although several writers have advocated that the difference in authority between male and female resulted from the Fall, there are indications of a difference of role between Adam and Eve even before the Fall:
– Adam was created before Eve was created (Genesis 2:7, 18-23). Paul uses this as a reason for his restricting some roles in the church to men, saying “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12-13).
– Eve was created as a helper for Adam (Genesis 2:18-23). Paul uses this as a reason for his having different requirements for men and women in head coverings during public worship, saying “Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head” (1 Corinthians 11:8-9).
– Adam named Eve. “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). However he didn’t give her the name “Eve” until after the Fall (Genesis 3:20).
– God named the human race “man” rather than “woman” or a gender-neutral term. “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man” (Genesis 5:2).
As well, God’s speaking to Adam first after the Fall indicates that He thought of him as head of his family. “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)

Grudem suggests that the Fall resulted in a distortion of the relationship between Adam and Eve, pointing out that the word “rule” in “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:18) implies dictatorial exercise of authority. He also suggests that redemption in Christ reaffirms the original relationship, Paul’s telling wives and husbands, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19; see also Ephesians 5:22-33).

Application to Marriage

Although husbands and wives are equal in His sight, God intends husbands to show leadership within their families and for their leadership to be recognized by their wives. The husband’s leadership is to be done with love and consideration for his wife, and her recognition of his leadership is to be done joyfully as to the Lord. Paul concludes his address to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 with, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

Bibliography

Only one of my systematic theology textbooks besides Grudem’s deals with females or women, Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013). In “Both Sexes” (pages 498-501), he emphasizes the equal status with men that women have in God’s sight and the important role that they have played in the work of the kingdom of God.

However two of my dictionaries/encyclopedias have articles on them which I found useful:
– Edwards, Ruth B. “Woman.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4 volumes. Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979-88. Vol. 4, pages 1089-97.
– Nicole, Roger. “Woman, Biblical Concepts of.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.” Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1984. Pages 1175-80.

Man in the Image of God

1 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Although the above passage, Psalm 8 (KJV; all other Biblical quotations are from the ESV), doesn’t state that man was made in the image of God, it suggests that he was.

In the past few days my family and I have been reading the section “Man in the Image of God” of Chapter 21, “The Creation of Man,” in our reading of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In this post I’ll share some of what we read and of what I read from other books in preparation for our family reading of the section. Topics that I’ll consider are passages from the Bible that refer to man’s being in the image of God, the meaning of “image of God,” the distortion and restoration of God’s image in man, specific aspects of our likeness to God, and implications of the doctrine.

Passages from the Bible Referring to Man’s Being in the Image of God

– (Genesis 1:26-27) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
– (Genesis 5:1b) When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.
– (Genesis 9:6) Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image. (God is speaking to Noah and his sons.)
– (1 Corinthians 11:7) A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
– (Colossians 3:10) [You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
– (James 3:9) With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

The Meaning of “Image of God”

In Genesis 1:26-27, quoted above, God describes man as being “in our image” and “after our likeness.” Both the Hebrew word for “image” (tselem) and the Hebrew word for “likeness” (demut) refer to something that is similar to but not identical with something else. The word “image” can also be used of something that represents something else. Grudem illustrates the similarity and difference between the two words in a footnote that we read in our family reading of the section but that I won’t share here because I understand “in our image” and “after our likeness” to be an example of synonymous parallelism and “image” and “likeness” to have equivalent meanings in the passages quoted above.

The basic idea conveyed by God’s describing man as being made in His image or likeness is that we are copies of Him. Although I didn’t share them with my family, I found enlightening the implications that Geoffrey W. Bromiley draws from this in his International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible article on the image of God: “(1) that man is not to create God in his own image, (2) that he is to learn his true nature from God and not vice versa, and (3) that Christ, who is the express image of God, is the true original of man” (Bromiley, page 803; see Bibliography below).

I also didn’t share with my family the summary provided by Grudem in a footnote of the three major views identified by Millard J. Erickson of the image of God in man which have been held throughout the history of the church. They are: (1) the substantive view, which identifies the image of God with some particular quality of humans, such as reason; (2) the relational view, which identifies the image of God with the relationship of human to God and/or of human to human; and (3) the functional view, which identifies the image of God with a human function, such as exercising dominion over the creation. For more on the views, see footnote 8 on page 443 of Grudem (see above) or pages 460-469 of Erickson (see Bibliography below).

The Distortion of and Restoration of God’s Image in Man

Man’s sin caused his likeness to God to be distorted but not lost. That he is still in the image of God is indicated by Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 (quoted above).

Our redemption in Jesus Christ means that we can progressively become more and more like God. Paul told the Christians at Colossae, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10), and those in Rome that God intended for them “to be conformed to the image of his son” (Romans 8:29).

Although we are still imperfect, Paul told the Christians in Corinth, “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Christ]” (1 Corinthians 15:49). Since Jesus Christ is “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), this means that eventually we shall be restored fully to the image of God. This will take place when Jesus returns, 1 John 3:2’s affirming, “We know that when he appears we shall be like him.”

Specific Aspects of Our Likeness to God

The books that I consulted while preparing for our family reading from Grudem’s Systematic Theology and writing this post identified various aspects of our likeness to God. Here I’ll note some which Grudem identifies that show us to be more like God than the rest of His creation, except possibly angels, is.

Morally, we have an inner sense of right and wrong. Our likeness to God is reflected when we act according to God’s moral standards, and our unlikeness to Him is reflected whenever we sin.

Spiritually, we have immaterial spirits as well as physical bodies and thus have a spiritual life, enabling us to relate to God as persons, and immortality.

Mentally, we have an ability to reason and learn; to use complex, abstract language; to be creative in such areas as art, music, literature, and technology; and to experience a complexity of emotions.

Relationally, we experience a depth of interpersonal harmony in marriage, in family life, and in church life; and we have been given the right to rule over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26, 28) and even to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).

Physically, our bodies reflect something of God’s character, for example in its enabling us to see; and our ability to bear and raise children like ourselves reflects God’s ability to create humans (and angels) who are like Himself.

These differences between us and the rest of creation are not absolute differences but often are differences of very great degree. Out of all creation only man is so much like God that he can be said to be “in the image of God.” Moreover, unlike the rest of God’s creation, we have the ability to grow to become more like God throughout our lives. Grudem suggests some practical ways in which we can grow morally, spiritually, mentally, and relationally. If your would like to know what he suggests, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll tell you some of what he suggests.

Implications of the Doctrine

Erickson gives these implications of the doctrine:
– We belong to God.
– We should pattern ourselves after Jesus, the perfect revelation of God.
– We experience full humanity only when we are properly related to Jesus.
– Learning and work are good.
– We are valuable.
– The image is universal in mankind, meaning that there is dignity to being human and we should respect all people.
If you don’t understand any of these implications, which are given on pages 472-474 of Erickson (see Bibliography), please ask about it in a Reply to this post and I’ll try to explain it.

Bibliography

While preparing for our family reading of Chapter 21 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology and while writing this post, I often consulted my other systematic theology textbooks and my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias. Although I appreciated what each says about man’s being created in the image of God, I was helped most by these two (besides, of course, Grudem):
– Bromiley, Geoffrey W. “Image of God.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4 volumes. Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979-88. Vol. 2, pages 803-805. The article contains two sections: Man as Made in the Image of God, and Christ the Image of God.
– Erickson, Millard J. “The Image of God in the Human.” Christian Theology. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 457-474. The chapter contains sections on the relevant Scripture passages, views (and evaluation of the views) of the image, conclusions regarding the nature of the image, and implications of the doctrine.

While I was preparing this post, I discovered that the book which two of my children, Robert and Shekinah, gave me for Christmas contains a chapter which describes as well as any of my other books the greatness of man’s creation (including his being created in the image of God), the tragedy of his fall, and the hope of his restoration. The book is Evan B. Howard’s The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BrazosPress, 2008; BrazosPress is a division of Baker Publishing Group) and the chapter is Chapter 5, “Christian Experience” (pages 145-194).