Every month in 2022 I will be writing a blog post about anthropology, humanity, and sexuality. This series of blog posts will be used to foster discussion and to drive the reader back to Holy Scripture to learn about God’s grand design for men and women. I hope and pray these blog posts will offer greater clarity about God’s design for men and women. And I also pray that learning about God’s design for men and women will result in praise.
There is mounting pressure on the church to conform. The pressure is coming from every angle. The questions faced by the church are: What does it mean to be a man or woman? Can a woman become a man, and can a man become a woman? What are the implications of how a person understands the self? All these questions are fundamentally anthropological. Anthropology is the science of human beings. From a theological perspective, anthropology deals with the origin, nature, and destiny of human beings (per Merriam-Webster). If a Christian wants to know what it means for a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman, then the origin, nature, and destiny need to be found in Holy Scripture. When a Christian searches the scriptures for their origin, nature, and destiny, the world of anthropology is intersecting with theology and, suddenly, the doctrine of humanity. Here is a insightful quote about the doctrine of humanity.
The doctrine of humanity is one in which we would expect ourselves to be naturally interested, because we are humans. But there’s more to the importance of the category of the theology of humanity than just that we happen to be interested in it. It’s actually objectively an important part of God’s ways with the world: of all the things God is doing with all creation, he has a special eye on the part of creation that is created in his image—that is, humanity.– Fred Sanders, “The Doctrine of Humanity,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).
The path toward having a solid understanding of humanity begins with a foundation of biblical anthropology. Thorny questions can only receive answers after the foundation is laid.
So Many Questions
I want to argue that discerning proper anthropology is one of the essential conversations that needs to take place in the local church. At present, we are not having a conversation. However, if you’re going to understand yourself, you need good anthropology. Further, your anthropology affects how you understand others. If anthropology reveals the nature of a human being, then how did the nature of a human being come to fruition? Is the nature of a human being malleable, or is it fixed? A bevy of questions can be asked when delving into the deep end of anthropology.
The cultural conversation about sex and gender is anthropological. Since the dawn of time, sex and gender have been inseparable. Some would even use the words synonymously. But in the 21st century, because of philosophical hocus pocus that makes transubstantiation look like a fact, sex and gender are two different malleable concepts. Here is another question. What roles, if any, are there for men and women? Until recent church history, the church has made clear distinctions between men and women in the home, church, and society. Your anthropological foundation will inform how you answer the question about the roles of men and women. Should a woman be placed into a combat position? More anthropology. All of these questions garner attention, but they are superfluous without anthropology.
I hope you get my point. Don’t pontificate about the roles, or lack of roles, for men and women unless you can explain the root of the claim.
Before going to Holy Scripture to seek a foundation of anthropology, I need to say a few words about the current sexual revolution prevalent in the culture. I can’t delve into the history and the psychology of the sexual revolution, but I’ll point you to Carl Trueman’s fantastic assessment called The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. This book deserves to be on your shelf. And if you are not a fan of reading, check out his video lectures on the topic. In addition, I wrote a book review which you can find here. But here is the bottom line.
As a result, Christians, particularly younger Christians, are confused, ambivalent, or apathetic to biblical anthropology. Or worse than being confused, ambivalent, or apathetic, they are being taught to believe an anthropology contrary to God’s Word. What is going on in and outside the church might be encapsulated by the Prophet Isaiah,
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!– Isaiah 5:20
Here is one of the problems. Pastors are not warning the church about cultural influences but acquiescing to the culture. Instead, pastors should teach the truth to the church and then equip the church to be agents of change in the culture. So it is no wonder that churches are filled with confused people regarding anthropology, humanity, and sexuality. The church has forgotten that God says a lot about men and women. And the church does not need to apologize for how God created and designed men and women. But the church needs to rejoice at his holy design.
Back to the Begining
Building a biblical foundation of anthropology begins in the first chapter of the Bible. On the sixth day, God created the crown jewel of his creation.
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 on 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 1:26–27
Before God rested on the seventh day, something special took place. Early church father Gregory of Nyssa highlights the magnitude of verses 26 and 27 set against the rest of God’s creation.
This same language was not used for (the creation) of other things. The command was simple when light was created; God said, “let there be light.” Heaven was also made without deliberation.… These, though, were before (the creation of) humans. For humans, there was deliberation. He did not say, as he did when creating other things, “Let there be a human.” See how worthy you are! Your origins are not in an imperative. Instead, God deliberated about the best way to bring to life a creation worthy of honor. – Gregory of Nyssa– Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 28.
When Gregory says God deliberated he is not suggesting God sat back wondering what to do next. No, God created male and female with special care in distinction from everything else He created.
Here are the most crucial points to be made from this passage.
- Male and female were made in the image of the Triune God.
- Male and female were made in the likeness of the Triune God.
- Male and female were given joint responsibility to have dominion over what God created.
Moving from prose to poem, we read a key indicator of what it means to be made in the image of God. In verse 26, the plural pronoun our (אֲנַ֫חְנוּ) is used. Why is this significant? Augustine explains,
For why the “our,” if the Son is the image of the Father alone? But it is on account of the imperfect likeness, as we have said, that man is spoken of as “after our image,” and so “our,” that man might be an image of the Trinity. This image is not equal to the Trinity, as the Son is to the Father, but approaching it, as is said, by a certain likeness; as in things distinct there can be closeness, not however in this case as if a spatial closeness but by imitation. – Augustine– Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 30.
Between the insight of Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, we see something special developing. They help us understand the depth of what it means to be made in God’s image and likeness. But there is more for us to glean from these verses.
As Strachan and Peacock also note, “Man as male and female does not owe to an evolutionary outworking, but to divine intent. (Strachan, O., & Peacock, G. Grand design: Male and female he made them). The creation of male (זָכָר) and female (נְקֵבָה) was not an accident but due to God’s providential hand.
Genesis 1 rightly steps back to present the big picture of God’s created image-bears. Genesis 2 will begin to fill out the complementary dynamic between man and woman, but for now, it’s worth observing what a man and woman have in common. John Paul II can help us to see what unites male and female.
Genesis 1:27 establishes that this essential truth about man refers to the male as much as the female: “God created man in his image…; male and female he created them.” One must recognize that the first account is concise, free from any trace of subjectivism: it contains only the objective fact and defines the objective reality, both when it speaks about the creation of the human being, male and female, in the image of God, and when it adds a little later the words of the first blessing, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule'” (Gen 1:28). – John Paul II– Paul, J., & Waldstein, M. (2006). Man and woman he created them a theology of the body. Pauline Books & Media.
The objective truth is that God created male and female with equal dignity, worth, and value. God created male and female with shared goals to steward God’s creation and to create more image-bears. I want to highlight a critical point that a person’s dignity, worth, and value are not tied to function, sex, or amount made in a paycheck. Dignity, worth, and value are connected to the imago dei – being made in God’s image. The culture will suggest otherwise but in direct contradiction to the Word of God.
The debate between complementarianism and egalitarianism has been raging on for years. I will pick up these terms in future blog posts to explain them in detail. But these terms are meaningless for Christians to discuss and debate unless a foundation is laid. Only after biblical anthropology is laid from Genesis 1 will Genesis 2 and the rest of Scripture make sense. God created male and female in his image and likeness. And God created them with joint tasks to steward, subdue, and multiple. While male and female are different, they come together as one (Genesis 2:24) to display God’s glory and goodness on the earth.
Several Questions to Consider
- Read Genesis 1:26-27 and note the use of pronouns. What do you think is being communicated in the creation of male and female? What are the implications of being made in the image of the Triune God?
- What additional places in the Bible speak about the creation of male and female? Take a moment to look up these passages to read and discuss.
- What is the message from the culture about the creation of humanity? How is it different from what we read in Genesis 1?
- What does the teaching of Jesus about divorce in Matthew 19 tell us about his understanding of man and woman in creation?
Key texts to read: Genesis 1:26-31; Matthew 19:1-6