Anthropology: Who Is Mankind?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 18, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

As we continue our study of the branches of theology, the next one is anthropology. The word itself comes from the Greek word anthropos, which means “man” or “mankind.” So, anthropology is the overall study of humankind and what makes us human, which we’ll take a look at in this blog post.

As followers of the God of the Bible, the easy answer to the question of what makes us human is God. We know that God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), but what exactly does that mean?

First of all, being created in God’s image does NOT mean that we are God. God is God, and we are not; we are His creation and He made us (Psalm 100:3). We have some of God’s attributes reflected in us, but not all of them. God’s immanent attributes (love, faithfulness, mercy, justice, wisdom, and goodness) are reflected in us as humans, though imperfectly because of the sin that we brought into this world. God’s transcendent attributes (self-sufficiency, eternality, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, and impassibility) are not reflected in us at all. (See last week’s post for more on those.)

Being created in God’s image means that we have the capability of becoming more like God as we strive to imitate Jesus Christ and to become more like Him. This is the likeness of God in our lives. We have the ability to reason because of God’s image in us. Because we are God’s image-bearers, we have dominion over Creation (Genesis 1:28-30). Because every human being bears God’s image, all life is considered to be sacred. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor in Luke 10:25-37, we know that our “neighbor” is every other person, because every person is created in God’s image. Loving our neighbor is seeing God’s image in them; because we love God, we love that person too.

There are two main schools of thought on what makes us up as created beings in God’s image. One is that we are a dichotomy - we are body and soul, or body and spirit. The other is that we are a trichotomy - body, soul, and spirit. Those who believe that we are a dichotomy see everything physical about us as our body, and everything else is our soul or our spirit. Those who believe that we are a trichotomy view the soul as the image of God in us, whereas the spirit is the breath of life that we receive from God.

Reformation theologian Martin Luther held the dichotomy point of view, basing it on Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That verse clearly refers to only the body and soul. 1 Corinthians 5:5 also refers to the dichotomy point of view, whereas 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 seem to point to the trichotomy idea.

Whether you believe that humans are a dichotomy or a trichotomy, it is clear that we have two natures: our fallen (sinful) nature, and the image of God. God’s original intention for humans was perfection, a perfect reflection of His image. But when the first humans sinned (Genesis 3), they gained a fallen nature. The image of God still exists in us; it is evident in our will, our ability to reason, our self-awareness, knowledge of our place in the universe, and our ability to create. Evidence of the sinful nature exists in death, disease, and our innate desire to worship self and anything other than God. Humans were initially created totally in God’s image, but our fall into sinfulness constantly distorts that image in us.

Are humans by nature good, or by nature evil? That is the question. Martin Luther believed that humans are completely corrupt and fallen, and it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can do anything that is good. Philosopher Paul Tillich believed that we are mostly good, but our sinfulness separates us from God. There was a heresy in the early church brought forth by Pelagius that says that humans are pure and fully able to maintain that uncorrupted state; Christ was perfect, so any Christian has the ability to be perfect as well. This teaching of Pelagius was rejected by the early church in 418 AD, because of the doctrine of original sin.

So, what is original sin? It is the teaching that all humans are sinful simply because we are human. Every person after Adam and Eve is born with a sinful nature; it is passed through our DNA. The idea of original sin is supported by Scripture passages such as Psalm 51:5 and Ephesians 2:3. Some believe that we only have the potential for sin in our lives because of our fallen nature, not because we have original sin in our DNA.

Why does all this matter? How we view mankind affects how we relate to our fellow human beings. If we believe that all people are created in God’s image, we will do our best to treat them all with God’s love. If we believe that people are only some kind of animal and God has nothing to do with it, then we will be selfish and not care about others. If we believe that all people are sinful and in need of hearing the good news of the gospel message, we are much more likely to share that message with them, than if we believe that people are good by nature and not in need of God and the salvation that He offers us.

The questions regarding humanity don’t always have easy answers, but through studying who we are as humans, we can learn more about God and who He is. We were created in His image and His likeness, even though we are sinful and far from perfect as God is perfect. Whether we are a dichotomy or a trichotomy, whether we are by nature good or evil, whether we have original sin in our lives or just sin because we have a fallen nature, God is still God. We are His creation, and we were created to worship Him and bring Him glory.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.