Chapter summary of Robert Reymond’s “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith”
Chapter Twelve – The Biblical View of Man
The Westminster divines in Chapter IV of their confession take up the biblical teaching of the Doctrine of Man. At man’s creation, the pinnacle of God’s creative activity, he pronounced his divine benediction over his creation proclaiming it to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). For man was a unique aspect of God’s creation from the outset. By an alteration of divine fiat, instead of simply commanding “Let there be…” as with the preceding elements of creation, God engaged in a trinitarian counsel, “Let us make man…”, at the creation of that which was to be the only image-bearer of God who was granted rule over the creation. The natural status of created man at creation was one of great exaltation. Further differing from the rest of creation, man’s life entered into him by the very breath of God. In the divine bestowal of his image upon man, man was given the gift of spiritual comprehension, a sense of moral right and wrong and rationality. Finally, it is only with man that God deigned to enter into covenant relationship.
That Scripture teaches the uniqueness of man is without question. What Scripture teaches about this uniqueness however has been long debated. Monism rejects that man’s uniqueness is to be found in such ontological distinctions as that between body and soul but only as a “whole” being in relation to God. This rejection is in part an attempt to defend against any argument that would place the soul as the part of man valued by God while the body is the sin-bearing stone about the neck of the soul. While one may sympathize with such concern it is unnecessary. For the soul, “to be absent from the body is to be present with God”. The ontologically distinct body and soul are valuable to God and this composing the whole man is in relationship with God.
Dispensing with Monism, the question remains, is man an ontic dichotomy (body and soul) or trichotomy (body, soul and spirit)? Scripture is somewhat imprecise regarding its use of the terms for heart, soul, mind and strength, particularly in discussing how we are to love God (Deut 6:5). The word order varies such as in Luke 10:27 as compared with Mark 12:30. Mathew 22:37 omits “strength” altogether. In 12:33 Mark replaces mind and soul using the phrase “heart and understanding and strength”. It seems clear and is generally accepted that what all of these are saying is simply that we are to love God with the totality of our being. At this point the trichotomist interprets 1 Cor 15:44 as drawing an ontologic distinction between the natural body and spiritual body using this as support for a similar distinction between soul and spirit. In this verse however the subject of verbs “sown” and “raised” is the same, the body (soma). It is the same body though transformed at the resurrection from the body fit for earthy existence and that fitted for a glorified existence. Another verse used by the trichotomist is 1 Thes 5:23; “spirit and soul”. Again, this too is simply emphasizing the totality of the individual as evidenced by the the word “whole” preceding. Heb 4:12 use the phrase “dividing of sould and spirit…”. Because both of these terms genitives the translation indicates a dividing of “the soul, even the spirit”, emphasizing a penetration to the deepest parts of man’s spirit, rather than the distinction of “dividing the soul from the spirit”.
In contrast to the trichotomist position, the dichotomist, adopted by most reformed creeds, holds that the material body and the immaterial soul comprise two ontologically distinct entities interacting in a mysterious “union of life”. The mortal body (Mat 10:28) being made from the dust returns to the dust (Ecc 12:7). The immortal soul (or spirit) being breathed into the man by God (Gen 2:7), returns to God.
Irrespective of the view of the nature of the soul, the debate regarding the origin of the human soul is divided into two, actually three, camps. There is the creationist view supported by such texts as Gen 2:7, Ecc 12:&, Isa 57:16, Zec 12:1 and Heb 12:9 that holds that the soul is created directly (vertically) by God at some point between conception and birth. Then there is the traducianist view, claiming Gen 2:2 (1 Cor 11:8), Rom 5:12 and Heb 7:9-10, that argues that the soul is indirectly (horizontally) generated by the sexual union of the parents. The third view, held by Berkouwer, is simply that this is an illegitimate controversy regarding which scripture holds no concern. Reymond gives two reasons why he leans toward the traducianist position. He argues that Scripture assumes throughout that parents “father” and “mother” not just a human body, but the whole being. Where Scripture speaks of “nations”, “tribes”, and “tongues” it seems to imply the propagation of individual characteristics through parents from generation to generation. In the creationist view such propagation would not naturally pass to descendants as God would be creating a soul unconnected with that of the human parents [Aside: Of course, though I understand this logic, God could very easily create the propagation precisely as he sees fit.] Secondly, he posits that such natural generation seems to be the only means by which a human soul can become evil. The doctrine of original sin would seem to dictate the necessity that the propagation of the sin of our first parents had to come from them through our parents. For if God created de novo each human soul, how then would that soul become evil? [Aside: This seems a more compelling argument.]
Gen 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness”, yields for us the idea of man as the Imago Dei. The relationship between the terms “image” and “likeness” have been much debated. From those who define image as physical characteristics and likeness as spiritual characteristics to the former as essential characteristics of being a man and the latter those non-essential qualities that can be cultivated or lost. Luther, along with the Reformers, rejected any distinction between these two nouns but was of the mind that this “image” was entirely lost to man in the Fall. Calvin, also rejecting any real intended difference between the terms, rejects Luther’s notion, opting instead for the understanding that while the entire image, natural and spiritual, were adversely affected by the Fall, it was only the original righteousness, not the entire image, that was lost.
The evidence supporting no distinction between “image” and “likeness” lends credence to the Reformer’s position. In the Hebrew there is no “and” between the two phrases. Such being inserted in the LXX and Vulgate may shed light on why a distinction was forced upon the text by early exegetes. Subsequent explanations of this idea in Gen 1:27 and 9:6 use only “image” as apparently sufficient. Likewise, Gen 5:1 uses only the word for “likeness”. Gen 5:3 reverses the order of the terms, seeming to indicate an interchangeability. Col 3:10 only uses “image” while James 3:9 employs only “likeness”. As a result of this evidence, the predominant view is that Gen 1:26 was simply employing the literary device of stating the same idea using a different word to emphasize that man as created was the very image or perfect likeness of God.
The question at this point then becomes, as it is plain that man, even as created, was vastly different from God, in what way is man the Imago Dei? One position is put forth that argues that man is the image of God because of his dominion over creation. However, it is clear from scripture that this charge was given to man (Gen 1:28) as the image-bearer, because he is the image-bearer, not vice-versa. The “christological” construction holds that Christ is the true man and humanity simply participates in this with him. This interpretation seems to grate against the teachings that Adam was the first man and Christ the second (1 Cor 15:45-49), and that Christ became like us in taking on our humanity (Phil 2:7b, Heb 2:14, Rom 8:3). It seems more plausible that Christ is the “image of God” in the sense that he is deity and that in his incarnation he became the ideal man. The Reformers have understood that man as created is the image of God in the sense of his original righteousness, holiness and true knowledge of God. This understanding stems from what Scripture teaches is to be restored to fallen man through Christ (Eph 4:21-24, Col 3:10); that is, according to Charles Hodge, a true knowledge of God (Col 1:6, 9, 27-29, 2:2-3), justice toward our neighbor and piety toward God. At he Fall, man retained the formal image of God but lost the material image which is only to be restored through salvation in Christ.
God had created this image-bearer as the only in his creation with which he would enter into covenant (berit). A hotly debated doctrine that has been put forth is that Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works. This covenant speaks of the Adamic administration in which our first parents were placed in a probationary period. During this they were to earn (work basis) permanence for them and their progeny in the perfectly righteous state in which they were created. It has been proposed that Scripture does not intend this arrangement be interpreted covenantally. That said, there are other examples of covenant where the word berit is not actually used, as with the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7. Indeed, in this Adamic covenant all of the elements of covenant are present (parties, stipulation, promise, and threat). Further, giving hermeneutical support, Hosea proclaimed in 6:7 that “they, like Adam, transgressed covenant”. Finally, there is the typical relationship drawn between Adam and Christ as the federal representatives of their covenantal arrangements spoken of in the New Testament.
An alternate to the term covenant of works, emphasizing the merit basis of the reward, is covenant of life, which emphasizes the life of an eternally fixed righteousness for said obedience. Led by Daniel Fuller, the former term has been rejected by some who maintain that any reward Adam received would have been an unmerited gift. As God honoring as this take may sound on the surface its conclusion would be horrific. For if the task laid before Adam, which (as previously discussed) he had the ability to undertake (posse non pecarre), would not have been credited to him for successful completion and imputed to mankind then what must be the conclusion we draw with respect to the work of the Second Adam?! Just as Christ was declared righteous, and we in him, based on his works, so too would have Adam had his works been praiseworthy. Unmerited favor is our blessed hope but to claim that all is grace and that Scripture teaches nothing outside of grace is tantamount to teaching that there is no grace at all. No! Grace was not extended to our Savior. Christ’s active and passive obedience earned the Father’s reward [Aside: “and by his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5)].
At this point we should logically be led to consider how exactly the demerit of Adam passes to his posterity. Is it based on their natural union or Adam’s representative union as the federal head of the race. Careful exposition of Rom 5:12-19 reveals Paul’s understanding of this imputed unrighteousness. The protasis (hosper, “just as”) in verse 12 finds its apodosis in verse 18 (houtos kai, “so also”). In verse twelve Paul argues that “just as” sin and death entered the world by one man, and reiterates this after 2 excursions in verses 13-17, where in verse 18 he goes on to tie up this lose end declaring that Adam’s relationship to his posterity is taken up by Christ in the imputation of “justification and life” to those found in him.
This obvious connection between Adam’s sin and the sin and condemnation of the human race that Paul draws has been dealt with (or not) is several ways by theologians. Dealing with it by not dealing with it is the “Agnostics” who posit no explanation for the connection. The “Realists” reject the idea of imputation as it relates to Adam’s original sin. They put forth the notion that the race is guilty of Adam’s sin because prior to the Fall Adam possessed the entirety of human nature. Therefore, the race actually participated in Adam’s sin. However if we reject imputation at this point, logically we would then need to reject imputation on the other end as well as it relates to our salvation. We can obtain no righteousness of our own that merits God’s favor but rather we must rely on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by vicarious representation as Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 5.
A third view is that of the “Federalist” which supports immediate imputation. That is, Adam as the federal representative of the human race bequeathed to his posterity the liability for the guilt and the liability for the punishment of his original sin. Contrary to this view is that of the “New School”, according to Warfield, who held to the understanding of mediate imputation. For them it was not a recognition of the condition of guilt on the race based on their legal status. Rather, it is a legal status based on their condition. In other words, Adam’s guilt is not directly imputed to mankind, to the contrary, mankind is declared guilty by God due to an antecedent corruption because of its racial solidarity with Adam. This latter view however, once again when held up to the Adam-Christ parallel, would suggest that the righteousness mankind receives for salvation must have also come from some antecedent righteousness which Scripture throughout clearly and flatly rejects.
Though the Adamic probation is no longer in effect the covenant of works remains normative for several reasons. It remains the creature’s obligation to render obedience to the Creator. Man remains guilty of the fracture of the original covenant. God remains the final arbiter of the approval of human righteousness. Finally, as God demanded of Adam he demanded of Christ. It is in Christ’s obedience that we find the approval of God. It is the covenant of grace that provides the redemption for which the covenant of works had no provision.
Man, beginning with Adam, is a covenant breaker. There has been some confusion regarding the distinction between God’s ordained probation of man, which arguably created a temptation to sin, and the temptation of the serpent in Genesis 3. The key distinction is one of intent. On God’s part the probation was purposed for good. This certainly cannot be said of the temptation of Satan. Indeed, the Serpent, who was said to be “crafty” performed a sort of logical “rope-a-dope” when in 3:1 he asked “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” On the surface it appears he was simply attempting to get her to agree with his misrepresentation of God’s command. However, being the crafty one that he is, his game was much more subtle. Satan’s intent at this point was not simply to distract her from the fact that a serpent was speaking to her (and Adam “who was with her”) but to see God’s command as a command, a restriction on her autonomy rather than a gracious protection and benevolent mercy from God. Rather than debating the serpent from the standpoint of one devoted to God and defending the righteousness of his actions, she rather took up the posture of one now defending her acceptance of subservience and restricted status. Now that Satan had successfully positioned God as an oppressor in the mind of the man and woman they then “saw (decided) that the tree was good for food…” and thereby broke the covenant with God by doubting the word and motive of their Creator. The autonomy they sought in this act however was (and remains) an illusion. Man can never be utterly autonomous as he is either obedient to righteousness or to evil.
Along with the entrance of the first sin came the dawning of a revolution that persists today and will continue until the consummation of God’s kingdom. There are several facets to this revolution which have been categorized well by Murray. By “internal revolution” he refers to the loss of the individual innocence of mankind that existed prior to the fall having come to a knowledge of man’s own guilt and shame. Concurrent with this is the distortion of the imago Dei which Murray labels the “revolution of the human family” at which time man’s intimate fellowship with God was also fractured. The Fall of man triggered also the fall of all of creation which “groans” (Rom 8:22). This “cosmic revolution” that places creation in “bondage to decay” also places man in bondage to the unfruitful labor of working among “thorns and thistles” (Gen 3:17-18). As with the decay of creation goes man himself which Murray calls the “disintegration in man’s constitution” which may be most notably demonstrated in woman’s childbearing pain and the physical death of all mankind. Finally, the Fall brought about the necessity in Gen 3:15 the protevangelium which inaugurated the transition from the covenant of works to the now necessary covenant of grace.
The condition of fallen man by nature then can be summarized by the biblical views of total depravity, total inability, and real guilt. The first, total depravity – supported by such passages as Gen 6:5-6, “every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil all the time, Psalm 14:3, “All have turned aside…”, Psalm 51:5, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth…”, Isa 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray…” and other – does not indicate an utter depravity or a depravity that causes man to be as wicked and evil as possible. By the restraining grace of God and God’s existence and law written on our hearts this is not so. Rather, total depravity refers more accurately to sin’s adverse impact that affects to some degree every faculty of man’s being – his body, character, thought, reasoning, relations etc. As a result of man’s pervasively corrupt being he has become utterly incapable in himself of doing good, being good or of culling the corruption from his being. This moral and spiritual corruption renders mankind With Jeremiah we must admit that “Neither can you do good who are accustomed to evil” (13:23), with Mathew that “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (7:18), and with Paul that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).
Antagonists to these first two views raise primarily two objections. First, they argue that convincing men that they are totally corrupt necessarily would lead to despair and despondency with respect to the gospel call. Second is the argument that the very fact that God commands man to do certain things presupposes man’s innate ability to comply. As to the former, this objection flies in the face of necessity of salvation by a Mediator who provides a perfect substitutionary atonement. It is precisely because on his own man is helpless to do himself any eternal good that he must submit to this Savior and surrender to the gospel. As for the second objection, it does not by necessity logically follow that obligation presupposes ability. However, even if it did, prior to the Fall man did have the ability which was lost in the fall but the obligation remains. Those Christians who reject these two doctrines are left with a synergistic soteriology in which man must contribute to his salvation, perhaps even the deciding portion, and therefore must also share with God in the glory of salvation. While not foreign to the minds of modern believers, this concept is utterly unknown to Paul and absent in the counsel of Scripture.
Finally, related to man’s fallen nature, is the understanding of his real guilt. Because man is totally depraved and totally unable to rectify this he bears a burden of guilt and is deserving of punishment before a holy God who must require holiness and must not, as a condition of his holiness, permit injustice to go unjustified in his creation. The conundrum of the ages, also contrary to popular Christianity, is not that a good God could conceive of sending man to hell. Rather, the conundrum actually, given God’s holiness, is how can he conceive of avoiding sending every man to hell. The answer is found in and only in Christ. If a man be not totally corrupt, totally unable and really guilty the cross can be of no value to him.