Theological Anthropology (Part I)

Today we begin STII, and with that, a theology of man (i.e., theological anthropology).

This has always been a vital doctrine to get right, but all the more in our day -- especially in a culture that’s becoming increasingly fluid with how the want to define what it means to be human.

This topic is the point where a biblical worldview truly clashes with the culture.

The culture cares little for our opinions about things like the doctrine of the church, salvation, eschatology, etc. They don’t enter those discussions because they have little implications for them. 

But they care deeply when we start talking about what it means to be human, and therefore what our responsibility is as humans.

This gets into questions of gender, sexulity, roles, self-identity, ultimate purpose for your life, beginning/end of life issues, and a myriad of others.

So getting this doctrine right, matters. It is critical for the Christian to have a clear (and firm) understanding of what the Bible says about man.

Not only will it have implications for the culture, but it has massive importance for not letting culture influence the Christian.

The amount of rationalizing the church is doing these days, in light of what the culture is saying, is troubling (e.g., Revoice conference---where they identify as being “gay” but just celibate). This is a direct consequence of not having a solid biblical perspective on the nature of man.

Theological anthropology is not a doctrine most think about within the church. It mostly stays at the level of the academy. The problem with this is that the academy invariably trickles into the church.

If you don’t have pastors (or lay-people) firmly grounded in a biblical worldview of man, it invariably leads to confusion and compromise.

The result is many pastors now feel inadequate to deal with many issues. They think the many issues of man need to be outsourced to the “experts” (this gets into counseling issues).

But the more your understanding of what it means to be human is defined and controlled by the Scriptures, the better people will understand themselves and God.

So we’re going to start at the very beginning, and seek to lay out a biblical theology of man. This will take several episodes.

So today, we’ll intro it, and then talk about some of lexical issues.


"[In trying to learn the nature of what it means to be human, it is vital to begin with Scripture] since Scripture tells the inspired story of how the triune God once created and now relates to human persons. To understand aright the drama of Scripture we need to understand the nature of persons as God created them.” (Lewis and Demarest, Integrative Theology, Vol 2, p. 123).

“... Extraordinary care must be taken to formulate correctly our understanding of man. The conclusions reached here will affect, if not determine, our conclusions in other areas of doctrine. What man is understood to be will color our perception of what is needed to be done for him, how it was done, and what his ultimate destiny is.” (Erickson, Christian Theology, p.457).

“The doctrine of man is important because of the present crisis in man’s self-understanding. Not only is there a great interest in the question ‘What is man?’, there is also great confusion regarding the answer, for various recent events and developments cast doubt on many of the answers which have been given to the question.” (Erickson, p. 461).

It is important to understand that there is a critical difference between biblical (theological) anthropology and sociological anthropology.

“It is better, then, to recognize at the outset two contrasting possibilities when it comes to the study of anthropology: (1) that in which man is simply set in relation to himself and his world, and (2) that in which man is also and primarily set in relation to God. On the one side is scientific anthropology in the sense of an empirical study of man in his world; on the other is theological or biblical anthropology in the sense of a study of man in God’s world.” (International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia. Revised edition. 1:131).

This is a critical point of decision-making for many believers as they enter into the study of man. What is the actual base for their study? What are the presuppositions that they will carry into the study?

All anthropology is NOT the same. Sociological anthropology is concerned with the interaction of man to man and seldom considers the primary relationship of man to God. As a result, certain fields of study have arisen that are indelibly imprinted with the presuppositions of this type of anthropology.

Evolution (the beginnings of man).

Psychology (the soul of man).

Sociology (how man interacts with one another).


Gender issues.





Some alternative views of man:  These are theories that truly influence how people live, identify, and make decisions in life, and understand their purpose/meaning in the universe. Whether they know it or not, every person is controlled by a view.

"Man as a machine"

The emphasis is upon what man is able to do.

For example: the employer is concerned with what the person can produce. It’s a utilitarian view of man. This can be seen in the church as well, when people are valued according to what they can do.

"Man as a sexual being"

This was developed by Sigmund Freud. He argued that the most basic drives of humanity are sexual in nature. Theses drives are powerful, amoral forces that define why (and how man) lives. If these forces are not properly handled then the person becomes maladjusted.

"Man as an economic being"

This is an off-shoot of man being an animal. Rather than mere biological drives defining and directing man, material forces are what really define and direct.

Food, shelter, and housing are basic needs and once they are met, then the human has attained his destiny.

This anthropology is best seen in Marxism.

"Man as a pawn of the universe"

Man is at the mercy of the universe.

These forces are often seen as impersonal forces in our society. Earlier on, religious overtones are usually found. Examples would be the Greek and Roman views of a pantheon of gods all doing as they wish. Men are merely the victims of the wishes of the gods.

In modern (and post-modern) societies, these forces are not attributed to gods, but are impersonal forces that are seen as not having any real concern for humanity, and are simply forces that man has no influence of control over.

"Man as a free being"

This view makes man almost a small god. He is self-determining and is capable of creating and maintaining reality.

The need for man is simple information out of which he is then fully capable of choosing the right and best way for himself. This belief argues that not only does man possess the ability to choose, but he is compelled to express that freedom to choose.

"Man as social being"

Man is not designed to be alone, but rather, he is defined by being a member of society.

This idea of society is what actually defines him as being human. This is why evolutionists often show so much interest in any animal that shows social behavior. They believe that they are observing in those animals what human behavior used to be.

But in light of these man-first (or man-centered) approaches, we would say that if a person starts with a biblical anthropology, then they will first establish a God-centered, biblically founded base to then explain and understand man in the universe.

Often, Christians try to use, contemplate, debate, or reject sociological anthropology’s explanations and systems of thought, without first having a solid understanding of a biblical anthropology.

Or, the Christian has an inadequate biblical anthropology, and this results in an embracing of errant forms of sociological anthropology.

One other problem arises when a Christian fails to make a connection between a biblical anthropology and a sociological anthropology. This results in contradictions between the professed anthropology (what they believe is true) and the functional anthropology (how the belief informs their practice).

Biblical Terms for “Man”

OT terms:

-- (adam) אָדָם: “Although the etymology of adam cannot be explained with certainty, the word) probably relates to the original ruddiness [or redness] of man’s complexion.” (Maas, ‘adam’ TDOT, I, pp. 78-70). And this redness is possibly connected to the color of the soil from which man was made (c.f., Gen. 2:7).

“Then the LORD God formed man (אָדָם) of dust from the ground (אָדָם), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man (אָדָם) became a living being.”