Friday, March 23, 2012

Prelapsarian Anthropology: Some Thoughts

Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). All are still images of God (Acts 17:28), though the image has been marred such that one must be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Therefore, what man lost by virtue of the Fall cannot be an essential aspect of the imago Dei. If it were, men would no longer be the image of God.

Gordon Clark thought the essential property of the image of God is the innate faculty to reason. Man is by nature able to reason, and though this ability too has been dimmed due to sin, unregenerates with sufficient experience to occasion its use are nevertheless able to construct and understand propositions and even valid, if unsound, arguments:

The image must be reason because God is truth, and fellowship with him-a most important purpose in creation-requires thinking and understanding. Without reason man would doubtless glorify God as do the stars, stones, and animals; but he could not enjoy him forever. Even if in God’s providence animals survive death and adorn the heavenly realm, they cannot have what the Scripture calls eternal life because eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, and knowledge is an exercise of the mind or reason. Without reason there can be no morality or righteousness. These too require thought. Lacking these, animals are neither righteous nor sinful. (link)

There are some who have argued that man’s image must be understood with respect to his given tasks as well as the capacities used to fulfill said tasks (Genesis 1:28; link). However, I think this doesn’t work for a few reasons. Firstly, seemingly even on that view it is the last Adam rather than men who fulfills the stipulations of the Adamic covenant (see here and here). That being the case, if the or an essential feature of the image of God were functional, men would not and seemingly could not any longer image God. Secondly, considering Vos’ argument in Biblical Theology (pgs. 22-23) to the effect that if man’s function were an essential element in his makeup, he would have already known it, the fact Adam received special revelation explaining his function mitigates against the notion that it was essential to humanity:

The provision of this new, higher prospect for man was an act of condescension and high favour. God was in no wise bound on the principle of justice to extend [the covenant of works] to man, and we mean this denial not merely in the general sense in which we affirm that God owes nothing to man, but in the very specific sense that there was nothing in the nature of man nor of his creation, which by manner of implication could entitle man to such a favour from God. Had the original state of man involved any title to it, then the knowledge concerning it would probably have been formed part of man’s original endowment. But this not being so, no innate knowledge of its possibility could be expected. Yet the nature of an intensified and concentrated probation required that man should be made acquainted with the fact of the probation and its terms. Hence the necessity of a Special Revelation providing for this.

Does this mean fulfilling the Adamic covenant would have been by grace? No, for Adam's obedience to the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:28 and precept in Genesis 2:17 would have been the grounds for his inheritance. The point is that Adam's merit would have been pactum rather than condign. This is dissimilar to the covenant of grace in which our "personal obedience" is no longer the grounds for meriting our inheritance:

Man had been created perfectly good in a moral sense. And yet there was a sense in which he could be raised to a still higher level of perfection. On the surface this seems to involve a contradiction. It will be removed by closely marking the aspect in regard to which the advance was contemplated. The advance was meant to be from unconfirmed to confirmed goodness and blessedness; to the confirmed state in which these possessions could no longer be lost, a state in which man could no longer sin, and hence could no longer become subject to the consequences of sin. Man's original state was a state of indefinite probation: he remained in possession of what he had, so long as he did not commit sin, but it was not a state in which the continuance of his religious and moral status could be guaranteed him. In order to assure this for him, he had to be subjected to an intensified, concentrated probation, in which, if he remained standing, the status of probation would be forever left behind. The provision of this new, higher prospect for man was an act of condescension and high favour. (Biblical Theology pg. 22)

Thus, contrary to certain arguments against a Reformed anthropology, while there may be some similarity to Pelagianism in respect to one's personal obedience being the ground of fulfilling the Adamic covenant and inheriting eternal life, because Pelagians do not believe Adam was concreated morally upright, to argue against Reformed anthropology by alleging a correspondence between the two is specious.

Given the doctrine of original righteousness – that the moral character of man’s nature was indeed “very good” – the nature of what would have been merited by Adam is an interesting question. Is the implication that if he had completed the dominion mandate, then Adam would have merited eternal or, as Vos put it, “confirmed” life? It would appear that way, as Adam already possessed life, albeit mutably. The mutability of this life and the correlative righteousness mean that these too cannot be regarded as necessary to be in the image of God (although they may be necessary for healthily being in the image of God).

Aside from man’s rational faculty, one final common suggestion as to what distinguishes man as in God’s image is his [alleged] possession of “free will,” by which I mean not only the ability to choose – for Reformed Protestants believe men possess volitions – but also the ability to choose in such a way that it was not externally determined. Some Reformed Protestants think Adam possessed free will prior to the Fall, but it seems to me that there are at least two reasons why this can’t be the case:

1. Adam was originally righteous, so he could not have chosen to eat the apple according to his concreated “nature.” An inference one could draw from this would be that a precondition for Adam’s eating of the apple was the passive reception of a corrupt nature by means of secondary causation, e.g. the temptation of the serpent. Satan’s own reception of a corrupt nature would have had to have been on the occasion of some good, created thing. It is a sufficient defense to note that if God created Satan and other rational creatures with a capacity to be tempted and sin, there does not appear to be any reason to suppose that He could not also have created said creatures with the necessity to sin, given certain circumstances.

2. God’s knowledge of what Adam would choose was predicated on Adam’s actualizing one of two possible choices, God is not eternally omniscient, from which serious consequences for Christianity would follow.


biblicalrealist said...


You've left out one common suggestion as to what distinguishes man as in God’s image: that man, like God, is a spiritual being (unlike all the animals). The prospect of the image of God being the faculty of reason would make those who reason better to have more of that image than those whose faculty of reason is not as good. And what of those men whose faculty of reason is damaged to impaired? Not only this, but the image of God is not something developed in men but present from conception. But children at conception have no brains cells with which to reason about anything --- do they not yet have the image of God? Furthermore, some animals have a rudimentary ability to reason. Ravens can reason that if they pull downward on a fishing line that has been hung over pulley, then the line will pull a fish up and out of the water.

Ken Hamrick

Ryan said...

Ecclesiates 3:19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same spirit; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?

What do you make of this, given your view?

I think you beg the question regarding the ability of animals to reason as you are not an animal. If animals could reason, then why can't they be responsible for believing truth? See also: Psalm 32:9; Jude 10; 2 Peter 2:12.

I don't see why it's problematic that to reason correctly implies one is further along in progressive sanctification. Further, I reject the sort of physicalism which your statement about "brain cells" would entail, and such "children" would still possess the faculty for reason.

Nick said...

"Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). All are still images of God (Acts 17:28), though the image has been marred such that one must be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Therefore, what man lost by virtue of the Fall cannot be an essential aspect of the imago Dei. If it were, men would no longer be the image of God."

It seems to me your opening quote is where a lot of this 'problem' hinges. Two things need clarification:

(1) What does it mean when you say the Imago Dei has "been marred"?

(2) What relation does the Image of Christ have with the Imago Dei? Your wording might not have been intentional, but the way it comes off is that because the Imago Dei has been marred, conformity to the Image of Christ is necessary. The only options available are (a) the Image of Christ supplants the ID, (b) the Image of Christ *only* "unmarrs" the ID, (c) the Image of Christ 'builds upon and goes beyond' the ID.

To say the Image of Christ supplants the ID is obviously problematic, for it would mean man is no longer made in the ID, as you also admit cannot be the case. To say the Image of Christ merely undoes the "marring" is to say it merely restores one to a prelapsarian state, but that suggests man's highest End is Eden. The only acceptable answer I can see is (c), where the Image of Christ is a 'building upon' the ID, which is the only category in which Indwelling of the Holy Spirit could fall into.

Also, I've written an article titled "7 Reasons Protestant Anthropology is to be Rejected" which might be interesting to you.

P.S. It seems Blogger's new "improvements" have discontinued "email me of follow up comments" and the only way to get that option back is to go to your blog Settings and enable "Embedded Comments"

biblicalrealist said...


There are a few things to note about this passage in Eccl. 3. One is that spirit and breath are the same word, so I don't think it was given the best translation. "Ruach" in animals is always breath, and that breath in humans is assumed to carry the greater idea of an immortal spirit. In v. 19, better would be "...All have the same breath..." It is a comparison of physical mortality that they both share.

As for the question in v. 21, it is debated whether the question is about a possibility that the human breath goes upward and the animal breath goes downward, OR, the question is simply asking who it is who knows both of these breaths as well as their dispositions. For example, Clarke in his Commentary on the Bible, wrote this:

(blockquote)///...While it was said in verse 19, they have all one breath, i.e., the man and the beast live the same kind of animal life; in this verse, a proper distinction is made between the רוח ruach, or soul of man, and the רוח ruach, or soul of the beast: the one goeth upwards, the other goeth downwards. The literal translation of these important words is this: “Who considereth the רוח ruach) immortal spirit of the sons of Adam, which ascendeth? it is from above; (היא למעלה hi lemalah); and the spirit or breath of the cattle which descendeth? it is downwards unto the earth,” i.e., it tends to the earth only. This place gives no countenance to the materiality of the soul; and yet it is the strongest hold to which the cold and fruitless materialist can resort. Solomon most evidently makes an essential difference between the human soul and that of brutes. Both have souls, but of different natures: the soul of man was made for God, and to God it shall return: God is its portion, and when a holy soul leaves the body, it goes to paradise...///(end quote)

Even if the question is intended to be, "Who knows whether the human spirit rises upward and the spirit of the animal goes down...?", it is a question that the author answers himself, in 12:7, with no uncertainty:

7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Animals have been proven to reason if reasoning is defined simply as assessing the facts and solving problems. But animals have no capacity for moral or spiritual understanding. Only man can refuse to believe truth, so only man is responsible for believing. Only man has a spirit, so only man and not animals can understand spiritual matters such as morality, justice, and God, etc.

TO be continued...

biblicalrealist said...

Intellect or education do not equate to holiness or sanctification. The root of depravity is spiritual rather than mental; therefore, the remedy must be spiritual rather than educational. In other words, sin cannot be educated out of a person. How many "great" scholars with great reasoning ability have turned out to be not very good Christians? And how many simple, uneducated saints, with a great heart for God, do you think have existed?

As for "physicalism," the spirit and the body have parallel faculties. A disembodied spirit may move on its own, without physical feet. (Look at the unclean spirits who left the demon-possessed man and went into the swine. They had to see the swine, as well as be able to move to where they were at.) This is why Jesus spoke of men "having ears to hear," or having ears but not hearing (and the same with eyes). Rebellious sinners have physical eyes and ears, but they have purposely "closed" their spiritual eyes and ears, refusing to see or hear the truth. The spirit of a child is limited in its understanding by the body. A spirit without a body may go through a wall, but a spirit within one of these corruptible bodies must use a door. Also, though a disembodied spirit can see the door, the spirit of a (living) physically blind man cannot see. The physical body limits the spirit while the spirit is within it. In the same way, The spirit of a newly conceived child must wait until the body and mind have developed to a certain point before they can reach an accountable understanding. It is absurd to suggest that a zygote understands the law written on its heart and has any conflicting thoughts regarding it. Thoughts require synapses and brain cells, which the zygote does not yet have. And thoughts of understanding regarding the law of God written on the heart might require years of development and experience.

Ken Hamrick