Bible Catechism: The Doctrine of Man

Question Who is man?

Answer God made man a living being with a physical body and an immortal soul. He created man in His own image, as male and female, both accountable to Him as His representatives.

Scripture Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Explanation| We’ve already looked at the doctrines of God, the Bible, and Jesus. Now, we will be looking at the doctrine of man or humanity. In other words, what does the Bible teach about being human?

God made man a living being. This is where our understanding of who we are as humans begins. This is where it must begin. God made us. Like everything else that is, humans were created by God, too.1 So, humans are like everything else that God created in that they, too, were created by Him. However, humans are also different from the rest of God’s creation. In what follows, I will summarize some of the primary characteristics that make humans, human. Then, over the next few questions and answers, we’ll explore some of these truths a bit more. But, one more quick note, however, before we move on. At times, I will be using ‘man’ and ‘humans’ interchangeably. Like in our verse above, man can refer to what we are as humans in comparison to what the rest of creation is. In this way, man doesn’t mean male as opposed to female, but rather human as opposed to“fish,” “birds,” “livestock,” and “every creeping thing” (Genesis 1:26). 

How, then, has God made us as humans? First, God made man (or humans) as a living being. That is, you and I are alive. We have been designed and enabled to move. God has put us together, and has breathed into us the breath of life.2 In other words, while humans are like rocks in that they are both made by God, humans are unlike rocks in that they are actually alive. (Sorry, no offense to your pet rock!) Second, to take this further, God made man with a physical body. For example, each of us have a head, torso, and legs, arms, hands, and feet. That is, we have physical form, and are bound by physical limitations.3 In other words, while humans are like angels in that they are both living beings, humans are unlike angels in that they have physical bodies. Third, to take this still one step further, God made man with an immortal soul. Every characteristic that makes us human ends up being difficult, in its own right, to understand and explain. But, this characteristic—that we have immortal souls—is probably one of the most difficult. As humans, we are physical. But, as humans, God has also made us spiritual, as well. We are made up of material things—things that can be experienced through our physical senses. For example, we have hearts that can be seen, heard, and touched. But, we are also made up of immaterialthings, too—things that can’t be experienced through our physical senses. For example, we think, love, and determine. But you and I can’t physically see, hear, or touch the place where all of that takes place, even though we know it’s all very real and all a significant part of what makes us, us. (By the way, interestingly, the Bible typically refers to that place—the place where each of us thinks, loves, and determines—as our heart, though this heart is different from the organ in our chests that pumps blood through our physical bodies.)4 The Bible often refers to the immaterial part of man as the soul or spirit. And, our souls are immortal or eternalMeaning, no matter what happens to our physical bodies, our souls will never cease to exist.5 In other words, while humans are like dogs in that they are both living beings with physical bodies, humans are unlike dogs in that they also have immortal souls. 

God made man in His own image. From our verse above, we learn both that God made man and that He made man “in his own image.” What does this mean? First, this characteristic—that we are made in God’s image—is only applied to man. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that rocks, angels, or dogs (or anything else, for that matter) are made in God’s image. So, whatever this characteristic is and whatever it means, it is unique to us, as humans. Second, this characteristic is applied to all humans. Every human is a human, and as a human has been made by God in His image. The Bible clearly states that both “male and female” are made in His image (see our verse above). And, interestingly enough, even after many generations of humans sinning, God still declares that humans are made in His image.6 In fact, it’s this characteristic about humans that makes us all so different from the rest of God’s creation. And, even further, it’s this characteristic that should make all of us treat every human life differently from everything else God has made.7 Third, this characteristic was given to man for a purpose—to image God. God intentionally made humans to uniquely reflect Him, and to do so in such a way that nothing else could. An image is something that is formed to resemble, represent, and reflect the likeness of something else. So, for example, the Bible tells us that Adam fathered, Seth, “a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). In other words, kids take after—or look like, or image—their parents. But, how do we, as humans,take after God? How are we like God in a way that nothing else is? Good question—and, a hard question, too! We’ve already seen that God, as God, is spirit. He has no physical body or form. So, for man to be made in God’s image, then, doesn’t mean that we physically look like Him. Rather, it must be in other ways that we are made in His likeness.8 But, what are those other ways? If we looked through the Bible and discovered what God says He is like and what we, as humans, are like, we could compare both sets of descriptions and would likely find similarities between us and God. We would find, for example, that there appears to be a likeness in both of our capacities as personal beings (with the ability to have intellect, emotion, and will) and in our capacities as moral beings (with the ability to be and do right). However, our verse above (and, especially, the verse before it and after it) actually provides some immediate help in understanding, at least in part, what it means to be made in God’s image. According to Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 1:28, we are like God in that we have been given “dominion.” Like God, who has ultimate dominion over all that He has made, we, too, have been given by Him a lesser but like-dominion over the “fish,” “birds,” “livestock,” and “every creeping thing” on the earth.9

This is what the Bible teaches about humans.

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1 John 1All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (See also, Acts 17:25)

2 Genesis 2Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (See also, Genesis 1:30)

Hebrews 214 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. (See also, Matthew 4:1-11)

4 Proverbs 423 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

5 Matthew 2546 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

6 Genesis 9“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

7 James 3With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

8 Genesis 5This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

9 Psalm 14513 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. (See also, Daniel 4:3)