During the Christmas season of 2010 there was a billboard in New Jersey on one of the approaches to the Lincoln Tunnel to New York City. It had three wise men riding their camels in the starlit night toward an open-sided shelter with a gabled thatched roof next to a couple of palm trees; a donkey was tied to the stall, a bright star overhead, and Mary and Joseph watching over the new-born Baby Jesus. Then I saw the words: 'You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!' It was signed by the American Atheists and said they were 'Reasonable since 1963.' Well, they're baaaack! This Christmas season the same signs have been spotted in Sacramento, California.
Commentary on recent archaeological discoveries, current issues bearing on the historical reliability of Scripture and other relevant news concerning the Bible.
- Category: Contemporary Issues
- Category: Contemporary Issues
The foundational source of Human Dignity, the intrinsic worth of a person, has been an issue within Theology and Philosophy for thousands of years. While the concept of a living person having a basic worth is common among societies and cultures, the metaphysical or underlying source of this dignity, or worth, has always been debated.
Dignity can be seen as being derived from its simple, but undeniable, connection to human life. However, life, and its properties, are synergistic and go beyond the mere limits of the body. The dignity of a person, dignitatis personae, would therefore also share in the metaphysical properties of life and humanity.
The Bible presents powerful model of human dignity, spanning and uniting the Testaments. We propose that the teachings of the Imago Dei and Incarnation illustrate that the human person, body and soul, has been forever dignified. Underlying their powerful professions of faith in the Living God is a powerful substructure of thought which concisely depicts the interaction of the “infinite” with the “finite”. The teachings of the Imago Dei and the Incarnation should not be dismissed as products of religious zeal, as many minimalists would do, but as the manifestations of thought and writings that have withstood the challenges of time and have been supported by other scientific disciplines. It describes, albeit theologically, the intersection and union between the metaphysical and the sensible worlds, the abstract and the concrete, and infinite power condensed into a finite form. We would propose, based on these key Biblical teachings that all human persons have an “inherited share” of this union.
The Image of God
In Genesis 1:26, the Biblical texts narrates that humankind was created in the “image and likeness” of God. The exact properties of these terms are not explained in Genesis. Some early OT scholars tried to explain this couplet of terms in a physical context; man’s upright stature, for example. However the text seems to suggest that this connotation alone seems to be too narrowly demarcated. W. Eichrodt and J.L. McKenzie have proposed arguments which emphasize the “spiritual qualities” of humankind. These qualities consist of humankind’s “capacity of self-consciousness and self-determination- in a word, his personality”. (McKenzie 1966: 385)
The overall account of Creation in Genesis 1 follows a clear pattern; announcement, command, report, evaluation and temporal reference. While the account of “man” follows this pattern there are significant differences. The text which narrates the creation of “man” begins with “let us make man”, which seems to signify a special place, possibly climactic, for “man” in the natural world. This prefatory statement is followed by an account of the emergence of humanity, which is longer than the texts narrating other generative acts. Furthermore, “man” is depicted as having dominion over the natural world, and that the evaluation of man over the natural sphere is evaluated as “very good” would suggest humanity’s “preeminent position” in the natural order.” According to E. Curtis, the “image of God terminology clearly . . . declares the dignity and worth of man and woman”. (Curtis 1992: 3: 390-391) Curtis goes on to point out that the concept of human dignity is common in the ancient Near East. However, unlike other ancient models, the terminology depicts a singular and unique association between the physical form and its spiritual qualities.
The Hebrew term for “image” is tselem (צלם ). Theologically, the term had a long and rich development. However, the root meaning seems to have the meaning of “statue”. Further connotations of “images/idols” and connections to magical worldviews are secondary expansions. However, the concept of “statue” always seemed to have entailed some sort of physical representation or manifestation of an entity. Because it is a representative object, there seems to be connection between the image and that which it represents.
H. Wildberger argues that the phrase suggests a participation in the power of the entity which is represented by the “image”. (Wildberger 1997: 3:1084) In other words, humankind has a share in the attributes and power of the entity which it represents. This connotes a connection which moves beyond physical and intellectual similarities and ties humanity to the metaphysical force which it represents. Genesis calls this force “God”, as does the community of the faithful. Therefore, mankind is the physical representation God, according to the Biblical authors. The God of the Bible is the Ultimate Reality, the source and author of life. These properties are reflected in the name revealed to Moses in the Burning Bush event (Exodus 3:14); YHWH, a name which many scholars have rendered “the cause of existence”. The Biblical authors are depicting YHWH as the infinite, metaphysical power which generates, “creates”, and sustains the natural world. Therefore, humankind is the physical representation of the underlying power of the natural world. Consequently, because this is a title given only to humankind it is appropriate that humankind is placed at the pinnacle of the natural order. Furthermore, as the world is ever expanding, as modern physicists have argued and demonstrated, the Biblical authors are saying that YHWH, the God of the Patriarchs, is the power by which the world is given its expanse. Because the world is infinitely expanding, we must attribute infinite properties to its source and cause. Humankind is the physical representation of this infinite power and participates in it. By the power of this participation in the infinite, the finite and physical form of mankind is forever dignified. The dynamics of this participation are still beyond the power of our current science and language to define. The Biblical authors felt this constraint as well. Hence, they introduced a second term, “likeness” to depict the connection between infinite and finite.
The term for “likeness” affirms the connection which generates the dignity of the human person. The Hebrew term is demut (דמת ). The term may also connote “semblance, resemblance”. Throughout the innumerable studies on this text, a common theme is the powerful interrelationship between “image” and “likeness”. V. Hamilton points out that “nowhere else in the OT do these two nouns appear in parallelism or in connection with each other”. Hamilton’s argument is pointing out that this is an immediate relationship; a relationship with no barriers or intermediary entities. This is in contrast to Genesis 5:3, the narration of Seth. The two terms are in tandem; however this builds upon the pattern set by God in Genesis 1. This pattern is being ascribed to Adam and sets the precedent for the human race. God has created Adam in His image; Adam begets Seth in his own image which is God’s image through Adam. Therefore, Seth has received a mediated image; an image obtained through Adam. However, Seth, and Adam’s descendants, will keep a share of the image. The image and likeness was bestowed upon Adam and communicated, passed on, to his offspring.
The weight of scholarship seems to point to these words being a complementary couplet. The Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that “image” refers to man’s structural resemblance to God, which survived the Fall, and that “likeness” refers to a moral image, which was destroyed in the Fall. This doctrine depicts the combination of physical and abstract qualities that is present in this text. Hamilton makes the following argument:
“The word “likeness” rather than diminishing the word “image” actually amplifies it and specifies its meaning. Man is not just an image but a likeness-image. He is not simply representative but representational. Man is the visible, corporeal representative of the invisible, bodiless God. [“Likeness”] guarantees that man is an adequate and faithful representative of God on earth”. (Hamilton 1980: 1:438)
The Biblical authors were depicting a unique relationship between man and God, the infinite source of existence. According to E. Jenni, the term “refers to total comparability and not a perceptibly lesser degree of mere similarity, but that the need to refer to comparability exists only if similarity is not self-evident”. (Jenni 1997: 1:340) In other words, Jenni’s argument proposes that man, in his physical form, has a similarity to, is connected to, and must be compared with the Infinite but the similarity is not apparent, as man is material and the Infinite is immaterial. By using this term, in conjunction with “image”, the Biblical writer is preserving the unique and infinite qualities of the metaphysical source of life, YHWH, but insisting that humankind has a share and partakes in these qualities. Humankind’s worth, dignity, derives from this partaking, or connection. The Biblical authors were trying to explain that human life and personhood are synergistic, properties that go beyond the combination of individual physical parts. Man is not simply statue-like copies or manifestations of the source of life. The Biblical authors recognized that life goes beyond the confines of the body, the physical manifestation of the metaphysical source of the reality of human life, and has an abstract, infinite quality that eludes concrete definition. The best way which they could speak to this combination of qualities was to couple the terms “image” and “likeness”. Underneath the theology is the thought structure which is attempting to explain a philosophical and mathematical problem; the combination of the infinite, that with no clear start or end points, and the finite, the sensible and physical realities whose limits can be observed and verified.
Central to the Christian faith is the Incarnation, narrated in John 1:14; “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. While the theological scholarship regarding this text is prodigious, we can set our focus on a theme which corroborates the metaphysical argument of Genesis 1:26; the interaction of the Infinite and finite. The Gospel writer knew his Greek philosophy and Jewish background well. He used this combination of knowledge to explain, what he considered to be, a unique event in human history; the pre-existent, therefore infinite, Word of God entering into the physical world.
Forming a foundation for the connection between Genesis and the Prologue is the literary and theological parallel found in the first verse of each work; “in the beginning”. This ties the two works together very powerfully and it also reflects the development of the concept of Revelation. During the age of the Patriarchs, Judges, and Kings the will of YHWH was revealed through the emergences of the YHWH Spirit. Through the era of the Prophets, the vehicle of Revelation became the Word.(McKenzie 1966: 841). This finds fullest expression in the person of Christ Jesus, the embodied “Word” of God.
In Greek the term for “word” is logos. However, the exact connotation of an occurrence depends largely on its context. John is proposing that this is a revelatory entity, of a transcendent word, command, or commission. (Bauer 1979: 478) To be revelatory, the logos must disclose, express, or manifest something of the origin. The term refers to more than the simple sound which mankind calls voice or words. Mere representation tends to buffer or mediate the relationship between the revelatory event and its origin. Revelatory seems to connote a direct, immediate, relationship. Perhaps, such a relationship is illustrated in the immediate relationship between thought and word; thought generates words and words define thought. Therefore, behind the demonstrable words is a metaphysical reality which is expressed.
John’s use and depiction of the term, while acknowledging many aspects of Greek philosophy, rests on the Hebrew term, dabar (word). The Hebrew term has a wide semantic field, but is usually rendered “word” or “matter”. According to G. Gerleman, the term connotes more than the meaning of a “linguistic carrier of meaning”, which suggests that it is not a mediating entity, but refers to the “content itself. . . [it] is thoroughly abstract in character.” He continues: “Something of the activity of the verb is always implied in dabar: it indicates something that can occasion some discussion or treatment or that can become the object of such discussion, thus ‘concern, incident, event’. . . As a theological term, dabar is an expression [and] voluntative manifestation” of its origin.” (Gerleman 1997: 1:329-330)
J.L. McKenzie proposes that the dabar contains a “continuing reality . . . which reaches from the present into the future”. Moreover, “the reality and power of the word are rooted in the personality of the speaker”. (McKenzie 1966: 938) Furthermore, as John’s Gospel presents the concept, the dabar or logos is the ”summit and fullness of the self- revelation” of its origin (McKenzie 1966: 941) Therefore, the concept of “word”, as it began in the OT and continued in the Gospel of John, depicts the word as being an immediate extension of its source or origin. In concrete terms, it reflects and contains the power of the speaker.
In the concept of dabar there exists a dynamic relational quality between the origin and the receiver of the dabar. The dabar, according to T. Fretheim, entails more than simple “objective realties, as if it were simply a matter of data or information. . . The word is truly revealing”. Fretheim continues, “the relationship has a fundamental integrity to it . . . it assumes that there is an audience for that word, those who can hear and interact with that word. . . [it] is not a monological reality.”(Fretheim 1992; 6:964)
To sum, the use of “word” (dabar, logos) entails more than just a vocalized sound. It refers to a living, dynamic, entity that interacts immediately, without buffer or context, with the world in which it enters. It is a manifestation or expression of its origin. In a Biblical context, this origin is God. However, under this profession of Divine origin is a common structure. YHWH and the Pre-Existent Logos are the theological or religious names for the source of natural life. As we have pointed out; “YHWH” is best rendered as the “cause of all existence” and the Logos is the entity through whom all life came into being (John 1:10). Therefore, it can be inferred that the Biblical term “Word (of God)” should be understood as meaning a direct and immediate extension or expression of the infinite properties of life itself. Hence, the Logos, identified as Jesus by John’s Gospel, is seen to have infinite or Divine qualities.
The Word Incarnate
By the Word entering into the world of the flesh, it is engaging humankind. The theological term that is used is “Incarnation”, meaning any embodiment in or as flesh. Although scholars have pointed to many antecedents in Ancient Near East literature, John’s Gospel presents the concept in a singular way. According to J. Dunn, in John 1 “the subject is God’s Word – another way of speaking of God’s self-revelation, action upon, and communication with the world of humankind. . . The juxtaposition of in this way of the two concepts, ‘Word’ and ‘flesh’, is very striking”. The Word “belongs wholly to the realm of the Divine” and the flesh “belongs wholly to this world, which is “corruptible”. Dunn argues that the choice of the verb in the phrase, “the Word became flesh”, is not accidental and cannot be easily diminished or diluted by rendering connotations such as “appearing as flesh” or “dwelt in the flesh”. (Dunn 1992: 3: 403-404) In John, the concept of the Incarnation means a direct and explicit expression or manifestation.
The Greek term, ginomai, (became) can be understood as a verb with its own meaning. It is usually rendered, “become, originate, come to be”. However, the semantic field of the verb also encompasses “persons and things which change their nature, to indicate their entering a new condition: become something”. (Bauer 1979: 158-159) It seems likely that this meaning was foundational to John’s understanding of the logos, an infinite or Divine entity, interacting with the finite realm. As Bauer points out, this designates a new condition or a change in nature, there is no indication of any diminution.
In the New Testament, flesh is seen as “transitory” with “no lasting reality”. The Gospel is employing a subtle, but powerful, distinction between “flesh” and “body”; the “flesh is not identical with the body. . . [it] is the physical presence of the body” (McKenzie 1966: 281). By using the term “flesh”, John is depicting the “totality of all that is essential to manhood”(Vine 1996: 2:242). The Greek term, sarx, (flesh) literally means the material that covers the bones of a man or animal. However, the key connotations of the term encompass “human or mortal nature as in earthly descent, corporeality, and physical limitations”. It seems to also stand in opposition to the abstract in referring to the “outside or external side of life”. (Bauer 1979: 743-744) This relationship of opposition gives the concept of the Incarnation, and Imago Dei, such striking, and common, features.
Overall, the Gospel is depicting, in theological terms, the relationship and result of the infinite joining with the finite. As Dunn implies, this is not a disguise, an in dwelling, or a transient manifestation. John is depicting a change, not a diminution, of the essence and nature of the infinite when it forms a union with the finite. Furthermore, there is no evidence that this is temporary change, the new condition is permanent. This is not to be mistaken with the temporary nature of the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Incarnation. The infinite has conjoined with the finite, the corporeal and gives the corporeal a new worth, redemption, a dignity. The infinite allows the authority and power to be communicated to all in the corporeal realm; all of humankind.
the Union of Infinite and Finate
The question of the relationship between an individual and the group has existed since antiquity. One could say that a form of this question is the basis for the thought of the original Philosopher, Thales (c. 600 BC), who framed the problem of the “one and the many”. This is the problem of identifying the Ultimate Reality (One) that underlies all things and how the many entities relate to and derive from the Ultimate Reality. The Biblical concepts of the Imago Dei and Incarnation have powerful connections to this philosophical problem. The texts deal with One Being, who is infinite, manifesting properties and communicating them to the finite humankind.
In the early 1900’s Wheeler Robinson introduced the term, “CORPORATE PERSONALITY”, into Biblical Studies. The term was adapted from a concept in English law. The concept deals with the dynamics between a group and an individual member of the group. Applied to the Bible, this concept explains a powerful worldview of the people of the Bible. The authors of the Bible reflected an idea that proposed that a group, or nation, is bound together by such commonality that that they all share a common fate and bear common responsibility. The group can be regarded as an individual entity and an individual can be regarded as a group. Therefore, the actions of one individual can impose reward or punishment on the entire group, as all share responsibility. In the Old Testament we see this concept employed in the Achan account ( Joshua 7), Saul’s disobedience (1 Samuel 15), and the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 40-55). In the New Testament, this concept receives a full expression in Romans 5 1:19. In this powerful text, Paul draws upon logical formulae to argue that as sin came to all through one man, salvation for all comes from one man. This parallel bridges the Testaments in that, in each case, all of humankind partakes in the punishment or the rewards brought about by the actions of one man, who is acting as the visible representative of the entire group.
Therefore, it seems likely that the Biblical authors were employing this concept with the texts of the Imago Dei and Incarnation, as these passages illustrate the communication of infinite, or Divine, properties to a finite set of entities. Although the “image” and the “Incarnation” each focused on the existence of one human, all humankind shared in his properties; preeminence, punishment, and redemption. Also, this socio-theological concept would propose that the dignity and worth bestowed on that one human would be shared by the rest of humankind.
The Interaction of the Infinite and Finite
At the base of these theological professions is a structure of thought that has survived the centuries and has found support from modern scientific disciplines. Both the Imago Dei of Genesis and the concept of the Incarnation speak to the consequence of the Infinite engaging the finite. The construct which is established must be clearly outlined; the beginning point is not the finite participating in the infinite, it is the infinite encountering the finite. From this first position we can use a “distribution” model to explain how infinite qualities are communicated to a series of finite entities.
We need not enter into the tangential area of identifying an original cause; we do propose, however, that the abstract property of life be considered “infinite”. In this way, we can avoid any anthropomorphisms or personifications. Perhaps, the earliest, and most noted, “distribution model” of infinite- to – finite properties was constructed by the neo-Aristotelian, St. Thomas Aquinas. While, his notion of an infinite series, forward and back, has not been embraced by theology or philosophy, his notion of a hierarchical series seems most valuable. Aquinas’ construct is based on the concept of contingency, that the properties of the finite entities are contingent, or reliant, upon the infinite properties.
Aquinas was not interested in inferring the age of the earth or humankind; this was taken up in the “Kalam Cosmological Argument”, which does not construct an infinite cause-effect history. “Kalam” proposes a temporal series, based on the principle ex nihilo, nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes). For our purposes, the traditional “Kalam” argument diagrams can be adapted as follows.
This diagram proposes that there is an “infinite” origin (∞) which, for unknown causes or reasons, interacted with the finite world, and this, in turn gave rise to any number of causes (n) or life forms that still inhabit the natural world. These causes are “finite” (││).This process has no known end point, so must be understood as an “infinite” procession.
Theologically, this resonates in the words of Revelation 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and is to come. . .” This deals with the totality of time and the natural world. The consistency of the “Kalam” model and the Revelation text with the name of God, YHWH, revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14) must be observed. Following W.F. Albright, most scholars accept that the rendering of the Divine Name as denoting the “cause of all existence”. In this Name, we see the concept of this totality emerging.
Several noteworthy physicists have tried to defeat this model, but their attempts have been unconvincing. Physicists such as Oppy, Grünbaum, and Davies fail in their arguments regarding the antecedent cause aspect. S. Hawking must rely on a construct of “imaginary time” to challenge the argument. Therefore, we would propose, following William Lane Craig, that the simplicity of the cause-effect interaction of “Kalam” seems insurmountable.1
J. Derrida proposes a theory of infinite substitutions in the finite realm to explain the infinite entering into the finite world. As seen above, in the Greek term “became”, there is an essential change in nature. Derrida suggests that this infinite substitution of participating finites is called “supplementarity” (Globus 2003: 145). Derrida’s theory has special significance for the Imago Dei and the Incarnation; it may suggest that only humans are the participants in the infinite. This leads to two conclusions. First, it affirms humankind’s pre-eminent position in the natural order. Second, by this exclusive participation, humanity and human life has a distinct and singular worth, or dignity.
It seems logical to infer, according to the commutative property of math and logic, that if the infinite changed when forming a union with the finite, the finite also underwent a change. We can find support for this idea from mathematical theories of G. Cantor, who did acclaimed work in infinite set theory. His theories, and subsequent variations, propose;
Infinate + Finate = Infinate
In other words, if there is a union of infinite and finite sets, or entities, the result will have to reflect the infinite properties; the combination has infinite attributes. This is established by logical principles pertaining to quality and quantity as well.
Therefore, the accounts of the Imago Dei and the Incarnation are describing properties that are part of humanity, but are recognized to go beyond the mere physical boundaries of our forms and bodies. The sound philosophy beneath the professions of the Imago Dei and the Incarnation is supported by ancient models of thought as well as constructs that prevail in modern science and mathematics. The philosophical structure of these Biblical principles propose that with the union of the infinite and finite the attributes of the infinite were communicated to the finite participants, humankind, and that the physical human form, the human body, is forever dignified.
This equation, infinite + finite, speaks to the crisis in modern health, wherein people are struggling to find answers to questions regarding the termination of life. When making “final” decisions, either for themselves or for loved ones, well-intentioned caregivers are caught trying to balance the temporal realities of the situation with the knowledge that the, infinite, mystery of life is still present in the body. Too often false disjunctions and forced either/or choices are encountered in the decision-making process. Caregivers, family or professional, feel the pressure to choose between the “sanctity of life”, referring to abstract or infinite qualities, and “quality of life”, referring to values on life placed by society. This disjunction often generates decisions that lead to self-doubt and guilt.
Perhaps, we need a corollary to Derrida’s “supplementarity”; we would call this “complementarity”, an idea in which the infinite and the finite join, or complement each other, to produce a full human person with infinite and finite properties. Such a construct is needed as to emphasize the abstract, or infinite, properties would be to deny the real value of the finite or physical being. Yet, to terminate life on the basis of the physical, or finite, would be to subordinate the infinite to the finite; an idea which moves against concepts in theology, philosophy, and science.
Complex questions about the termination of life are now part of our existence. The Biblical teachings of the Imago Dei and the Incarnation illustrate that humankind has a unique balance of finite and infinite, abstract and physical, immaterial and material properties. Therefore, our decisions must reflect this unique balance, factor in the infinite and recognize the dignity of the person. We must acknowledge the philosophical constructs upon which the Biblical authors wrote; that the body is a physical expression of life, of the infinite, of God. From this union with the infinite, the human person has qualities and a dignity which go beyond the confines of the body. Therefore, we cannot justify terminating life on the basis of transient or physical markers that are given their value only by contemporary society. The termination of life may take place or be advocated only when the body can no longer sustain this complementary and balanced relationship, when the infinite qualities or soul has separated from the body and life is defined only by technology, or when the integrated systems of the body can no longer support the synergistic life force contained within it.
Perhaps, this is best illustrated by the last words of Jesus on the Cross. In Christian theology Jesus was the Incarnation, in whom the Divine became human and in whom the totality of the Infinite conjoined with the finite. Recent crucifixion studies have uncovered the horrific ordeal through which the body goes while being executed in this way.2 Jesus, being a fully human man, was no exception. When his finite body could no longer sustain the Divine and infinite life force within him he said;
“Father, into your hands I recommend my spirit” (Luke 23: 46)
In His last moments Jesus, always the master teacher, offers a model of when physical life should be surrendered.
1. The best resource for seeing all of these arguments compared is the following: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/in-defense-of-the-kalam-cosmological-argument . This post provides a reader-friendly overview of the arguments of these physicists (off-site link).
2. An accessible resource for an overview of the latest in crucifixion studies is a DVD from the “History Channel”, simply titled, “Crucifixion” and it can obtained from the following: http://search.history.com/search?w=crucifixion&asug=c&v=history (off-site link).
See also, http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/jesusdeath.html for a forensic examination of the execution of Jesus (off-site link).
1979 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
1992 The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. NY: Doubleday.
1992 The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. NY: Doubleday
1992 The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. NY: Doubleday.
1997 “דבר” Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (3 vols). Peabody: Hendrickson.
2003 Quantum Closures and Disclosures:Thinking-together Postphenomenology and Quantum Brain Mechanics. Phil: John Benjamins
1980 “דמת” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody.
1997 “דמת”, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (3 vols). Peabody: Hendrickson.
1966 Dictionary of the Bible. Chicago: Bruce.
1996 Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville:Nelson.
1997 “צלם”, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (3 vols). Peabody: Hendrickson.
- Category: Contemporary Issues
The 'International Noah and Judi Mountain' symposium was held in Sirnak, Turkey, under the auspices of Sirnak University. One of the purposes of this conference was to set forth the case for Cudi Dagh, the mountain just to the south of Sirnak, as the landing place of Noah's Ark in South East Turkey. This mountain is not to be confused with the (late) traditional Mount Ararat, called Agri Dagh, in northeastern Turkey.
- Category: Contemporary Issues
- Category: Contemporary Issues
The most foundational doctrine of the Christian faith is the Doctrine of Scripture, for in the pages of Holy Scripture we find the revelation of God concerning Himself and His glorious Son, Jesus Christ. All of Christian doctrine is found in the pages of Scripture, and thus it is our absolute foundation of knowledge and truth. This doctrine continues to be under assault from within the ranks of the Church, and of course, by those outside the faith. It has become fashionable these days for many professing evangelicals to assert that traditional notions of inerrancy are indefensible and outdated. They go to great efforts to impugn the inerrancy of Scripture, but somehow try to logically hold onto the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ABR staff believes these efforts undermine the very basis and content of the Gospel message. We would like to take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture.
- Category: Contemporary Issues
Old Testament passages referring to pagan child sacrifice are numerous and dreadful. The Israelites, delivered from the bondage of Egypt by the mighty hand of Yahweh, the Lord of heaven and earth, did not simply engage in idolatry. They were guilty of adopting the ghastly Canaanite practice of child sacrifice.
- Category: Contemporary Issues
The following is a review of the book In the Beginning... We Misunderstood, written by Dr. Johnny Miller and Dr. John Soden. This book presents an 'Old-Earth Creationist' view of origins, contrary to ISBR's [and ABR’s] 'Young-Earth Creationist' view. The word 'fuzzy' in the review title applies to the conclusions of the book, not to the facts which the authors cite.
- Category: Contemporary Issues
At the core of the issues regarding the decisions to terminate life, whether in the unborn or terminally diagnosed, is the issue of 'personhood'. The decisions are often troubling and the overall issue has generated much confusion for caregivers and an array of philosophical positions. A source of this confusion and philosophical debate is the lack of a precise definition of 'personhood'. This lack of precision often leads to conflicting arguments and extreme rhetoric from opposing sides and, thereby, deters meaningful dialogue and practical application.
Since the 1970’s, with the advent of Roe v Wade and advanced life support technology, the subject of “personhood” has taken a dominant role in life issues. Two main lines of argument, with many aspects of each, have emerged; the “connection concept”, wherein “personhood” is seen as intrinsically connected to life itself and must have all properties and protections of life attributed to it, and the “separation paradigm”, wherein quantifiable markers are used to define “personhood” and the absence thereof is used to justify the termination of life.
The “connection”, or inclusive, argument is advocated most prominently by the Roman Catholic Church. Article 2270 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads;
The Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
In Donum vitae III, the Church writes; “Among such fundamental rights . . . every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death”.
This position speaks to the metaphysical aspects of the issue; theories of the underlying causes of the verifiable realities. While it provides a powerful starting point and framework, these arguments do not speak to the physical and cognitive markers of “personhood” to which society looks in the current age.
On the other hand, the “separation” argument looks to cognitive and social markers to define personhood. Arguments through the 1970’s, such as those by Mary Ann Warren, look to neocortical reasoning with markers such as consciousness, self-concept and self-awareness. These markers were subjective and difficult to measure. More recently, Shannon and Kockler have presented powerful arguments against subjective and social markers. They present an argument for “necessary preconditions” for being a person. They look to two “critical biological markers”; individuality and neurological development.
Regarding “individuality”, Shannon and Kockler appeal to the “process of restriction” which “occurs two or three weeks after fertilization” when the cells lose their totipotency. Shannon and Kockler state that before totipotency is lost, “this is a strong argument that this organism is not an individual. Therefore, it is necessary . . . for an entity to be an individual before it can be a person”.(Shannon/Kockler 2009: 76). While the emphasis placed on individuality is a valuable focus, recent research may mitigate the force of the “totipotency” argument. A study by Gage and Muotri looks at the role of retrotransposons, or “jumping genes”, which are segments of DNA that can have a profound influence on the genome of the cells and may account for differences in brain functions in people, even those who are closely related such as identical twins. (Gage/Muotri 2012: 29)
Regarding the “neurological development” argument, Shannon and Kockler appeal to the stages of development of the Central Nervous System (CNS); the major stages of which occur in the third, twelfth, and twentieth weeks. They argue for full integration of the CNS as a necessary presupposition for personhood. While this argument deserves respectful consideration, the construct fails when applied universally. Taken to the logical conclusion, this criterion leads to the conclusion that personhood can be gained and, therefore, lost. While some may find this an acceptable argument regarding the unborn, the argument may not gain acceptance in regard to those who, through unfortunate accidents, have lost the full use of their nervous systems. To put it in concrete terms, for example; did Christopher Reeve or, more recently, Eric LeGrand lose any or all of their “personhood” after their well-documented spinal cord injuries which resulted in a loss of full integration of their nervous systems?
Therefore, we suggest that individuality and neurological development are important, but secondary, aspects of “personhood” and, as the argument of Shannon and Kockler stands, the absence of these aspects should not be used to justify the termination of life.
Overall, each side of the issue of “personhood” has compelling points but lacks universal application and remains distinct from each other. We would suggest the need for a model that “bridges” the metaphysical to the quantifiable. Furthermore, we would contend that a Biblical model, based on Genesis 2:7, would incorporate the foundational elements needed to generate a working construct of “personhood” which may be the beginning of a universally accepted definition of “personhood”.
The Argument From Genesis 2:7
Overall, the argument in Genesis 2:7 begins with physical form, not with the abstract concept of life from which many philosophies that are derived from Greek thought begin. After the physical form is presented, then the aspects of “life” and “personhood” are presented. This reflects the concept that a living human is not an incarnate spirit, as other philosophies would argue, but an animated body. (McKenzie 1966: 506) Therefore, the body plays a significant role in a three-part construct; physical form, life, and personhood.
The Physical Form
The phrase literally reads, “And the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground”. Our italics attempts to emphasize that “man” and “ground” are exactly the same root in Hebrew: “adam”. This term can mean “man, human, mankind”, or “ground, land”. The connection between these two sets of connotations has a rich and recurring Biblical tradition.
Regarding the present study, adam must be distinguished from the human male. The term adam, according to C. Westermann, refers to a creature in some relation to its creatureliness. Setting aside any theology, the text is describing an individual part of nature, as its own entity. Westermann continues:
Adam is not the human being in any family, political, everyday, or communal situation: instead adam refers to the human being aside from all of these relationships, as simply human. Above all else, however, God’s special salvific activity, God’s history with his people, does not concern the adam. (Westermann 1997: 1:34).
Therefore, Genesis 2:7 is referring to an individual body, a brute form. This is the basis for individuality, or individuation. In this construct, individuation is depicted as foundational to the more abstract aspects, life and personhood, which are imparted to the physical form. It is the forum, or means, through which life and personhood are manifested.
The Breath of Life
Most Biblical scholars see the basis of this image as a connection to the Divine Spirit, ruach adonai. The phrase literally reads, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”. The ruach can be understood as “breath, wind, Spirit”. The basic imagery connected with the term is air in motion. According to J. Payne, the term “comes finally to denote the entire immaterial consciousness of man . . . The ruach is contained with its bodily ‘sheath’. At death the body returns to dust” and the ruach can live on (Payne 1980: 2:836). The original connotations, remnants of which remained throughout semantic history of the term, entailed “dynamic vitality” and was connected to imagery of violent or forceful breathing. The vitality of the person was seen to be resident in the breath (Albertz/Westermann 1997: 3:1208).
McKenzie points out that ruach is the principle of life, which is communicated to man, or the individual form. This image is not to be confused with the concept of “soul”. The ruach is “a foreign element to man... it is never conceived as a personal being" (McKenzie 1966: 840). The ruach fills man and animates him and upon physical death goes back to its origin; according to Biblical theology, God. Possibly, the fullest expression of this theology of the ruach occurs on the Cross. Among his last words, Jesus cries out, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
We would suggest that the connection to the Divine Spirit, the YHWH Spirit, illustrates the concept that this is a foreign element to the brute form of man. The highest concentration of occurrences of this term is found in the book of Judges. We see men, called “Charismatic Leaders”, who receive or are endowed with this “Spirit of the Lord”. Generally, the Spirit is said to “come upon” them (Judges 3:10, 11:29), “enveloped” him (Judges 6:33), “drove” him (Judges 13:25), or “rushed upon” him (Judges 14:6, 14:19, 15:14). This type of designation is carried on through the early Monarchy. In each case, we see outward actions being the result of this transient force that seems to augment the ruach that is already contained in their bodies. The key is to understand that this supernatural catalyst to the amazing actions of these men seems to tap into the ruach, the breath of life, which is already present and inspires the men to perform actions “above and beyond the expected and their normal habits and powers”. (McKenzie 1966: 841) Therefore, the Biblical theology of the ruach speaks to a force that is conjoined to the body and not intrinsic to it.
A Living Soul
The physical form which was endowed with the ruach, or breath of life, now becomes a “living soul”. The two words which form this phrase are significant; hayah and nephesh. The concept of life in the OT connotes the “principle of vitality. Its language is concrete rather than abstract, and life is viewed as the fullness of power, the pleasure which accompanies the exercise of vital functions, integration with the world and with one’s society. Loss of these is a diminution of life, and the approach of death.”(McKenzie 1966: 507) The OT saw death as the opposite of life. Life is “the vigor and power of the body and its functions, its capacity for pleasure, which is the fullness of life. . . Death is total and Israel knew of no vital activity which survived it.” (McKenzie 1966: 507)
The term hyh is usually rendered as a term connoting some form of the English, “to be”. This is a rough correspondence as Biblical Hebrew does not have the verb structure of English to denote the modern “to be”. It has a basic meaning of life or existence. However, the term hayah connoted more than “simple existence or identity of a person”. According to S. Amsler, The term hyh, generally, gave “rise to a more fully packed and dynamic statement concerning the being of a person or thing, a being expressed in the entity’s actions or deeds, fate, and behavior toward others.” It signifies “to become, act, happen, behave”. This term encompasses the “characteristics of a thing or person”. (Amsler 1997 : 1:360)
The Hebrew term, nephesh, contains the true nature of personhood in this Biblical model. Often this term is translated as “soul”, but this is a corruption of the Hebrew by later Greek influences. The semantic field and connotations of this term seem to bind it to the physical form, yet keep its nature distinct. J.L. McKenzie points out that nephesh “is distinguished from the flesh, but not precisely as noncarnal in the sense in which spirit [ ruach ] is opposed to the flesh”. It is depicted in parallelism with the flesh, but shares experiences- such as appetites and death- with the flesh. McKenzie, among others, has called the nephesh “a totality with a peculiar stamp”. He continues; “the basic meaning can be best understood, it seems, in those uses where nephesh is translated by self or person, but it is the concrete existing self.(McKenzie 1966: 836-837)
Bruce Waltke supports McKenzie’s depiction. Waltke emphasizes that nephesh refers to “life”, but life which “consists of emotions, passions, drives, appetites. Waltke points to the nature of concrete personal existence, not the abstract notion of life which is contained in hayah.(Waltke 1980: 2:589) Therefore, it is significant that in Genesis 2:7 man is called a “living soul”(nephesh hyh). McKenzie points out that the “constitution of man” is presented in Genesis 2:7. This designation seems to be peculiar to man, as other occurrences are considered later editorial “glosses”, explanations or comments that are inserted into texts, which expand and apply the theological authority of the creation of man to other created beings. Furthermore, McKenzie notes how the “living soul” is distinct from the “breath of life”. (McKenzie 1966: 836)
C. Westermann gives a detailed analysis of the term, nephesh. He agrees with most other linguists that the term is denser and encompasses different properties than the modern image of “soul”. He argues that nephesh” does not mean ‘life’ in the general, the very broad sense in which modern European languages use it. Instead, usage is strictly confined to the limits of life: nephesh is life in contrast to death. Consequently, occurrences of nephesh in this meaning divide naturally into two major categories; one concerns deliverance or preservation, the other threat or destruction of life. According to the holistic OT understanding of the person, the nephesh is not set apart as a distinct aspect of the human.(Westermann 1997:2:754-755)
J. Payne points to the holistic view of the OT as well. He argues that “while the OT generally treats man as a whole, it recognizes his essential dualism. Flesh and spirit combine to form the ‘self’, so that while man may be said to have a ruach he is a nephesh. . . In this regard ruach and nephesh overlap.(Payne 1980 2:836). In other words, they overlap as they are part of human existence and find a commonality in the physical form.
The Bioethical Argument
The author(s) of Genesis present a complex model of existence which speaks to the issues surrounding personhood and the termination of life which are being debated today. If we are going to propose a universally accepted argument, we must factor out any appeal to God. Such appeals would turn a bioethical construct into a profession of faith. Such professions, though powerful, do not stand up well to scientific scrutiny which looks to identify and quantify proposed elements. We must look to the philosophical, or bioethical, construct that is presented and which can be applied to today’s circumstance.
A keynote to bioethical principles and practice is human dignity. The Genesis model speaks directly to the dignity of all aspects of human existence; the physical form, the property of life, and personhood. Such dignity is suggested by McKenzie’s argument above, in that the title “living soul” is a designation that is unique to man. Unlike the Greek-based concepts, the Genesis model begins with the individual form, a physical entity. Also unlike the Greek principles, this form does not entrap or impede the transcendent spirit or life as an incarnated soul. This idea tends to devalue the body. Instead, the Genesis model depicts the physical form as being endowed, animated, or imbued with life. In the ancient world, as it remains, life is metaphysical mystery which defies and eludes quantifiable definition. The legal and scientific spheres can valuate and establish criteria for life. They can describe and diagnose life, but appropriating the essential substance of life is still beyond their reach. However, the legal and scientific along with the theological and philosophical spheres have always attributed dignity, an essential worth or intrinsic value, to life. In the Genesis model, the physical form receives the enigmatic life, thus dignifying the human body. This intrinsic dignity, because of its metaphysical aspects, can not be taken or lost by human or physical means. This dignity remains for the life of the being. Analogously, at the dawn of life when the egg receives the sperm and the zygote is formed, life and is inherent dignity is present until the moment when life is lost. This dignity is not a property which emerges or can be lost, but is part of the essence of human existence.
The physical form is the vessel which is filled with the essence or spirit of life. From this union, the conjoining of flesh and spirit, immaterial and material, metaphysical and physical, emerges the self or personhood. Here is the unique blend of genetic traits that form the human being. This is the “totality with a peculiar stamp”, of which McKenzie writes. Personhood is the singular and particular blend of flesh and spirit that is intrinsically, though not identically, connected to life in the metaphysical or abstract form of ruach and the physical construct of the body. Personhood proceeds from the conjoining of the flesh and spirit and, therefore, must share in their traits, value, and dignity. These aspects of personhood are not subjective, contingent on societal dictates and environmental factors. This could best be termed understood as “manifest personhood”, those aspects which are quantifiable and measurable by medical and societal standards. The “personhood” of the Genesis model is the substance, the foundation, of the human who exists and interacts with others. These are not transient qualities which can be gained or lost, but properties which permeate the human. This is the personhood which co-exists with life within the sheath which is the physical body.
The following diagram attempts to depict this complex relationship:
We begin with the physical aspect of existence. That which is to become a human being is endowed with the metaphysical property “life”. The body contains, or sheaths, this spark of life. From this union, immediately proceeds “personhood”. While it shares the attributes of “life”, personhood extends and manifests itself in society. Those aspects which manifest personhood are the physical traits, cognitive signs, and societal markers that are material and subject to societal valuations. While important on their own, they do not reflect the substantial, or genomic, foundations of personhood or life.
Herein lays the core of the modern debate on the termination of life. Whether in the unborn or in the terminally diagnosed, the question remains the same; do we use the substantial or the manifested societal aspects of personhood to make the decision to terminate life? Or, to put it another way, is personhood, which now stands as the criterion for life-ending decisions in many circles, something that can be gained or lost in the course of one’s life?
The Genesis model would argue against an idea of emergent or lost personhood. It would argue against seeing an unpersonned conceptus or a regressing personhood. The Genesis model sees human existence as having three interconnected parts; the individual physical form, life or Spirit, and Personhood, which immediately proceeds from the conjoining of the other two parts. Personhood, therefore, should be understood as overlapping with life and sharing its attributes, not separated from it. Aristotelian syllogistic logic shows this to be a valid argument.
I → L
P → I
P → L
The major (first) premise states that the Individual was endowed with Life.
The minor (second) premise states that Personhood proceeds from the Individual (who is alive).
The conclusion of the equation states that Personhood (subject of the minor premise) is connected to Life (the predicate of the major premise).
Practically, this means that because personhood shares a connection and attributes with life, it is part of life and must also share in the protections afforded to life in modern society. Based on this connection, proposed by Genesis and validated by Logic, it is unethical to separate personhood from life. Moreover, the “separationists” will use the transient and societal markers as criteria for decisions. In other words, they use only the characteristics and traits which manifest personhood, not the substantial aspects of personhood, to terminate life.
Drs. Clark and Emmett have constructed a strong working definition of physical death that coincides with the Genesis model. Clark and Emmett propose that any definition must entail the metaphysical as well as the physical, or measureable, elements of the loss of life. They argue for the totality of the event and process. Therefore, they propose the following;
Death is the permanent cessation of integrated functioning of a human person, which makes the body incapable of sustaining a living soul. This definition includes both the breakdown of the physical life processes and the separation of the spiritual self from the body. If we exclude the spiritual side of this definition we would reduce the human person to a physical entity (Clark/Emmett 1998: 71).
This definition points to the vital functions and integrated systems of the body. Metaphorically, as we have indicated, the sheath can no longer contain the power of the life therein. This shows the foundational importance of the body to life and personhood.
This definition also brings out the conflict regarding termination of life into bold relief. The definition of Clark and Emmett show the connectedness between physical and metaphysical, or spiritual, life and personhood. Physical death occurs when this connection can no longer occur. When this connection is impossible to sustain, final decisions on termination of life are in order. If these decisions are forestalled and inordinate emphasis is placed on the preservation of the body, the danger of defining life through technology becomes imminent. Life support can become a substitute for life and the patient is artificially suspended between life and death through the pipes and pumps of medical technology.
Those who would separate life from personhood bypass the metaphysical relationship between life, body, and personhood and focus only on the aspects of personhood which extend beyond the self and into society (see diagram). The quantifiable aspects of personhood, those that manifest in human society, are very different than the metaphysical personhood which proceeds from the conjoining of life and body. This is not the substantial personhood; it is the accidental, or particular, personhood that is contingent on societal dictates and environmental factors. Yet, the accidental aspects are often used to justify the termination of life. The Genesis model shows this to be unethical and illogical; one can not defend equating the accidental aspects with the substantial essence. It is not justifiable to weigh scientific or physical markers equally to the metaphysical domain of life. Simply put, the Genesis model, supported by Logic and Christian bioethicists, argues against using physical or societal markers as the criteria for the termination of life.
An illustration of the difference between the manifest physical markers and the underlying metaphysical elements of life and personhood can be found in the Samson narratives (Judges 13-16). Samson’s physical strength and prowess were made manifest in his campaign against the oppressors of Israel, the Philistines. At the base of the tribal stories and theology lies a clear illustration of the Biblical philosophy of life and personhood. Samson’s strength and power were seen as a manifestation of the YHWH Spirit, the supernatural force that connected with the ruach already inside of him. These outward manifestations of prowess were not seen as the metaphysical or spiritual substance of life and personhood. According to Judges 15:18, being thirsty after his epic battle at Ramath-Lehi, Samson called out for water. Water issued from the rock. He drank until his “spirit returned”. There is no indication that this “spirit” is connected to the YHWH Spirit, to which his invincible power was attributed, nor to the breath of life. Although his somewhat insolent request and exhaustion indicates that he felt near death, the “spirit” to which is referred is physical vigor. Physical vigor of this sort can be replenished, as the text illustrates. Physical vitality, connected to life and personhood can not be replenished. At his triumphant death, between the pillars of Dagon (the Philistine god), Samson prays for his nephesh, his particular constitution that is connected to life itself, die with the Philistines (Judges 16: 30). This is not a property that can be replenished. His personal existence will now end. After the temple collapses, his body will no longer be able to contain the blend of life and personhood or to sustain his living soul. In these texts in the Samson narratives we see again how Biblical theology argues against life being connected to simple physical manifestations. Rather, life, and death, is connected to the immaterial or metaphysical properties which are foundational to our existence.
The focus of the debate, justifiably or not, has moved to the manifested aspects of personhood. However, the problem is that no serviceable definition of personhood exists. Yet, all sides of the debate appeal to the concept of personhood. We have to move toward a working and acceptable definition of personhood. Mary Ann Warren tried to arrive at a universally accepted definition decades ago. B. Holly Vautier points out:
There is a sobering interconnection between definitions of death, the meaning of personhood, and the value of human life. For this reason, it is vital that societies continue to endorse a single, uniform definition of death which retains the status of all human beings as persons. Any designation of non-personhood invites revisions in medical and legal standards which lead to the devaluing of human life”. (Vautier 1996 :100).
Also, Shannon and Kockler, leaders in bioethics, point to a confounding issue:
“Yet, another level of complexity comes from the growing accessibility of the fetus. Such accessibility through various monitoring devices such as amniocentesis and fetoscopy, fetal surgery, and the improvements of newborn intensive care units allow caregivers to experience the fetus as a patient. While some would argue that this is nothing new, our capacity to see and aid the fetus directly is a stronger basis for ascribing the status of patient than belief or ideology. The questions can be asked: If the fetus is a patient, might it also be a person? If this patient is not a person, then why treat-other than for the crassest of research motivations? . . .
We are yet to face major dilemmas about personhood of the fetus in light of these new technologies and ways of seeing human life. (Shannon/Kockler 2009 :76-77)
These voices need to be supported. Also, a corollary to Clark and Emmett’s definition needs to be forged that will engage the subject of manifest personhood, that which is quantifiable and validated by society.
Perhaps, a starting point would be looking to the Genome. Genomic manifestation, when upon fertilization one being from two emerges, might be the bridge from the substantial to manifest aspects of personhood. This is when DNA is encoded, meaning the blueprint for all mental and physical traits are established. The genome is established when individual life emerges. It represents the individual physical form, mental capacities, and personality traits. It is an objective standard that is now measurable, due to modern day medical technologies. Moreover, it ties personhood, inextricably, to life. There is no delayed, emergent, or lost personhood with the use of the genome. Yet, the genome guides the manifest personhood. It is not subject to environmental factors, but the environment provides the setting for the genomic traits to play out. This proposal does not underestimate the powerful impact of environment on the development of a human being, but insists on a balance between the importance of the substantial and manifest aspects of existence.
Those who would terminate life on the basis of, only, the manifest aspects of personhood overlook the balance to which the Genesis model points. The Genesis model understands that flesh and Spirit join to produce the undefinable, yet undeniable, spark of life from which personhood proceeds. It understands that personhood, nephesh, is not simply contained in the sheath of the body. However, the construct presented in Genesis 2:7, which recurs through major Biblical texts, does not equate the manifest personhood with the substantial personhood that is entwined with life itself. The groups who would terminate life on the basis of manifest personhood, by logical necessity, split life from personhood. The Genesis model depicts their position to be a false disjunction and, therefore, a flawed argument. Overall, the Genesis model, supported by Clark and Emmett, depicts a powerful three-part interplay between the physical body, life, and personhood. This balanced relationship must be recognized when dealing with questions regarding the termination, and sanctity, of life.
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