Last week we looked at the creation account, what creation was and its standing in relation to God. A point that we touched on was whether God became the Creator when the world was made. We concluded that He does not. We also established that a proper doctrine of God is necessary to understanding the act of Creation. While the first paragraph focuses on the work of God in the overall Creation of the world, the last two paragraphs focus on man and his state before the fall. This brings up some important implications about the condition of man today and in our future.
Let us look at the 2nd LCBF Chapter 4, paragraphs 2 and 3.
After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.
2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
Besides the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which whilst they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.
2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
We see here a focus on two things: the state of man as it relates to being in the image of God, and the state of man’s moral disposition. Our focus today will be on two aspects discussed in Waldron’s commentary on the 1689 LBCF:
- The duality of man’s disposition
- What is the “image of God”?
- Did Adam and Eve have true free will?
The Duality of Man’s Disposition
God made Adam and put him in the garden. But Adam was more than simply another animal. There was something about him that separated him from those animals. It was that he had a soul. He had an eternal aspect to him.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
There has been debate about what constitutes a whole man. Is man composed of soul, spirit, and body or is he composed of body and soul? These were questions that the church had to deal with. The idea of a trichotomic constitution of man goes back to Greek philosophy. Michael Horton notes,
“…Plotinus (AD 205-270) posits a hierarchy of three divine realms: the One (eternal, absolute, transcendental), the Nous (ideas, concepts), and the World Soul (including individual souls, incorporeal and immortal). Below the realm of the Soul is nature, including the terrestrial bodies in which some souls are imprisoned. Individual souls emanate from the World-Soul, turned toward the unchanging, rational One. Thus, the human person could be divided into three components in descending order: spirit, soul, and body.”
The Christian Faith, page 374
It is interesting to note that the “One” coincides with what we believe about God. Even pagan thinkers knew that there was an eternal one. Be that as it may, this is where that idea of man’s trichotomy comes from. This even bled over into the church where Gnostics adopted this form of thinking and has crept into the church (see The Christian Faith page 374). Where is their Biblical support? Passages such as Luke 10:27 and Hebrews 4:12 are appealed to in order defend the notion of “three” components of man.
So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Do these passages hold any water? In the Luke passage, Jesus notes that we are to love the Lord our God with, “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” From this, trichotomists will say this means man is broken up into these segments despite the fact this mentions four, not three areas that we are to love God with. What Jesus is discussing here is that we are to love the Lord with all our being, not that we are divided into these specific sections. This view stems from a faulty hermeneutic thereby looking for things in the text that do not exist and completely missing the point of Jesus was trying to communicate. The same hermeneutical error is made in Hebrews 4:12. In this passage, it has been assumed that there is a true division of soul and spirit that is view by the writer of Hebrews and that is not the case. Horton says,
“Hebrews 4:12 does not say that the Word divides between soul and sprit but that it divides even soul and spirit. “Dividing” in this context is examining, judging…It is not a cutting between but a cutting through that is intended here.”
The Christian Faith, page 375
The writer did not intend for the understanding of man to be broken up into multiple spiritual components, but to show that the Word cuts into that complete, whole, soul/spirit. Again, an improper hermeneutic was in play here that assumes what the text does not say.
What is the biblical view of man’s constitution? Are there really parts of man that make the whole? The answer is yes. However, it is not done in a trichotomy but rather a dichotomy. This is through body and soul. Where do we see this biblically though? In 2 Corinthians 5 discusses this where it talks of those who leave this body in death are present with Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:1-8
For we know that if our earthly [a]house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our [b]habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as [c]a guarantee.
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Paul gives a lengthy discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as well.
There is this sense of a person that is distinct from our physical selves that goes to be with God first, although our bodies are not meant to be separated from our souls. Horton again,
“While the body and soul can be separated, they are not meant to be separated, and our salvation is not complete until we are bodily raised as whole persons (Ro 8:23).”
The Christian Faith, page 379
As we see, this separation is not meant to be, but is necessary. This stands in stark contrast with Gnostic theology which teaches that the body is bad and the soul or spirit good. Biblical theology teaches, however, that both body and soul will be redeemed for those who are elect of God. This means that God’s creation remains good even after the effects of the fall had corrupted it. We should not think that this material world is bad and especially our bodies. Both are redeemed by the one who made them. And our bodies will be united to our souls when Christ comes again.
What is the “image of God”?
What the “image of God” is has been debated at different points in church history. This strange language that is applied to mankind is certainly not an easy concept to grasp. Being a difficult topic, it was not one that even the Reformers agreed on. Herman Bavinck notes,
“But the scholars of the Reformation, too, held differing views of the image of God. In the early period some Lutherans still equated the image of God with the essence of man and the substance of the soul, but Lutheran theology as such was grounded in another idea.”
Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 549
If the Reformers did not have a monolithic view of this doctrine, what can be said of it? Is it a doctrine that is knowable? Yes, indeed it is. We can formulate this doctrine based on the evidence found in Scripture. There is not one single place that we see the image of God brought out in Scripture, but it is gained by the implications of the passages provided about man. Certain truths of the Bible are not formulated with one verse, the Trinity being exhibit ). The doctrine of the Trinity is formulated based on multiple witnesses in Scripture and by harmonizing them based on sound hermeneutical processes to confess this vital doctrine. The doctrine of man being in God’s image is no different.
We will follow Bavinck’s points about what the image of God is in man from Volume 2 of his Reformed Dogmatics:
“God is, first of all, demonstrable in the human soul.” How does God show Himself in the human soul? The soul shows eternity in man. This distinguishes us from the animals. We are not mindless organisms that are focused only on reproducing and finding our next meal. We as humans are given souls that live on forever. We discussed this in the dichotomy of man earlier.
“The breath of life is the principle of life; the living soul is the essences of man. By means of this combination Scripture accords to man a unique and independent place of his own and avoids both pantheism and materialism.”
Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 555
God is not placing Himself in us as if we are God (pantheism) ,but He also does not leave us a mindless organisms (materialism). We have the stamp of eternity in us.
“Belonging to the image of God, in the second place, are the human faculties.” Humans have emotions, thoughts, desires, which as Bavinck says, “have to be led by the mind (nous) and express themselves in action.” We can make rational decisions that do not show themselves in the same way that the animals do. We make decisions and show our emotions with higher purpose and meaning than that of the animals and in doing so it evidences the image bearing that we reflect from our Creator. These virtues show themselves in God and are reflected in us as humans, him being the “highest” or “perfect” virtues of those features found in us.
“In the third place, the image of God manifests itself in the virtues of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with which humanity was created from the start.” Man has moral faculties that reflect themselves in our actions. We as humans know right from wrong. We know we should not steal or should not take the name of the Lord in vain. How do we know this? The law of God is written on our hearts. Look at Romans 2.
For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
Our consciences tell us what is right and what is wrong. Animals and mindless organisms do not have this faculty. And this “moral compass” points to a law and lawgiver higher than ourselves. This, biblically speaking, points us back to God Himself. God did not tell the animals to not eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he told man not to do so. He is special and unique.
“Man was not created as a neutral being with morally indifferent powers and potentialities, but immediately made physically and ethically mature, with knowledge in the mind, righteousness in the will, holiness in the heart.”
Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 559
“In the fourth place, also the human body belongs integrally to the image of God.” Since the spirit and body are so integrally tied together, there is no way that the body, being crafted by God himself, can be said it is not God’s image.
“Finally, also belonging to this image is man’s habitation in paradise.” Adam’s status before God in the garden as the overseer of the earth. He was given the task of caring for the garden given dominion over the animals in a way that no one else had.
Bavinck sums up the image of God well when he says,
“So the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. The human is not the divine self but is nevertheless a finite creaturely impression of the divine. All that is in God-his spiritual essences, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self-communication and self-revelation in creation-finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity.”
Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 561
Did Adam and Eve have true free will?
Now what about the part of paragraph 2 where it says,
“…being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.”?
2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, Chapter 4, paragraph 2
I thought that the Reformed did not teach that man has “free will”? Could Adam and Eve have truly chosen otherwise? Keep in mind that this was prior to the fall and there was no “bondage” to sin as we would think of it. There was no slavery to sin. Man had not been plunged into spiritual and physical death yet. So, the will could not be spoken of in the same sense as it is spoken of with regards to man being dead in sin and his trespasses. Adam had the ability to choose that which was genuinely good, but also truly evil. Calvin notes,
“Therefore God provided man’s soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and, with the light of reason as guide, to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided…To this he joined the will, under whose control is choice. Man in his first condition excelled in these pre-eminent endowments, so that his reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment not only sufficed for the direction of his earthly life, but by them mounted up even to God and eternal bliss. Then was choice added, to direct the appetites and control all the organic motions, and thus make the will completely amenable to the guidance of the reason. In this integrity man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life.”
The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195
Adam could stand or he could fall if he so chose. He was not bound to sin or to righteousness. He had the perfect ability to continue in the way. Therefore, our concept of free will to some extent must change when speaking of actions prior to the fall. Calvin goes onto say,
“Here it would be out of place to raise the question of God’s secret predestination because our present subject is no what can happen or not, but what man’s nature was like. Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will.”
The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195
Calvin is not saying that God has not decreed what would happen and that Adam could work outside of that decree, but that Adam’s will was bound to his nature and since his nature was not that of evil yet, his choice was truly “free” in that he could make an actual choice between that which is actually good and that which is actually evil. Remember, in our fallen state we as human beings are not able to choose that which is in good in any way. Apart from saving grace of God it is impossible. Romans 3 makes this clear.
As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
What this means is that man cannot do that which is truly pleasing to God. All of his choices are evil continuously. This does not mean that man acts as bad as he could, but even the most righteous acts are sinful in God’s eyes when not done from a regenerate heart. Paul makes in clear in Romans 8 that those who are in the flesh cannot submit to the law of God. They do not have the ability to do so in their sinful state.
“Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.”
The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 264
They act on what they want. God is not forcing them to do it against their will, but their choices flow from their will and their nature. Adam was not under such conditions of sinful nature and was able to choose what he wanted. Despite Adam’s freedom to choose good and evil, there was no power within Adam to thwart the plan of God. He was not able to work outside of what God’s eternal plan and purpose was set to do. Adam did exactly as he was decreed to do. But that decree had no compulsion in nature nor did was there any acting outside of his nature. He did exactly what he wanted to do. This will have some mystery to it obviously, but we can see that God works out His plan and purpose along with human actions including Adam’s in spite of his ability to make true moral choices.
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