Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 1 of 4

The term anthropology is derived from the greek words ἄνθρωπος (anthropos) meaning “human” and λόγος (logos) which may mean “study.” Anthropology typically refers to the study of humans through the natural sciences or the social sciences; however, from a Christian perspective, the doctrine of humanity is referred to as theological anthropology.[1]

Naturally, humans desire to understand themselves by seeking answers to important human being questions. This might involve questions about beginnings which refers to the scientific facts of human beings coming into existence or questions about origins which goes beyond beginnings and focuses on the purpose and meaning of humans.[2] There may be human conceptual questions or constitutional questions.

With such questioning, secular anthropology has posited many naturalistic and socio-cultural answers, but theological anthropology believes that God reveals the true answers about human beings in Holy Scripture.[3] Through theological anthropology people can begin to understand the overarching theo-drama.

God enacted his part of the theo-drama of redemption by creating humans, and this sets the stage for the rest of the drama. “God created humans in his own image as spiritual-bodily beings”[4] to glorify, love, obey and serve him. God gave humans the authority and responsibility to manage and steward the created world. Instead, humans disobeyed God and failed to live out his intended design of being a community who reflects the imago dei (Latin; meaning, image of God). Through the willful disobedience of the first humans, all humans have become accomplices and have become separated from God and from the imago dei community.[5] All are in a condition of rebellion, spiritual blindness, slavery and death. Thus, all are in “a woeful and hopeless state”[6] and are incapable of delivering themselves from this situation. The Apostle Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24 ESV).

This is not the end of theological anthropology because the theo-drama continues and culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus. Through Jesus’ redemptive life, death, resurrection and ascension, humans may receive salvation that will spiritually regenerate them, deliver them from sin and reconcile them to God and to one another. When humans receive salvation, they enter into Jesus’ new humanity. The Apostle Paul writes,

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15 NIV).

God spiritually renews humans in this life and will bodily renew them at the final resurrection upon Jesus’ second coming. At this point, humans will enter into God’s everlasting kingdom where they will live with him and will praise him for all eternity. This is the joy and hope for humanity, and a summary of theological anthropology affirmed by Christians. Theological anthropology also involves exploring the specifics of human beings, which typically includes more detailed study of the beginnings and origins of humans, the image of God in humans and the constitutional nature of humans. These are the topics that future posts will cover.


[1] T.A. Noble, “Anthropology,” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2]  Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 439. [3] J.W. Cooper, “Human Being,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (EDT), edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), EPUB edition. [4] Cooper, “Human Being” in EDT, EPUB edition. [5] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), EPUB edition, pt. 2 “Anthropology: The Doctrine of Humanity.” [6] Grenz, Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 2 “Anthropology: The Doctrine of Humanity.”

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