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Personhood and Imago Dei

All of us are familiar with the classic hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, where the refrain declares the eternal truth, "God in three Persons . . . bless-ed Trinity." One God, three distinct Persons . . .  set apart from each other and yet equal . . this is a great and profound mystery. Personhood exists in the Godhead.

When God created Mankind he imparted a similar attribute of Personhood. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said,“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (ESV).

In the original Hebrew this would have meant, "Let us make man to be like us and to represent us." An example would be the sacrament of  marriage where "two become one flesh." (Mark 10:8) Two persons, co-equal in God's eyes and yet one in unity. This same unity is evidenced by an individual "person" being composed of material (body) and immaterial (soul and spirit).Both the Hebrew word for "image" (tselem) and the Hebrew word for "likeness" (demut) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents.


The attribute of "representation" separates all human life from the rest of God's creation. This state of being "set apart", derived from the Hebrew word qadosh, is many times translated in our English bibles as "holy", "sacred" or "sanctified". From this concept we derive the term "sanctity of life." While it is true that this difference with the rest of the animal kingdom is not absolute, it is also true that we are much more like God than all the rest of creation.This concept forms the foundation of human dignity and respect for human life throughout Western civilization and history.

“Imago Dei” is Latin for the “image of God.” To be created imago Dei means being endowed with a body, soul and an spirit, (1 Thess. 5:23)  a capacity to know and be known by God and a measure of autonomy and free will in the areas of thought and action that allow us to serve His purposes and glorify Him. Mankind's rebellion corrupted His Image.

After the Fall, God's Image in humanity was distorted by sin, but NOT lost. This is explained by theologian Wayne Grudem when he says (quoting Genesis 9:6),

""Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image". Even though men are sinful, there is still enough likeness to God remaining in them that to murder another person (to "shed blood" is an Old Testament expression for taking a human life) is to attack the part of creation that most resembles God, and it betrays an attempt or desire (if one were able) to attack God himself. (below, [21:9]) Man is still in God's image. The New Testament gives confirmation to this when James 3:9 says that men generally, not just believers, "are made in the likeness of God."

Perhaps the greatest argument for the sanctity of life is the Incarnation itself. Christ Jesus took on human flesh and dwelt among us that he might redeem fallen mankind.

“For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:16-17

Our redemption in Christ is a progressive recovery of God's Image. Paul says that as Christians we have a new nature that is "being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Col. 3:10). At Christ's return there will be a complete restoration of  God's Image. "God has predestined us "to be conformed to the image of his son" (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49): "When he appears we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2)."

Because we bear the image of God, all mankind, and, by extension, each and every human life has a “specialness” and worth that demands respect and legal protection. Each human life, from its earliest stage of development, is a unique Person which bears God’s likeness, and should have the same protection of law that is afforded other “persons” in our society. For this reason, all human life should be respected in law. This respect is due regardless of the manner of conception, whether through the marital act, fertilized “in vitro” (IVF), or through the “ex utero” process of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT, otherwise know as cloning).

Our United States Constitution limits its protection to “born” persons. This limitation implicitly violates the doctrine of imago Dei, and has resulted in a branch of the pro-life movement now focusing its educational and legislative efforts on promoting “Personhood” as the answer to the emerging biotech issues facing us in the twenty-first century.

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