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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.

What Does the Bible Have to Say About Abortion?

(An article by Nigel Cameron)

The intentional taking of life before birth is not new. Though adoption of “abortion rights” as a progressive political cause in Western societies is recent, abortion has been practiced in every culture from ancient times. Indeed one of the signal achievements of the spread of the gospel in the Greco-Roman world was to push this practice and its close sibling, infanticide, to the margins of society. In classical paganism, while it was sometimes controversial, abortion (like euthanasia) was common and widely approved. The ancient physicians who took the Hippocratic Oath, whose medical vision was powered by saving life and not taking it, were swimming upstream. It was the church of Jesus Christ that swept through the later Roman world as the great pro-life movement, setting standards in medicine, culture, and public policy that still condition the thinking of fractured Christendom in the twenty-first century.

Instruction, Dignitas Personae, on Certain Bioethical Questions

(A review)

Great strides have been made in biomedical research in recent years.  The last instruction on the treatment of human life, Donum vitae, was given to Catholics by the Vatican in 1987.  This instruction had not directly treated the serious questions that are arising because of advances in research since then.  Dignitas personae, is already 6 years old, and technology rapidly changes. There are things happening in the biotech industry today that this instruction doesn’t treat.  However, since it is intended to contribute to “the formation of conscience,” it is still appropriate to those of us who realize that the 21st century is full of ethical mine fields in biomedical research.  Dignitas personae was also issued to encourage biomedical research respectful of the dignity of every human being and of procreation.

Dignitas personae (the dignity of a person) opens with this title so that we are instructed that this dignity must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death and must be at the center of any ethical reflection on today’s science.  We understand that research opens up new possibilities for the treatment of disease; however the fundamental principle is the same as it has always been.  “. . .a great ‘yes’ to human life.”

This instruction, of a doctrinal nature, was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and approved by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  In order to address the scientific aspects of these questions with the principles of Christian anthropology, the CDF consulted with numerous experts in the biomedical field and the Pontifical Academy for Life.  Other sources used were the Encyclicals: Veritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae of John Paul II.

This instruction was intended for “all who seek the truth.” This means that anyone who demonstrates a great reverence for life will benefit from reading Dignitas personae.

The instruction has three parts:

  • Anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance,
  • New problems regarding procreation; and
  • New procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and the human genetic patrimony

If one were to read the original instruction, it would be at least 23 pages.  And, this writer encourages all to do so at http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/CDF-Dignitas-Personae.pdf

For the rest of us, we are going to print the highlights in subsequent one page reviews as it pertains to the principle of Personhood in the 21st century. 

By Dr. Linda Powell


Pro-life Passages in the Bible

God is the Creator of life

Genesis 1:27, 2:7 Job 12:10 Psalm 139:13-16
1 Samuel 2:6 Job 31:15 Isaiah 64:8
Nehemiah 9:6 Job 33:4 Acts 17:24-25
Job 10:8-12 Psalm 100:3 Colossians 1:16

Children Are a Gift from God

Genesis 18:10-14 Genesis 48:9 Proverbs 17:6
Genesis 25:21 1 Samuel 1:19-20 Isaiah 8:18
Genesis 29:31-35 Psalm 113:9 Hosea 9:11
Genesis 30:1-2, 22-23 Psalm 127:3-5
Genesis 33:5 Psalm 128:3

Whitepapers & Links: Transhumanism

Conscious Evolution

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The Theology of Posthumanism

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Summer 2009 Issue of H+ Magazine

"The Designer Baby Controversy", page 25

Fall 2009 Issue of H+ Magazine

Recommended Reading: "God Wants You Dead", page 86

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Remaking Humans: The New Utopians Versus a Truly Human Future

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The Worst Lies You Have Been Told About the Singularity 

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World Transhumanist Association

We support the development of and access to new technologies that enable everyone to enjoy better minds, better bodies and better lives.

Democratic Transhumanism 2.0: Citizen Cyborg

"Let the ruling classes and Luddites tremble at a democratic transhumanist revolution. "

Transhumanism From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedi

". . . the world's most dangerous idea."

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