|Image: Creation of Eve by Michelangelo, public domain|
Also in my previous post, I said that I will be making one major modification to my model, and mentioned that I will come back to the issue of "merely biological humans" - people who were not directly descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore do not bear "the image of God".
The modification is about these merely biological humans. To be frank, the existence of this group of people - people who might be called 'soulless' or 'animals' or 'sub-human' if your intent was to degrade them - is the issue in my theory that bothers me the most. But remember that this issue has no practical consequences: I think the descendants of these biological humans have long been thoroughly mixed with the descendants of Adam and Eve, so that everyone alive now is fully human. Therefore this issue cannot be used to justify any kind of oppression or discrimination.
But how about in history? Well, I believe that Adam and Eve became common ancestors to humanity early enough, so that anyone you read about in history, or anyone recorded in the Bible, is still their descendant and therefore fully human. So this issue of "merely biological humans" also cannot justify any kind of historical oppression, even the ones that happened thousands of years ago.
But didn't the descendants of Adam and Eve interact with them at some point in prehistory? Doesn't my model, in fact, require many rounds of sex and child-rearing between the full humans and the merely biological humans, so that their descendants could be brought into Adam and Eve's lineage? Well, yes. What happened in these interactions?
Let's look at a specific scenario: what would happen if a full human adopted a biological human as their child? Say that Adam and Eve came across a lost baby and took him in as their own, out of compassion and pity. Would this child then be fully human? Would God grant him a soul, and would he bear the image of God?
This is fundamentally a question of how the soul, or the image of God, is propagated from person to person. Up until now, we have been working under the implicit assumption that it is transmitted the same way that genes are - by parentage. But is that really how it works? This is not a question that can be definitively answered, but several lines of biblical reasoning suggest the answer is"no".
First, none of the other spiritual qualities propagate that way. For example, sin doesn't propagate that way. The Bible says that "bad company corrupts good character". God also commands Israelites to not even make treaties with the Canaanite nations that he's driving out before them, because their ways were evil and infectious. Both are examples of sin propagating through non-biological means. Even in our day to day lives we see that sin propagates through human relationships, rather than just from parent to child.
The new life we have in Christ also doesn't propagate that way. Faith comes through hearing the word of God preached. Again, the medium of propagation is the connection from one person to another, the relationship between two people. It does not necessarily follow genetic lineage. Of course, our parents are the people who influence us the most, and both our sins and our faith are most often transmitted to us through them. But we should not confuse this for biological heredity.
Also, consider that Luke, in his genealogy, says Adam was the "son of God", in exactly the same way he says that Seth was the "son of Adam". The same genealogy also says that Jesus was the "son of Joseph". Obviously, these father-son relationships are not based on a biological connection. But this genealogy is the same one that's in Genesis - the one that traces the descendants of Adam. In fact, this genealogy in Genesis begins by explicitly invoking the image of God, and connects it with Seth being a likeness and image of Adam, clearly implying that the image of God propagated from Adam to Seth. But Luke expands this same genealogy to include non-biological fatherhood.
This is clearly spelled out in John 1:13. Being the "children of God" does not depend on "natural descent" or a human parent's biological decision. Now, there can be some hair-splitting of the difference between "children of God" and "image of God", but overall I believe that this is fairly convincing evidence that biological heredity is not essential for our spiritual identity.
All these things suggests that the image of God is transmitted, not through purely biological means, but through relationships - in particular, the kind of nurturing, mentoring, teaching, and influencing relationship that a father would have with his son, born out of love. This most often happens between parents and their biological children, but the biology only exists to serve the relationship. God, as the one from whom all fatherhood on heaven and on earth derives its name, saw fit to design our biology to enable the relationship, so that we could better understand and draw near to him.
So yes, a merely biological human child adopted by Adam and Eve would inherit the image of God, and become a full human being. In fact, I believe that any relationship born of love, where one person shapes the identity of the other through that love, can serve as a conduit for propagating the image of God. As I said, this most often happens between parents and their biological children, but it can also happen between parents and an adopted child, a teacher and a student, a master and an apprentice, a commander and his soldiers, or between spouses, depending on the circumstances. Through all relationships of this kind, the image of God propagated throughout the human race over time.
At this point, you may say, "isn't this a lot of improbable speculations just to get your theory to work? Why doesn't the Bible explicitly mention any of this?" First, I don't think this is improbable. The main idea, that the image of God - the essence of our spiritual identity - is propagated through relationships, is a simple idea with solid biblical backing, as I documented above. I do admit that there is some speculation, and that the Bible doesn't explicitly endorse this view. But before you use these as reasons to dismiss the entire theory, consider the following:
By now, you may have noticed the parallel between the "what about the merely biological humans?" question and the "what about the people who never hear the Gospel?" question. What is the status of the people who never hear the Gospel? Are they, or can they be, saved? What degree of faith in God, or in Jesus Christ, do they need? What if they lived before Christ? Does it matter? What if they only heard a poor presentation of the Gospel once in passing? These are important questions, and answering them necessarily involves some speculation. The Bible doesn't explicitly speak on the issue, despite its importance.
Why? Because the Bible instead gives us a commandment that's far more simple, practical, and effective. Rather than going into some esoteric discussion about the salvation status of unreached people groups, it simply tells us to make disciples of all nations. Following this commandment makes the discussion about unreached people moot. Are they unsaved? Go, preach the Gospel to them, so that they may be brought to salvation. Are they saved? Go, preach the Gospel to them, to bring them into a better understanding of the salvation they have. The question about unreached people is of no practical consequence, in light of this commandment we're given to obey.
The same is true for the "merely biological humans" question. The Bible doesn't discuss the question explicitly. Instead, God tells us to love our neighbors, which is a far more simple, practical, and effective course of action. It is also one of the oldest and best-known moral laws, discernible even by the ungodly, even before the law of Moses. In obeying this law, the question of "merely biological humans" would have been rendered moot. How should these outsiders who are not descended from Adam be treated? Could they even be distinguished from the "fully human" children of Eve? It didn't matter - none of it was of any practical consequence. The children of Adam and Eve were to love these outsiders anyway, and in doing so, they would have naturally passed on the image of God, turning these merely biological humans into full human beings. In bearing the image of God who freely made them in his likeness, they would freely pass on that likeness to all those they came across.
Now, did the descendants of Adam and Eve actually obey this moral imperative? Not really. Overall, they were probably no kinder to these outsiders than we are to one another. In fact, the two groups of people probably became indistinguishable several generations after Adam and Eve, so their cruelties upon one another were probably just ordinary human cruelties. But in acting so, they were violating God's moral imperative, even if the offense was against "merely biological humans". So, even in the early, prehistoric days, when the two groups of people both existed and could theoretically be distinguished, there would have been no justification for discrimination or oppression.
And with this understanding, we can even tackle potential modern difficulties. Say that we discover an isolated people who are not descended from Adam and Eve. Say that we somehow knew for certain that they were merely biological humans. This is all pretty much impossible, but let's pretend that it's true for a moment. Could we then oppress or exploit them, since they are not fully human? Absolutely not. Instead we are to love them as our neighbor, as we love ourselves. We are to teach, guide, and empower them, thereby enabling their incorporation into the rest of humanity. We are to preach the Gospel to them. We are to do this with all due respect for their culture and their right to self-determination. We will thus impart the image of God onto them, making them fully our equals.
Why? Are they not merely animals? Yes - in the same way that Adam, the origin of our own full humanity, was merely dust. God did not give Adam a soul because Adam was worthy, but instead to make him worthy. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. We rightly say that humans have value because we bear the image of God. Then, as God's image, we are to imitate him, who gave out that same soul-granting image to unworthy piles of dust, to lowly sinners. Freely we have received; freely give.
We Americans have a well-known line in our Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal". The idea is that SINCE we are all equal, we ought THEREFORE to be treated equally by the government, in our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As political ideas go it's not a terrible idea, but it falls far short of the glorious grace of the Gospel, of the God who saves sinners and declares them all to be one in Christ. The idea is that EVEN IF we are inherently unequal to begin with, and all undeserving, he will STILL lift us all up to be one in Christ. That is the God we are to imitate, the God whose image we bear.
So, that settles the question of these "merely biological humans" once and for all. At no point in time or space is there ever a justification for using the distinction between "merely biological humans" and "descendants of Adam and Eve" for oppression or exploitation. Since the image of God is propagated through any archetypal father-son relationship, where one person shapes the identity of the other in love, the proper response by the descendants of Adam and Eve would have always been to love and grow the "merely biological humans", to thereby impart the image of God upon them.
Next week, I will continue to elaborate further on this "Adam and Eve as recent common ancestors" model, with this new understanding of "ancestor" that I just described in this post. I will discuss how the descendants of Adam and Eve spread throughout the Earth, and assess the overall strength of the theory.
You may next want to read:
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 3) (Next post of this series)
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1) (Previous post of this series)
Another post, from the table of contents