X. HUMAN NATURE:
The OT conception of human nature is, perhaps, one of the greatest contributions and
corrections that the Hebrew Scriptures have to offer to Christian Theology
. The OT knows
nothings about man in isolation -- either from other humans, or more emphatically in isolation
Our modern preoccupation with "autonomous man" has no basis in the OT, nor does
the earlier theological speculations about whether human nature was better understood in a
dichotomous (body, soul) or trichotomous (body, soul, spirit) manner.
These are questions
which have no foundation in the OT text.
Human nature, in the OT conception, is to be understood primarily in terms of our
relationship with God, and only secondarily in terms of our connection to the earth and
As the Protestant reformer, John Calvin, saw clearly the knowledge of God
and knowledge ourselves is an inseparable, deeply inter-related knowledge (Lat.
no human being can understand themselves aright, except they would first come to know God.
The Divine-Human relationship profoundly shapes the OT understanding of man; yet,
this relationship is described in a way that maintains a clear line of demarcation between God
and humanity. There are clear and significant parallels between the Divine way of Being and
human beings; but now where in the OT are we tempted to think that humans can claim divine
descent (as they so often do in other ANE religions of the period).
Nor, despite the occasional
anthropomorphism, is one tempted to think of YHWH as an oversized rendition of a human
being; as "Man writ large."
The pivotal point of the OT understanding of the relationship between God and Man is to
be found in the injunction: "Ye shall be holy, as I AM Holy" (Lev. 11:44-45).
It is this
The literature pertinent to this study is voluminous. Among the best over-views are those by N.W. Porteous, "Man, nature
of, in the OT," in
, III, 242-46; and Alan Richardson, "Adam," in
, 14-15. The definitive monograph is that of
Hans Walter Wolff,
Anthropology of the Old Testament
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974); many of my trajectories in this
section are dependent upon Wolff's seminal work.
Theology of the OT
, II, 118-150; Heinisch,
Theology of the
, 164-222; Jacob,
Theology of the OT
, 151-177; Vreizen,
An Outline of OT Theology
For a theological
application of these insights see Emil Brunner's older (but still reliable)
Mensch im Widerspruch (1937); ET. Man in Revolt
(London: Lutterworth, 1939).
John T. McNeill, ed.
Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
2 Vol. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), I, ch. 1,