Teaching series from Genesis

What Does it Mean to be Human?

Genesis 2:5-25

Teaching t07296


Briefly review chapter 1’s emphasis that humans are different from the rest of the created order (“in the image of God”). What does this mean? Chapter 2 focuses on the first humans and unpacks this theme.

We will study this from more than one perspective:

THEOLOGICAL: Since humans are created in God’s image, we can learn something about what God is like from this passage.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL: Since this is a description of what it means to be human, it provides insight on who we are, how we were designed, and what needs to characterize our lives if we want to be fulfilled.

ESCHATOLOGICAL: Since God will one day restore humanity to their original design, this passage yields certain insights in to the nature of the afterlife/eternal life.

This also has apologetical value. One of the tests of any world-view is its “fit”—does it really describe reality (including the phenomenon of human beings)?

After describing the creation of the first man and the location of his original habitation (2:5-14, contra MYTH), Moses starts to unpack what the “image of God” means . . . 


Read 2:15. So Adam wasn’t put in the garden to just lay around while peaches dropped into his mouth! He didn’t have to get a job as a punishment for disobeying God. He was created to work, to be productive, to accomplish something so that the garden was different and better because of his presence in it.

THEOLOGICAL: This shouldn’t surprise us, because we’ve already read that the true God is not some static Being, but rather a workin’ kind of God.

He worked for six “days” creating our world, and we’re still discovering and marveling at his productivity.

He loves working (“ . . . and God that it was good . . . “).

When it says in 2:2 that God “rested,” it doesn’t mean that he ceased from all activity (see Jn. 5:17). Rather, it means that he entered into the enjoyment of his work.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL: So this is part of what it means to be human—to work, to be productive, to accomplish, to enjoy what we have accomplished.

Yes, there is now a negative aspect to our work since the Fall—we’ll discuss that in a couple of weeks. But this image of God remains with us.

Yes, we need some rest, too—but if your picture of the ideal life omits cultivating an enjoyment of active and productive labor (BEACH & COUCH POTATO), you’re going to be disappointed because you’re confused about who you are.

This is one big reason why we should pursue excellence in our jobs (“professional” or “home-making”)—not just to make money, not just “work to live,” but even more so because God designed me to work and do it before him, affirming his design (Col. 3:23).

This is why working hobbies are good and therapeutic (GARDENING; WOOD-SPLITTING) . . . 

This is why people who retire often die so quickly unless they remain active and productive.

And of course, those of us who know Christ can get involved in his work of sharing God’s love and truth with others in what we call “ministry” (see Jn. 4:34), which we can all be involved in regardless of our age, health, etc.

ESCHATOLOGICAL: Did you know the Bible says that eternal life will involve work? No, it won’t be floating on a cloud, strumming a harp, wearing a diaper. Neither will be it be some static state of suspended animation. God’s kingdom will involve activity, goals, accomplishment, etc. (read Lk. 19:17). I for one was glad to hear this, because I feared boredom in heaven. Heaven won’t be all work, as we’ll see, but this will be one important feature of it.

Free Choice

Read 2:16,17. We’ll discuss the significance of the names of these two trees next week. Right now, we need to notice that the opportunity to revolt against God’s will (along with the consequences for doing so) was a feature of the good world. If God didn’t want humans to revolt against him, why did he put the second tree in the garden? Because right at the heart of what it means to be human is to have the freedom to choose.

THEOLOGICAL: After all, we are made in God’s image—and the God of the Bible is a God who chooses. He is not like Zeus, who was subject to the Fates. When we ask “why” God did something, we may be asking what God is really like (i.e., Jn. 3:16 – God sent his Son because he loves us), but not in the sense that anything or anyone external to himself made him do anything. There is nothing behind or beyond God that “causes” him to do what he does. He is “bound” only by his own character (which is to say he is free), and he makes free choices that have real impact on the world he created.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL: Therefore, to be made in God’s image means that we are not machines, nor are we “bags of chemicals” (PSYCH. 101 PROF), chemically and/or environmentally determined. Yes, we have machine features (cells; organs), we can’t do whatever we want (fly, be God, etc.), we can be conditioned to a certain extent (discipline and reward in learning), and heredity and environment play a big role. But this is not all that we are. We are made in the image of the freely choosing God, and we can make real, unprogrammed, significant choices. Realizing this and its implications is crucial if you want to live a fulfilling life.

All forms of determinism are therefore dehumanizing, and open the terrifying possibility of manipulation and control.

SKINNER: “What is being abolished is autonomous man - the inner man . . . The man defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity. His abolition has been long overdue . . . To man as (freely choosing) man we say good riddance . . . Only then can we turn from the inferred to the observed, from the miraculous to the natural, from the inaccessible to the manipulatable.”1

RORTY: “Metaphysics—in the sense of a search for theories which will get at real essence-tries to make sense of the claim that human beings are something more than centerless webs of beliefs and desires . . . Metaphysicians tell us that unless there is some sort of common ur-vocabulary, we have no ‘reason’ not to be cruel to those whose final vocabularies are very unlike our own. A universalistic ethics seems incompatible with ironism (postmodernism), simply because it is hard to imagine stating such an ethic without some doctrine about the nature of man. Such an appeal to real essence is the very antithesis of ironism.”2

Since we choose freely, we are fully responsible for the choices we make (not God, other people, or our circumstances), and we may not decide the consequences of our choices. We try to teach our children this from a very early age because their lives will be set on fire if they don’t learn this. Yet many in our culture are miserable because they prefer the short-term relief of denying their responsibility to the long-term sanity that comes from affirming it.

Our range of freedom has been further restricted by the Fall, especially in the moral area. This is why you can know something is wrong and decide not to do it, yet find yourself dragged back to it and even enslaved (Jn. 8:34). But the Bible teaches that in one crucial area, God has restored your freedom—the ability to choose to return to him (Jn. 12:31; 16:8). And if you choose to return to him and follow him, he begins to increase the range of your moral freedom (Jn. 8:31,32).

Intellectual Activity

Read 2:18-20. God is doing at least two things at once here. God didn’t name the animals for Adam—he had Adam name them. His naming of the animals was not simply making baby sounds or grunts at them. It probably involved careful observation and then selecting a name that described this animal and differentiated it from others. It was, therefore, the first instance of scientific inquiry. Through this exercise, God introduced Adam to the joy of discovering the complexity of the universe, understanding how it works and is inter-related, and forming categories in his own mind that corresponded to external reality. In other words, he introduced Adam to his intellect and challenged him into intellectual activity.

THEOLOGICAL: God is very intelligent! We see this by exploring the world he made and grasping something of its incredible order and complexity. We can also see this by studying his plan of redemption through Christ’s coming and death, which was predicted by an incredibly complex set of symbolic rituals and inter-related prophecies which seem impossible and even contradictory before, but then all turn out to come together and fit together at once. Read Rom. 11:33.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL: Because we are finite, we can never have exhaustive knowledge. And now because of the Fall, we tend to use our minds in unproductive ways (2 WEEKS). But despite these limitations, the image of God remains in our marvelous ability to learn. This is why we should cultivate enjoyment of learning instead of letting our brains rot (Prov. 10:23).

This is why scientific investigation is good, and why it grew out of the biblical world-view rather than from pantheistic cultures (EXPLAIN).

This is why learning God’s Word is good and important.

This is why all anti-intellectual forms of spirituality are false and sub-human (“I don’t want to learn the Bible; I just want to know God.” “I don’t want to know about God; I want to experience God.” “Don’t bother answering people’s questions about Christianity—just call on them to have faith.”).

ESCHATOLOGICAL: We will never come to the end of God—he will keep blowing our minds with new aspects of his being to discover.

Unity & Diversity in Relationship

But there was another reason why God had Adam examine and name the animals. Remember, this exercise began with God’s verdict that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (2:18). Alone in what sense? Alone in the sense that he did not have another helper (friend, partner—emphasis in on equality) who was like he was—he did not have another human being to relate to. This is what God wanted Adam to become aware of as he named the animals. Read 2:21,22. And this is why Adam broke out in song and poetry when he met Eve (read 2:23-25). Here (especially 2:24b) is something very deep—unity and diversity in relationship. Adam and Eve are diverse in that they are separate persons—yet they are a unity in that they can have a relationship in which they know and are known in a deeply intimate way. They discover their true humanness not in isolation (“alone”), but in community.

THEOLOGICAL: What does this tell us about God? How can this be like God, if there is only one God? Is not the essence of God that he is a solitary individual?

Not according to 1:26a (read). As we noted last week, this is probably the first hint of what the rest of the Bible reveals—that God is unity and diversity in relationship (explain grammar). God is a community of love relationships. This is why Jesus could say Jn. 17:24.

This is why God can be truly personal without being dependent on other creatures to relate to (“God created humans because he needed someone else to love.”). This is what makes Christianity different not only from pantheism (God is not a Person), but also from the other monotheisms.

This is what 1:27 means. Not that God has gender, but that especially in the marriage relationship we see a picture of who God is—unity and diversity in relationship.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL: If you don’t understand this and affirm it, you’re going to really screw yourself up! Much of the pain of human existence is rooted in loneliness—isolation from or neglect of or perversion of personal relationships with other humans.

No amount of money or physical pleasure or fame (or work or intellectual activity) will ever make up for personal relationships. If you can’t succeed in cultivating close relationships, you are a failure as a human being! But God can teach you how to build good, close relationships.

When human sexuality is ripped out of its proper context (permanent, heterosexual monogamy in an intimate personal love relationship), there is incredible pain and damage. But God can heal you of this damage . . . 

ESCHATOLOGICAL: The eternal state is not merging into the Absolute (DROP INTO OCEAN). We will retain our individuality forever, and we will be in perfect community with other individuals.

In Relationship with God

Of course, the thread running through all of this, that integrates who we are as human beings is to be in relationship with God. This is the axis around which all the rest was to revolve. Adam was created more than just physical, but with a spirit (ruach) that made him able to relate to God who is Spirit (2:7). This ability to relate to God involves two key aspects:

The ability to understand God’s Word (2:17,18). God held Adam (and Eve) responsible to obey his word, so they Adam must have been able to understand it and communicate it to Eve! Postmodernism says we can never really understand what another person says—we only project some meaning inside our heads onto the message. But the Bible says that God speaks, and that because we are made in God’s image we can understand what he says. Not exhaustively, not with complete accuracy—but sufficiently to trust and obey him.

The ability to commune personally with God (3:8). As we understand God’s Word, and respond by trusting and obeying his Word, the result is personal communion with God. This is what Adam and Eve lost when they turned from God, but this is what can restored if we respond to the word about Christ . . . 


SUMMARIZE: These things ring true! This is one of the evidences that the Bible is the revealed Word of God.

Of course, this is only half the picture about humanity. This portrait remains, but it is now horribly distorted. NEXT WEEK we’ll learn what went wrong, in 2 WEEKS we’ll learn this wrong turn has affected us, and in 3 WEEKS we’ll learn how God had a rescue plan ready.


1 B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom & Dignity (Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), pp. 200,201.

2 Richard Rorty, Contingency, irony, and solidarity (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 88.