Among the Animals? The Human-Animal Distinction in Theological Anthropology

One topic of concern in the field of Science and Theology, especially in discussions of evolution, has to do with the human-animal distinction. It is common for theologians in this field to reduce or eliminate this distinction. The thesis of this paper is that the Bible clearly posits an ontological distinction between humans and animals, and that reducing or eliminating this distinction negatively impacts other areas of theological anthropology.

In the first part of this paper, I will survey the biblical data. I will examine the early chapters of Genesis in detail, but will also cover portions in the prophets and writings in the Old Testament where this distinction is clear, as well as the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. I will then synthesize the biblical teaching that humans and animals are ontologically distinct. Major themes that I will discuss include the image of God, the nature of Adam’s headship, and morality. I will show that the biblical category of sin is limited to humans alone, though the effects of human sin reverberate throughout all creation (including animals). This “cosmic” effect of sin arises because humans are image-bearing vice regents over creation: when they sin against God, animals suffer. I will also show that the redemptive work of Christ applies to humans only, though all creation is reconciled to God when the effects of human sin are eradicated.

In the second part of this paper, I will analyze the theological anthropology of a few major theologians who discuss the animal-human distinction and show that their theological conclusions have no biblical warrant (my dialogue partners will include Joshua Moritz, David Clough, Andrew Linzey, Celia Deane-Drummond, and others). Moreover, their conclusions directly contradict the biblical data.

In the final part of this paper, I will show that when the animal-human distinction is obliterated, other aspects of theological anthropology (such as the nature of the soul, morality) as well as Christology are negatively affected. I will conclude that the human-animal distinction is essential to Christian theology because it rests on the biblical account of what it means to be human.

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