The Bible and Human Worth


The Preservation and Value of the Human Self in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures

By Dr. Ron Galloway

The Bible has two parts: the Old Testament, put together over a period of approximately eleven hundred years,[1] and the New Testament, composed over a period of about fifty years. But both parts of the Bible make wonderfully clear, when rightly understood, that all human beings are made in the image of God and are therefore infinitely precious to their Creator. The New Testament makes this human worth even clearer by making clear to us that God so loved us that He became one of us, and that Jesus who was God incarnate died for us all and rose for us all so that we could all become a member of His eternal family. That is really what we mean by the church as the body of Christ.

This is not a claim about human worth that we can ever afford to take for granted, even though most people appear to do so. For it is not merely a unique idea, but a declaration alien and against the grain of normal historical human patterns of thinking or believing, until people and civilizations come into contact with the Bible itself or its message.

Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, Ottawa: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."What we find when we view ancient cultures and civilizations, and many existing ones, is that they never rise to the concept that all human beings are equally precious and equally loved by a sovereign Creator with no rival. This very concept of human worth is far too high to be simply a product of human reasoning or understanding. Yet once the idea of equal human worth is believed in, its appeal to human beings is unparalleled.

It is part and parcel of every contemporary protest against oppression that we hear in the media today: the cruelty imposed on Muslim women, or our rage against people evil enough to enslave little children into prostitution. We see it in the sanctions imposed upon tyrannical rulers and every other form of claimed injustice that comes before the Supreme Court. Fragmented versions, cut off from its biblical source, exist around the earth. Many people now believe that all human life is precious, but they no longer connect it to the love of God, supposing that this concept can somehow hang in mid-air. The reality is that this mid-air stance makes no logical sense and has no support whatever apart from the belief in a deity that created us and loves us. As soon as the love of the Creator is rejected as the cause of this worth, there remains no way to support its reality. So, at the risk of repetition, allow it to be said again: the Bible presents a view of human beings and human worth that human beings could never come to on their own. The proof of this is the fact that before the Judeo-Christian tradition spread its influence, every pattern of human religion, civilization, and culture was devoid of such a wondrous non-preferential view of human worth and value.[2]

Once it is revealed, even religious humanists normally consent to the idea that human beings are precious, even though they cannot intellectually sustain this belief, and despite the fact that it is utterly contrary to their doctrine of human beings as purposeless accidental beings whose self-perception is wholly determined by data bombarding their senses. Still, many of these secular humanists would pit themselves against atheists such as B. F. Skinner, who was much more consistent with the presuppositions of an atheist. Skinner viewed humanity as an organism with no intrinsic inner self that was better off without freedom or human dignity. This is why his most popular work was called Beyond Freedom and Dignity.[3] Indeed, there would be little or no appeal to atheism if it did not ride piggyback on the biblical teaching of human worth. Take out human worth and what does atheism of the Darwinian variety or any other leave you? It bequeaths you with accidental organisms having no intrinsic purpose and no greater worth than any other living organism.

But to be fair, we must start far enough back that one does not mistake finding this idea of equal human worth originating in religion and culture itself, when in fact it is only found because of the widespread influence of the Bible.

Since the advent of the Christian faith, many cultures contain this wonderful and elevated understanding of humanity. When other cultures and religions come into contact with the Bible, there are often marked and pervasive changes in those religions and in the culture itself. For example, it is well known that Mahatma Gandhi deplored the doctrine of re-incarnation and replaced it with his belief in the equal value of every human being. This was a not a traditional Hindu idea, but a biblical view of human worth and justice. The rejection of the doctrine of reincarnation and the caste system implied by it was more than a minor change in the nature of his Hindu belief. As a consequence, the prime ground for the struggle for India's independence was grounded in a teaching alien to Hinduism itself. It was motivated by the truly transcendent idea that every human life is precious, but Gandhi cut this off from its real source, the Bible and its teachings.

This wondrous Biblical view of human individual and collective human worth was foreshadowed in many of the writings of the Old Testament. But it was only after the death and resurrection of Christ that even the first century Christian Jews began to understand God's love for all human beings. Not even the closest followers of Jesus even remotely understood the central purpose of the Old Testament, till they began to understand what Jesus did for us all by dying on the cross for all humanity. Only then did they come to understand that God so loved every human being in the world that he gave His only son, so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Whenever we lose sight of this and revert back to the idea that human beings are not loved of God, and not of equal value, we simply move back to a typical pattern of fragmented human thinking with respect to God and the universe. That pattern of fragmented thinking, of low-level thought, is as prevalent in the world today as it was before the time of Christ. You see its presence every time one human being, for whatever reason, considers himself superior to another.

This low-level view of humanity is particularly evident in secular humanism, the prevailing belief system in most of the West and much of the rest of the world. According to religious humanism, God does nothing for us.[4] He simply does not exist, and it is all up to us to form our own futures. In most versions of religious humanism, these self-created futures are done in an intrinsically purposeless universe.

We ought also to remember that whenever we are prepared to dump this whole idea that human beings are of equal value because they are all equally loved by God, we are then reverting back to the normal preferential human pattern of viewing human beings. For example, the Romans preferred the Romans and the Greeks the Greeks, and other nations could then be enslaved and conquered. As soon as we say that human beings are simply a physical species different only in degree from other animals, we then lose any basis for viewing human beings as of more value than anything else in the animal kingdom. If we are consistent with this cold and impersonal belief, we can use human beings as guinea pigs with no sense of conscience, since there no longer remains any basis for viewing human beings as of more value. As soon as our definition of human beings allows for the idea of superior and inferior human beings, then we too, like the ancient Romans or Greeks, can treat other human beings as inferior to ourselves without any pangs of conscience.

It is not difficult to find views of human beings in history in which some segment of humanity is considered superior to another. The reason it is not difficult is simply because it is the norm. Not only is it the norm, it is the very constant of human culture and civilization. Outside of the influence of the Bible, this fragmented preferential understanding of human value ever prevails.[5] This is essentially due to the fact that human beings are finite. Consequently they can never know enough about humanity or its origins to ever arrive at the wondrous idea that all human beings are equally loved and equally precious, and equally able to choose to come to their Saviour, Jesus Christ. Outside of Jesus Christ they can never find a logically consistent way to justify the equal value of all human beings. The only way this can be done is precisely by saying that the Creator loves them all equally and died for them all equally.

I invite any of my readers to try to come up with any other consistent idea that establishes equal human worth. I would advise against appealing to the New Age notion that all life forms are equally precious, since this makes human beings no more precious than the AIDS virus. Indeed, I also extend to all the invitation to even find any other basis for believing that human beings are of greater value than cancer cells. We might for example argue that because we are more intelligent, we are therefore superior. This might sound solid, but who has ever established that degrees of intelligence have anything to do with the idea of worth?

There are of course some very damaging implications in seeking to establish worth on the basis of intelligence. If this is true, it means that any person who is smarter than another person is automatically of more value and worth. Therefore those of superior intelligence can treat those of inferior intelligence as creatures of lesser worth and value. Just imagine how barbaric the world would become if this were the basis we all used for human worth. The Nazis suggested something similar to this when they maintain that a special white breed possessed superior minds than that of the Semitic, Oriental and African races.

There is a reason immigrants from oppressed parts of the world come to Canada and the US. It is because despite the betrayal of our heritage, which is precisely a Christian heritage at its richest, we still treat human beings as creatures of equal value and worth in our laws and in our protests, even though many have spurned the very origins of why we fight such battles to preserve the rights of every human being. That source is the Bible and the accounts within it that speak of God's love for all of us. Everyone is invited to receive this love shown to us by a dying and resurrected Saviour. There is no favoritism; every one us can become a member of his eternal family. Each member is equally precious. Even those outside of the family are no less precious. Jesus loves them as well. "The Bible tells me so."

[1] See Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford, 1987); also F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1950).

[2] It is well known that reincarnation requires a hierarchy of privilege and superiority for the Brahmans.

[3]< B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Knopf, 1971).

[4] See the following sources: Humanist Manifesto I, American Humanist Association, accessed March 19, 2015, http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I; Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004); and D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if the Bible had Never Been Written? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).

[5] To show how alien the idea of equal worth is to history until the time of the writings of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, see Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville: Word, 2000) and Peter Marshal and David Manuel, The Light and The Glory (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1980).

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