SDA Fundamental Belief Number 7 (Nature of Man/Humanity)

Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7, 15; 3; Ps. 8:4-8; 51:5, 10; 15; 58:3; Jer. 17:9; Acts 17:24-28; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Eph. 2:3; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 John 3:4; 4:7, 8, 11, 20.)  (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7; Ps. 8:4-8; Acts 17:24-28; Gen. 3; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Ps. 51:10; 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 20; Gen. 2:15.)

The changes in FB7 were few and simple. In addition to re-arranging the texts at the end and adding 1 John 3:4, the title was changed from “Man” to “Humanity” for the sake of inclusive language. The only other change was eliminating the phrase “under God.” The phrase was thought to be redundant with other things in the statement and could leave the impression that Adam and Eve’s sin was somehow under God’s direction or supervision.

This fundamental is another remarkable evidence that the writers of the original 27 were able to say many important things without taking sides on the most controversial issues among Seventh-day Adventists. When writing statements of belief, less is more. For example, the word “reconciled” points to the atonement in an open-ended way, not settling an issue upon which Adventists have sincere differences of opinion. This encourages continued study and discussion but enables us to stay unified, even in the midst of significant differences. The writers of these fundamentals were working to unite rather than divide. The changes made to FB6, however, seem intentionally divisive, or to be charitable, unifiying in a more exclusive sense. They were grounded in the concern that certain views will harm the body if not excluded. Time will tell if that venture will prove positive or negative for the church.

The SDA doctrine of human nature raises many more issues than does the doctrine of God (the subject of fundamentals 2-5), but these in general are left untouched in this statement. For example, How does the image of God relate to the nature of human beings who are marred by sin? In the intriguing words of one scholar, “Sin is unnecessary, yet it is inevitable.” What exactly do we mean by sin and how does this affect who human beings are and what they can become? While human beings are clearly physical, what do we do with aspects of human nature that seem to transcend the physical? One thing is for sure, the SDA view of human nature is much more popular among non-SDA biblical scholars and theologians than it was a hundred years ago.

One striking aspect of this statement is its focus on the more negative side of human nature, its enmeshment with sin. This is spelled out in some detail. But it would have been nice to give a little more detail on the positive side of humanity, not just noting that we were made “in the image of God.” What are some of the good things we retain from our origins, marred though they may be?

One thing not explored in this fundamental is the relational side of human nature. In the Protestant, Western tradition, theologians focus on individuality and freedom. But Genesis 1:26-28 focuses much more on relationships and community. The first humans were created with three basic relationships, 1) a relationship of submission to God (based on the “image” and “likeness”), 2) a relationship to the environment (“rule over, dominion”), and 3) a relationship with other humans (“male and female”). So a Hebrew view of human nature would focus more on the community than on the individual, which is central to Western thinking. The immediate consequence of sin was broken relationships, exile from the garden, the place where God can be directly encountered. Relationships with God, the earth and each other were broken after sin. So sin is manifested in the loss of community as much as it is in the internal distortions that occur in each of us. SDAs emphasize the individualistic nature of sin, but that is not a complete reflection of the biblical picture.

A Loma Linda perspective on this fundamental focuses on a number of things. 1) Adventists value the human body and thus focus on health and healing in spite of a strong apocalyptic mindset. 2) We also value the community. Resurrection means that people don’t go to heaven as individuals when they die. All remain “asleep” in their graves until the resurrection, and then the entire community is re-united in bodily form. 3) Additionally, this life is not the ultimate thing and death is a defeated enemy. We battle against disease and death because that is what God is doing. We battle in confidence that death is a defeated enemy, but we don’t get cast down when we lose a battle with death, because we know that we are winning the war. Deaths in this life are not the final word. Death on this side of Jesus’ return is just a sleep. The ultimate reality is beyond.

Although this is emphasized in later FBs, it is important to mention here that the SDA doctrine of human nature proclaims the unity of human beings (Gen 2:7; Eccl 12:7). Body, mind and spirit are not separate entities, but combined in a wholistic unity. This has powerful implications for the practice of whole person care and even more powerful implications for scientific research into human nature. Some of the best neurological and psychological research is increasingly substantiating the Adventist view of human nature. So this doctrine is a powerful guide to scientific research on the human body and mind.

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