What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Who or what we are as human beings is a crucial question. And it’s one that’s set to take on even more crucial significance as the common ground on which we might judge such a thing becomes less and less. Are we valuable because of our capacity for reason or something of that nature, or is it because we are made in the image of God?

Those are the questions with which this video begins. And, in response, Stanley Hauwerwas offers some interesting thoughts on what it means to be “human.”


I love that Hauerwas answered the question with Christology: “To be a human being is, first and foremost, to recognize that God became one of us in Jesus Christ.” Without hesitation he pointed to Jesus as the fundamental definition of what it means to be a human being. A little later he said it even better:

What makes us unique is that God did not become a penguin; God became a particular human being in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

And his concern is a good one. When people define “human,” they move too quickly to what distinguishes us from other creatures. So we end up talking about our capacity for reason, relationship, and morality, among other things. But this comes with one tragic consequence: dehumanization. Criteria like these┬ájeopardize the humanity of entire groups of people (infants, the handicapped, many elderly people, etc.). If “human” means having particular capacities, what do you do with those who lack those capacities? Dehumanization at its finest.

That’s why Hauerwas rightly resists the tendency to define “human” by appealing to “a general anthropology of human uniqueness.” Instead, he argues that must understand humanity by looking first to Christology. Who was Jesus? And what does this tell us about what it means to be human?

[HT Brian LePort]



3 Responses to “What Does It Mean to Be Human?”

  1. Adam Nigh July 3, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Good stuff! Have you seen Joshua Moritz’s 3 part series at BioLogos about the imago Dei, election and evolution (http://biologos.org/blog/series/chosen-by-god-biblical-election-and-the-imago-dei)? It isn’t explicitly Christological, but similarly avoids any physical or moral trait possession as the defining criterion of humanity by looking instead to God’s election of Israel from among the nations as the model for a theological anthropology. Just as there was no quality Israel possessed in itself that qualified it for election – they had no existence apart from election – so humanity posses no imminent quality that distinguishes it from other animals; it is solely by God’s choosing that we are set apart. Though Moritz doesn’t make the connection to Christology itself (he wants to talk about imago Dei within the original cultural setting of Genesis, only reaching out from there into other parts of the OT for other uses of Genesis’s Hebrew words), it seems a short, obvious and necessary step to root that doctrine of election within Christology as its ultimate purpose so that we end up with Hauerwas.

    • Marc Cortez July 5, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      No, I missed that one. I’ll have to check it out. It definitely sounds interesting.


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