The Bible’s Counter-Cultural Anthropology

Bryan CribbBryan Cribb

Counter Cultural Anthropology

The Bible has always been countercultural. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the Bible’s portrayal of human beings.

In the ancient Near East, literature from the cultures surrounding Israel consistently portrayed humans as nothing more than divine conscripts. Those well-placed and divinely connected—i.e., priests, prophets, and potentates—perhaps possessed some privilege. But the common folks existed at the whim of the gods, having little to no value.

In modern culture, human life is also diminished in significance. Evolutionary naturalism and utilitarianism portray humans as merely more sophisticated animals.

And when our uniqueness as humans is removed, ethics tend to dissolve. From an ethical perspective, a utilitarian would argue that we all stand on equal footing whether it be two feet or four feet or none at all.

The results of this worldview have been disastrous. The abortion blight is a clear example. As of this writing, America has witnessed some 60 million abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973 legalized the practice. Worldwide, millions more abortions occur each year. Allow those numbers to sink in.

Even 1 million deaths (approximately the number of annual US abortions) is still more than the populations of San Francisco, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Detroit, to name a few cities. Imagine a natural disaster or terror attack destroying the city of San Francisco, killing a million people.

A culture of diminished personhood has created this tragedy.

But the Bible presents a countercultural anthropology—whether those cultures be ancient or modern. As argued earlier, the Bible presents humanity as the crown of creation, possessing a singular and special status as God’s image-bearers.

Thus, according to Genesis, all have equal dignity in the eyes of God—Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal 3:28), born or unborn, regardless of mental or physical or social or economic capacity. And we should treat all with dignity and respect.

In this way, imageness also ups the stakes for a believer’s ethics. If all humans are status-holders, no matter how much sin may have tainted that status, any malicious act directed against another image-bearer is an act directed toward God.

Think of King David. David infamously committed adultery with Bathsheba and subsequently murdered her husband, Uriah, to cover it up. Against whom did David sin? Bathsheba? Yes. Uriah? Yes. His people? Yes? His family? Yes. Himself? Yes. But when David confesses his sin in Ps 51:4, he states, “Against you (Yahweh)—you alone—I have sinned and done this evil in your sight.”

So as we contemplate our theology of humanity, contemplate also the implications. And consider how countercultural the biblical views are.

This article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by Dr. Cribb and Dr. Channing Crisler, The Bible ToolBox, by Broadman and Holman.