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Bioethics is the multi-disciplinary examination of the ethical questions that arise in biology, medicine, and healthcare. Since most bioethical problems revolve around human life, the first step is to have a clear understanding of what human beings are. We need a clear anthropology before we can analyze the ethical treatment of human beings in scientific, medical, and healthcare contexts. One needs to know what a thing is before knowing how it should be regarded and treated. Anthropology refers to a set of beliefs and assumptions about human origins, human nature, and human destiny (telos).[1]

Where a person stands on anthropological matters will fundamentally shape how he lives. Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom, a non-Christian, wrote: “What people think about . . . gay marriage, stem-cell research, and the role of religion in public life is intimately related to their views on human nature.”[2] One does not have to be a Christian in order to conclude that confusion about what it means to be human is at the bottom of many social and moral issues.[3] In answer, the Christian message can provide a unique anthropological basis for bioethics, one that is oriented around God and his grace.

The ancient formula known as the Apostles’ Creed is one resource for helping to dispel the confusion and provide clarity. The explanations of the Creed by the 16th century reformer Martin Luther in The Small Catechism provide a simple framework for the kind of Christian anthropology necessary for illuminating many bioethical challenges. This essay will attempt to do two things. First, we will look at each of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed for an anthropology that will provide theological foundations for Christians when faced with navigating bioethical questions. Secondly, in doing so, we will find that grace, and not simply divine command, is fundamental to Christian ethics. An ethos that begins with God, whose essence is love (1 John 4:8), will be shown to be an ethos that is rooted in grace and more life-giving than any alternatives.

This God-centered and grace-focused approach is important, because if the theological foundations of Christian ethics are unsteady or unknown, Christians may be tempted to slide into religious legalism. As it is, many people do perceive that Christianity is fundamentally an oppressive anti-human moral code.[4] Rightly considered, however, Christian ethics should not be presented as just a catalog of dos and don’ts. Faithfulness to the will of God is empowered by his initiative in our hearts by the gospel and not by us simply intensifying our efforts. Theological anthropology, overseen by the hermeneutics of grace, helps to prevent bioethics from becoming mere external behavioral reform and social activism. This anthropology offers a basis for bioethics that steps over legalism to reveal the joy of our human calling and how it is given and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God and his graciousness, then, will be the guiding principle as we draw anthropological insights from the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed.


A God-centered and grace-focused approach to finding bioethical wisdom will sound quite alien to many. Even though the field of bioethics began with the welcome contribution of theologians, the current state of affairs is predominantly irreligious.[5] America is an increasingly secular context in which to navigate complex ethical questions.[6] Purely secular conceptions of human nature compete vigorously with the kind of anthropology this article wishes to highlight. Atheistic definitions of humanity haunt our culture and present troubling implications for bioethics. In a letter, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, wrote:

The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even much more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration, planned at times by atheistic ideologies, we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person.[7]

In John Paul II’s view, the moral and social evils we encounter are, at heart, “metaphysical,” and the appropriate rejoinder should be metaphysical as well—that is to say, not merely moralistic or political.

One must know what a thing is in order to know how it should be regarded and treated. What is a human being? An atheistic materialist worldview reduces the human person to nothing more than atoms and energy. According to Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”[8]

A prominent representative of the so-called “New Atheists,”[9] Richard Dawkins, says that the universe has “no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”[10] The materialist philosophy ultimately objectifies the human being. With no good or evil, overseen only by “blind, pitiless, indifference,” we are sure to exploit other people for our ends and even to see our own bodies as mere natural resources to be utilized to fit our wills and desires. This ideology ultimately creates a narrative of despair.

Christianity sees the secular creed as not only dark but as untrue. Hymn writer Martin Franzmann wrote:

O God, O Lord of heav’n and earth,
Thy living finger never wrote
That life should be an aimless mote,
A deathward drift from futile birth.[11]

In contradiction to Dawkins, Christianity holds that human beings do have meaning and purpose—that is to say, a telos.[12] The purpose and goal for humanity is to live in perfect fellowship with God, with each other, and with all creation. That is why we exist. Friendship with God is the heart of human flourishing. Pope Benedict XVI said it well:

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.[13]

Biblical anthropology as considered by the great thinkers of the Church, in contrast to the sterile pattern heralded by the irreligious speakers above, presents a sterling vision of what it means to be human, one that replaces “blind pitiless indifference” with joy and love.

The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: Creation

An anthropological inquiry of the Apostles’ Creed must begin with the Creator and his creation. The first article of the Creed says: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Martin Luther, in The Small Catechism (1529), explained the meaning of the First Article of the Creed this way:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.

All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.[14]

God Gives; We Receive.

As Gustaf Wingren points out, Luther, in his explanation of the First Article, offers no account for the origins of the universe. Luther’s concern here is not cosmological but pastoral. He dwells entirely upon God’s work of creating and sustaining me.[15] God’s work of creation is not a thing of the distant past either. God still takes care of me; he provides for me, and he defends me. The focus is always on God as active and humanity as passive. The ongoing grace of creation is beautifully expressed by the second-century bishop, Irenaeus of Lyon:

And in this respect God differs from man, that God indeed makes, but man is made . . . . neither does God at any time cease to confer benefits upon, or to enrich man; nor does man ever cease from receiving the benefits, and being enriched by God. [16]

God is always the One who gives, and I am always the one who receives. This is, in fact, at the very heart of the gospel. Consider the well-known passage from John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16, ESV). In what way did God love the world? God loved the world in this way: he gave his Son. The essence of interpersonal love is to give oneself to another. As God himself is love (1 John 4:8), his nature is most clearly revealed in the Son’s self-giving work, acting in accordance with the will of the Father, even to death upon the cross. In every article of the Creed, God is the giver and humanity is the recipient.

The doctrine of our own creation remains God-centered and grace-focused by training us to know ourselves according to our relationship with him, a relationship defined by gospel, by gifting. In his Disputation Concerning Man, Luther writes that there is no “hope that man in this principle part can himself know what he is until he sees himself in his origin which is God.”[17] According to the First Article, we know ourselves first as the object of God’s creative love, guided by the loving intentions of the Holy Trinity and, contra Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick, not the purposeless assemblage of molecules.

We know what we are in the First Article of the creed. We are those whom God created ex nihilo as an expression of selfless love. We are the ones whom God continues to sustain and serve. Definitionally, humans are those beings, fashioned from the earth, to whom God gives the breath of life and confers the divine image. Of course, human beings are not the only living, breathing creatures God has made. But when a man looks into a mirror, he sees a person freely created by God for the purpose of participating in the loving fellowship of the Holy Trinity and to be his visible representation on earth, the imago Dei.

The Dignity of the Image

Against atheistic anthropology, the Bible teaches that people are more than atoms and energy. Humans are God’s offspring (Acts 17:29), made to exist in perfect love and communion with him and each other. They reflect him who made them, in body and soul. “The whole human being,” writes John Kleinig, “was designed by the living God to show Him, however partially and imperfectly, in one’s life on earth. The body of each person was made for theophany, for God’s manifestation on earth, the visible disclosure of his glory in human terms” (Isa 43:7).[18] This anthropology of meaning and purpose begins with the first chapter of Genesis, where we read that God created human beings in his image and likeness, male and female.[19] No other thing, however magnificent, is spoken of in this exalted way.

In terms of guiding our behavior, the knowledge of our creational meaning is foundational. You regard and treat a thing in accordance with its perceived worth. You cherish things of great value, and you dispose of things with no value. Where is the value of a human life located? The lesson drawn from Genesis 1 is that humans are icons of God because they are created to be so. Humanity’s glory and worth do not originate from something people do or become. No, man’s glory and worth begins in the heart of God before he comes into existence. The concept of the imago Dei says that human beings reflect their Creator as the moon reflects the sun and that this is not by merit of their own capacities or actions, but merely because of what kind of things they are.

Christians have from the earliest centuries understood man’s creation in the image of God (imago Dei) as a key foundation for moral behavior. The great Cappadocian church fathers,[20] for instance, who were so crucial for articulating our understanding of the Holy Trinity, explicitly tied ethics to our being made in the Divine image. Gregory of Nyssa saw the imago Dei as the basis for condemning slavery: “It is not possible to put a price on any human being as we are all made in the image of God.”[21] To further this point, his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus, exhorted his congregation to care for the poor: “These, our brothers in God, whether you like it or not; whose share in nature is the same as ours; who are formed of the same clay from the time of our first creation more importantly, who have the same portion of the image of God just as we do.”[22] It is clear from these early church fathers that the theological understanding of the imago Dei is intrinsically tied to our understanding of what it means to be human. And our understanding of our humanity, in turn, tells us how we shall treat others.

In the twentieth century, Martin Luther King, Jr. identified the imago Dei as that which makes racial segregation an offense to the Creator: “Deeply rooted in our religious heritage is the conviction that every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Our Judeo-Christian tradition refers to this inherent dignity of man in the Biblical term ‘the image of God.’”[23] Thus, in every age, Christian leaders have understood our creation in the imago Dei, howsoever that is specifically defined, as grounds for the honored treatment of our fellow human beings.

Since the Scriptures say little to explicitly interpret what it means to be created in God’s image, several different accounts have been proposed in the history of theology. But by every standard, undermining humanity is to indirectly undermine God. We are made God’s vice-regents on earth, whom to dishonor, dishonors the King we represent. And it is this dishonoring that brings us to our ethical dilemmas. To wrong the dignity of a human being is not just a moral failing; it is blasphemous.

The Goodness of the Human Body

Medical ethics, clinical ethics, research ethics, and so on play in the arena of the human body. For theology to speak to bioethics, it is necessary to consider in what ways the body is integral to being human. To know the essence of humanity is to come to terms with human beings as embodied spirits, or enspirited bodies, if you will. The materialist worldview has no use for the soul or spirit. That much is obvious. But on the other hand, evangelical theologian Gregg Allison says that many Christians harbor suspicions about the body. He writes that “evangelicals at best express an ambivalence toward the human body, and at worst manifest a disregard or contempt for it.”[24] They are prone to see it as “a hindrance to spiritual maturity,” he adds.[25] One is sure to note that this is by no means only true of evangelicals. Christian hyper-spirituality is as harmful to human flourishing as naturalistic materialism. While one degrades the human person by denying the existence of the soul, we are just as debased if the body is treated as nothing more than a temporary apparatus for the “real you” on the inside. The human body is not some kind of rough prosthesis for the mind. The assumption that the human body is ultimately inconsequential to one’s identity is unscriptural and anti-human.

The question this raises, of course, is Christological. The Son of God became a true man, like us in every respect except for sinning. Christology is fundamental for Christian bioethics because the incarnation of God’s Son preaches volumes about the meaning of embodiment. If Christ came to save me, and if my body is not the “real me,” then why did he come as an embodied human being?[26] The answer, of course, is that my body is essential to what it means to be me. The body is not a shell, an evil, a hindrance to the spirit, or a prison from which to escape, as Plato held.[27] We are not spirits trapped in shells like pearls inside oysters.

The human body, instead, is the visible presence of a person.[28] It is not an inconvenient add-on. What happens to your body happens to you. What you do in your body, you do. If someone kisses your face, they are kissing you. If a man has sex with a woman, he is not just having sex with her body, but with her as a whole person. A human being, the human person, is a fully integrated body-soul composite, graciously fashioned by God. The dis-integration that occurs upon biological death is both unnatural and temporary. Medicine does not treat bones and flesh; it treats persons. We confess the central importance of the body to our identity, because if the body is not, properly speaking, the real you, then it is hard to know why we cannot buy, sell, rent, optimize, or upgrade parts or functions of our bodies as we wish. I might be free to sell, rent and optimize property without restraint, but not persons. If the nature and meaning of the body is centrally important to personal identity (1 Cor 15; Job 19:26; Dan 12:2; John 11:1–45), then understanding the nature and meaning of the body is centrally important for bioethics. And if Genesis 1–3 is not clear enough, the incarnation of the eternal Logos (John 1:14) definitively settles the question of the intrinsic goodness of the human body and its definitional importance for understanding human nature.

The Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed: Redemption

The Second Article of the creed offers basic Christology. It says: “And [I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”[29] Luther explains the meaning here:

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord,

who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,

that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.[30]

Christology is an important clarifying lens through which to understand what it means to be truly human. Fallenness blinds us to our humanity. No living person has ever seen an uncorrupted human being. We have no collective memory of what it was like to live in Eden before the fall. But our consideration of the Son of Man, God incarnate, can show us what the humanity of the new creation is meant to be. Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15), restores humanity and is the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45–49). Through him we see God, but we also see ourselves. We see what we are meant to be and what we will, by grace, become.

Luther’s explanation begins by affirming the orthodox doctrine of the two natures in Christ. Historically, there have been two predominant errors about the person of Christ having to do with his two natures. One error claims that Jesus was a great man, but not God or, at least, not divine in the same sense as the Father is divine. The second error claims that Jesus is God but that he cannot be truly human. To counter the first error, the Council of Nicaea (325), from which we get the Nicene Creed,[31] recognized that the Son of God is indeed divine in the same sense that the Father is divine, being of the same substance,[32] co-eternal, and co-equal with Him in every respect.[33] This is later affirmed with the Definition of Chalcedon (451)[34] and the third of the ecumenical creeds, the Athanasian Creed. Church councils throughout the ages, as well as all the great Protestant confessions of faith, affirm the ancient Christological definitions.[35]

If Arius got the true deity of Jesus wrong at Nicaea,[36] the various dualistic thinkers from every age get his true humanity wrong. Ancient gnostics, for example, rejected the goodness of creation[37] and particularly human flesh (1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7).[38] For that reason they could not accept that God’s Son could become an actual man, body and soul. However, the gnostic view is contrary to the clear sense of Scripture as the Nicene defenders read it. The hypostatic union in Christ[39] proves that human nature is not incompatible with the divine nature. At the beginning of his Gospel, John is clear that we find God in the Word-made-flesh. The Logos came and tabernacled (dwelt) among us (John 1:14). It is God-in-the-flesh who was born and died, raised, and ascended for our salvation.

The incarnation of the eternal Son of God is central for our salvation, and not only as a stepping stone to the cross. In the sixteenth century, Martin Chemnitz relates the incarnation of God’s Son to the re-creation of our human nature this way:

Although our wretched human nature because of sin has been torn away and alienated from God, who is life itself (Eph. 4:8; Is. 49:8 ff.), yet His physical body, which is of the same substance with us, is most intimately joined and united with the divine nature in the person of the Son of God because of the hypostatic union, that in this way the restitution and reparation of it [our human nature] becomes surer and more certain, and thus we in turn are made participants (κοινωνοί [koinonia]) of the divine nature in Christ (2 Peter 1:4), and thus also receive fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (1 John 1:3).[40]

Since Christ is consubstantial (of the same substance/nature) with us and also consubstantial with the Father,[41] we are truly, and not figuratively, participants in the divine nature.

Chemnitz further says: “The Son of God put on human flesh in order that He might liberate flesh by His flesh.”[42] This emphasis of bodily redemption is echoed also in Guadium et spes, from the Second Vatican Council:

He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward.[43] Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. . . . He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.[44]

Our Lord’s humble birth proves definitively that the body is not our basic problem and salvation is not rescue from it.

As Bethlehem reveals the humility of Christ, another episode in the life of Jesus, the transfiguration, gives us a glimpse of his glory. Christ’s Transfiguration, (μεταμόρφωσις [metamorphosis]) is recorded in Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, and Luke 9:28–36. It is also alluded to in 2 Peter 1:16–18. This is the episode toward the end of Christ’s earthly ministry where he manifests his divine glory in front of his disciples.

The transfiguration of Jesus has anthropological meaning because it shows the majesty of our uncorrupted human nature. Consider Moses in the account. Moses was seen speaking to Jesus on the mountain which hearkened back to the time of the Exodus when Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai. At that time, when Moses came down, the “skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exod 34:29). Moses had to wear a veil over his face after speaking with God because his appearance was too radiant for others to bear. St. Paul refers to this when he describes our telos, our own future selves. “And we all,” he says, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [the same Greek term as used in the Gospel transfiguration accounts: μεταμορφούμεθα] into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Elsewhere Paul writes that Christ Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:21). The same testimony is in the Hebrew prophets as well: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3). That is the destiny of the one who is found in Christ.

In knowing Jesus as gracious savior, we are made like him. It says in Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” John tells us the same thing: “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The vision of God is transformative. In the manger, the glory of the Lord was hidden in weakness, but the veil is briefly pulled aside on the Mount of Transfiguration so that we can see where we are headed.

Easter ties these things together. The cross is Christ’s humiliation and Easter is his victory, a victory that he shares with his own. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension punctuate the promise. Easter is called the Queen of Feasts because the very bodily resurrection of the Savior is essential to our salvation. Had he not been raised, the apostle writes, we would still be in our sins and would be the most pitiful of men (1 Cor 15).

The Easter accounts at the end of the Gospels drive home the truth that Jesus’ physical nature is part of his personal identity. He appeared to his disciples on the night of that first Easter and said “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see” (Luke 24:39). He identified his physical hands and feet as “myself.” His “me” can be seen and touched. Thus, to know God is to know the man, Jesus. The divine and human natures in Christ are one person. The resurrection of Jesus affirms the goodness of the human nature, so any bioethics that over-prioritizes the wants of the heart over the objective life of the body risks operating from a distorted anthropology.[45]

The enfleshment of the Son of God reveals the Eternal One to us, and it also gives divine meaning to our embodied lives. Recognizing the true humanity of Christ elevates the bodily aspect of what it means to be human. The human body of every person is dignified by the human body of the Son of God. In our account of Christian bioethics, value and moral status is determined by solidarity with the Son.

Bioethics considers how the human body relates to the human person. If the body is ultimately inconsequential to my identity, if it is no more than a vehicle for the soul, then I have tremendous liberty to modify or commodify my body to suit utilitarian demands or to satisfy my own desires. My bodily life, in that scheme, is not integral to my true life.[46] However, since Jesus identifies his body with his very self, our own bodies cannot be simply disposable. As it is with Christ, so it is with all humanity. This puts anthropology into Christological focus.

Understanding our nature gives direction to our ethics. Traditional Christian views of the dignity of human life are grounded in Biblical anthropology. Our moral status does not emerge from our possessions or relative capacities but is based upon the kind of thing we are.[47] And the kind of thing we are is determined by our having been created in the divine image and by the one eternal Son who himself becomes consubstantial with our humanity. Further, we are those beings for whom Jesus died. Objectively, Jesus did not only die for those who ultimately have faith and are saved. He died for the sins of the world to reconcile us to God.[48] It is this saving act as well as the creative act in Genesis that gives human life its meaning.

The divine speech act of creation is parallel to the divine speech act God makes for our justification. Just as our creation is the result of God’s Word, so also is our justification a result of God’s Word, his forensic declaration of righteousness before him. In both instances, God speaks life into being out of nothing (ex nihilo). All human beings are made in the image of God at creation and continue to be objects of his benevolence. He unites himself to our human nature in the incarnation and he reconciles us to him by the atonement so that those who are in him by faith will enjoy everlasting fellowship with the Holy Trinity.

At each of the creed’s three articles, a basis for an ennobling Christian anthropology is presented that can direct a more gospel-centered ethics. The incarnation, the transfiguration, the atonement, and the resurrection grant us understanding of what a human being is. Classic two-natures Christology and the hypostatic union demonstrate the dignity of mankind, even fallen mankind. To understand ourselves according to God’s grace, first we looked at creation, second at redemption, and finally, at our life to come.

The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: Eschatology

The final article of the Apostles’ Creed centers on the Holy Spirit and his work for us: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”[49] Here is Martin Luther’s explanation:

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;

But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.

On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

This is most certainly true.[50]

Sinful human creatures, under classic Reformation considerations, have no inherent power to come to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit working through the Word of God creates faith and generates new life in the believer. The concept of divine monergism says that God does everything for a person’s salvation and all glory belongs to him, soli Deo gloria. Our creation from nothing (ex nihilo), our redemption upon the cross, and our regeneration through the gospel are God’s doing, from first to last, by grace. From the beginning of all things to the final glorification unto eternity, the human person is known as the passive object of God’s life-giving work.

Eschatology and Bioethics

Eschatology, the study of last things, looks at death, resurrection, and eternal life from the perspective of God’s Word. Eschatology is crucial for Christian bioethics because how we view the end of things directs how we live in the present. The Apostles’ Creed presents the resurrection of the body as the final word and an essential point of the Christian gospel (1 Cor 15:17–19). The resurrection, of course, is grounded in God’s work of creation and is specifically mentioned in both the Second and Third Articles of the creed.

Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus is of first importance (1 Cor 15:3–4). The bodily resurrection of Jesus is necessary for our salvation and his resurrection is the certain precursor to our own (1 Cor 15:14, 17, 20). Romans 8:11 explicitly ties the resurrection of Jesus (Second Article) to our own (Third Article) by identifying the Holy Spirit as the giver of life:[51] “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). Our telos, according to the Third Article, is to be raised by the power of the Spirit, overcoming the grave and living forever in Christ.

A theological analysis of many bioethical problems depends upon the definition and meaning of death. Historically, Christianity has maintained a different understanding of death from that of the world. The diabolical strategy is to domesticate death and move us to make peace with it in our minds somehow. If there is no real problem, a savior is unnecessary or less necessary. Death is now said to be just part of the circle of life. It is described as natural instead of the contradiction to nature that it is.[52] The Bible, however, identifies death as an enemy to be defeated (1 Cor 15:26).

If the human telos is to live in perfect communion with God, then death is the great interruption to that end. The devil is a murderer, Christ says (John 8:44). He murdered the whole human race since all sinned in Adam’s fall (Rom 5:12) and death, by sin, came to everyone. Sin results in death. The Church’s evangelistic plea points to sin and death as our ultimate problems and the Lord, who is our righteousness and resurrection, as the only solution (John 11:25).

Ancient Jewish wisdom literature, too, recognized that death is not natural: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist” (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13–14, NRSV). The early church fathers also identified death as an evil. St. Basil wrote in a homily that death is a necessary consequence of rebelling against God. Speaking of Adam, he writes: “For to the extent that he withdrew from life, he likewise drew near to death. For God is life, and the privation of life is death. Therefore, Adam prepared death for himself through his withdrawal from God, in accord with what is written, ‘Behold, those who remove themselves from you are destroyed’ [Ps. 73.27].”[53] Basil went on to say, “It is folly to believe that God is the author of our sufferings. . . . God, who made the body, did not make illness.”[54] It is equally clear that “God did not make death.”[55] In support of this, the Council of Carthage in 418 asserted that “Adam was not created subject to death.”[56] And Martin Luther in the sixteenth century follows suit: “Scripture teaches us that our death and dying does not come in a natural way but that this is a fruit of and the penalty for our father Adam’s sin.”[57] All of these voices confirm that, for Christ the victor, there can be no win-win treaty with death, no détente, coexistence, or agreeing to disagree. There is only total victory. Some believe that death is part of what it means to be human; however, in the gospel, death is unacceptable (Heb 2:14–15; 1 Cor 15:55). It may be inevitable, but it is not natural.

Many believe that the soul going to heaven is one’s final chapter and the body is simply left behind.[58] The Bible paints a different picture. Human beings are everlasting body-soul composites, and their eschatological hope is not escapist but redemptive, a new heaven and a new earth inhabited by resurrected men and women (Isa 65:17). Jeffrey Gibbs summarizes it well: “God’s solution for bodily death is bodily resurrection.”[59] The power of the Spirit of Christ will raise us like Christ was raised, for we are in Christ. Easter is not the victory for Jesus only. All who are in Christ are crucified and raised with him (Rom 6:1–8) and share in his eternal life.

The Enemy of mankind does not need to make Christians explicitly deny the resurrection of the body; he just needs to make us neglect it, which is nearly as bad. When one does not consider the body to be an essential and integral part of his person, then that one will find weak comfort in the promise of the bodily resurrection. It might be fine, one thinks, but not fundamental to the faith. The resurrection of the body then become a curious side project, as it were, not at all part of the main event.

People say at the graveside, “she is no longer here” or “his body is just an empty shell now.” Though the sentiment can be understood, such statements are misleading. At death, the soul is violently torn from the body, but this state is temporary. The disembodied version of heavenly hope is only penultimate. The ultimate triumph is experienced on the Last Day when our humanity will be restored and fulfilled. At that time, Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21). When God became man, he was born of a woman. The manger and the empty tomb tell us that human life is incarnational.

For humanity, the meaning of the person can never turn a blind eye to the meaning of the body. And as the whole body-soul person is reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins, the curse of death has been reversed. To be sure, the Christian at the end of life may peacefully allow themselves to go to the Lord’s bosom when they are irretrievably dying. Grasping onto every conceivable moment of this temporal existence, regardless of the burden, is a type of vitalism that may idolize the continued biological existence of the current order of things. It must be remembered that the nature of death itself has been changed by Christ’s death and resurrection for us into something no more fearful than sleep. This is a powerful source of peace and comfort at the deathbed. As the hymn says:

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.[60]

Resting in God’s promises at life’s end and allowing things to take their course is a final act of faith and witness to those around you.

The same casual disregard for the body that Christians sometimes evidence in hymns and devotions[61] and at funerals,[62] overlooking the ultimate promise of physical restoration, is akin to an overall cultural disregard, and even disdain, for the body as integral to personal identity. Furthermore, if personal identity is psychological, then how we treat our bodies is totally open to our wills and desires. This contradicts the vision of the human being as a fully integrated body-soul composite that is created, redeemed, and glorified by the Holy Trinity. Without the correct impression of ourselves, body and soul, our ethical decision-making will be skewed toward one or the other without respect for the integrity of the whole man. Robust paschal proclamation throughout the year, and especially at baptisms and funerals, will ingrain our consciences with a right anthropology.


Engaging theologically with bioethical issues in the Church means entering into a conversation about what being truly human looks like. The Apostles’ Creed is not a sterile report of rational propositions. It is a pastoral text that gives form to Christian faith and hope so that when our bioethical commitments are read through the matrix of God’s own gracious work of creation, incarnation, redemption, church, and resurrection, mere moralism is transcended.

Maintaining or restoring a God-centered, grace-focused anthropology toward particular bioethical issues is a mark of love. The theological anthropology of orthodox Christianity shows people how to understand their identity as the handiwork of God’s benevolence, to see their telos in Christ and live accordingly. In our increasingly polarized society, where passion often overrides thought, this can be a refreshing approach to bioethics. It is a reassuring message that life has meaning and that goodness prevails.

For this perspective to take hold, Christians must fearlessly scrutinize their intellectual assumptions and assess what to jettison and what to keep. Every Christian needs to examine what they think and what they love. There are many competing counter-narratives that devalue human life and contradict the orthodox Christian witness. If people do not know what they are from a Biblical perspective, then they will find substitute storylines through which to interpret themselves. The atheistic materialist worldview offers a reductionist view of humanity, as we have seen, that endangers the weakest among us: the unborn, the disabled, the marginalized, the grandmother with Alzheimer’s, or the child with Down syndrome. A deficient anthropology is often operative when a utilitarian calculus is made the basis for determining how to proceed with a challenging pregnancy, when to withhold or withdraw treatment at the end of life, or which medical research to fund.

By adopting a biblical understanding of humanity, considered from basic creedal points of doctrine, the Church can, when bioethical dilemmas emerge, represent the graciousness of the Holy Trinity. Martin Luther’s simple catechetical explanation of the Apostles’ Creed provides the reliable foundation for an anthropology that undergirds a meaningful Christian approach to bioethics. To know ourselves, we must see ourselves before God. According to the reformer, the First Article means that God creates and preserves us only out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” God creates and we are created; God gives and we receive; God loves and we are his beloved. In the explanation of the Third Article, that of the Holy Spirit, he says that we “cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.” But rather, “the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens” us by the gospel.

So, we are created by grace alone and we are saved by grace alone. The First and Third Articles are closely related. Oswald Bayer shows that Luther’s language “without merit or worthiness in me” in the First Article is the language of justification because, in the period of the Reformation, the concept of merit was a critical concept in the fight about how sinners can find a gracious God. The Reformers said that the only merit we have is Christ’s merit imputed to us, which was rejected by the Council of Trent.[63] Bioethics under grace means first identifying everything that we are and all that we can become as pure gift. Human dignity does not emerge from the man or woman; it is conferred by God.

The Second Article of the creed shows that Jesus is the linchpin between creation and new creation. As Martin Luther points out, Jesus Christ came “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” The correct study of Christology is always soteriological. It points to us and our fulfilment. God’s gift, grace, is fundamental to knowing ourselves. In order for an ethical system to be grace-based, the person and work of the Lord Jesus must be at the center. He reveals the objective meaning of our humanity and the destiny of all who are in him. There is no better way to see the life-giving grace of God than the face of the Savior. God is both the giver and the gift. In him is life (John 1:4) and he is the life (John 11:25). Since confusion about what it means to be human is at the bottom of many of social and moral issues, the vision of ourselves in Scripture and presented by the Apostles’ Creed provides the clarity we need to make good choices.

In the pulpit and at the bedside, the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to Christ’s Church is never far from the practice of Christian bioethics. This is because fallible and fallen human beings will frequently make mistakes, act selfishly, and operate from ignorance when faced with bioethical dilemmas in the home, the hospital, or hospice. Complicated and sinful family dynamics will also, at times, cloud their judgment. Through it all, Christian people will simply need to make the best decisions they can with the knowledge and wisdom they possess at the time. They must trust God to help them and those they love at moments of crisis or question. Christian leaders have the duty to teach and prophetically proclaim the clarifying images from which ethical wisdom emerges. And when they err or doubt, people finally have to confess their sinfulness and entrust themselves to God’s absolution from the cross. The ministry of reconciliation given by Jesus Christ to his body, the Church (2 Cor 5:18), here provides healing and restoration when inevitable moral failures occur. It assures troubled consciences of forgiveness in Christ. And it passionately seeks the truth. The ministry of the Church is to put reality into focus by the Word of God and, ultimately, to administer “the medicine of immortality, the antidote to death,” which is our brother[64] and Lord, Jesus Christ.[65]


[1] Philosophical or theological anthropology should not be confused with physical or cultural anthropology.

[2] Paul Bloom, “The Duel between Body and Soul,” The New York Times, September 10, 2004,

[3] John J. Coughlin, “Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 27, no. 1 (2003): 65.

[4] According to the March 2022 “Jesus in America” study released by the Episcopal Church USA, non-Christians associate Christians with characteristics like hypocrisy (50%), being judgmental (49%), self-righteousness (46%), and arrogance (32%). “Jesus in America,” The Episcopal Church, March 2022,

[5] Charles C. Camosy, “Irreligion, Alfie Evans, and the Future of Bioethics,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine 46, no. 2 (2021): 156–68,

[6] “Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low,” Gallup, June 17, 2022,

[7] Coughlin, “Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being,” 65.

[8] Francis Crick, quoted in Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul (New York: Harper One, 2008), 3.

[9] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists & Other Objectors (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2009).

[10] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 133.

[11] Martin H. Franzmann, “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth,” in Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2005), 834.

[12] The Greek word for end, purpose, or goal. The telos of an Olympic athlete, for example, is to win gold medal.

[13] Joseph Ratzinger, “Homily of His Eminence Card. Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals Vatican Basilica,”, April 18, 2005,

[14] Martin Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2017), 16.

[15] Gustaf Wingren, “The Doctrine of Creation: Not an Appendix but the First Article,” Word and World 4, no. 4 (1984): 365,

[16] Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 4.11.2, p. 474.

[17] Martin Luther, Disputation Concerning Man, in Luther’s Works, trans. Lewis W Spitz, vol. 34, Career of the Reformer, IV (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenberg Press, 1976), Thesis 17, pg. 138.

[18] John Kleinig, “In His Image,” Logia 23, no. 3 (2019): 55.

[19] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26–27)

[20] Gregory of Nyssa, his brother Basil of Casaerea, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus.

[21] Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in David Bentley Hart, “The ‘Whole Humanity’: Gregory of Nyssa’s Critique of Slavery in Light of His Eschatology,” Scottish Journal of Theology 54, no. 1 (2001): 53,

[22] Gregory of Nazianzus, quoted in Kyle Harper, “Christianity and the Roots of Human Dignity in Late Antiquity,” in Christianity and Freedom, ed. Timothy Samuel Shah and Allen D. Hertzke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016): 141,

[23] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Black Past, 1963,

[24] Gregg Allison, “Toward a Theology of Human Embodiment,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13, no. 2 (2009): 4–5,

[25] Allison, “Toward a Theology of Human Embodiment,” 5.

[26] Willaim Weinrich, “Man as Cyborg: A New Challenge,” For the Life of the World 16, no. 1 (2012): 11,

[27] “‘And is it not then that the philosopher’s soul chiefly holds the body cheap and escapes from it, while it seeks to be by itself?’ ‘So it seems.’” Plato, Phaedro, in The Great Dialogues of Plato, ed. Eric H. Warmington and Philip G. Rouse, trans. W.H.D. Rouse (New York: New American Library, 1956), 65c, pg. 468.

[28] As Gilbert Meilaender puts it, “the body is the locus of personal presence.” “Bioethics and the Character of Human Life,” The New Atlantis 1 (2003): 67–78,

[29] Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation, 17.

[30] Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation, 17.

[31] Actually, the Nicene Creed as we now know it comes from the Council of Constantinople of 381 where the Nicene formula was affirmed and revised. It is more accurately the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

[32] The Greek term homoousius, usually translated as “of the same substance” or “consubstantial,” was the way the Nicene fathers described the Son’s equality with the Father.

[33] “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.” “Nicene Creed, Traditional” in The (Online) Book of Common Prayer (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation),

[34] Formula of Chalcedon from the Council of Chalcedon AD 451: “Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the Godbearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.” Quoted in Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), 73.

[35] See, for example, “The Augsburg Confession,” in The Book of Concord (New Translation): The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), Article III: Concerning the Son of God, pg. 38 (Lutheran); “The 39 Articles,” in Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms: A Reader’s Edition, ed. Chad Van Dixhoorn, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), Article 2, pg. 115 (Anglican); “The Westminster Confession of Faith,” in Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms, ed. Dixhoorn, VIII, 2–3, pg. 197–98 (Calvinist); “The London Baptist Confession,” in Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms, ed. Dixhoorn, VIII, 2–3, pg. 252 (Baptist).

[36] The fourth century heretic Arius contended that the Son is not eternal and that there was a time when the Son was not. He said that the Father created the Son. For more, see Frances M. Young and Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).

[37] “The world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.” The Gospel of Philip, 75, trans. Wesley Isenberg, The Nag Hammadi Library,

[38] Christ “entered into the midst of their prison which is the prison of the body.” The Apocryphon of John, 31, trans. Frederick Wisse, The Nag Hammadi Library,

[39] The union of the true divine nature and the true human nature in the one person, Jesus Christ.

[40] Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1971), 41.

[41] There are two natures in Christ, the divine and the human. His divine nature is consubstantial, that is, of the same substance or nature, with the Father. He is truly divine. His human nature is of the same substance, or nature, with us. He is truly human.

[42] Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ: A Monograph Concerning the Two Natures in Christ, Their Hypostatic Union, the Communication of Their Attributes, and Related Questions, Recently Prepared and Revised on the Basis of Scripture and the Witnesses of the Ancient Church (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1999), 52.

[43] Reformational Christians will note here the different view of original sin in the Church of Rome. The fall did more than disfigure the image in us. The purpose of the quote is to say that Christ is the image of God who restores humanity to the divine image and likeness by his incarnation.

[44] Pope Paul VI, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes,, December 7, 1965,

[45] An example of over-prioritizing the psyche or will against the physical life of the person could be when considering a person dead, or as good as dead, when they are catastrophically brain impaired or even in a persistent vegetative state. Another would be the impulse to euthanize a disabled newborn because of the perceived burden his continued life could present. We say “they would not want this” or “what kind of quality of life is there?” These are pertinent observations, but not the final word for Christian bioethics.

[46] There can come a time when a person at the end of life should acknowledge that their temporal existence is ending and to peacefully be commended to Christ. Insisting on continued biological functioning no matter the burden is not required. But biblical and creedal Christianity teaches that this penultimate separation of body and soul is temporary.

[47] Robert P. George and Patrick Lee, “Acorns and Embryos,” The New Atlantis 7 (2004/2005): 90–100,

[48] Understanding the doctrine of unlimited atonement and the distinction between objective and subjective justification is critical here. It must be acknowledged that different Christian confessions debate these points. Unlimited atonement says that the death of Christ truly paid for the sins of all people: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Objective justification says that God is reconciled to the world by His Son and that this occurs extra nos, outside of us whether we believe it or not. This is not universalism because the Scriptures teach that the benefits of Christ are only appropriated by some through the instrument of faith: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19). According to Stephen Mueller et al.,

Because Christ objectively justified the world, we do not question whether he died for any individual. I know he died and rose, but did he do it for me? Yes. For me; for everyone. The whole world was reconciled by the death of Jesus. . . . [And yet] we know from Scripture that not all will be saved. How can some be damned when Christ has justified the world? The solution is found in subjective justification. Subjective justification is the work of Christ applied to and received by an individual in faith. Christ Jesus has paid for the sins of the whole world, but this truth becomes my own, and a benefit for me, when I believe the Gospel and have faith in Christ my Savior. Objective justification applies to all people, but those who reject the Gospel do not receive the benefits or blessings of that justification. They have chosen to exempt themselves from the gifts that God has given them in Christ.

Steven P Mueller et al., Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005), 234–35.

[49] Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation, 17.

[50] Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation, 17.

[51] See also the third article of the Nicene Creed.

[52] Matthew Loh, “Qatar World Cup Chief Said ‘Death Is a Natural Part of Life’ after a Migrant Worker Died While Fixing Lights for a Soccer Training Base,” Insider, December 8, 2022,; Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Ira Byock, On Death & Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy & Their Own Families (New York: Scribner, 2019).

[53] St. Basil the Great, “Homily Explaining That God Is Not the Cause of Evil,” in On the Human Condition, trans. Nonna Verna Harrison (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 75.

[54] St. Basil the Great, “Homily Explaining That God Is Not the Cause of Evil,” 73.

[55] St. Basil the Great, “Homily Explaining That God Is Not the Cause of Evil,” 75.

[56] Council of Carthage 418. Canon CIX (NPNF 2/14:496).

[57] Martin Luther, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15,” in Luther’s Works, trans. Hilton C. Oswald, vol. 28 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1973), 116.

[58] This is the entire premise for N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church: Participants Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).

[59] Gibbs’s articles on the bodily resurrection are correctives of Christian hyper-spiritualism. See Jeffrey Gibbs, “Regaining Biblical Hope: Restoring the Prominence of the Parousia,” Concordia Journal 27, no. 4 (2001): 310–22; “Five Things You Should Not Say at Funerals,” Concordia Journal 29, no. 4 (2003): 363–66.

[60] Thomas Ken, “All Praise to Thee, My God, this Night,” in Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2005), 883.

[61] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 20–25.

[62] Gibbs, “Five Things You Should Not Say at Funerals.”

[63] Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 96.

[64] Hebrews 2:11.

[65] Ignatius of Antioch, “Epistle to the Ephesians,” in The Apostolic Fathers in English, trans. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), ch. 20.