Previous article in this series: December 1, 2018, p. 112.
Now concerning man, Scripture says that in the beginning he was made good according to the image and likeness of God; that God placed him in Paradise and made all things subject to him (Gen., ch. 2). This is what David magnificently sets forth in Psalm 8. Moreover, God gave him a wife and blessed them. We also affirm that man consists of two different substances in one person: an immortal soul which, when separated from the body, neither sleeps nor dies, and a mortal body which will nevertheless be raised up from the dead at the last judgment, in order that then the whole man, either in life or in death, abide forever.
In chapter 7 of the Second Helvetic Confession (SHC), Heinrich Bullinger treats the truth of creation. After treating creation generally, and the creation of angels and demons specifically, Bullinger takes up the creation of human beings. That is the focus of the second part of the seventh chapter.
At the outset, the SHC insists that the truth of man’s creation is derived from Scripture and from Scripture alone: “Now concerning man, Scripture says….” As all the truth of creation is derived from Scripture, so also is the truth concerning the creation of man. The Reformed Christian rests in the revelation of God in the Bible, and not anything alongside of it or in place of it. The Word of God is authoritative, that is, decisive in our understanding of the creation of man. Not Scripture and the alleged findings of science, but Scripture alone informs our faith. This approach is reiterated in the closing sentence of chapter 7: “In short, we condemn all opinions of all men, however many, that depart from what has been delivered unto us by the Holy Scriptures in the apostolic Church of Christ concerning creation, angels, and demons, and man.”
Note also at the outset that this paragraph asserts that man was created (“made”) “in the beginning.” There was a “beginning,” “the beginning” the article maintains. According to the teaching of evolution, there was no beginning. The fact that the SHC posits a beginning, at which time man was made by God, condemns by implication every form of the teaching of evolution. Evolution and the Reformed faith are incompatible. They are incompatible because evolution and Scripture are incompatible. Man did not evolve from a human-like, but for all that, a non-human ancestor, in which case man did not have a beginning, a beginning as man, in any case.
The reference in the confession to God’s creation of man gives opportunity for the reminder that God created a mature universe. This is one—not the only one, but one—response to the alleged enormous age of the universe, an age into the billions of years according to contemporary evolutionary science. Part of our response to this preposterous assertion is that the Bible makes plain that God created a mature universe. As a mature universe, the world had age built into it. God did not create a baby; He made a man. God did not plant seeds; He created full-grown trees and plants. God created stars with their light reaching the far corners of the universe; He did not make the stars whose light had to travel for light-years in order to reach the earth. As with the other creatures, so also with human beings, God created a mature man and woman.
Man’s unique creation
All the important elements of man’s creation are noted in this seventh paragraph of the SHC, combining as it does the accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.
First of all, the confession teaches that God created man in His own image and likeness. “Image” and “likeness” are the words used to describe man’s creation in Genesis 1. The two words are basically synonymous. Man was created in God’s image, in such an image that he was in the likeness of God. By virtue of his creation, man resembled God. And that, too, is denied by the teaching of evolution. According to the teaching of evolution, whether atheistic or theistic, man is in the likeness of the animal. The teaching of Scripture is the opposite: man is the likeness of God. Created in the image and likeness of God, man was a rational, moral, that is, a thinking, willing creature. That he was created in the image of God also means that man was created in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. He was perfect and upright as he came forth from the hand of God.
Secondly, man was created by God as the head of the earthly creation: “that God placed him in Paradise and made all things subject to him.” Not only was man created at the pinnacle of all the earthly creatures that God made, as is indicated by the special way in which God created him. God formed him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. What the SHC emphasizes is that God placed man at the head of the whole earthly creation. Everything was made subject unto man, and “was made for the profit and use of man,” as the opening paragraph of this seventh chapter taught. Man’s headship figures significantly into the effects of his subsequent fall into sin, for he would not fall merely as a private individual but as the head of the earthly creation.
Thirdly, this paragraph calls special attention to the creation of Eve. Though not mentioning her by name, or rehearsing the unique way in which God created her from Adam’s rib while he was sleeping, the confession states that “God gave him [Adam] a wife and blessed them.” God “gave” Adam a wife. She was a gift, a gracious gift of God to the man. This is how every godly husband ought to view his wife. The woman was made as man’s complement and help-meet. She was his “wife.” God Himself officiated at the first marriage ceremony, uniting Adam and Eve as husband and wife. In doing so, God put His blessing on marriage and indicated His will that marriage is the most intimate, life-long relationship between one man and one woman. Our society despises the will of God and perverts God’s will for marriage to its own destruction.
The fact that the man was created first and that the woman was given to the man to be his wife implies the Reformed and biblical view of the headship of the man over the woman in marriage. This view of the relationship of husband and wife in marriage is denied in our day. It is one of many commendable features of the Reformed Marriage Form that it maintains the calling of the husband to be the head of his wife, and the calling of the woman to be in subjection to her husband.
Fourthly, the SHC calls attention to the uniqueness of man’s creation as body and soul. By virtue of his creation, man has both a physical dimension and a spiritual dimension to his existence. He “consists of two different substances in one person.” The first of these “substances” is “an immortal soul.” Technically, man is not distinct from the animals by virtue of the fact that he has a soul. The animal, too, as the highest of the creatures of God beneath man, has a soul. But the soul of the animal is in its blood. When the animal’s blood is shed, that is also the destruction of its soul, as is the teaching of Ecclesiastes 3:21. According to this verse, when man dies, his spirit or soul “goeth upward,” whereas when the animal dies, “the spirit of the beast goeth downward to the earth.” It is because death is not the end of man’s soul that the SHC speaks of the soul of man as “immortal.” Since it is immortal, “when separated from the body, [it] neither sleeps nor dies.” After the death of the body, the soul continues to exist, either consciously experiencing the bliss of heaven or the judgment of hell.
Although at death the body separates from the soul, goes down into the grave, and experiences the destructive power of the grave as it ravages the body, that is not the end of the body. For although the body is “a mortal body [it] will nevertheless be raised up from the dead at the last judgment, in order that then the whole man, either in life or in death, abide[s] forever.” At that moment of the final resurrection, all the dead will be raised. It will be a general resurrection. After the dead are raised, they will be reunited with their own souls, in order that every man may receive in body and in soul his eternal reward. The separation of the soul from the body that occurs at the moment of death will only be for a time, that is, until the beginning of the everlasting state following the last judgment.
Manicheans and Marcionites
Therefore, we condemn the Manicheans and Marcionites who impiously imagined two substances and natures, one good, the other evil; also two beginnings and two gods contrary to each other, a good and an evil one.
We condemn all who ridicule or by subtle arguments cast doubt upon the immortality of souls, or who say that the soul sleeps or is a part of God. In short, we condemn all opinions of all men, however many, that depart from what has been delivered unto us by the Holy Scriptures in the apostolic Church of Christ concerning creation, angels, and demons, and man.
These two paragraphs are a polemic against the heretics who deny the biblical truth of creation. The Manicheans and Marcionites are mentioned first because of their rejection of the truth that as the Creator, God alone is the only ultimate and eternal reality. Besides God, everything else is creature and has been made by God. Although differing in other respects, these two sectarian groups were dualists. They held that there are two equally ultimate and eternal realities, one good and the other evil. They both exist out of themselves and are completely independent of each other. Evil was not the perversion of that which is good and, therefore, subsequent to the good. But evil has existed forever alongside of the good.
The teaching of dualism is a fundamental rejection of the biblical truth of creation. Dualism denies the truth that the good God made all things, and all that He made was “very good,” as Genesis 1:31 states. Evil has not existed alongside the good since the beginning of time, but evil is the corruption of the good after the good was brought into existence. Evil does not have existence of itself. Neither did God create the evil or actively bring about the evil, though the evil was ordained by God. The explanation for the presence of evil and death in God’s good creation will come in chapter 8 of the SHC, which treats “Of Man’s Fall, Sin and the Cause of Sin.”
Rejection of soul sleep
One false teaching that the SHC specifically rejects in this chapter is that of soul sleep. When man dies, the soul is separated from the body, but “when separated from the body [it] neither sleeps nor dies.” A little later in the chapter, the confession expressly “condemn[s] all who ridicule or by subtle arguments cast doubt upon the immortality of souls, or who say that the soul sleeps or is a part of God.”
At the time of the Reformation soul sleep was a live issue. John Calvin’s first published theological book was not his Institutes of the Christian Religion or one of his commentaries, but a treatise against the heresy of soul sleep entitled Psychopannychia. It was especially certain groups of Anabaptists who promoted soul sleep.
They taught that at the moment of death, the soul becomes unconscious. It “sleeps,” as it were, in that it experiences neither conscious glory nor judgment. At death, the soul goes into a kind of spiritual hibernation.
At the moment of the resurrection, not only is the body raised up, but the souls of the dead are awakened. Usually, those who teach soul sleep go on to teach that after the final resurrection the wicked will not experience an eternity of suffering in hell, but will be annihilated.
Generally, the two errors of soul sleep and annihilation- ism go hand in hand. Both of these errors are characteristic teachings of certain modern-day cults and sects as well, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The teaching of soul sleep contradicts the express teaching of Scripture that, immediately after death, those who die experience in their souls the beginning of conscious glory in heaven or conscious suffering and shame in hell. This is the plain teaching of Scripture. In Psalm 73:23, 24 the psalmist confesses: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee [notice that, continually with thee]: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward [immediately afterward] receive me to glory.” Jesus’ word to the penitent malefactor was: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Not only does the error of soul sleep contradict the express teaching of Scripture, it also fails to do justice to what the soul of man is as created by God. The soul in man is that which stands in a conscious relationship to God. It cannot “sleep;” that is impossible and contrary to the very nature of the soul as God has created it. One might as well speak of a horse barking or a dog laying eggs. They cannot do these things; it is not in their nature. So is it impossible for the soul to sleep.
The SHC’s summary of the biblical truth concerning the creation of all things, and specifically the creation of man, underscores the glorious work that creation is. What a marvelous work of God! How glorious a creature man was as he came forth from the hand of his Creator! And that only serves to highlight the depths into which he fell as a result of his sin very soon after he was created. That is the subject to which the SHC turns in its next chapter.
To that we will turn next time.