The True Meaning of Personhood

It’s not good for man to be alone.

We left off in Genesis 2 with God having Adam name the myriad of animals in hopes that one of them would be suitable for him as a “helper,” but all to no avail: “There was still no helper just right for him” (Genesis 2:20). Thankfully, God decides to get to the bottom of this problem. Not only does the Creator come up with the perfect solution to solve Adam’s loneliness, but it reveals an essential element for what it means to be human.

Here’s what God does:

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.

“At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from man.” 

This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:21-15

Can you hear the sheer excitement in Adam’s voice when God gave him a parter who was just right for him? “At last!” the man exclaimed. “Finally! Here is someone who can relate to me! Who knows me! Who laughs with me and cries with me and works with me and hears me! At last, I’m not alone,” Adam seems to say.

God solved Adam’s loneliness not by giving him another job, or giving him more money, or more possessions, or some substance or activity that makes him feel better. God solved Adam’s loneliness by giving him another person; by giving him a helper, someone who knows him and delights in him, and, most importantly, participates in a relationship with God with him.

What we see in the creation story isn’t just the first marriage that took place in human history. We see the first friendship.

This is remarkably profound, because it reveals a crucial part of God’s design for us as human beings. If you jump all the way back to Genesis 2:7, it says that “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man become a living person.”

The text says that Adam became a living “person.” The language that is used here is of utmost importance; it cannot be overlooked. We typically use the word “person” interchangeably with the word “individual;” they’re just two different ways of saying the same thing.

But they do not mean the same thing. In fact, they couldn’t be more polar opposite.

Let me give you some context. Over 1500 years ago, the early church fathers met together to hammer out what we know today as the doctrine of the Trinity, which states that God is one God in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet these three persons are so closely connected in their relationship with one another that they make up the one true God. They do everything together; there is not one action a person of the Trinity does without the others supporting him with it. They are infinitely and eternally united by their love for one another. However, there was not a word in the Latin or Greek language at the time that somehow explained this unexplainable unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So they made up a word: and when translated to English, that word is “person.”

Personhood is not one’s unique expression of their individuality. Rather, personhood is understanding one’s self in relation to his or her community. In other words, to be a person is to live in relationship. To be made in the image of God is to exist in a community of loving persons, just as God himself is a community of Three loving persons.  This means, then, that Adam was not a fully living, breathing person until God created Eve. The creation of humanity was complete when Adam could exist in relationship with both God and fellow humans—when he could have friends*

We are designed for community. And that’s not just what Scripture says about the matter. It’s what science says as well. Which sets us up for our conversation next week.



* Check out this fantastic article by Andrew Root that dives more into the theology of personhood


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