10 Key Bible Verses on Humanity
This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
1. Genesis 1:26–27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Read More
Let us make man in our image. The text does not specify the identity of the “us” mentioned here. Some have suggested that God may be addressing the members of his court, whom the OT elsewhere calls “sons of God” (e.g., Job 1:6) and the NT calls “angels,” but a significant objection is that man is not made in the image of angels, nor is there any indication that angels participated in the creation of human beings. Many Christians and some Jews have taken “us” to be God speaking to himself, since God alone does the making in Gen. 1:27 (cf. Gen. 5:1); this would be the first hint of the Trinity in the Bible (Gen. 1:2).
There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since Gen.1:26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on Gen. 1:28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.) The Hebrew term ’adam, translated as man, is often a generic term that denotes both male and female, while sometimes it refers to man in distinction from woman (Gen. 2:22, Gen. 2:23, Gen. 2:25; Gen. 3:8, Gen. 3:9, Gen. 3:12, Gen. 3:20): it becomes the proper name “Adam” (Gen. 2:20; Gen. 3:17, 21; Gen. 4:1; Gen. 5:1). At this stage, humanity as a species is set apart from all other creatures and crowned with glory and honor as ruler of the earth (cf. Ps. 8:5–8). The events recorded in Genesis 3, however, will have an important bearing on the creation status of humanity.
2. Psalm 8:4–8
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas. Read More
Man’s Place in the Created Order. This section falls into two parts: first, the psalmist beholds the countless stars and the bright moon, and marvels at God’s interest in mankind (Psalm 8:3–4); second, he marvels at the dominion God has given to mankind (Psalm 8:5–8).
It is astonishing that the God who is great enough to have made the heavens can take notice of mere man; but he goes beyond taking notice: he is mindful of man, he cares for him. God’s greatness does not mean remoteness but rather an eye for detail, no matter how small.
the heavenly beings. The Hebrew could mean “the gods,” that is, the angels in the heavenly court, or it could mean God himself. The ESV text takes the first option, agreeing with the Greek of the Septuagint (quoted in Heb. 2:7). Crowned him with glory and honor describes mankind as God’s kingly representative.
This echoes Gen. 1:26. put all things under his feet. Paul combines this with the explicitly messianic Ps. 110:1 (1 Cor. 15:25–27; cf. Eph. 1:22), reflecting an approach similar to that of Hebrews (Heb. 2:6–9).
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3. 1 John 3:1–2
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Read More
the world does not know us. There is built-in friction between those who know and serve Christ and those who do not.
What we will be means having glorified bodies that will never be sick or grow old or die, and being completely without sin. No one like that has yet appeared on earth (except Christ himself after his resurrection). we shall be like him. In eternity, Christians will be morally without sin, intellectually without falsehood or error, physically without weakness or imperfections, and filled continually with the Holy Spirit. But “like” does not mean “identical to,” and believers will never be (e.g.) omniscient or omnipotent as Christ is, since he is both man and God.
4. Psalm 139:13–16
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. Read More
You Even Saw and Loved Me before I Was Born. These verses illustrate the point of Psalm 139:11–12 (the section begins with for, showing the connection to the previous) by describing a particular “dark place” where the Lord saw and cared for the singer, namely, his mother’s womb. God was active as the unformed substance (embryo) grew and developed; indeed he is the one who formed my inward parts and knitted me together. God saw him, and even had written in his book, every one of . . . the days that were formed for me. The worshiper realizes that, even before his mother knew she was pregnant, the Lord was already showing his care for him. His personal life began in the womb, and God had already laid out its course.
5. Romans 3:9–12
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” Read More
Even though God has promised to fulfill his saving promises to the Jewish people (Rom. 3:1–4), they do not possess any inherent advantages, for they too are under the power of sin. Greeks here refers to the entire Gentile world in contrast to the Jews.
Paul focuses on the sinfulness of every human being, citing Ps. 14:1–3 and perhaps echoing Eccles. 7:20. When Paul says none is righteous, no one seeks for God, and no one does good, he means that no human being on his own seeks for God or does any good that merits salvation. Paul does not deny that human beings perform some actions that conform externally to goodness, but these actions, prior to salvation, are still stained by evil, since they are not done for God’s glory (Rom. 1:21) and do not come from faith (Rom. 14:23).
6. Ephesians 4:17–19
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Read More
Paul affirms most solemnly in the Lord that his Gentile readers, as part of the new creation, should no longer live as the Gentiles do (Eph.4:22–24; Col. 3:9–10). futility of their minds . . . darkened. Both in antiquity and today, people who reject the knowledge of God think of themselves as “enlightened” (cf. Heb. 10:32). Their ignorance here is not lack of general education; some are brilliant in their own way, but such brilliance is all wasted and futile in the end when combined with hardness of heart toward the truth of the gospel in Christ (cf. Matt. 13:14–15; John 12:40; Acts 28:26–27; Rom. 11:8).
7. Romans 5:18–19
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Read More
The one trespass of Adam, as the covenantal head of the human race, brought condemnation and guilt to all people. In a similar way, Christ’s one act of righteousness (either his death as such or his whole life of perfect obedience, including his death) grants righteousness and life to all who belong to him. for all men. Some interpreters have advocated universalism (the view that all will be saved) based on these verses. But Paul makes it plain in this context that only those who “receive” (Rom. 5:17) God’s gift belong to Christ (see also Rom.1:16–5:11, which indicates that only those who have faith will be justified). The wording “as . . . so” shows that Paul’s focus is not on the number in each group but on the method of either sin or righteousness being passed from the representative leader to the whole group: the first “all men” refers to all who are in Adam (every human being), while the second “all men” refers to all believers, to all who are “in Christ.”
8. 1 Corinthians 15:20–22
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Read More
Christ’s resurrection, grounded in the truth of eyewitness testimony (1 Cor. 15:4–8), changes everything. If God raised Christ from the dead, then Christ truly was the firstfruits (Ex. 23:19; Lev. 23:10; Deut. 18:4; Neh. 10:35) or the first of many others who would also be raised from the dead. (See also Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:23; Col. 1:18.) The term “firstfruits” (Gk. aparchē) refers to a first sample of an agricultural crop that indicates the nature and quality of the rest of the crop; therefore, Christ’s resurrection body gives a foretaste of what those of believers will be like.
in Adam all die. See Rom. 5:12, 14–15, 17; Eph. 2:1, 5. in Christ shall all be made alive. See Rom. 5:17, 21; Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:5–6. By divine appointment, Adam represented the whole human race that would follow him, and his sin therefore affected all human beings. Similarly, Christ represented all who would belong to him, and his obedience therefore affected all believers.
9. Psalm 103:15–18
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments. Read More
The song reaches its crescendo here: amid the shortness of human life (Psa.103:15–16), God’s steadfast love for his faithful is everlasting (Psa. 103:17a), bestowing on them the privilege of nurturing those who will be his people in coming generations (Psalm 103:17b–18). For the image of grass and flower for the transience of life, cf. Psalm 90:5 and Isa. 40:7; for other reflections on the shortness of life, cf. Ps. 102:3, 11. the wind passes over it, and it is gone. The wind dries out the plants in a dry climate.
the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting. Cf. Psalm 25:6; Psalm 100:5. Those who fear him (Psalm 103:11, 13) are the same as those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments; they are the faithful, who believe the promises and obey the commands (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 7:9; cf. John 14:15, 21; 15:10; Rev. 1:3; Rev. 3:8). The covenant of circumcision, which Abraham’s descendants were to “keep,” included the promise that the Lord would be God to both the offspring and their parents. This psalm goes beyond that, however: the faithful expect that God sets his saving love on their children’s children. This is the crowning privilege that God gives to his faithful: though their lives are short and appear almost insignificant, they may still contribute to the future well-being of the people of God by their godly and prayerful parenting and grandparenting. Cf. also Ps. 100:5; 102:28; in Ex. 34:7a God keeps steadfast love for thousands (i.e., thousands of generations; cf. Deut. 7:9) of the faithful (Ex. 20:6).
10. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Read More
new creation. The redemption of a people who now live for Christ by living for others, effected by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor.3:3, 2 Cor. 3:6, 2 Cor. 3:18) and the death of Christ (2 Cor.5:14–15), is the beginning of the new creation that was destined to come amid this evil age (see Isa. 43:18–19; 65:17–23; 66:22–23). This new creation is also the beginning of Israel’s final restoration from God’s judgment in the exile (see the context of Isa. 43:1–21; Isa. 65:17–25).
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