In my blog post Personhood-What Is It, I said that to have personhood, is to have the intrinsic value of a human being with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with being human.
The Christian worldview, the worldview of the Bible, holds that God, with the creation of mankind, gives mankind special intrinsic value. A name for this intrinsic value, in modern language, is personhood. Mankind is created in a special way that is different from animals. Genesis 1:26-27 says,
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, 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. (NKJV)
Mankind was created in the image of God. It is this that gives mankind their special position or value. We are reminded of this in Geneisis 9:5-6, when God reestablishes His covenant promise after destroying the world with a flood, saying,
Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. (NKJV)
A reading of the laws that God gave concerning man in the Old Testament will show that man has a special position, a postion that animals do not have. Unlike when a man kills an animal, the Old Testament law in the Bible required that if “a man strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:12) This points to the special value that mankind has. The reason the mankind have this special value is simply that man is created in the image of God. For this reason the life of man is valuable.
When God created man we are told that
the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7, NKJV)
This also is different from animals, who were simply brought into being by the word of God saying, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.” (Genesis 1:24) It was after the rest of creation, including the animals, was done that God turned His attention to the special creation of mankind.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, 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. (Gen 1:26-27)
The special creation of mankind included a body formed from the dust of the earth and a soul, breathed into man by God. With this special creation, man became a living being, or in modern terminology a living person. This living person is the image of God.
This special value and personhood exists from conception as David writes of in Psalm 139
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:13-14, NKJV)
The special value of personhood continues through death. Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 12, says to “remember your Creator” (Eccl 12:1) before you die (Eccl 12:6, paraphrase) for “then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (Eccl 12:7) Solomon understood that at death the soul departs the body the body returns to the dust. The body does not wait to return to the dust until those around are finished with it. Job says, “all the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,” (Job 27:2-4) Teaching us that, while life is in the body, the soul that God breathed into the nostrils of man (Gen 2:7) remains in man. In agreement with this, Psalm 146, referring to man, says, “His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Ps 146:4) On the cross, Jesus “bowed his head and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:30) Each of these passages connect the moment of death of the body with the moment the soul leaves the body.
In conclusion, persons, are specially created by God. Persons are the image of God. Persons are united body and soul. A person’s special status here on earth begins at conception and continues through death, at which time the body returns to the dust and the soul goes to God.
A reading of the Bible will show that persons have God given special rights and responsibilities..