In the beginning, God made mankind, body and soul, male and female, in his image (Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 10:28). God made mankind for the purpose of mirroring him, for the purpose of reflecting him. In light of creation, the image of God in man is meant to be displayed physically in a physical world.
In order to understand the image of God in man, one must understand body and soul in unity and how these two make up the human nature and God’s image. First, natures do not act on their own; persons act through their natures. This is not to say that persons can be separated from their natures. They cannot be separated from their natures; persons are the acting subjects. Natures do not subsist in themselves; natures subsist in persons. Human persons act in and through their natures, their souls and bodies, simultaneously to make up a human being in unity. One cannot act through his soul without also acting through his body unless the soul has been separated from the body, meaning that the body is dead. In other words, the soul is the incorporeal substance and the body is the corporeal substance, and these make up a single substance, a capacity known as the human nature. If you have a human nature, you necessarily have a person; if you do not have a human nature, you necessarily do not have a person.
To summarize, the person is the acting subject and he or she acts in and through his or her nature. In order to have a human nature on earth, one only needs a human body (regardless how minimal) and a human soul. If the body is ensouled, the soul is embodied, and a human nature exists.
These realities now bring us to our discussion of whether or not Scripture teaches that human embryos are human natures that subsist in persons. First, we’ll consider Jesus Christ in Mary’s womb. Then, we’ll consider King David in his mother’s womb.
Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate from Conception
In order for Christ to represent Adam’s race, humanity, He had to come from Adam’s race (Gen. 3:15; John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:14-17). Mary is treated as Jesus’ mother, not because she was a mere surrogate for the implanted embryo of Christ, but because it was her egg that was fertilized by God miraculously. The same process that you and I went through in embryonic stage onward to birth is the same process Jesus Christ went through. Yet, He was not conceived in iniquity like us because he was conceived sinless by his Father, the First Person of the Trinity (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
Before Jesus was conceived in Mary, her cousin Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist. John was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15, 41). An angel told Mary that she would be pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that Elizabeth, her cousin, was six months pregnant already. Mary then hurried to see Elizabeth. Mary entered and greeted her, and John the Baptist jumped in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:26-41). “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’” (Luke 1:42-45).
It had only been a few days or a few weeks since Mary had seen the angel and had become pregnant. Her pregnancy was still very early in the First Trimester, and it’s even possible that the embryo had not even attached to the uteran wall yet, a process that takes 6-10 days. Based on what Elizabeth said to Mary, Mary was already pregnant when she entered the room. Elizabeth referred to Mary’s embryo as “tou kuriou,” “The Lord.”
Moreover, John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit while in the womb, jumped for joy due to his Lord and Savior entering the room as a Divine Person united with a human embryo (the God-Man). Remember that natures do not subsist in themselves; they subsist in persons. God the Son had already united with his human nature at conception, for Elizabeth called him “The Lord.” God the Son did not unite with a mere “fetus” or a mere “clump of cells.” That would mean there are two incarnations, God the Son Clump of Cells and God the Son Incarnate, which adds a heretical “nature” to Christ in addition to his full humanity and full deity. But clumps of cells to not need saviors for they do not and cannot sin; only persons are sinners and only persons sin. Therefore, God the Son united with a human nature, embryo (body) and soul, not an inhuman “clump of cells.” John the Baptist did not leap over what Mary’s “fetus” would become; he jumped for joy over what her embryo already was–God the Son Incarnate.
Since we’ve seen that Jesus Christ’s human nature subsisted in his Divine Person from conception, let’s now consider if David was a person in his mother’s womb.
David, a Human Person from Conception
In Psalm 139:13-16, David wrote, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance (golem); in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
The Hebrew word golem (translated “unformed substance”) used in verse 16 is probably the only direct reference to a human embryo in all of Scripture. Notice that neither God nor David treats David in the womb as a mere “fetus,” a mere clump of cells that may become human one day. Instead, David refers to himself in the womb as “Me” and “I” in verses 13, 14, and 15. Even as a human embryo being formed by God, David says that he was being fearfully and wonderfully made. The fertilized egg (embryo), is being “fearfully and wonderfully made” as much as the full term 9 month baby before birth. In the words of Voddie Baucham, the only differences between a baby in the womb and a baby outside the womb are age and location.
Again, as referenced earlier, one only needs a body and soul on earth in order to be a human nature subsisting in a human person. David possesses a body and soul from conception onward, for he refers to himself as a person, as an “I” or “me.” David, an adult human person is writing here and he refers to himself in the womb as himself, not as something less than himself, as something less than a human person.
Furthermore, consider what David wrote in Psalm 51:3-6, “3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
Notice that David was conceived in iniquity. He refers to himself as “me.” Again, the reality is that clumps of cells did not sin in Adam, nor are they sinners, nor are they held accountable for sin. Human persons sin; human persons are sinners and are held accountable for sin. Jesus did not die for clumps of cells; He died for sinners, for human persons.
In conclusion, due to the reality that a human nature on earth is made up of a body and soul in unity; and, since human natures do not subsist in themselves, but subsist in persons; and, since Jesus Christ’s embryo in the womb of Mary subsisted in His Divine Person, meaning that He was fully human from conception; and, since David was a person as an embryo in his mother’s womb, we therefore conclude that human personhood, that is human life, begins at conception. This means that abortion is the murder of human persons.
Not only must Planned Parenthood be stopped, all the murder of unborn human persons must be stopped. Abortion must be abolished, for it is the great sin of the United States. The blood of 55,000,000 aborted/murdered human persons cry out for justice. May we spend our lives giving a voice to the voiceless until this slaughter of the innocent is abolished.
*The only exception to this rule that abortion is the murder of human persons is if the mother’s life is in danger, such as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. In an ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg attaches to a Fallopian tube, and in rare cases, an ovary, cornua, or cervix instead of the uterus. The baby cannot survive and the mother may die as well. Nevertheless, a mother would be free in Christ to not seek an abortion in such a case. But I also believe that it would be just to seek an abortion for the sake of the mother’s life.
Many definitions have been offered and much debate has ensued in recent years over the definition of the image of God in man. For the sake of this paper, what the image entails is not essential except that humanity alone is set apart as God’s image-bearers. For further study, here is a classic definition of the image of God and a contemporary definition. Richard Muller, quoting Matthew Henry, argues that the classic definition of the image of God in man consists of three things: (1) Man in his nature and constitution, secondarily of his body and primarily of his soul, since God does not have a body. The soul especially bears God’s image since God is spirit. (2) Man in his place and authority as God’s representative on earth over himself and God’s inferior creatures. (3) Man in his knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, Volume Three, The Divine Essence and Attributes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 306. For a contemporary summary of what it means to be made in God’s image, see Bruce A. Ware, “Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 79. Ware writes, “The image of God in man as functional holism means that God made human beings, both male and female, to be created and finite representations (images of God) of God’s own nature, that in relationship with Him and each other they might be His representatives (imaging God) in carrying out the responsibilities He has given to them. In this sense, we are images of God in order to image God and His purposes in the ordering of our lives and the carrying out of our God-given responsibilities.” If one includes man’s ability to have relationship with God as part of man being made in God’s image, it further proves the thesis of this paper since man has a more intimate relationship with God in the intermediate state than in this cursed creation. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, that is, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord in a way that one is not present with the Lord in this cursed creation.
See Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 10, 145, 310-311. Swinburne argues that the soul and body affect one another. I agree with this premise. But, he then argues that the soul is like a light bulb and the brain like a light socket. The bulb can exist apart from the socket, but will not light. I, however, want to argue that the human nature, body and soul, is the light bulb and the human person is the light socket, since natures subsist in persons. Of course, then the bulb (human nature) cannot exist without the socket (human person) and the socket cannot exist without the bulb; the analogy then fails. Truthfully, the analogy fails even with Swinburne’s original use since the bulb does not affect the socket like the soul affects the human body. Also see Alvin Plantinga, “Materialism and Christian Belief,” in Persons: Humans and Divine, eds. Peter Van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman (Oxford, NY: Clarendon Press, 2007), 100-101.
Jove Jim S. Aguas, “The Notions of the Human Person and Human Dignity in Aquinas and Wojtyla,” Kritike 3:1 (June 2009): 50-51.
Ibid., 51. Also, see Millard Erickson, where he suggests that man’s nature is analogous to two elements that combine to form a molecule or compound. “We might think of man as a unitary compound of a material and an immaterial element. The spiritual and the physical elements are not always distinguishable, for man is a unitary subject; there is no struggle between his material and immaterial nature. The compound is dissolvable, however; dissolution takes place at death. At the resurrection a compound will again be formed, with the soul (if we choose to call it that) once more becoming inseparably attached to a body.” Erickson, Christian Theology, 537-538. I would rather say man is like a mixture, a liquid solution. Erickson mentions a mixture analogy, but then suggests that the human person would be able to choose which element to act through, the body or the soul, at any given point. I think a better analogy would be a liquid solution where one has a minor (the solute) and a major component (the solvent). The solute is uniformly distributed throughout the solvent to form a solution. The original properties are still intact in each element. Yet, the two are indistinguishable in the mixture, and they can be separated through a special process (evaporation). If the soul is analogous to the solvent and the body the solute, the two would subsist uniformly in the human person while still maintaining their distinct properties and still possess the ability to separate due to a special process (death). Yet, the human person would act through both simultaneously since the nature is unified until physical death; then the person would act through only the soul, which is what is left of the human nature in the intermediate state.
 Jove Jim S. Aguas, “The Notions of the Human Person and Human Dignity in Aquinas and Wojtyla,” Kritike 3:1 (June 2009): 51.