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Intro to Biblical Axiology [Pt.2]
Mereology, Man, Marriage, and the Priority of the Individual
Parts & Wholes
Given that axiology and ontology are bound together via the doctrines of God’s existence and creation ex nihilo,it behooves us to take a look at the question of mereology. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it —
Mereology (from the Greek μερος, ‘part’) is the theory of parthood relations: of the relations of part to whole and the relations of part to part within a whole.
In Scripture, we are taught God is ontologically simple. As Berkhoff explains this means that he is “not composite and is not susceptible of division in any sense of the word.”God’s creation, however, is a synthetic whole comprised of parts which are either simple or complex (i.e. made up of integrally related parts). God did not only bring the heavens and earth into being from nothing, he also fashioned them.
Berkhoff writes —
In the narrative of creation, … three verbs are used, namely, bara', 'asah, and yatsar, and they are used interchangeably in Scripture, Gen. 1:26,27; 2:7. The first word is the most important. Its original meaning is to split, to cut, to divide; but in addition to this it also means to fashion, to create, and in a more derivative sense, to produce, to generate, and to regenerate.
The word 'asah is more general, meaning to do or to make, and is therefore used in the general sense of doing, making, manufacturing, or fashioning. The word yatsar has, more distinctively, the meaning of fashioning out of pre-existent materials, and is therefore used of the potter's fashioning vessels out of clay.
God created the raw stuff of creation from nothing, speaking it into existence. He rearranged, formed, structured, fashioned the elements of creation into various complex arrangements. Scripture does not delve into this deeply, but it gives us enough information for us to affirm what we have stated so far.
Hebrews 11:3 states —
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
There are two words related to creation in this verse that shed some light on the way in which God created all things. The first word is translated as “created;” it is the Greek word καταρτίζω (transliterated, katartizō). καταρτίζω signifies fitting, equipping, putting in order, arranging, and adjusting.The second word is translated as “made;” it is the Greek word γίνομαι (transliterated, ginomai). γίνομαι signifies becoming-to-be or coming-into-being.
Looking at this verse we see that there are two assertions being made with the words καταρτίζω and γίνομαι, namely:
The universe was created by the Word of God.
What is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
As Benson’s Commentary notes, these propositions explain that God brought into being, as well as harmoniously ordered/arranged, all of creation —
[καταρτίζω] implies, properly signifying to place the parts of any body or machine in their right order, Ephesians 4:12. It, however, also signifies to make, or produce, as Hebrews 10:5, where it is applied to the body made for Christ. And that it here signifies, not merely the orderly disposition of the parts of the universe, but their production, is plain from the following clause. By the word of God — The sole command of God, without any instrument or preceding matter.
God has arranged the various elements and constituent members of the creation in a harmonious order. Similarly, Barnes writes —
The meaning here is, that they “were set in order” by the Word of God. This implies the act of creation, but the specific idea is that of "arranging" them in the beautiful order in which they are now.
In other words, creation was brought into being and “put together; adjusted; the parts fitted to each other.”
Hebrews 11:3, taken in conjunction with concatenation of creative acts of God in Genesis 1, implies that God’s creation began with individual elements which were then ordered according to his plan. While we don’t know the identity or number of the primary elements, as it were, that God first created and then ordered into distinct entities — e.g. light, expanse, birds, fish, etc — this is not necessary for us to know in order for us to affirm that creation is a complex of composite entities comprised of individual elements.
Individual Identity Precedes Group Identity
What God has created are individual elements and creatures comprised of those individual elements standing in different relations to one another. The word individual, then, has reference to either (a.)the individual primordial elements which God has arranged into composite entities, or (b.)the individual composite entities constituted by God. This helps us understand that the identity of a creature — by which we mean any composite entity created by God — is ultimately reducible to God’s definitive arrangement of its parts. These parts may or may not be unique to the creature (e.g. animals have internal and external organs just like we do), but the way in which these parts are arranged accounts for their individual identity and, consequently, their differences from one another (e.g. animal flesh and organs are built/structured differently than human flesh and organs).
This is, in part, implied by the reality that God’s creatures are identified as kinds, i.e. distinct creatures which reproduce offspring that share their essential properties.This is also implied by Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians 15:35-41, 45a & 47a, where the apostle declares —
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”…
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust…
Significantly, the apostle’s list corresponds to the creation record of Genesis 1.
Vegetation [cf. Gen 1:11-13]
The sun/the moon/the stars [cf. Gen 1:14-19]
Fish [cf. Gen 1:20-23]
Birds [cf. Gen 1:20-23]
Animals [cf. Gen 1:24-25]
Humans [cf. Gen 1:26-27]
Paul’s argument depends upon the revealed truth that distinctions between creatures are the result of God’s definitive arrangement of their constitutive elements. The identity of each composite entity, furthermore, is definitive of the kind or class to which they belong. The individual, then, once again precedes the group.
Humans Considered Individually
In Scripture, the word man can signify either the man himself (i.e. the soul), living man (i.e. the embodied soul), a dead man (i.e. a disensouled body), or the entire mass of living or dead men. An individual man, therefore, is (i.)an individual soul with irrevocable private ownership of a biological body peculiar to himself such that (ii.)the composite entity of soul and body, as well as (iii.)the body itself in death, may be identified as the individual himself. In the case of (i.), (ii.), and (iii.), we see that man is to be understood and treated in all interpersonal cases as an individual. Treating man as less than an individual, as merely a constituent element of some larger collective, is ontologically erroneous, as well as contradictory to God’s Law.
From the fact that the soul is the person, it follows that man was not incomplete prior to the creation of woman. It likewise follows that the woman would not be incomplete apart from the man, had God chosen to create woman first rather than man. What is more, the creation of man shows us that man’s knowledge of himself is not dependent upon his relationship to others. Adam knew that the animals were not like him,and that the woman was like him. Hence, upon seeing Eve Adam declares —
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Had Adam not already known himself as a distinct individual, had he not had self-knowledge of this kind, he could not have truthfully made that declaration. This underscores the fact that man was not incomplete as regards his ontological, epistemological, and moral individuality prior to becoming a member of the social body. Instead, it was the human species that was incomplete.
The species was incomplete, and God corrected it by creating woman, and uniting man and woman together via the covenant of marriage. God decreed that by means of this covenantal relationship other individual human bodies— themselves composite entities comprised of constitutive elements from their parents — would be formed. Regarding the soul, however, Scripture teaches clearly that it is formed by God. Turretin’s comments on this are very helpful. He writes —
“We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9). And Peter calls him in a peculiar manner a “faithful Creator of souls” (I Pet. 4:19). In Num. 16:22, God is called ‘the God of the spirits of all flesh.’ So too Is. 57:16: “For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.’ Now why should God be called “the Father of spirits” in contradistinction to “the fathers of the flesh” unless the origin of each was different? And yet if souls are propagated, the parents of the body and the soul should be the same. Indeed “the flesh” here cannot signify the old man or inborn corruption because then it would not be opposed to spirits (pneuniasi) in the plural, but to spirit (pneumati) in the singular. Rather it designates the body, and they are called ‘fathers of the flesh” who generate the flesh. So the word “spirit” ought not to be referred to spiritual gifts (which are not treated of here), but to the other part of man opposed to the body. Nor can the omission of the pronoun hamon (with respect to the flesh) be a hindrance because it is to be repeated apo koinou (since he speaks about the same according to the principles and origin of the diverse parts). Hence in Num. 16:22, he is called “the father of the spirits of all flesh” (i.e., of all men). Again he cannot be called “the Father of spirits” mediately, as he is called “the father of the rain” (Job 38:28) because he is its author (although not immediately). Thus the antithesis between the fathers of the flesh and the father of spirits would not stand, and the force of the apostolic exhortation to afford greater obedience to God than to earthly fathers would fall.
The Scriptures set human fleshly progenitors in opposition to the soul’s Heavenly Progenitor, thereby establishing that while the body is derived from the individual’s parents, the soul is created directly/immediately by God.
The Priority of the Individual
All of what has been stated above demonstrates that it is the individual which has priority in creation considered as a whole and, more importantly, within the context of human relations. What is also evident is that those entities that are composite are bound together by means of a covenantal bond. This is implicit to the creation narrative, but is made more explicit by the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah. Speaking through Jeremiah, God calls the fixed order of the day and the night,as well as the “fixed order of heaven and earth,” the byproduct of his “covenant.”
This point is made even more explicitly when we encounter the marriage of Adam and Eve who are described as two becoming one. This is not merely a reference to their biological material being united in a unique manner in offspring, but also respects their ethical, emotional, and psychological union. As Paul explains —
…do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”
…the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Seeing as these descriptions of marital union presuppose the individuality of husband and wife, calling for the husband and wife to recognize that individuality and treat one another as oneself accordingly, it follows, again, that the individual has priority even in this primitive society of husband, wife, and offspring.
See Diaz, Hiram R. “Intro to Biblical Axiology [Pt.1],” Logia, Feb 21, 2022, https://logia.substack.com/p/intro-to-biblical-axiology-pt-1/
Berkhoff, Louis, Systematic Theology,
https://biblehub.com/commentaries/hebrews/11-3.htm. (emphasis original)
ibid. [Vincent’s Word Studies]
cf. Gen 1:11, 21, 24-25.
cf. Gen 2:18-20.
By this I mean the physical and physiological aspects of a man’s body, all of which have been precisely fitted for his unique instrumental needs.
“Creationism or Traducianism?,” A Puritan’s Mind, https://www.apuritansmind.com/puritan-favorites/francis-turretin/creationism-or-traducianism/.
Jer 33:25b. (emphasis added)
1st Cor 6:16.
1st Cor 7:4.