Being Human in God's World

An Old Testament Theology of Humanity

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This major work by a widely respected Old Testament scholar and theologian unpacks a biblical perspective on fundamental questions of what it means to be human.

J. Gordon McConville explores how a biblical view of humanity provides a foundation for Christian reflection on ethics, economics, politics, and church life and practice. He shows that the Old Testament's view of humanity as "earthed" and "embodied" plays an essential part in a well-rounded Christian theology and spirituality, and he applies the theological concept of the "image of God" to all areas of human existence. The book also pays attention to the ways in which the genres of the Old Testament contribute to its articulation of the human experience. Human life, both as depicted in the Old Testament world and as advocated to readers, comprises all possibilities--between flourishing and tragedy, and between the enacted realization of the image of God and its corruption. Yet it is informed by eschatological direction and hope, which ensures the meaningfulness of the ordinary, daily components of life. McConville shows that true engagement with the Old Testament on the subject is a matter not merely of intellectual comprehension but of commitment to personal and communal transformation, which in whole-biblical perspective is ultimately conformation to Christ.

Being Human in God's World will appeal to professors and students of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, as well as to church leaders and other serious readers.

Introduction: On Thinking about Being Human
1. Humanity in the Image of God (Imago Dei)
2. "Like God" in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2-3)
3. The Human "Constitution" in the Old Testament
4. The Situated Self
5. The Old Testament's Transformations and the "Spiritual Sense"
6. Embodiments: Place and Memory
7. The Political Self
8. Male and Female
9. Work and Creativity
10. The Old Testament and Human Formation: The Psalms


"What might the Old Testament teach us about being human in community with God, other humans, and the world today? Gordon McConville expertly leads the reader in an engaging theological journey through the Old Testament to answer that question. He offers intelligently argued and biblically grounded understandings of a broad range of topics: human transformation, spirituality, community, health, ecology, knowledge, emotion, language, politics, sexuality, work, and creativity. A spiritual feast of Old Testament insight into what it means to be human that takes seriously both the Bible and our twenty-first-century contexts."

Dennis Olson, Charles Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"McConville offers a richly textured account of our humanity as the Hebrew Bible portrays it. His 'spiritual' reading is both scholarly and engaging for a diverse audience, as he explores variously the material, political, gendered and sexual, as well as prayerful dimensions of human living 'in the image of God.'"

Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School

"What does it mean to be human? Gordon McConville explores God's revelation in the Old Testament in response to this question. With insight and profundity, he illuminates our understanding, but more importantly he shows how the Old Testament invites us to spiritual transformation centered on worship. I recommend this book to all who want to understand themselves better and to grow as human beings created in the image of God."

Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

"I am grateful to Gordon McConville for this profoundly nuanced study of the Old Testament's embodied vision of being human. McConville's short, lucid chapters display wide acquaintance with a range of biblical scholarship and contemporary issues yet are characterized by attunement to the transformation of the reader. This is a book to be savored."

J. Richard Middleton, professor of biblical worldview and exegesis, Northeastern Seminary

"Gordon McConville has written a superb study of various anthropological issues raised in the Old Testament. Ranging widely across the text, his work provides a clear and stimulating exploration of a very important theological topic in ways that are historically and literarily sensitive. This volume will certainly be a significant resource for biblical and theological studies for the next generation."

Terence E. Fretheim, Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament Emeritus, Luther Seminary

"Noted Old Testament scholar Gordon McConville draws on his disciplinary expertise to provide this fascinating and rich account of humanity in relation to God, to other humans, and to the nonhuman creation. It is wide-ranging in its coverage of Old Testament texts, in its treatment of key aspects of the multifaceted experience of living in this world, and in its relating these to contemporary thinking about the human. The book's careful exegesis and wise theological reflection are always accessible. At the same time, McConville's focus on transformation makes his work a wonderful resource for exploring biblical spirituality in its broadest sense of human flourishing, and in this respect the closing chapter on the Psalms in human formation offers a fitting and inspiring climax."

Andrew T. Lincoln, emeritus professor of New Testament, University of Gloucestershire

"Deeply rooted in biblical theology while dialoguing with broader theological voices, McConville invites us to reconsider the way we view ourselves as human beings. In this book you will learn from a sage whose wise reflections open our eyes to the possibilities of human experience lived in communion with the Creator as well as with one another."

Mark J. Boda, professor of Old Testament, McMaster Divinity College; professor, Faculty of Theology, McMaster University

"Gordon McConville's 'biblical spirituality' of being human in God's world is a study that has to do with self-understanding, transformation, and transcendence. McConville addresses all of the pertinent sections and questions of the Old Testament proper: the imago Dei, being 'like God' in Genesis 2-3, the nature of the human 'constitution,' the situated nature of the self, embodiment, politics, gender, work, and creativity--to name a few. His profundity and dexterity with Scripture is everywhere on display, but he also regularly delves into wider theological literature and even further afield into other relevant studies. Readers will be convinced that 'the inextricability of theology and anthropology is a hallmark of the Old Testament's discourse,' and will be inspired by this wise book that McConville has offered to us, 'not as a theory but as a preamble to a practice.'"

Brent A. Strawn, professor of Old Testament, Emory University

The Author

  1. J. Gordon McConville

    J. Gordon McConville

    J. Gordon McConville (PhD, Queen's University, Belfast) is professor of Old Testament theology at the University of Gloucestershire, where he has taught for more than twenty years. Prior to coming to Gloucestershire, he held positions at Tyndale House, Trinity...

    Continue reading about J. Gordon McConville


"In this scholarly, accessible, and beautifully written study, McConville . . . welcomes the reader into an exploration of the Old Testament's portrayal of humanity as created 'in the image of God.'. . . McConville draws insights from such diverse sources as philosopher Charles Taylor, author Marilynne Robinson, poet Wendell Berry, and scholar Phyllis Trible. . . . Insightful, provocative, and compelling, this book is itself a work of literature to be savored."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"McConville presents a masterful account of the Old Testament's theological vision for humanity in this wide-ranging monograph. . . . McConville demonstrates artful reading of the Hebrew Scriptures toward understanding the place of humanity in relation to God and the world. This readable work would make a fine upper-level undergraduate or graduate/seminary textbook. In my view, Being Human in God's World is sure to take a significant place in Old Testament theology, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the theology of humanity from an Old Testament perspective."

Andrea Saner,

Review of Biblical Literature

"[This work] is to a great extent a conversation informed by the OT about what it means to be human. . . . None of [the] topics [McConville addresses] is particularly surprising, and the organization follows the pattern laid out in Genesis 1-3. What does surprise the reader is the breadth of literature to which McConville refers. . . . He has, as it were, conversed with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties in order to deepen his own thinking on the issues. Of course, he has drawn on the work of various OT scholars but also on the works of others outside the field. . . . This broad conversation contributes greatly to the depth of the book. . . . I found the book worth reading, and worth reading again. . . . In interacting with it, the reader will have his own views clarified and deepened."

Benjamin Shaw,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Using careful exegesis, wise theological reflection, and dialogue with other scholarly theological voices, the author illuminates the reader's understanding of what it means to be human in relation to God, to other humans, and to the non-human creation. . . . The strength of the book is that it is not just another book for Bible scholars but a book to help one be spiritual and to grow into the image of God. . . . McConville's work is excellent and thought-provoking. It is scholarly and spiritual. It is destined to make an applauded contribution to OT anthropological studies. While at times the writing is a bit difficult to chart, persistence rewards the reader as light breaks and new insights and angles to old concepts are presented in new and fresh ways. . . . It is a good addition to any library."

Jerry R. Harmon,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"An engaging and robust survey. . . . One might suppose that Being Human in God's World may be of interest only to professors and students of the Old Testament, or perhaps also church leaders or well-read individuals interested in the Bible. In fact, this volume should have a much wider readership, regardless of theological perspective or denominational allegiance. It is a wide-ranging and, simultaneously, engaging exploration that should appeal to anyone interested in what it means to be human."

Roy L. Heller,

Theology Today

"This book offers a scholarly yet accessible examination both of biblical materials from an ancient society and of the ways in which the models of personhood found therein offer viable conversation partners for contemporary debate."

Mary E. Mills,

Society for Old Testament Studies Book List

"[A] stimulating new book. . . . To each subject McConville brings a wealth of biblical scholarship and insight into the reading of the relevant biblical texts, while engaging with them--ultimately--from a Christian perspective. The book is written with both scholars and non-specialists in mind. Readers who are interested in the biblical view of what it means to be human will find much to appreciate in this rich, textured, and eminently readable volume."

John R. Barker, OFM,

The Bible Today

"An impressively informed and informative study, Being Human in God's World is an especially recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as seminary and academic library Biblical Studies collections in general, and Christian Theology supplemental studies reading lists in particular."

Midwest Book Review