Human Personhood: An Analysis And Definition -- By: Bruce A. Ware

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:2 (Summer 2009)
Article: Human Personhood: An Analysis And Definition
Author: Bruce A. Ware

Human Personhood: An Analysis And Definition

Bruce A. Ware

Bruce A. Ware is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to this, he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, and Bethel Theological Seminary. Dr. Ware has written numerous articles, book chapters, and reviews. He is the author of God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossway, 2000), God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Crossway, 2004), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Crossway, 2005), and Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God (Crossway, 2009).


One of the gravest issues of our day concerns the nature of human personhood. What is a person? What is a human person? Which individuals may rightly be included within or without the category of human person? And, on what basis can these determinations be justified?

There has been an enlarged discussion in recent years pertaining to these and other related questions. On analysis, it is clear that the literature on this issue can be divided into two broad categories. First, many argue some variation of what may be called a functionalist model for discerning the personhood of individuals. Accordingly, various functional criteria are itemized, each of which is judged to be distinctive of and essential to human life as we normally experience it and observe it to be. When an individual or a grouping of individuals (e.g., fetuses, PVS patients) is considered on this question, one invokes a set of functional criteria for personhood and evaluates whether, or to what degree, those functions are manifest. Those individuals manifesting some certain minimal expression of the relevant functions are judged to be persons; those failing to meet the stated criteria are judged to be non-persons.

Second, others argue some variation of what may be called an essentialist model for discerning the personhood of individuals. Here, one judges that it is the inherent nature or essence of the human being that grounds the individual’s personhood, regardless of whether or not any number of normal human functionings may actually be manifest. Personhood is grounded, then, not on the actual expression of distinctive human functionings but on the essence of the human person whose nature possesses a natural capacity for the full range of such human expressions.1

Having offered a brief overview of the competing models in this debate, we wish now to proceed to examine more closely some representative proposals from leading a...

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