Were Neanderthals Humans?


I suspect a category error in these discussions. We seem to be using functional or psychological criteria to assess whether Neanderthals were human in a Biblical sense.

I don’t see how these criteria are compatible with the question at hand.

For instance, there are people existing today who lack the functional and/or psychological traits of many primates, let alone hominids. These deficiencies can be the result of brain developmental abnormalities, injury, disease or aging. However, if we accept that a child born today but lacking a prefrontal cortex, or a sociopath with an organic brain defect, or someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s are all ‘human’ in the Biblical sense, then it’s hard to understand how such ‘humanness’ has any functional or psychological criterion. At least not one that could drive a clear line between modern humans and Neanderthals. One can ponder which organisms possess souls but unless there is a definitive ‘soul-o-meter’ instrument available, I think it’s a pretty futile task.


Well, now there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if I’ve ever heard one! … I
have a special needs daughter who cannot speak, and whose official
diagnosis is “pervasive developmental delay.” She was legally blind for a
few years, but her vision has improved significantly, and she loves to
whistle and cuddle. I have no problem distinguishing her as human, well
beyond the capabilities of my dog. It’s quite a stretch to speak of
special needs persons as “lacking the functional and/or psychological
traits of many primates, let alone hominids.” Like beauty, such things are
often only in the mind of the beholder --and if you’re of a certain
mindset, you cannot see what is clearly there. Part of the agony of
Alzheimer’s, for example,ares the memories of when the person was much more
capable --degeneration doesn’t make one inhuman. In the Biblical sense,
criteria like being able to love, to recognize and recieve the love of
others, to maintain a good countenance despite difficulties, to have an eye
for the beauty of life… these are all things which my daughter
possesses… oftentimes, in more abundance than many of my most
"functional" friends. It’s never a futility to try to probe the meaning of
a biblical term.


The reason why I mentioned the “very good” was not to make a claim of moral perfection for the creation, but to highlight the fact that the events in Genesis 2, what we commonly refer to as the “fall” of mankind, hadn’t happened yet.
Otherwise, this “very good” of the first story would be in direct opposiition to the moral lesson of the second story, where it explicitly says that, not only is Adam now immoral, but that “the ground is cursed because of him” --the looming legacy of a mindset that decides to reject God’s ownership of the fruit of the land, and to instead increasingly wrest himself away from God’s good guidance.
It’s simply a non-sequitur, in my opinion, to read the Adam and Eve story as going back and adding details to the “sixth day,” which is Faz Rana’s view from RTB --precisely because this Genesis 1:30 “very good” would be so out of place, otherwise.
God’s “very good” creation is about to be ruined by something; we even hear, early on in the Adam story, that his being alone was “not good.” The dramatic foreshadowing is meant to ready us for the tale which is about to unfold.
The sad commentary of the continuing saga of Adam’s lineage is that “violence increased greatly upon the earth.”


I have no problems making those distinctions as well. To clarify, I was talking about those with severe impairments, many who have mental and emotional function well below “the capabilities of your dog”. If we consider such individuals as “human in the Biblical sense”, which I’m content to do, then we need to recognize we are not using functional attributes in the classification scheme.

If some form of functionality is not a criterion for ‘being human in a Biblical sense’, then I think it’s a category error to discuss whether Neanderthals were human or even if chimpanzees are human in the same sense. Because in those cases we are making the determination based on functional evidence derived from physical artifacts (Neanderthals) or observed behavior (chimpanzees).


Guy, first of all let me say how sorry I am that you and your daughter have that heavy burden to bear. My sister has two children that are autism spectrum. The daughter can’t say anything, but the boy can be induced to put a word or two together, though it is a struggle. There are other health problems besides. My sister is my hero for the tenacity and grace and dignity with which she has endured this trial.

I believe like you do, that these were not literal days and the fact that it was very good on day six showed that the fall had not happened at that point. But notice that the seventh day does not have an evening or a morning. I think the creation account is both history and prophecy and that the scriptures teach that the seventh “day”, the true Sabbath, did not even begin until after Christ was on the cross. It is astounding that this should be so, but you can judge for yourself… https://earlygenesistherevealedcosmology.blogspot.com/2017/11/thesis-14-seventh-day-in-genesis-one.html


A recent post by Faz Rana of RTB, “Were Neanderthals Really People Too?” http://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2017/02/08/were-neanderthals-people-too-a-response-to-jon-mooallem
and my condensed subsequent response as follows:
"I find it unnecessary to distance ourselves from Neanderthals, because of my view that the “adam” (plural) written of in Genesis 1:26-27 ff. significantly predate the specific Adam (a named individual) in Genesis 2:5ff.), and so there’s no need to deny “imago Dei” qualities to sub-species or “branches” (different from H.sapiens sapiens) which predate 15 kya. The garden of Eden story seems to occur before the younger Dryas period, perhaps as early as in the late Paleolithic. That makes Adam a specific human who was taught animal domestication and irrigation agriculture for the sake of humanity’s move from hunter-gathering nomadic lifestyles to sedentary, growing civilization settlements --along with the attendant problems of working out property rights. Adam failed to accede to God’s ethic that, at root, all belongs to Him and ought to be used to please Him, not hoarded and quarreled over. Many, many themes are present in geminal form in the Adam and Eve account, including the explanation of humanity’s persistent willful sinfulness. Your comments, Fazale Rana?"
Hopefully readers here will see the heurism inherent in this interpretive position.


Hi everyone,

Here are a couple of articles about discoveries and claims which have been in the news lately:

Claims that Homo erectus invented language:

Everett’s argument relies heavily on the fact that Homo erectus made it to Flores - a feat which, he says, would have required a boat and hence, language. Other scientists have proposed that a tsunami might have transported them there instead, on floating vegetation that they may have clung to. (And I would ask: if they had boats, why didn’t they make it to Australia?)

Claims that the Neanderthals made art (or was it Homo sapiens?):

What do people think? Cheers.


Guy I agree with what you said past the first nine words. There are plenty of scientific reasons to see Neanderthals as something different from us. All else of what you said could be true without Neanderthals sharing the capacity to be in God’s image. I know the articles these days pound on the similarities but the differences were stark.

Gen. 1:27 is a three part statement and has a three part meaning. It is referencing men and women generally (who as yet had not attained the image of God), Adam (and by extension Eve because the two are one flesh) who lost the Image, and Christ in the timeless heavenly realm who is the Image (along with the church which is His body). Astoundingly, the first two chapters of Genesis are reliable as both history, and as prophecy.

I know a lot of folks are more into the science side of things than the theology side, but I think concepts like you are discussing here, and genealogical Adam, could benefit from a more fleshed out and integrated theology. You are asking people to give up a lot of theology (that is not in the Bible!) when you ask them to remove Adam as sole progenitor. People hate to learn new things anyway, but if you ask them to throw out all that integrated theology and replace it with just a single concept its going to leave a hole and that will generate resistance. A new theology (which actually is in the Bible) should replace it. Don’t ask them just to throw out something for nothing, but trade a theology which is not in the bible, and not Christ-centered, for one that is.


Some of us reached Europe much earlier but died out. They are reaching to suggest that Neanderthal made that art, particularly the image of the horse head which was not even dated. Or, let me put it this way, a wave of modern humans interbred with neanderthal too much and this led to their demise. If a neanderthal-human hybrid made the art, which half is responsible?


I think there is an interesting debate opening up in the old earth creationist crowd, who all reject common descent.

  1. On one hand, there is Fuz Rana at RTB that thinks that only Homo sapiens are “human.” That has been the prevailing view for decades.
  2. On the other hand, Ann Gauger and Richard Buggs have been arguing for “human” as early as Homo erectus, 2 million years ago, because they have been following the paleo and genetic evidence.

On face value, position #1 is extremely unstable. To accept that position we have to maintain Neanderthals are mere animals, even though they look nearly like us. And yet somehow the are not a missing link / transitional form. That just seems untenable. I’m very curious to see how Fuz attempts to resolve that puzzle.

Position #2 is not stable outside of common descent either. If we can believe Homo erectus evolved into Homo sapiens, it is not a stretch to see how Homo erectus evolved from precursors. Ultimately, we can see several transitional forms.


There may be more differences between Homo sapiens alive today (us!) and Homo sapiens alive 20 kya, than there are between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens 100 kya. Neanderthals are distinct, but they could still interbreed with Homo sapiens.

Regarding God’s Image, of course you are right. We cannot identify God’s Image scientifically, nor can we even define it theologically. However, what do you think it is?

I agree, which is why I’ve been fleshing out the theology with theologians. I’m giving a talk on this at the Dabar conference this summer (http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/dabar-conference/), and amd in regular communication with theologians on this on a regular basis, for example from Concordia Seminary and TEDS.

I dispute this entirely. We have not been able to identify any traditional theology that has to change. There are new questions raised, but there are also really productive answers to these questions.

There is no theology any one has been able to identify (talking to theologians!) that requires sole-genetic progenistorship. Remember, that sole-genealogical progenitorship is still part of a genealogical Adam. That is all that traditional theology appears to require.

I would argue that I am putting forward a Christ-centered theology. Have you had a chance to read what I am doing yet?


You might find a lot in common with your approach too. Recognizing a genealogical Adam in no way diminishes a Christ-centered theology, which is where I am rooted.


Did they look almost like us? Or is that the way the artists conceptualize them? Take alook at this pic comparing the two skulls…and this is just part of the superficial differences. Not mentioned are things like they had a screw-like bone in their nasal cavity found in NO OTHER MAMMAL!

Look at this comparison of skeletons, which also leaves a lot out. For example almost all of their bones are large but compare our shoulder blades. As powerful as they were, they were not made for throwing things. The rib cage and pelvis are profoundly different, as are the limb proportions.


Let me put this another way.

Can you show me a skull of a living species that looks as close to Homo sapiens as a Neanderthal skull? They clearly are not Homo sapiens. However, they are absurdly more like Homo sapiens than any other “non-human” (if that is what you want to call them) than we have ever seen.


The studies say differently. With a few exceptions, we seem to have gotten mostly junk from the Neanderthals and evolution is about half way done throwing it out. This study mentions that ancient Europeans had 3% Neanderthal DNA which over time decreased to 2% even before other groups with an even lower percentage largely replaced the original population of Europe. The lack of Neanderthal mtDNA in humans and its paucity on the Y-chromosome points to fertility problems. They had trouble mixing from the beginning.

Possibly the earliest modern human skull find is Omo I. Notice it looks strikingly modern for its time (195kya?). The forehead could be flatter and higher, but other than that it is far more like a modern than the neanderthal. Indeed it looks far more modern than Omo II found nearby and also more modern than many finds in Europe and the mid-east tens of thousands of years later. What if humans and neanderthals were different from the start, but just able to admix, resulting in a hybrid population which looked more primitive? What we would interpret as “evolution from a common ancestor” is just a hybrid population reverting to a “purer” population over time. Europeans “evolve” to look more like San in their skull morphology because they are slowly losing the introgressed non-human genes that made them look different in the first place. But I speculate. What is known is that there were genetic barriers to hybridization.

I will answer with an excerpt from the book:

The New Testament resolves the mystery about what is meant in scripture by “the image of God.” Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the image of God, and further that as far as we are concerned God has no other image than Christ. It says of Him, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” The phrase “firstborn of all creation” is interesting too, and I will come back to it when I discuss the next verse. That Christ is God’s image is confirmed in 2nd Corinthians 4:4 which says of Christ “Who is the image of God.” Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ is the “exact representation” of God’s being or nature- in other words, an image.

Christ is the image of God, and God has no other image that is accessible to anyone but Himself. That is why when Thomas asked to see the Father, Jesus said “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” That is why 1st Timothy 6:16 describes Christ in the full glory of God with these words: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see". It is why the first chapter of the Gospel of John says “18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Some translations say “He has explained Him” for that last phrase. Further, in chapter six that gospel declares “46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.”

When God says “let us make Man in our own image” He is saying that the goal is to make man to be in Christ.

So Christ and the Church is what God had in mind from Genesis 1:26 on. It’s not a back-up plan God had to resort to once things failed to go as He anticipated.

So really only Adam was in the image of God, though God made it so we can all chose to be. Adam lost it when he fell. In Genesis 5:1-2 even he does not say that he is in the Image of God, just the likeness.

Likeness and image are two different things, and I won’t cite that whole chapter which explains it, this post is too long already. But I will answer what I think it means to be in the likeness of God, because I really believe those are the terms you are thinking in. Again, an excerpt from the book…

So what does it mean to be “according to the likeness” of God? What makes man like God in a way which does not apply to anything else He created or made? I mean what makes us different in kind, not just in degree. For example, you might say that we are more intelligent than animals. OK, but animals can still be intelligent and we are dim bulbs indeed compared to God. If our degree of intelligence makes us different from beasts, it still does not make us “like God.” Our differences in intelligence with the animals are differences in degree, not in kind. The same is true with our use of language, and our use of tools.

No, what separates us from the beasts of the earth in kind is our ability to unite in Spirit with the Divine. The doorway to this unity is embedded in another feature which we possess- an ability to make moral judgments. We have a spiritual aspect or dimension which other living things lack. We can cooperate with one another based not on mere instinct or just mutual advantage for some material need, but because we judge some common cause to be in the right.

Where we are different in kind from the beasts is that humans have the potential to be of one nature with God. Sinful man can only access this potential through membership in the body of Christ, and we sense only the barest glimmer of it in this world, but when we finally become one with Him we will understand how He is one with the Father- one in nature. It is a capacity which beasts completely lack.

I know there has been a debate over to what degree higher animals possess “self-awareness.” Mankind though, goes beyond self-awareness and seeks out true connectedness. We are self-aware, but at our best we are also aware that there is something beyond ourselves, and bigger than ourselves. We can make a choice to connect and serve not out of mere instinct, but by our conscious choice.

We are “religious” by nature. Properly connected, we are capable of accessing a reference point for right and wrong which is beyond ourselves and our interests. This is what truly sets us apart from the higher animals in that here our differences are of kind, not just degree. That man rarely uses this potential does not mean that it is absent.

This is why I am unthreatened by the idea that there may have been hominids, two legged beings, with relatively large brains walking around making some sort of tools back in the dawn of time. I never considered that being “according to the likeness of God” (much less being “in the image of God”) meant having two legs, or a large brain, or even being able to make a flint scraper. That is not what makes us human. If we give up our humanity, I suppose that is what we can degenerate to- apes wearing trousers as C.S. Lewis once put it, but that is not how we were made.

We have a spiritual dimension which permits us to relate to one another and to God in a deeper way than that available to the beasts. If these other creatures did not have that, then they were not made in His image or after His likeness. In Genesis 1:26 God proposed creating something new. That was Man.

Well, that’s good. If they come up with anything that makes more sense than what I have already written about it, I’d be interested to know it. If they can’t come up with anything which coherently synthesizes the scriptures and convincingly addresses the common scriptural arguments used to promote the idea that Adam was the sole progenitor of the whole human race (and thus both you and I are all wet) then I’d like you to consider the answers which have already been provided to these questions.

This may be another one of those cases where you get defensive too early. I didn’t say “traditional” theology. I know it doesn’t conflict with any of the three great creeds, but Baptists, Assembly of God, Church of Christ and a dozen more big ones don’t ever recite those things and that’s not what I meant when I said you are asking them to give up their theology (which is not traditional theology, it is an American mutation). Ken Ham is not a real theologian, but he plays one on TV, and a lot of Christians are fooled by his act. On the old earth creationist side, I have a lot of respect for Hugh Ross and he has a well-developed model both scientific and scriptural. Though I consider that your work scientifically and what I have been shown theologically falsifies his model starting at Adam, many devout Christians take a view like his as a part of their theology. That was what I was talking about.

I was not talking about original sin, which I think you were talking about when you objected. I have had plenty of “dialogues” with the kind of people I am talking about and that question is maybe 10% of their objections. That’s not the theology they care about. I consider my view on it within the bounds of orthodoxy as well, but not everyone may agree.

I did read it, and just read it again. The reason I am here is because I am closer to your model than anyone else out there. But what’s on that page is not what I mean when I say you need a theology to go along with your concept. For example I don’t think you cited a single scripture on that whole article. I am talking about the detailed nitty-gritty of each passage, each verse, looking at the Hebrew when necessary, to explain exactly why this way of looking at Adam is more scriptural, and more Christ-centered, than the Jewish view which the church adopted without looking at it through the lens of Christ first, as they should have.

You have the science. But the theology has to be bigger than the science or they will just label you as someone who is trying to bend the scripture to accommodate your secular views on science. IMHO it has to be fleshed out in detail with specific scriptural arguments addressed. It sounds like you may have some guys on that, and if so that’s good. I’ve been on it too, I just didn’t know it. I did not know that the Reasons to Believe model had been scientifically falsified until I saw your work, but I had already falsified it theologically as regards to Adam and Noah.

No, it doesn’t. Thinking of Adam’s role as the sole progenitor of the human race instead of the figure of Christ like scripture teaches diminishes the Christ-centered model. I don’t see the necessity of genealogical Adam theologically because I don’t think we got our sin nature by inheritance but maybe your theologians will change my mind!


Well I think they were closer to us than any living species, but that does not make them us. Nor were they necessarily that much closer to us than the apes - the infant skulls of several living species of apes look as close to homo sapiens as a neanderthal skull. Here is an orang. Here is a fetal chimp skull. I’d find more but apparently the two biggest firms selling these kinds of things went out of business. Maybe someone put the scans up so anyone with a 3-D printer can make them now?


Glad to have stimulated discussion, but sad to have been so badly misunderstood.
The meaning of the “image of God” must be found, first and foremost, in the nearby context.
The most evident characteristics of God clearly in view in Genesis 1:26 may be probed, and include the use of language, inclusive relationality, the ability to creatively plan and implement through innovative action, a general nature of goodwill, a reverence for life, the responsible exercise of dominion, and… anyone want to add anything?
All these things, as far as I can tell, existed in at least a rudimentary form among Neanderthals. It’s not a hill to die on, either way.
But, it would be good to remember that when the Bible says “God created” it is saying ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about how long it took. It’s a perfectly good description of what could have taken quite a long time to fully come about. Which is why I’m fully comfortable with the evidence of a special but not always dramatic anthropological continuum of the development of these traits, AND with the evidence of a relatively sudden and dramatic shift at later stages. It takes a while for nascent qualities to become established, but once so, it follows that even more accelerated changes may soon follow. That seems self-evident at 40 kya.
Then, as the specific individual, Adam, comes onto the scene at 15-20 kya, we have an individual with all the physical, social and psychological traits in place of a full “image-bearer,” raised by the Angel of the LORD Himself in the garden, but who fails the spiritual test to keep his place by honoring God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Vaunting himself through disobedience, and thus betraying the very image of God within him, he becomes not only the first of a pattern for all humans to come, but actually passes on the concomitant genetic changes wrought in him through disobedience to all his offspring, who eventually outcompete, kill off, or interbreed with those comparatively morally simple (but not sinless) human species already in existence.
Adam is, indeed, our hereditary forebear, but not the first human being ever. Adam’s lineage are the “sole survivors” of a legacy of, oftentimes, senseless brutality. And the seeds of that nature are in all of us.
That’s a perfectly orthodox theology, totally interpretively consistent with the New Testament’s passages and themes, and with the “uncomfortable” side of the gospel.
Just sayin’… : ) Cheers!


Maybe I should not respond so early in the morning before I have finished my tea. I am going to just be frank, without intending any offense. Just want to get closer to the truth and it can’t be done without a certain degree of frankness, though we should not be in-gracious about it.

  1. You are co-flating likeness and image. Your list of traits applies more to the likeness of God than the image.

  2. Why does the meaning have to be found first and foremost in the nearby context? If all of scripture is inspired by God then a mystery in the first part of the text can be revealed by later parts of the text. And I gave seven scriptures where it is revealed pretty explicitly. Where are the scriptures supporting your view, or refuting mine? This is what I am saying, without a scriptural case people who look to solo scriptura are not going to be impressed.

  3. That view of it is not Christ-centered. He is nowhere in your picture.


Your reply seems to rely on an overemphasis of the semantic nuances of the English translation. My question is about what the phrase meant to its hearers in the ancient cultural context; how did the ancient reader understand it, before importing anachronistic assumptions into the mix (to be frank in return).
Since we can be sure that God knew what He meant when saying it, it remains for us to get at the meaning they understood. As a de minimus attempt, i.e. what it means at a minimum, the near context supplies all these, to use your phrase, “likeness” observations. And that’s okay, sine the LORD Himself says "according to Our likeness."
Clear enough? Cheers!


I ought to point out, also, that my reference to Adam being raised by the Angel of the LORD in the garden is exactly what you said was completely missing in my answer. Adam heard His voice, walked with Him in the garden on the cool of the evenings, etc. It’s all right there in the text. The Angel of the Lord was the theophanic manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ.


I am glad to hear you say so. Maybe we are not so far apart. He was raised by Yahweh Elohim- the LORD God. And it was a pre-incarnate manifestation- more than a manifestation- of Christ. The second person of the Trinity did not hop in and out of human form for all of these OT appearances. It happened once- in the beginning. Genesis 1:27 describes it when it says God created “the Man” in His own image.