The Bible’s Impact on Human Rights

The ideas of human dignity and respect for all didn’t develop in a vacuum.

The Bible begins with the story of creation. God speaks the universe into existence. Within that story is the account of the creation of humankind. According to the Bible, above and beyond everything else God made, humans are special, his crowning achievement! The Book of Genesis records the moment when God decided to create human beings: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26–27).

According to the Bible, humans are different because, unlike all the other creatures on the planet, we are created in God’s image. Everyone bears what Christian teaching calls the imago Dei—Latin for “image of God”—and therefore are often referred to as image bearers. For this reason, humans have worth; they have value over and above anything else in creation. When this notion is applied to ethics and human rights, it is revolutionary.

We are all made in the image of God. This is what makes our worth and our dignity inherent and inseparable from who we are, whether governments recognize human rights or not. We do not have rights because we deserve them; we do not have rights because we have earned them; we do not have rights because we are white or black, male or female, American or Chinese. We have rights because each of us is made in the image of God and therefore has inherent worth and dignity.

Yet this truth hasn’t always been self-evident or widely believed. …

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