Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary


Religion, Theological Studies PhD

First Advisor

Richard M. Davidson

Second Advisor

Paul B. Petersen

Third Advisor

John C. Peckham


Personal ontology studies human constitution and human nature, an increasingly debated topic in Christian theology. Historically, the most prominent models of personal ontology in Christian theology have been substance dualist models. More recently, physicalist models have offered prominent alternatives.

This dissertation studies the conflict of interpretations between these two major model groupings. By applying a canonical theology, it then presents an Edenic model of personal ontology that can address the current conflict of interpretations. To achieve this end, the dissertation briefly analyzes substance dualism and physicalism according to the rubrics of constitution and nature, using a model methodology. It then compares the advantages and challenges each offers, and asks whether a model based solely on the normative source of the biblical canon might prove beneficial to the current debate. This question is explored next through a close reading of the Eden narrative (Gen 1-3), which is the biblical pericope that is most foundational to a study of personal ontology. Utilizing the final-form canonical approach and phenomenological-exegetical analysis, this reading delivers answers to the questions of constitution and nature and reveals an Edenic model of personal ontology. In short, the Edenic model highlights both the physicality and the uniqueness of human ontology. It points to a human constitution that is physical, and yet it does not compromise humans’ unique identity or place in God’s creation. This is because the text shows the image of God to be the mark of human identity. This imago Dei is manifested in every function of human nature (all of which are physically constituted), and enables humans to fulfill God’s commission to them.

Next, we compare the Edenic model with substance dualism and physicalism, using the same two rubrics of constitution and nature, to see which models may have higher explanatory powers in dealing with current questions of personal ontology. We see that a model of personal ontology that arises from the Eden narrative emphasizes both human physicality and human uniqueness. Such a twin emphasis proves helpful in the current debate in Christian theology, whereas substance dualism emphasizes human identity, and physicalism often highlights human physicality more than human identity.

The dissertation ends by encouraging Christian theologians to explore further the new questions about personal ontology that are being raised, but to do so within these twin parameters and on the basis of a model that arises from Scripture. This approach will not only have implications for a study of personal ontology, but likely for an array of Christian beliefs and practices.

Subject Area

Image of God; Bible. Genesis 1-3--Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Ontology--Religious aspects; Human beings--Constitution