Defining Who Is A Person

In Brief

our culture war over who is a  “person” effects not only how we approach and understand our human relationships  but most importantly how we understand our salvation in the person Jesus Christ.

Pastor Mark Sell shared with me a summary of his presentation on the January 21, 2010 Supreme Court (SC) ruling in the case CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION. This is getting a lot of play because of corporations funding campaign speech. That is not the big news, and if it were the news, probably wouldn’t appear here. Rather, the big news centers around the word “person” and how it is defined and used. This has monumental ramifications on all of U.S. society and in the historic Christian Church. So, with his permission, Pr. Sell:


Law & The Courts

The real issue is the word person, meaning, “That which subsists of itself.” Stay with me. I know it seems quite “egghead,” but it influences every legal transaction in our country. The recent ruling begins to return to the historical definition of person, That definition was in place for most of Western civilization until the 1973 Roe v. Wade SC decision. (The thrust was a states’ rights issue along with privacy, but it is also seen to impact the legal definition   of a “person.”)

According to the law, a person is that which subsists of itself. It is a definition that assumes and substantiates the unique individual “thing” or entity. This is why a whale is a person, a plant is a person, a corporation is a person, and a human is a person—that which subsists of itself. It defines an individual who/which has legal (philosophical and medical) standing.

When the psychological definition of person became the foundation of law, it confused many of our legal decisions and therefore confused the moral ramifications of persons. Of course, the most detrimental ramification of the Roe v. Wade definition of person to our society and subsequent legal decisions was the effect on the person in the womb and the culture war that has ensued.

If you change the individualistic definition of person, that which subsists of itself, then you can do the same outside of the womb if the psychological criteria are not met. The implications of this extends from birth to death.

Humans are also persons in the law—in and outside of the womb. If a young or old human person doesn’t meet our psychological definitions,  the law can change their legal standing and, thus, their importance to the society medically, philosophically, and educationally.

This is why we now face not only decisions about the person in the womb after 1973, but now also persons outside of the womb. Euthanasia, assisted suicide, marriage, family, individual rights, and so on, are all controversial issues today, when in the past, they weren’t. It’s because we are asked, “What do you mean by person?”

The One, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity is understood as one God in three persons. What is the meaning of person in the Trinity? Again, “That which subsists of itself.” The three persons of the Trinity are unique individual persons, not based upon a psychological definition, but upon the historic use of the word person. This is foundational to the Scriptures, creeds, and what we confess as Christians about the Holy Trinity. Of course, the very foundation of our Christian faith is the person of Jesus Christ, the God/Man, who subsists of Himself.

The personhood of Christ is why we confess that Jesus died on the cross, not the Father, nor the Holy Ghost. The latter are different persons—they subsist of themselves.

The consequence of the Roe v. Wade definition of person has terribly influenced all of Christianity because, especially in American churches. It has allowed the psychological definition of “person” to influence who Jesus is and how we practice the teachings He fulfilled from the Old Testament and was in the New Testament and how He continues to be present in the Word and Sacraments.

This is why the Holy Christian Church is part of our culture war of “persons.” Not only is every human on the line, along with marriage, abortion, children, but most importantly our salvation in the person Jesus Christ.


The fury is really over the definition of person, even though it is starting with “corporations” who are persons in the law and who thus have free speech. However, this return to the historic and common use of the term person is an earth-shattering shift for the good of our society and the Church. The historic use of person is the definition the Christian Church uses when she speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. Roe v. Wade was based upon a psychological definition of person, not the historical “uniqueness” of personhood. Roe v. Wade destroyed the Trinity, along with millions of babies.

The Particulars

No. 08–205. Argued March 24, 2009—Reargued September 9, 2009––Decided January 21, 2010

19 1/21/10 08-205 Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n K 558/2

ROE v. WADE, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)
410 U.S. 113
No. 70-18.

Roe v Wade: Entire decision

Pastor Sell has promised to attend to the comments. So, if you are so enclined, feel free to engage him.

One thought on “Defining Who Is A Person

  1. I’m not sure what you meant when you said that the psychological definition of person has affected the way some Christians view Christ and the Trinity. Could you explain further?

I'm interested to hear what you have to say.

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