Posts Tagged ‘image of God’

Man as the Image of God — Or Not?

Dear Reader,

This is a follow-up to my recent post on Charlotte Mason’s first principle — “Children are born persons.” In that post I asked what Miss Mason (a late 19th-early 20th century educator) meant by this principle and if it is biblical. One thing I expected her to say was that being “born persons” means being made in the image of God. Now Charlotte was a member of the Church of England and does say elsewhere in her writings that man is made in the image of God, but she does not use this phase explicitly when explaining this principle.

I did a bit of reading on the image of God as I worked on that post though I did not end up including the discussion of it. I have been thinking more about the idea, however, so I thought I would take the time to share those thoughts.

I have written myself about how Miss Mason’s philosophy is biblical because it balances man being made in God’s image with his sinful, fallen nature.  I was surprised to find that she did not go immediately to this phrase to explain her first principle. But I was also surprised to find that something I had assumed — that man since the Fall is still made in the image of God — is not held by all Christians.

I’d like to approach this issue by first just listing the biblical verses which address it, then reviewing the various Christian positions on it, and finally looking more closely at the biblical evidence to see which position it seems to support. The main question I am seeking to answer is: Is man, since the fall, in the image of God?

The Image of God in the Bible

Genesis 1 tells us that both the male and female, Adam and Eve, were in the image of God:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

(Gen. 1:26-27; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

Genesis 5 gives us the added information that Seth was in the image of Adam:

“This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” (Gen. 5:1-3)

Genesis 9 refers to the image once more:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Gen. 9:6)

These three verses are the entire contribution of the Old Testament to the issue. Other verses uses the words “image” and “likeness” but not in the same context; by and large they refer to idols.

In the New Testament we find that Christ is the image of God:

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4; cf. Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3)

There are a handful of verses which refer to man as being transformed into or conformed to the image of God:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Rom. 8:29)

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Cor. 15:49)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18; cf. Col. 3:10)

I Corinthians 11, in a notoriously tricky passage, makes a distinction between men and women:

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” (1 Cor. 11:7)

Lastly, there are two NT verses whose use of the word “likeness” is worth noting:

“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin . . .” (Rom. 8:3)

“But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7)

Christian Understandings of “the Image of God”

Irenaeus, writing in the 2nd century AD, gives some of the earliest and deepest Christian thought on what it means to be made in the image of God. “As human beings we possess the foundational elements of being in the image and likeness of God—a free will, an intellect, a body” (Thomas G.Weinandy, “St.Irenaeus and the Imago Dei,” 24). To be made in the divine image, according to Irenaeus, is also inherently bound up in relationship with God: “Not to live in union with God is not to live in his likeness” (Weinandy, p. 20).

Augustine, who lived from 354-430AD, adds to the discussion. He sees what we do as a reflection  of what God himself does, emphasizing will and reason but also love:

“Augustine teaches that the Trinity and the image of man are based off of the mind, knowledge, and love of God. These three being the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mind, love, and knowledge in man are imperfect where with God, they are perfect and equal.” (James Richardson, “Quotes from the Early Church Fathers: Man in God’s image and the Trinity,” from Apostles-creed.org, 2005)

The image of God that is seen is us derives from the relationships within the Trinity and is demonstrated in our very creation:

“In other words, God Loves (desires or wills), then He reasons from His mind (Thinks about what He desires), and then speaks His Word (communicates His knowledge.) In this way God created man and woman in His image. That, we desire, think, and speak; All of which is unique to man.” (Ibid.)

Though Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) follows Augustine, he seems to place a greater emphasis on the intellect as that which best reflects the image of God:

“Such an image of God, even as imperfect, only exists in rational creatures. Thomas quotes Augustine from Gen. ad lit. vi. 12: “Man’s excellence consists in the fact that God made him to His own image by giving him an intellectual soul which raises him above the beasts of the field.” In article 6, Thomas asks whether the image of God is in man as regards the mind only, and he answers affirmatively. All creatures possess some likeness to God, which Thomas calls a trace, for all things come from God; but only the human being is said to represent God by way of image. Therefore, it must be that what makes us in the image of God is what we have that the other animals do not have—a mind.” (Montague Brown, “Imago Dei in Thomas Aquinas,” The Saint Anselm Journal 10.1 (Fall 2014), p. 2)

Whereas Irenaeus, who has Gnostics to argue with, was quite insistent that the image of God includes body, soul and spirit, Aquinas places greatest emphasis on the soul as that which reflects the divine nature.

The Roman Catholic view is derived largely from these three; it equates the image of God in man with man’s “natural gifts” including his “personality, intellect, will, etc.” (Angus Stewart, “The Image of God in Man: A Reformed Reassessment,” at Covenant Protestant Reformed Church).  [The Eastern Orthodox position is similar; as I am less versed on it and as I suspect I have fewer Orthodox readers, I will not take the time to go into any details here.]

The Catholic Church distinguishes between the image and likeness of God. This distinction is how it deals with a seeming paradox: how can man be at once made in the image of God and sinful? The Catholic answer is to divide man’s “natural” qualities of reason, will, etc. from his spiritual gifts, righteousness and holiness. These latter are what constitute the likeness. The image is common to all men; the likeness is something into which men may, or may not, grow.

It is on the Protestant side that we find the dissenting opinion. The seeming discrepancy which the Catholic Church tried to mend by dividing the image from the likeness also posed a problem for Protestant thinkers, but they tried to solve the problem in different ways. Martin Luther is among those who say the image of God has been lost through the Fall:

“Reformer Martin Luther believed that the ‘image of God’ was an original righteousness that was lost completely. He thus proclaimed: ‘I am afraid that since the loss of this image through sin we cannot understand it to any extent.'” (Eric Lyons, “Was the ‘Image of God’ Destroyed by Sin?Apologetic Press, 2001)

John Calvin agrees with Luther that the image has been lost. He connects this image not just with man’s original righteousness but also with his wisdom and indeed all his faculties. Thus in his commentary on Genesis, Calvin says:

“‘That he made this image to consist in righteousness and true holiness, is by the figure synecdoche; for though this is the chief part, it is not the whole of God’s image. Therefore by this word the perfection of our whole nature is designated, as it appeared when Adam was endued with a right judgment, had affections in harmony with reason, had all his senses sound and well-regulated, and truly excelled in everything good. Thus the chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent: yet was there no part of him in which some scintillations of it did not shine forth.'” (“John Calvin on the Image of God,” from Siris, July 7, 2005)

This image of God in us is regained through the regeneration and sanctification of the believer. Yet, acknowledging Genesis 9:6, there is some aspect in which the image is always on man:

“‘Men are indeed unworthy of God’s care, if respect be had only to themselves. but since they bear the image of God engraven on them, He deems himself violated in their person . . . Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation.'” (“John Calvin on the Image of God“)

The Dutch Reformed came to speak of the image in broader and narrower views:

“The imago dei in the narrower sense, consisting of knowledge, righteousness and true holiness, was wholly lost at the fall, but the imago dei in the wider sense, which includes man’s ‘intellectual power, natural affections and moral freedom,’ was retained.” (Agnus Stewart, “The Image of God in Man: A Reformed Reassessment,” from Covenant Protestant Reformed Church)

Assessing the Biblical Evidence

Let’s begin with what all Christians hold in common: Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and Christ is the image of God. It’s what happens in between that causes problems. Specifically, what is the effect of the Fall?

I’d like to approach the biblical evidence more or less in order, beginning with Genesis and then turning to the New Testament.

The foundational verses are Genesis 1:26-27. Here they are once again:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

It is striking that in these two verses we are told three times that God made man in His image. The Hebrew word is tselem. It is used here in Genesis 1 as well as in Genesis 5 and 9. It is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible as we might use the word image to refer to an idol, i.e. an image of a false god, or model, as to the golden tumors made to remove a plague, and it is used twice in Psalms to refer to fleeting thing — a dream or a vanity. [This last may be an extension of its use to refer to idols or false gods — they are things with no real substance in which a man should not trust.] All of which is to say the Hebrew Bible gives us little added information as to the meaning of the word “image” in this context. It is used as we would use the word; it can refer to the “image of God” but also to other images or representations.

Genesis 1:26 includes the phrase “after our likeness” (as the ESV translates it) which is not repeated in verse 27. The relationship between these two prepositional phrases is worth considering. I have written many times on parallelism, a Hebrew literary device which we often, mistakenly, take as mere repetition of ideas (see this post or this one). This is not what I think we have in this verse, however. It is not the more poetic account in verse 27 which employs this term nor do we have any other sets of parallel terms in verse 26. In Hebrew each of these words (and they are just one word each in Hebrew), are not connected in any way (as by a conjunction) nor do they seem to be used in the same way. The prepositions are different; man is made “in” the image of God but only “according to” or “like” His likeness. In other words, these are not two ways in which man is made nor are they two words expressing a unit as we might say in English “down and out” or “meat and potatoes.” I think that the most plausible relationship between these two words is that “according to our likeness” is added information to clarify what “in our image” means. If I were doing textual criticism, I would say that the second word was added by a later editor or scribe to explain the first. Now this may or may not be true, but as believers what we have before us is a text with both words in it so, however it came to be, I have to believe that they are both part of the Word of God.

If “likeness” explains “image,” the next logical question is how this word, Hebrew dmut, is used in the Old Testament. The answer is that “likeness” means just what we think it would. The base root dmh means “to be like.” The nominal form dmut is found in Isaiah:

“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (Isa. 40:18)

And Ezekiel:

“And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness . . .” (Ezek. 1:5)

When, in the verse form Ezekiel quoted above, the prophet sees four creatures in “human likeness,” we understand this to be a physical description; they are not human but to some extent they look like humans. Dmut may also be used as tselem can to refer to idols. What can we conclude from all this? To be created “in the image” of God is to be “according to His likeness” which is in some way to be like Him, as an image is like the thing it represents.

Interestingly, Genesis 5 reverses the order. It says first that God created man “in the likeness (dmut) of God” (v.1) and then that Adam bore a son, Seth, “in his likeness (dmut) according to his image (tselem)” (v.3). Verse 1 seems to show that the words can be used interchangeably. Though the switch in verse 5 is intriguing, it is hard to know what to make of it.

Genesis is as significant for what it does not say as for what it does. Seth is not said to be in the image or likeness of God but only in that of his father Adam. Nor is this statement made of others — neither Cain nor Abel is said to be “in the image.”

Nonetheless, Genesis 9 reiterates that “in the image (tselem) of God He made Man” (Gen. 9:6). Those who deny that all men since the Fall bear the image of God understand this to mean that man was created in the image of God; that is, that he was made in God’s image at Creation and that this is the reason God will call murderers to account, but that it does not say that men are still in the image of God. The verb in Genesis 9:6 does not add to their argument — it says “made” and not “created” — but neither does it exclude this interpretation.

The New Testament makes clear that Christ is the image of God. Note that he is not “in the image of God” but “is.” Second Corinthians links the image with glory (2 Cor. 4:4).  Colossians and Hebrews both make the connection to Creation, taking pains to show that Christ was present at Creation and was not Himself created. Hebrews again makes the link to glory:

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:3)

None of these verses, however, does much to define what the image actually is though the language of Hebrews — “the exact imprint of his nature” — suggests that the image has much to do with reflecting or expressing the nature of God.

While Christ is the image of God, He is in the likeness of men (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7). This refers to His physical form which He adopts at His incarnation. The New Testament, thus discerns between the likeness and the image. In the case of Christ, one expresses each part of His dual nature, divine and human.

The majority of the New Testament verses which address the image of God in man speak of it as something into which believers must grow. Romans tells is that those whom God has chosen will be  “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Second Corinthians again makes the connection to glory and says that we are being “transformed” into “the same image” (2 Cor. 3:18). Colossians says believers have a “new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). The connection to knowledge is an interesting one and suggests another definition for the image, that it is our rationality which reflects our Creator.

First Corinthians strengthens the argument that the image is not currently in every man but that it is something believers will resume, having lost it at the Fall:

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Cor. 15:49)

This would seem to argue that while Adam bore the image in Genesis 1, his descendants, as Seth in Genesis 5, inherited not the divine image but only Adam’s fleshly post-Fall image. The word “also” is this verse is huge; when believers take on the image of “the man of heaven,” i.e. Christ, the second Adam, they do not lose the image of Adam in them but the two images dwell in them side-by-side just as Christ also embodies the image of God in the likeness of man.

Lastly, though we may like to, we cannot ignore First Corinthians 11:

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” (1 Cor. 11:7)

The connection between image and glory is seen again. Note that the man is the image and glory of God but the woman is said only to be the glory of man. Genesis makes quite clear that both male and female were in the image of God. It is hard to know what to make of this verse in the context of the “image of God” discussion. This is the only place I can find where man is said to be “the image of God” rather than “in the image of God.” To say man is “the glory of God” is also problematic and raises questions beyond the scope of this post.

Conclusions

Taking all the biblical evidence together, here is what I see:

  • Man, both male and female, were created “in the image of God.”
  • Christ is the image of God.
  • The best evidence that the image continues in men in from Genesis 9 but this passage may be understood otherwise as arguing only that man was created in the image, not that he is still in the image.
  • The OT does not seem to treat the image and likeness as two distinct things. The one may explain the other or the two may be used interchangeably.
  • The NT plays around with the image/likeness pairing saying that Christ is the image of God but at His incarnation became in the likeness of man. (I do not think, however, that we can read this distinction back into the OT passages.)
  • A number of NT verses speak of the image as something believers must be conformed to, not something they inherently possess.
  • An argument from absence: There is no indication from the NT that non-believers in any way possess or are in the image of God.
  • The NT verse which does most to support the idea that we still bear the image of God is I Cor. 11:7. This verse also causes problems, however, as it only says man and not woman is the image. Note that this verse occurs 4 chapters before I Corinthians 15 . . .
  • First Corinthians 15 presents the best NT argument that man, apart from the saving work of Christ, is in the image of Adam (the man of dust) but that, through Christ, he can also bear the divine image.

I am struck in all this by how the language used for the image of God in the Bible reflects the gospel message. We could get the whole gospel just from studying this phrase. Man was created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-2). Whatever happens, he still retains value because of this creation (Gen. 9:6). After the Fall, man bears the image of his earthly father (Gen. 5:3). In the course of time, Christ, God the Son, takes on the likeness of man (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7). He is not created, but was present at Creation. He is not made “in the image of God” but is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). To His divine nature He adds human likeness. He adds Adam’s fleshly image to His divine one so that believers may do the opposite — we  are born in the likeness of Adam (Gen. 5:3 again) but through Christ receive again the image of God which the original Adam lost. The one does not replace the other but both dwell in believers (1 Cor. 15:49) as Christ also maintains his human and divine natures. This is salvation. There is a sense, however, in which we must be conformed or transformed into Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10)  — as our salvation comes through Christ, we may now speak of the image of God and the image of Christ interchangeably. This is sanctification.

Nebby

 

 

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