THE IMAGO DEI By Jared C. Wellman
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Genesis 1:261
Arthur W. Pink once wrote, “The manner in which the Holy Scriptures open is worthy of their Divine Author.”2 Pink’s reference was to Genesis 1:1, which says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”3 This “Divine Author,” as Pink so elegantly states, is God.4 Genesis 1 portrays God as both creating and filling the earth. Creating the earth involved such formations as the stars, dry land, and the waters. God said on the third day of creation, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” (Genesis 1:9). Filling the earth, on the other hand, involved placing life among His creation. On the fifth day of creation God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens” (Genesis 1:20). Furthermore, on the sixth day of creation God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”
All Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted. Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 9. The NKJV will be used throughout this paper, unless otherwise noted.
This paper is written with the presupposition of a Christian worldview. God is understood to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. Scripture is understood under the Plenary-Verbal inspiration.
2 (Genesis 1:24). God concluded His creation with the inception of man. God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). There is no doubt that God’s creation of the earth is important, however, this discussion calls forth the importance of God filling the earth. Most scientists would agree that it is impossible to number the amount of species existing today. The World Resources Institute has noted, “Surprisingly, scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than how many species there are on Earth. Estimates of global species diversity have varied from 2 Million to 100 million, with a best estimate of somewhere near 10 million, and only 1.4 million have actually been named.”5 This is an interesting evaluation. Genesis 1 speaks specifically of God inhabiting the earth with life. However, of these estimated 10 million species, God placed a unique description on mankind only. Genesis speaks only of man being created in God’s image, with His likeness. Scripture portrays no other creature having this characterization. In Latin, this description is regarded as the Imago Dei. The Western hemisphere has since adopted the description. It is developed from Genesis 1:26, and heavily considers the words, “image” and “likeness.” In Hebrew, these words are tselem and demuth.6 “Both terms, obviously, refer to a relation between man and his Creator.”7 In the Hebrew Old Testament, tselem and demuth are a rare find. In fact, the notion that man is created in God’s image is rarely stated. G.C. Berkouwer has observed, “If we examine the Biblical witness regarding man, we soon discover that it never gives us any kind of systematic theory about man as the image of
http://www.wri.org/publication/content/8202 English transliteration. G.C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 69.
3 God. It is indeed rather striking that the term is not used often at all, and that it is far less ‘central’ in the Bible than it has been in the history of Christian thought.”8 Berkouwer was correct in his observation. The church is quick to note that man is created in the image of God, but rarely defines its meaning. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, has stated, “Human beings have a unique position in the order of creation. As males and females created in God’s image, we are given the capacity and freedom to know and respond to our Creator.”9 The Baptist Faith and Message reads, “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man.”10 While these are biblical statements, they do not define the Imago Dei. Berkouwer was right; the idea is far less “central”11 in the Bible than it is in Christian thought. This lack of centrality has led many scholars to investigate Scripture, hoping to find a specific meaning of the idea. In his work, In the Image of God, William Baker generalized the various conclusions of these scholars into five categories. He writes, “Christians have offered various suggestions as to precisely what the image consists of. [They] can be categorized as an inner quality, as a relationship between God and humanity, as dominion over nature, as a representation of God, or as sonship.”12 Each view falls under a more general category. Millard Erickson considers these generalizations the substantive,13 relational,14 and functional15 views of the Imago Dei.16
Ibid., 67. http://archive.elca.org/communication/brief.html Baptist Faith and Message, Article III, Man, 11 1998 Not that it fails in importance, only that it is rare in occurrence. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 36. The substantive view believes man to have a spiritual or physical commonality with God.
4 This paper will both define and examine each category as noted by Baker and place each category into one of Erickson’s generalizations. Furthermore, a critique will be offered for each category, stating the pros and cons as compared to Scripture. Upon conclusion, the Representation view will be argued as the best understanding of the Imago Dei.
The Image as Inner Quality “The Inner Quality view identifies the image as an internal quality, such as psychological make-up, reason, some spiritual quality, personality, or moral awareness.”17 Millard Erickson would consider the Inner Quality view a substantive understanding of the Imago Dei. The major proponents of this view are William Baker and Hubert Foston. Since the Inner Quality view of the Imago Dei is substantive, it suggests that we have either a physical or spiritual commonality with God. Its advocates would lean more to a spiritual commonality rather than physical. William Baker notes, “[The] thing that makes humanity truly unique and different from the animal realm – and Genesis 1 and 2 seem to be stressing this point – is its spiritual, rational, and moral capability.”18 For Baker, the “spiritual, rational, and moral capability” are all terms used to describe inner characteristics that only mankind has. God is a being that has the ability to rationalize, and this is the image that He has bestowed upon man. Baker sees the Imago Dei as man having the ability to choose, just as God has the ability to
The relational view argues that one must be in a relationship with God in order to possess the image of
God. The functional view denies the substantive and relational view, arguing that the image of God is imprinted on us in function rather than in form or relationship.
16 17 15
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 520-530. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 36. Ibid., 38-39.
5 choose. Likewise, man has a spirit just as God has a Spirit. This is man’s spiritual commonality with God. Hubert Foston advances the same idea in his work, Man and the Image of God. Foston emphasizes the “triune-ness” of God, stating that man is a tripartite being in the likeness of God. Foston says that man has a mind, a soul, and a spirit. Moreover, man’s build represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each part of the body relies on the other and thus cannot be separated, just as God cannot be separated. Foston writes, “To prove that any one of the three indefeasibly united living characters, abiding in and pervading one’s invisible life, could actually exist as we now know it if the other characters were not present with it, would be an impossible task.”19 For Foston, this represents God being one Person, not three separate Persons. One part of the Triune Godhead is not greater than the other. Additionally, Foston believes that each Person of the Godhead represents one characteristic of man. Foston defines his tripartite system as the intellect, the will, and the feel. Each represents a part of the Imago Dei. They can only be understood in relation to the Trinity. The intellect speaks of man’s ability to rationalize. It is a term used to define the mind and is representative of Christ. He writes, “Observation, together with reflection on what you observe – that is the sum of your intellectual business.”20 The will represents the body or the soul, and is representative of the Spirit. The soul is the “effort involved when we make up our minds to move some part of our bodies. That is one department of the analysis of willing or striving.”21 Foston lastly notes what he calls the feeling of man. This characteristic is representative of the Father. Foston
John Foston, Man and the Image of God (London: MacMillan, 1930), 22. Ibid., 27. Ibid., 38 .
6 writes, “There is a third phase which we naturally regard as the mind’s own inner secret. It has been called ‘subjectively subjective.’ This is the life of feeling.”22 Foston defines the Father’s representation in this characteristic as so, “[There is] One whose being remains the hidden secret of the life of Deity. The attitude of the Father to the world constantly appears to be finding expression through the other beings of the triune Godhead.”23 These are all understood as inner qualities, and thus Foston holds a substantive Inner Quality understanding of the Imago Dei. Baker notes that the Inner Quality view has been “held by most orthodox theologians since Augustine,24 [and] has prevailed for most of Christian history.”25 It is true that for many years the overall understanding of the Imago Dei has been a tripartite understanding of the human person. However, this is not grounds enough to believe the Inner Quality view. Biblically, the man is said to have a body, soul, and spirit. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Scripture also portrays God as triune. 1 John 5:7 says, “There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.” It seems plausible to suggest that since God is triune in nature, and that since man is a tripartite being, that this is the interpretation of the Genesis 1:26 Imago Dei. However, this view fails to account for the Fall and its possible implication on God’s declaration. As Berkouwer noted, the Imago Dei is sparse in Scripture, and perhaps it could be that the declaration was more functional or relational, than substantive. The Inner Quality view fails to make answer for this possibility, and thus is an inadequate understanding of the Imago Dei.
Ibid., 53. Ibid., 53. Although Augustine did not hold this view himself. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 36.
The Image as a Relationship Between God and Humanity The second view, as noted by Baker, is the God-Human Relationship view. “The [GodHuman] Relationship view identifies the image as humanity’s relation to God at its strongest when faith is present.”26 This view would be generalized into Erickson’s relational category. Notable proponents of this view are John Calvin, Emil Brunner and Karl Barth. This view sees the Imago Dei as being fulfilled when man has a correct relationship with God. The relationship was corrupted by original sin. Baker gives the analogy, “An analogy of this can be seen as someone stands before a mirror and perceives both an intangible personality as well as a physical being. This view includes both the immaterial and material being of humanity, but it does not imply that God Himself has a material part. The point of the analogy is not in the similarity between the subject (God) and His reflection, but in what the subject wants the mirror to reflect. For example, if a flashlight is reflected in the mirror, the reflection is what is intended, but if the mirror is turned around so that it no longer reflects the light, the reflection is hampered even though the light is still there. In the same way, sin hampers our relationship to God.”27 This illustration befits John Calvin’s perspective of the Imago Dei. He wrote, “There is no doubt that Adam, when he fell from his dignity, was by this defection alienated from God. Wherefore, although we allow that the Divine image was not utterly annihilated and effaced in him, yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is but horrible deformity.”28 Calvin was staunch in his understanding of the Imago Dei. He believed man to have corrupted the image
Ibid., 37. Ibid. Ellis Tiffany, The Image of God in Creation (California: Interface, 1997), 112.
8 nearly beyond repair. Karl Barth and Emil Brunner advanced this thought. Ellis Tiffany says of the men, “These churchmen vied as verbal gladiators in a world arena before cheering partisans.”29 The proponents had essentially issued in a new era on the Imago Dei. This view rightly takes into account sin’s influence upon the Imago Dei; a tenet the Inner Quality view failed to account for. Critically, this view does experience some faults. Very little is said as to how the Imago Dei is restored. Calvin, Barth, and Brunner note that a righteous relationship with God helps to restore the image, but a conclusive end to that relationship is not mentioned. Can man continually restore the Imago Dei only to corrupt it again the next day? Baker’s illustration seems to say so. Emil Brunner, however, benefits the view, “We have to consider the image of God in man in two ways: one formal and one material. The formal sense of the concept is the human, i.e., that which distinguishes man from all the rest of creation, whether he be a sinner or not. Even the Old Testament speaks of man’s likeness to God in this sense. It signifies above all the superiority of man within creation. This function or calling as a bearer of the image is not abolished by sin; rather is it the presupposition of the ability to sin and continues within the state of sin. We can define this by two concepts: the fact that man is a subject and his responsibility.”30 Tiffany has noted that of Barth and Brunner, “Brunner adhered more closely to Calvin’s psychology [regarding the Imago Dei],”31 however, it seems that both men advanced their understanding of the Imago Dei beyond that of Calvin. “Karl Barth extended the idea of the relational image to relationships between humans, a kind of ‘partnership’ or ability to relate. In fact, the image is centered in the fact that humanity was
Ibid. Ibid., 113. Ibid.
9 created both male and female, two people who were related to each other.”32 The God-Human Relationship view argues well on sin’s impact to the Imago Dei, however, a definition of the relationship (that fulfills the image) is unclear. Moreover, any substantive quality displayed in the man is ignored. Scripture is clear on man’s substantive likeness of God, at least spiritually.
The Image as Dominion Over Nature The third view of the Imago Dei is the Dominion view. This view sees the image of God as “something a person does.”33 Erickson generalizes this view as functional. According to Baker, the Dominion view has experienced a recent spurt of popularity by young theologians. Leonard Verduin and Harry Boer are both notable advocates of this view. The Dominion view interprets Genesis 1:27-28 as influencing verse 26. Genesis 1:27-28 says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Baker explains, “Adam, who has just been described as having been created in God’s image, is commanded to exercise dominion over the earth. This phrase is taken, therefore, to be the definition of the image. Humanity is different from the animal and plant realms in its lordship over all creation.”34 Harry Boer agrees. He states that dominion was God’s way of placing His image upon man. Boer cannot see the image any other way. It is the unique rank of the man that portrays God’s image. Boer writes,
William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 37. Ibid. Ibid., 38.
10 “[Christ] is the light that distinguishes a human being as Imago Dei from the highest animal as Vestigium Dei. This light illuminated the whole man.”35 The Dominion view hinges on a proper exegesis of Genesis 1:26-28. Baker has interpreted, “[the] biblical reference to humanity’s dominion is probably less of a definition and more a statement of what results from humanity’s having a spiritual, rational, and moral capacity. In other words, it is the presence of the image of God in people that make them able to exercise dominion over the earth. Dominion itself is not what constitutes the image.”36 Baker has correctly interpreted the verse. The Dominion view states that the Genesis context of image and dominion result in the definition of the Imago Dei. This simply is not the case. Millard Erickson writes, “There certainly is, at the very least, a very close connection between the image and the exercise and dominion. There is also, to be sure, a parallel between Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 (i.e., in the description of the domain over which humans are to have dominion). One difficulty concerns the connection between Psalm 8 and Genesis 1. The terms image and likeness do not appear in Psalm 8.”37 For Erickson, the Dominion view is weak due to a simple analysis of Psalm 8. Psalm 8:6-8 says, “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen – even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.” Interestingly, the terms image and likeness are not present in this Psalm. “If the psalm is indeed dependent upon Genesis 1, where we do find specific reference to the image, and if exercising dominion over the creatures mentioned in verses 7-8 of the psalm does indeed constitute the
Harry Boer, An Ember Still Glowing (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 86. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 39. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 531.
11 image of God, then one would expect in this passage as well some specific reference to the image.”38 The Dominion view fails to agree with the totality of Scripture.
The Image as a Representation of God The Representation view sees humanity as “intending in its whole being to represent God primarily as a holy being.”39 This view is similar to the Inner Quality view, in that it speaks of man currently bearing an image of God, but it also resembles the God-Human Relationship view in that it calls the man to be conformed to God’s likeness. This view can be generalized into Erickson’s substantive and relationship categories. Major proponents of this view include Anthony Hoekema, James Orr, G.C. Berkouwer, and Augustine. James Orr wrote, “A kindred question is – how far does man as fallen possess the divine image?”40 For advocates of this view, this is the overarching question. The answer is that the image has been damaged. Man is working his way back to the Imago Dei. “The Old Testament commands people to ‘be holy’ (Lev 11:45-46), and Jesus said, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48). Furthermore, the apostle Paul taught that the regenerated ‘new self’ – the believer – is being ‘renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’ (Col 3:10). This line of teaching looks to Jesus Christ for its best definition of that image, since He is the very image of God (Col 1:15).”41 Augustine is defends the Representation view. For Augustine, the creation of the world was uniquely intertwined with the creation of man. The regeneration of man is an important part
Ibid. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 38. James Orr, God’s Image in Man (London: HOdder and Stoughton, 1906), 58. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 38.
12 of the creation story. John Sullivan explains, “The principal role in creation and in re-creation is assigned to the Word by Augustine, but he also sees the Spirit playing some part in these processes. The Spirit is understood by Augustine in the words of Genesis which speak of the ‘Spirit moving over the waters,’ which is the yet formless creation. To the Word is attributed formation by illumination, and to the Spirit is attributed movement and order. The activity of the Spirit is performed concomitantly with the formation in which it is somehow included. In the historical conversion of the rational creature to God the Spirit will have a prominent role to play, as He had a role of significance in the original creation of God.”42 Augustine seems to believe that just as God took a “formless and void” earth, then created and filled it with wonderful things, that He too will regenerate and illuminate the human person back to the perfect Imago Dei. Man is unique in the world, having dominion over the rest of life. However, he must conform to the image of Christ. Sullivan noted, “The inner quality must correspond, of course to something about God Himself that is not found in animals and that makes human beings distinctive. In fact, it is such an image that makes the incarnation of Christ possible and makes Christ in His humanity the perfect example of what the image is.”43 The Representation view attempts to take into consideration the totality of Scripture. Supporters see a thread of thought throughout the Holy Writ. This thread speaks of man’s need to be conformed to the image of God. This is not to say that the Representation view believes that man is currently without the image of God. Hoekema writes, “Some believe that at the time of man’s fall into sin that he lost the image of God, and can therefore no longer be called God’s
John Sullivan, The Image of God (Dubuque: Priory Press, 1963), 40. Ibid.
13 image-bearer. [There] is no hint of this in Genesis.”44 It is to say that man was created perfect, and sin corrupted the image. Man is now seeking conformity back to that image. This can only be done through Christ. Berkouwer writes, “The whole Scriptural witness makes clear that our understanding of the image of God can be sound only when [understood] in unbreakable relation to the witness regarding Jesus Christ, who is called the image of God.”45 The Representation view blends the Inner Quality and God-Human Relationship view to form a biblically sound understanding on the Imago Dei. The weaknesses found within the aforementioned views disintegrate and a healthy balance is produces. Baker critiques, however, that “the same weaknesses are true [of the] Relationship view. God desires that a person be a representation of Himself, but to do that He must create a kind of being with the capacity to do so, and that brings us back to the idea of a quality within humanity that constitutes the image, the Inner Quality view.”46 This simply is not the case. The Inner Quality view fails to account for original sin and its effects upon the Imago Dei. The God-Human Relationship fails to produce a consistent idea of the same.47 The Representation view solves both weaknesses, and thus provides a biblically sound picture of what it means to be created in the image of God.
The Image as Sonship The final view, according to Baker, is the Sonship view. This view seeks to combine all the previous views into one. A major proponent of this view is H.D. McDonald. “McDonald
Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 15. G.C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 107. William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 39.
That is, an explanation regarding the consistency of man’s image of God. The reader is left to assume that man can fulfill the Imago Dei when he lives righteously, yet lose it when he sins. This is inconsistent and does not portray Scripture well.
14 believes that all the ideas included in the views just described could be combined into the idea that sonship was the purpose for which God created humanity and that this constitutes the image.”48 The Sonship view is considered purely relational. McDonald places his evidence in Scripture. He lists the following kinds of evidence: “Luke 3:38 calls Adam the ‘son of God’; Jesus Christ is the image of God because He is uniquely the Son of God; and believers are the image of God by the way ‘image,’ ‘glory,’ and ‘sonship’ are used. Thus, believers are carrying out the mandate to express in themselves the image of God.”49 Baker notes of the Sonship view, “[This view] seems similar to both the relational and representational views. Sonship is a rich and complex relationship with God, and when it is functioning as it should it is a representational thing as well.”50 The Sonship view is weak for many reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to combine every Imago Dei view while maintaining a proper understanding of each. Many of the views lose value and their basic characteristics are compromised. Secondly, when combining the views, the weaknesses carry over. For example, the Dominion view sees the Imago Dei as man’s functional rank over animals. When combined with the Sonship view, the weakness of Scriptural compromise is absorbed.51 Thirdly, the Sonship view misinterprets its own use of Scripture. The verses stated by H.D. McDonald are simply miscontextualized. McDonald haphazardly transposes the word “image” with various other words and ideas found in Scripture. This exegesis results in a blunder of the Sonship view.
William Baker, In the Image of God (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 38. Ibid. Ibid., 39-40.
The Dominion view is not consistent throughout Scripture and this weakness is carried over into the Sonship view.
Having noted difficulties with many of the leading views, an attempt at advocacy must be made. Millard Erickson has discerned, “The existence of a wide diversity of interpretations is an indication that there are no direct statements in Scripture to resolve the [Imago Dei] issue.”52 Of the diversity, the Representation view best represents the biblical understanding of man’s Imago Dei. This view best defends sin’s impact and Scripture’s total representation of the image. Of its many tenets, the Representation view sees Christ as the perfect image of God. G.C. Berkouwer wrote, “The whole Scriptural witness makes clear that our understanding of the image of God can be sound only when in unbreakable relation to the witness regarding Jesus Christ, who is called the image of God.”53 In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul wrote concerning Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15a). Verse 15 parallels54 verse 19 which says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.” The “invisible God” that Christ bears image of is none other than the “Father” of verse 19. Essentially, Christ is looking to the Father, imitating Him. The Father is looking back to Christ declaring, “I am pleased that in You all fullness dwells.” To conclude, man is substantively like God,55 but the complete56 Imago Dei can only be restored when the man imitates Jesus Christ. This requires an incorruptible and undefiled relationship that can only be revealed by His saving grace. The perfect57 Imago Dei, however, can only be restored upon entering His kingdom.
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 531-532. G.C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 107. In its Greek chiastic structure. The tripartite make-up. Meaning, as close as possible in a fallen world. Meaning, a restored image that is not corrupted by sin. This can only be fulfilled in heaven.