Imago Dei: Still The Image

I have been mulling over the Image of God, what theologians call Imago Dei – Latin for Image of God. I brought it up in my blog on Christian Ethics, as biblically, ethical treatment of others is based on their being in the Image of God. I hope to have a couple of more articles in this series. Notably absent from my thoughts right now is a solid definition of what The Image is. Like many other thoughts, it is more defined by what it isn’t.

This article will look at the claim that having been created in the Image of God, The Fall into sin ruined that Image. One example of this teaching is from The Rev, Dr. George Carey. Adam and Eve … chose sin. The Image of God in humanity has, by that choice, been spoiled and distorted. (Robin Keeley, ed, Eerdman’s Handbook to Christian Belief, Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982, p222) This teaching, I believe, is not found biblically, but has been read into the text by conflating the person with the Image.

The first mention of the Image of God is found, of course, in the beginning. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image … So God created mankind in his own image; in his own image God created them; he created them male and female. (Genesis 1:26-27)

One of the first questions which naturally comes up is, “How and in what ways is humanity in the Image?” which then, I think, immediately gets thrown into a left turn by asking, “How are we like God?” Besides the fact that the Bible does not ever define The Image in terms of any like characteristic or capability, there is a significant observation that the temptation Satan uses on mankind is to be dissatisfied with being only the Image because you can be like God (Genesis 3:5). If we naturally (but, I think, unbiblically) assume Image means there are likenesses between us and God then certainly it follows that The Fall changes all that. The introduction of sin as a pervasive characteristic of our lives; God’s response to sin of subjecting not only us but all creation to futility cannot be considered business as usual for the Image. If the Image meant sinlessness or innocence or creativity or any of our other human characteristic or capability, how could it still be there? All our character has been distorted by The Fall and so if any part of that were to be the Image that must be distorted as well.

I think that this teaching conflating Image with the (now fallen) characteristics of humans is shown to be wrong by the post-Fall biblical evoking of the unspoiled Image. More than some argument from silence that the Bible never says that the Image is spoiled, it positively calls on the unspoiled Image. Rather than any charcteristic, The Image appears in the Scriptures to be a matter of status which has not been diminished. People have been damaged by The Fall but not The Image.

The first to consider is 6 chapters after the fall, after God had judged the world by flood because The LORD saw that human evil was growing more and more throughout the earth, with every inclination of people’s thoughts becoming only evil on a continuous basis. (Genesis 6:5) God gave what is considered the establishment of Government. “Whoever sheds human blood, by a human his own blood is to be shed; because God made human beings in his own image. (Genesis 9:6) While most comments here focus on capital punishment, a key thought is that Government was ordained to protect the Image of God, which, from what we can read, stands unspoiled and undistorted. It can be argued (and is) that the Image here refers to the created Image and not to any continuing post-fall Image. This seems stretched, as the reason given for capital punishment is the nature of the crime: the murder was against The Image.

In the New Testament, there is a verse making an ethical point by evoking the Image and there is no ambiguity concerning the time frame. With it [The Tongue. A metaphor for our speech] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in God’s likeness. (James 3:9) The ethical reasoning here I mentioned in my blog on Christian Ethics. For now, the key point is that The Image brought up by James is present tense reality for mankind. All mankind is in view. You cannot even go the route proposed by some that Christians have the spoiled Image restored.

All people have the uncompromised status of being “in The Image of God”. Yet, the almost universal teaching has been that The Image is damaged. Those people may, similar to what I have done, say “Well, the Bible never says the Image is uncompromised” and aren’t we then in competing arguments from silence? I think the Bible’s ethical commands based on The Image are the key. The foundation of the illustration in James 3:9 (Also 1 Corinthians 11:7) would not hold if, in fact, there is a damaged Image. Rather, the Bible claims murder is wrong and should be punished because Man is in The Image. James, influenced no doubt by Matthew 5:21,22 says that verbal abuse is an assault on the Image of the one you claim to worship. The teaching that the foundations of these commands is damaged, damages their strength.

Another place where I think this has application involves an old liberal/conservative divide. It was popular in theologically liberal circles to speak of “the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man”. Conservatives have rejected such terminology as God is nowhere spoken of as the Father of the unbeliever. This has resulted in a dividing of the world into “unworthys” to whom I hold no obligation as they are not my brother. The biblical teaching that mankind has the unspoiled Image of God and it is incongruous to treat the Image in a way different than you treat the Reality calls us back to obligation and to view those to whom we perhaps bear no family resemblance in their status as the Image of God.

This article owes a lot to Dr John Kilner, Humanity in God’s Image: Is it Really Damaged? in the September 2010 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (vol 53 no 3 pp 601-618)

This entry was posted in Culture/Society, Ethics, The Image of God, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Imago Dei: Still The Image

  1. mem says:

    This is an interesting read, X. I’m not sure that I followed all of it, since I haven’t spent much time on the imago dei at all.

    I’ve thought of a few metaphors for the image of God in man that suggest doctrinal differences (a stamp vs. a mirror for example: the stamp is an impression that is fixed to the object, while the mirror reflects; the stamp, even if marred, contains the imprint, but the mirror does not)—but I’m not sure how accurate and/or informed they are.

    I’m curious how you treat the image of God in Christ, and how that informed the post. Is it conflation to look at Hebrews 1 and say, “This is how the image of God is defined”? I don’t think the NT writers explicitly link the two images (e.g., the image of Heb 1 and the image of Gen 1), but it would be an interesting theme to pursue.

  2. xulonjam says:

    Thanks Mem. This article was quite narrowly focused on the Image of God in man not being damaged or spoiled in The Fall. The Image of God in Christ (Hebrews 1) was not really part of that issue. One thing I hinted at here was that some say that the spoiled Image is restored by the Image of God in Christ when we turn to Christ, which I don’t accept since The Image is not damaged or spoiled, but may be a future article.

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