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Its usage falls under 3 main heads.

(1) "Image" as object of idolatrous worship (translations about a dozen words, including maccekhah, "molten image" (De 9:12, etc.); matstsebhah, in the King James Version translated "image" or "pillar," in the Revised Version (British and American) always "pillar" (Ex 23:24, etc.); pecel, "graven image" (Ex 20:4, etc.); tselem, "image" (2Ki 11:18, etc.); eikon, "image" (e.g. Re 14:9));

(2) of man as made in the image of God; (3) of Christ as the image of God. Here we are concerned with the last two usages. For "image" in connection with idolatrous practices, see Idolatry; Images; PILLAR; TERAPHIM, etc.

I. Man as Made in the Divine Image.

1. In the Old Testament:

To define man’s fundamental relation to God, the priestly writer in Ge uses two words: "image" (tselem) and "likeness" (demuth); once employing both together (Ge 1:26; compare Ge 5:3), but elsewhere one without the other, "image" only in Ge 1:27; 9:6, and "likeness" only in 5:1. The priestly writer alone in the Old Testament uses this expression to describe the nature of man, though the general meaning of the passage Ge 1:26 f is echoed in Ps 8:5-8, and the term itself reappears in Apocrypha (Sirach 17:3; The Wisdom of Solomon 2:23) and in the New Testament (see below).

The idea is important in relation to the Biblical doctrine of man, and has figured prominently in theological discussion. The following are some of the questions that arise:

(1) Is there any distinction to be understood between "image" and "likeness"? Most of the Fathers, and some later theologians, attempt to distinguish between them.

(a) Some have referred "image" to man’s bodily form, and "likeness" to his spiritual nature (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus).

(b) Others, especially the Alexandrian Fathers, understood by the "image" the mental and moral endowments native to man, and by the "likeness" the Divine perfections which man can only gradually acquire by free development and moral conflict (Clement of Alexandria and Origen), or which is conferred on man as a gift of grace.

(c) This became the basis of the later Roman Catholic distinction between the natural gifts of rationality and freedom (= the image), and the supernatural endowments of grace which God bestowed on man after He had created him (the likeness = donum superadditum). The former remained after the Fall, though in an enfeebled state; the latter was lost through sin, but restored by Christ. The early Protestants rejected this distinction, maintaining that supernatural righteousness was part of the true nature and idea of man, i.e. was included in the "image," and not merely externally superadded. Whatever truth these distinctions may or may not contain theologically, they cannot be exegetically inferred from Ge 1:26, where (as is now generally admitted) no real difference is intended.

We have here simply a "duplication of synonyms" (Driver) for the sake of emphasis. The two terms are elsewhere used interchangeably.

(2) What, then, is to be understood by the Divine image? Various answers have been given.

(a) Some of the Fathers (influenced by Philo) supposed that the "image" here = the Logos (called "the image of the invisible God" in Col 1:15), on the pattern of whom man was created. But to read the Logos doctrine into the creation narrative is to ignore the historic order of doctrinal development. (b) That it connotes physical resemblance to God (see (1), (a) above; so in the main Skinner, ICC, in the place cited.). It may be admitted that there is a secondary reference to the Divine dignity of the human body; but this does not touch the essence of the matter, inasmuch as God is not represented as having physical form.

(c) That it consists of dominion over the creatures (Socinian view; so also Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, etc.). This would involve an unwarranted narrowing of the idea. It is true that such "dominion" is closely associated with the image in Ge 1:26 (compare Ps 8:6-8). But the "image of God" must denote primarily man’s relation to his Creator, rather than his relation to the creation. Man’s lordship over Nature is not identical with the image, but is an effect of it.

(d) It is best to take the term as referring to the whole dignity of man, in virtue of his fundamental affinity to God. It implies the possession by man of a free, self-conscious, rational and moral personality, like unto that of God--a nature capable of distinguishing right and wrong, of choosing the right and rejecting the wrong, and of ascending to the heights of spiritual attainment and communion with God. This involves a separation of man from the beast, and his supremacy as the culmination of the creative process.

(3) Does the term imply man’s original perfection, lost through sin? The old Protestant divines maintained that the first man, before the Fall, possessed original righteousness, not only in germ but in developed form, and that this Divine image was destroyed by the Fall. Exegetically considered, this is certainly not taught by the priestly writer, who makes no mention of the Fall, assumes that the image was transmitted from father to son (compare Ge 5:1 with 5:3), and naively speaks of post-diluvian men as created in the image of God (Ge 9:6; compare 1Co 11:7; Jas 3:9). Theologically considered, the idea of the perfect holiness of primitive man is based on an abstract conception of God’s work in creation, which precludes the idea of development, ignores the progressive method of the Divine government and the essential place of effort and growth in human character. It is more in harmony with modern conceptions

(a) to regard man as originally endowed with the power of right choice, rather than with a complete character given from the first; and

(b) to think of the Divine image (though seriously defaced) as continuing even in the sinful state, as man’s inalienable capacity for goodness and his true destination. If the Divine image in man is a self-conscious, rational and ethical personality, it cannot be a merely accidental or transitory attribute, but is an essential constituent of his being.

2. In the New Testament:

Two features may be distinguished in the New Testament doctrine of the Divine image in man:

(1) man’s first creation in Adam,

(2) his second or new creation in Christ.

As to (1), the doctrine of the Old Testament is assumed in the New Testament. Paul makes a special application of it to the question of the relation of husband and wife, which is a relation of subordination on the part of the wife, based on the fact that man alone was created immediately after the Divine image (1Co 11:7). Thus Paul, for the special purpose of his argument, confines the meaning of the image to man’s lordly authority, though to infer that he regards this as exhausting its significance would be quite unwarranted. Man’s affinity to God is implied, though the term "image" is not used, in Paul’s sermon to the Athenians (Ac 17:28 f, man the "offspring" of God). See also Jas 3:9 (it is wrong to curse men, for they are "made after the likeness of God").

(2) More characteristic of the New Testament is the doctrine of the new creation.

(a) The redeemed man is said to be in the image of God (the Father). He is "renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Col 3:10), i.e. of God the Creator, not here of Christ or the Logos (as some) (compare Eph 4:24, "after God"). Though there is here an evident reference to Ge 1:26 f, this does not imply that the new creation in Christ is identical with the original creation, but only that the two are analogous. To Paul, the spiritual man in Christ is on a higher level than the natural ("psychical") man as found in Adam (compare especially 1Co 15:44-49), in whom the Divine image consisted (as we have seen) in potential goodness, rather than in full perfection. Redemption is infinitely more than the restoration of man’s primitive state.

(b) The Christian is further said to be gradually transformed into the image of the Son of God. This progressive metamorphosis involves not only moral and spiritual likeness to Christ, but also ultimately the Christian’s future glory, including the glorified body, the "passing through a gradual assimilation of mind and character to an ultimate assimilation of His doxa, the absorption of the splendor of His presence" (Sanday and Headlam, Romans, 218; see Ro 8:29; 1Co 15:49; 2Co 3:18; and compare Php 3:21; 1; Joh 3:2).

II. Christ the Image of God.

In 3 important passages in English Versions of the Bible, the term "image" defines the relation of Christ to God the Father; twice in Paul: "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2Co 4:4); "who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15); and once in He: "who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance" (Col 1:3). These statements, taken in their contexts, register the highest reach of the Christology of the Epistles.

1. The Terms:

In the two Pauline passages, the word used is eikon, which was generally the Septuagint rendering of tselem (Vulgate: imago); it is derived from eiko, eoika, "to be like," "resemble," and means that which resembles an object and represents it, as a copy represents the original. In Heb 1:3 the word used is charakter, which is found here only in the New Testament, and is translated in Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) figura, the King James Version "express image," the Revised Version (British and American) "very image," the Revised Version, margin "impress." It is derived from charasso, "to engrave," and has passed through the following meanings:

(1) an engraving instrument (active sense);

(2) the engraved stamp or mark on the instrument (passive sense);

(3) the impress made by the instrument on wax or other object;

(4) hence, generally, the exact image or expression of any person or thing as corresponding to the original, the distinguishing feature, or traits by which a person or thing is known (hence, English words "character," "characteristic"). The word conveys practically the same meaning as eikon; but Westcott distinguishes them by saying that the latter "gives a complete representation, under conditions of earth, of that which it figures," while charakter "conveys representative traits only" (Westcott on Heb 1:3).

2. Meaning as Applied to Christ:

The idea here expressed is closely akin to that of the Logos doctrine in Joh (1:1-18). Like the Logos, the Image in Paul and in He is the Son of God, and is the agent of creation as well as the medium of revelation. "What a word (logos) is to the ear, namely a revelation of what is within, an image is to the eye; and thus in the expression there is only a translation, as it were, of the same fact from one sense to another" (Dorner, System of Ch. D., English translation, III, 178). As Image, Christ is the visible representation and manifestation of the invisible God, the objective expression of the Divine nature, the face of God turned as it were toward the world, the exact likeness of the Father in all things except being the Father. Thus we receive "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Co 4:6). He is the facsimile of God.

3. To What State Does It Refer?:

Is Christ described as the Image of God in His preincarnate, His incarnate, or else His exalted state? It is best to say that different passages refer to different states, but that if we take the whole trend of New Testament teaching, Christ is seen to be essentially, and in every state, the Image of God.

(a) In Heb 1:3 the reference seems to be to the eternal, preincarnate Son, who is inherently and essentially the expression of the Divine substance. So Paul declares that He subsisted originally in the form of God (en morphe theou huparchon, Php 2:6).

(b) In Joh 1:18; 12:45; 14:9, though the term image is not used, we have the idea of the historical Jesus as a perfect revelation of the character and glory of God.

(c) In the two Pauline passages (2Co 4:4; Col 1:15), the reference is probably to the glorified, exalted Christ; not to His pre-existent Divine nature, nor to His temporal manifestation, but to His "whole Person, in the divine-human state of His present heavenly existence" (Meyer). These passages in their cumulative impressions convey the idea that the Image is an inalienable property of His personality, not to be limited to any stage of His existence.

4. Theological Implications:

Does this involve identity of essence of Father and Son, as in the Homoousion formula of the Nicene Creed? Not necessarily, for man also bears the image of God, even in his sinful state (see I above), a fact which the Arians sought to turn to their advantage. Yet in the light of the context, we must affirm of Christ an absolutely unique kinship with God. In the Col passage, not only are vast cosmic and redemptive functions assigned to Him, but there is said to dwell in Him "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (1:19; 2:9). In He not only is the Son the final revelation of God to men, the upholder of the universe, and the very image of the Divine nature, but also the effulgence (apaugasma) of God’s glory, and therefore of one nature with Him as the ray is of one essence with the sun (1:1-3). The superiority of the Son is thus not merely one of function but of nature. On the other hand, the figure of the "image" certainly guards against any Sabellian identification of Father and Son, as if they were but modes of the one Person; for we cannot identify the pattern with its copy, nor speak of anyone as an image of himself. And, finally, we must not overlook the affinity of the Logos with man; both are the image of God, though the former in a unique sense. The Logos is at once the prototype of humanity within the Godhead, and the immanent Divine principle within humanity.

5. Relation to Pre-Christian Thought:

Both in Paul and in He we have an echo of the Jewish doctrine of Wisdom, and of Philo’s doctrine of the Logos. In the Alexandrine Book of Wisdom, written probably under Stoic influence, Divine Wisdom is pictorially represented as "an effulgence (apaugasma) from everlasting light, and an unspotted mirror of the working of God, and an image (eikon) of His goodness" (7 26). Philo repeatedly calls the Logos or Divine world-principle the image (eikon, charakter) of God, and also describes it as an effulgence of God. But this use of current Alexandrian terminology and the superficial resemblance of ideas are no proof of conscious borrowing on the part of the apostles. There is this fundamental distinction, that Philo’s Logos is not a self-conscious personality, still less a historical individual, but an allegorical hypostatizing of an abstract idea; whereas in Paul and He, as in John, the Divine archetype is actually realized in a historical person, Jesus Christ, the Son and Revealer of God.

D. Miall Edwards