Image of God
Throughout the Bible the Lord manifests himself in human form—so much so that he is often at first simply described as “a man” (e.g.,
As we proceed through the opening chapters of Genesis, we see that there are other human distinctives that are specially mentioned. The union of the man and the woman in marriage (
IMAGE OF GOD. The meaning of the “image of God” is basic to any Christian understanding of the doctrine of man.
The second term, the word tr. “likeness,” דְּמוּת, H1952, appears to call for a more abstract notion of “image.” The author seems to be attempting to express a very difficult idea in which he wants to make clear that man is in some way the concrete reflection of God, but at the same time he wants to spiritualize this toward abstraction.
It must be borne in mind that the OT writers, being Semitic, leaned heavily on concrete terms and spoke about God in an anthropomorphic way to make themselves clear at all to a people untrained in philosophic abstractions. The use of “likeness” in addition to “image” is a Heb. solution insofar as a Hebrew may deal in abstractions at all. It must be pointed out also that in Heb. thought, the total personality is not treated as a body over against a spirit, but as an “inspirited” “inbreathed-by-the-breath-of-God” kind of a body. It is not a dichotomy of flesh and spirit, but the total personality, which is treated in modern times as a gestalt. The representation that man was made “in the image of God” might mean superficially to the simple-minded that man looks like God, but to the writer it meant much more. It meant likeness in the inner man as it is embodied in a physical manifestation—powers of thought, of communication, of transcendence, creativity, a sense of humor (which is a kind of transcendence), powers of abstraction, and what are generally put together in personality, i.e., self-consciousness and self-determination. Just as art, architecture, poetry, and music may set forth the person of the artist, so man’s physical body may set forth to some extent the nature of the Creator.
Interpretations of the image of God, therefore, may swing between two extremes: the absolute, literal, physical resemblance, which seems to be supported in
The NT approach.
Continued study on the image of God keeps raising the same questions, which to date at least have no final answers. The first question is the nature of the image itself; the second question is some understanding of what was lost of the image of God in the Fall; and the third question has to do with what is restored or re-created when a man is saved.
Both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies, with some few exceptions, hold that the idea of image in the first Adam has to do with spiritual qualities and powers. Roman Catholics hold that man had a similtudo Dei, which was destroyed by original sin and which can be restored only by baptism. Other qualities in man were obscured but not lost in the Fall.
Protestants are in virtual agreement with this with some changes in vocabulary. Adam was by nature endowed with original righteousness. He had a moral likeness to God; he possessed holiness, although he was in no sense equal to God, nor need one argue that he had attained to the fullness of his own potential. At least the slant and direction of his life were toward God. What he lost in the Fall was original righteousness, and thenceforth the slant of his life was affected by sin, i.e., sin at the origin of every act. But there are elements in man that he did not lose—elements having to do with his image of God as a person or a personality—traits such as self-consciousness, self-determination, superiority over nature, creativity, and the like. It must be pointed out, however, that after the Fall these powers were impaired and could not be used together harmoniously. The restoration (a process) of these human powers plus original righteousness awaits the new creation, the new birth, the indwelling of Christ, so that a Christian may say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (
In Protestant theology, primarily in the Barthian tradition, the image of God has been a live issue. There is a clear recognition throughout of the terrible and radically disintegrating effect of the Fall. Brunner argues somewhat after the manner of Roman Catholic doctrine that there was a “formal” image, that which constituted man as man, which could not be destroyed without destroying mankind. The remains of this “formal” image are necessary for any point of contact for the grace of God. Only what Brunner calls the “material” image has been lost.
Barth rejected the “formal” image, held that man was utterly corrupted by sin—that man was quite incapable of discovering any kind of truth about God or his own condition—and Barth constantly demanded the “break in” of God Himself in a new creative way. Both Barth and Brunner engaged in a running fight for many years over the possibilities of natural theology, natural revelation, and the salvability of man. In general, however, Protestants still hold to Calvin’s view that there is a natural revelation, or natural theology, but also that apart from the effectual work of thethrough the special revelation of Scripture, man cannot see and grasp this knowledge in any saving way.
Another turn in the modern discussion on the image of God is generally related to the writings of Emil Brunner. In brief, it is a shift of emphasis in the use of the term by which one is not to think of the term “image of God” as a noun. It is not that a man has the “image” of God, but that a man “images” God.
This particular approach is characteristically Christian although it has no basis in the straightforward use of the nouns in the OT. It is more helpful as an interpretation or as an illustration than as an exegesis. Emphasis is laid at the outset on Jesus’ perfect obedience. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (
F. Turretin, Opera: de Hominus Creatione (1847); A. M. Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion (1902); A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the(1904); Strong, (1907), 514-532; H. Wheeler Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man (1911), 4-150; W. P. Paterson, The Rule of Faith (1913); E. Brunner, Der Mittler, (1927); The Mediator (1934); Natur and Gnade (1934); K. Barth, Nein! (1934); L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1941), 202-208; “The Biblical Doctrine of the ,” INT, IV (1950), no. 3, 259-270;
See also: Hodge, Systematic Theology, II, 42-116; Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, II, 4-114; IB, vol. I, 482-485; IDB, vol. II, 682-685.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)