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Thursday, March 30, 2006

What is the "image of God?"

I wish to muse about the question of what being in the image of God means.

This post is in response to a comment to a previous post, wherein I indicated that I thought some animals might possess, in some measure, part of the image of God. I thank Jeremy Pierce, also known as Parableman, for the comment. He said (I edited a bit, without changing his meaning):

I've come to the conclusion that the image of God is not some aspect of us but something God declared true of us and then made us to fit it. What he declared true of humanity is that humans will be his representatives in the created world. It's our responsibility to make sure it's taken care of. It's our responsibility to act in a godly way in caring for what is ultimately God's. This is why Adam was given the responsibility and privilege of the authoritative task of naming the animals.
Ultimately the image of God, then, is God's declaration of who would do this, of who would image and represent him to all creation. He made us in a way fitting to such a responsibility, though that's partially corrupted due to the fall, but the primary thing is something God simply declared of us. If I'm right, then I don't think it's right to say that animals have part of the image of God.

Genesis 1:26 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.”

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

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV)

Genesis 9:5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

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

1 Corinthians 11:7 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. (ESV)

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

I did a word search of the ESV Bible, on the two words, image God, and the four passages above were the only relevant ones returned. (There are a number of passages about the idea of worshiping an image as a god. They're against it.)

Is Parableman correct? Do any animals have any part of God's image? Do angels? What does being in the image of God mean?

Let me begin to answer by setting forth my understanding of what some great theologians believed about the concept of the image of God.

If I understand an article about how Thomas Aquinas understood the image of God, for him it had two aspects. One of these was similitude, and the other was intellect.

Wesley held that the image of God in humans had three parts, moral, natural and political. The first of these was completely destroyed in the Fall. According to my source, Wesley was in agreement with Calvin on this matter. I have checked Calvin's commentaries on the passages above (Here is his commentary on Genesis 1. You can get to the rest of his commentaries from this link.) and he did not explain his concept of the image of God in them. Another source puts Wesley's concept thus, explaining, at least for me, the natural image:

The natural image was "a picture of His own immortality; a spiritual being, endued with understanding, freedom of the will, and various affections." The political image was man as governor of this world. Most important was the moral image; in Paul's words "righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24 . . .).

I hope to produce a second post, continuing my musings on this matter.

Thanks for reading.

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Added on April 5:

I have checked John Calvin's commentary again, and I did not give him proper credit. I have now posted more fully on his views, and also those of John Wesley and Matthew Henry (these are three separate posts). I hope to add posts on current thinkers soon.

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