Of everything that we will be studying during this series there are few topics more important than defining what it means for man to be made in God’s image. Few subjects are as central to both God’s redemptive and reconciliatory mission and our purpose within this metanarrative as the imago Dei. “The Bible does not begin with the Fall but with Creation: Our value and dignity are rooted in the fact that we are created in the image of God, with the high calling of being His representatives on earth.”
I. The Imago Dei in Context
It is important to understand the function of images in the ancient Near Eastern cultural context into which this word was spoken. “In the ancient world, images were viewed as representatives of the entity they designated. . . In addition, images were often thought to represent and even mediate the presence of the one who is physically absent.” Even more “the psalmists and the prophets make no distinction between the images and the gods they represented―not because they did not know that such a distinction was there in the minds of pagan worshipers but because ultimately there was no such distinction in reality.” This is because “they are both human constructs. In worshiping them, we give allegiance, we attribute power and authority, we submit ourselves to something that we ourselves have created.”
Last week we noted that Genesis was written by Moses sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death. What shocking event occurs after Israel arrives at Mt. Sinai? Would someone read Exodus 32:1-4?
In what way is this event, and all forms of idolatry, related to our discussion above?
The true horror of idolatry is not merely that it aims to overthrow the rule of God and substitute His presence with an object fashioned by human hands but it necessitates that we forsake our role as His image bearers as well.
II. Examining the Text
Since we are going to spend most of our time examining one passage the verses have been included below. Would someone please read it?
“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.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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’” (Genesis 1:26-28).
“The Hebrew word for ‘image’ (tselem) and the Hebrew word for ‘likeness’ (demût) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an ‘image’ of.” In the case of idolatry there is no distinction between an idol and the god or gods it represents; however, there exists a clear distinction between Yahweh Elohim and those created to bear His image.
Before we begin examining the content of the imago Dei what are some preliminary observations you have concerning its content? This is helpful as we are able to study Scripture as a group and then check to see if our observations were correct. In short we are learning how to study the Bible by studying the Bible.
III. A Survey of Positions on the Imago Dei
Over the course of church history three major positions concerning the imago Dei have emerged.
A. Substantive View
The substantive view roots the image of God as primarily consisting in one or more of man’s physical, mental, or spiritual attributes. Many of those supporting a substantive perspective have advocated that the image resides in several different areas of man’s substance of these are man’s physical body, soul, rationality, intellect, holiness, and/or righteousness. This is often done by arguing that “the likeness consisted of the moral qualities of God, whereas the image involved the natural attributes of God.”
B. Functional View
The functional view defines the imago Dei according to how an individual acts, namely, the way in which one functions as an image bearer. The proponents of this perspective almost unanimously focus on the function of man as God’s vice-regent who exercises dominion over creation. It has been described as seeing “the image of God as the royal function or office of human beings as God’s representatives and agents in the world, given authorized power to share in God’s rule over the earth’s resources and creatures.”
C. Relational View
The relational view posits that “the human person is imago Dei in that he or she has been created to relate with God and with other humans in community.” It is argued that,
“it is essential and natural to man not only to be with God but also, on the horizontal level and in analogy with this togetherness with God, to be with his fellow-man: not in isolation . . . there can be no I without the Thou, no man without the fellow-man, any more than there can be any man without God.”
In critiquing these three positions it must be concluded that taken by themselves they are too narrow in their construction, rather they must be viewed as a unified and interdependent whole.
Does anyone have any observations as to why this is the case?
The substantive view necessitates that these qualities bear themselves out functionally in the context of relationship. For example man’s holiness impacts the way he functions as a vice-regent and how he relates to God, his fellow man, and creation. Man cannot function apart from his numerous substantive qualities any more than man could function without relation to anything. In the same way man cannot properly relate to God, his fellow man, or creation unless his substantive qualities function in a particular way.
IV. Viewing the Imago Dei Holistically
“We are not merely the image of some divine attributes; we image God himself, who is inseparable from all his attributes. . . All of God’s attributes describe his control and authority, and all equally describe his presence in the world.” There are substantive, functional, and relational aspects to this that must be held in balance if one is to properly bear God’s image in this world.
V. The Imago Dei as Eschatology
The entire telos and purpose of humanity is caught up in the imago Dei. Man was created in the image of God; this image was damaged in the fall, is subsequently being restored via progressive sanctification, and will be completely restored in glorification. This theme which will be prevalent through the rest of our study as we examine Abraham, Israel, Jesus Christ, and the Church with all of it pointing us forward to “the eschatological community of glorified saints.”
In what ways is this directly applicable to your life as an individual and our lives as a church, both locally and globally?
Selecting the material for this lesson was exceptionally difficult. This topic is very dear to me and there is much more that I would have loved to cover but time will not allow. If you are interested in learning more on this topic I will post a link to an article I wrote, from which most of this material is derived (see here).
Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 87.
Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei,” in Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 88.
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 151.
Walsh and Middleton, The Transforming Vision, 61-65.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 442-43.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 522.
J. Richard Middleton, “The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context,” Christian Scholars Review 24.1 (1994): 12.
James R. Beck and Bruce Demarest, The Human Person in Theology and Psychology: A Biblical Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005), 143.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection with Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961; reprint, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 187-88.
John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 396-97.