Regarding Responsible Reformation
by Al Maxey -------
Issue #51 ------- July 4, 2003
Apart from man, no being wonders
at its own existence.

--- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Investigating Imago Dei
Created in the Image of God

Imago Dei is a Latin theological term signifying a unique, though somewhat mysterious, relationship between deity and humanity. "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).

The Hebrew word for "image" in this passage is "tzelem," which refers to the nature or essence of a thing and not necessarily the physical form. Similarly, the word for "likeness" in this passage is "demut," which is used to indicate a simile, not an exact replication of actual form. Thus, the verse is not suggesting that man resembles God in physical appearance (head, arms, legs, feet, etc.), but that the resemblance is with regard to aspects of God's essential nature. Even then, it is only a "likeness," not total equality. For example, the passage seems to imply that part of the "likeness" and "image" is with regard to rulership over creation, and yet man's authority, though greater than the rest of creation, is lesser than God's. It is only in the image or likeness of, not equal to. "Neither of the words imply that persons are divine. They were endowed with some of the characteristics of God. There is a likeness but not a sameness" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 688).

"This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created" (Genesis 5:1-2). "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6). "For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God" (1 Cor. 11:7). "With it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God" (James 3:9). See also Psalm 8, in which there is at least an implication of such.

Some have assumed, and actively proclaim, that these passages declare man is immortal by nature .... that he is inherently immortal (since he is created in the "image" and "likeness" of the immortal God). This is merely an assumption, however, since the Scriptures make no such claim for the terms "image" or "likeness." Indeed, 1 Tim. 6:16 clearly declares that He "alone possesses immortality." It is also an illogical claim, for why would this single attribute of divine nature be the only one given to man? Why not the others? Why not eternal pre-existence, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, or any other strictly divine attribute? "There is no valid reason, then, why immortality alone should be singled out as the one unique characteristic intended by the phrase 'image of God.' We must therefore conclude that creation in the divine 'image,' or 'likeness,' no more proves man's immortality than it proves his eternal pre-existence, omniscience, omnipotence, or possession of any other exclusively divine attribute" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1, p. 32). "Early theologians were greatly influenced by Greek philosophy in their interpretation of the 'image of God.' They saw an individual as a spirit being living in a physical body. This Greek dualism was the background out of which the early Christian theologians drew their understanding" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 688).

Many feel the ultimate testimony as to the "image of God" is seen in Jesus, "who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). "And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation" (Col. 1:15). Thus, it is suggested by some that the best way to determine the true "image of God" is to discern the nature of Jesus Himself. What were the qualities of His life which made Him God-like, so that when one saw Him one saw the Father? It is also suggested that we today may truly realize this special quality within ourselves by being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).

As one can imagine, there are many theories as to the significance of being created in the "image" and "likeness" of God. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) regarded this as the human ability to think and reason, to use language and art, far surpassing the abilities of any animal. Thus, being in the image of God, for some, refers to intellectual and relational abilities not found in lesser life forms -- the ability to think and reason, specifically to make moral decisions.

Others feel it refers to the powers of self-transcendence and self-awareness. Thus, we are creatures capable of being introspective, retrospective or prospective. We may reflect upon the past and anticipate the future, and even discern the workings of God in nature, history and our own lives. It is awareness far superior to that of the rest of creation. Still others regard "image of God" as a reference to man being gifted with mind and intelligence, or the power of choice, or the capacity to love and express emotion, the existence of will, conscience, imagination and moral responsibility. Some see it as the capacity for worship.

The noted rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) suggested that by using one's intellect, one is able to perceive things without the use of the physical senses, an ability that makes man "like" God. The PBS television show Faith and Reason stated "Humans differ from all other creatures because of their rational structure -- their capacity for deliberation and free decision-making."

Brother Ron Rose, in Heartlight Magazine, wrote, "Mankind was designed to reason independent of instinct, to dream and sing and express emotion, to create and build and invent, to feel love and compassion and hope, to ask why and why not." The Holman Bible Dictionary declares, "More accurate is the suggestion that the image consists in humankind's lordship over and stewardship of creation, for this is the theme of the following verses -- Gen. 1:28-31" (p. 675).

In my view, perhaps the best explanation is the one given by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi in his excellent book Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny (p. 44). He writes:

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Florida:

Very good thoughts. I very much appreciate your study and insight. They make me think!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Another great essay. Keep them coming, and be assured there are those of us out here who appreciate what you have to say. I currently attend Richland Hills Church of Christ, which, as I am sure you know, is on the cutting edge of church evolution (thankfully). But I grew up in the ultra legalistic one cup fellowship. They would have a "hay day" with your statement: "My own personal conviction is that we should employ the elements used by Jesus if they are available to us." They would jump on that with both feet and say something like this --- "And if you CAN observe the Lord's Supper in the same way He did (i.e., with one cup and one loaf), then you should." I'm curious to know how you would answer that.

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