I have a love of lists. One of the elder/pastors of my local church shares this same love. Though he on a bit greater scale than I(he actually writes them down), I still love lists. More particularly I love top (blank) lists. Many a night I have binged on top ten, top 15, and top 5 lists on YouTube. It’s a blight on my mental faculties and gives me no end to personal anguish. Many hours have I spent disagreeing with the views proposed and the categories of the variables those creating these lists use to argue them. Still though, I love ’em. I’d like to make this an ongoing series of posts, and will do so if I see interest, but for now I’d like to expound on one item in a top 5 list. One of the top 5 in theological doctrines.
The image of God.
This is one of the most difficult doctrines to get at. The problem begins with the definition of what image, or more properly, what imaging is in the context of what scripture teaches. Many great theologians of the past have expounded on this and given great reasons and exegesis of it and done a fine job. My beginning point is from a couple lectures and texts and what flows out of them. The first is a lecture from Dr. Michael Heiser here. The next is from Hebrews 1;3, Col 1:15, the opening chapters of Genesis 1–5, Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 13–17, and a few other texts supporting the overall view of imaging God.
What place this gets in the top five is not important, just that I consider it foundational enough to be in this area of importance. Getting this right, or at least understanding it well, is paramount to a defense of the Christian walk and worldview. It touches on subjects such as murder, love, companionship, community, purpose in life, eternal destination, human gender and sexuality, and the battle of sanctification within believers themselves. If that seemed a mouthful, it was intentional. It’s why I put it in the top 5. I came to this realization some time ago, but in a small group/class at my local church it was put into perspective.
To begin we have to go to the opening chapters of Genesis and see how the author describes how human beings were made. The first time we see it is in Gen 1:26–29(italics are mine)
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (NET Bible)
Three times it is said, and once using a subtle nuance for added emphasis. So it is no small thing. One thing to notice from this is, that male and female are both included in this creative decree. The first utterance in the original language is broadly simple, “man” in the original language, but then made particular. Both men and woman are made in the image of God. So whatever this image or mode of imaging is, both genders exhibit or possess it. That is crucial. There is nothing lacking in a man, regarding the image, that he needs the woman to complete; likewise there is nothing lacking in the woman that she needs the man to complete. While it is significant that both were made to compliment the other, regarding the ability to image God(whatever that means), they have it equally.
The next thing of importance for understanding what this image is, is what is said by God, in the narrative, is it’s purpose. There are five things: Be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth, rule over the all created animals, and enjoy everything that is to be enjoyed on the earth as sustenance. Each of these may be a great indicator of how humans are to function in this capacity of imaging. To be fruitful is most likely referring to prosperity. To bring abundance and greater the glory of the world God has placed them in stewardship over. To multiply is to create other imagers who will assist in this task. To subdue the earth is to care for it. Not in an avant guard manner, but what is befitting God’s ultimate sovereign purpose and command. The rulership is authority based. Humans are created with a capacity unlike the rest of the earthly created order. We are to exhibit rightly administered authority over them, and it is connected with the former command to subdue the earth. The last is a word of satisfaction. Everything they find on earth to eat, is there for the purpose of satisfying the desire to enjoy God’s creation. Of all of these the first thing mentioned is rulership or authority; the rest flow from it. Humans are to rule; because of this aspect of the image, then regarding the rest of the creation on earth, humans are to rule, in one respect, as God rules the entirety of creation; with authority over it.
The next time the language of image is used is in Adam and Eve having a son, Seth. He receives the image that Adam has. This is important. Whereas Adam and Eve are created in the image of God, Seth is said to possess the image of his father. One possibility of this being the wording used by the author is to bring our attention to the preceding narratives. The fall from Eden in Gen 3 and the murder of the first Adamic imager of the his kin in Gen 4:1–16. There is the implication that something of this image was lost, or disordered. But it is retained because in the next mention of it there is something significant with its use. It comes in Gen 9:1-7
Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Every living creature of the earth and every bird of the sky will be terrified of you. Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority. You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat with its life (that is, its blood) in it. For your lifeblood I will surely exact punishment, from every living creature I will exact punishment. From each person I will exact punishment for the life of the individual since the man was his relative. “Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God has made humankind.” But as for you, be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it.”
Here, when the moniker “image of God” is used of mankind it is after God’s display of judgement on the earth with a flood. It has direct parallel language as that of Gen 1 but broadened with further instruction and implication(for our purposes) of what this image is. If any animal or human takes the life of another human, it must die. The reason being that every human being has the image. Whatever happened after Gen 3 there is still the imprint of God’s image in humans, therefore, in whatever capacity they still have it they must still function to that end(even though they fail). They are held culpable for their own failures, as in the garden. So here is a short list of summary for what this breif look at the first few chapters of Genesis has given to us about what this image is…
- It entails authority similar to God’s, in that how he rules all he created we rule over that which he created(at the least on earth) as his stewards.
- Men and women possess it. Though men and women are different in many wonderful ways(thanks be to God), they possess the image equally, and thus share in the responsibilities of stewardship.*
- All of creation is provided for sustenance and enjoyment. Even after the fall and the flood, enjoyment and sustenance is provided. This providing is widened to include animals(whatever your view of antediluvian or Edenic vegetarianism is).
- Since God has the capacity to create we are told to create as well. In the command to multiply, it may be argued that part of the quality of the image is to create other imagers. This is a bit of a stretch but it has some deeper implications(maybe I might expound on this in the future).
- After God’s banishment of mankind from his presence in paradise the image is marred but not done away with. At least part of it is maintained and even, after judgement on most of creation for man’s impudence, God expands man’s enjoyment of creation with restrictions on further mockery of God’s image. Therefore the image of God is not something to be trifled with.
Next time we’ll take a look at some New Testament passages…
*This is mostly inferred explicitly from the creation account in Gen 2:15–25