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Man (Part 1)

CHAPTER 4 — Man As Image of God

    And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.—Gen. 1:26-28.

    This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. —Gen. 5:1-2.
The Old Testament explains very little about the image of God. Some have sought to find the image of God in an aspect of man's nature. Those with a dualistic view— which honors the soul and dishonors the body—have sometimes said that the soul alone is made in the image of God. Or they have said, like Calvin, that the body only shares this image through its union with the soul. Luther, on the other hand, definitely included the body in the image of God.

Those who reject the dualistic view of man must hold that the whole man is made in the image of God. Form as well as spirit is included in that image. Says Berkouwer:
    It is very noteworthy, in this connection, that there has been increasing reluctance to exclude man's body from the image of God—an exclusion generally supported previously, when theologians sought the content of the image in man's "higher" qualities, in contrast to the "lower" bodily qualities, which should not be considered in connection with the image. . . .

    This dualism between body and soul played a not unimportant role in the delimitation of the image of God.

    Scripture's emphasis on the whole man as the image of God has triumphed time and time again over all objections and opposing principles. Scripture never makes a distinction between man's spiritual and bodily attributes in order to limit the image of God to the spiritual.
    The image of God is something which concerns the whole man.1
Instead of viewing the substance of human nature as it is in itself, it is more profitable to see the image of God in the relationships which constitute man's essential existence. These relationships are threefold—with God, with the community and with the created order. We could also include man's relationship with himself. As a person, he is not only conscious but self-conscious. He is self-reflective.

First, image and likeness pertain to man's relatedness to God. Adam is called "the son of God" (Luke 3:38). The connection between the image and sonship is explicitly stated in Genesis 5:3: "When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth" (RSV). The people of Israel are called sons of God (Deut. 1:31; 8:5). Paul even reminds pagans that they are God's offspring (Acts 17:28).
    Man's responsibility to God and conscious fellowship with God is a reflection of God's fellowship with man and of God's love for man. . . . Man has been created as a self, capable of responding to God, of answering God, of loving God—capable of being an "I" over against God's "Thou." . . . Man is capable of self-consciousness and of self-determination.2

Since man was made in God's image, His prime reason for existence and his prime responsibility are to reveal God's glory in all his thinking, speech and actions.

Second, man was created to image God in his relationship to others. It was Karl Barth who first emphasized this aspect of the image of God. He pointed out that the image of God is mentioned each time male and female are designated. Barth suggests that man's conscious fellowship with his fellow men is a reflection of the intra-Trinitarian fellowship of the Godhead. In the New Testament the believer's relationship with others figures prominently in the doctrine of the image of God. The believer is frequently exhorted to behave toward others as God behaves toward him. He is to love as God loves, to be merciful as God is merciful and to forgive as God forgives. Godlikeness is seen in the believer's relationship with others more than in anything else.

Third, man was to image God in his dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28). The created order was to be subject to man as man himself was subject to God. Man was to rule the earth in harmony with the purposes of God. This included a responsible use of the world's resources for good rather than for evil.

In summary, the image of God is to be seen more in terms of relationships than in terms of the substance of human nature.

The Image of God in the New Testament

The New Testament has much to say about the image of God—first, in respect to Jesus Christ; second, in respect to the believing community.

Jesus is presented as the new Adam of the new covenant. He is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), "the express image" of the Father's person (Heb. 1:1-3). He is the ideal man, man as man was meant to be. God is well pleased with this man (Matt. 3:17). He is the obedient subject of God, the unwearied servant of man and the absolute Lord of the created order.

In regard to believers, the Spirit changes them into the divine likeness "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18, RSV). The likeness or image of God is said to consist in "true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24, RSV). In a parallel scripture believers are said to be "renewed in knowledge" after the image of God (Col. 3:10). Paul declares that God's people were predestined "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus exhorts His disciples to be kind and merciful like their Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16, 48; Luke 6:35-36). The apostles frequently exhort believers to forgive as God has forgiven them (Col. 3:13). John appeals to believers to walk, to be pure and to love and live in this world as Jesus Christ (1 John 2:6; 3:3; 4:11, 17).

While the emphasis on imaging God falls on character (righteousness, holiness), the body is not excluded. Not only is character expressed through "the deeds of the body," but even the body will at last be glorified and fashioned "like His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21, RSV)."We shall be like Him" in every way— in outward form and inward spirit (1 John 3:2). "They shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads" (Rev. 22:4). Here is implied sonship, likeness in character and a reflection of the divine image which bears God's own signature of approval.

The Image of God— Lost or Marred?

Whether the image of God has been lost by the fall of man has occasioned much discussion and some disagreement in the history of Christian thought.

Irenaeus made a distinction between the likeness of God and the image of God. This distinction was incorporated into Roman Catholic theology. Aquinas argued that likeness to God consists in the supernatural gifts of sanctifying grace such as love, hope and righteousness, given to man in creation. He said that the image of God consists in the natural gifts of human nature. Aquinas said that, in the fall, man lost his likeness to God but not the image of God. This distinction between likeness and image is artificial and unwarranted. Hebrew language is often repetitive for the sake of emphasis or fullness of thought, not for the sake of expressing differences in the qualitative makeup of man.

In Protestant thought the fall not only deprived man but depraved him. According to Luther the image of God was lost in the fall. But according to Calvin that image, though frightfully marred, was not wholly obliterated. Calvin was not expressing reservations about the Reformation view of man's radical sinfulness. He wanted to show that man in his fallen state remains man and still bears witness to his original relation to God. This does not make his sin less culpable. He is more culpable because he sins in spite of his inward sense of God.

Others have tried to harmonize the views of Luther and Calvin. They make a distinction between the image of God essentially and existentially, substantially and functionally, or in what is called the general and the special sense. Accordingly, they say that man has lost the image of God in one sense but not in the other. Such distinctions are generally not found in Scripture.

In some sense fallen man bears God's image.3 Although that image is well-nigh obliterated, marred and defaced, man is still God's creature and bears His superscription. Although dehumanized in many respects, man has not lost his humanness. Whether he acknowledges it or not, man is still related to God. He cannot avoid his responsibility to God. All men bear in their hearts the sense of God. There are no true atheists. Fallen man still lives in community and often exhibits a "civil righteousness." In his amazing technological and scientific progress, he also exhibits a capacity to exercise dominion over the earth even though that capacity is often marred by rapacious greed and indifference to the needs of others. Thus, in his threefold relationship, fallen man still bears witness to the original image of God.

(To be continued)



1 Berkouwer, Man, pp.75-7, 117.
2 Hoekema, Doctrine of Man, P. 33.
3 "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man" (Gen. 9:6). "Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God" (James 3:9). "For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man" (1 Cor. 11:7).