Defining God’s Image

A good blog post argues against a good opponent. In this case, culture at large opposes the present position—both Christian and non-Christian. The view espoused here is biblical, but not normally called Christian. The view espoused here is correct, but not commonly accepted. The point is not to argue against some obscure scholar, but to address a largely unaddressed issue in the Western world: that is, how the image of God informs our work, leisure and play.

The Image of God

One must define the image of God because people image God on earth. To do so, one must look to the Biblical data. Genesis 1:26–28 speaks directly about the image God. The ESV translates thus:

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.”

Two problems emerge from this text. Defining the image of God is a problem because the text does not explain how the original couple were created in the image of God, but just that they were created in the image God. Also, the two words “image” and “likeness” need to be defined, especially with regard to just what their prepositions signify (i.e. “in” and “after,” respectively).

Today we will answer the first problem: how to define the image of God by looking at three basic views on God’s image in humanity?

Three Views on The Image of God

Three rational explanations on the image of God follow. The referential view claims people are divine-like. The worst expression of this position believes people are made in the physical image of God. The better expressions of this view see something in humanity that resembles God. Collins calls this the traditional view. This view suffers from being too ambiguous; but it has merit in that something does resemble God in humans.

The representational view moves from defining the image in terms of “is” to “does.” In other words, it speaks less about being God and more about acting like God. In Genesis 1:28, God commands a blessing upon humanity, providing precedent for this view: “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.” The terms “subdue” and “have dominion” over the earth signify a regal role people play in their environment.

The biggest problem with this position is that the bible never equates God’s image with the function of subduing and exercising dominion. God commands it, and it is in a context where the image of God receives focus. However, the text does not describe God’s image as such. The best one can say is that God’s image relates to humanity’s ability to subdue and have dominion over the earth, since no other creature has that ability. Yet this view fails to convince fully.

The relational view teaches communion between God, man and woman is the image of God. The image is relationships. Genesis 1:27 focuses on the creation of both man and woman in the image of God, giving credence to this view. However, this view fails to sate because the text does not explicitly state this connection is the image of God. However, the relational view makes a valid case that relationships make up the image of God.

All three views share truth, but not one view fully explains what the image of God is. When rightly understood, the image of God will greatly inform one’s understanding of life, work, leisure and play. One hint as to the true meaning of the “image of God” comes in the prepositions preceding the terms used (i.e. “in our image, after our likeness”).

Next week, we’ll take a look at how these two little prepositions “in” and “after” shape our views on God’s image. Until Then!

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