The following article critically discusses the concept of man being created in the image of God. Research is presented in the areas of the 'original image', perverted image' 'renewed image', and 'perfected Image'. Exegesis from leading Theologians, throughout the centuries, including Augustine, Luther and Calvin has been expounded in contrast with modern thinker's summations.
In addition, discussion is presented on how the image of God should be reflected today.
The Original Image
Theologians are in debate as to what the original image of God and or likeness of God means as first referred to in Genesis. Berkhof (1996) writes "The image of God in which man was created certainly includes in what is generally called 'original righteousness', or more specifically, true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. We are told that God made man 'very good' (Gen 1:31), and 'upright' (Eccl. 7:29). The New Testament indicates very specifically the nature of man's original condition where it speaks of man being renewed in Christ, that is, as being brought back to a former condition" (p. 204).
Guthrie (1994), however, states that that the 'original righteousness' within the bible does not indicate an independent moral capacity to know right and wrong and act accordingly. The first human beings were forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge (Gen 2:17). She continues that it was the temptation of Satan and rebellion against God that led to the want to know the good for ourselves (Gen 3:5). In other words, to want a righteousness of one's own is to be ignorant of that which comes from God (Rom 10:2-4) (p. 196).
Berkhof (1996) makes the statement "Man's creation in his moral image implies that the original condition was one of positive holiness, and not a state of innocence or moral neutrality" (p. 204). However, if this was the case, Man in that state would not have rebelled against God, for in positive holiness man would have sought only God's righteousness and not his own. Certainly the original image given to man was in harmony with God and given free will, in that free will man choose his own way, subsequently, after this fall, man would learn the hard way between right and wrong (Gen 3:17-19).
The Perverted Image
Hoekema (1994) states "After man's fall into sin, the image of God was not annihilated but perverted. The image in its structural sense was still there man's gifts, endowments, and capacities were not destroyed by the fall but man now began to use these gifts in ways that were contrary to God's will" (p. 83). What Hoekema proposes here is that the moral, ethical and 'Holy' state of man was twisted or perverted after the fall through the introduction of sin. Instead of selflessly seeking God's pure and perfect will, man began seeking his own perverse one in this fallen state. Akin (2007) cites Luther in support of this, however, states that because of original sin, the sinner is now 'bent in on himself', habitually seeking his own selfish needs. Greed, materialism, lust, anger, hatred and all types of vices fill the heart of humanity now and the sinner's nature is totally corrupted (p. 438).
Calvin contended that although the primarily result of the fall is spiritual death other aspects of human existence are also affected. The sinner or perverted image's intelligence, will and emotions are corrupted. Spiritual endowments such as faith, love of God and Holiness are lost. (Akin, 2007, p. 440). Grenz (1994) summarizes both Calvin and Luther's views stating "both thinkers clearly emphasized that the image is now 'frightfully deformed'. The fall perverted and distorted whatever capabilities of reason or volition we may have retained" (p. 171).
Whilst the condition of 'fallen man' can slide into the depth of depravity, to presuppose that the complete image of God (within man) is twisted, perverted and deformed, may perhaps be somewhat exaggerative in the condition of all humans. Barry (1994) affirms "The Image of God was not destroyed by original sin, for it is intrinsic to our nature, and the loss of the use of some human powers does not destroy the sacredness and value of the human being" (p. 159). Viewing humans as perverted and depraved could give rise to a shameful judgment of humanity and not see the Human (even in its fallen state) as Christ himself sees them.
Berkouwer (1962) states that the New Testament's treatment of the image is obviously something not present in all men, rather the focus is on the renewing of the image through the Grace of God. When Paul states the putting off of the old man "and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:24) "which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col 3:10) his concern is with the nature of man being re-established or renewed (p. 45). This leads to the question of the renewed image.
McKim (2001) states humans are sinful and in whom the image of God is now damaged, however, are not without hope, for the image of God can be renewed in Humanity. This renewal occurs through faith. Faith is the human response as a Gift of God, given in response to God's Word in Christ. This response is achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit carries out the goal of the Gospel, which is the restoration in us of the image of God which has been perverted by sin. This restoration is progressive and goes on during our whole life. When we believe in Jesus Christ by faith, the Holy Spirit works continually to renew us and to restore the image of God within us (p. 62).
In discerning what actually happens in renewal, in regards to a specific change, Berkhof (1996) proposal, as previously mentioned, that man is being renewed in Christ, that is, as being brought back to a former condition (p. 204). He continues that part of this renewal is in the return of three elements; the reinstating of perfect will in true equilibrium through knowledge (Col. 3:10) and righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Berkhof sees these elements as the original state of the moral condition of man and therefore renewed through Christ (Berkhof, 1996, p. 204).
The renewing image of God within humanity, occurring as the relationship with Christ matures and knowledge develops, additionally corresponds to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible (Tanak). "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7a) points to the understanding that we are not our own creation and as Christ who humbled himself displayed, we are not equal to God, in fact equality with God is something we cannot even grasp (Phil. 2:5-6). Towner (2005) draws light upon our ongoing journey with wisdom, learning along the way, however, learning to be the 'image of God' within a fallen world, is accepting the challenges, suffering or chaos with tolerance and thus reflecting Christ's character (p. 352). It is therefore in Christ that the perfected image is embodied.
"Dear Friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). Hoekema (1994) states of this passage from John "We shall be totally like the glorified Christ, not only in our spirits but even in our bodies" (p. 93). Hoekema (1994) contends that it is impossible to fully comprehend what we shall be as the perfected image, when Paul states we shall have a 'spiritual body' (1 Cor 15:44) man can only lay assumptions to the comprehension of this.
Of more import is the relationship with God that will be established. Man will be wholly directed to God, worship, obey and serve God faultlessly, without any imperfection (p. 93). In expounding the life of Christ, he reflects one dedicated to the will, obedience and worship of God.
Viewing the perfected image in an eschatological sense Clark (1984) cites Augustine who wrote "at the end of the world he (man) will receive an incorruptible body, not for punishment but for glory. For the likeness of God will be perfect in this image only in the perfect image of God; of which vision the Apostle Paul says: 'Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face' (1 Cor 13:12). And again 'But we with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the spirit of the Lord' (2 Cor 3:18). This describes the daily process as those progressing as they should" (p. 356-357).
Drawing light to scripture and Christ portraying the perfected image, Hebrews states "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:8-9). Soulen (2006) affirms "The crucified risen Jesus is a perfected human self whose person opens up a possibility for other humans that the Pauline letters will call 'the image of God'" (p. 41). When one contemplates the meaning of the perfected image of God, Colossians provides clarity; "Christ is 'the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation' (Col 1:15). He renders the invisible God visible in the created world" (Soulen, 2006, p. 41).
Reflecting the Image of God today
Hoekema (1994) states "Being renewed in the image of God, means further that we become more and more like God, that God becomes more and more visible in our words and deeds. Since God is love (1 John 4:16), our living in love is an imitation of God" (p. 89). Hoekema continues that this reflecting is in becoming more like Christ, and living our lives like him as our perfect example. This, however, is something not to be achieved in isolation, rather, in the community also with the church, the body of believers. The fellowship of Christians in worship of Christ helps lead us and inspire us into a more Christ like existence (Hoekema , 1994, p. 89).
Aspiring to a Christ like existence calls for the worship of God, dedication to scripture and a call to love and help others (Acts 2:42-47), thus reflecting the life Christ intends for his church. In striving for perfection (Mt 5:58), we begin to nurture and produce the true fruits of the Spirit of God; love, kindness, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self control (Gal 5:22).
This paper has critically discussed the concept of the image of God in specific relation to the original, perverted, renewed and perfect image. It is apparent that theologians, as always, are in debate as to the meaning of the image of God.
Whether components of this image are still apparent in mankind or only in the body of believers, who renew daily and progressively is a continuing point of theological and philosophical discussion. Perhaps, focusing on Christ, Christ's life and imitating that life with a reverent fervor is what truly counts. In doing such, one should reflect how Christ viewed the 'sinner' not with perverse judgment or with thoughts of depravity in his mind but with seeking to help and re-establish their connection to God. Like sheep lost without a Sheppard, harassed and confused, Christ himself taught to help them, not view them as depraved, twisted and corrupted.
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Barry, R. L. (1994). Breaking the Thread of Life: On Rational Suicide. London, UK: Transaction Publishers.
Berkouwer, G. C. (1962). Man: The Image of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Berkhof, L. (1996). Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Clark, M.T. (1984). Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984.
Hoekema, A. A. (1994). Created in God's Image. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Grenz, J . S. (1994). Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Guthrie, S. C. (1994). Christian Doctrine: Teachings of the Christian Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Mckim, D.K. (2001). Introducing the Reformed Faith: Biblical Revelation, Christian Tradition, Contemporary Significance. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox press.
Soulen, K. Woodhead, L. (2006). God and Human Dignity. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Towner, W.S. (2005). Clones of God: Genesis 1:26-28 and the image of God in the Hebrew Bible. Interpretation; 59 (4); ProQuest Religion pg.341.
Jack Jones, Editor of The Christian Network and Street Chaplain - http://www.thechristiannetwork.com, Australia's most comprehensive Christian Web Magazine.
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