The Image of God in Man


(This post provides the first few and last two paragraphs from a much longer paper I wrote for a seminary class last year.  I have linked the entire paper in between for those who want to read more.  Forgive the occasional fancy words, but reading the entire paper will make sense of those words.)

Opening paragraphs:

The imago Dei for some stands as a noble doctrine establishing man above all other creation. For others outside the faith and some within the faith, it is a psychological attempt to elevate man and justify his control of the world to nature’s detriment. From the Christian perspective, this doctrine connects with multiple areas of theology (Stewart). It provides an answer to a fundamental question of man, “Who am I?” It is the heart of man’s true self, distinguishing man from animals and all other creatures (L. Berkhof 1996, 206). It demarcates man as creature rather than as divine (Hoekema 1966, 209) (Colossians 3:3 and Ephesians 4:23-24). It describes the original state of man at creation (Genesis 1:26-27). Also, for Christians, the intended regenerated state comes into view through this doctrine (Romans 8:29) as Scripture presents this image in the future state of man’ consummation as a goal and hope (I Corinthians 15:49 and Philippians 3:12). In all these respects, the imago Dei provides man a higher view of mankind than either humanistic or evolutionary philosophies. In order to combat such destructive philosophies, Christians need a correct view of self, for man in the 21st century faces an identity crisis which depends on the outcome of this definitional debate over “Who is man?”

How can such an important matter be elucidated? One method would be to choose between ontology and teleology. The ontology perspective presents more of an abstract dissection of the nature or being of man. The teleology perspective approaches the question from a functional standpoint or in regards to purpose. Within the teleological approach, either a functional or a relational emphasis may be chosen. Why not a combination of the above facets, considering man more holistically and dynamically? For example, Sinclair Ferguson argues for a more dynamic view in:

The image has been defined in ethical and cognitive terms. God is holy and righteous. Man made in his image is so as well. Calvin, in particular, argued for this position… The image of God, therefore, consisting of holiness, righteousness and knowledge of the truth is dynamic rather than static in nature. Reformed theology recognized that more than this was required in order to express fully the Biblical teaching” (Ferguson 1988, 328).

The imago Dei is at its core, a dynamic unified complexity. God created man whole with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as well as with the quality of being good in order to act through relationship so that man would fulfill the tasks of dominion, multiplying, serving, and representing God. Put simply, man would glorify God. While examining if one of these facets of the imago Dei is primary, ultimately this paper will conclude that this Biblical term is holistic with its ontology and its teleology being inseparable. Man is a being-doer-relater in his dynamic fulfilling of the image. One can more easily recognize this truth if one steps outside the Greek worldview of focusing on the abstract being of reality. In the holistic and active Hebraic worldview, such a unified view was a much more natural understanding of Genesis 1:26-28.

Last two paragraphs:

In the end, pastors preach to Christians what they “are” not for the sake of their sitting smugly in such knowledge, but so that they will act in accordance with that knowledge, glorifying God, loving others, and taking dominion. Clearly, Ephesians teaches that Christians are renewed for the purpose of glorifying God. Pastors preach to unbelievers so they will see who they were made to be in Christ through regeneration, who they have become because of the Fall, and who they can be in Christ. They may thus see their need and the solution to their deadness. The continuance of the image in fallen man actually increases guilt (Berkouwer 1962 127). Man is still a work and a creature of God after the fall (Berkouwer 1962, 133). Man is even more “culpable” because he sins in spite of inward sense of God, in spite of the imago Dei.

What we do reflects who we are. What we do does not determine who we are but vice versa. Being, doing, and relating in regards to the imago Dei are inseparable and interdependent yet distinct. Man was created in God’s “image” ontologically with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, as a unified being with the teleos (purpose) of relating to both Christ and mankind and the teleos (purpose) of “doing” in dominion. To remove one of these legs is like removing one leg of a three legged stool and trying to sit on it. It may hold one up for a time, but it is not very stable in the push and shove of contemporary culture.


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