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The use of this term in the apostolic writings may be conveniently discussed under three heads.

1. Connexion with idolatry.-Apart from Romans 1:23, where St. Paul is reviewing the corruption of the pagan world and the perversity with which men neglected the living God for ‘the likeness of an image’ of men, birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles, all our references are found in the Apocalypse and concern the particular form of idolatry that acutely distressed the early Church, viz. the worship of the bust of Caesar. This ‘image’ is first brought forward in Revelation 13:14 f. (but cf. ‘Satan’s throne’ at Pergamum, Revelation 2:13). The Seer has described the Roman Empire in the guise of a monster rising out of the sea (Revelation 2:1 ff.), and its counterpart, a monster from the land (afterwards described as the false prophet), who represents the Caesar-cult and its priests in the Eastern provinces. This sacerdotal land-monster is plausible and seductive, and his inducements to Christians to show themselves good citizens are backed up by miracles. The image or statue of the first monster, i.e. the bust of the Emperor, is set up among the statues of the gods to receive the offerings and devotion of the citizens, and through ventriloquy it seems to have the power of speech. The cult was enforced with all the resources that could be devised, and to counteract it an angel utters fearful judgment on all who worship the monster and his statue (Revelation 14:9-11). The supremely happy fate of those who resisted both blandishment and compulsion is depicted in Revelation 15:2 f. and Revelation 20:4; the punishment of those who conformed, in Revelation 16:2 and Revelation 19:20. See, further, article Idolatry.

We may note at this point that the word εἰκών (like εἴδωλον) in classical Greek usually stands for the portrait statues or paintings of men and women; seldom for images of the gods. An instance of its use in the NT which may be regarded as focusing the range of its varied application and as a transition from the above discussion to those which follow, is found in Hebrews 10:1, where the Mosaic Law is spoken of as being a mere ‘shadow’ of the coming bliss, instead of representing its reality or being its ‘very image.’ ‘The’ ‘shadow” is the dark outlined figure cast by the object … contrasted with the complete representation (εἰκών) produced by the help of colour and solid mass. The εἰκών brings before us under the conditions of space, as we can understand it, that which is spiritual’ (B. F. Westcott, in loc.).

2. Christ as the image of God.-Two of the passages where Christ is spoken of as the image of God are Pauline-2 Corinthians 4:4 (‘the image of God’), and Colossians 1:15 (‘the image of the invisible God’). The first is in a context which clearly points back to the Apostle’s conversion experiences. All his thought turns on his doctrine of the Divinity of Christ, and the basis of that doctrine was the bright vision he had beheld on the way to Damascus. This was his distinctive gospel, that which marked him off from those who simply knew the human Jesus, blameless and pure though His life had been. In the second passage he is concerned to set before the people of Colossae the overwhelming superiority of Christ as a mediator between man and God, over the many and strange spirits and forces which they thought of as intervening between the Divine and the human. Hence he uses the word εἰκών, which, even in its material sense already referred to, connotes true representation rather than accidental similarity, and representation of that which is at any rate temporarily out of sight. His thought is that Christ is the external expression as it were of God: at once His representation and manifestation. ‘Ethically and essentially He is at once the Revealer and the Revelation of the Eternal Spirit’ (J. Strachan, The Captivity and the Pastoral Epp. [Westminster NT, 1910], p. 41). It is not simply that He is like God-He is God manifest. And beyond the reference to the earthly life and ministry of Christ, even primarily perhaps, there is the implication that in the timeless heavenly life He is the εἰκών θεοῦ, God’s representative acting in the sphere of the visible (cf. John 1:18, Hebrews 1:3). We may state it more fully thus: Christ is the outcome of His Father’s nature, and so related to Him in a unique manner; and He is especially the means by which the Father has manifested Himself to all that is without, from the first moment of creation and for ever, though the centre and focus of that manifestation is the Incarnation. We recall at once the Johannine doctrine of the Logos; the one is a manifestation to the mind of man through Ear-gate, the other (‘Image’) through Eye-gate. A title given to the Logos in the Midrash, ‘the light of the raiment of the Holy One,’ is suggestive in this connexion. We are reminded also of Christ’s own word recorded in John 14:9 : ‘he that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (cf. also John 8:19; John 8:42). There are other modes of the Divine manifestation; through creation itself he who has an eye to see may behold ‘the invisible things of God’ (Romans 1:20), but there is no revelation or manifestation so sure, so adequate, so satisfying as that in Christ.

At this point we may notice the striking expression in Hebrews 1:3 where Christ, in a passage reminding us of Colossians, is spoken of as ‘the very image of God’s substance.’ The word used is χαρακτήρ, which meant originally a graving tool and then the impression made by such a tool, especially on a seal or die, and the figure struck off by such seal or die; hence the translations ‘stamped with God’s own character’ (Moffatt), ‘the impress of God’s essence’ (Peake). The Son is thus the exact counterpart of the Father, the exact facsimile, the clear-cut impression which possesses all the ‘characteristics’ of the original. Again it is noteworthy that Philo (de Plant. Noae, § 5) speaks of the Logos as the impression on the seal of God. Westcott (in loc.) distinguishes χαρακτήρ from εἰκών by saying that the former ‘conveys representative traits only,’ while the latter ‘gives a complete representation under the condition of earth of that which it figures’; and from μορφή, ‘which marks the essential form.’

3. Man as the image of God or of Christ.-The fundamental text, Genesis 1:26-27, is the basis of St. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7 (cf. Colossians 3:10). Man is the image of God in those matters of rational and moral endowment which distinguish him from the humbler creation. St. Paul would no doubt have subscribed to Justin Martyr’s statement that God ‘in the beginning made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative’ (Apol. i. 28). In neither the OT nor the NT are we to press for a difference between ‘image’ and ‘likeness,’ which are used as synonyms. The image has, however, been marred and obscured by men’s sin. Yet there is the glorious possibility of its renewal and restoration. The new man in Christ Jesus bears once more the image of his Creator (Colossians 3:10); he becomes akin to God, is able to know Him (εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν) and His will in all the affairs of life. In this perfected likeness to God human distinctions, whether of nationality, religious ceremonial, culture, or caste, fall away-‘in it there is no room for Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free man; Christ is everything and everywhere.’ This agrees with Romans 8:29, in which the elect are spoken of as sharing the image of God’s Son-that He might be the firstborn of a great brotherhood. Thus it matters little whether we speak of bearing Christ’s image or God’s, and it is fruitless to debate which is prior in time. The two are one. To be conformed to the image of Christ is to share not only His holiness but His glory-a thought brought before us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (‘We all mirror the glory of the Lord with face unveiled, and so we are being transformed into the same image as himself, passing from one glory to another’) and in 1 Corinthians 15:49 (‘as we have borne the image of material man so we are to bear the image of the heavenly Man’). In the first of these passages the spirit of the believer is likened to a mirror which receives the unobstructed impression of the glory of the Lord. That glory takes up its abode in the Christian, and instead or fading as in the case of Moses, becomes ever more glorious (cf. Romans 8:11). The assimilation of Christ’s mind and character involves the assimilation of His splendour. The outer man may perish but the inner man, the real man, waxes more and more radiant, strong, and immortal, till it dwells, like its Lord, wholly in the light. With these passages, and especially with the second, which points forward, we may compare 1 John 3:2 f., ‘We are to be like him, for we are to see him as he is.’ While the primary implication is ethical and spiritual it is not the only one in the NT thought of our likeness to Christ.

Literature.-Besides the Commentaries, especially A. S. Peake, Expositor’s Greek Testament : ‘Colossians,’ 1903; A. Menzies, The Second Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, 1912; and B. F. Westcott, Epistle to the Hebrews, 1889; see, for Christ as the image of God, W. L. Walker, Christ the Creative Ideal, 1913, pp. 52f., 60f.; H. R. Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, 1912, pp. 65, 83; for man as the image of God, H. Wheeler Robinson, Christian Doctrine of Man, 1911, p. 164f.; on image-worship in the Roman Empire and its parallels to-day, C. Brown, Heavenly Visions, 1910, pp. 70f., 175-183.

A. J. Grieve.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Image'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/image.html. 1906-1918.

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