corner graphic

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Image of God

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

The notion of the "image of God in man" is one of the fundamental conceptions of Christian theology. It takes its root in the Mosaic account of creation, where we find God saying (Genesis 1:26), "Let us make man, בְּצִלְמֵנוּ and כַּדנְמוּתֹנוּ, in our image, after our likeness." This first expression is again used in the next verse, where the act of creation is recorded, and subsequently also, Genesis 9:6, after sin had entered the world. There is consequently no further difference between צֶלְם and דְּמוּת than that the one is the concrete, the other the abstract expression of the same idea. This is also seen in comparing 5, 3 and Genesis 9:6. The two synonyms are in fact used for the sake of emphasis, q. d. in exact resemblance of us.

"No one doubts that the phrase image of God' denotes in general a likeness of God; but the opinions of theologians have always been different respecting the particular points of resemblance which Moses intended to express by the phrase. Nor is this strange, since Moses does not explain what he means by it, and it is used in very different significations in- the Bible, a fact that has not been sufficiently noticed. The common opinion is, that this phrase denotes certain excellences which man originally possessed, but which he lost, in part at least, by the fall. The principal texts cited in behalf of this opinion are Genesis 1:26; compare Genesis 2:15 sq.; and from the N.T., Colossians 3:19; compare Ephesians 4:24, where a renewal after the image of God is mentioned, which is understood to mean a restoration of this image, implying that man must have lost it; also 2 Corinthians 11:3. Against this common opinion it may be objected that the image of God is described in many passages as existing after the fall, and as still discoverable in men; as Genesis 9:6; James 3:9; 1 Corinthians 11:6-7, and especially Genesis 5:1-3, from which it appears that Seth, being made in the likeness of Adam, must have had the same image of God, whatever it was, which Adam possessed" (Knapp, Christian Theology, bk. 1, art. 6 sec. 53, p. 168).

In the works of the fathers we find great diversity of opinion concerning this image of God (Gregor. Nyss. De homin. opif c. 4:5, or 16). Some of the early Latin fathers also maintained a bodily likeness to God (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 5,6). The Audaeans (q.v.) admitted only the physical resemblance (Theodoret, Hist. Ecclesiastes 4, 9), while Augustine and the Church of Alexandria rejected it altogether (Clemens, Strom. 2, 19). They also agreed in making the divine image, in a moral point of view, to consist in uprightness before God, and in the harmony between the higher and the lower faculties of the soul; as also physically in the immortality of the body, and the mastership over all other creatures. Others admit a confirmation and strengthening of the image of God in man by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which they consider not only as a gift of free grace, but also as necessary to the completeness of man (Cyr. Alex. Thes. 34. dial. 6). These different parties make great use of the distinction between the two expressions imago and similitudo; the scholastics maintaining that by the inmago (which, though weakened by the fall. was still extant) is to be understood the essence of the innate, natural attributes of the spirit, especially reason and liberty; and by the similitudo (which was obliterated by the fall) the moral nature of man, which was agreeable to God, or, in other words, the thorough unison with the divine will originating in the divine grace (HugoVict. De Sacram. 1. 1, p. 6, c. 2; Petr. Lomb. Sent. 1. 2, dist. 16, D.).

The creed of Trent makes no positive mention concerning the image of God, but the Catechisimus Ramanus considers it as consisting in the peculiar inherent dispositions of the human soul, for after its definitions concerning Adam's body it says, "Quod autem ad animam pertinet, eum (hominem) ad imaginem et similitudinem suam formavit liberumque ei arbitrium tribuit," which, however, does not satisfactorily explain in what relation this liberun arbitrium (free will) stands with regard to the imago dei (image of God) in the soul. It also leaves undecided the question whether the consequent submission of the desires to the dictates of reason is also to be considered as forming part of this image of God. From the word addidit we can only infer that the originalis justitice admirable donum is something independent, not inherent (Cat. Rom. 1, 2,19). The Romish theologians still endeavor to maintain the distinctions made by the scholastics between imago and similitudo. "The original justice' is further considered as a supernatural gift, which man possesses by a special grace, so that it is made to counterbalance the natural division between the higher and the lower forces (the spirit and the flesh reason and sensuality), thus directing the forces towards God, and introducing the similitudo in the imago (Bellarmine, De Grat. Prinm Ilonsini: 5, 5). Thus the Roman Catholic Church starts in its theory from the present state of man, as resulting from the fall, in regard to which state communion with God is something superadded. Some Romanist theologians distinguish between original justice and original holiness (communion with God), maintaining the former to be the attribute of pure nature as it came from the hand of the Creator, and holding the latter to be exclusively the gift of superadded and supernatural grace. The evangelical Church, on the contrary, by considering the image of God as belonging to Adam's true nature, as he came from the hands of his Creator, obtains a doctrine at once more clear, more simple, and more true (Apol. 1, 17; comp. Form. Concord. sol. decl. 1 10). It considers habitual communion with God as a state natural to man, and belonging to his normal organization before the fall, not as a special particular gift. It maintains, further, that this original image of God was lost by the fall of man.

"But in the papal anthropology, man, as he comes from God, is imperfect. He is not created sinful indeed, but neither is he created holy. To use the papal phrase, he is created in puris natusulibus; without positive righteousness and without positive unrighteousness. The body is full of natural carnal propensities, and tends downwards. The soul, as rational and immortal, tends upwards. But there is no harmony between the two by creation. An act subsequent to that of creation, and additional to it, is necessary to bring this harmony about; and this is that act by which the gift of original righteousness is superadded to the gifts of creation. In and by this act the higher part is strengthened to acquire and maintain dominion over the lower, and a positive perfection is imparted to human nature that was previously lacking in it. Original righteousness is thus, in reference to the created and natural characteristics of man, a supernatural gift.

"The second peculiarity in the papal anthropology consists in the tenet that apostasy, involves the loss of a supernatural, but not of a natural gift. By the act of transgression, human nature lapses back into that condition of conflict between the flesh and the spirit in which it was created. In losing its original righteousness, therefore, it loses nothing with which it was endowed by the creative act, but only that superadded gift which was bestowed subsequently to this. The supremacy of the higher over the lower part is lost by the Adamic transgression, and the two parts of man, the flesh and the spirit, fall into their primitive and natural antagonism again. Original righteousness being a supernatural gift, original sin is the loss of it, and, in reality, the restoration of man to the state in which he was created" (Shedd, Hist. of Doct. 2, 146).

The "image," or likeness of God, in which man was made, has, by some, been assigned exclusively to the body; by others simply to the soul; others, again, have found its essence in the circumstance of his having "dominion" over the other creatures. As to the body, it is not necessary to take up any large space to prove that in no instance can that literally bear the image of God, that is, be "like" God. Descant ever so much or ever so poetically upon man's upright and noble form, this has no more likeness to God than a prone or reptile one: God is incorporeal, and has no bodily shape to be the antitype of anything material. Not more tenable is the notion that the image of God in man consisted in the "dominion" which was granted to him over this lower world. Limited dominion may, it is true, be an image of large and absolute dominion; but man is not said to have been made in the image of God's dominion, which is accident merely, for, before any creatures existed, God himself could have no dominion but in the image and likeness of God himself, of something which constitutes his nature. Still further, man, according to the history was evidently made in the image of God, in order to his having dominion, as the Hebrew connective particle ("and") imports. He who was to have dominion must necessarily be made before he could be invested with it, and therefore dominion was consequent to his existing in the "image" and "likeness" of God, and could not be that image itself.

The attempts which have been made to fix upon some one essential quality in which to place that "image" of God in which man was created, are not only uncalled for by any scriptural requirement, but are even contradicted by various parts of Scripture, from which alone we must derive our information on this subject. It is in vain to say that this "image" must be something essential to human nature, something only which cannot be lost. We shall, it is true, find that revelation places it in what is essential to human nature; but that it should comprehend nothing else, or one quality only, has no proof or reason; and we are, in fact, taught that it comprises also what is not essential to human nature, and what may be lost and be regained. As to both, the evidence of Scripture is explicit.

(1.) When God is called "the, Father of spirits" a likeness is certainly intimated between man and God in the spirituality of their nature. This is also implied in the striking argument of Paul with the Athenians: "Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone graven by art, and man's device;" plainly referring to the idolatrous statues by which God was represented among heathens. If likeness to God in man consisted in bodily shape, this would not have been an argument against human representations of the Deity; but it imports, as Howe well expresses it, that. "we are to understand that our resemblance to him, as we are his offspring, lies in some higher, more noble, and more excellent thing, of which there can be no figure; as who can tell how to give the figure or image of a thought, or of the mind' or thinking power?" In spirituality, and consequently immateriality, this image of God in man, then, in the first particular, consists.

(2.) The sentiment expressed in Wisdom 2, 23, is evidence that, in the opinion of the ancient Jews, the image of God in man comprised immortality also: "For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity;" and though other creatures, and even the body of man, were made capable of immortality, and at least the material human frame, whatever we may think of the case of animals, would have escaped death, had not sin entered the world, yet, without running into the absurdity of the "natural immortality" of the human soul, that essence must have been constituted immortal in a high and peculiar sense, which has ever retained its prerogative of eternal duration amidst the universal death, not only of animals, but of the bodies of all human beings. (See IMMORTALITY).

(3.) To these correspondences we are to add that of intellectual powers, and we have what divines have called, in perfect accordance with the Scriptures, the natural image of God in his creature, which is essential and ineffaceable. He was made capable of knowledge, and he was endowed with liberty of will.

(4.) This natural image of God, in which man was created, was the foundation of that moral image by which also he was distinguished. Unless he had been a spiritual, knowing, and willing being, he would have been wholly incapable of moral qualities. That he had such qualities eminently, and that in them consisted the image of God, as well as in the natural attributes just stated, we have also the express testimony of Scripture. "Lo this only have I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions." There is also an express allusion to the moral image of God, in which man was first created, in Colossians 3:10, "And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him;" and in Ephesians 4:24, "Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." This also may be finally argued from the satisfaction with which the historian of the creation represents the Creator as viewing the works of his hands "as very good." This is pronounced with reference to each individually as well as to the whole: "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" But as to man, this goodness must necessarily imply moral as well as physical qualities. Without them he would have been imperfect as man; and, had they existed in him, in their first exercises, perverted and sinful, he must have been an exception, and could not have been pronounced "very good." Watson, Institutes, 2, 9-13.

From this point of view we may arrive at a correct apprehension of the idea of the divine image. God, as an absolute spirit, whose essential element of life is love, cannot but manifest himself in an eternal object of this love, of the same essence with himself. This is the Son, the eternal, absolute, immanent image of God. But as God, by virtue of his unfathomable, overflowing love, calls also forth (or creates) other beings, to whom he wills to impart his blissful life by the establishing of his kingdom, he, the type of all perfection, cannot create them but after his own image, as he sees it from all eternity in the Son. This created image of God is man in his primitive condition. Man was the real object of God's creative activity, as is seen in God's special decision with regard to his creation (Genesis 1:26; comp. Psalms 8), and mankind are called to be the real population of his kingdom. The whole universe (and even in some sense the angels, Hebrews 1:14) was only created for man, which is the reason why he was not created till all other things were ready for him. The faculties which other creatures present only in a limited, disconnected manner, were in him (as the μικρόκοσμος ) united into a harmonious whole; moreover, in him alone (as the μικρόθεος), of all creatures, was the personal spiritual life of God mirrored; and by direct inspiration of the divine breath of life, the spirit was infused, by which he became a spiritual, self-conscious, free, and individual soul. Man was created God's image in his individualism.

As God is not an abstract, but a real spirit, full of the living powers which created the world, so the image of God in man embraced his whole nature. It extended also to the body as the outward image, the dwelling and organ of the soul. Man was created the image of God in the totality of his being. But, while man was thus made the image of God to himself, he was also made the image of God to the world before which he stands as the representative of God, a relation by which the mastery over the outer world ascribed to him in Scripture (Genesis 1:28-30) is shown to have an inner foundation. Thus far the image of God was innate in man and inalienable. This innate state, however, bespoke a corresponding habitual state. Inasmuch as God the Spirit is love, man was destined to a life of love, and was at once brought into it by communion with God. From the heart, however, as the center of individual life, the power of love manifests itself in the direction of knowledge as truth and wisdom (objective and subjective directions), and in the direction of the will, as freedom and sanctity (formal and material directions), yet so that these spiritual conditions in their original working produced a state partly of untried innocence and partly of unfolding development. To the body, the image of God procured immortality (posse non mori), as the outward dissolution of the forces (death) is but the result of an inward dissolution of the principle of life. With regard to the world, however, man obtained by it a power, in consequence of which the world becomes subject to him by love, and not by force; and by his knowledge of its nature (Genesis 2:19-20), he is enabled to carry out God's will in it.

This habitual resemblance to God, which, with the image of God innate in man's nature, formed the natural, original state of man, was lost by sin, as the life of love, coming from God, which formed its basis, was destroyed by selfishness coming from the heart of man. It could only be restored by the absolute image of God the Son, source of the life of love for the world, assuming himself the form of man. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made flesh, is the real, personal restoration of the image of God in humanity. Since in the flesh he overcame sin for us by his death, and raised our nature to glory in his resurrection, man can again become partaker of the righteousness and spiritual glory which belong to him. By the Holy Spirit, which fills our hearts with love for God, the image of God is restored in us in truth and uprightness. See C. Sartorius, D. Lehre v. d. heiligen Liebe (Stuttg. 1843), 1, 34 sq.); J. T. Beck, D. christl. Lehrwissenschaft nach den bibl. Urkunden (Stutt. 1841), 1, § 19; H. Martensen, D. christl. Dogmatik (Kiel, 1850), p. 156; J. Chr. K. Hofmann, Der Schriftbeweis (Nordlingen, 1851), 1, 248-254: G. Thomasius, Christi Person u. Werk (Erlangen, 1853), 1, 147-224; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 3, 614; Knapp, Theology, sect. 53 et sq.; Winer. Comparat. Darstellung, p. 33; Watson, Institutes vol. 2, ch. 1; Critici Sacri, "De Inmagine Dei," 1, 40; Fawcett, Sermons, p. 234; Dwight, Theology, 1, 345; South, Sermons, 1, 45; Grinfield, Inquiry into the Image of God in Man (Lond. 1837, 8vo); Harness, Sermons on the Image of God (Lond. 1841, 8vo); Bibliotheca Sacra, 7, 409; Jackson, Thos., Original State of Man, in. Works, 9, 1; Van Mildert, Works, 5, 143; Harris, Man Primeval (N. Y. 1851,12mo).


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Image of God'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/i/image-of-god.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Image
Next Entry
Image of Jealousy
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology