A RESEARCH PAPER IDENTIFYING AND DETAILING THE FORM, CONTENT AND FUNCTION OF THE IMAGE OF GOD IN WHICH MAN WAS MADE. What is man? The question of man’s significance is represented in the writing of the psalmist David in Psalms 8:4, “What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?” (NASB). Throughout history mankind has adopted a distorted view on the nature and character of God. In the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor...
Humanistic and modernistic thought has left man with only himself to define his significance, or lack thereof, and have denied the existence of a God. To view ourselves as too significant or too insignificant by making our soul one with matter is to depreciate God’s glory and distort his relation to creation. Truth is, if we are to gain an identity, and a satisfying one if that, we must have a “relationship to a source of identity beyond our world.” As Stanley Grenz, a Christian theologian and ethicist, so wonderfully put it in his book Created for Community, “To acknowledge God as Creator means that we look to God as the origin not only of the universe but of ourselves as well.” To understand man’s purpose and function, we first must understand God’s image, because man is in the image of God (Gen. 1:26; 5:1; 9:6). In the following, the author will explain the form, content, and function of the Image (that being the nature of God), and continue with how and why man bears this image.
In the book of Genesis, chapter one, verse twenty-six, we find God creating man in his image. In this narrative we see God creating man in both his “image” and “likeness.” The Hebrew meaning for “image” (צֶלֶם, tselem) is simply “image” or “of resemblance;” while the term “likeness” (דְּמוּת, dĕmuwth) refers to being in “similitude” or “like-fashion” or “shape.” Many scholars disagree on these terms’ contextual meaning and purpose. Some side with Oriegen, understanding that “likeness” is something separate from the image that man will grow into by works. This author, however, agrees with Jack Cottrell’s, a prominent author, theologian, and philosopher of the Restoration Movement, biblical conclusion that the terms are very similar in both meaning and purpose: something which embodies, “models,” or “represents” something’s nature. Although it is necessary to acknowledge that man is found “being in the image of God,” the term and the concept is not central in nor used often throughout the Bible. Since there is little reference to “man being in the image of God,” it is therefore important to give attention to those scriptures concerning the “image of God” (see Gen.1:26; 5:1; 9:6). If we are to determine the image’s form and content which man bears, we must first must look to God’s image.
First, we must seek to find the form of God’s image, which well help in define its’ content and function. God is spirit; both formless and uncreated. According to Cottrell, in his book What the Bible Says About God the Creator, to call God a spirit is to state “the most decisive and determinative thing we can say about God. The fact that God is uncreated makes him qualitatively different from all created reality, both spirit and material.” God is prime reality and of one spirit (Is. 45:5; 46:9, Deut. 6:4, Mk. 12:29, Eph. 4:5, 1 Cor. 8:6). “Spirit” is this spiritual being’s basic form; however, his personhood is his chief characteristic and function. “Community aspects of the image of God” is clearly seen in the creation story when God declared, “Let us make mankind in our image” (Gen.1:26). According to R.C. Sproul, an author and founder of Ligonier Ministries, all of creation was made through the personhood of the Godhead: God commanded, the Word [Jesus] was the agent through whom all things were created, and the Spirit was the energizing work which breathed life into creation. In fact, God’s image is both based and explained on the ground of his personhood.
Both his form and his act of creation made through his personhood gives us knowledge that his is an infinite, transcendent, sovereign and good (moral) being. To be uncreated, is to purely “be” or exist. God represents himself by the term “I AM,” (Is. 44:6, Rv. 22:13) which alludes to how he is both a self-conscience and infinite being. God is not limited by anything outside himself, as would a created thing. He is, therefore, both eternal and transcendent. Without transcendence, God would be no different than creation (1 Tim. 6:16, Rom. 1:23-25). Langdon Gilkey promotes this understanding in his book Maker of Heaven and Earth, he states “The first meaning of divine transcendence is that God ‘transcends’ other beings in the mode of His existence… God ‘exists’ in a different way than do other things…He possesses [a] different mode or kind of being…” God is transcendent in two similar ways: 1) he is “beyond” his creation, and 2) he is “beyond” in his knowledge. God is omniscient (all knowing). God is an intelligent being; full of wisdom, all so rational and creative. When commenting over how God is show to be omniscience in Proverbs 3:19-20, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen writes “it took special insight and wisdom for Yahweh to bring about all that he created.” In fact, the very act of creating the cosmos was an act of God’s free-will, coming forth from his infiniteness. Cottrell has concluded that “the fact of creation guarantees the freedom of God…” Throughout the first chapter of Genesis, we find the word “bara’” which alludes to God’s creating activity, which Kärkkäinen explains to represent how God, the one "who creates the heavens and the earth and all that is,” is also the one “who summons, orders, sustains, and governs all of reality.” God’s creation act not only signifies his creativeness, infiniteness, and his freedom of will, but also his sovereignty. Creation is an expression of his sovereignty as he both commanded and established “the purpose, …direction and goal of creation.”
In likeness, just as God’s attributes of infiniteness, omniscience, and sovereignty is described by his actions, so is God’s nature which is love or goodness. How do we know that God is good or a moral being? W.A. Pratney, a best-selling author and world speaker, writes in his book The Nature and Character of God, “God himself has a standard to which He conforms His Life. All of the Bible descriptions of His moral nature… [reflects] some standard of value to which He has always and will always conform.” God simply acts in the most important vestige of Himself, the law of love. Although the source and sustainer of the all of creation, to make something outside of himself is to limit himself. This, however, should not be seen as endangering God’s sovereignty (Acts 14:16, Rom. 1:24-28). God acted freely “to make beings in his own image and to give them free will.” The creation of man was an act of love, as God sought a non-compulsory fellowship with man which bears his image.
Man being in the image of God gives man his identity as a special creature, as he shares, in part, in God’s nature. Man has been made in both God’s image and likeness, according to Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’” As stated above, many scholars throughout history have been in conflict if the “image” is separate and distinct from “likeness.” In his book Genesis, Hermann Gunkel divides the two terms’ meaning. He writes “The primary difference between the O.T. and Christian domestics [in] regards [to] this point is that… the latter… plays an [important] role…while in the former… has no special importance…” Gunkel, like Oriegen, believed that “likeness” is the higher part of the image which has to be grown into. This author understands both the “image” and “likeness” to be one in the same, although different. “Likeness” is pertaining to God’s spiritual attribute and, thusly, alluding to man receiving a spirit or a soul. As humans our form is partly spirit and built for a spiritual function. Cottrell agrees with this understanding as he states “likeness has its ontological roots in man’s nature as spirit.” Cottrell continues to state that “though this does not mean that we are of the same essence, it does mean that in a real sense we are like God.” Although it is clear that man is a spiritual creature with a bodily form, Scripture does not present a distinction between man’s body and his soul. At this point it is useful to acknowledge Quintus Tertullian’s, classified as one of the early church fathers and early Christian apologist, view on the soul, “We, however, claim this [spirit operation] for the soul, which we acknowledge to be an indivisible simple substance, and therefore we must call it spirit in a definitive sense — not because of its condition, but of its action; not in respect of its nature, but of its operation…” By man bearing the image of God he has not only received a spiritual form (a soul) but also a function.
By man possessing a soul, he is a unique creature and different from all of creation, as he bears the image’s functional contents, such as self-consciousness. Man is a self-conscious being, not just possessing consciousness like animals have, but self-consciousness. Which can also be defined more appropriately as “personal consciousness.” This means that man is aware of his existence. With being equipped with “personal consciousness” we have a relational capacity. From the personhood of the Godhead by whom man has been created, man has also been created in and for. We see that man was created for community in the narrative of Genesis 1:29-27, “Let Us make man in Our image… God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” In reflection, Grenz states that this Genesis passage “suggests that humans in relationship with each other reflect the divine image in a way that the solitary individual human being cannot… Because God is community — the fellowship shared among the Father Son, and Spirit — the creation of human kind in the divine image must be related to humans in fellowship with each other..” In this way, man is a personal being created for community. This reality suggests that man is also an intelligent being.
Man has been given a rational (or intellectual) capacity, or more appropriately titled “rational consciousness.” In his book On the Soul, Tertullian explains the soul’s character and seat in man. He concludes that “there is a directing faculty of the soul…a supreme principle of intelligence and vitality… [which] resides in that most precious part of our body to which God especially looks.” The first result of man having rational consciousness is that he is able to make decisions, think freely and creatively, to discern and make plans while using logic and wisdom. Tertullian continues to state that the soul is “the rational element which we must believe to be it’s natural condition, impressed upon it form its very first creation by its Author, who is Himself essentially rational.” The second result of man having a rational consciousness is that by his intellect he is capable of knowing God. St. Aurelius Augustine, an influential church father and theologian, also understands that man capable of knowing God because of his soul’s intelligence. He writes that the soul is the “noblest part of the human mind, by which it knows or can know God, in order that we may find in it the image of God.” The last result of man having rational consciousness is that man can communicate by “verbal language,” wether it be to both God or man. This also means that man can be spoken to by God. On the subject of how God had communicated through theophanies and in human terms in the Old Testament, G.C. Berkouwer, a leading theologian of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, writes that the “Central importance of Scripture says to us regarding the living and active God, in the forms and images of active man.” With man receiving intellect and it’s function of rational consciousness, we can also be assured of man’s state of personal and spiritual introspection.
At this point, this author would like to explain how man by bearing the image of God is in a way self-transcendent and what consequences and responsibilities this nature carries. To transcend as human is to understand oneself as spiritual outside the context of the physical and mental realm. By looking at the context of Genesis 1:26, it is clear that the work of creation was not finished until man was placed in it. Everything which was created before man was only preparatory for man’s arrival. As William R. Nicoll, a Scottish minister, journalist and editor, comments, “Man instinctively assumes that all else has been made for him, and freely acts upon this assumption.” Just as God’s transcendence as a spiritual being identifies him with a unique identity, as this author mentioned above, so it is with man. Without some level of spiritual introspection, man is no different than the cosmos.
It is, therefore, important to examine Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Many have argued that the image’s content includes dominium, as if man was created to rule; this is a Soconian understanding. In fact, a Soconian named Cathechismus Cracoviensis has equated man’s “status and task” to be equal to each other. Berkouwer comments on Karl Barth’s, a Swiss Reformed theologian who is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian, view of man’s dominium “as a consequence of the image, rather than the image itself…” Barth’s view is biblically coherent because Genesis 1:28 rules out dominium as being equal to the image, because it clearly shows man receiving a unique position by the “mandate” or command of God in which he gave man part rulership over the earth and everything in it. This command of God is what we refer to as the “cultural mandate,” defined by Cottrell as the “divine mandate for humanity to develop to their fullest all the elements of human culture and all the potentialities bound up in the creation in terms of exploration, science, technology, and art.” Although not an inherent part of receiving God’s image, it is, nevertheless, a consequence and responsibility of man who bears the image. With this in mind, we can now tackle man’s situation of being “active creators.”
With man receiving authority to use and develop the earth’s resources, in which man is shown to be an “active creator.” This concept is what biologists refer to as the human state of “plasticity and adaptability.” This means that humans are not bound nor limited to their surrounding environment, unlike animals. On the topic of being active creators, Grenz states, “Linked to our adaptability is another uniquely human characteristic — self-transcendence. Unlike other living things, we are able to stand back from ourselves. We can place ourselves ‘above’ the here and now. We can reflect on ourselves and scrutinize ourselves as living persons.” By man having intellect and the capacity for spiritual introspection, along with receiving the cultural mandate to rule over creation, it is clear that man being the bearer of the image of God is also a self-determined.
By bearing the image of God, man is in a sense a self-determined creature. This means that man has free-will in which God allows man to accomplish what he has chosen to do. As noted above, God’s act of creating man with free-will, is an ultimate expression of God’s sovereignty and should not be considered in conflict with his sovereignty (it should be noted that God uses his providence). Man’s self-determination can be more adequately titled “volitional capacity,” It is man’s freedom of choice and the ability to decide for or against God and his moral code. All of mankind have been given an inherent moral compass by which they may know right from wrong. Each man is found in the image of God and is therefore also found responsible to reciprocate God’s divine love by actively obeying him. As Grenz so wonderfully puts it, “As the prohibition to Adam in the Garden of Eden indicates (Gen. 2:16-17), God desires that we reciprocate the divine love by actively obeying our Creator. God gives us the privilege of fulfilling our divinely given design willingly.” Man is therefore a moral creature, with a conscience which has the capacity to sense guilt or shame. God throughout his reveled Word shows himself to be the standard of morality, as he commands man to “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 19:2, 1 Pt. 1:15). Cottrell explains that in his sovereignty God “was free to make beings in his own image and to give them free will. He freely chose to bind himself in covenant faithfulness to these beings.” Through establishing covenants, God commands man to be obedient to his morality standard; thusly, man becomes specifically aware of the will of God and what is right and wrong. Within these covenants the free-will of man can operate, yet he must still submit to God’s measure of virtue or face wrath and judgement infected by God’s holiness. In this way, man is given free-will through God’s love, but yet is still held accountable for his moral or immoral deeds as the immoral man will face God’s vengeance which will vindicate God’s sovereignty.
Closely tied to man’s intellect, self-transcendence, self-determination and moral capacity, is his creative and emotional capacity. Man is able to “fulfill needs and desires,” to “discern and to appreciate the beautiful” as well as to “create the beautiful” for his own fulfillment of the senses. Emotional and religious capacity is also significant to the image in which man are made, as they are capable of expression. Man can chose to act out in expression to his knowledge or love of God, such as in worship. Man can express grief, guilt, shame, or joy and happiness because of his self-awareness. He is also able to recognize injustice or justice, and feel when his desires are either satisfied or dissatisfied.
Having explored the image’s form, content, and function, this author is convinced that the form of the image of God is spirit, with its’ major contents being self-consciousness, self-transcendence, and self-determination. Man, by being made in this image, is: 1) a personal being built for community, 2) a rational being who is able to communicate, reason and make decisions within his free-will, 3) a moral being having an inherent sense of right and wrong, 4) a creative and emotional being able to express feelings through art and worship. Now, there are some implications of having the image.
First of all, being in the image implies that man relates to God and not to animals. The second implication is that man is God’s servant and representative by being a steward on earth while having dominion over it. Third implication, man is created to have fellowship with God and an interdependent fellowship other humans beings. Fourth, every person ever born is an unique individual, created with an “inherent dignity and worth,” and is to be treated with respect. Most importantly, by bearing the image we can know God and that comes with responsibility. This means that Christians, may perfectly and practically reflect God’s image by looking at Christ’s life and ministry, because he was the perfect “renewal of the image of God” (Jh. 13:24; I Jh. 2:8; 4:21, II Jh. 5-6).
(THOMAS ALBERT KILIAN III - December, 8 2016 - Revision #1)
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Kilian is a well known preacher who has spoken at large while studying at Mid-Atlantic Christian University working towards BA. He currently holds an AA in Biblical Studies and is a Theta Alpha Kappa (a national honor society) member.