Doctrine of Man (Part 2)

September 23, 2013     Time: 00:18:45

Attempts to Systematize Data

We have been talking in our lesson about man as created in the imago dei – or the image of God. Having looked at the biblical data on this, we now want to look at various attempts to systematize this data. The first one we want to look at would be the contrast that is drawn between real and relational understandings of the imago dei.

Roman Catholic View

Let’s first talk about the Roman Catholic view. The Roman Catholic view differentiates between the image and the likeness of God. These are two different things in man – the image of God and the likeness of God. You will remember that is how Genesis says man was created. In the original state of righteousness in which man was created, man had the likeness of God. We can illustrate this by drawing this solid line which indicates the original righteousness – the likeness in which man stood to God. Similarly, man in that original state was in God’s image as well.

But then comes the Fall of man and with the Fall of man that original righteousness is lost, and therefore man in his fallen condition no longer stands in the likeness of God. The image of God, however, though impaired and disrupted by the fall, still exists even in the fallen state and so is not entirely lost. Finally, in the state of grace of persons as they are in Christ, the likeness of God is restored because we now have Christ’s righteousness, and the image of God is also healed and restored from the disruption it felt.

So there is a distinction drawn between the image and the likeness of God and man. The image is distorted by the Fall into sin and repaired in the state of grace but the likeness of man to God – that original righteousness – is lost in the fallen state.

Protestant Reformation View

By contrast to this, the Protestant Reformation theologians did not distinguish between the image of God and the likeness of God. They said the image of God is the likeness of God – these are not different aspects of man. So in that state of original righteousness man was in the image or likeness of God. With the Fall, the image and likeness of God are lost and then restored only in the state of grace.

The difference between the Protestant Reformers and the Catholic view would be with respect to whether fallen man is still in the image of God. The Reformers’ view implied that fallen man is no longer in God’s image. Nevertheless, they did try to affirm some sense in which fallen, sinful human beings are still in God’s image by differentiating between a general image and a special image of God. They would say that only the special image of God is lost and that in a sort of general sense even fallen man would still be in God’s image. Luther, for example, says that man almost lost the image of God in the Fall. Calvin says that a relic of the image of God remains in this fallen condition.[1] The difference in emphasis here would be on this notion of seeing it as lost because of the identity of the image with the likeness.

Ontological vs. Functional

A different view of the image of God and man would be to interpret these functionally. Rather than thinking of God’s image as an ontological component of man’s being, the image of God is thought of functionally.[2] It is a way in which humanity functions or exists. So, for example, some have suggested that the image of God consists in man’s lordship over the earth and its creatures. It is not that there is an ontological component or feature of human beings that make them in God’s image. Rather, to be in God’s image means to have lordship over the earth and its creatures. It’s a functional understanding of God’s image rather than an ontological one.

On the other hand, there are those who identify being in the image of God with having some ontological feature of human being that reflects God’s nature. For example, reason or rationality is one that has traditionally been identified as what makes man in God’s image. God is supremely rational. He is the Logos in John 1 – “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and was God.” Similarly, we being in God’s image means that we are rational creatures. This would be in line with Aristotle’s view that humans beings, or the nature of humanity, is to be a rational animal. It is our reason that differentiates us from the animal realm.

Or, again, it might be suggested that the image of God consists in our relative freedom. We have freedom of the will. We are not like animals which are ruled by instinct but we have the ability to make morally significant choices. So it is our freedom that constitutes the image of God in us.

Or, again, another possibility would be our answerability to God. This would seem to be, again, a functional interpretation where it is our responsibility and relationship to God that constitutes being in God’s image. We have moral duties to fulfill and are answerable and accountable to him.

Or, finally, one might suggest, as we’ve seen here, that the image of God is simply the original righteousness in which Adam and Eve were created. They were created innocent and unfallen and it was that original righteousness that they had that made them in God’s image. On that view, the image would be lost.

As you can see there is quite a wide variety of interpretations of what it means to say that man is created in the image of God and according to his likeness.


Image and Likeness

What might we say by way of evaluation of these alternatives? I think, first of all, we have to agree with the Reformers that there is no difference between the image and likeness of God. I’ve already indicated that when we looked at this biblical material from Genesis. To say that man is created in God’s image according to his likeness is just an example of Hebrew parallelism. They are virtually synonymous. They are not meant to indicate two different aspects of human being. Rather, these are synonymous ways of designating man as in some way reflecting God in a special way. Therefore, I think we have to say, contrary to the Reformers, that this is not lost in the Fall because fallen man clearly is in the image of God as we saw. Fallen man is referred to as being in God’s image. Therefore, it is not simply a relation to God that was lost in the Fall, or original righteousness or something of that sort. We shouldn’t think of the image of God as something which is given up or lost as a result of man’s fall into sin. So the first point would be that the image and likeness of God are synonyms – they mean the same thing – and that they are not lost in the Fall and therefore a sort of relational interpretation is not possible.

When it is said that Christ is the image of God here I think we are dealing with just a totally different concern.[3] The word may be the same – “image” – but it isn’t in the same sphere of discussion as when we discuss man in God’s image. In Colossians, Paul is saying that Christ is the visible exemplification of the invisible God. When you look at Christ, you are looking at God. It is God in the flesh; God incarnate. But this isn’t the same sphere of discussion as when we talk about what it means for man to be in God’s image. Similarly, when the Scriptures talk about Christians being in Christ – as being conformed to the image of Christ – that is just, again, a separate discussion. It is not relevant to the question of what it means for man to be in God’s image. There the concern is ethical or spiritual. Man is being conformed to the character of Christ through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. This is about sanctification. So even though the vocabulary may be the same – using the word “image” – it is not the same discussion as what it means for man to be in God’s image.

Man, then, is in the image of God even as a sinner. His relationship with God may be broken because of sin – he finds himself estranged from God, spiritually alienated from God, condemned and under God’s wrath – but nevertheless he still is in God’s image.

What does this mean then? Well, this is a question, I think, which comes down to whether or not you take the image of God to be an ontological term or a functional term. Is it specifying some aspect of human being that reflects God’s nature or is it merely the way we function? This is going to depend upon how you interpret a couple of Hebrew propositions – “ba” and “ke.” It says that man is created “in” God’s image – the Hebrew word there is ba. And it is “according to” his likeness – the Hebrew word there is ke. Notice that it doesn’t say that man is God’s image but that he is created in God’s image. He is in the image of God; he is not God’s image, but he is in the image of God. These words are usually translated as “in” (man is created “in” God’s image) and “according to” God’s likeness. That would be the normal translations of these prepositions. But the first one of these – ba – can be taken in the sense of identity which we will symbolize with the equals sign. Not that man is created in God’s image but that man is created as God’s image. They are identical to each other. Man is God’s image; not in it but he is it. Now, ke is not the same. This cannot be translated to mean “as” but in Genesis 5:1 the earlier word ba is used with the word “likeness” to indicate that someone is in or as God’s likeness. So even though ke doesn’t mean “as” and doesn’t indicate identity, the word “likeness” could also be used with ba which could be interpreted to mean, therefore, identity – that we are God’s likeness, we are God’s image. Those who defend this view would then usually interpret being God’s image or likeness to mean that we are God’s co-regents on this planet. We are his representatives. He has placed us on this planet to be the lord over it and its creatures so that we are serving as God’s co-regents on this planet.[4] There is not some ontological component of our being or nature that is like God’s – it is simply that we function on this planet as his co-regents and that is what it means to be “as” his image and likeness.

This involves, as I say, reinterpreting these prepositions from their normal meanings which is “in” and “according to.” I think, ultimately, it is based upon a false dichotomy. It assumes that a functional role requires no ontological component or commonality of man with God. That strikes me as obviously false. In order to function as God’s co-regent on this planet, man has to have certain faculties like rationality, self-consciousness, freedom of the will, and so forth. So in fact we shouldn’t be playing off functional versus ontological understandings of God’s image. The reason that we can function as God’s image is because we are created in God’s image. That is to say, we do have some ontological similarity to God which enables us to serve as his representative and co-regent.

Man as Personal Being

What would this be? Well, it seems to me that this would imply or necessitate that man is a personal being. In that respect, he is like unto God and different from everything else in creation. This recurs back to our discussion of the attributes of God. Remember we saw that God is the personal, infinite being. Insofar as man is finite, there is a chasm that separates him from God. Man is like the rest of creation in his finitude. So how is man like God? Well, he is like God in that he, too, is personal. Then the chasm that separates man and God from the rest of creation is that they are not persons.

On this view, the reason that man can serve as God’s co-regent and representative on this planet and govern the earth is because he is in the image of God. That is to say, he is a person in the same way that God is personal and thus has the attributes of personhood. Things like self-consciousness, rationality, and freedom of the will. This would combine both an ontological similarity between man and God with a functional understanding of man’s role on this planet.[5]



[1] “. . . we can trace some remains of the divine image distinguishing the whole human race from other creatures.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 2, Section 17.

[2] 5:11

[3] 10:01

[4] 15:07

[5] Total Running Time: 18:45 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)