Eventually I’ll finish up talking about Ayn Rand, but I really have to address something that’s been rolling around in my head for almost 20 years now. This has been one of the most fascinating subjects of the Bible for me, and I don’t think I can overestimate how important this is to me, and (as I argue) to the world. This one concept affects virtually every aspect of human interaction, and it’ll really speak to our conversation about Rand as well.
As the title states, I’m referring to the Imago Dei, Latin for the “Image of God.” As Wiki puts it, it’s “a concept and theological doctrine in Christianity, Judaism and Sufi Islam which asserts that human beings are created in God's image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function.” Over the next few days, we’re going to examine what this means, define it as best we can, and then (most importantly, as we’ll see) glean some “so what?” applications.
In case you didn’t know, the concept comes from the first time humanity is mentioned in Scripture, Genesis 1:26-27:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
What does this term mean? First, let’s get out of the way the notion that some people have that the terms “image of God” and “made in God’s likeness” are distinct. As best as I can tell, the terms are pretty much equivalent. I mean, in the passage above, the Lord uses the terms right next to each other while he’s doing one action. If there’s any distinction to be made, to me it’s a distinction without a difference. For the remainder of our discussion on this topic, I’m going to be using the terms interchangeably.
Second, if you’ve been reading my TAWG blog at all, the one watchword that I keep harping on--so much you’d think I was getting a commission on its usage--is. . . context. As much as possible, let the Bible interpret itself. If something isn’t clear in one passage, look for it to be explained in another one. Let the clear parts interpret the murkier and more obscure ones.
But in this case, when it comes to defining our term, we sort of draw a blank. The theologians don’t really agree on what the term means, simply because Scripture never defines it for us. However, this is not the last time the term is used. It’s used three more times referring to 1) either Adam and Eve as the first parents of the human race or 2) to humanity in general:
Genesis 5:1-3: This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.
Genesis 9:6 Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed for in the image of God has God made mankind.
James 3:9-10 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
In none of the above passages does the inspired author define exactly what he’s talking about with regard to “image” or “likeness.” But please notice something, since this is so important: In Genesis 9:6 and in James the doctrine of Imago Dei is a practical one. It’s supposed to affect how we treat and relate to other people. Each and every person you see, and meet, and interact with, and talk to, and do business with, and think about is made in God’s image. And therefore you should—you must—treat them in a certain way.
And that’s the topic for the next post.