The Imago and Imitatio Dei

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The first biblical passage that speaks of man practically shouts that he is created in the image of God. Evangelical scholarship on the image of God has mainly concentrated on the Genesis texts, which has often led to speculation about the ontological identity of the image. However, there is a much richer reading which does not care so much to ask, “What is the image of God?” but “What does it mean to carry the image of God?” This reading draws from the witness of both the Old and New Testaments, discovering that the restoration of the image becomes a central theme in the New Testament, taking on eschatological significance.

Genesis introduces the idea of the imago Dei in the creation narrative. The six days of creation culminate in the creation of man. While the plants, fish, birds and beasts are all created “according to their kinds” (1:12, 21, 24), man alone is created in the image of God. “Let us create man in (בְ) our image (צלם), after (כְ) our likeness (דמות)” (1:26, ESV).

צלם is normally used to denote a physical image, especially of gods (Amos 5:26) but is also used figuratively in two Psalms describing mere dreams or semblances (39:7; 73:20). דמות denotes a likeness or resemblance. Even though the Reformers and the majority of Medieval scholars held that ‘image’ and ‘likeness refer to separate features, it has become accepted almost without exception by modern commentators that the terms are interchangeable and used synonymously.

Syntactically the בְ preposition may interpreted as a בְ of essence or norm. If it is the former, it indicates that man is the image (cf. Exod 6:3), while the latter indicates that man is merely a copy of the “image.” The second preposition is a כְ of norm. In 5:3 the preposit...

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... Ibid., 311.

Stephen R. Holmes, “Image of God,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Kevin Vanhoozer ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 319.

Hoekema, Created, 22. “Then the best way to learn what the image of God is is not to contrast man with animals, as has often been done, and then to find the divine image to consist in those qualities, abilities, and gifts that man has in distinction from the animals. Rather, we must learn to know what the image of God is by looking at Jesus Christ. What must therefore be at the center of the image of God is not characteristics like the ability to make decisions, but rather that which was central in the life of Christ: love for God and for man… For no man ever loved as Christ loved.”

Douglas John Hall, Imaging God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 84.

Douglas John Hall, Imaging God, 85.