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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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IMAGE . In theological usage the term ‘image’ occurs in two connexions: (1) as defining the nature of man (‘God created man in his own image,’ Genesis 1:27 ); and (2) as describing the relation of Christ as Son to the Father (‘who is the image of the invisible God,’ Colossians 1:15 ). These senses, again, are not without connexion; for, as man is re-created in the image of God lost, or at least defaced, through sin ( Colossians 3:10; cf. Ephesians 4:24 ) so, as renewed, he bears the image of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ). These Scriptural senses of the term ‘image’ claim further elucidation.

1. As regards man , the fundamental text is that already quoted, Genesis 1:26-27 . Here, in the story of Creation, man is represented as called into being, not, like the other creatures, by a simple flat , but as the result of a solemn and deliberate act of counsel of the Creator: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.… And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’ Distinctions, referred to below, have been sought, since Patristic times, between ‘image’ and ‘likeness,’ but it is now generally conceded that no difference of meaning is intended. The two words ‘image’ ( tselem ) and ‘likeness’ ( demûth ) combine, without distinction of sense, to emphasize the idea of resemblance to God. This is shown by the fact that in Genesis 1:27 the word ‘image’ alone is employed to express the total idea, and in Genesis 5:1 the word ‘likeness.’ Man was made like God, and so bears His image . The expression recurs in Genesis 9:6 , and again repeatedly in the NT ( 1 Corinthians 11:7 , Colossians 3:10; cf. James 3:9 ‘likeness’). The usage in Genesis is indeed peculiar to the so-called ‘Priestly’ writer; but the idea underlies the view of man in the Jahwistic sections as well, for only as made in God’s image is man capable of knowledge of God, fellowship with Him, covenant relation to Him, and character conformable to God’s own. To ‘be as God’ was the serpent’s allurement to Eve ( Genesis 3:5 ). Psalms 8:1-9 echoes the story of man’s creation in Genesis 1:1-31 .

In what did this Divine image, or likeness to God, consist? Not in bodily form, for God is Spirit; nor yet simply, as the Socinians would have it, in dominion over the creatures; but in those features of man’s rational and moral constitution in which the peculiar dignity of man, as distinguished from the animal world below him, is recognized. Man, as a spiritual nature, is self-conscious, personal, rational, free, capable of rising to the apprehension of general truths and laws, of setting ends of conduct before him, of apprehending right and wrong, good and evil, of framing ideas of God, infinity, eternity, immortality, and of shaping his life in the light of such conceptions. In this he shows himself akin to God; is able to know, love, serve, and obey God. The germ of sonship lies in the idea of the image. To this must be added, in the light of such passages as Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 , the idea of actual moral conformity of actual knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as pertaining to the perfection of the image. Sin has not destroyed the essential elements of God’s image in man, but it has shattered the image in a moral respect; and grace, as the above passages teach, renews it in Christ.

If this explanation is correct, the older attempts at a distinction between ‘image’ and ‘likeness,’ e.g. that ‘image’ referred to the body, ‘likeness’ to the intellectual nature; or ‘image’ to the intellectual, ‘likeness’ to the moral, faculties; or, as in Roman Catholic theology, ‘image’ to the natural attributes of intelligence and freedom, ‘likeness’ to a superadded endowment of supernatural righteousness must, as already hinted, be pronounced untenable.

2. The idea of Christ , the Son, as ‘the image ( eikôn ) of the invisible God’ ( Colossians 1:15; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4 ) connects itself with the doctrine of the Trinity, and finds expression in various forms in the NT, notably in Hebrews 1:3 ‘who being the effulgence of his glory and the very image of his substance.’ Jesus Himself could declare of Himself that he who had seen Him had seen the Father ( John 14:9 ). But the passages quoted refer to a supra-temporal and essential relation between the Son and the Father. God, in His eternal being, reflects Himself, and beholds His own infinite perfection’ and glory mirrored, in the Son (cf. John 1:1; John 17:5 ). It is this eternal Word, or perfect self-revelation of God, that has become incarnate in Jesus Christ ( John 1:14 ). The consequence is obvious. Bearing Christ’s image, we bear God’s. Being renewed in God’s image, we are conformed to the image of His Son ( Romans 8:29 ).

James Orr.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Image'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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