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Introducing the Image of God

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

As a culture, and the Church that speaks in and to it, we are gripped in a series of questions about what it means to be human. We saw Conchita win Eurovision 2014, marriage law in the UK has changed, zombie films and shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ are incredibly popular, some folk in Switzerland support voluntary euthanasia for the elderly, and American states continue to maintain the death penalty. Closer to home, pretty much everyone has taken a ‘#selfie’ of some kind. Even the Pope.

 

The thread that runs through these disparate ideas is actually deeply theological. And it is a thread that carries on running into the theological, ethical and pastoral complexities of Disability Theology, gender, and beginning and end of life ethics. Understanding what it means to be human – as God defines us – doesn’t necessarily solve all these questions and conundrums, but it is a Doctrine with a long tradition that is a deep and valuable resource for engaging with the many questions facing the Church in the contemporary world.

Biblically speaking (and I hope to explore this in more detail in future articles) the Image of God is a theme which runs throughout Scripture. It is used exclusively of the creation of humankind in Genesis 1:26-8, and even after the Fall, it is still vitally important (for example, the prohibition of murder in Genesis 9:6 is grounded in the Image of God). The concept underpins the understanding of humanity that Scripture works with, and finds its culmination in the New Testament. Sinclair Ferguson rightly says of the phrase that whilst it ‘is infrequent, the interpretation of man which it enshrines is all-pervasive[1] Ultimately, when we talk about the Image of God, theologians must (as ever!) be mindful of Jesus, whom Paul in Colossians 3:15 describes as being ‘The Image of the Invisible God’. This is a theme adopted, among others, by Barth and more recently Anthony Thiselton, who writes of Jesus Christ as ‘The Paradigm of the Truly Human[2]. By knowing Jesus and beginning to understand the glorious mystery of who he is, we can start to understand who we are in the light of what God has said and done.

HT: Tom Creedy, Theology Network ASW in Nottingham, who blogs at admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk

[1] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Image of God, in eds., Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, J. I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology, (Inter-Varisty Press, Leicester, 1993), p. 328

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, (Eerdmans, Cambridge, 2007), p. 243

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