The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for 27070
April 5, 2012
“On my honor, I have neither given nor taken improper assistance in completing this assignment.” ________________________________________________________________________Josh Harbin Issue
For years theologians have sought to understand the image of God. The image of God is seen biblically as reserved only for humans and sets man apart from the rest of creation. Several biblical passages indicate that humanity bears the image of God: Genesis 1:26-27 (the creation account); Genesis 5:1-3 (the transmission of the image of from Adam to his posterity); Genesis 9:6 (the doctrine of the image relative to homicide); Colossians 3:10 (the exhortation to the believer to put on the new man); and James 3:9 (the proper use of the tongue). In this paper I will review three prominent understandings of the image of God and I will present a defense of my own view. Positions
There are three main positions that try to explain the way in which humans are created in the image of God: the substantive view, the relational view, and the functional view. The substantive (or structural) locates the image of God in the physical, mental, and spiritual characteristics of humankind. The relational view pinpoints the image of God in the experience of how humans relate to each other and to God. The functional view identifies the image of God not through being or experience, but rather by the things that humans do. Many famous biblical theologians throughout the years have held the substantive view, specifically the mental and spiritual nature of man being like God. An animal has a body and some characteristic of personality, but does not have reason to worship, pray, trust, and believe. This spiritual reasoning demonstrates how humans are like God and not like animals. Theologians such as Irenaeus, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin have, in various ways, stood behind this substantive position. Irenaeus claimed that the aspect that is most like Christ is primarily rationality. Thomas Aquinas was a firm believer that the image of God is found primarily in man’s intellect. Aquinas concluded that man is the image of God because like God, man is rational. John Calvin stated that the image of God in man consists in the acknowledgment of God’s goodness. All of these men were great theologians, and spent much time intellectually reflecting upon spiritual things. It is easy to understand why they single out reason as the significant aspect of human culture that is most like God. In addition to mental and spiritual aspects many theologians also believe that the image of God involves the physical composition of humanity. This view is not as common, but became popular during the rise of the theory of evolution in the nineteenth century. Hermann Gunkel made claims that the image of God in man was indicative of mans upright posture and used Romans 1 as the background text to display that man was superior to animals in that man acknowledged the God of the heavens and earth by standing upright. The physical nature view also states that because Seth is said to have looked like his father, in Genesis 5:3, humans also resemble their creator. The relational view holds that the image of God is not something resident within human nature. Instead, the image of God is displayed when humans experience relationship. Emil Brunner and Karl Barth made this view popular. Barth stated, “The image and likeness of the being created by God signifies existence in confrontation, i.e., in this confrontation, in the juxtaposition and conjunction of man and man, which is that of male and female…” Barth claimed that the image of God is represented by the...