At the end of this post, some of you may be wondering what all this has do with my promise to explain what I think is going on in the story of Noah and the Flood. Yet, I ask your patience and refer you back to my insistence that context literary, canonical and historical is of utmost importance when it comes to interpreting Genesis 6-9. (Previous Post)
In the Image of God
Recent discoveries (relatively speaking) have shed light on the meaning of many biblical phrases and concepts that share resonances with similar phrases and concepts in the broader Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context.
One of these phrases is the phrase “image of god”. The description of human beings as being made “in God’s image” caught my imagination early in my Christian life. So, in a few courses at Regent College and at Baylor, I was able to research and write papers on this topic. Yet, no paper has shaped my thinking on this phrase like the one I wrote for J.I. Packer back in 1996. (Systematic Theology B) The paper was entitled “The Physical Aspect of the Human Beings as Image of God” or something like that. This paper was shaped also by the early lectures of Rikk Watts in his first semester at Regent College. (Biblical Theology for Contemporary Christians)
In a nutshell, what I discovered is that from the Church Fathers on, their was the assumption that ‘whatever was meant by the image of God, it could not refer to anything physical because God is spirit and is not a body.’ Thus, they insist that the image of God is our ability to reason (hmm?), the possession of an eternal rational soul, etc. While I am not one to dismiss wholesale the value of Greek thought in the shaping of Christian theology, at times and I think on this occasion, the tendency of the Greek intellectuals to denigrate the material in favour of the spiritual or embodiment in favour of disembodiment has led many, including some of the theological greats like Augustine, to misinterpret and misapply this phrase. The denigration of the body and the preference for a disembodied state for human beings does not resonate with the biblical perspective and the Christian Faith founded in the physical resurrection of our Lord and the hope of the renewal of God’s good Creation.
So, what is going on in Genesis 1:26?
There are two important and fairly common uses for this phrase in the ANE. In this post, I will point to its basic meaning as a synonym for an idol. In the next post, I will point to its use as a title or designation for a ruler or king.
In its most ordinary usage, the Hebrew word translated here as image suggests precisely a physical representation of a a god. The ancient world and frankly much of the modern world is replete with images of gods or idols. Now an idol was normally made from wood, stone, or metal. Moreover, one of the defining features of Israelite culture (as it is presented in Scripture) is its iconoclasm and its prohibition against making idols. So, the author of Genesis 1 is suggesting something rather extraordinary and bursting with meaning when he portrays God as making an idol to represent him.
In contrast to the inanimate idols common to the human race, the Creator God (YHWH) has made living, breathing, thinking, self-replicating idols. Human beings are the representatives of God in his Temple — the Earth, if not the Cosmos (or should I now say multi-verse?).
Now, Read Psalm 115 in light of the interpretation this post presents. Go To Psalm 115