sábado, 2 de novembro de 2013

The Image of God [03/03]

An Approach from Biblical and Systematic Theology

Published in Studia Biblica et Theologica, March 1971

Systematic Theology and the Imago Dei

The Bible gives us an appreciable insight into the image of God in man received through regeneration, but it tells us practically nothing concerning the image of God common to unregenerate man. To this latter use of the “image” I now turn. In the conclusion to my discussion of the Old Testament I said that there simply is not enough evidence to be sure what the nature of the image of God was in the mind of the ancient writer. Karl Barth and Helmut Thielicke make series attempts to find the content of the imago Dei in the context of Genesis 1, but come up with different answers, thus illustrating the ambiguity of the text.
Barth notices that man was the only creature created as a “Thou” whom God could address as “I.” Thus man is unique in that he stands in an “I-Thou” relationship to man and God.19But Barth specific the imago further, claiming that the phrase “male and female he created them” is an interpretation of “God created man in his own image.”
Men are simply male and female. Whatever else they may be, it is only in this differentiation and relationship. This is the particular dignity ascribed to the sex relationship. It is wholly creaturely, and common to man and beast. But as the only real principle of differentiation and relationship, as the original from not only of man’s confrontation of God but also of all intercourse between man and man, it is the true humanum and therefore the true creaturely image of God.20
Thielicke also appreciates the “I-Thou” character of man, but locates the specific content of the image at a different point. “The divine likeness is thus a relational entity because it is manifested in man’s ruling position vis-à-vis the rest of creation, or better, because itconsists in this manifestation, in this exercise of dominion and lordship.”21 We have noted von Rad’s opposition to this view; let us now consider Barth’s rejection of it. With regard to the relationship between the image and man’s dominion, he comments that “there can be little doubt that the two are brought together and that the dominium terrae is portrayed as a consequences of the imago Dei, but the question remains whether a technical connexion is intended. If this were the case, would it not have to be expressed?”>22 If this is justifiable criticism of Thielicke (and I believe it is), the same question should be put to Barth’s own interpretation. Is there any “technical connection” intended between the statement that man is created in God’s image and the statement that man is created male and female? “If this were the case, would it not have to be expressed?”23
Thus when I examine contemporary discussions of the imago Dei, I find my previous conclusion confirmed. Evidence for determining the precise way the Genesis writer used the phrase, “in the image of God,” is simply not available We will see later that the data of Genesis 1 through 9 enables us to make important exclusions from the content of theimago, but no further positive content is found in the texts. Barth and Thielicke are to be commended for adhering so closely to the text itself. But adherence to the text is not faithfulness to the text when “truths” are found which are not there. All theologians have encountered the ambiguity of the Genesis teaching about the imago Dei; and traditionally a method other than straight exegesis has been employed for determining the content of theimago. This method, I believe, also underlies the efforts of many theologians who stick most closely to the Genesis texts. Stated simply, the method is this: First, determine from Scripture as many attributes of God as you can; second, determine all the attributes of man that distinguish him from the rest of the animals; third, determine which of these attributes are found in both lists, and in just these ways is man to be considered the image of God. Consider, for example the reasoning of St. Thomas:
Man is said to be after the image of God, not as regards his body, but as regards that whereby he excels other animals. Hence, when it is said, Let us make man in our image and likeness, it is added, And let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea (Genesis i.26). Now man excels all animals by his reason and intelligence; hence it is according to his intelligence and reason, which are incorporeal, that man is said to be according to the image of God.24
The method just described asks for an extensive anthropology couched in terms of theimago Dei. At this point, biblical theology and systematic theology part ways. In other words, biblical theology asks the Bible what it means by the phrase “image of God,” whereas systematic theology asks the much larger question, “How is man like God?” What, then, have been the important answers given this question?
“The early Church Fathers were quite agreed that the image of God in man consisted primarily in man’s rational and moral characteristics, and in his capacity for holiness ….”25This approach, which locates the content of the imago Dei in qualities that man possesses, has been developed and systematized in the orthodox theology of the Catholic Church. Man’s God-likeness is conceived in a dualistic way. It includes “nature,” whose substance is static and self-contained. This substance cannot be augmented or diminished, improved or destroyed, because it consists of an accumulation of ontic parts, each of which is in itself unalterable. If this nature is to point or lead beyond itself, it cannot do so of itself. There must be a creative act which imparts the supernatural gifts which lead from the natural imago to the supernatural “similitudo.” Originally, this distinction was found in the words “image” and “likeness” in Genesis 1:26.26 But the system does not depend on this linguistic distinction. The supernatural “similitudo” consists in man’s original righteousness (justitia originalis); that is, in the harmonious ordering of the natural elements. Given this from of man’s God-likeness, the Fall cannot affect the natural imago of ontic parts; rather, original sin consists in the dissolution of the harmonious ordering of these parts. The way St. Thomas relates the ontic imago and the supernaturally endowed similitudo is seen in the following summary.
Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways. First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men. Secondly, inasmuch as man actually or habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace. Thirdly, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likenessof glory …. The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed.27
This kind of description of the imago Dei Thielicke calls the “ontological” approach, over against which may be placed the “personalistic” approach of contemporary European evangelical theology (e.g., Barth, Brunner, Thielicke). The features of the personalistic approach are, first, a complete abandonment of all efforts to locate the image, the truehumanum, in the ontic qualities of man, and second, a wholehearted adoption of the effort to discover in God’s or man’s action the precise locus of the imago Dei. The personalistic element comes out in the fact that the essence of the imago is found in those actions of man and God in which they relate to each other as persons. Thus arises the general label given the imago, “relational entity” (a peculiar combination of words, to say the least, for those who think ontologically). For a moment, let us see how these three theologians conceive of this “relational entity.”
Barth characteristically fixes his gaze on God himself to determine what man is. And when he is finished describing man, it is fair to say he has really never taken his eyes off God. “Thus the tertium comparationis, the analogy between God and man, is simply the existence of the I and Thou in confrontation. This is first constitutive for God, and then for man created by God.”28 The imago Dei is not a quality possessed by man; it is a condition in which man lives, a condition of confrontation established and maintained by the Creator. Thus in no sense can we speak of man losing this image. “What man does not possess he can neither bequeath nor forfeit.”29
Brunner suggests, first of all, that there is a formal, structural imago which consists not in the possession of a rational nature existing in its own right, but in man’s relation to God as a responsible, personal being. This formal imago cannot be lost; but Brunner suggests secondly that “…the existence of a merely formal responsibility, without its material fulfillment through the love of God, is the result of the Fall and of Sin.”30 Thus Brunner distinguishes the imago as a “formal” and lasting responsibility on the one hand, and theimago as a man’s proper “material” response to God on the other hand, namely, his yes to God.
There is a step which Brunner takes, however, that to me is illegitimate on the basis of the scriptural evidence. He believes that “the restoration of the imago Dei, the new creation of the original image of God in man, is identical with the gift of God in Jesus Christ received by faith.”31 To claim, as Brunner does here, that the image of God received in regeneration is a restoration of the “original image” is to go beyond the limitations of the evidence. If we do not know the precise nature of the original imago, we cannot know what constitutes its restoration. The fact that Paul not once chose explicitly to relate the “imago” of Genesis 1 and the “new creation” should caution our efforts as well. The danger in pursuing such a correlation is the tendency either to restrict unduly the content of the “new creation” or to expand the “imago” of Genesis one.
A Thielicke presents his view in Theological Ethics, Vol. 1, it is very difficult to pin down. He comes at the subject from a number of different angels, and, in the end, his ideas seem very much like a distillation of Barth and Brunner. Like Barth, he locates the imago in God himself. “What is at issue is the imago which God has of us …. Hence the imago Dei—man!—is the object of faith and not of knowledge. Man really exists only in the consciousness of God. Hence man is present to men only as God himself is present, namely, in faith.”32 But like Brunner, he conceives of the imago in two senses, which he calls the positive and the negative “mode.” The positive mode of the imago Dei is that positive relationship in which man was created, from which he fell, and to which he may return through faith in Christ. The negative mode of the imago Dei is the relationship which endures in fallen, unregenerate man. The Fall is the loss of a positive relationship. But that man can see his present relation as a negative shows that the image remains. That man can reflect on his loss, and be addressed on the basis of it, bears witness to an alien dignity.33
I turn now to ask the question, Why this turn in modern theology? What has occasioned the abandonment of ontology in preference for personalism? And finally, Which of these approaches, if either, leads to the truth? Let us take as a sample argument (not the best) against the ontological approach the following statement of Helmut Thielicke. “Paul said that ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin,’ and the moment his ‘whatsoever’ is limited in the slightest degree, e.g., by the setting apart of certain ontic spheres which are neutral as regards faith, the sola gratia and sola fide are abandoned in principle.”34 This statement represents an intolerable exegesis of the biblical passage quoted. The quote is Romans 14:23 and has to do with eating and drinking in a questionable situation. The entire verse is, “But he who doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Thielicke has converted a local moral affirmation into a sweeping metaphysical affirmation about all that is. Whether or not there is anything neutral about man is a fair question to ask, but it will never be answered by this kind of proof-texting.
Perhaps it is unfair, however, to examine such surface arguments without understanding the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the personalistic approach. Both personalistic and ontological approaches speak of relationships. But the person who thinks ontologically always asks the question, Who or what is relating? The personalist makes no distinction between the one who relates and the relation itself. Being, for the personalist, consists in action, specifically interpersonal action, i.e., relationships. Theologically, this kind of thinking is an effort to think biblically. For example, Thielicke says: “The attempt to differentiate the essence of the imago from its manifestation … has no foundation in the Bible and betrays a platonic mode of thinking. The imago of God consists in its manifestation….”35 The Bible never offers us the ontological content of the imago. It presents an imago in its manifestation, a God who acts, and a man of faith. This mode of thinking becomes very attractive when one sees that a number of biblical problems are lessened by its use (e.g., faith and works).
But the personalistic approach should be seen in its philosophical context as well as its theological context. Personalism in theology is just one shoot growing out of the mach larger branch of modern philosophy characterized by the rejection of the Kantian distinction between subject and object. Immanuel Kant is noted for his attempt to reconcile the materialist and the idealist philosophies which he inherited in 18th century Germany. On the one hand, he asserts the existence of a reality outside our consciousness which he calls the “thing-in-itself.” But, one the other hand, the “thing-in-itself,” he says, is inherently unknowable, beyond our cognition. The mind (subject) brings to the chaos of sense experience (object) the categories which are able to present the “thing-in-itself” to the knower as knowable. Modern existentialism, which appears to have had a profound influence on contemporary evangelical theology, reckons Kant’s description utterly passé. The “thing-in-itself” is a useless cipher. Characteristic of existentialists of every strip is the affirmation that “existence precedes essence or, if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point.”36 This is the philosophical structure that has influenced almost every branch of thought in this century. In art, a picture consists in the way we see; in hermeneutics, the meaning of the text is a horizon-fusion; in theology, revelation is truth which happens in an existential encounter.
Against this background the personalist’s aversion to ontological thinking is understandable. The poor man trapped in the world of ontology asks, Is not man, when he is addressed by God, characterized at least by a quality of addressability? And Thielicke responds, “ … that there is no such attribute or epistemological quality as ‘addressability,’ we would assert as forcefully as possible by our statement that it is the divine address which constitutes the person as imago Dei.”37 For the ontological thinking and the personalist thinker to argue about the nature of the imago of God is fruitless, because they do not even speak the same language. Ontologically speaking, to say the imago “consists in a relationship” is neither true nor false; it is nonsense. A relationship is definable only in terms of beings that relate or are related, and apart from these entities, relationship is inconceivable.
At this point I should confess that I am one of those who is convinced by the eminently common sense view characterized by ontological thinking. To clarify my position over against the personalist, let us look at an analogy which Thielicke uses. “…it is the very essence of a picture—that is its point!—so ‘effect’ something, for example, in the person who looks at it; it ‘consists’ in this effect, not in the variety of colors.”38 I take the very opposite view. The essence of the picture is grounded in the color and configuration of the stuff on the canvas. If a picture’s essence consists in the onlooker’s response, then the Mona Lisa has millions of essences, and that, in my opinion, is no essence at all. The one, common “essential” factor in every person’s encounter with the Mona Lisa is the unalterable color and shape of the lady herself. Thus I believe in the “thing-in-itself” and say with the early church fathers that where there is relationship, there must be that which relates.
To the personalist’s criticism that ontological thinking is foreign to the Bible, I am less antagonistic. The Bible does depict a God who acts and a man who believes or rebels; it does omit, by and large, ontological speculation about the essence of God and man. But is it not an argument from silence to debate one way or the other about the metaphysical underpinnings of biblical thought? The Bible is history and story; it does not claim to give its own philosophical ground. The important question to ask is, Would not a story sound the same whether told by one who thinks ontologically or one who thinks personalistically? For example, if I were to say, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians,” how would my hearer know whether my view of reality was such that God consists in this saving act, or was such that he exists in and of himself apart from his deed? I am not trying to foist onto the biblical writers any specific way of thinking. I am simply trying to take some of the wind out of the sails of those who too readily confine biblical thought to any one mold—ontological or personalistic.
I turn now to what seems to me to be the greatest difficulty the ontological view has to overcome: the question, Is Satan in the imago of God? If we locate the imago Dei in man’s reason, oughtness, and freedom, it appears that Satan along with man has these qualities and is like man, in the image of God.39 My first response to this conclusion was, Yes, I guess Satan is in the image of God, like fallen man. But there is a problem with this confession. Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 seem to make man’s possession of the image of God the ground for his right not to be murdered and not to be cursed. Satan, however, is obviously given no such right in Scripture; he, indeed, is the cursed one. Therefore, the mere possession of the traditional ontic qualities does not mean man is in the image of God. The imago must be other than, or more than, these attributes.
In the introduction to this paper I said I would work out a systematic, theological definition of the imago Dei. In the course of the discussion, several limitations of such a definition have emerged. The Old Testament does not tell us the nature of the image of God. The New Testament tells us much about the new creation in Christ, but does not explicitly relate this to the image of God in the Old Testament. Finally, the problem of Satan just stated keeps us from a simple paralleling of attributes in man and God as the basis for a description of the imago Dei. The Bible is not as concerned as we are to discover the precise nature of man’s God-likeness.
For the sake of systematic theology, however, I offer the following conclusion: What the full meaning of man’s God-likeness is cannot be determined until all that man and God are is known. Man as man—complex physical/spiritual being—in his wholeness, not his parts, is like God. It is not enough to say he reasons, nor is it enough to say he is addressed, for Satan, too, reasons and is addressed. Our definition of the imago Dei must be broad because the only sure statements we have about the imago are broad. The definition I offer is this: The imago Dei is that in man which constitutes him as he-whom-God-loves.
The obvious thrust of this definition is to insist that this something intrinsic to man cannot completely be specified (indeed, the Scriptures do not specify its content). I have thus removed myself from the traditional orthodox view which I described earlier. An important result of this move is that I do not have to assert that man is a morally neutral being. In fact, I choose not to say anything at all about this issue. Whether I believe man is a morally free being or is absolutely determined does not affect the definition of the imago Dei I have offered. My concern is to maintain, not that man is free in himself, but that he is something in himself.


1 All quotations from the Bible will be from the Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
2 Numbers 33:52, molten images to be destroyed; 1 Samuel 6:5, images of your tumors and images of your mice; 2 Chronicles 23:17 and 2 Kings 11:18, images of Baal; Ezekiel 7:20, abominable images made of ornaments; Ezekiel 16:17, images of men made of gold and silver; Ezekiel 23:14, images of Chaldeans portrayed in vermillion on a wall; Amos 5:25, images of other gods and kings; Daniel 2:31-35, the image made of five substances; Daniel 3 (twelve times), the image sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide.
3 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, translated by John H. Marks, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), p. 56.
4 Isaiah 40:18, what likeness will you compare with God; 2 Kings 16:10, the model of the altar; 2 Chronicles 4:3, in the furnishing of the temple there were figures of gourds; Ezekiel 10:1, the likeness of a throne.
5 Ezekiel 10:10, as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness.
6 Karl Barth, “The Doctrine of Creation,” Church Dogmatics, III/I, ed. G. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958), 197.
7 Exposition of Genesis (Columbus: Wartburg Press, 1942), p. 88.
8 Von Rad, p. 56.
9 Helmut Thielicke, Theological Ethics, ed. Wm. H. Lazareth (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), I, 157.
10 Von Rad, p. 57.
11 Von Rad, p. 57.
12 Barth, p. 183.
13 Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch, trans. A. E. Cowley, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 398.
14 Barth, p. 186.
15 Barth, p. 200.
16 Matthew 22:20 (Mark 12:16Luke 20:24), the image of Caesar on Roman money;Romans 1:23, images resembling men and animals; Revelation 13:1415 (twice); 14:19; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4, the image of the beast.
17 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NIC (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1965), I, 318.
18 St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon (1879; rpt. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1969), p. 215.
19 Barth, p. 184.
20 Barth, p. 186.
21 Thielicke, p. 157.
22 Barth, p. 194.
23 Cf. Brunner’s criticism of Barth’s view: Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, Dogmatics, II, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952), 63.
24 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (New York: Benzinger Bros., 1947), I, 15.
25 L Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1939), p. 202. For example: “God then made man in his own image. For he created him a soul endowed with reason and intelligence ….” St. Augustine, The City of God (New York: The Modern Library, 1950), p. 407.
26 Likeness is distinct from image “so far as any likeness falls short of image, or again, as it perfects the idea of image (Aquinas, p. 477).
27 Aquinas, pp. 471-72 (italics added).
28 Barth, p. 185.
29 Barth, p. 200
30 Brunner, p. 78.
31 Brunner, p. 58.
32 Thielicke, p. 165.
33 Thielicke, p. 168-70.
34 Thielicke, p. 208.
35 Thielicke, p. 157.
36 Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism,” in A Concise Dictionary of Existentialism, ed. Ralph B. Winn (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960), p. 33.
37 Thielicke, p. 165.
38 Thielicke, p. 157.
39 Thielicke, p. 159, 161.
Por John Piper. © Desiring God. Site em inglês: desiringGod.org | Português: satisfacaoemDeus.org |
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