sábado, 2 de novembro de 2013

The Image of God [01/03]

An Approach from Biblical and Systematic Theology

Published in Studia Biblica et Theologica, March 1971

Systematic theology is not biblical theology; but if it would be Christian, it necessarily must rest upon biblical theology. Therefore, this paper, aiming primarily to determine a Christian belief, will have the following structure: First, I will examine the Old Testament teaching on the image of God; then, I will examine the New Testament teaching about the image; and third, through an interaction with several contemporary scholars, I will work out a systematic, theological definition of the imago Dei.

The Image of God in the Old Testament

The explicit theme of the image of God appears in three texts in the Old Testament:Genesis 1:26275:12, and 9:6. I am excluding from the discussion such important texts as Psalm 17:15 and Ecclesiastes 7:20 because, although these texts bear upon the essence of man as such, they are not part of the Old Testament’s own teaching about the image of God. Given this limitation, intrinsic to the Old Testament itself, we readily see that among the ancient writers there is not a great interest in describing man in terms of the image of God. This cautions us, perhaps, that we should measure our emphasis accordingly.
The first text, Genesis 1:2627, records the final creative act of the sixth day of creation:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.1
The fifth chapter of Genesis contains the genealogy from Adam to Noah. It begins:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.
Our third text falls within the context of God’s blessing upon Noah immediately after the flood. God says to Noah,
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.
In these texts, the English word “image” translates the Hebrew word selem; and the English “likeness” translates the Hebrew demût (except in Genesis 5:1, where “likeness” translatesselem. Our first task, then, is to find out the meanings of these words from their usage in the whole Old Testament.
In the remainder of the Old Testament, selem is used, but for the two exceptions, to refer to the physical likeness of a person or thing, and almost uniformly these images are abominable.2 The two exceptions of this usage, however, broaden the possibilities of the meaning of this important word. We should, therefore, consider these texts more closely. InPsalm 39:56a we read:
Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths,

and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight.

Surely every man stands as a mere breath! [Selah]
Surely man goes about as a selem!
The RSV renders selem “shadow,” which points to its meaning as a resemblance or reflection of something greater. It certainly is not a material idol or the like. Thus we have some evidence the selem is not bound to denote a physical image. Similarly, in Psalm 73:20 Asaph, speaking of the rich heathen, says,
They are like a dream when one awakes, 

on waking you despise salmam.
Here the RSV renders salmam “their phantoms.” Thus we are not dealing with a concrete, tangible image, but again, a more abstract likeness. With von Rad, I conclude from the above evidence that selem “means predominantly an actual plastic work, a duplicate, sometimes an idol…; only on occasion does it mean a duplicate in the diminished sense of a semblance when compared with the original….”3
The second important word, demût, apart from the Genesis texts, has a greater flexibility than selem. It is used in a concrete sense almost synonymously with selem,4 and in the abstract sense of resemblance.5 Although the abstract quality is there, demût is used uniformly in connection with a tangible or visual reproduction of something else. So again, as with selem, the usage of demût urges us very strongly in the direction of a physical likeness.
The next question we ask is whether or not a substantial distinction is meant between these two words when the writer says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The evidence is against any serious distinction. If the author conceived of an important distinction between selem and demût in verse 26, which is God’s resolution to create, then why did he omit demût in verse 27, the record of the very act of creation? The most obvious explanation for the oversight, either by God to create man in his likeness, or by the author to record it, is that there really was no oversight by either and that nothing is lost either from man or from the meaning of the text by the omission of demût. Another bit of evidence which points to the interchangeability of these two words is that in Genesis 5:1and 9:6, only one word is used to denote the image, demût, in 5:1 and selem in 9:6. The Septuagint translators perceived what was happening here and accordingly translated bothdemût and selem in the texts by the one word eikōn. Finally, with regard to Genesis 1:26we must recall the repetitions for the sake of emphasis, variety, and rhythm, are common in Hebrew poetry, e.g., Psalms 59:12104. This passage (verses 26 and 27) is poetic, and the repetitions of verse 27 are obvious. “So God created man in his own image / in the image of God he created him / male and female he created them.” It is understandable in this context that the author would use two different words with no fundamental distinction intended.
We must ask now what role the prepositions play in the phrase “in our image, after our likeness” (besalmēnû kidmutēnû). Do they imply that man is not the image of God, but is only in the image? That is, does man image God or is he twice removed, the image of an image? Karl Barth follows the latter possibility. “Man is not created to be the image of God but—as is said in vv. 26 and 27, but also Genesis 5:1 (and again in the command not to shed human blood, Genesis 9:6)—he is created in correspondence with the image of God.”6This looks very much like theological expediency, however. It is likely that the prepositions should not be pressed for such a meaning. My main reason for saying this is found inGenesis 5:3. “When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Obviously the author does not mean that there was an image of Adam according to which Seth was fashioned. The conclusion that emerges from the comparison of these two texts is that when the author employs this kind of phrasing, he simply means that in some sense the one person is like the other; man is at some level as copy of his Maker. As H. C. Leupold remarks, “The double modifying phrase, ‘in our image, after our likeness,’ is in the last analysis nothing more than a phrase which aims to assert with emphasis the idea that man is to be closely patterned after his Maker.”7
We are now in a position to ask what the author of Genesis 1:26275:12; and 9:6 really intended to convey about the image of God in man. To answer this, let us observe more closely the context of Genesis one. What features of the creation narrative are unique to man? 1) Man is the final creation; 2) only man is stated as being in the image of God; 3) only man is given dominion over all the earth; 4) prior to the creation of man alone was there divine counsel; and 5) only man is explicitly stated as being created male and female. Now what, if anything, does each of these features contribute to our understanding of God’s image in man? First, that man was the final creation gives rise to such statements as “Man is the crown of creation, the end toward which it was all directed.” But this tells us nothing about the nature of God’s image.
Second, and by far the most important feature of Genesis one, is the actual statement that man is in God’s image. On the basis of the linguistic evidence presented above, it would reflect a theological prejudice to deny that the author means man’s physical appearance images his Maker. As von Rad says:
The marvel of man’s bodily appearance is not at all to be excepted from the realm of God’s image. This was the original notion, and we have no reason to suppose that it completely gave way, in P’s theological reflection, to a spiritualizing and intellectualizing tendency. Therefore, one will do well to split the physical from the spiritual as little as possible: the whole man is created in God’s image.8
That God’s image in man may go beyond the physical is not ruled out, but it may turn out that the Genesis writer intends to give us no information in that regard.
The third feature of the creation narrative is that only man is given dominion over the whole world. Helmut Thielicke thinks that here we have a statement of the very essence of the image. “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 it consists in this manifestation, in this exercise of dominion and lordship.”9 He maintains that to distinguish between the image itself and its manifestation is to foist a Platonic way of thinking onto the text which is foreign to biblical thought. Over against this idea I would place von Rad’s opposite contention. “This commission to rule is not considered as belonging to the definition of God’s image; but it is its consequence, i.e., that for which man is capable because of it.”10 This seems to be closer to the truth, not because it reflects Platonic thinking (von Rad, I think, would be horrified at that accusation), but because it is the most natural way of handling the language of the text. We must emphasize again that the author may not intend to tell us any more about the content of the image, for, as von Rad caution: “…the text speaks less of the nature of God’s image than of its purpose. There is less said about the gift itself than about the task.”11
The fourth unique feature of man’s creation is the divine counsel which preceded it. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Barth finds a significance here for determining the nature of the image. As he put it, “A genuine counterpart in God Himself leading to unanimous decision is the secret prototype which is the basis of an obvious copy, a secret image and an obvious reflection in the coexistence of God and man, and also of the existence of man himself.”12 In other words, the divine deliberation indicates the “I-Thou” character of God’s existence, of which man is a copy. The image of God in man, therefore, consists in man’s addressing and being addressed as a “Thou.” At this point we must be very careful to distinguish between, on the one hand, what may be a correct assessment of the nature of man and God, and, on the other hand, a correct assessment of what the Genesis writer is intending to say. I find it very difficult to see Barth’s interpretation in the intention of the writer (though I do not rule out its possibility). In the three texts where the actual statement that man was create in God’s image occurs (Genesis 1:275:19:6), no plurality is mentioned. Also, the plural is used elsewhere when God deliberates before an important act. In Genesis 11:78a we read: “‘Come, let us go down, ‘and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth….” We may say two things on the basis of this text. First, it appears that the plural “let us” may be a way of pointing to God’s own self-deliberation.13 Second, when an author uses the plural, we cannot insist that he intends any essential connection between what the plural implies about God’s nature and the immediate object of his action.
The final feature of the creation account unique to man is that explicit statement that he is created male and female. This is reaffirmed in Genesis 5:2. Barth finds here the specific locus of the image of God in man as a “Thou.” “Man can and will always be man before God and among his fellows only as he is man in relationship to woman and woman in relationship to man.”14This view is weakened to the extent one rejects Barth’s other notion that the divine counsel of verse 26 is intended by the author to supply the divine prototype of which man is the copy. I have abandoned that notion, and I find nothing else in the text to compel me to think the author intended to say that the bisexuality of mankind is an essential part of the image.
Finally, if we look at Genesis 9:6, we see again that all the author tells us is a consequence of man’s possessing the image of God. Because man is made in the image of God, “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” The most important thing about this text is that it comes after the Fall of mankind into sin. Negatively, there is no indication that man has lost the image. Positively, the benefits of being created in God’s image continue to be preset realities after the Fall. I, therefore, concur with Barth that “…it is not surprising that neither in the rest of the Old Testament nor in the New is there any trace of the abrogation of this ideal state, or of the partial or complete destruction of theimago Dei.”15 (I have yet to demonstrate the whole of this statement, however.)
The following conclusions may be drawn from the foregoing discussion: That man is in the image of God means that man as a whole person, both physically and spiritually, is in some sense like his Maker. Just what the nature of this likeness is, we are not told. But we are told what really matters: even as sinners we bear God’s image. As a result of this image in us, we have dominion over all the earth and we have a right to live out our days upon the earth. Beyond this teaching about the image of God in man, the Old Testament is silent.
Por John Piper. © Desiring God. Site em inglês: desiringGod.org | Português: satisfacaoemDeus.org |
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