The heated scholarly debate concerning the ‘image of God’ continues to occupy many column inches1, as theologians address the paradox by which the true ‘image of God’ is only seen in Christ (2 Cor 4:3-4, Col 1:15) and yet all humans are nevertheless created in that image (Gen 9:6, 1 Cor 11:7); mankind is made in the likeness of God (Jam 3:8-9), but those who have once enjoyed it can give it up (Rom 1:23). We are made in the image, yet change appears necessary in order to transform unredeemed mankind into God’s Trinitarian image of Creator, Christ and Spirit (Col 3:10-11, Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18). Moreover, Paul portrays this transformation as from the earthy image of Adam into the heavenly image of Jesus (1 Cor 15:47-49). Attempts to explain this paradox can involve differentiation between ‘likeness’ and ‘image’ or ‘perfect image’ and ‘imperfect image’2. I have found it helpful, and more in keeping with the ancient concept of an image3, to think in terms of the ‘image of God’ as a role, assigned to all mankind. The purpose of this role remains as undiminished and perfect as the word of God that created it and thus all those entrusted with it are worthy of respect, yet because of sin nobody can perform it quite as intended; some will try whilst others will rebel. In a similar way, whether or not they act like ambassadors or ‘go native’, the embassy of a superpower expects its staff to be accorded respect. Of course those who actively pursue the role should attempt to rehabilitate those who go astray, rebuking them respectfully and encouraging them to fulfil their God given purpose. However, in the long run we all have to return to the one who commissioned us and answer for our choice.
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1 E.g. Edward M. Curtis, “Image Of God (OT),” ABD, 3:389-91.
2 G. W. Bromiley, “Image Of God,” ISBE, 2:803-5.
3 Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVP Bible Background Commentary, Gen 1:26-7.