The Image of God in Man: A Reformed Reassessment
Rev. Angus Stewart
(Slightly modified from articles first published in the
British Reformed Journal)
(II) A Survey of Views
(III) Refutation of Several Views
(IV) Is the Broader and Narrower View The Reformed View?
(V) A Defence of The Confessional View
(VI) The Image of God in Its Theological Relationships
Along with the great biblical questions, "What think ye
of Christ?" (Christology), "What must I do to be saved?" (soteriology) and
"What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?"
(eschatology), the question, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?"
(anthropology) must also be asked.1
The question, "What is man?" has engaged the minds of the greatest
thinkers in the world and in the church in all ages. Looming large in the
answer of the church is the concept of the "image of God." Some
theologians treat man as image of God as part of a chapter in their
anthropology,2 others give it a whole chapter,3
others treat it as the dominant motif in the biblical presentation of man4
and yet others use it as their starting point to draft a systematic
presentation of the Christian faith.5
Though the phrase "image (or likeness) of God," as
referring to man, occurs relatively infrequently in Scripture,6
theology’s manifold use of it ought not surprise us.
First, the image of God concept is related, in the
Bible itself, not only to the God whom we are to image, and Christ, the
perfect image of God (II Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3), through whom we
regain God’s image (Rom. 8:29; II Cor. 3:18), but also to creation (Gen.
1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6), man’s dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26f.; cf. Ps.
8), marriage (Gen. 1:26-27; I Cor. 11:7), regeneration and sanctification
(Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), and the sixth (Gen. 9:6) and ninth commandments
(James 3:9). With a little bit of thought, and viewing each of these texts
in their contexts, it will readily be seen that the imago dei
concept has profound implications for doctrine and practice, both faith
Second, the image of God is an especially attractive
concept in today’s world. In one brief phrase, man is related to
God—something very important in a day of widespread atheism—atheistic
evolution is denied and man’s dignity and worth is upheld over against
today’s abortion-on-demand culture.7
Third, the phrase’s appeal in itself is also great. The
"image of God," like the "new commandment" (John 13:34), the "keys of the
kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19) and "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev.
21:1), is one of those highly memorable biblical phrases that stick in our
minds and roll off our tongues.
Given the theological breadth, manifold usefulness and
powerful appeal of the image of God motif, one is not surprised that the
various ecclesiastical groups have all utilized it and integrated it in
their theological systems. This article will give a brief survey of the
main conceptions of the imago dei, before paying particular
attention to the debate between the two views held by Reformed and
Presbyterian theologians. Finally, the image of God will be viewed in its
proper dogmatic bearing in a distinctively Reformed theology.
(II) Survey of Views
View. Anthropomorphites, including the Swedenborgians and Mormons,
view the image of God as indicating that God has a body like man. The book
of Moses, in the Book of Mormon, reads, "In the image of his [i.e.,
God’s] own body, male and female, created he them" (6:9). Anthony Hoekema
is correct: Mormons "understand the expression ‘image of God’ as referring
primarily to man’s physical nature."8 Thus all
men possess the divine image, including unbelievers.
(2) Socinian View. The Socinians, a
Unitarian sect which arose after the Reformation, asserted that man’s
being in the image of God consists solely in his dominion over the lower
creation.9 This view also holds that all men,
believers and unbelievers, are in God’s image.
(3) Roman Catholic View.10
Following some of the early church fathers and the medieval scholastic
theologians, the Roman Church holds that the "image" (eikon) and
the "likeness" (homoiosis) of God refer to different aspects of
man. The "image" includes man’s natural gifts, such as personality,
intellect, will, etc. The "likeness" is the so-called donum
superadditum, a superadded gift endowed upon man’s nature after his
creation but before his fall, consisting of the spiritual gifts of
righteousness and holiness. The fall resulted in the loss of the donum
superadditum and not the whole human nature, which was merely
weakened. Fallen man still retains some good, including free will, and is
capable of responding to God’s grace and thus meriting more grace.
(4) Eastern Orthodox View. The Eastern Church,
like the Roman Church, distinguishes between the "image" and the
"likeness" of God (though without the donum superadditum
terminology) and uses this distinction to preserve some good in fallen
man.11 As a further part of its doctrine of
the image of God, Eastern Orthodoxy
argues that since Christ is the image of God in our humanity, we can
venerate and revere, but not worship, icons of the incarnate Son of God,
Mary and the saints.12
(5) Broader and Narrower View. The dominant view
of Reformed and Presbyterian churches is that the image of God may be
spoken of in broader and narrower senses.13
The imago dei in the narrower sense, consisting of knowledge,
righteousness and true holiness, was wholly lost at the fall, but the
imago dei in the wider sense, which includes man’s "intellectual
power, natural affections and moral freedom," was retained.14
Thus a seventeenth century Dutch Reformed theologian, Henrici a Diest,
The image of God (which cannot be lost) was the
spiritual, immortal, rational substance of the soul, with the powers of
knowing and freely willing: the divine image, which can be lost, lay for
knowledge in wisdom, for the will and its effects in true righteousness
(6) Spiritual/Ethical View. Speaking of pre-fall
Adam in the image of God, Martin Luther declares,
In Adam there was an enlightened reason, a true
knowledge of God, and a most sincere desire to love God and his
neighbour, so that Adam embraced Eve and at once acknowledged her to
be his own flesh.16
With the fall "the image of God was lost" totally
and it is only "the Gospel [which] brings it about that we are formed once
more according to that familiar and indeed better image, because we are
born again into eternal life."17 Following
Luther, Lutheran theologians, generally speaking, denied that the image of
God includes the so-called broader sense. They restricted it to the
spiritual virtues of knowledge, righteousness and holiness.18
Some Reformed and Presbyterian theologians also share this understanding
of the divine image, as we shall see later. Unlike the previous five
views, the spiritual/ethical view alone denies that unbelievers are in the
image of God in any sense.
Individual theologians often put the concept to a
particular use. Some are especially interested in using the imago dei
to explicate man’s relationship to the creation. Christian scholars trying
to present a biblical worldview find the image of God concept very
Christian Reconstructionists emphasize man’s being in the divine image as
involving dominion over the earth in keeping with their hope that all of
this world will be governed by Christian civil governments before the
bodily return of Jesus Christ. Kenneth Gentry asserts "One vital aspect
of that image [i.e., man’s being in the image of God] is that of man’s
acting as ruler over the earth and under God."20
Liberal theologian, Douglas John Hall also stresses the image of God as
dominion over this world but his is a very different kind of dominion,
that not of mastery but of sacrificial service of others.21
Hall also emphasizes the imago dei as
relationship to God and our fellow man, as does Harry Boer.22
Paul Jewett defines the image of God in man as
the human spirit (soul) imprinted by the Creator
with those endowments that enable us to transcend the world of lesser
creatures and live our lives in a unique I-thou relationship with God
and [our] neighbor.23
Neo-orthodox theologians, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner
also emphasize this I-thou relationship between man and God and between
man and man, with the former being particularly interested in the I-thou
relationship between a man and a woman in marriage.24
On the other hand, recently an American rabbi argued for same-sex
marriages on the basis of the image of God in all men, despite the fact
that the first page of the Bible records Genesis 1:26-28.
The uniqueness of man is another idea some wish to
derive from the imago dei. Clarence Joldersma, for one, seeks to
use this in fashioning a philosophy of education.25
Another educator, T. Van Der Kooy believes, "The equality of all men
before God lies also in their all being created in his image."26
Henry Van Til sees the unity of the human race in the concept of the image
Others see the image of God as speaking specifically
about man’s constitution. Augustine’s "primary use of the imago
symbol," writes Hall, is in his
De Trinitate "where he shows that a ‘vestige of the Trinity’ is
found in [the] human being, namely, in the faculties of memory, intellect
and will."28 In his zealous crusade against
anti-intellectualism, Gordon Clark emphasizes the mind in his presentation
of the image of God.29
Clark would have greatly approved of the following remark of Johann
Kepler, a seventeenth century German mathematician and astronomer:
For what is implanted in the mind of man other than
numbers and magnitudes? These alone we comprehend correctly and, if
piety permits us to say so, this recognition is of the same kind as
the divine. Geometry is one and eternal, a reflection out of the mind
of God. That mankind shares in it is one of the reasons to call man
an image of God.
Pelagius, as one would expect, emphasized the
importance of the will in the imago dei.30
Thus the issue of the grace of God lies behind many presentations of the
image of God. Pelagius and the Roman and the Eastern churches define the
image of God in order to preserve unregenerate man’s ability to repent and
believe. Not only is this image of God doctrine used by some to overthrow
sovereign grace via free will, but also others use the imago dei to
serve common grace. In Abraham Kuyper’s thinking, "all men share in this
common grace by virtue of the image of God left in them." Thus,
"Christians can and should work together with unbelievers towards
improving living conditions, fighting poverty and promoting social justice
For others, their understanding of the divine image is
helpful in presenting Christian ethics. This is the major note in Jewett’s
work on the image of God. Jewett views "conscience," "human dignity,"
"racial prejudice," "sex, love and marriage," "divorce," "homosexuality,"
"the ecological crisis," "dominion" and other ethical issues in the light
of his view of the imago dei.
Furthermore, the frequent use of man as the image of
God in many of the works of Francis Schaeffer shows the use of this
concept for apologetics.32
(III) Refutation of Several Views
The above list of six cardinal views, plus the various
other meanings and applications of the image of God in man, might make us
wonder if the imago dei is a wax nose to be shaped whatever way the
theologian, educator, politician, ethicist or apologist wills. Van Der
Kooy speaks of the "wealth of ideas" which the image of God concept
presents for a Reformed pedagogy.33 But Hall,
in effect, confesses that he views the image of God as a phrase into which
one is free to pour whatever content he wishes. "It was just this
flexibility of the imago Dei symbol—its openness to discovery—that
rendered it accessible and meaningful to New Testament and subsequent
Christian writers," he explains. "This potential of symbols for
incorporating new experiences and addressing emergent problems is what
gives to the symbol of the imago Dei its positive usefulness for
our present purposes."34
While we acknowledge the Bible’s unfolding, progressive
revelation of the image of God and its various applications and the
development of the church’s subjective understanding of this truth, often
occasioned by contemporary needs and circumstances, Hall’s relativism must
be rejected. Scripture clearly teaches what the imago dei is and
how the various ideas mentioned in connection with it ought to be related
The anthropomorphites (II:1 supra) err
grievously. Since Jesus expressly declared that "God is a spirit" (John
4:24), man’s body cannot be the principle thing in his being the image of
God. Furthermore, according to Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10, the
imago dei must, at the very least, be located primarily in spiritual
Similarly, since Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10
speak of the image of God in terms of the moral virtues of knowledge,
righteousness and true holiness, the imago dei
cannot consist solely of man’s dominion over the earth as per Socinianism
The Eastern Orthodox (II:4) fall into idolatry in their
doctrine of the image of God. Whereas the anthropomorphites break the
first commandment, which concerns who God is, the Eastern Church
breaks the second commandment, which commands us how He is to be
worshipped. Instead of appealing to the image of God motif in
Scripture, they would be better served in obeying the Bible’s teaching on
images (esp. Ex. 20:4-6).35
The fact that
God's Word teaches the total depravity of man, involving the bondage of
his will to sin, precludes free will as constituting part of the image of
God retained by man after the fall. Thus the Roman (II:3) and Eastern
Churches err fatally. They are also wrong, when in support of this heresy,
they put different contents into the image of God and the likeness of God.
Robert L. Reymond’s arguments at this point bear repeating:
2. Both Genesis 1:27 and 9:6 employ only selem ("image"),
apparently regarding the one word as sufficient to explain the entire
3. Genesis 5:1 employs only demut ("likeness") ... This again
suggests that the one word is sufficient to express the entire idea.
4. In Genesis 5:3 both terms are employed, but the verse reverses both
the order of the terms and the usage of repositions found in Genesis
5. In Colossians 3:10 (see also 1:15 and 2 Cor 4:4) only "image" (eikon)
is found, while in James 3:9 only "likeness" (homoiosis) is
employed, again suggesting that either term sufficiently expresses the
If the words "image" and "likeness" do not have
different contents, why then does the Bible use two different words? The
answer is quite simple. There are images which bear little or no
similarity to that of which they are images. They are, in effect, symbols.
The addition of the word "likeness" tells us that man is an image in the
sense that he is actually like God and reflects His glory. Thus the
use of the two words, "image" and "likeness," states, "emphatically that
man uniquely reflects God, that is to say, man as created was the ‘very
image’ or ‘perfect likeness’ of God."37
Of the six main views of the imago dei, four
have been refuted (the anthropomorphite, Socinian, Roman Catholic and
Eastern Orthodox views). Thus only two now remain: the broader and
narrower view (II:5) and the spiritual/ethical view (II:6).
We must, however, consider if it is accurate to call
the broader and narrower view the
Reformed position. Geerhardus Vos apparently thinks that it is. In an
article entitled "The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," Vos
simply speaks of "the Reformed distinction between the broader and
narrower sense of the image of God in man," before immediately contrasting
this with the Lutheran view.38
Louis Berkhof, however, sounds a note of caution: "The Reformed Churches
... do not all agree as to [the image of God’s] exact contents."39
Calvin is claimed as an advocate of the
broader/narrower view of the divine image, though, of course, he never
used these terms, but many have reservations about this. Calvin does speak
of the imago dei as consisting in both the possession of intellect
and will and their spiritual qualities, but often he mentions only the
latter.40 In his words, the later is
"primary."41 Sinclair B. Ferguson
distinguishes somewhat between Calvin and the view of most later Reformed
The image has been defined in ethical and cognitive
terms. God is holy and righteous. Man made in his image is so as well.
Calvin, in particular, argued for this position ... The image of God,
therefore, consisting of holiness, righteousness and knowledge of the
truth is dynamic rather than static in nature. Reformed theology
recognized that more than this was required in order to express
fully the Biblical teaching (cf. Calvin’s belief that not even the
body is excluded from the idea of the divine image).42
From the quotation below, Heinrich Bullinger apparently
taught that the imago dei consists in ethical virtues. In his
influential Decades, he writes,
I say, that this depravation of our nature is
nothing else but the blotting out of God’s image in us. There
was in our father Adam before his fall the very image and likeness of
God; which image, as the apostle expoundeth it, was a conformity
and participation of God’s wisdom, justice, holiness, truth,
integrity, innocency, immortality, and eternal felicity. Therefore
what else can the blotting or wiping out of this image be but original
sin; that is, the hatred of God, the ignorance of God, foolishness,
distrustfulness, desperation, self-love, unrighteousness, uncleanness,
lying, hypocrisy, vanity, corruption, violent injury, wickedness,
mortality and eternal infelicity? This corrupt image and likeness is
by propagation derived into us all, according to that saying in the
fifth of Genesis: "Adam begat a son in his own similitude and
Heinrich Heppe asserts that Johannes Cocceius finds the
divine image not in the "substance of the soul," nor yet in the "faculties
of the soul," nor yet in the "imperium which man had over the
living," but in the rectitudo of the soul.44
Nor, says Heppe, is Cocceius alone in this. Heppe tells
us that Heidegger, Braun, Witsius, Riisen and others agreed with
Cocceius in speaking of, first, the "antecedent of the image" (man’s
rational-moral nature); second, the "actual formal nature of the image of
God" (the uprightness of the soul as a quality infused into the former);
and, third, the "consequent of the image" (Adam’s dominion).45
The first of these was, as one elegantly expresses
it, as precious ground on which the image of God might be drawn and
formed: the second, that very image itself, and resemblance of the
divinity: the third, the lustre of that image widely spreading its
glory; and as rays, not only adorning the soul, but the whole man, even
his very body; and rendering him the lord and head of the world, and at
the very same time immortal, as being the friend and confederate of the
Significantly, Heppe states that this view was
consciously adopted by these men over against that view of the image of
God that speaks of wider and narrower aspects of the image of God. He
writes that they "declared against" that conception.47
The view that the image of God does not consist of
man’s rational-moral nature but exclusively of spiritual qualities is not
only found amongst the continental Reformed theologians; it also occurs in
the British Isles.
Article 3 of the Scottish Confession of Faith
(1560) penned by the "six Johns," including John Knox, reads,
By which transgression, commonly called original
sin, was the image of God utterly defaced in man; and he and
his posterity of nature, became enemies of God, slaves to Satan, and
servants to sin.
Elizabethan theologian, William Perkins was not
comfortable with the image of God consisting of rationality, morality,
etc. He writes,
The image of God is nothing else but a conformity
of man unto God, whereby man is holy as God is holy: for Paul saith,
Put on the new man, which after God, that is in God’s image, is
created in righteousness and holiness. Now I reason thus: wherein the
renewing of the image of God in man doth stand, therein was it at the
first; but the renewing of God’s image in man doth stand in
righteousness and holiness: therefore God’s image wherein man was
created at the beginning, was a conformity to God in righteousness and
holiness. Now whether God’s image doth further consist in the
substance of man’s body and soul, or in the faculties of both, the
Scriptures speak not.48
Although theoretically opening the possibility that,
though the Scriptures do not teach that the image of God includes man’s
faculties, it may be all right so to speak, Perkins goes on to write of
the imago dei in such a way as to exclude this.
And hereupon Adam when he sinned, he deprived first
of all himself, and then secondly all his posterity of the image of
God; because all mankind was in his loins when he sinned. Now then
upon the former appointment, when the souls of men are created and
placed in the body, God forsakes them, not in respect of the substance
of the soul or the faculties but only in respect of his own image,
whereof the souls are deprived.49
No man who believed that the soul itself was part of
the divine image could so write.
Paul Bayne, the successor of William Perkins at the
University of Cambridge, in his commentary on Ephesians 4:24 is very
The image of God is not to be conceived in bodily
things, as the anthropomorphites imagined, nor yet standeth in the
essence and faculties of the soul, as memory, reason, will, as
Augustine took it, for wicked men have these; nor in dominion
and rule, which made man as a little God amongst the creatures, for
this is a consequence that followed on the image; but as Paul
teacheth, it standeth in these divine qualities, which as
certain signs and forms express the divine nature, most holy, most
just, so far as the Creator can be figured forth in such a creature.50
Richard Sibbes, another English Puritan, writes,
Therefore, when you read of the image of God in the
New Testament [this would include I Corinthians 11:7 and James 3:9],
it must be understood of the image of God in Jesus Christ, the second
Adam. Now this image consists in knowledge, in holiness and
righteousness. If we compare Col. iii. [verse 10] with Eph. iv. [verse
24], this was perfect in Christ, who was the image of his Father, and
we must be like Christ the second Adam in sanctification ... When God
set his image on the first Adam, it was rased, and decayed and lost,
by the malice of the devil ... For every man by nature carries the
nature of the devil on him, till the image of God be stamped on, and
the image of Satan rased out.51
Similarly, London pastor, Thomas Vincent (1634-1678),
in his oft reprinted commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism,
includes the following in his exposition of Q. & A. 10:
Wherein doth consist the image of God, which was put upon man in his
Negatively, the image of God doth not consist in any outward visible
resemblance of his body to God, as if God had any bodily shape. 2.
Positively, the image of God doth consist in the inward resemblance of
his soul to God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. "Renewed
in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:10).
"Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and
true holiness" (Eph 4:24).
Q. 4. What
is included in this image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and
holiness, as man had it at first?
image of God in man at the first doth include the universal and
perfect rectitude of the whole soul: knowledge in his understanding,
righteousness in his will, holiness in his affections.52
Robert Rollock, a sixteenth century Scot and the first
Principal of Edinburgh University, speaks of the image of God as the "soul
of the soul," that is, godly qualities of the soul.53
Prominent nineteenth century
Scottish Presbyterian theologian, George Smeaton opposed the traditional
view of the divine image.
The image of God, in which
Adam was created, was replaced by the entire corruption of man's
nature (John 3:6). His understanding had been furnished with a true
and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart
and will had been upright; all his affections had been pure; and the
whole man holy: but, revolting from God by the temptation of the
devil, the opposite of all that image of God became his doleful
heritage; and his posterity derive corruption from their progenitor,
not by imitation, but by the propagation of a vicious nature, which is
incapable of any saving good. It is prone to evil, and dead in sin. It
is not denied that there still linger in man since the Fall some
glimmerings of natural light, some knowledge of God and of the
difference between good and evil, and some regard for virtue and good
order in society. But it is all too evident that, without the
regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, men are neither able nor
willing to return to God, or to reform their natural corruption.54
R. L. Dabney, a nineteenth century American
Presbyterian, also rejected the broader/narrower view of the imago dei:
This image [of God] has been lost, in the fall, and
regained, in redemption. Hence, it could not have consisted in
anything absolutely essential to man’s essence, because the loss of
such an attribute would have destroyed man’s nature. The likeness
which was lost and restored must consist, then, in some accidens.55
In the twentieth century, the neo-orthodox Swiss, Karl
Barth, argued against the image of God’s including man’s intellect and
Two prominent Dutch theologians, Klaas Schilder (in his
commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism) and G. C. Berkouwer have
also defined the imago dei
solely in terms of spiritual/ethical virtues.56
Writing in Scotland, English Baptist A. W. Pink declares,
Even among those preachers who desire to be regarded as
orthodox, who do not deny the Fall as a historical fact,
few among them perceive the dire effects and extent
thereof. "Bruised by the fall," as one popular hymn puts
it, states the truth far too mildly; yea, entirely
misstates it. Through the breach of the first covenant
all men have lost the image of God, and now bear the
image of the Devil (John 8:44). The whole of their
faculties are so depraved that they can neither think (2
Cor. 3:5), speak, nor do anything truly good and
acceptable unto God. They are by birth, altogether
unholy, unclean, loathsome and abominable in nature,
heart, and life; and it is altogether beyond their power
to change themselves.56a
Arthur Custance, an Englishman by
birth who spent most of his life in Canada, expresses similar views. In
his article "The Terms 'Image' and 'Likeness' as Used in Genesis 1:26,"
It is not, therefore, the
possession of a faculty that constitutes in man the Imago Dei,
but the possession of a relationship ... [when a man is] born
again, something which sets him apart from all unredeemed men and
makes him a member of what is, in fact, a new species, the blameless
family of God. He becomes related as a son to the Father and knows
it. He knows it because the new spirit born within him bears witness
to this fact in a self-conscious way and because he is assured of it
by the Holy Spirit of God, whereby he cries, "Father" (Romans 8:15;
Another Canadian, Harry Fernhout, states,
The search to locate the image of God somewhere
inside man can never become concretely meaningful. It can never
give us comfort and encouragement because it is basically on the wrong
track. The essence or heart of man cannot be found by looking
inside him at some of his faculties. Rather the essence of man comes
out in his way of relating to the bond with which God ties man to
Himself, the "Love me and keep my commandments." When God’s Word
tells us that we are His image-bearers, it wants us to know not that
we have certain qualities or abilities which remain vague and
difficult to relate to the bread and butter of daily living, but that
we, in the very way we are put together, in our whole way of living
and acting, must give a reflection of the king whom we serve ...
These qualities set Adam as God’s image-bearer. True knowledge,
righteousness and holiness; that’s what its all about.58
Theologians of the Protestant Reformed Churches in
America have serious objections to the broader/narrower view of the image
Herman Hoeksema, ever zealous for the sovereignty of
God’s grace, observes that this "distinction is not an innocent one"
because "it prepares room for the further philosophy that there are
remnants of the image of God left in fallen man, and that therefore the
natural man cannot be totally depraved."59
Rejecting the broader/narrower conception, Hoeksema opts for a
formal/material distinction in the divine image. By this he means that man
as man, unlike a dog, for example, is capable (formal sense of the
imago dei) of bearing God’s image, which consists of spiritual ethical
virtues (material sense of the imago dei).60
Robert C. Harbach follows Hoeksema in the distinction
between the formal and material image of God.61
Homer C. Hoeksema, however, finds fault even with this
It is perhaps even well not to speak of the image
of God in the "[f]ormal" and "material" sense, though this distinction
is much safer [than that of the image of God in the broader and
narrower sense]. For after all, the "image of God in the formal sense"
is, strictly speaking, not the image of God in man, but his capacity
to be an image bearer. And as such, he may bear either the image of
God or the image of the devil. It is well, therefore, to limit
ourselves to the language of our Canons and to include in the
image of God only what this article [i.e., III/IV:1] included,
namely, the excellent spiritual, ethical gift which man forfeited
through his rebellion and fall.62
Homer C. Hoeksema’s statement draws attention to a very
important matter in determining if the broader/narrower view of the image
of God is indeed the Reformed view: what do the Reformed
confessions teach? Here we find absolutely no justification for the
traditional distinction. Not once do we find a reference to such a thing,
instead the imago dei is identified as knowledge, righteousness and
true holiness in both the Three Forms of Unity and the
Strikingly all three of the Three Forms and all three documents of
the Westminster Standards define the image in terms of these
ethical virtues.64 Furthermore the
Westminster Larger Catechism clearly distinguishes between man’s
constitutional make up in body and soul and the image of God thus
excluding man’s soul from being part of the imago dei:
After God had made all other creatures, he created
man male and female; formed the body of the man out of the dust of the
ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living,
reasonable and immortal souls [this is man’s constitution]; made them
after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness [this is
the image of God in man] (A. 17).65
The Canons of Dordt take it a step further.
After defining the imago dei as uprightness of heart, purity of
affections and holiness of the whole man and explaining that it was
completely lost ("he forfeited these excellent gifts") and, indeed, turned
to its exact opposite by the fall ("blindness of mind, horrible darkness,
vanity and perverseness of judgment," "wicked, rebellious and obdurate in
heart and will;" III/IV:1), the Canons state, "Man after the fall
begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt
offspring" (III/IV:2). We may express the argument of the Canons
thus: (1) The image of God consists of spiritual virtues (III/IV:1); (2)
These were all lost at the fall where man was completely filled with moral
corruption (III/IV:2-3); (3) Thus all the seed of Adam do not have the
image of God. Moreover (4) Canons III/IV:4 speak of man’s remaining
a rational-moral creature after the fall but with no reference to the
broader sense of the image of God. Thus the Reformed confessions are fully
consistent with the position of Cocceius, Witsius, Perkins, Bayne, Dabney,
Homer C. Hoeksema, et al., but present serious difficulties to those
wishing to advocate the broader and narrower view of the image of God.66
A further objection to the broader/narrower distinction
of the image of God as being the
Reformed view is the fact that it is not held merely by Reformed
theologians. In speaking of unbelieving man as possessing the image of God
in the sense that he is a rational-moral, personal creature, it agrees
with the Eastern Church, Aquinas and the Roman Church, ecumenical
Wesleyans like Thomas Oden,67 pentecostals
like Wayne Grudem,68 Lutheran anti-Calvinists
like R. C. H. Lenski,69 baptists like A. H.
dispensationalists like Lewis Sperry Chafer,71
neo-orthodox theologians like Emil Brunner,72
higher critics like Gerhard Von Rad,73 Jews74
and even Arminius himself.75 It is evident
that the wider/narrower view of the divine image is not a distinctively
Reformed doctrine such as irresistible grace or particular redemption.
Instead, this conception can fit with just about the whole spectrum of
Since the broader/narrower conception is (1) not
confessional but rather fits ill with the confessions; (2) held, in
various forms, by Jews, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans,
Baptists, dispensationalists, Arminians, Pentecostals, neo-orthodox and
liberals, as well as by many Reformed theologians, though not by any means
all; and (3) not peculiar to the genius of Reformed theology but, as we
shall see, in opposition to the distinctive character of the Reformed
faith; it cannot simply be called the
Reformed view. Though speaking of the various views of the imago dei
which have been advocated through the whole of the church’s history,
Hall’s remarks are apropos to the Reformed tradition also. The image of
God, he observes, is "one instance (perhaps one among many, but a very
important one) where the authority of the tradition has outshone Biblical
Having challenged the right of the broader/narrower
conception to the name "Reformed," theological objections to it will now
First, the Bible gives us explicit statements of the
contents of the imago dei: knowledge, righteousness and holiness
(Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).77
It gives no indication that there are other elements such as rationality
which ought also to be included. Moreover, the introduction of such terms
as rationality, spirituality, morality, etc., as the contents of the image
of God in its broader sense moves one’s treatment in a more philosophical
rather than biblical direction. Furthermore, arbitrariness is involved.
Who is to say in what this broader aspect consists?78
Second, since fallen man is no longer a son of God, he
is not the image of God either. The image of God is intrinsically related
Christ is the Son of God. He is also the image of God, for the Son is the
image of the Father (II Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Adam was the image
of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6) and the son of God (Luke 3:38, cf. v. 23)
before the fall. Man lost the image in the fall (Canons III/IV:1)
and thereby lost His sonship.80 Similarly,
God’s salvation restores both the divine image and sonship through the
acts of regeneration and adoption respectively. Note Paul’s argument in
Ephesians: on the basis of our regeneration in the image of God
(Eph. 4:24), we are called upon to be "imitators of God, as dear
Third, the traditional broader/narrower view of the
imago dei presents Christological problems. Surely, no one can be
possessed of the image of God without the mediation and cross of Jesus,
the perfect image of God. Yet the traditional view posits just that. It
presents the unregenerate man as the image of God without Christ, the
image of God. And if the unbeliever is in the image of God why cannot he
see in Jesus the same image that he possesses (II Cor. 4:4)?
Fourth, if man is the image of God because he is
possessed of intellect, will and emotions then the demons and Satan
himself are also the image of God. A. A. Hodge is not averse from drawing
this conclusion, assuring us that "the devil is in the image of God,
because he is an intelligent spirit."81
Nay more, as Luther, arguing against the traditional view, points out, the
devil "has these natural endowments, such as memory and a very superior
intellect and a most determined will, to a far higher degree than we have
them." Thus Satan must be a particularly splendid image of God!82
Therefore, according to the traditional view, man is the image of God
and the image of the devil. Indeed, the devil is the archetype of the
imago diaboli and he is the imago dei. At this point, even
Gordon Clark observes that he is moving in the sphere of the paradox, a
Abraham Kuyper is reduced to illustrations—five of them in fact.84
Only Turretin directly faces the issue. He argues that it is not "absurd
... that in the same subject [i.e., fallen man] there is the image of God
and of the devil in different respects."85
Logically, Turretin is correct and yet in things so important and weighty
we have to marvel at a view that posits such a massive equivocation.
Fallen man is a slave of Satan. He reflects the characteristics of his
father the devil being "wicked, rebellious and obdurate in heart and
will," "impure in his affections" and possessed of "blindness of mind,
horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment" (Canons
III/IV:1). Yet he is the image of God in a different sense, we are told.
Fifth, if unregenerate man is the image of God (in some
sense) then there must be some good in him. This follows not merely from
God’s delight in His creation, including man who was created after His
image (Gen. 1:26-27), as "very good" (v. 31) but also, and principally,
from the idea of the imago dei itself. The image of God cannot be
bad, nor can it be merely neutral. God is good and, therefore, the image
of God is good.86
Man must still have a spark of goodness in him.87
Moreover, God loves that which is good and He surely loves His image. Thus
He blesses those in His image (Gen 1:26-28; 5:1-2). If the
broader/narrower distinction is to be followed, there is a love or
blessing or favour of God for all men.88 This
is absolutely intolerable. Moreover, if God loves all men, since His love
is a giving love (cf. John 3:16), Christ must have given Himself on the
cross for all men (cf. Eph. 5:1-2). Since God’s love is also an active,
omnipotent love, they will be saved. After all, God’s love includes not
only a favourable and gracious attitude. It necessarily involves His
seeking the good of the one beloved and bringing him into covenant
fellowship with Himself, the Holy Trinity. This is demanded, for how could
God possibly suffer even a tiny part of His image to reside eternally in
Hell?89 All these things follow, "by good and
necessary consequence" (as Westminster Confession 1:6 puts it),
from the teaching that the natural man is still, in the broader sense, the
image of God. On the other hand, Scripture declares in the most emphatic
terms that Jehovah’s soul "hateth" (Ps. 11:5; 5:5), "abhors" (5:6) and "is
angry with the wicked every day" (7:11). His wrath abides on them (John
3:36) and He will "destroy" them (Ps. 5:6) with "the instruments of death"
(7:13; cf. 11:6). Yea, the Lord "despise[s] their image
[selem]" (73:20). To conclude, the doctrine that all men are in the
image of God in the wider sense is both theologically and biblically
Theologians of false or departing churches exploit this
faulty doctrine of the imago dei in support of their heresies.90
For example, one of the main arguments used by those in
support of homosexual Canon Jeffrey John’s appointment as the Anglican
Bishop of Reading (2003) was that absolutely everyone is in the image of
God (including those described in Romans 1:26-27!). In other words, since
sodomites are in God’s image, they should not be excluded from office in
Christ’s church. The feminists argue similarly from their false view of
the image of God to women's ordination (contrary to I Corinthians 14:34-35
and I Timothy 2:11-12, etc.).
Timothy Ware, an English Eastern Orthodox bishop,
points out, "[Eastern] Orthodox religious thought lays the utmost emphasis
on the image of God in the human person."91
"However, sinful we may be," he writes, "we never lose the image."92
"The fact that the human person is in God’s image means among other
things," asserts Ware, "that we possess free will."93
This means that we are "still capable of good actions."94
According to Ware, not only the freewill of the sinner but also God’s love
for him flows from his retention of the imago dei: "Because she or
he is an icon [or image] of God, each member of the human race, even
the most sinful, is infinitely precious in God’s sight."95
To crown it all, Ware avers, "Because we [i.e., all of humanity including
unbelievers] are God’s icon [or image], we can find God by looking within
our own heart, by ‘returning within ourselves.’"96
Harry Boer, a theologian of the Christian Reformed
Church, uses the weakness in the traditional "Reformed" view of the divine
image to overthrow Reformed theology. Total depravity is the first
doctrine to go. Boer observes "that Reformed theology accepts as
nonnegotiable two irreconcilable concepts: the retention, however
marred, of the image of God after the fall, and the total depravity of
In short, the glimmer, the residuum, the remnant,
the spark of the image of God in its integrity is a glimmer, a
residuum, a remnant, a spark of the one and undivided Light and Life
and Being of God the Creator ... Whether we speak here of "spark" and
"glimmer," suggesting the idea of irreducible minuteness, or of
"residuum" and "remnant," implying a somewhat larger substantiality,
makes no difference. A spark can start a fire. Faith like a mustard
seed can remove mountains. The life of God does not depend on its
quantity but on its actuality, its reality, its authenticity.98
Thus God desires to save all. Boer writes, "Focusing on
the imago of himself who stands at creation’s head as vicegerent,
God pursues him in his estrangement with the intent of reconciliation."99
"A central thesis of [his] book," Boer tells us is that, "Man as imago
Dei—and therefore all participants in the imago—has the
competence to respond affirmatively to the proclamation of the gospel."100
What of those who never hear the Word? Boer responds, "The possibility of
salvation outside the church and knowledge of the gospel lies in the
reality of the imago
Dei."101 One can easily imagine how
Boer proceeds to deny particular redemption, reprobation and election on
the basis of the image of God. He even uses the divine image as a basis
for universalism—the hope that all men eventually will be saved.102
In short, with Harry Boer, the doctrine of the broader sense of imago
dei is taken to its logical conclusions. The wider aspect of the
divine image takes on a life of its own and eats up the Reformed faith.
Geerhardus Vos evidently also realized the difficulties
presented by the broader sense of the divine image to total depravity.
In the extent that these capacities [i.e.,
understanding and will] are present after the fall, he [i.e., man]
remains in the image of God. The purpose here is not to ascribe any
good to fallen man, but rather to present him in the deepest recesses
of his being and in his true destiny as somebody who has to take in
the glory of God and allow it to shine through him.103
Doubtless, Vos’s "purpose" in stating that the
unbeliever "remains in the image of God" is not to ascribe any good to
fallen man. Nevertheless if words mean anything—for the divine image can
hardly be anything other than good—this is the effect. To obviate
this, he uses language that appears profound: "deepest recesses of his
being" and "true destiny." Taking "has to" to mean ought (a moral
obligation), Vos says that presenting fallen man as being in the image of
God means that his true destiny ought to be to image God. In other words,
the traditional view teaches that fallen man is the image of God in
order to declare his duty to image God. But why not avoid
broader/narrower terminology and simply teach that fallen man has lost the
image of God entirely through the fall of Adam, our federal head, and that
God commands His creatures to love and obey Him? This would magnify the
awfulness of the fall, increase the urgency of the call that unbelievers
repent of their imaging the devil, and avoid all Pelagianizing tendencies.104
Here one is reminded of Calvin’s strictures regarding
the obvious import of theological terminology. Commenting on the phrase
"free will," Calvin writes,
If anyone, then, can use this word without
understanding it in the bad sense, I shall not trouble him on this
account. But I hold that because it cannot be retained without great
peril, it will, on the contrary, be a great boon for the church if it
be abolished. I prefer not to use it myself, and I should like others,
if they seek my advice, to avoid it.105
There is much wisdom in this because words carry
meaning. No matter how one might seek to avoid it, the mistaken idea
that fallen man is the divine image in the broader sense is—and will
be—used by heretics to deny total depravity. This is even more obviously
the case since, given the premise that all men are the image of God in a
wider sense—and therefore good to that extent—Boer’s argument is solid.
The time has come to reconsider the traditional Reformed formulation of
the doctrine of the image of God. Surely the Reformed world must
realize the inconsistency of this conception with Reformed theology. The
right way is obvious. Luther wasn’t always wrong. The Reformed churches
ought to return to the fountainhead of the Reformation on the imago dei.
The Bible’s own explicit statements (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) support this
view of the divine image as spiritual virtues. Many Reformed men have gone
this way too and, unlike the traditional position, understanding the
imago as knowledge, righteousness and holiness fits with the genius of
Reformed theology, more specifically, its doctrines of sovereign
particular grace and the covenant. Since the Reformed confessions also
support this position it will henceforth be called the "confessional
(V) A Defence of the Confessional View
Beside the facile objection that this view of the
divine image is Lutheran,106
two charges against the confessional view are made. First, it is alleged
that three Scriptures teach that fallen man is in the image of God in some
sense. Berkhof may be taken as representative of this view: "Notice that
man even after the fall, irrespective of his spiritual condition, is still
represented as the image of God, Gen. 9:6; I Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9."107
The first of these, I Corinthians 11:7 reads,
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head,
forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the
glory of the man.
The argument for broader and narrower senses of the
imago dei is this: "man" is here spoken of. This refers to all men
without exception. Therefore, all men are the image of God, in some sense.108
However, the meaning of this verse is clear to all who believe that a text
ought to be understood in its context. Paul is speaking about prayer (vv.
4-5) in the church institute (v. 16). Thus I Corinthians 11:7 is not
dealing with the heathen but the apostle’s "brethren" (v. 2) who are
imitators of him as he imitates Christ (v. 1). It is simply not true that
"the head of every man is Christ" (v. 3), if this is applied to those
other than those renewed in God’s image in regeneration (Eph. 4:24; cf. I
Cor. 11:1). Therefore I Corinthians 11:7 provides no support for a divine
image in every man head for head. Thus some more astute scholars have only
included Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 in their proof texts for the
broader/narrower view of the image of God.109
Genesis 9:6 is the second text appealed to for the
image of God in all men:
Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood
be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
The exponents of the traditional view are correct in
their assertion that this text speaks of all mankind and not just
believers. They are wrong, however, in stating that it says that all men
are now in the image of God. The text simply does not say this. It
merely reiterates Genesis 1:26-27 that God made man after his likeness and
thus points us back to the sixth day of the creation week. At the fall
Adam lost the imago dei and begat children in his image (Gen.
5:1-3), the image of the devil (cf. Canons
III/IV:1-2). How then is the creation of man in the image of God a reason
for the capital punishment of murderers? Man, unlike all other creatures,
was created in God’s image as the crown of creation. Man as a
rational-moral creature shows himself, unlike the beasts, to possess a
constitution that is able to bear the divine image of knowledge,
righteousness and holiness. Anyone who murders a human thus attacks God,
for the divine image was given to the human race at creation and not to
apes or ants. Thus the confessional view, contrary to the claims of John
Murray, does full justice to "the gravity of the offence of murder," "the
gravity of the penalty" and "the reason for the latter’s infliction."110
James 3:9, the third verse, provides slightly more
difficulty for the confessional view. David Cairns, who holds that
"humanity in general" does bear the image of God, states, "The most direct
reference [to all men bearing the divine image in the New Testament], and
it is oblique, is James 3:9."111
Concerning the believer’s tongue, the inspired Scriptures read,
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and
therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
The traditional position claims that "men" here is
generic, including all men and not just believers. From the text alone,
this would seem to be the case. Certainly the commentators seem to think
Furthermore, the verb gegonotas, translated "are made" in the
Authorized Version, is in the perfect tense and so indicates a past
act with present effect. Thus the "men" in our text are those who were
made and, hence, presently are, in the image of God. Clearly the
explanation of James 3:9 cannot proceed along the same lines as that of
Genesis 9:6, namely that the text speaks of Adam as created. Are not all
men then in the image of God in some sense? Here two points need to be
pointed out. First, the Greek (tous anthropous tous kath homoiosin
theou gegonotas) translated "men, which are made after the similitude
of God," literally speaks of cursing "the men, the ones made after the
similitude of God," that is "the made-after-the-similitude-of-God men."
The text does not say that all men are in God’s image. In itself, the
phrase could be universal, referring to all men head for head, or
restrictive, referring to the regenerate alone. Second, the Scripture’s
overall teaching and the context must determine which of these two are
being spoken of. We have seen that the Bible supports the restricted sense
and a careful reading indicates that the context does too. James 3:1
raises the issue as to who should be teachers (didaskoloi) in the
churches. Christians must be "perfect" (teleios; v. 2) in their
words (vv. 2-12) and "wise" (sophos; v. 13) in their deeds (vv.
13-16), and certainly teachers must be thus qualified. Chapter 4 tells us
directly that there were "wars" and "fightings" in the churches (v. 1) and
pride in their midst (vv. 5-10). So bad was it that these "brethren" were
speaking "evil one of another" (v. 11) and so "judg[ing] another" (v.
12). Thus James 3:9 tells us that we must not curse our brethren
who were created, and therefore are, in the imago dei.113
Thus we can safely conclude that those in the image of God in James 3:9
are believers in the churches "of the twelve tribes scattered abroad"
The second charge against the confessional view is
that, unlike the traditional view, it does not see in the image of God an
expression of the "mannishness of man," to use Francis Schaeffer’s phrase.
According to James Orr, the image of God is "determinative of the Biblical
idea of man."115
Reymond sees the divine image as stating the difference between men and
The Bible’s answer to the questions, "Is mankind
distinct from all other animate life, and if so, in what way?" may be
framed in one sentence: "Man, and man alone, is the very image of God
Berkhof goes further, using the imago to express
man’s relationship both to God and animal life:
The doctrine of the image of God in man is of the
greatest importance in theology, for that image is the expression of
that which is most distinctive in man and in his relation to God. The
fact that man is the image of God distinguishes him from the animal
and from every other creature.117
One cannot deny the attractiveness of a view of man’s
being in the divine image that enables us, in one pregnant phrase, to
present man’s place in the world vis-à-vis God and beasts. Certainly this
language has greater power and poignancy than speaking of man as a
Nevertheless, since, as we have seen, the Scriptures
and the Reformed confessions know nothing of the broader sense of the
divine image, this apparent gain will have to be forfeited lest other,
greater losses accrue. Yet we hasten to add that the confessional view of
the imago dei does not at all deny man’s unique place in the
universe. It merely does so in different terms. The same Belgic
Confession which defines the divine image in terms of spiritual
virtues (14) declares that God gave "unto every creature its being, shape,
form and several offices ... for the service of mankind, to the end that
man may serve his God" (12). Here we have God, man and all creatures
related without any reference to the wider aspect of the imago dei.
After limiting the image of God to man’s original righteousness
(III/IV:1), the Canons of Dordt have no difficulty in speaking of
fallen man still as a man. He consists of body and soul (II:1), possessing
understanding, heart, will, affections and mind (III/IV:1) and capable of
reproduction (III/IV:2). Moreover, fallen man still has a conscience. He
knows that God is and that certain actions are good and others evil. He
can, to a certain extent, understand natural things, such as the arts and
sciences. He even realizes the benefits of civil order (III/IV:4). Man
remains man possessed of the constitution of man, still a rational-moral
creature, natural and earthy (I Cor. 15:44-45). Neither the wider sense of
the image of God nor common grace are necessary for these things. Thus the
confessional view of man, without recourse to the imago dei, can,
with Schaeffer, insist on the mannishness of man, and, with Calvin, on the
importance of the sciences and the liberal arts.118
Fallen man is still man, but he is a man who bears the
imago diaboli. Redeemed man is also man, a man who bears the
imago dei. Both believing and unbelieving men are necessarily
image-bearers but they differ regarding the one whose image they bear. For
one it is God; for the other it is Satan. Both believing and unbelieving
men play, marry, procreate, govern, use tools, work, study, think, will,
speak, etc. But they do so out of two radically different internal
principles, in the service of two totally opposed masters and for two
completely different goals, at least in so far as the regenerated saint
acts in accordance with his new nature. The wicked hate God from the heart
and serve the devil, pressing all into the service of sin and selfishness.
Thus they image their father the devil. The righteous, in accordance with
their degree of sanctification and by God’s grace, serve the Most High God
seeking His glory and not their own. In this way, they image the glory of
their Father in heaven and are holy as He is holy (I Peter 1:15-16). Thus
one must agree wholeheartedly with Anthony Hoekema: "the most important
thing about man is that he is inescapably related to God."119
But with the confessional view of the divine image the unbeliever is
always related to God as a rebellious sinner who abhors His Maker
and is "wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil."120
God hates him in His eternal decree of reprobation, in time and in his
everlasting punishment (Rom. 9:13). Always Jehovah witnesses in the
sinner’s conscience that he is guilty and condemned and that he stands
exposed to the wrath of God. Fallen man’s enemy, the Almighty Triune God,
is His Creator, Governor, and Judge, the One before whom he always stands
naked and guilty. As Hoekema said, even fallen man is "inescapably
related to God."
(VI) The Image of God in Its Theological
Having established the confessional view and answered
the objections to it, it only remains to relate the image of God to those
scriptural and theological ideas with which it is most intimately
connected. We shall start with sovereign, particular grace. This was the
motivation for this article’s position, as it was for Luther, Bayne,
Herman Hoeksema and others.121
The image of God is a completely ethical category and not in any sense
ontological; it consists of spiritual graces not of human faculties.122
This fits perfectly with the spiritual/ethical view of the fall held by
orthodox Protestants. Adam, the federal head of the whole human race, was
created after God’s image. At the fall, he lost God’s image completely and
partook of the image of the devil, totally and in all his faculties.123
All his descendants were begotten in this state (cf. Gen. 5:1-3). Only in
the redemption that is in Christ Jesus are the elect recreated in the
divine image; unbelievers are not in the image of God in any sense. The
reprobate will forever bear the imago diaboli, even in Hell.
There is no mitigating or limiting factor of the image of God in a broader
sense. Just as there is no common grace for all men, so there is no image
of God in all men. This means that the divine image of pre-fall Adam is
equivalent to Adam’s original righteousness. The image of the devil
(which replaced the image of God at the fall) is equivalent to total
depravity. The image of God recreated in regeneration is equivalent to
the new man (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Thus while the traditional view
of the effects of the fall on the imago dei says that the image of
God was lost in its narrow sense but retained, though weakened, in its
broader sense, the confessional view highlights the greatness of the
fall. All these wondrous gifts were lost and mankind was plunged
into the depths of misery and woe through God’s curse.
Instead of a gift common to all, the recreation of the
image of God in man is only wrought in the elect. This must be sovereign
as the work is a spiritual creation
(Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) and the creator is the Triune God, as in the
case of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve (cf. "us" and "our" in Gen.
1:26). The gift of the divine image, merited by Christ at the cross, is
according to God’s foreknowledge (or eternal love) of the believer and His
decree of election (Rom. 8:29). The effectual call (v. 30) serves the
child of God’s progressive imaging of the Son (v. 29), which image is
perfectly realized in our glorification in the new heaven and the new
earth. Then the sons of God (v. 21) will be conformed to the image of
their elder brother, the firstborn, even Christ (v. 29), a far more
glorious image than that given at the creation of Adam (Gen. 1:26-27).124
Here again we see the inseparable connection between sonship and the
The divine image is given in regeneration (Eph. 4:24;
But the imago dei is not a once-for-all gift; it is also
progressive and it implies a calling. Those created in God’s image (Eph.
4:24), Paul declares, must be imitators of God, as dear children (5:1).
The image of God is a gift that implies a command: "You are created after
God’s image. Therefore image Him." Those who are God’s image must and do
image Him. Thus "image" is both a noun and a verb. Sanctification is
viewed as increasingly imaging Christ (II Cor. 3:18), the image of God
(4:4). This mighty work is wrought by the Spirit of the Lord (3:17-18)
through the preaching of the gospel (vv. 6, 8). The lives of God’s
image-bearers are not static but dynamic involving more and more
conformity to Christ.
The believer grows in knowledge, holiness and
righteousness, the three elements in the divine image identified for us by
Scripture. He increasingly knows the true and living Triune God with that
deep, satisfying knowledge of love (knowledge). He more and more
consecrates himself to the Lord and separates himself from evil (holiness),
walking in conformity to the law of God from the heart (righteousness).
These spiritual gifts may be summarized in the gift: love. Anthony
Hoekema is right: "love is central in the image of God."127
Traditionally the Reformed faith has also emphasized spiritual freedom in
connection with the image of God.128 Those
who possess knowledge, righteousness and holiness have a godly will which
desires to do the good, whether perfect but fallible before the fall,
opposed by the old (and dethroned) nature in the regenerate, or perfect
and infallible in the intermediate state or in the new world.
In the three virtues given by the inspired apostle
(Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), we can easily see the threefold office of the
believer. The knowledge of God is necessary for the believer as prophet.129
"Holiness to the Lord" is the motto of a priest who has access to
God and knows that all he is and has belongs to Him. Righteousness is the
vital qualification of a king who rules in the fear and the name of
the Lord and judges according to His Word.
All of this sheds light on the covenant of God with
Adam before the fall and, hence, on the covenant of grace. Since Adam
possessed these spiritual qualities and occupied the threefold office, he
was undoubtedly in fellowship with God before the fall. Jehovah delighted
in and communed with His image-bearers, Adam and Eve. It was His custom to
walk with them in the cool of the day (cf. Gen. 3:8). This view of the
covenant as fellowship, even fellowship reflecting the inter-Trinitarian
relations in the Godhead, is supported by the allusion to the Trinity in
Genesis 1:26. The Father created man through the Son and by the Spirit in
order that man might commune with the Triune God in love.130
As Herman Hoeksema puts it,
Man was made after the image of God, in spiritual
perfection, in true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness ...
therefore, he stood in covenant-relation of friendship to his
Creator, His friend-servant, to love Him with all his heart and mind
and soul and strength.131
Furthermore, two of the creation ordinances directly
support this covenantal view of Adam’s life. First, the Sabbath (Gen.
2:1-3) speaks of our joyous rest and repose in the living God. Second,
monogamous marriage (vv. 21-25), the earthly symbol of the union between
Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33), speaks of the intimacy of fellowship
with Jehovah. The I-Thou relationship, between God and His children and
between His covenant children mutually, results from man’s being in the
image of God. This is a far more concrete and rich view of man as the
imago dei than the abstract discussions of man’s "personality" and
"transcendence" over lesser creatures presented by many modern authors.
This view of God’s covenant with Adam as fellowship
(made possible by God’s creating Adam in the imago dei) involves a
criticism of the conception of the covenant of works as held by many.
Since man was created in the image of God there never was a time
before the fall, no matter how brief, when he was not in a covenant
relationship with God. The covenant of works scheme, on the other hand,
presents the covenant as being set up a short time after the creation of
Adam and Eve by means of the command to them to eat of all the trees of
the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen.
Covenant fellowship with God, who is spirit (John
4:24), is primarily enjoyed by man in his soul rather than in his body.
Also knowledge, righteousness and holiness are qualities of the soul.
After all, what is a knowledgeable body? Nevertheless the Reformed faith
has rightly noted that man, and not merely man’s spirit, was
created after the image of God.132
How is this to be understood? Cocceius sees the body as the vessel or
implement of man’s soul.133 Similarly,
according to Turretin, the "image shone in the body not so much formally
as consequently and effectively."134
Bavinck writes along the same lines:
The body is not a prison, but ... our earthly
dwelling (2 Cor. 5:1), our organ or instrument of service, our
apparatus (1 Cor. 12:18-26; 2 Cor. 4:7; 1 Thess. 4:4), and the
"members" of the body are the weapons with which we fight in the cause
of righteousness or unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13).135
The Reformed faith is clearly in accord with the
Bible’s teaching. The saint’s body, as well as his soul and spirit, is an
object of the divine work of sanctification (I Thess. 5:23). The
Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (I Cor. 6:19). Therefore,
he must glorify God in his body and in his spirit (v. 20). The apostle
Paul, after his doctrinal exposition of the faith in Romans 1-11, opens
his practical section (chapters 12-16) with these words,
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies
of God, that ye present your bodies
a living sacrifice, holy [holiness], acceptable unto God [righteousness
is necessary here], which is your reasonable service [knowledge
is involved here] (12:1).
Whereas prior to his conversion, the believer used his
body and its members in the service of sin, imaging the devil, now the
believer must reflect the glory of his Father in heaven (cf. Rom. 6:12-13,
19; 7:5). Thus while the contents of the imago dei are qualities of
the regenerate man’s spirit, man images God in both body and soul. Not
only will we be spiritually pure at death or Jesus’ return, but on the
last day our bodies will bear the perfect image of Christ’s glorious body
(I Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21).
The element of righteousness in the imago dei,
with its related idea of kingship, is at the heart of the idea of the
godly man’s dominion over the created order mentioned with the very first
reference to man’s creation in the divine image (Gen. 1:26f.). The
Cocceian strain in Reformed theology expressed it perfectly: the image of
God and dominion are related to one another in that the latter is the
consequence of the former.136
The Triune God (v. 26) appointed man as His king over the created world to
rule it for Him according to His righteous law thus consecrating it to the
Most High.137 This Adam did in caring for
the garden (work; 2:15),138 naming the
animals (lordship over the brute creation; v. 19) and loving and ruling
his wife (vv. 20-25) in fulfilment of his headship over her (I Cor. 11:7).
He walked with God (Gen. 3:8) and kept His law, loving God and his
neighbour. He also obeyed the prohibition not to eat of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17).
Through the body, man was able to fellowship with his
wife also in the way of sexual intercourse, in obedience to the dominion
mandate to "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth" (v. 28).
Only in the way of bearing children would Adam and Eve fulfil their
calling to "subdue" the earth and "have dominion" over the creatures of
land, sea and air (vv. 26, 28) for, though they were placed in Eden, their
horizons were to be cosmic, no less than the entire earth.
Does the creation mandate (also called the dominion
mandate or the cultural mandate) remain in force today? Christian
Reconstructionist, Ken Gentry answers in the affirmative: "the Cultural
Mandate ... remains in effect after the entry of sin."139
He provides two arguments for his position. First, subsequent revelation
teaches that man developed culture. Second, "the Creation Mandate is
specifically repeated in Scripture." He cites Genesis 9:1ff., Psalm 8 and
Hebrews 2:5-8 and notes other biblical allusions.140
In this Gentry is undoubtedly correct—man has developed culturally
and God does command man to rule the earth—but the lines must be
drawn somewhat differently from his presentation. First of all, we must be
antithetical. Unbelievers rule over the creation in the service of Satan
and sin. This is not true biblical dominion for not only does God command
man to subdue the world but man must do this for God’s sake. Like
the ungodly, God’s friends, created in His own image, also rule over the
creation, but their motivation, standard and goal (in so far as it is
according to their new natures) is godly. They alone properly exercise
dominion. Though both groups do many of the same things formally, their
purposes and masters are radically opposed to each other. The believer
images God in exercising dominion over the creation for God’s sake but the
reprobate, who is in the image of the devil, reflects his father in all
his cultural activities. The question is not, What did the man do, build,
cultivate, etc.? Rather the question is, Did he do it to glorify the Lord
of heaven and earth in the service of His kingdom? or, Did he do it to
serve himself and sin? God’s image-bearers effect godly dominion; Satan’s
image-bearers effect ungodly dominion. Thus while redeemed man is at the
apex of the created order, fallen man is its nadir (ethically speaking).
Not only do we have to distinguish between the
agents who exercise the dominion (only the godly can obey the command
to rule the creation for God’s sake) but we must also consider the
extent to which this godly dominion will be realized in this world
prior to Christ’s return. Christian Reconstructionism holds that
Christians will progressively dominate the world (civil government and
law, economics, industry, property, education, etc.) before Christ’s
second coming, but is this biblical?141
Christ is the "Son of man" crowned "with glory and honour" possessing
"dominion over the works of [God’s] hands" including "the beasts of the
field, the fowls of the air and the fish of the sea" in Psalm 8, as
Hebrews 2:5ff. teaches. Christ’s sons (vv. 10, 13) and brethren (v. 11),
the church (v. 12), possess and rule all things in Him. Now,
spiritually, God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together
in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6). We have this dominion
principally and definitively and we exercise it to the extent we are able
in the here-and-now of this world. But we do not and will not govern all
or most or much of the creation for Christ’s sake prior to the end of the
Gentry should have read Hebrews 2:5 more closely, for the dominion given
to the believer in Christ is that of "the world to come, whereof we
speak." Christian Reconstructionism’s progressive dominion in this world’s
history is a myth. The church is always a remnant consisting mainly of the
foolish, weak and base with few of the wise, noble and mighty in her
membership (I Cor. 1:26-28) so that God alone might be seen to be her
strength and thus receive the glory (vv. 27-31). According to the
apostolic teaching in Romans 8:20-25, the creation shall only be liberated
at the manifestation of the sons of God, that is, in the next world.
Fernhout expresses it in earthy terms:
The whole creation groans, is frustrated, because
it can’t reach fulfillment. It can’t live up to its God-ordained
intentions because the ones who are supposed to be subjecting it are
bungling in ungodliness, mincing around with false gods.143
Fernhout proceeds to give a concrete example in terms
Canada, a creature, is frustrated when those
subjecting it, led by governments federal and provincial and
corporations multi-national, go grasping after her resources (such as
oil), purely in terms of cold, fleshly cash rather than seeing them as
creatures to be used to reveal and give glory to [God]. And this
creation longs to see the sons of God—you and me! For the sons of God
will know how to bring the creation to its fulfillment. Because they
are motivated by the Spirit, they will know how to subject the
creation in such a way that there is righteousness, life and restful
This remains "a vision of hope" (Rom. 8:24-25), for the
full realization of our adoption, including the resurrection of the body,
waits for the last day (v. 23), but even now the adoption papers "are
Our dominion presently is primarily definitive and spiritual (cf. I Cor.
3:21-23). Only at the last day will we enter into it fully. Yet now we
must govern that which we have in such a way as to image God until Christ
returns to renew the world when "the earth shall be filled with the
knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab.
2:14). In the mean time, we live hopefully and energetically looking "for
new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (II
Peter 3:13) when the new Jerusalem "shall be holiness unto the Lord
of hosts" (Zech. 14:21). Thus instead of the Greek goal of a perfect soul
in a perfect body, God’s goal or purpose (telos) is His glory in
Jesus Christ through the new humanity in His image ruling over the
universe to His praise. This was David's resurrection hope: "As
for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied,
when I awake, with thy likeness" (Ps. 17:15),
when he and all the saints will be perfectly "conformed to the image of
[God's] Son" revealing Him as "the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom.
8:29) to the glory of the Triune God!
Matt. 22:42; Acts 16:30; Matt. 24:3; Ps. 8:4.
E.g., Robert L. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), pp. 293-296, 298-299; Wayne Grudem,
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester:
IVP, 1994), pp. 442-450.
E.g., J. J. Van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, trans. John
Watson Watson and Maurice J. Evans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878),
pp. 374-377; Herman Bavinck, In the Beginning: Foundations of Creation
Theology, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker,
1999), pp. 159-195; G. H. Kersten, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), pp. 174-178; Louis Berkhof, Systematic
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev. 1996), pp. 202-210; Herman Hoeksema,
(Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1966), pp. 204-213; Gordon Clark, The Biblical
Doctrine of Man (Jefferson, Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1984), pp.
5-19. John Laidlaw gives the image of God in man two of his sixteen
chapters (The Bible Doctrine of Man [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1895],
E.g., James Orr, God’s Image in Man (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
1948); G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, trans. Dirk W.
Jellema (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962); Anthony A. Hoekema,
Created in God’s Image
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986); Douglas John Hall, Imaging God:
Dominion as Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/New York: Friendship
Press, 1986); Paul K. Jewett, Who We Are: Our Dignity as Human
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).
E.g., Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The True Image: The Origin and
Destiny of Man in Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); Harry R.
Boer, An Ember Still Glowing: Humankind as the Image of God (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
The biblical passages are Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6; I Cor. 11:7; Eph.
4:24; Col. 3:10; James 3:9.
Cf. Herman Bavinck: man’s being created in the image of God "implies
first of all that man cannot be known, thought of, or understood apart
from God ... Nowadays men try [to] eliminate God entirely and ... explain
man from the viewpoint of his connection with nature, environment and
society" (Biblical and Religious Psychology, trans. Herman Hanko
[Grand Rapids: Theological School of the PRC, no date], p. 75).
Anthony A. Hoekema, Mormonism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963),
Some of the Remonstrants (or Arminians) and many of the Rationalists
followed the Socinians in this regard. Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom and
other church fathers also taught that the image of God consists of
dominion over the creatures (D. Miall Edwards, "Image," in The
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, gen. ed. James Orr, vol. 3
[USA: Hendrickson, repr. 1996], p. 1450).
Berkhof, however, observes, "Roman Catholics do not altogether agree
in their conception of the image of God" (Op. cit., p. 208).
Cf. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, rev.
1993), p. 219.
For helpful studies of the iconoclastic controversy in the eighth
and ninth centuries in the Eastern Orthodox Church, see Jaroslav Pelikan,
The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine,
vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 91-145 (esp. pp.
117-133 which deal with the role of image of God in the debate) and, more
briefly, Ware, Op. cit., pp. 30-35.
Charles Hodge notes that Reformed theologians also use the
terminology "essential" and "accidental" for the two senses of the divine
image (Systematic Theology, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr.
1993], p. 99).
Op. cit., p. 204.
Quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. G. T.
Thompson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), p. 235.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan,
trans. George V. Schlink (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia, 1958), p. 63.
Ibid., pp. 63, 64.
Cf. Bavinck, In the Beginning, pp. 179-181, 185.
E.g., Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture
(Baker: Grand Rapids, 1959).
Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial
(Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), p. 179; italics
Op. cit., esp. chapters 1 and 6.
Ibid., esp. chapters 4 and 5. For Boer, "the central
characteristic of Man as image of God is the quality of personhood" (Op.
cit., p. 8).
Op. cit., p. 62.
For a helpful, brief presentation of Barth’s view of the divine
image, see Hoekema, God’s Image, pp. 49-52.
Clarence W. Joldersma, "What’s So Good About Being Different?
Examining Uniqueness Through the Lens of Emmanuel Levinas," in
Nurturing and Reflective Teachers: A Christian Approach for the 21st
Century, eds. Daniel C. Elliot and Stephen D. Holtrop (USA: Coalition
of Christian Teacher-Educators, 1999), pp. 203-216.
T. Van Der Kooy, The Distinctive Features of the Christian School,
trans. Three Members of the Faculty of Calvin College (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1925), p. 38.
Van Til, Op. cit., pp. 184, 187.
Op. cit., p. 219, n. 22.
Cf. Clark: "The image must be reason because God is truth, and
fellowship with him—a most important purpose in creation—requires thinking
and understanding" (Op. cit., p. 16).
Cf. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, trans. William
Hendriksen (Great Britain: Banner, repr. 1991), p. 346.
Cornelis Pronk, "Neo-Calvinism," Reformed Theological Journal,
11 (1995), p. 47; italics mine.
E.g., Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old
Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976).
Van Der Kooy, Op. cit., p. 38.
Op. cit., pp. 63-64.
Cf. Harry Fernhout: "The reason the Lord was so dead set against the
service of images was quite simple; as long as His people were enslaved to
these imitation images, their calling as God’s image-bearer was
frustrated" ("Man: The Image and Glory of God," in Towards A Biblical
View of Man: Some Readings, eds. Arnold H. De Graaf and James H.
Olthuis [Toronto: AACS, 1978], p. 13).
Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 427. Berkouwer speaks of the "strong
convergence of opinion ... in exegetical as well as in dogmatic
literature" in support of this position and he even provides us with a
list (Op. cit., pp. 68, 68-69, n. 6).
Op. cit., p. 427; italics Reymond’s.
Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Thought, ed.
Richard B. Gaffin
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1980), p. 254.
Op. cit., p. 206.
E.g., Calvin: "God’s image is properly to be sought within him, not
outside him, indeed, it is an inner good of the soul" (Institutes
of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis
Battles, vol. 1 [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960], p. 190 [1.15.4]).
See also Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536
edition, trans. and ed. Ford Lewis Battles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev.
1986), pp. 15-16 (1.B.2-3).
Institutes, p. 189 (1.15.4).
Sinclair B. Ferguson, "Image of God," in New Dictionary of
Theology, eds. Sinclair B. Ferguson et al (Leicester: IVP, 1988), p.
328; italics mine. Henri Blocher writes, "Calvin’s interpretation [of the
imago dei] is quite complex" (In The Beginning: The Opening
Chapters of Genesis, trans. David G. Preston [Downers Grove, IL: IVP,
1984], p. 81, n. 8). See also David J. Engelsma, "Nothing but a Loathsome Stench:
Calvin’s Doctrine of the Spiritual Condition of Fallen Man,"
Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 2 (April,
2002), pp. 39-60, esp. pp. 51-52.
Heinrich Bullinger, The Decades of Heinrich Bullinger, Third
Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1850),
p. 394; italics mine. See also p. 377.
Op. cit., p. 232. Heppe also quotes Jerome Zanchius to the effect
that the image of God consists of ethical qualities and dominion with no
reference to man’s faculties (Ibid, p. 233). Herman Bavinck,
however, asserts that Zanchius also includes "the essence of man in the
image of God" (In the Beginning, p. 181).
Op. cit., pp. 237-238; italics mine.
Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man:
Comprehending A Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank,
vol. 1 (Escondido, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, repr. 1990), p. 57;
Op. cit., p. 237.
William Perkins, The Workes of that Famovs and Worthy Minister of
Christ in the Vniuersity of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins, vol. 1
(London: John Legatt, 1626), pp. 150-151; italics mine. The spelling in
all quotations from Perkins have been standardized according to modern
Ibid., p. 162.
Paul Bayne, "An Exposition of Ephesians, Chapter 2:11 to 6:18," in
Puritan Exposition of Ephesians (USA: Sovereign Grace Book Club,
1958), pp. 360-361; italics mine. Cf. also "Since man’s fall, we are
begotten not to God’s image, but after the image of the corrupted Adam"
Richard Sibbes, Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 4, ed.
Alexander B. Grosart (Edinburgh: Banner, 1983), pp. 260-261; italics mine.
Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture
(Great Britain: Banner, repr. 1980), p. 48.
Robert Rollock, Select Works of Robert Rollock, vol. 1, ed.
William M. Gunn (Edinburgh: Woodrow Society, 1849), pp. 254-255.
George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Great Britain:
Banner, repr. 1958), pp. 17-18. It is striking that when Smeaton argues
that fallen man has (entirely) lost the imago dei he simply
III/IV:1-4 and he does so consciously (p. 18, n. 1)!
Op. cit., p. 293. Berkhof also observes Dabney’s dissension from
the broader/narrower or traditional view of the image of God (Op. cit.,
Berkouwer develops his objections to the distinction between the
broader and narrower aspects of the image of God in the second chapter of
his Man: The Image of God (esp. pp. 59-63). For a summary of
Schilder’s view, see Berkouwer (Ibid., pp. 54-58). Berkouwer also
notes F. K. Schumann and E. Schlink as holding this position (pp. 58-59).
56a A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification
(Choteau, MT: Gospel Missions, n.d.), p. 45.
Arthur Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1975), Part 3, chapter 1, p. 9; italics Custance's (http://www.custance.org/Library/Volume3/Part_III/chapter1.html).
Fernhout, Op. cit., pp. 12, 11; italics mine.
Op. cit., p. 207.
Ibid., pp. 208-209.
Robert C. Harbach,
Studies in the Book of Genesis
(Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1986), p. 44. Harbach appears to present a "softer"
stance than Herman Hoeksema, in his treatment of Genesis 9:6 (pp.
Thus they are in step with the Scottish Confession of Faith,
Article 3, as we saw earlier. Heppe notes, however, that the Confession
of the Reformed Congregation at Frankfurt (1554) advocates the
broader/narrower view of the divine image, though not using this language
(Op. cit., p. 237).
Belgic Confession 14; Heidelberg Catechism, Q.
& A. 6; Canons of Dordt III/IV:1; III/IV:R:2; Westminster
Confession 4:2; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 17;
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 10.
Westminster Confession 4:2; Canons of Dordt III/IV:1;
Thus J. J. Van Oosterzee, who believes that the imago dei is
possessed by all men as rational-moral creatures, advocates that the
Three Forms of Unity be revised so as not to limit the divine image to
believers (Christian Dogmatics, trans. John Watson Watson and
Maurice J. Evans [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878], p. 375).
Thomas C. Oden, The Living God (USA: Prince Press, 1998), pp.
Op. cit., pp. 443-450.
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews
and of the Epistle of James (USA: Hendrickson, 1998), p. 611. Lenski
distinguishes between the "general" and the "special" image but their
contents are the same as the broader/narrower distinction.
Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, Three Volumes
in One (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, repr. 1979), pp.
514-516. Like Lenski, Strong differs from the broader/narrower distinction
in name only. Strong speaks of a "natural" and a "moral" likeness.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Dallas:
Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), pp. 161-172.
Brunner speaks of "formal" and "material" senses of the divine image
with the former consisting of freedom, reason, language and conscience
which cannot be lost (Hoekema, God’s Image, p. 54).
Cf. Von Rad’s contribution to Gerhard Kittel, "eikon," in
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel,
trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1964), pp. 390-392.
Ibid., pp. 392-394.
James Arminius, The Works of James Arminius, vol. 3, trans.
William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1999), pp. 101-106.
Op. cit., p. 88.
Also the image of God is assigned the same content as the new man
(Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) and contrasted with the old man, its antithesis
(Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), and the unbelieving Gentiles (Eph. 4:17-19, cf. vv.
Van Oosterzee writes that the distinction "between the image of God
in the narrower and wider sense of the words seems rather arbitrary" (Op.
cit., p. 375).
This truth is widely recognized. For example, the theological
liberal Martin Luther King Jr. uses the broader sense of the image of God
to argue for the universal brotherhood of men. In his sermon, Why I
Oppose War in Vietnam, he declares, "All men are made in the image of
God," before immediately adding, "All men are brothers."
Cf. Calvin: "Finally, they [i.e., unbelievers] are said to be of
their father the devil [John 8:44]; for, as believers are recognized as
the children of God because they bear his image, so are those rightly
recognized to be the children of Satan from his image, into which they
have degenerated" (Institutes, p. 178 [1.14.18]). For a refutation
of the view that fallen man is a son of God in any sense, see Angus
A Theological Exposition of a Neglected Doctrine," British Reformed
Journal, 25 (1999), pp. 18-35, esp. 20-23.
A. A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology: A Course of Popular Lectures
(Edinburgh: Banner, 1990), p. 155.
Op. cit., p. 61.
Op. cit., p. 73.
Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. Henri De
Vries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1975), pp. 224-225.
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans.
George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1992), p. 466.
Moreover, it is hard to deny that if unbelieving men are in the
image of God they must also be "partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter
1:4) to which belongs "all things that pertain unto life and godliness"
One can see how this could easily slip over to the Gnostic and New
Age idea of a spark of the divine in every man.
Henri Blocher rightly connects the image of God with God’s "glorious
favor" (Op. cit., p. 74).
Bernard of Clairvaux, however, was able to hold such a position:
"The image of God in man cannot be destroyed. Even in Hell it can burn,
but not be consumed: it may be tormented, but cannot be extirpated"
(quoted in Van Oosterzee, Op. cit., p. 377). This position is
Laidlaw notes the dangers with the broader/narrower view of the
imago. He states that it must be "properly handled" (Op. cit.,
Op. cit., p. 220.
Ibid., p. 219.
Ibid., p. 225.
Ibid., p. 221. Later Ware writes, "Because we still retain
the image of God, we still retain free will, although sin restricts its
scope" (p. 224). Luther astutely spoke of the danger of an image of God in
all men being "spun out further" to provide support for the doctrine that
fallen man possesses free will (Op. cit., p. 61).
Op. cit., p. 221; italics mine.
Ibid., p. 220.
Op. cit., p. 38; italics mine. Arminius also uses the image of God in
fallen man to maintain that, while man has lost "spiritual
virtues," he still retains "the principles and seeds of moral
virtues ... though corrupted by sin" (Op. cit., p. 115; italics
Op. cit., p. 55; italics mine.
Ibid., p. 29.
Ibid., p. 85.
Ibid., p. 121.
See, e.g., Ibid., p. 185.
Geerhardus Vos, Op. cit., p. 254.
It is interesting that even Vos, when discussing of the broader
sense of the image of God speaks of "allow[ing] [God’s
glory] to shine through him" (Ibid., p. 254; italics mine).
Institutes, p. 266 (2.2.8).
Bavinck seems to think that this automatically discounts it (In
the Beginning, pp. 185-186). Similarly, Hodge speaks of the Lutheran
view as the "opposite extreme" of the Socinians who made the imago
consist solely in dominion (Op. cit., p. 97; cf. also Laidlaw,
Op. cit., p. 149).
Op. cit., p. 204. Van Oosterzee (Op. cit., p. 375), Strong (Op.
cit., p. 315), Gentry (Op. cit., p. 179, n. 8), Kersten (Op.
cit., p. 174), John Murray ("Man in the Image of God," in The
Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2 [Great Britain: Banner,
1977], pp. 35-37) and Blocher (Op. cit., p. 94) also appeal to
these three texts.
Even this understanding of the text would, however, only teach that
not females, are in God’s image.
E.g., Laidlaw, Op. cit., pp. 144-145.
Murray, Op. cit., p. 36. Homer C. Hoeksema presents another
interpretation of Genesis 9:6, while still denying that fallen man is
(now) the image of God. Homer Hoeksema sees the
imago dei as referring to the executioner of the murderer
(rather than the murderer's victim). The executioner represents God
because He originally made man in His own image (Unfolding
Covenant History, vol. 2
[Grand Rapids: RFPA, 2001], pp. 25-26. A similar view is found in
Cornelius Hanko, "About
the Image of God in Man," Standard Bearer, vol. 56,
issue 19 (1 August, 1980), pp. 444-446.
Cf. Hall, Op. cit., p. 218, n. 24; italics mine. Hall also
holds that the broader sense of the imago dei is a "marginal" idea
in the Bible’s teaching on the subject (p. 218, n. 24).
James B. Anderson in The New International Commentary on the New
Testament on James (3:9) writes, "the imago dei is not totally
destroyed." From this erroneous view of the image of God, he denies
depravity (that all men are completely evil in will and intellect) holding
merely to partial depravity that "there is no part of our being
which is not in some degree [i.e., not totally but partially] infected by
sin" (The Epistle of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], p. 146
and n. 31). Thus Anderson, like Timothy Ware and Harry Boer, uses the
alleged broader sense of the imago dei to deny total depravity.
Thus the meaning of James 3:9 is similar to I John 4:20.
Thus, contrary to John Murray, referring those "which are made after
the similitude of God" (James 3:9) to the godly is anything but
"arbitrary" (Op. cit., p. 37). It is the traditional view that pays no
regard to the context.
Op. cit., p. 54.
Op. cit., p. 425.
Op. cit., p. 206.
Institutes, pp. 53-54 (1.5.2), 112 (1.11.12).
God’s Image, p. 4.
Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 8.
Op. cit., pp. 60-61; Bayne, Op. cit., p. 361; Herman
Hoeksema, Op. cit., p. 207; Homer Hoeksema, Voice of Our
Fathers, pp. 433-434. Our view also seeks to be explicitly scriptural
Op. cit., pp. 150-151) not philosophical.
Canons III/IV:16; III/IV:R:2-3.
It is interesting that man, the image of God, fell when Satan
tempted him to eat the forbidden fruit in order to be "like God
knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5; literal reading).
The third of the three parts of Philip Hughes, The True Image:
The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ, deals with Christ as the
image of God as does Herman Ridderbos, though more briefly, in his
Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1992), pp. 68-78.
The children of darkness, who partake of their father’s image, have
none of these blessings but oppose the children of light at every point.
However, the antithesis is first of all within the believer between the
old man and new man (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10) involving the struggle to
walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh (Eph. 4:25ff.; Col. 3:5-9,
Cf. Calvin, Institutes, p. 601 (3.3.9).
Hoekema also writes, "If it is true that Christ perfectly images
God, then the heart of the image of God must be love. For no man ever
loved as Christ loved." Rightly, he appeals to Ephesians 5:1-2 (God’s
Image, p. 22 and n. 17). Cf. John Owen: "Nothing renders us so like
unto God as our love unto Jesus Christ, for he is the principal object of
his love;—in him does his soul rest—in him is he always well pleased.
Wherever this is wanting, whatever there may be besides, there is nothing
of the image of God. He that loves not Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema
Maranatha; for he is unlike unto God,—his carnal mind is enmity against
God" (The Works of John Owen [Great Britain: Banner, 1965], vol.
1, pp. 146-147).
E.g., Heppe, Op. cit., pp. 238-250; Luther, Op. cit.,
p. 65; Herman Hoeksema, Op. cit., pp. 211-213.
This is the way the image of God ought to be used to combat the
"Christian" anti-intellectualism of many in our day, rather than Gordon
Clark’s use of the imago in this respect.
Fellowship is the true vestigium Trinititas in man over
against Augustine’s identification of the vestige of the Trinity in the
in man’s memory, intellect and will (cf. David J. Engelsma,
Trinity and Covenant, unpublished Masters thesis for Calvin
Theological Seminary, 1994, pp. 94-96).
The Christian and Culture (Grand Rapids: Sunday School of First
PRC, 1940), p. 9; italics mine. Similarly, Bavinck writes, "God created
man according to his own image in true knowledge, righteousness and
holiness so that he would know Him rightly, love Him and live
eternally with Him in his fellowship" (Psychology, p. 82; italics
E.g., Bavinck, In the Beginning, pp. 186-195, esp. 191-192.
Op. cit., p. 232.
Op. cit., p. 465.
Bavinck writes later, "It is always the same soul that peers through
the eyes, thinks through the brain, grasps with the hands and walks with
the feet" (In the Beginning, p. 192).
Op. cit., pp. 237-238. Christian Reconstructionist, Ken Gentry also
has the relationship right: "Because man is the image of God, he
has the capacity and responsibility for dominion" (Op. cit., p.
179; italics mine). Gentry, however, wrongly declares that "even fallen
man is in the image of God, although it is a fragmented and corrupted
image" (p. 179, n. 8).
Man’s dominion was not and never will be absolute; it is always
under God and derivative.
Blocher sees in the command to keep (Hebrew, shamar) the
garden the biblical basis for private property (Op. cit., pp.
120-121), more clearly enunciated in the eighth commandment.
Op. cit., p. 180.
Ibid., pp. 180-182.
Ibid., p. 182.
Speaking of the extent of the dominion now exercised by fallen man,
Luther writes, "We retain the name and the word ‘dominion’ as a bare
title, but the substance itself has been almost entirely lost" (Op.
cit., p. 67).
Fernhout, Op. cit., p. 24.
Ibid., pp. 24-25.
Ibid., p. 25.