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8: The Image of God and Natural Theology

Thus far little has been said about the image of God in which, according to Genesis 126 f., humanity was created. But the passages about the image of God have commonly been taken to be relevant evidence for the question of natural theology, and we have to devote some discussion to them.

Let me remind you of the passages themselves.1 At Genesis 126, after the other elements of the world have been created, God says, ‘Let us make man in our image, like our likeness’, and, it goes on, ‘let them have dominion over’ the various animals and the world in general. The word rendered as ‘man’ is, of course, ~da, humanity, not just male persons—or so it seems.2 The next verse, 127, goes on to say that God created man in his image; ‘in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over all the living creatures, etc.’ This is the first, and the most obviously important, place where the image terminology appears.

Secondly, in Genesis 51 we read: ‘in the day when God created man, in the likeness of God he made him’, and then it continues by telling how Adam, the first man, was 130 years old and ‘he begat a son in his likeness, like his image, and called his name Seth’—note that the same words are used, but their order is reversed as against that of 126. Thirdly, in Genesis 96, after permission has been given for man to kill animals for food, God forbids the killing of man and, in a phrase which in its Hebrew poetic form combines succinctness and assonance, goes on:

He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed;

for in the image of God he made man.

These are the only passages in the Hebrew Bible that use the phrase ‘image of God’. Many have added, however, as something of the same general kind, the words of Psalm 86 f.:

What is man, that thou rememberest him, or the son of man, that

thou attendest to him?

Thou makest him a little lower than the divine [or: angelic]

beings, and thou crownest him with honour and glory.

Thou makest him rule over the works of thy hand; thou hast

put everything under his feet…

This poetical passage does indeed have similarities with Genesis. It does not, however, use the actual term ‘image’ of God, but speaks of honour and glory, combined with a status only a little lower than that of the heavenly beings. This seems to point in the same general direction; nevertheless the term ‘image’ remains peculiar to the Genesis passages. All of these appear to belong to the same source ‘P’, and may thus be dated in the time after the Babylonian exile.

Now over the centuries there has been a plentiful supply of interpretations which have sought to tell us what exactly the image of God in humanity was, or is. Only a sketch can be attempted here.3 In a very simplified way we may mention:

  1. ‘Spiritual’ interpretations. The image of God is related to the spiritual or rational character of humanity, which forms a distinction from the animal world.4 As a special case within this category we may mention St Augustine, who explained that the divine image in man consists in a trinity like that in God. The human trinity consists in memory, understanding, and love (memoria, intellectus, amor), or the human capacity to remember, know, and love God.5
  2. To this we must add interpretations that differentiate between aspects of the image. Irenaeus is noted for distinguishing between the image and the likeness, the two words that occur in Genesis: thus, it was supposed, one could perceive a distinction between what is lost through human sin and what remained in humanity even after the Fall. ‘According to one common variety of this interpretation, “the imago means the human nature which cannot be lost; the similitudo means man's original relation to God which may be lost, and since Adam, has been lost”.’6 Thomas Aquinas similarly distinguished between the natural image which was retained by all and the supernatural image which no one possessed until it was restored in Christ. Luther on the other hand rejected the distinction between two elements. For him the image of God in Genesis referred to the original righteousness of humanity, which had been lost. The image which we bear, therefore, is the image of the fallen Adam.7
  3. The third viewpoint contrasts drastically with all the above: namely the physical interpretation. Humans are like God because God has a human appearance, they walk upright as he does, and exactly in this way they differ from the animals. The God of the Old Testament is a strongly anthropomorphic God, and the idea of the image of God is the other side of this same coin. Moreover, this interpretation fits well with Genesis 53, where Adam had a child ‘in his likeness, like his image’, in other words, one who looked very much like his father. By any account, this passage about Adam and his son Seth is a powerful support to the physical interpretation and a serious difficulty for all others. It enjoys the adherence of the great exegete Gunkel, of the Swiss scholars Humbert and Köhler, of some modern Jewish scholars, and, among theologians, of the profound thinker Eberhard Jüngel.
  4. Doubtless the most influential opinion today, however, is what Jónsson calls the ‘functional’ view: the image of God consists in human dominion over the world. And there is no doubt that this dominion accompanies the reference to the image in its most prominent occurrence, in Genesis 1. It also fits very well with Psalm 8, although there, as has been said, the terminology of ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ is not actually used. It fits less well, or not at all, with Adam's image in his son, and with the blood of the killer being shed because God had created man in his image. The advocacy of von Rad in particular did much for the functional interpretation, and it was widely accepted and became popular, at least for a time. More recently, people's interest in ecology and the conservation of the environment has made them less willing to accept the ideal of human domination of the world, and consequently more critical of this interpretation.8
  5. Karl Barth's interpretation. Barth showed sympathy for the functional understanding but his own interpretation went in a different direction.9 He pointed very definitely to the collocation of the two phrases: ‘in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ The second of these phrases, Barth declared, was obviously the key to the exegesis of the first.10 The image of God was the fact that humanity existed in close and inseparable relation, the relation between man and woman. This was not a direct trinitarian relation such as Augustine had discerned, but it was a relation, which by being a relation was analogical to the relation of the three persons of the Trinity in God. The image of God in mankind was the relational mutuality of man and woman, and this was loosely analogical to the relational existence of the persons in the trinitarian being of God.11 It thus had a certain similarity to St Augustine's interpretation, but without being so spiritual and intellectualistic as it had been; it provided a connection with thoughts about the man-woman relationship, which was to be important for Barth in other regards also; and it did claim contextual validation within the wording of Genesis itself.

Now Barth's interpretation has still, perhaps, not become widely known. It was indeed welcomed in some feminist circles, who thought that it at least put woman on an equal level with man, as against ideas that the image of God resided in the male only and not in the woman.12 But on the whole most people did not become aware of it, which has, perhaps, been a good thing for Barth's reputation, for the fact is that it is a particularly ill-judged and irresponsible piece of exegesis.

This is so for two reasons. First, Barth argued from juxtaposition. Because the statement that God created man in his own image is immediately followed by the phrase ‘male and female he created them’, Barth argued, the latter phrase must obviously contain the explanation of the former. But this is a manifest fallacy. If phrase X is followed at once by phrase Y, it is only one among many possible functions of Y that it should be the explanation of X; it could equally well be the sequel or the consequence of X, or an addition of a new factor to X, or indeed a qualification or modification of X. Syntactically, Barth's argument was obviously fallacious. It was ingenious, but linguistically could not be taken seriously. As Phyllis Bird says, in the best discussion of the matter thus far written, ‘At its most fundamental level Barth's exegesis fails to understand the grammar of the sentences he so ingeniously manipulates.’13

Secondly, he provided not the slightest culturally based backing for this exegesis. There was nothing in the conceivable cultural background of the passage that could make plausible the idea that the image of God actually consisted in the existence of humanity as both male and female. Barth adduced no evidence that anyone in ancient Israel had thought this way or that the words could have been meant in this way. To quote Phyllis Bird once again,

Despite close reference to the biblical text as his primary source, he [Barth] has failed to discern its anthropology—and theology—and has advanced only a novel and arresting variation of the classical trinitarian interpretation, an interpretation characterized by the distinctly modern concept of an ‘I-Thou’ relationship, which is foreign to the ancient writer's thought and intention at all three points of its application.14

His interpretation of the image of God was thus a prime example substantiating Paul Lehmann's judgement: ‘[This] elaborate interpretation… offers an impressive correlation of ingeniousness and arbitrariness, which allows Barth to ascribe insights and affirmations to ancient writers which, as historical human beings, they could not possibly have entertained.’15 In fact Barth's exegesis meant that the words of the passage are a set of ciphers that derive meaning only from the framework of one completely modern series of dogmatic assertions, namely his own.

And this was not surprising, for it is highly likely that Barth's whole exegesis was fuelled and motivated by his controversy with Brunner over natural theology, and this is a major reason why the passage deserves to be discussed here. In traditional natural theology it was thought that, because human beings were made in the image of God, this made some natural knowledge of God possible; this was a major aspect of, in Brunner's phrase, the ‘point of contact’. In the dialectical theology, however, the image of God in this sense received pretty unfavourable treatment. It was not a very positive factor. Barth and Brunner were agreed in this. Brunner wrote: ‘I agree with Barth in teaching that the original image of God in man has been destroyed.’16

But even so he did not want to go quite as far in this as Barth. According to Brunner certain aspects of the image of God remained even after man's Fall. As we have seen, there was nothing new in this, many interpreters had said something of the same sort. Brunner expressed it by distinguishing between the formal and the material aspects of the image of God. The formal sense of the concept was the distinctness of humanity as against the animals. This position of superiority is not abolished by sin, indeed (ibid.) it is the presupposition of the possibility of sin, since man is a subject, a rational creature, and responsible. Materially, on the other hand, the image is completely lost: ‘man is a sinner through and through and there is nothing in him which is not defiled by sin’ (p. 24).

Thus, according to Brunner, Barth thought that:

Since man is a sinner who can be saved only by grace, the image of God in which he was created is obliterated entirely, i.e. without remnant. Man's rational nature, his capacity for culture and his humanity, none of which can be denied, contain no traces or remnants whatever of that lost image of God.17

Well, this might have appeared to put Barth in a tight spot, because, notoriously, in all the passages in the Bible about the image of God there is none that says anything about the loss of the image of God or indeed about any damage to it whatsoever. Indeed, Genesis 96, which says that the shedding of human blood will be requited by the shedding of blood, because God made humans in his own image, makes sense only on the assumption that the image of God continued, in all human beings, after the Flood and throughout all history.

Well, while the earlier Barth may well have taken the line that the image was totally obliterated,18 the classic Barth of the Church Dogmatics developed a different interpretation, which I have described above. In the image of God he created humanity, male and female he created them: thus, just as the triune God means an inner relationship of persons within God, analogically there is an I-thou relationship within humanity, between male and female. This satisfies the fact that the image is never destroyed: for it never is a ‘thing’ or quality that belongs to humanity; they never lost it because, strictly speaking, they had never ‘had’ it.19 It also satisfies very well the developmental needs of Barth's theology: it makes an apparent contact on the one side with the exegesis of the older Church, which had seen a trinitarian aspect here, and on the other hand it empties the image of all actual contact between humanity and deity, leaving only a relationship within humanity which has some analogy with a relationship within God. It is not a property or quality of human beings, it is not a state of a person in relation to God. The fact is, the interpretation is stimulating, interesting, and ingenious, but totally incredible. It is achieved only by tricks with words and the overriding of syntactical constraints, and it is completely devoid of contextual and cultural possibility. It was, in Phyllis Bird's words, an ingenious manipulation. The contextual support derived from the juxtaposition of ‘the image of God’ with ‘male and female he created them’ rests on nothing but juxtaposition, and juxtaposition illegitimately used; and it fails completely when set against wider context, for no sense can be made of the passages of chapters 5 and 9 if the image is supposed to be the relation of male and female to one another. It is an exegesis that could be thought out only by someone for whom the thoughts and intentions of the writers and the cultural situation of their work were irrelevant to the reader's decisions about meaning. The fact is, the whole thing was dictated by the needs and pressures of Barth's own theological situation, and, we must suspect, above all by the need to overcome Brunner.

In saying this I am not denying the possibility of Barth's ultimate theological insight, namely that the relation between man and woman is in some way analogical to the relation between the ‘persons’ within the Trinity. There might be grounds of support for this in other biblical areas, for example in the familiar concept that there is an analogy between the love of Christ for the Church and the love of man and woman for one another. Or it might be argued on general grounds of the doctrine of the Trinity.20 But to set it forth as an actual exegesis of the Genesis passages is only to invite ridicule. As often, Barth spoiled his own profound theological thoughts by pretending that they could claim close exegetical support. The idea that the man-woman relationship within humanity actually constitutes the image of God cannot be taken seriously.

Nor can Barth escape from this criticism by appeal to the New Testament: for, on the contrary, the New Testament evidence seems to lie strongly against his interpretation. In this there are several different elements.

First, it is sometimes said that in the New Testament the image of God is Jesus Christ, but this is very misleading when applied to our present question.21 The New Testament does indeed contain expressions like 2 Corinthians 44, ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is image of God’ (tou/ Cristou/, o[j evstin eivkw.n tou/ qeou/) and Colossians 115, ‘[of his beloved son]… who is image of the invisible God’ (o[j evstin eivkw.n tou/ qeou/ tou/ avora,tou). Christ is the likeness of God, his manifestation. It is difficult or impossible, however, to say that these terms, though verbally almost identical, refer directly to the same image of God in which humanity was, according to Genesis, created. The New Testament provides ample evidence of uses of eivkwn in other connections, e.g. Romans 829, ‘to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (summo,rfouj th/j eivko,noj tou/ ui`ou/ auvtou/), or 1 Corinthians 1549, which contrasts the ‘image’ of the earthly with the image of the heavenly, or Hebrews 101, where we hear that the law has a ‘shadow’ of good things to come but ‘not the very image’ (ouvk auvth.n th.n eivko,na). Note especially in this last case how close eivkw,n comes to being the actuality, the reality, rather than an image in the sense of a partial though perceptible similarity. Usage of this kind is well known from Hellenistic sources such as Philo. Thus, not to prolong this point unduly, phrases which talk of Christ as being ‘the image of God’ are not necessarily intended principally, or even at all, to explain what was meant by the terms of the creation of humanity in the image of God, as known from Genesis. Thus New Testament editions, which commonly print in dark type any phrases understood to be quotations from the Old Testament, avoid doing so in the passages I have quoted, and I think rightly: the editors perceived, correctly, that this was not the same thing.

Secondly, there are some passages which talk of the eivkw,n as something like a new nature, something into which we shall be changed or are being changed: Colossians 310, ‘you have put off the old man [nature, RSV; Gk. a;nqrwpoj] with its practices and put on the new, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.’ Note the connection of the image with knowledge in this passage. Again, 2 Corinthians 318: ‘we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into the same eivkw,n from glory into glory.’ Both of these passages suggest an image which is part of the new nature, in contrast with the old, and both have doubtless been influential in supporting the idea that any original image of God in man had been lost or diminished. Only the former of the two, however, makes a fairly clear terminological connection with the Genesis passages, and neither of them takes account of the many features of the Genesis passages which point in a different direction. In other words, when Barth declared that Paul was making a ‘daring equation’ of Jesus with the image of God (in Genesis),22 this was only another of his ingenious manipulations of words: Paul made no such equation.

The passage which comes closest to a definite exploitation of the Genesis passage is 1 Corinthians 117, where Paul, discussing the covering of the head while praying or prophesying in church, makes it clear that, according to his opinion, it was the male person, the man, who was the image of God (eivkw.n kai. δo,xa qeou/ u`pa,rcwn), while the woman was, as he puts it, ‘the glory of the man’.23 The image of God, therefore, far from consisting in the man-woman relationship, applied directly to the male and only by indirect reflection to the female. Such an opinion may well be unwelcome to many in these days of emancipation, but there does not seem to be any doubt that this is what Paul said. Moreover, it is easy, on the basis of the Genesis text itself, to see how he came to understand things in this way.24

As we read it, most of us see the first chapter of Genesis as a self-contained story, different from and complementary to the story of chapters 2 and 3; in this respect Barth read it as other modern scholars do.25 But Paul probably read it as one consecutive narrative. We will see the importance of this in a moment. To this we add however the ambiguity of the terms ~ra, ‘adam, and a;vqrwpoj. It is normally said that these terms could mean humanity in general but could also mean an individual human person. I have said it myself but it is only in part correct. In biblical Hebrew, ‘adam does not really mean ‘human being’. An individual woman, identified as such, would never be called an ‘adam, nor would it be used of a group of women apart from men. The word is more correctly understood as ‘man’, with the additional specifications ‘which may include woman/women if with man/men or if identity as between man and woman is unnoticed’. If only a woman or women are involved, then the specific term ‘woman’ would be used; women are human beings, but would not be called ‘adam. The significance of this also will emerge in a moment. In addition Adam was the personal name of the first man, though there is some question in the Hebrew of Genesis at what point ~da still means ‘man’ and at what point it begins to be the proper name ‘Adam’. Now at Genesis 126 God said:

Let us make ~da in our image, like our likeness…

wntwmdk wnmlcb ~da hf[n

Poih,swmen a;nqrwpon kat¾ eivko,na h`mete,ran kai.¾ kaq o`moi,wsin

And then, in the crucial 127, it goes on:

And God created the ~da in his image; in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them;

~~ta arb hbqnw rk1 wta arb ~yhla ~lcbb> wm;cb ~dah_ta ~yhla arbyw

kai. evpoi,hsen o` qeo.j to.n a;nqrwpon, kat¾ eivko,na qeou/ evpoi,hsen aovto,n, a;rsen kai. qh/ln evpoi,hsen auvtou,j

Now Paul, or more likely a preceding tradition of interpretation which he followed, reasoned thus: from the second chapter of Genesis we know that no woman was created until later on, when Eve was taken from the side of Adam. The phrase ‘male and female he created them’ must therefore be a proleptic statement of something that is to be done later on. This being so, it follows that the original creation in the image of God was of the man only. This is confirmed by the fact that in 126, where God states his purpose, there is no mention of creation of male and female together. The terms ~da and a;nqrwpoj, being somewhat ambiguous, were therefore read as referring to one individual human being, who as it happened was also a man, not a woman. Thus Genesis 126 was read: ‘Let us make a man in our image, like our likeness’, and 127 was read: ‘and God made the man, in the image of God he made him; male and female he [subsequently] made them.’ (I say ‘made’ rather than ‘created’ because of the Greek evpoi,hen). In the Hebrew the masculine singular object pronoun ‘him’ (wta) in ‘he made him’, in the Greek the masculine articles, seemed to confirm this. (In Greek it was possible to say h` a;nqrwhoj, with the feminine article (Isocrates 18. 52), but the article provided no such distinction in Hebrew.) Personally, I apologize for all this: it is not my own opinion, nor do I think it was so meant by Genesis, but I do not think there is any doubt that it was so understood by Paul. That Paul was quite able to make this sort of exegesis, which depends among other things on the confusion between collective and individual meanings of a noun, is clear from Galatians 316, where he speaks of a promise given to Abraham ‘and to his seed’ and goes on to reason that, since the text says ‘seed’ and not ‘seeds’, it is speaking of an individual, and that individual is Christ. To take the ‘man’ in Genesis 1 as individual rather than collective is much more natural and has better and more contextual support than to interpret this word ‘seed’ as individual, when it is obviously collective both in Hebrew and in Greek.

Well, enough of this, but Paul's interpretation shows us several interesting points. First, he has no idea whatever that the image of God consisted in the man-woman relationship: on the contrary, he thinks it is something that applies to the man, and only by secondary reflection to the woman. Secondly, as far as this particular interpretation goes, it seems to side with a physical understanding of the image in Genesis more than with any other. The image is a sort of luminosity which radiates from the man.

It might be thought that any opposition to Barth's exegesis must depend upon so-called ‘historical-critical’ principles, and that by a less critical, perhaps by a more ‘canonical’, approach, his exposition would be justified. In the matter of the image of God the case is quite the opposite. Critical scholars, as it happened, were, if anything, much too respectful and welcoming towards his approach: compare the highly respectful, if also critical, discussion of Stamm as far back as 1956.26 Barth's approach depended on the elementary ‘critical’ insight that the stories of Genesis 1–24a and of 24b ff. were different pieces of tradition, which he used for his grand scheme under which the first provided evidence for ‘creation as the external basis for the covenant’ and the second story did the same for ‘the covenant as the internal basis for creation’. Going along with the style of modern critical scholarship, therefore, he thought that the sentence ‘in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them’ is one thought and refers to one action of creation. ‘He created him’ means ‘he created humanity’—quite correctly. But the older exegesis did not necessarily see it in this way.

One further point has been recently brought into the discussion by Link in his treatment (his pp. 107–12), following a point made by Westermann. Westermann writes that:

All exegetes, from the Fathers down to the present, proceed from the assumption that the text makes an utterance about humanity, that is, that man is created according to God's image and therefore is in God's image [und deshalb gottesebenbildlich ist].27

On the contrary, Link goes on, following Westermann, the text says nothing about man (macht keine Aussage über den Menschen): it is all about God's act of creating. Thus (p. 111): ‘The image of God is neither something present (Vorfindliches) in humanity, nor something that is as it were added to humanity later on. Through this concept the Old Testament is interpreting an act of creation, which is on the way to its own reality.’ All this is much in the style of Barth. The text says nothing about man, it makes an assertion rather about God's action. But I cannot take this seriously. It seems to me that there is no difference. Saying that God made man in his image, and that man as a result is in the image of God, seem to me to be the same thing. This is a result of the obvious semantic character of the terms used. I feel I have to notice this opinion because of the distinction of those who have put the point, but I cannot see what value it has for our discussion. It seems to be part of the plan to push the basis of natural theology into the future, of which something will have to be said later.

The chief aspect which we have to discuss, however, is whether the matter of the image of God really has anything definite to tell us about the question of natural theology. Some of those who have thought that the image of God in humanity was obliterated or destroyed by sin thought also that, on this account, there would be no place for natural theology; and conversely some, perhaps many, of those who think that humanity continues to live in the image of God think that this validates the human activity of constructing natural theologies. It seems to me that neither of these opinions is definitely right. For both of them depend on the supposition that the image of God is meant as the means, or channel, or agency, through which man can know something about God. It may well be that in the ancient Hebrew situation this had nothing to do with the matter. In that situation the figure of the image of God was not particularly connected with the question whether humans ‘knew’ God or not: that was just not a problem with which they were concerned.

What then was the point of the expression ‘in the image of God’? I will repeat here some of my own thoughts about the matter, as they were published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library in Manchester in 1968.28 The image of God in humanity is not something that can be defined, as if we could point to this or that characteristic which clearly exists and to which the phrase expressly refers.29 But we can say that it belongs to the confluence of a group of nodal theological issues: monotheism, creation, anthropomorphism, condemnation of idolatry—exactly the issues out of which, as we have seen, the tradition of natural theology emerged.

As I wrote then:30

There is no reason to believe that this writer had in his mind any definite idea about the content or the location of the image of God. There were reasons in the past development of Israelite thinking about the relation between God and man, and in the particular kind of literary work upon which P was engaged, which made it important for him to express the existence of a likeness between man and God; but there were also, in the same development and especially in the whole delicacy and questionability, according to Israelite thought, of any idea of analogies to God and representations of God in the world, very powerful reasons why the subject could not be more narrowly or more exactly expressed without the danger that the whole attempt might be ruined.

I then suggested that the P writer, in his developing of the expression ‘image of God’, was much influenced by the work of Deutero-Isaiah. To quote again:

There are deep similarities between Deutero-Isaiah and P: the emphasis on creation, the universality of vision, the emphatic monotheism, the assurance of the incomparability and uniqueness of the God of Israel. P would also have shared his hostility to all worship of graven images. But the great prophet of the exile pressed this hostility so zealously, and denied so emphatically any analogy to God from the side of the world (‘to whom will you liken God, and what likeness will you set against him?’), as to leave it possible that nothing existed in the world which had any relation or analogy to God. He thus posed a question which he himself did nothing to answer; and he himself did not require to answer it because, being a prophet, he was by no means trying to give an ordered or reasoned account of the world, of man, or of the origin of man. To give such an ordered or reasoned account was, however, just what the P document undertook to do, and in this context, where man as man was being described within an organized world, the question could not be avoided whether there was anything in this world—in this world which, it was granted, could not furnish out of itself any comparisons or analogies with God—which had any special or peculiar relation with God. The placing of man in such a special position is the function of the term ‘image of God’.

It may thus be possible to say that, though the image of God is attached to the story of the creation of humanity, its primary function and purpose is to say something about God. Its dynamics develop from the need to clarify speech about him. Precisely for that reason one cannot necessarily locate the elements in human existence to which it applies. Nevertheless, by its own nature as a statement of likeness, this particular kind of speech about God necessarily says a great deal about humanity.

The image of God is thus a theologoumenon produced out of the forces and tensions of Israel's religious traditions. It is not directly to be ‘defined’, and it is not immediately or directly clear whether it says anything about natural theology or not. In this respect the older debates about the existence, survival, obliteration, and so on of the image of God were, as a mode of entry into the question of natural theology, a waste of time. As we have seen, the basis for natural theology within the Old Testament is not dependent on any particular explanation of the image of God terminology, and is valid on other grounds and independently of that question.

Nevertheless the idea of the image of God may have had a place in the development that led towards natural theology. For one thing that seems clear about the image of God is that it is attached to humanity and humanity only: the animals do not have it. This, incidentally, is an additional reason why Barth's interpretation should be rejected: for ‘male and female he created them’, out of which Barth constructed what was in his view the essence of the image, is quite obviously something that is not peculiar to humanity but is fully valid of the animal world also. The distinctiveness of humanity from the animal world is not only emphasized in the story of creation in Genesis 1 but is also reinforced in Genesis 9, where the killing of animals is sanctioned but the killing of humans is to be punished, expressly because God had made humanity in his own image. The male-female relationship cannot possibly be the key to the enigma of the image of God.

Psalm 8 also emphasizes the distinction between human and animal:

Thou hast put all things under his feet,

all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

But, as we come down into the Hellenistic age, what was the image then taken to be? As we have already seen, the Wisdom of Solomon, which we have consulted so often, gave a first pointer:31

God created man with incorruptibility

and made him as an image of his own eternity (223)

—and, like Genesis itself, the Book of Wisdom does not make it clear what happened to that image after Adam's disobedience. But the same book also celebrates wisdom as something that comes near to God in the possession of immortality; and wisdom, on the other hand, is something that humans may possess. On the other hand, the emphasis on the absolute transcendence of God makes less attractive any understanding of the image as a physical showing forth or manifestation of the divine.

The contrast with the animals was very probably a force that propelled the image of God with great ease into the intellectual area. How did man dominate the animals? Not by sheer strength, for the animals had the advantage in strength, in speed, in adaptation to their environment. Human domination rested upon use of technology, however primitive then compared with now, and technology rested upon human powers of thought, reason, language, and abstraction. Thus we hear about the unthinking, unreasoning character of the beasts, which are a;loga, mindless (2 Pet. 212, Jude 10); and Paul speaks contemptuously of the tetra,poδa, four-footed things, among the objects of idolatry (Rom. 123). Does God care about oxen? he asks dismissively (1 Cor. 99). But this sense of distance from the unthinking, unreasoning animal has its reflection also in the Old Testament: the rcb or brute beast is a standard image of the totally stupid, unreflecting person, for example Psalms 7322, 927, Proverbs 121, 302.

Such an ‘intellectual’ understanding of the divine image in man is found also in the Book of Ben Sira, 173 ff.:

He made them according to his own image,

and put the fear of him upon all flesh;

and [gave them] to have dominion over beasts and birds;

Discrimination (δiabou,lion)32 and tongue and eyes,

ears and heart he gave them for them to think.

He filled them with knowledge of understanding

(evpisth,mhn sune,sewj)

and showed them good and evil.…

he bestowed knowledge upon them,

and allotted to them the law of life.33

The powers of thought and knowledge are thus prominent in Ben Sira's exposition of the values of creation in the image of God.

We have argued, then, that the idea of the image of God in humanity does not immediately or directly answer the question of the validity of natural theology. If, however, we extend the purport of the expression beyond its immediate or direct sense in its own context, and consider its wider implications, then we can say: on this ground, and in these terms, Brunner was certainly right, as against Barth, in saying that the image of God in humanity, even in sinful humanity, functioned as a ‘point of contact’. In fact, if Brunner was wrong, it was in not claiming more than this. As I remember John Baillie pointing out at the time, Brunner's trouble was that he accepted too many of Barth's own assumptions to permit him to press home his own arguments properly. For in using a term like ‘point of contact’ he was admitting that the image of God was very largely damaged, only a tiny point of contact being left. Actually, if the idea of the image of God is relevant for this discussion at all, it must mean much more than a tiny ‘point of contact’, it must mean something like a deep and wide interface containing and providing numerous aspects of community or analogy.

Lastly, there was one other aspect in which Brunner had right on his side as against Barth. Brunner's plea for a new natural theology included an emphasis on the orders or ordinances (German Ordnungen) of creation, and Barth was correspondingly dismissive towards these structures.34 But to modern Old Testament scholarship there can be no question that the idea of a world order is extremely central. It is evident especially in the Wisdom literature and in its relations with ancient Near Eastern culture; and through these it spills over into many other aspects of Old Testament thought, especially the idea of creation, which on the one hand takes the form of separation and ordering, and on the other hand, as has been emphasized, develops into the central base for natural theology. It looks as if Brunner was right at this point also.

  • 1.

    Cf. my article ‘The Image of God in the Book of Genesis: A Study of Terminology’, BJRL 51 (1968–9), 11 ff. On the subject in general, a good survey of the older discussions is provided by another Scottish theologian, David Cairns, in his The Image of God in Man (London: SCM, 1953). For modern scholarly and exegetical discussion the fullest survey is that provided by Gunnlaugur Jónsson, The Image of God (Lund: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1988), and because of his work I make no attempt to cover that discussion in all its many aspects.

  • 2.

    Not all have seen it in this way—see below on 1 Corinthians 117.

  • 3.

    I here follow the sequence of the survey by Barth, KD iii/1. 216 ff.; CD iii/1. 191 ff.

  • 4.

    Barth, ibid., quotes St Ambrose, Hexaemer. 6. 7 f., for the view that the image lies in the soul, while Athanasius goes on to place it in the rationality of man, corresponding to the Logos (De incarn. 3).

  • 5.

    Jónsson, The Image of God, 13. See Cairns, The Image of God in Man.

  • 6.

    Quoted from Jónsson, The Image of God, 12, who is quoting Brunner, Man in Revolt (New York: Scribners, 1939), 505; German original Der Mensch im Widerspruch (3rd edn., Zurich: Zwingli, 1941), 523.

  • 7.

    One might well ask what Old Testament evidence could be adduced in favour of this construction, in view of the fact that no passage speaks of a loss of the original image or damage done to it. The path that could be followed was to appeal to the birth (Gen. 53) of Seth in the image, not of God, but of Adam, i.e. Adam as he now was, after his disobedience.

  • 8.

    On this see my article ‘Man and Nature: The Ecological Controversy and the Old Testament’, BJRL 55 (1972–3), 9–32. There is a mass of other literature touching on this theme.

  • 9.

    Here he acknowledged precedents in Vischer and Bonhoeffer, KD iii/1. 218 f.; CD iii/1. 194 ff.

  • 10.

    ‘Diese geradezu definitionsmässige Erklärung des Textes’, KD iii/1. 219; CD iii/1. 195.

  • 11.

    On Barth's relation to the understanding of the image of God, see especially Jónsson, The Image of God, 65 ff. Barth's connecting of the phrase with a trinitarian view of God implied a dependence on the plural of ‘Let us make…’ in Genesis 126, an aspect of his argument already adequately rejected by J. J. Stamm, ‘Die Imago-Lehre von Karl Barth und die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft’, in Antwort (Karl Barth FS; Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1956), 93 f., and I shall not waste time in discussing it further.

  • 12.

    On this aspect, see esp. P. A. Bird. ‘“Male and Female he Created them”: Gen. 1:27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation’, HTR 74 (1981), 133 f., and literature there cited.

  • 13.

    ‘“Male and Female he Created them”’, 132.

  • 14.

    Ibid. One may amplify Bird's opinion, however, in the following sense. On the one hand, as she says, it is ‘only a novel and arresting variation of the classical trinitarian interpretation’. On the other side, however, and typically of Barth's exegesis, in respect of its identification of the image with the man-woman relationship it is a totally modern invention, wildly remote from anything that the Fathers or the Reformers would have thought, and in this respect worthy to be classed with the many anti-traditional and theologically irresponsible opinions of historical-critical scholarship, against which Barth so frequently railed.

  • 15.

    ‘Karl Barth and the Future of Theology’, RS 6 (1970), 113; quoted by Bird, ‘“Male and Female he Created them”’ n. 9.

  • 16.

    Natural Theology (London: Bles, 1946), 22. Cf. 20.

  • 17.

    Brunner in Natural Theology, 20.

  • 18.

    Already in Natural Theology, 74, Barth is resentful of Brunner's supposing that he. Barth, thinks that ‘the image of God in man is totally destroyed by sin’. Yet it would not be surprising if Brunner had so supposed, partly in view of the other aspects of Barth's theology, partly because Calvin himself, whom Barth was likely to have followed, had made it clear the image had been destroyed: ‘Since the image of God has been destroyed in us by the Fall, we may judge from its restoration what it originally had been’—Commentary on Gen. 126; cf. Peter Barth, ‘Das Problem der natürlichen Theologie bei Calvin’, Th. Ex. H. 18 (1935), 30, and J. H. Leith, John Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life (Louisville. Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1989), 71. On the other hand, Calvin can also speak of ‘the divine image within us, which was defaced, and almost obliterated, by the transgression of Adam’ (Leith, Calvin's Doctrine, 70).

  • 19.

    ‘Was der Mensch nicht besitzt, das kann er wie nicht vererben, so auch nicht verlieren’, KD iii/1. 225; CD iii/1. 200.

  • 20.

    See for example the sympathetic treatment of Barth's thought on this subject by Paul Fiddes, The Status of Woman in the Thought of Karl Barth’, in Janet M. Soskice (ed.), After Eve (London: Collins/Marshall Pickering, 1990), 138–55—which however is wisely reticent about the Hebrew basis for the interpretation of the divine image.

  • 21.

    See Barth, KD iii/1. 227 ff.; CD iii/1. 201 ff.

  • 22.

    KD iii/1, 228; CD iii/1. 202.

  • 23.

    Cf. Barth, KD iii/1. 229 f.; CD iii/1. 203 f. Barth's attempt to make this passage fit in with his view of the image of God is hopelessly weak.

  • 24.

    For fuller discussion see J. Jervell, Imago Dei (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960), 292 ff.

  • 25.

    Cf. KD iii/1. 259 f.; CD iii/1. 228 ff. The P story of creation and the J story of creation are quite separate stories and should be read independently: each has its own harmony, and we should be content with the higher harmony which is achieved when we allow the one to speak after the other. Quite admirable sentiments; but such as may mislead us when we try to see how their meaning was perceived by someone like Paul.

  • 26.

    ‘Die Imago-Lehre von Karl Barth’, 84 f. On the general reception of Barth's interpretation among Old Testament scholars see Jónsson, The Image of God, 75 ff., which seems to me to be a correct evaluation in general terms. As in matters of biblical theology in general. Barth's work on the image of God was a stimulus to exegetes. But did any exegete, anywhere, believe that he was right in his actual interpretation? Stamm, in his respectful critique, rejected the essential points of it. Some of the general features of Barth's approach may have been in agreement with the tendency of Old Testament scholars, as Jónsson says, but the most characteristic aspect, namely that the image resides in the man-woman relationship, surely received little acceptance.

  • 27.

    C. Link, Die Welt als Gleichnis (Munich: Kaiser, 1976), 109.

  • 28.

    Jónsson is so good as to say, on the basis of my thoughts in this article, that ‘If Karl Barth is the most important name for imago Dei studies during the period 1919–1960, it may with some justice be claimed that James Barr is the most important name during the period 1961–1982’—The Image of God, 146 n. 6.

  • 29.

    For similar thoughts, see J. F. A. Sawyer, ‘The Meaning of ~yla ~lcb in Genesis i–ix’, JTS 25 (1974), 426; W. H. Schmidt, The Faith of the Old Testament (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), 197; Jónsson, The Image of God, 224.

  • 30.

    This and the following passage are quoted from my ‘The Image of God in the Book of Genesis: A Study of Terminology’, BJRL 51 (1968–9), 13 f., with the kind permission of the John Rylands University Library, Manchester.

  • 31.

    Cf above, Ch. 4.

  • 32.

    ‘Debate, deliberation’ is the gloss given by LSJ. Since this word is absent in the Syriac, some, like RSV, consider it not to belong to the text. But the word is not unlikely, occurring once in Wisd, and in two other places in Sir. Even if it is absent, however, this makes little difference to our argument.

  • 33.

    No Hebrew text exists at this point.

  • 34.

    See Natural Theology, 85 f.