The Image of God

This paper argues that the image of God is the authority and the enablement to rule creation. The properties of enablement are related to the image of Jesus Christ to which the church is to be conformed. This enablement includes the ontological property of rationality as well as morality, which exists in sufficient quantity to enable humanity to rule over the earth. Animals and other created beings may have some measure of these properties of enablement but do not have the authority to rule. Therefore, examples of what appears to be intelligence or morality in animals today are not a defeater for this conception. Additionally, the persisting authority to rule exists in every human equally so that, even if individual people have different measures of enablement, they still always have an equal persisting human dignity. Arguing for this will take three steps. First is the image of God as understood by the author of the book of Genesis, which James 3:9 draws upon. Second, there is the apostle Paul’s conception of the image of God. Third, there is the theological construction which explains how these two fit together into a unified conception of the image of God.
John Kilner’s book, “Dignity and Destiny”, sets out to define a Bible-based understanding of the image of God. However, he argues that “debates continue over which setting is the more immediate cultural backdrop to the writing of the Old Testament” and that all the historical reconstructions are considered as “tenuous.” Gunnlaugur A. Jónsson, in “The Image of God: Genesis 1:26–28 in a Century of Old Testament Research,” has shown that the majority opinion is that the cultural backdrop points to functional view of the image, with the minority position of Claus Westermann adopting a minority Barthian relational view, and James Barr arguing the other minority position that nobody can know the content or the location of the image of God. Thus, this paper advocates the majority view against Kilner’s or Barr’s perspective.
Chris Kugler, in “Paul and the Image of God,” makes a strong argument that Paul’s conception of the image of God “is not an ‘Adam christology’ but a ‘wisdom christology.’” So, when Paul talks about Jesus as the Image of God, Paul is not referring to Genesis 1:27 but instead Paul’s teaching on the image of God, John 1:1-18 and Hebrews 1:1-4 are “part of a larger early Christian attempt . . . to appropriate elements of Middle Platonic intermediary doctrine.”
This paper contributes to the field by creating a new theological construction of the image of God which combines the majority functional view of Genesis 1:27 with Kugler’s view of Paul’s conception of Jesus as the Image of God. This new construction combines aspects of traditional ontological, functional, and relational views of the image of God in a way that does not suffer from defeaters for these individual positions.