To be made in the image of God means that “humanity is in certain respects created in the divine likeness” (Elwell 2001, 591). Humanity’s divine likeness is supported by various Scriptures including the famous Old Testament creation account that states, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him” (Genesis 1:27). The New Testament further reinforces the creation account both in the writings of Paul and James (I Corinthians 11:7, James 3:9). Three broad views of the image of God will be explored: the substantive, the relational, and the functional (Erickson 1998, 520).
The most common substantive view relates the image of God to a psychological or spiritual aspect of humanity that has historically overshadowed other views (Erickson 1998, 520-521). Although certain Church Fathers such as Origen and Irenaeus originally divided the concepts of image and likeness, the distinction was further developed by medieval theologians who suggested “image” pertained to reason whereas “likeness” pertained to morality (Erickson 1998, 522). Luther denied any division between image and likeness, which was consistent with his theology of the cross (Erickson 1998, 523). Similarly, Calvin denied a dualistic perspective and suggested that a “relic of the image remained,” which allowed us to come to know God (Erickson 1998, 523). Regardless of the variations, all substantive views agree that God’s image is in some way inherent in humanity (Erickson 1998, 523).
The relational view is a modernized existentialistic perspective supported by theologians such as Brunner and Barth (Erickson 1998, 524-27). Neo-orthodoxy rejects the locus of the image within humanity, and instead, believes the image is exemplified in a relationship with Christ (Erickson 1998, 524-27). Brunner distinguishes between a formal image that all humanity possesses and a material image that exists when humanity turns to God (Erickson 1998, 524). Barth’s transcendent theological emphasis caused an early disconnect with the image of God and humanity (Erickson 1998, 524-25). However, Barthian theology ultimately morphed into a partnership between the Creator and the created, a reflection of the “internal communion and encounter present within God” (Erickson 1998, 525-26). Finally, the functional view suggests that the “image consists in something one does” (Erickson 1998, 527). More specifically, the functional view sees the image to mean an exercise of dominion over creation based on Genesis 1 and Psalms 8 (Erickson 1998, 527-28).
The relationship between man and woman is evident within an account of Creation that clearly connects both male and female to the image of God (Genesis 1:27). First, although Adam was created prior to Eve, the equality of the sexes appears evident (Elwell 2001, 1281). Next, the Creation account initiates the inception of monogamous marriage that culminates in the union of the male and female as “one flesh” (Elwell 2001, 1281). Finally, Erickson (1998) appropriately reinforces the equality of the sexes by noting that the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18 actually consists of two separate words in the original Hebrew, the latter meaning “equal to” man (564).
Elwell, W. A. ed. 2001. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Erickson, M. J. 1998. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.