Tinkering with Imago Dei

What is your understanding of imago Dei? My field (OT Theology) tends to not bifurcate between flesh and soul/spirit (though OK in its own right, just not qua imago Dei) as it sees imago Dei predominantly in vocational terms.


I see Imago Dei as some blend of resembling God, an ability to have a relationship with him and to represent him. The vocational dimension seems to fall under representing him, but the root of the Imago Dei seems to follow from our resemblance of him. I don’t see how any creatures but Homo Sapiens have the Imago Dei. Since it was specially imbued by God my main point is that it could not have been completely the result of contingent “tinkering” by evolution.


YES, please unpack this a bit for us all @EvolvableCreationist and @deuteroKJ.

I am highly interested in the notion of Imago Dei as well as trying to understand some sort of dualism related to Scripture. Perhaps, the best of the classic and contemporary texts on this may suffice instead of getting into a protracted debate over it on this thread.


I divide options for imago Dei into 3 R’s, not because I’m a recovering Southern Baptist (who think alliteration is a spiritual gift), but because I think this is what the Presbyterian John Collins uses in his little Adam and Eve book.

(1) Resemblance is the view that we are (ontologically) like God in certain attributes/characteristics. Which attributes differs on the person holding this view (one of the weaknesses of this position IMO)–e.g., rationality, free will, creativity, even trichotomy (paralleling Trinity).

(2) Relationship is more recently in vogue, so that we are relational as God is relational both within himself (Trinity) and with his creation.

(3) Rule–this focuses on the functional/vocational call to represent God beginning with the creation mandate in Gen 1:28. Though Collins himself favors Resemblance (as most philosophers and systematic theologians, and has a long history in church tradition), most biblical/OT theologians emphasis the Rule option.

I won’t get into all the factors for this but they include (a) the meaning of the word “image” when comparing cognate languages and usage (i.e., an image is a 3D representative, like a statue); (b) the close connection of Gen 1:26-27 with v. 28; (c ) the fact that status of image remains 100% post-Fall; and (d) it best explains what distinguishes humans from the animals. We could also add that this view (Rule) is easier to incorporate human evolution than Resemblance because it’s a matter of divine election on who his image bearer would be.

In my own mind, there’s a way to combine these views, while I still think Rule takes the lead.


Into this mix, I want to add MLK’s definition. @Philosurfer, I highly recommend this book, as it explains how our culture understands the Image. @deuteroKJ, how does this align with the 3 Rs?

MLK’s conception of the image included:

  1. Universal human rights.
  2. Universal human dignity.
  3. Universal capacity to respond to the call to justice.
  4. Universal purposed to a beloved community on earth

The first 2 are often remembered, but the last 2 are often forgotten. The last two are a type of Kingdom of God theology. He believed we were to collaborate with God in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth, and that we all were redeemable as members of this community.

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Just looking at your summary, it appears to be a combo of the options. I suspect, though, that Resemblance would take the lead, focusing on human capacities that would yield proper Rule (with Relationship assumed and promoted).

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How does the Garden relate with the Image of God? It seems that it is tightly connected tot he Kingdom God. I wonder if there is something in the Image-Kingdom connection…?

In the ANE it was the king primarily who bore the divine image. So, image is a royal term. Israel, however, universalizes and democratizes the concept. (There is one Egyptian perspective that saw all humans as divine images, but otherwise only the big boys got that status)

Also in ANE understanding, the king’s palace was surrounded by a park/garden.

I see both royal and priestly language in both Gen 1 and Gen 2.

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We must add that as image-bearers, none of these instances ought to be understood as empowering autonomous action, but as adjuring contingent regent status. The “king” in the garden is the Angel of the Lord, not Adam or Eve. I find that God’s desire for “a kingdom of priests” is well-evident in the text right from these early stages --and that it was not meant to be conceived as even being limited to Israel as a “nation,” but to the people of God, generally.


Interestingly Athanasius also does not seem to differentiate between flesh/soul/spirit to define the image of God. His concept seems closer to the ability to reason.
Jesus is the perfect image of God. We are in the image of God’s logos… qualities of God’s logos like the ability to reason is available to all human beings.
While more Christ like qualities in terms of relationship with God, character etc are being restored in those who put their faith in Jesus through the process of sanctification/glorification.