Blogging the Institutes | 1.15.3 | The Image of God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Image of God

God made humanity in his image. Although God displays his glory in people’s outward appearance, the proper “location” of his image is the soul. I don’t deny that our physical bodies bring us nearer to representing what God is like, more than animals. I also won’t oppose anyone who sees the distinction between animals and humans, because we’re to look up and contemplate spiritual things. Although our physical bodies can display the image of God, in reality, it is spiritual.

Osiander extends the image of God to our body as well as our soul. He confuses heaven with earth. He argues that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed their image in humanity because even if Adam never sinned, Christ would still have to become human. According to him, the body, which was destined for Christ, was a model and type of the first human being who was created. But where does he dig up texts saying that Christ is an image of the Spirit?

Christ indeed is the Mediator and he displays the glory of the whole Godhead. But how can the eternal Word, who in order in the Godhead precedes the Spirit, be called his image? Osiander destroys the distinction between the Son and the Spirit if Christ is the image of the Spirit. Moreover, how does Christ’s flesh resemble the Holy Spirit? Are there marks or clothes he wears which show us the Spirit? Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our own image.” The Son must be included as the one speaking. Humanity is made in his image too. He cannot be the whole image himself. Furthermore, according to Osiander, God formed Adam after the model of Christ’s body. Christ was the idea according to which God formed Adam. But Scripture teaches us very differently: Adam was formed in the image of God.

Some might say that Adam was created in the image of God because it was patterned after Christ who is the only image of God. But no solid foundation for even this argument exists. Many interpreters discuss at length the distinction between “image” and “likeness.” The term “likeness” is only added as a further explanation of what image means. First, we know that repetitions are common in Hebrew where two words describe one thing. Second, God explicitly calls humanity the image of God because of its likeness to God. Therefore, it’s ridiculous to say that “image” represents the substance of the soul and “likeness” is the qualities of the soul. God determined to create humanity in his own image. He removes ambiguity by adding the second term, “likeness.” His would create humanity in his image by means of the resemblances of himself placed on humanity.

Moses, shortly after repeating the account, writes about the image of God twice and makes no mention of “likeness” (Genesis 5:3; 9:6). Osiander argues that the whole of Adam, not a part of his body or his soul, is called the image of God. These objections are silly. Although a whole person is called mortal, the soul is not liable to death. When people are called rational, their reason or intelligence aren’t attributed to the body. Although the soul is not the whole of a person, you can rightly say that someone is the image of God with respect to the soul. I also retain the principle that the image of God extends to all parts of humanity that surpass all other species of animals.

The term “image” especially denotes the original integrity with which God endued Adam. Before sin, his intellect was clear, his emotions subordinated to reason, all of his bodily senses regulated, and all of his excellence was attributed as an admirable gift to his Maker. Though the primary “location” of God’s image was in the mind and the heart–i.e. the soul and its powers–even in his body some rays of divine glory shined. Every part of the world displays God’s glory. Yet, when God placed his image in humanity, some of kind of differentiation took place, placing humanity apart from the crowd and exalting it above all other creatures.

You can’t deny that the angels also were created in the likeness of God since Christ declares that our highest perfection will consist of being like them (Matthew 22:30). But Moses highlights the favour God displays toward us by giving us the title “image of God,” especially when compared to the rest of creation.

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