The “Imago Dei” As “Familitas” -- By: Randall E. Otto

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 35:4 (Dec 1992)
Article: The “Imago Dei” As “Familitas”
Author: Randall E. Otto


The “Imago Dei” As “Familitas”

Randall E. Otto*

“A characteristic mark of the present situation of the spirit and its activity in science is the turn to man, to humanum as the real and realizable.”1 Amid the research that has been carried out on the question of man in Marxism, existentialism, rationalistic humanism, and the natural sciences, the Judeo-Christian tradition has historically viewed itself as having a unique perspective on the nature of man. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ “ (Gen 1:26).

The precise meaning of this Biblical testimony has, however, been a perennial source of debate. No one in recent times has influenced the debate as much as Karl Barth. “After the Second World War, there is hardly a single scholar who has been cited as often in the imago Dei debate as the systematic theologian Karl Barth.”2 Although OT research and systematic work since 1961 have largely overridden the Barthian approach in favor of a functional view of the imago as dominion over creation,3 “the only interpretation which can claim to be a rival to the dominant functional interpretation is the relational or Barthian interpretation.”4 This study will seek to defend a relational view of the imago Dei in a way that overcomes some of the pitfalls of Barth’s approach.

Genesis 1:26–28 is clearly the locus classicus for discussion of the imago Dei. The hortatory “let us” of 1:26 has occasioned vigorous discussion throughout history. The older notion that the plural has to do with a plural of majesty was dismissed by Barth as “quite foreign to the linguistic usage of the Old Testament.”5 Barth also dismissed the prevalent view

* Randall Otto is pastor of Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, Box 516, Trumbauersville, PA 18970.

of OT scholars that the “us” refers to a heavenly court: “Those addressed here are not merely consulted by the one who speaks but are summoned to an act …, i.e., an act of creation.”6 Historic Jewish exegesis had had, however, no real concern over Barth’s objection that the heavenly court idea means that man is made in the image of God and the angels (ʾ...

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