The Significance Of God’s Image In Man -- By: Gerald Bray

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 042:2 (NA 1991)
Article: The Significance Of God’s Image In Man
Author: Gerald Bray

The Significance Of God’s Image In Man

Gerald Bray


It is now nearly a quarter of a century since David Clines gave his 1967 Tyndale Old Testament lecture ‘The image of God in Man’.1 Since that time, the flood of articles and books dealing with the image and likeness of God in man has multiplied a good deal, and the theological climate has changed considerably.2 Whereas Clines’ radical repudiation of theological tradition went hand in hand with a most generous readiness to accept Ancient Near Eastern influences of all kinds, scholars now tend to insist that the question of the image must be addressed in theological terms, even though most of them continue to be unhappy with the way in which the classical tradition actually developed.3

This article outlines (i) the current state of exegesis; (ii) the problems connected with the traditional theological interpretation of Genesis 1:26; (iii) the newly recognised importance of intertestamental Judaism for a Christian doctrine of the image of God; (iv) an extended commentary on the relevant New Testament passages; and (v) a new theological reconstruction of the doctrine based on the evidence which the New Testament provides.

I. The Current State Of Exegesis

The semantic range of the main terms, tselem and d’muth is now broadly agreed. The former refers primarily to a concrete image, a definite shape; the latter is more abstract—a resemblance, or a likeness.4 The big question raised by comparative usage elsewhere is whether tselem can ever be held to have a metaphorical sense. Everyone agrees that the Genesis accounts refer to man being made in the image of an invisible God, and that the thrust of the passage precludes worship of the human being as God’s representative on earth. What is not clear is whether man is the tselem of God in body as well as in ‘soul’ (or however one is going to describe the non-physical part of the human constitution), or whether tselem has any link to Israelite prohibitions against idolatry.

The high-water mark of the belief that tselem must always imply a physical image is generally said to have been the influential article written in 1940 by P. Humbert....

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