Image of God: RJS on Jesus Creed summarizing Middleton

On the Jesus Creed blog today RJS referenced the BioLogos post on Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened By Evolution and added a nice summary of J. Richard Middleton’s take on the image of God in Genesis. Since this is a topic that comes up a lot here, I thought I’d point it out for anyone who is interested. No Need to Fear (RJS) | RJS

[quote] Middleton’s view of the imago Dei in Genesis 1 emphasizes the function for which humans are set apart. The imago Dei is not a collection of special features of humanity – but a democratized commission. The term behind image (selem) refers most often to “a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine.”

[quoting Middleton directly] “When the clues within the Genesis text are taken together with comparative studies of the ancient Near East, they lead to what we could call a functional – or even missional – interpretation of the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27 … On this reading, the imago Dei designates the royal office or calling of human beings as God’s representatives and agents in the world, granted authorizing power to share in God’s rule or administration of the earth’s resources and creatures” (The Liberating Image p. 27).

The function of humankind is to image the invisible God is his creation.[/quote]


Richard did a guest post for us on The Hump back in 2014, and seems to me one of the best Evangelical scholars in this area of theology (with an interest in scientific origins, too). His concept of “image” seems to me very true to the whole thrust of Genesis, and interacts with the cosmic temple idea also championed by John Walton and Gregory Beale. And also, of course, it resonates with the “functional” view of Genesis by Walton.

The relationship of that to “scientific origins” is sigificant. A missional “commission” must be a relational, and conscious, acquisition of a role. Like the question of an “eternal soul” (raised by Joshua Swamidass recently) it can’t in itself be a product of evolution, especially gradual evolution, but more of revelation. That requires an historical locus of that revelation - if Adam did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

At the same time, for such a commission to make any sense, the collection of special features which, in Richard’s view (and mine) do not constitute the image need nevertheless to be in place: mankind must have not only the physical capacities to mould the environment and administer God’s resources, but the intellect, the ability to communicate with each other and, even more wondrously, to perceive God and be capable of receiving revelation - in short, all the things more traditionally associated with being “in God’s image”. Commissioning bonobos as his image would have achieved nothing.

Our creation, then, must predispose us to the direct revelation of our role under God even if it is distinguished from it. And therefore, presumably, our scientific/theological theories of origins must remain deeply teleological - and be supplemented by some account of God’s commission to us in history, parallel to the commissioning of individuals and groups like Moses and the other prophets, or Israel.


I am inclined to think that discussions on “…in the image of God he created him…” and " whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them…" (2Cor 4:4), may overlook a central point in that this matter (the image of God) deals with the capacity to respond to the revelation and Word of God. This is both central to understanding what a human being is, and why discussions of “acquisition of a role” within the creation are secondary. After all, God sustains His creation, so strictly speaking, why would He require someone else to administer His resources (although I agree with the thrust of stewardship)? I like the way Christy often turns her comments to redemption and salvation of humanity - this is a point of view that makes all this stuff about evolution become almost irrelevant.

There is a difference between God needing humans to do something for him and God commissioning humans to do something for him. We have the whole mystery and messiness of the Church too. Obviously, God doesn’t require the Church to bring his Kingdom, but for whatever reasons, he has commissioned the Church to do so. It doesn’t seem like the best plan from my view, but I’m not God. :relaxed: I think there are parallels between Adam and the Church. The Church was not chosen to do Christ’s work on earth because it “arrived” at a certain level of maturity and capability. The Spirit came at Pentecost and that was that. I think the “breathing of the breath of God” into humanity was a parallel election and a commission to do God’s work, not a reward for what was justly deserved for achieving a certain level of development as a species.

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I agree with what you say @Christy, and my comment is meant to emphasise the distinction that must be made regarding communion with God through Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed Christ directly commissioned the Apostles and other disciples, because He was leaving them - I prefer the term “worship” as closer to the mark than “stewardship”, as this also shows us that the world may choose another to follow instead of Christ.

So we may discuss wording, and this includes “the first fruit” and “growing in the attributes of Christ” as more accurately reflecting the purpose and will of God. In that context, the Church always arrives at the maturity and capability in Christ, and this is the power of Faith as a gift.

Yes I also agree that there are many parallels, from Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses and the Prophets, and ultimately to Christ and the Church.:heart_eyes:

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