The Image of God as Trinity or Ensouled Bodies?

The question of the nature of humanity is basic to both science and theology.

Rev. Austriaco gives us a traditional answer based on the theology of St. Thomas, that humans as the Image of God qwere created as ensouled bodies. I say that based on modern science and theology, that humans as the Image of God were created as the trinitarian beings.

To understand what we are talking about we first need to understand what the “soul” is. Much has been written about the “immortal soul,” however this phrase does not appear in the Bible. The NT is written in Greek, but it was written by Jews for a predominantly Greek Christian audience. The Soul is a Greek concept used by Greek philosophers, and incorporated by theologians into the faith after the writing of the Bible.

Now what are the problems with the understanding of humans as ensouled bodies.

  1. The soul is said to be immortal, but only God is really immortal and humans are not God.
  2. Because the soul is immortal it must be also immutable, and humans are not immutable.
  3. Jesus was not an immortal soul in a human body, because Jesus was fully human and fully God.
  4. The soul is said to be immaterial, but thinking which is the key activity of the soul is done in the brain, which is material.
  5. Thinkers have replaced the idea of mind for the soul. However for almost everyone the mind is not the same as the soul. The soul is both spiritual and rational, but the mind is only rational.

When we reduce a human being who is created in the Image of God as Triune physical, rational, and spiritual, to more simply a ensouled body or physical and rational/spiritual with the emphasis on the rational, we lose the Image of God and we lose the reality of our spiritual nature. When we allow the argument about our nature to be reduced to the mind/body question we lose the spiritual nature altogether.

The NT talks more about the human heart and spirit than the soul. These are more accurate and better description of the human triune nature.

The Greek word for soul used here is Psukhe. While we might think that science does not believe in the Soul, it lives in science as Psychology, the science of the Soul or Psukhe.

The science of Psychology is not about the mind or the immortal soul, it is about the human self. Whereas Plato left Western culture with a dualist version of humanity, he began his thinking with a three fold view and as one noted writer, Leslie Stevenson, has observed this view had been dominant despite Plato’s conversion.

Take Freud’s trio of Id, Ego, and Super Ego. We have Id as the natural or animalistic, the Ego as the rational, and the Super Ego as the moral or spiritual. I certainly do not defend all or even much of what Freud wrote, but he was correct in his basic formulation of humans being in some real sense physical, rational, and spiritual.

Also we observe now that just as the physical bodies of flora and fauna have evolved, so too the nervous systems that allow us humans to think, and our spiritual understanding to enable us to better know God.

All of this leads me to conclude that Genesis 1 is correct to say that humans, male and female, are created in God’s Image, which Christians understand as Triune, physical, rational, and spiritual.

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As I as a theologian and biblical studies guy enter into this conversation, I think it is important to understand the phrase “image of God” in its ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) context. The tendency of past theologians was to hyperspiritualize the phrase. As good Greek thinkers, one could not associate God with the physical world. :wink: So, to what and to whom did this phrase refer in the ANE?

There are two main referents:

  1. idols
  2. kings

Following the work of scholars like John Walton i.e. Lost World of Genesis One, the phrase “image of God” has more to do with the role or function of human beings male and female in relation to the world. When understood this way, the description of humankind’s role that follows makes sense. As God’s little images or princes and princesses, we are to be the Creator’s representatives on the earth caring for and cultivating the land God has given us.

This perspective is a radical departure from the surrounding culture where kings, i.e. pharoah was considered the living image of a god while the rest of humanity maintained there status as leftovers from cosmic battles made to slave for the gods – feeding them with their sacrifices.

When one sees “image of God” in this context, then it really fits with the constant themes or true kingship vs. tyranny that run through both testaments. I can say more on this topic as it is a particular passion of mine but I will end here and await comment.

With respect to idols, notice how often in Scripture people are told that they will become like the idols they serve, blind, deaf, and lame. (See Psalm 115) And who does Jesus heal? The blind, the deaf, the lame, and the demon possessed. All associated with idolatry. Jesus, the true image of the invisible God, is restoring people to their true place as God’s living idols or princes and princesses, if you prefer.

Reading suggestions: G.K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship, DJA Clines “In his image” in Tyndale Bulletin 25 (I am doing this from memory but I hope I’ve got it right. I know I have the author and Journal correct.) Bruce Waltke’s Genesis: A Commentary or Rikki Watts audio recordings from “Biblical Theology for Contemporary Christians”.

I hope this begins to answer your question although perhaps in an unexpected way.
Ian Panth MCS
Doctoral Candidate
Religion Dept.
Baylor University


Thank you for your response. While there is much truth in what you say, I still do not think that this the only aspect of the Image of God.

Yes, God did create humans to be God’s viceroys on earth. Thomas Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal.” He was not quoting from the Bible, but when we read that God created humans, male and female in God’s own Image, it indicates that God created everyone including females to be equal, all in God’s Image, and nothing can be better than that.

However we also need a functional understanding of “the Image of God.” We understand God as the Creator. God created humans to be like God, to be creators. We understand God as Logos, Rational. God made humans to be like God able to think. We understand God to be Spirit, and God created humans to be spiritual creatures able to love.

God created humans in God’s Image so they can fulfill their responsibilities as viceroys. When we worship idols it does reduce our abilities to live as God’s Image.

Yes, all persons are created to be “kings and queens,” and God gave to each of us the abilities to act like God.

The Bible itself refutes the notion of an immortal, ghostly aspect in Man. We are carbon and chemicals until we are given spiritual life at the resurrection. Consider the following scriptures:

Psalm 115:17 - “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.”

John 3:13 - “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

Matthew 27:52 - “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

Daniel 12:2 - “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

A soul, in regards to Humans is what we BECOME when we have both body and life. This is made clear in Genesis 2:7. But should we translate this passage to use the word soul or being? I believe soul and being are one and the same. Both translations, therefore are correct.

Spirit on the other hand is simply the life-force coursing through your veins. That which returns to God whom gave it upon our deaths as stated in Ecclesiastes 12:7.

So then in what way are we made in God’s image? I do not know… But my theory is that seeing as though God is intelligent, self-aware and is also able to feel love, jealousy, empathy, sorrow, anger, happiness etc. And so are we. Perhaps God gave us these cognitive abilities and emotions which He has so that we can form a true relationship with Him. Which is ultimately what He wants from us.


We are agreed that humans are rational and spiritual, like God. I would add that we are also able To act as is God.

In these three ways humans are created in in the triune image of God.

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