The truth about the Imago Dei


(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

I feel as though numerous biblical scholars such as John Walton, NT Wright, Joshua Moritz and others (like InspiringPhilosophy) are guilty of intellectual dishonesty by describing the notion of the Imago Dei as a ‘function’, or ‘calling’ of man, a status that gives man responsibilities over creation as it’s rulers. But I argue that the Ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 1:26 simply will not allow this view. A parallel to genesis 1:26 is correctly noted by John Walton in the Egyptian Instruction of Merikare:

Well tended is mankind—god’s cattle
He made sky and earth for their sake . . .
He made breath for their noses to live.
They are his images, who came from his body . . .
He made for them plants and cattle,
Fowl and fish to feed them . . .
When they weep he hears . . .
For god knows every name.

In this text, man is also created as the Imago Dei, yet he does not have responsibilities to the rest of creation, on the contrary, the rest of creation exists for his sake. Therefore you cannot read Genesis 1:26 as implying human responsibilities, on the contrary, it gives humans rights over the earth. (This is not to suggest that humans have no duty to treat the earth responsibly, only that it isn’t implied in Genesis 1:26)

What I am saying here is that the desire to marry the Bible to ecological concerns and/or to reconcile the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament (where the Image of Jesus Christ is certainly a vocation), theologians have committed intellectual dishonesty regarding the highly anthropocentric status of man as the image of God.


(Christy Hemphill) #2

This is not how exegesis (or semantics) works. Words have semantic ranges. The use of a word in one context can inform our understanding of its use in other contexts, but it does not constrain its use the way you are implying. You have to look at each use in its own context.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

My main point was that a view of responsibility towards the earth cannot be derived from the principle of Imago Dei alone, not that the Imago Dei cannot mean ecological stewardship.

Furthermore, notice how both Genesis 1:26 and the Instruction of Merikare give mankind dominion over the animals?


(Christy Hemphill) #4

Maybe you have read more of these theologians than I have, but from what I have read the idea of ecological stewardship comes from Gen. 1:26. I don’t think it is a stretch to link the preceding “image”, which they demonstrate was a concept of ruling/administrating in place of or on behalf of a king or deity with the elaboration of what they were administering and reigning over in v. 26. They are arguing that imago dei is a vocation, not (as traditionally held) a set of inherent god-like qualities or characteristics. It makes sense to derive from the passage what the vocation entailed in the context, and it clearly entailed stewardship over creation. I don’t see what your problem with their exegesis is. They say “image” in the ANE context entails ruling on behalf of a king or deity and the passage goes on to describe the domain, creation.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

I am well aware of that, but the Imago Dei was a concept in Egyptian texts, where it was linked to the dominion which man had over nature.


(Christy Hemphill) #6

So again, what is this intellectual dishonesty you are talking about? You said, the context of Genesis 1:26 will not allow “a status that gives man responsibilities over creation as its rulers” and then you quote an Egyptian text where no such responsibilities are given and say that because ‘image’ there does not speak to responsibilities over creation, ‘image’ can’t speak to responsibility over creation in Genesis. That’s not an argument. It’s not how meaning works. You have to deal with the actual Genesis text and the use of ‘image’ in that text and the implications of dominion in the ANE context. What in the context of Genesis disallows the interpretation of the ‘image’ vocation involving responsibility over creation? What evidence do you have that dominion implies rights but not responsibility in the ANE context? You just threw that out there as a bare assertion. ‘Rights’ is not a biblical concept at all. Rulers being ultimately responsible for the welfare of their subjects is a biblical concept.


(Jay Johnson) #7

Yes, this procedure allows the ANE context to shed additional light on the text of Genesis itself. On the other hand …

This method has it backwards. Here, the Egyptian text doesn’t provide context to Genesis; rather, the meaning of imago Dei is controlled by the Egyptian text, regardless of the intended meaning of the Hebrew author.


(Jay Johnson) #8

Mankind’s dominion over the animals is a mundane observation that I suspect many cultures in human history have recognized and mythologized.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #9

That’s not my argument at all, by argument was that the text is a parallel to Genesis 1:26 just as the Enuma Elish is a parallel to Genesis 1:6-8. Both texts say man was made in the image of God, and both do so in the midst of giving man dominion over the earth


(Christy Hemphill) #10

That it is a parallel text is all fine and good. But intellectual dishonesty is a fairly serious charge and you haven’t really explained at all why it is intellectually dishonest to say humanity was given a responsibility over creation in Genesis. Pointing out a parallel text that talks about ‘image’ does not substantiate that charge.


(Christy Hemphill) #11

Your argument is basically that dominion does not imply responsibility. How do you know that?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #12

I argue this because these scholars should ‘know’ (and at least one certainly does know) what the text is saying.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

If you wish to claim that dominion imply’s responsibility, you have the burden of proof. I’m not denying that humans have some God given responsibility over the earth (for one, the earth belongs to him as well, and we are to remember this every 7 years), but this is not implied by Genesis 1:26. If anything, the ancient near eastern parallels imply anthropocentrism. (or at least a hybrid system of anthropo and theocentrism)


(Christy Hemphill) #14

What? The whole discipline of biblical scholarship is figuring out what the text is saying. No, you don’t “just know.” You make an argument. What is your argument that dominion does not imply responsibility based on?


(Christy Hemphill) #15

Walton, Middleton, Wright and others have made these arguments. I think they have done a fine job. You are the one calling them intellectually dishonest because they don’t agree with you, but you haven’t offered a counter argument. Why should we accept “dominion does not imply responsibility” as some kind of obvious default position? You have to establish it.

I have read lots of commentaries on various OT passages and there is plenty of textual evidence that dominion does imply responsibility in the OT worldview. I am convinced. If you aren’t that is fine, but you need to actually bring out evidence to the contrary, not just assume your intuition is automatically correct until proven otherwise.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #16

I have already stated my evidence to the contrary. Genesis 1:26 has a parallel with an anthropocentric Egyptian text, and says similar things about animals, and does not repudiate it in any way.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #17

I also suggest you read this:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234074455_Challenges_in_the_Search_for_an_Ecotheology


(Christy Hemphill) #18

How does a parallel Egyptian text prove in any way that the Hebrew view of dominion in the OT excluded responsibility? How does an “anthropocentric” element in both texts exclude responsibility from the concept of dominion? You have to give OT textual and parallel examples of dominion being all about rights, and of rulers not being held responsible for the welfare/flourishing of their dominion.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #19

I must admit, listening to this podcast has changed my mind about how I view Genesis 1:

https://thebibleproject.com/podcast/theme-son-man-e2-humans-animals/

God never intended for humanity to subdue all the earth. It would be absurd to think that God intended people to ‘fill’ all the earth, as it would be impossible to even move. Rather God just wants a human presence on the earth enough so that animals know who’s boss. Genesis 1:30 would suggest that animals should still have some place to remain.

Finally, I will also point out that according to Psalm 8, humans have already subdued the earth:

6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
_ you have put all things under their feet,_
7 all sheep and oxen,
_ and also the beasts of the field,_
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
_ whatever passes along the paths of the seas._


(system) closed #20

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