Thursday, December 01, 2016


Last time we looked at Reformed Orthodox and Puritan views of soul and body, showing that for them your body is as much you as your soul, being animated by the soul. So the soul and body may be regarded as two essential substances. This has a bearing on how the image of God in man is to be understood.

There are currently many and various ideas about in what the imago dei resides. Is man’s trinitarian structure an image of the Trinitarian God?  Augustine held such a view in de Trinitate, trying (but unsuccessfully) to see the Trinity in the interlocking of the faculties of the self. But much to the chagrin of modern hyper-trinitarians he did not think he had succeeded. Calvin said of such an attempt that

there is no solidity in Augustine’s speculation, that the soul is a mirror of the Trinity, inasmuch as it comprehends within itself,  intellect, will and memory. Nor is there probability in the opinion of those who place likeness to God in the dominion bestowed upon man, as if he only resembled God in this, that he is appointed Lord and master of all things. The likeness must be with in, in himself. It must be something which is not external to him but is properly the internal good of the soul’. (Inst, I. xv. 4)

The Trinity is used in another way as a 'model' of being human. Moderns have postulated what have always seemed to me to be extravagant ideas about the imago  as relations between Individuals in union,  mirroring the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Godhead. A trinity-like community with others, being as the Lord of creation is tri-personal. It seems to have been forgotten that the three  trinitarian persons are one substance, God himself.

To avoid this then maybe they veer towards another modern fad, understanding the Trinity as social, as three persons sharing one divine nature, three individuals of one unique kind. But (again) the trinitarian persons are persons of the numerically one God, not members of a trio of divine persons each in some sense generically divine. In any case there is a distinction between thinking of human nature as having a Trinitarian structure, which was Augustine’s view; and it consisting in one human being as having a perichoretic relationship with others.

Such views are extravagant because they argue that a metaphysical relationship, the necessary relationship of the three hypostases of the one Trinity, is imputed, or their shadow is imputed, when distinct members of the human race are united together in mutual love. There is very little encouragement to going down this road in the New Testament. Christ teaches in an aspect of his High Priestly Prayer in John 17.11,  ’that they [his disciples] may be one, even as we are one’. But the image of God is not mentioned there, is it?  And there are the words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount urging his people to be like God whose is gracious to the just and unjust alike in showering his goodness on them.But no reference to the image of God there either. 

More promising are passages in the New Testament signifying the renewal of men and women which are these days neglected or overlooked.

….That you put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of like and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4.22-24)
 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you give put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col.3.9-16)

With the similarities between the two passages – ‘new self’, ‘old self’, ‘creates’, creator’, ‘the likeness of God’’, ‘image’, and with their ‘put off….put on’ structure, are we not reasonable in concluding that we have here a mode of Paul’s habitual thinking? And here are obvious references to the creation of mankind in God’s image, and language about what that image consists in – personal knowledge, renovation of character in righteousness and holiness, with their associated desires and practices. These are  properties of the human mind. Mankind has a rational soul atop the lower powers of his soul, his sensory powers. These denote man both as an ‘animal’, and  as ‘rational’, by the possession of rational and moral powers and capacities.

We use our intellect in what we are told and read and apprehend with a sense singly,  or our senses together. We can reason abstractly in logic and mathematics. We can reason inductively. But in addition, and importantly, there is the practical reason. When we identify objectives for ourselves, we use our reason to do this. We identify ends, and means to those ends, judging which is the best means, or means (plural) to an end or ends. Included in these practical reasonings are moral reasoning, for we seek to achieve moral ends or objectives. This is also a rational activity therefore. So this view of the image can take in the role of mankind in governing his environment. (Gen.1.28)

So without raising any questions about whether Paul had Aristotle’s writings among the books and parchments he asked Timothy to bring with him, (2  Tim. 4.13), or that he was influenced by Aristotle, we can nevertheless see that terms like ‘righteousness’ and ‘holiness’ and ‘practices’ are readily incorporated into an Aristotelian outlook such as the medieval scholastics had, and that the Reformed Orthodox and the Puritans took on.

It is our souls, our reason, our morals, our affections, our plans and goals, and the means to them, that are all affected by the Fall. The Fall is an adventitious change in our persons. That is, the Fall leaves our human nature intact, even though it is in all aspects disordered and weakened, and so ‘totally’ depraved. Reformed theologians referred as a consequence to imago dei  in its wider and narrower senses. A human being though fallen, retains the image of God in the wider sense, but lost the true knowledge, and righteousness and holiness - the image in the narrower sense - that Paul refers to.

However, there is another usage of ‘image’ in the NT which denotes the character of Christ. Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col.1.15), repeated in 2 Cor 4.4. He is the image of God,  being himself God, though the Spirit is never designated with this title, tho’ also  hImself God. The renewal language of Ephesians and Colossians is by this further image language made more explicit. The renewing of the image refers to Christ, the incarnate Logos, and in his perfect human nature  the image of God his Father. When the saints put on the new image, this is not a set of abstract virtues, but something of the moral character of Christ. I suppose an image of an image of A is also an image of A. So by God’s regenerating grace the  elect are to be conformed to the image of the Father’s Son, (Rom. 8.29)  and in the resurrection, they will bear the image of the man of heaven, (I Cor. 15.49) having a resurrected nature free from sin, and possessing spiritual bodies.  We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (I. Jn. 3.2).  And the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people is a progressive realization of this image, to be continued in heaven, from one degree of glory to a further degree. ’And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor. 3.18). Note here the recurrence of ‘image’.