Four Helpful Articles on the Imago Dei

I’ve been working away on an essay looking at the imago Dei in Genesis 1-3, specifically as it relates to gender relations between male and female. It has been brilliant fun, stretching my limited Hebrew, and forcing me to hunt footnotes across different bits of biblical theology, my favourite hunting ground of systematic theology, and also (among others!) gender theory, french philosophy, feminist theology, and so on and so forth! As well as an ever-increasing stack of books, there have been four articles which I have found useful whilst writing this essay. I don’t agree entirely with the conclusions of all of them, but they have been useful guides and something of light relief compared to the 800+ pages of Richard Davidson’s “Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament” or the merry pages of Karl Barth. That latter said, I do think Barth sheds some useful light on sexual difference in the imago Dei here, as I blogged recently. These articles, then, shed a little light on why I find the topic of the imago Dei so interesting, and so potentially fruitful for the sort of thing I love to do…

– i – 

First up, then, is an article that was frequently footnoted, and a constant reference from some of my evangelical friends. Gerald Bray, Anglican theologian and editor of ‘Churchman’, has written “The Significance of God’s Image in Man“, which originally appeared in the Tyndale Bulletin of November 1991. You can read it here. Bray offers a helpful overview of the term across the Old and New Testaments, with an emphasis on NT commentary and theological construction. For my essay, the key quote is reproduced below, a startling and powerful observation rich with truth

The Genesis texts are universalistic in scope, and not obviously interested in cultic matters; it is never suggested that man was created in God’s image so as to be able to worship Him, for instance” – 203

– ii –

Secondly, this time from a pastor called Randall Otto, is “The Imago Dei as Familitas“, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theology Society, December 1992. This is an interesting article, which on reflection was not quite so relevant to my essay, but is one I will be pondering in the future. You can read it online here. One of the standout concepts in this paper was one that will probably resonate around in my head for a little while;

the heart of justice is participation in God’s household. The Church, as the household or family of God, reflects the image (glory) of Christi in providing a home for the sojourney, a place where he is accepted for who he is in the beloved, a place where all distinctions and barriers are broken down and he may enjoy the life of true community and engage in its promotion among all people” – 512-3


– iii – 

Thirdly is an article from an author from these fine English shores, originally published in the Evangelical Quarterly in 2005. Deryck Sheriffs, faculty member at the London School of Theology has given us a fascinating article; “‘Personhood’ in the Old Testament? Who’s asking?“. Written in a rather more accessible and readable style, this is nonetheless and important and helpful article. This is an exercising in theology that helps the reader along, rather than losing him/her somewhere in rhetoric! There is a helpful stress on covenant here, a concept often lacking in modern/popular evangelical theology. I enjoyed Sheriffs’ closing words;

Though biological dust, we are invited into covenant, into the steadfast love of the Person who is the Father of all humanity” – 34

– iv – 

Fourthly and finally is an article that originally appeared in the Christian Scholars Review in 1994, and has definitely turned into a book. Richard Middleton, professor of Old Testament at Roberts Wesleyan College, outlines the key elements of what will eventually become his excellent ‘The Liberating Image“, in an article entitled “The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in context“. This paper, which you can read here, is an excellent microcosm of what Middleton does in his book, and he engages excitingly with the Ancient Near Eastern context as well as the myriad of exegetical debates. Highly recommended. I reproduce below my favourite chunk;

What ties together this whole trajectory from Genesis 1 to the New Testament is the consistent biblical insight that humanity from the beginning-and now the church as the redeemed humanity – is both gifted by God with a royal status and dignity and called by God actively to represent his kingdom in the entire range of human life, that is, in the very way we rule and subdue the earth. If Genesis 1 focuses on the gift of imago Dei (although not to the exclusion of the call), in contrast to dehumanizing ancient Near Eastern alternatives, the New Testament makes both gift and call crystal clear” – 24

So there we go! Four articles, each approaching a similar topic in a slightly different, occasionally radically different, way. Four scholarly articles that shed light on some important topics, focused on what it means to be human, but with powerful implications for justice, covenant, ecclesiology, and ethics. If you’ve read them, I’d love to know your thoughts, and also if you have any further recommendations.


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