The Image of God

What does it mean that we are made in the image of God? Over the centuries many options have been proposed for what Genesis 1:27 means.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Does it mean consciousness or self-consciousness? The ability to think and be rational? Perhaps creativity, since God is obviously being very creative in Genesis 1? Could it be our spiritual nature, the ability to relate to God?

The problem with all of these (and many other proposals) is that they are also all true of angels. Then in what unique sense are humans in God’s image?

I believe the answer is right there in Genesis 1. When God gave the first man and woman in the garden a calling to be fruitful, to multiply, and to subdue the earth, this was not a command to dominate nature but to steward. As Jesus expresses in his parable, stewards are given something that belongs to another and are made responsible to not just protect it but to use it as the owner intended (Matthew 25:14-30).

God’s intention was not to use up the earth for himself. He wanted to expand his loving presence throughout his creation. Genesis 1 describes the formation of the cosmos the way the building of ancient temples were often described in ancient literature.* Temples were places where the deity resided. So the implication is that the whole cosmos is where God resides.

From descriptions of the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament, we see that various parts were intended to represent the whole earth and the whole cosmos, symbolizing God’s presence throughout creation. A large brass bowl filled with water was called the sea (1 Kings 7:23-26). The altar was to be made of earth and uncut stones (Exodus 20:24-25). Representations of vegetation were to adorn the temple (1 Kings 7: 18-26, 42, 49-50). The seven candles represented the seven planets. The colors of the curtain and the priests’ robes were of the sky.**

The first chapters of Genesis focus on creating a cosmic temple for God to dwell in as well as a sanctuary in the garden as a kind of micro-representation of that cosmic temple where God was also to dwell. Why does God do this? Because his plan is for his ruling presence to expand from the garden (representing the cosmos) to eventually fill the whole earth.

That is the context in which we are to understand what is meant that the man and the woman are in God’s image. They (and we) are appointed vice regents, God’s stewards who participate with him in extending his presence throughout creation. We do this by bringing beauty and order as well as by bringing the Good News of God’s rule to the whole earth.

*John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), pp. 77-85.
**G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), pp. 46-47.

Widows and Orphans

I have lived with the New Testament letter of James for many decades. And I frequently puzzled over one aspect of a particular verse: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (Jas 1:27) Why widows and orphans? Why not people who are hungry or ill or grieving? Is there something special about orphans and widows that should take our attention?
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Through Old Testament Eyes 4: Who Are the Chosen Ones?

Election is controversial. Of course, I’m talking about the Christian doctrine, not any recent political events.

For five hundred years Protestants have gone back and forth on the topic of predestination and all its implications. The effect for sensitive souls, however, can be to worry and wonder, “Am I one of the elect? Am I one of the chosen, or will I somehow fall outside the bounds of grace?”
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Prophetic Lament

Throughout my life I have attended worship services in a variety of traditions, but they tended to have one thing in common–they began with praise to God and then moved to confession. This is an appropriate model to follow with much merit. When we see how holy and good God is, we see more clearly by contrast that we are not, and so we confess.
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Unlocking the Book of Job

Here’s what many people know about the book of Job.

1. Job is on trial.
2. The book is primarily about suffering.
3. Job’s hope for a redeemer foreshadows Christ.
4. God puts Job in his place at the end of the book, telling Job that God is God and Job is decidedly not.

All of those points, however, according to John Walton and Tremper Longman are quite mistaken.
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