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The Image of God (Hebrew: צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים; tzelem elohim, lit. "image of God", "image of the Holy Spirit", often appearing in Latin as Imago Dei) is a real image, concept and theological doctrine in Christianity, Judaism and Sufi Islam, which asserts that human beings are created in God's image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function.
The phrase appears in a few post-Biblical Jewish sources dating from the 4th to 1st centuries BCE (the Wisdom of Solomon 2:23, Ben Sirach 17:3, and 2 Esdras 8:24), and then in various New Testament texts of the 1st and early 2nd centuries CE. Among these, only two, 1 Corinthians 11:7 and Epistle of James 3:9, speak of human creation in God's image, while the rest speak either of Christ as the image of God or of the salvific renewal of the image of God in the Church.
There have been many interpretations of the idea of God's image from ancient times until today, and Biblical scholars still have no consensus about the meaning of the term. The remainder of this article focuses on Christian interpretations of the term.
To assert that humans are created in the image of God may mean to recognize some special qualities of human nature which allow God to be made manifest in humans. For humans to have a conscious recognition of having been made in the image of God may mean that they are aware of being that part of the creation through whom God's plans and purposes best can be expressed and actualized; humans, in this way, can interact creatively with the rest of creation. The moral implications of the doctrine of Imago Dei are apparent in the fact that, if humans are to love God, then humans must love other humans whom God has created (cf. John 13:35), as each is an expression of God. The human likeness to God can also be understood by contrasting it with that which does not image God, i.e., beings who, as far as we know, are without this spiritual self-awareness and the capacity for spiritual / moral reflection and growth. We may say that humans differ from all other creatures because of the self-reflective, rational nature of their thought processes - their capacity for abstract, symbolic as well as concrete deliberation and decision-making. This capacity gives the human a centeredness and completeness which allows the possibility for self-actualization and participation in a sacred reality (cf. Acts 17:28). However, despite the fact that according to this concept the human is created in God's image, the Creator granted the first true humans a freedom to reject a relationship with the Creator that manifested itself in estrangement from God, as the narrative of the Fall (Adam and Eve) exemplifies, thereby rejecting or repressing their spiritual and moral likeness to God. The ability and desire to love one's self and others, and therefore God, can become neglected and even opposed. The desire to repair the Imago Dei in one's life can be seen as a quest for a wholeness, or one's "essential" self, as described and exemplified in Christ's life and teachings. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus acted to repair the relationship with the Creator and freely offers the resulting reconciliation as a gift.
The Bible states that Jesus Christ is the visible image of God in Hebrews 1:3
Also in Colossians 1:13-15:
Also in 1 Corinthians 11:7
Also in Romans 8:29
Also in 2 Corinthians 3:18
And also in 2 Corinthians 4:4-7:
For the past 2,000 years, theologians have examined the difference between the concepts of the "image of God" and the "likeness of God" in human nature. Origen viewed the image of God as something given at creation, while the likeness of God as something bestowed upon a person at a later time. The theologian Irenaeus made a distinction between God’s image and his likeness by pointing to Adam’s supernatural endowment bestowed upon him by the Spirit. As Irenaeus’ view progressed, what eventually arose was:
The image of God and the likeness are similar, but at the same time they are different. The image is just that, mankind is made in the image of God, whereas the likeness is a spiritual attribute of the moral qualities of God.
Medieval theologians made a distinction between the image and likeness of God. The former referred to a natural, innate resemblance to God and the latter referred to the moral attributes (God’s attributes) that were lost in the fall.
However, the medieval distinction between the "image" and "likeness" of God has largely been abandoned by modern interpreters. According to C. John Collins:
Clarification: 'Image and likeness' is a 'Hebrewism'. It is common in speech and writing to repeat an idea using two different words to give reinforcement to the given idea. In this case the author did not intend to distract us from the idea but rather to insert a focal point. Ancient Hebrew texts are all capital letters with no punctuation, the understanding of common speech was extremely important. Many 'Hebrewisms' were not recognized by translators, so the idea they portray in their translation is often skewed or wrong. (For instance, notice the way Christ speaks to Mary at the wedding of Cana in John 2:4. Christ used a 'Hebrewism' in response to his mother that would have been better translated "yes, I know", instead the translator does the best he can and comes away with... "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" which of course paints a picture of Christ's "displeasure concerning HIS mother" that truly is not there.)
The substantive view holds to the idea that there are some similar characteristics between the human race and God. Some may argue that we are a mirror image of God's essential nature. Other substantive views suggest a spiritual commonality with God, God being a spirit and not having a physical body. Throughout the ages there have been different interpretations of substantive likeness to God. Irenaeus put forward a distinctive difference between image and likeness. Humankind before the fall (the moral and spiritual failure of its original progenitors) was in the image of God through the ability to exercise free will and reason. And we were in the likeness of God through an original spiritual endowment. Medieval scholars suggested that this was the holiness (or "wholeness") of humankind which was lost after the fall, though free will and reason remained. Calvin and Luther agreed that something of the Imago Dei was lost at the fall but that fragments of it remained in some form or another, although Luther's Large Catechism article 114 states, "Man lost the image of God when he fell into sin."
The relational view argues that one must be in a relationship with God in order to possess the ‘image’ of God. Those who hold to the relational image agree that humankind possess the ability to reason as a substantive trait, but they argue that it is in a relationship with God that the true image is made evident. Later theologians like Karl Barth and Emil Brunner argue that it is our ability to establish and maintain complex and intricate relationships that make us like God. For example, in humans the created order of male and female is intended to culminate in spiritual as well as physical unions Genesis 5:1-2, reflecting the nature and image of God. Since other creatures do not form such explicitly referential spiritual relationships, these theologians see this ability as uniquely representing the imago dei in humans.
This third view differs from the previous two in that it argues that the image of God imprinted on us resides in function rather than in form or relationship, this function being primarily our task of ruling over earth. Genesis 1:26 speaks of humankind being made in the image of God and given the function of naming and ruling over the fish of the sea and the animals on land, reflecting God’s rule over all the universe, ourselves included. This view sees this ruling function of dominion as best expressing the imago dei, or our likeness to God.
The Imago Dei concept had a very strong influence on the creation of human rights. English philosopher John Locke derived the principle of human equality, including the equality of the genders ("Adam and Eve"), from Genesis 1,26-28, the starting-point of the Imago Dei doctrine. According to Locke, one of the consequences of basic human equality is that, as all humans are created equally free, governments need the consent of the governed. Both Lockean concepts became central to the United States Declaration of Independence, which also deduced its human rights - equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among others - from the biblical belief in creation: "All men are created equal, ... they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights ..." The human rights of the Declaration of Independence were theonomous ideas. This important document, together with the United States Constitution and the (American) Bill of Rights, became the model for the political constitutions of numerous countries throughout the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also echoes the human-rights principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence and in the political thought of John Locke.