by Michael D. Williams
Note: This article originally appeared in two parts in Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review, vol. 39, no. 1 (Spring 2013), and vol. 39, no. 2 (Fall 2013). An abridged version appeared in Covenant magazine vol. 28, no. 2 (Fall 2013).
“When God created the earth, he created human beings in his own image with the express mission of ruling over creation by caring for it—a task modeled on the kingship of God himself. The human mission has never been rescinded, and Christians have not been given some exemption on the grounds that we have other or better things to do.”1 “Adam’s very being, future, and identity are bound up with the earth and his work upon it.”2
The word “church” is not a particularly theological or technical term in the New Testament. The Greek word ekklesia, which we translate as “church,” was a fairly common word in the Hellenistic world. It could refer to a political gathering or assembly of citizens. And it was sometimes used to refer to people who had come together in other sorts of societies of special interest. Even in the New Testament an ekklesia did not always mean anything like what we would think of as the church. Acts 19 speaks of an unruly and confused mob at Ephesus as an ekklesia. Thus the word itself bore no special or intrinsically theological currency in the world of the early church.
Yet ekklesia is not an insignificant term. It was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from the third century BC) to render the qahal, the “congregation” of Israel. The congregation was summoned and set aside as his own by the Lord (Lev.20:24, 26). The people of God are called by, belong to, and receive their lives and identities from God. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus speaks of “my church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail.” What we call the church, Christ’s ekklesia, is called together by God, in the name of Jesus himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, over against the purely intra-mundane societies, guilds, and political assemblies that could go by the name ekklesia, Christ’s ekklesia, his church, is a supernatural reality, the product of God’s redemptive work and invitation in the world.
Pastors and Bible teachers have often pointed out that the word ekklesia does not merely refer to a called community but one that has been “called out.” There is some truth to this of course, but we should be careful not to fall into what is called the root fallacy,3 as the meaning of any word is determined by the author’s use of it rather than its etymological derivation. But there is some truth in the idea of the church as a “called-out” community because the very idea of the church—and many uses of ekklesia in antiquity—does include a differentiation, a coming together separate from a larger mass.
If the church is a called-out community, from what is it called? It has been extremely common for Christians to assume that because the church is a community of persons supernaturally called to redemption its calling creates a spiritual entity that is to be distinguished—and ultimately will be separated—from the physical realities of the body, earthliness, history, and human culture. After all, Jesus himself said, “I chose you out of the world” (John 15:19). Under the assumption that the call to faith is a call away from the this-worldly, that it is a call to heaven perhaps, the life of faith and the existence and mission of the church bear little or no relationship to or care for the world outside of the life of the soul and its relationship to God. Again, it was Jesus who said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
We don’t have space here to take up the difficult question of how the word “world” is used in Scripture. Here we will simply put forth our contention that redemption does not entail a negation of the material world around us. Quite the reverse, actually. The calling to the gospel, the calling to be God’s redeemed people, is not the first calling within the biblical story. As we will see, the gospel call is a redemptive return to a lost and forfeited calling: the calling to creaturehood, to bearing God’s image in the world, a calling that has never had anything less than the entirety of God’s original good creation in view. Christopher Wright has recently put the issue as clearly and bluntly as possible:
Creation is not just the disposable backdrop to the lives of human creatures who were really intended to live somewhere else, and some day will do so. We are not redeemed out of creation, but as part of the redeemed creation itself—a creation that will again be fully and eternally for God’s glory, for our joy and benefit, forever.4
I remember seeing a science television program some years ago that asked the provocative question: what if we had no moon? The point of the program was to present the profound importance of our moon for planet earth. I do not remember the particulars, but the conclusion drawn by the presentation was that the existence of the moon is a necessary condition for life on earth. What if we had no creation story, no Genesis 1–2 in our Bible? What if the Bible began with the story of Adam and Eve’s rebellion from God and fall into sin in Genesis 3? My suspicion is that it would not really matter for most Christians. We think of religion as being about sin and salvation, the relationship of the individual soul to God, or finding our way to heaven. The first things of Genesis are not all that important for us. The Genesis depiction of God as the sovereign Creator and King over all things, the unity and goodness of God’s creation, and the creation and calling of human beings as God’s image bearers within and for the sake of the world are all taken as little more than a backdrop or stage for our individual stories of sin and redemption.
As important as the story of God’s saving us from our sin undoubtedly is, both in Scripture and to us personally, it is neither a stand-alone, self-interpreting reality, nor is it where the Bible begins. A very common way of summarizing the biblical story is to say that the Bible tells a story of creation, rebellion, redemption, and restoration. That is a good summary. Unfortunately, evangelical and Reformed Christians often work with a truncated story. Creation and restoration, the beginning and the ending of the biblical story, are virtually ignored, and often consciously dismissed as bearing any import for our lives.
It is creation and restoration, the two great bookends of the grand drama of God’s story with his creatures, that define and name reality, paint the sweeping breadth and scope of God’s concern, and provide the values and principles for human existence in the world. If we had no Genesis 1–2 (and Revelation 21–22) our appreciation of God’s own intention and plan for human existence would be greatly impoverished, even distorted. Without what Paul called the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), the story of God as the Creator, not simply the Redeemer, the story of his intention for human beings as his image bearers in the world and not just receivers of his redemptive action, we will end up with a gospel that is far too small, far less than truly biblical.
Our thesis is that the first calling of the biblical story is a calling to the world, a calling that comes for the sake of God’s purpose to bless all things that he has made. And this calling informs and shapes the people of God throughout the entirety of the biblical story. Should we miss our first calling, a calling that informs the nature and purpose of our very existence, we will in fact impoverish the biblical portrayal of calling.
Called to Creatureliness
The first mention of human beings in the Bible is not hard to find. In fact it is right there on the first page, the creation story of Genesis 1. Even though Christians often seem to miss it, the opening story of Scripture could not be more clear regarding human beings. We belong to the creation. Whatever else we might wish to say about humankind, we must begin with the reality of our creatureliness. We have been bodily placed within a material creation, a creation without which we are inconceivable. Most of us are aware that Genesis 1 lays out the origin of the world as a series of divine acts covering a period of six days.
On day one God separated the light from the darkness, day from night. The second day saw the distinction between sky and sea. God called forth the dry land and filled it with vegetation on the third day of the week. The fourth day was dedicated to the filling of the sky with the celestial bodies of sun, moon, and stars. This busy week of God speaking and creation answering by becoming what he had commanded continues on the fifth day with the filling of the waters with every imaginable kind of fish. “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures” (v. 20). Our word “fish” is certainly too small for all of that. But that’s not all. As he had filled the seas with life, God would be just as creative with the skies. After creating the birds, God again saw that what he had created was “good,” but this time he blessed the fish and the birds, and instructed them to be fruitful and to multiply, filling up the waters below and the skies above. We are used to five days of work. After that we need a break. But God is not tired; and he’s not slowing down. On day six he commands the earth to bring forth a vast array of critters: creeping things, reptiles, mammals, the lot. And again, it is all declared “good.” But wait, there’s more. The sun has not set on day six just yet. The Creator has one more wondrous creature in mind, one without whom the rest would be incomplete. Just before the final blessing of the week, before he signs his work with the divine benediction, “Behold, it was very good” (v. 31), God creates human beings.
Here is what we absolutely must not miss about the creation of human beings: we are creatures of the sixth day. We belong to the earth. We were made as part of it, made from it, and made for it. The second chapter of Genesis is explicit here. The man was fashioned—by God’s own hand—of the dust of the ground (v. 7). Adam is sculpted from clay. He is, by God’s design and personal handiwork, an earthling. As to our origin and the stuff from which we are made, the human is no different from any member of the animal kingdom. “All things, including man,” wrote Francis Schaeffer, “are equal in their origin, as far as creation is concerned.”5 The creaturely continuity between the human and the animal is never questioned within the pages of Scripture. F. LeRon Shults appropriately comments that “humans are wholly embedded within creation, and no special part of humanity, not even the mind, escapes this creaturely continuity.”6 We are rooted in God’s creation no less than are the animals, for like them, the earth is our home and we are ever dependent upon our Creator.
Adam was called to creaturehood, to dependence upon God as his benefactor and Lord, and to citizenship in the community of God’s creatures. Our creatureliness is worth emphasizing because it is so often seen as a problem for Christians. “The very root of sin is unwillingness to acknowledge the reality and implications of creaturehood,” wrote George Ladd.7 In proud self-assertion, Adam and Eve refused to accept their calling as creatures, and in doing so they succumbed to the temptation to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). One of the central aspects of creatureliness as a constituent part of our humanity is bodiliness, being citizens of the earthly creation through our physical, embodied natures. Yet Christians have often treated the world in which they live, and their own physical presence in that world, as a problem to be overcome. In a provocative and important book written more than a quarter of a century ago now, Douglas John Hall wrote:
Christians throughout history have manifested an extreme uncertainty about the appropriate Christian attitude toward this world, to say the least. Rarely—very rarely—have they spoken, written, or behaved as if the world should simply be loved. On the whole, the impression lingers both inside and outside the churches that true Christian piety would be marked by a certain detachment from the world, perhaps even indifference toward it. The more zealous of ascetic Christians would want to say disdain!8
As Hall also pointed out, going back to our first parents’ pursuit to “be like God,” sin has found its roots in an improper self-imaging. Imagining ourselves as spiritual beings belonging to a transcendent realm of pure soul rather than physical creatures made for the earth, we deny our first calling, the calling of our Creator to worship, praise, and obey him as the very sorts of creatures we are. “The root of sin,” writes Ladd, “is found not in succumbing to the physical side” of our nature, as so many Christians throughout the history of the church have imagined, but in the attempt to dismiss our calling to be God’s creatures in God’s world. Since we exist in the world by God’s appointment, “salvation does not mean deliverance from creaturehood, for it is an essential and permanent element of man’s essential being.”9 Christopher Wright makes the point regarding the essential character of human beings as God’s creations, his creatures, most powerfully:
It may be easy to forget, but we were human beings before we became Christians, and we don’t stop being human beings when we do become Christians (though some Christians make you wonder . . .). And God will hold us accountable for our humanity as much as for our Christianity. For there are things we have been commanded by God to do as human creatures, from which no other Bible text or teaching exempts us. On the contrary, beings God’s people and therefore already among the new redeemed humanity surely reinforces and intensifies our obligations to live by his original mandate to the human race. Human beings are people with a mission.10
Human beings are declared to be creatures of the sixth day, just like the inhabitants of the animal kingdom. And as Wright intimates, and we will soon explore, the human is a creature with a particular mission in and toward the created order. But this reality is often overlooked, and sometimes intentionally denied, by otherwise Bible-believing Christians. The irony of the denial of our embodied, physical, this-worldly nature is that it so thoroughly turns Genesis 1–2 on its head. The human is introduced in the biblical story in the context of the creation account. As we will see, the human is a unique creature with a distinct role to play in God’s economy of creation, but we are never abstracted from or elevated above the material creation. God is the Creator; we are creature. And it will always be that way.11 Yet far too often we have bought into a faulty spiritual-material distinction within reality, a distinction that the Bible nowhere affirms. We imagine ourselves as spiritual beings, ones who are material or materialized only uncomfortably and, hopefully, only temporarily. God is a spirit, and we, being like him in some way, must be spirit as well, and thus belong to an order of being that is higher and nobler than the physical world. To return to Hall’s contention above, throughout the history of the church it has been common for believers to employ the human association with God in Genesis 1 as a virtual polemic against our own physicality and this-worldliness, almost as if we are—or should be—ashamed of the body and the material creation and its goings-on. Indeed, Christian piety has often been presented as an intentional detachment from this-worldly affairs and concerns. The more pious one is, the less connected to bodily and physical needs and worries. The more godly one is, the more connected to heavenly or spiritual realities one is. And alas, Bible-believing Christians have too often conceived of salvation as a release from this world, a disassociation of the soul—the true or real self—from creation.
God created the whole world for his own glory. All things exist to praise him (Psalm 148). All things exist for his purposes. Worship, praise, and obedient service of God are the natural entailments of creaturehood. This is just as true for the bluebird and the wolverine as it is for a human being. Yet Genesis 1 does declare a difference between the human and the nonhuman creature. Human beings enjoy a special place, a privileged relationship and a unique role.
The creation of human beings is not simply one more item on God’s creation week to-do list. Adam appears as not only the last but also the preeminent creature called into existence by God. John Calvin famously declared that the entire creation is a “mirror,” “theater,” or “book” that reflects and displays God’s presence, power, and eminence. 12 “The skillful ordering of the universe” has been designed by God “as a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God who is otherwise invisible.”13 Yet in all of creation, the “brightest mirror” of the divine glory is humankind.14 Human being, the chief work of creation, is “the most illustrious ornament and glory of the earth.”15
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living things that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26–28)
Here is the difference between the human and the nonhuman creation. Here is what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. Human beings have been made after the image of God. It is not just that we have a particular biological structure—bipedal frame, stereoscopic vision, opposable thumbs, and big brains—but that we are made for the purpose of bearing God’s image into the world. This is unique. It is nowhere said of lions or eagles or great whales. Only humans bear the image of God. Solar systems don’t do it. Mountains can’t. Nor can the sun or moon. Just us. And to my knowledge, Scripture nowhere speaks of angels—and certainly not demons—as image bearers.16 Of all God’s creatures, it is the human alone who has been created in such a way that Genesis can say that we have been made in God’s own image.
Of course it is important to recognize that the image of God, while making us distinct, does not in any way take away from the fact that we are still, like the rest of creation, creatures. Creatures of the sixth day we are. Genesis 1 anchors the human securely in the material creation, in full solidarity with the nonhuman inhabitants of God’s world. Not only does the human appear on the sixth day with the animals, but humankind is fashioned from the ground, nurtured by it, and even named for it: Adam (man) is taken from the adamah (earth).
Henri Blocher writes that this note of human solidarity with the natural world is an intentional aspect of the Genesis text:
Adam is the “earthling” and his name is fitting since God gave it to him (Gn. 5:2). Beneath the sky which overhangs the earth, beneath the luminaries which govern the divisions of time, his very name is for man a solemn reminder: “God is in heaven, and you upon earth” (Ec. 5:2). It is sometimes claimed that in our own language the word “human” traces its etymology back to the Latin humus—which is also the root of the word “humility”!17
Yet as Blocher immediately moves to recognize, “Humility precedes glory.” This one creature is declared to be made after the image of God. This one is exalted above all others.
Now we need to be careful here. Genesis 1:26–28 is certainly drawing a distinction between human beings and all the other creatures that the Lord has made. But it is not a distinction between the human and creation and the creaturely, or between the human and what is earthly and physical. Remember, what Genesis 1 says about human beings is in the midst of the creation story, and apparently for the sake of creation. Genesis 1 is seeking to situate the human within the material creation, not separate us from it. So any special distinction that it draws on behalf of human beings is not meant to distinguish us from God’s world but to name our place within the world. The distinct and unique creation of human beings in the image of God is not a distinction from the world, but a distinction within and for God’s creation.
Imago Dei: What We Are or What We Do?
Precisely what content the phrase “image of God” bears in Genesis 1 has long been debated by theologians, and the reason is that the text does not tell us exactly what the image of God is. Further, the phrase is used just a handful of times in the Bible. Along with Genesis 1:26–28, only Genesis 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7, and James 3:9 explicitly speak of the creation of human beings in the image of God.18 Richard Middleton has suggested that the scarcity of biblical references and their apparent lack of definition regarding the image of God has helped produce a virtual forest of interpretations over the history of the church.19 Typically, Christians have simply read their own current cultural notions about what it is to be human into Genesis 1. Middleton quotes Hendrikus Berkhof as noting that “by studying how systematic theologies have poured meaning into the image of God” in Genesis 1:26 “one could write a piece of Europe’s cultural history.”20 Douglas Hall makes the same point: “Throughout the history of theology there has been a conspicuous tendency to identify the [features] that the imago is thought to stand for with values embraced by the particular cultures within which the theologians were doing their work.”21
At different times the image of God in human beings has been identified as rationality, the soul, personhood, love, relational abilities, dominion over creation, moral sensitivity, representation, conscience, an orientation toward worship, the gift of speech, artistic and technical creativity, the ability of make culture—and this list is just off the top of my head.22 And there have emerged several schemes to organize and categorize all the suggestions that have been put forth. But basically, the suggestions come down to two sorts of ideas: the image of God is something about us, something we are, or the image of God is something we do. The image of God is something about our being, or it is some function or activity we carry out. In short, the image of God is a noun, a thing, or it is a verb, an action.23
The immediate problem with any nominal concept of the image of God in human beings is that no Scripture identifies the image of God with some aspect of our being, say a soul or rationality. Remember, when we talk about the image of God in human beings we are talking about something peculiar to humankind. But there is probably no thing about us that is absolutely unique to our species. Further, the nominal interpretation allows us to treat the image of God as a more or less static thing, an endowment or entitlement that exists autonomously in humankind, devoid of relationship with our creator. The verbal, or functionalist interpretation, however, moves the focus to the human in relationship with God. “This approach presupposes that a relationship exists between the Creator and the creature and views the image as what occurs as a consequence of the relationship—namely, the creature ‘images’ the Creator.”24
Fortunately, Genesis 1:26–28 does associate the image of God with a calling, a task that God entrusts to Adam. Adam is called to rule over the earthly creation as God’s image bearer. Middleton alleges that since the early twentieth century, “a virtual consensus has been building” among Old Testament scholars that the contextual relationship between the declaration that Adam is created in the image of God and the call to exercise dominion over the earth that immediately follows constitutes such an inseparability between the two that the calling to exercise dominion provides us with a definition of the image of God.25 Thus, we ought to think of the image of God in human beings as a function or task rather than a static endowment of some sort.26
Without affirming Middleton’s point in its entirety, we can at least affirm the strong contextual relationship between the Adamic creation in the image of God and the vocation that God sets upon him in Genesis 1:26–28. Indeed, it would not be stretching things to conclude that the image of God as it is spoken of in the text concentrates on Adam’s doing rather than merely his being. Adam was created to bear God’s image into the world. He was created to perform a task. Image bearing is his reason for being. It is his very identity. Thus the language of image bearing in Scripture bears a dynamic, active, functional trajectory. “God has created us in his image,” according to Hoekema, “so that we may carry out a task, fulfill a mission, pursue a calling.”27 The point of image bearing in Scripture, insists Spykman, “is doing his will. . . . Imaging God is serving him and our fellow men.”28
Yet we should not be too quick to dismiss a structural or ontological aspect to the image of God, as Middleton appears to do. As Spykman notes, limiting the imago Dei to a verbal idea, making it simply something we do, is “too external to our way of being human.” Bearing God’s image into the world is not a matter of choice, a task we might or might not take up, or one we might delegate or assign to a special class of persons. Founded as it is in the garden story that constitutes us all as sons and daughters of Adam, creation in the image of God defines us all. “We are imagers of God. Imaging represents our very makeup, our constitution, our glory, and at the same time our high and holy calling in God’s world.”29 If Genesis 1 was only referring to a verbal idea, we would then have to say that when we are not performing the task or tasks for which we were created, we would bear no relationship to the image of God. However, Genesis 9:6–7 and James 3:6, both of which assume the reality of human sinfulness in that they speak of fallen human beings as bearing the image of God, will not allow such a conclusion. Even apart from how we function in the world, whether we are obedient or disobedient to the Word of God, whether we relate to God in faith and love or in sinful rebellion, there appears to be some constant about human beings that is irreducibly connected to the image of God. But we are getting needlessly ahead of the story. To identify the image of God with a calling or task, to pursue a singularly functionalist understanding of the image of God in human beings, is to ignore the important question: what is it about us that permits the calling to have dominion in Genesis 1? To perform a task one must enjoy the necessary abilities or endowments required for the task. Thus Hoekema writes that
the image of God consists of more than mere functioning; it concerns not only what man does but also what he is. . . . One cannot function without a certain structure. An eagle, for example, propels itself through the air by flying—this is one of its functions. The eagle would be unable to fly, however, unless it had wings—one of its structures. Similarly, human beings were created to function in certain ways: to worship God, to love the neighbor, to rule over nature, and so on. But they cannot function in these ways unless they have been endowed by God with the structural capacities that enable them to do so. So structure and function are both involved when we think of man as the image of God.30
What are those capacities? As we said, Scripture does not explicitly tell us. But we can easily imagine things about us that, if they were absent, our calling to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” would be all but impossible. All the abilities we previously mentioned, from rationality to the gift of language, from moral sensibility to creativity and curiosity, from the need to worship to our need to bond together as families and societies, all make us human. They all make us the kind of creatures who are able to image God in the world. Any number of the things we might imagine that would fall into this category are capacities that we share with members of the animal kingdom. It is not the possession of some particular thing, some special and unique capacity or substance, that makes us different from the animals and makes us image bearers. It is that we possess all of these capacities, and possess each in just the right measure. Oh, and let us not forget our physical make-up. While Christians have often been wont to find the image of God in decidedly nonphysical aspects of our nature, surely that is a mistake. I dare anyone to try to be fruitful or multiply without a body. I tell my students that an essential difference between me and my family’s German Shepherd is that I possess opposable thumbs. Certainly, there is more to the difference than that (I do not have a long, bushy tail), but let us not underestimate the fact that in the human being God has quite marvelously and perfectly fashioned a creature for the job of imaging him and ruling the world he has made. Herman Bavinck wrote that “a human being does not bear or have the image of God but that he or she is the image of God.”31 At first blush it might appear that Bavinck is criticizing any notion of the image as function, but that is not the point he is pursuing. That we are image bearers of God means that the image of God is about everything we are.
Nothing in human being is excluded from the image of God. While all creatures display vestiges of God, only a human being is the image of God. And he is such totally, in soul and body, in all his faculties and powers, in all conditions and relations. Man is the image of God because and insofar as he is truly human, and he is truly and essentially human because, and to the extent that, he is the image of God.32
Where does this leave us on the question of the image of God as noun and verb? The idea of image as a noun calls up a reflection or a copy. As a verb we might say that it simply calls up the function of reflecting or copying. Our suggestion is that neither of these will do. It is the height of presumption to speak of human beings as copies of God. It is equally wrong to think just in terms of function or task. Rather than a bare copy or a copying, image as noun or verb, let us entertain the analogy of a copier, a machine meant for the purpose of making copies. The image of God both defines what we are (copiers) and our calling in God’s world (to copy). The image constitutes both our constitution and our function, our being and our doing. A copier exists to make copies; that is both what it is and what it does. As image bearers of God, human beings are copying, reflecting, imaging creatures. It tells us both what kind of creatures we are and why we exist in God’s world. The analogy of the copier allows us to see both the structural and the functional reality of our being made after the image of God. We exist for the purpose of imaging God, reflecting him into the world, copying something of him into the lives of the people and societies around us. Of course, all of us can also imagine a malfunctioning copy machine, one that has run out of paper or toner, or is perhaps jamming paper. The copier is still a machine for the purpose of making copies, but now it is failing to do it properly. Just so, a human being may image well or poorly, but he or she is always—and at all times—a creature made for the purpose of imaging or reflecting God.
This imaging God is serious business, so serious that it sits at the very heart of the biblical story. Indeed, one way of thinking about the drama of redemption is that it addresses human beings as broken image bearers, persons who reflect not God into the world, but their own agendas and sinful allegiances—what Scripture calls idols (a biblical word for “image”). Like jamming or toner-starved copiers, we refuse to work as designed, to live according to our Maker’s intentions for us. Thus we need repair and tending, the very thing that Jesus—the one who is himself the express image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3)—does. And as we, now repaired, refreshed, and stocked with the benefits of Christ, conform to Jesus, we are “transformed into [his] image” (2 Cor. 3:18) and again conform to our Creator’s intention for us as his creatures. Seen in this light, the call to believe the gospel is designed to return us to our first calling, our calling to bear God’s image in the world.
Vocation and Identity
However modest the explicit biblical testimony given to human beings as God’s image bearers, the programmatic description of them as being created after the image of God in Genesis 1:26–28 bears profound implications for how we are to understand what it is to be human, why we are here in this world, and how God would have us live as his people.33 The calling of being image bearers locates us within the world, gives us a purposeful identity, and enlists us into a story. C. S. Lewis began his A Preface to Paradise Lost with the words: “The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is—what it was intended to be and do and how it is meant to be used.”34 That is precisely what Genesis 1:26–28 gives us relative to the biblical portrayal of human beings. It provides, if you will, both the definition of what it is to be human and a rationale for the presence of human beings within God’s world.
Alistair McFadyen acknowledges the “strong tradition in Christian thought” of thinking of the image of God as an ontological endowment or attribute—reason or soul for example. And such notions may well serve as a basis for treating human life with respect. The problem with the nominal conception, argues McFadyen, is that “it leaves the image as something static and internal which does not relate one intrinsically to others.”35 Noting the biblical association of the image of God to relational and missional realities—to dynamic historical engagement and personal relationship—McFadyen presents a similar interpretation of the human relationship to the image as we have developed here, but in McFadyen’s case, employing the language of the ontological and the ethical:
The assertion that we are created in the divine image operates both as an assertion of the way things are—an ontological given—and as an ideal regulating personal and social conduct. It is both an “is” and an “ought.” Although it is a given of our existence, it is given in such a way that it requires and invites something from us. For its fulfillment and its disruption are both possible since it is an ethical as well as an ontological given.36
God speaks or summons the universe and all its inhabitants into being. Genesis 1 stresses this reality by the recurring introductory formula “and God said” at the dawning of each of the days of creation.37 God’s calling and creating are closely aligned in Scripture. The calling of Abraham is depicted in the language of creation by both Isaiah and Paul (Isa. 51:2; Rom. 4:17). Israel was “called by my name . . . created for my glory” (Isa. 43:7). Isaiah 41:9 not only brings creation and calling together, but also pairs them with naming:
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from the furthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off.”
Os Guinness notes that, more than simply assigning a label, to name is to create. “To call means to name, and to name means to call into being or to make.”38
Isaiah 41:9 goes on to claim that God’s calling bestows an identity and purpose upon his creatures: “you are my servant.” Our very being consists in the calling to image God in the world. It is the bearing of God’s own name that distinguishes and explains the essence and destiny of human beings in the world. “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”39 The call to be servants of God, to carry his image into the world, is to order our lives and our hearts. When we find that role, relationship, and use of our gifts and talents that seems to make sense of our lives and gives us purpose and joy, we are tempted to say, “I was made for this.” A yearning for significance, the pursuit of the meaning of life, is hard-coded into each of us. As modern secularists, we often locate this sense of calling in our occupations or professions. Indeed, we use the word “vocation” (a Latin word meaning the same thing as the Anglo-Saxon word for “calling”) to refer to our life’s work, our occupations. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just too narrow.40 Calling touches everything about us. We are a called species. “To be human is to be image of God. Imago Dei therefore describes our normal state. It points not to something in us or about us, but to our very humanity.”41 The apostle Paul puts it in the context of redemption in Ephesians 2:10, but it is no less true of creation, that human beings have been created for good works: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Guinness rightly insists that the fundamental meaning of calling in Scripture is relational.42 Calling is intrinsically, necessarily relational. A telephone call provides us with a handy and suitable illustration. There are a number of elements in a telephone call (assuming that it is neither a wrong number nor a recorded message). At its most basic level, a telephone call includes a caller, a called party, and a message, a reason for the call. A connection or relationship between the parties is established by the call, even if that connection extends only over the duration of the conversation. But the point is that without relationship being established there is no call. In terms of God’s call upon his creatures, the calling is not simply the message, the purpose, or task laid upon the called party. The divine caller’s call evokes, summons, even creates the called. To know ourselves as image bearers is to know ourselves as called by God. We become image bearers, truly human, only when we are proclaimed to be so by God’s calling. It is only as we are addressed by God, claimed by him to be the bearers of his rule and presence in the world, that we are truly human beings. The imager reflects or echoes the original. That is its telos, its “glory and honor.” That is the great theological reality of Genesis 1:26–28. And this is what distinguishes the human from the nonhuman in God’s creation. We stand under God’s personal call as his image bearers. Nothing distinguishes us from the rest of creation until we come under his call. “According to this word of personal address, man proceeds from God’s address.”43 This is the crowning with “glory and honor” of which we read in Psalm 8:5.
In that God calls Adam, the human being, to have dominion over the earthly creation and its nonhuman inhabitants in Genesis 1:26–28, we may say that the human is intended to be an imitative creature. The human is to embody or reflect something of God’s character or ways. To image is to share in God’s rule as his representative within the earthly creation (Ps. 8:6–8).44 The calling to image God is modeled in Genesis on the character and actions of God relative to his creation.45 The biblical portrayal of the creator God is crucial for appreciating the human as image bearer of God. What this means is that the biblical depiction of what it is to be human cannot be grasped or even begin to be broached without reference to God. Biblically, human beings cannot be understood in any other way than as creatures called to image God. We are dependent upon God and his calling for our very being and identity. All attempts to secure a place for human beings within the world purely in terms of the self are futile and finally idolatrous. Thus, Calvin so famously organized the first chapter of the 1559 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion around the claim that a knowledge of God is a necessary condition for a knowledge of the self and a knowledge of the self is a necessary condition for a knowledge of God. The key to Calvin’s claim is the function of images. The image reflects its object, thus presenting it to the world for recognition. The reflection mediates its object. Yet the reflection is also thoroughly dependent upon its object, for without the object the reflection has nothing to present. “A reflection is nothing in itself,” writes Paul Schrotenboer, for “man’s being consists in his imaging his Maker.”46 Yet it is in the human’s office of image bearing, his walking in the ways of God, that God’s presence and rule is seen in the world.
Even though God is not explicitly called a king, nor is the word “rule” used in reference to him in Genesis 1–2, it is clear that he is depicted as the sovereign Lord over the cosmos, ruling all things by his royal decree. There is a predominantly royal flavor to the entire text, both in reference to God and his delegated human vice-regent. “One way,” Middleton suggests, “to focus our question about whether the image refers to rule is to ask whether God, in whose image humanity is created, is portrayed as a ruler in the Genesis 1 creation story.”47 Middleton argues that the western theological tradition has tended to ignore the context of the imago Dei in Genesis 1 in favor of abstract and philosophically weighted prejudices regarding the nature of human beings. In doing so, we have all but ignored the canonical depiction of God in the creation story as bearing significance to human identity and meaning.
What then is the historical context of the Genesis creation story? The revelation of the book of Genesis was given to the community of the exodus, if we may assume the Mosaic authorship of the story. That means that the creation story must be read against the background of Israel’s long sojourn in Egypt. When Israel heard the creation story, it would have been completely natural for them to hear it as a word from and about a new pharaoh, a counter-king to the sovereign who ruled in Egypt. The people of God had spent more than four centuries having the world defined for them by pharaonic religion and culture. Pharaoh dictated the nature of reality, the value and purpose of human beings, the meaning of life—and death. As the god-king of eternal Egypt, pharaoh’s word decreed the worth, place, and destiny of all in his domain. But the exodus of Israel out of Egypt washed all of that away. Nothing made sense anymore in terms of the Egyptian telling of reality. They would have asked themselves: What is the nature of the world we live in? Where did it come from? What is its meaning? If we are no longer the mere beasts of labor that the Egyptians told us we are, then what are we? And who is the God who was able to do the great things that have transpired? It was not just pharaoh’s army that was drowned in the sea. All the assumptions, the myths, the values, and categories that Israel had lived with since the patriarchal family had gone down to Egypt were drowned in the reed sea as well. The world needed to be redrawn, explained, re-spoken into existence—decreed anew.
And that is just what the creation story does. It decrees the world. The King speaks, and the world is. The universe is an obedient response to his lordship, to the slightest hint of his kingly speech (Ps. 33:6–9). His edicts call forth, establish, and order the world. He sovereignly names, appoints, and delegates subjects, responsibilities, and powers, from the smallest of creatures to the great lights of the sky. Truly, one far greater than pharaoh reigns here. And this king’s speech is active; it does things. In Genesis 1, God’s speaking makes, names, appoints, sets, and blesses. Yet this speech is not an utterly removed affair, something that takes place from afar, uncaring of the effect it will bear upon its subjects, for God sees as well as speaks. We see him appreciating and evaluating his creation, conferring and reflecting within himself in relation to his work, and when the work is done, resting.
If the first chapter of Genesis changes the name on the throne from pharaoh to Elohim and expands the scope and reach of its occupant’s sovereignty from king over Egypt to creator of all things, the second chapter explodes every possible expectation and assumption about kingship in the world of the ancient Near East. Far from being an aloof oriental potentate, this king enters into his kingdom: forming with his own hands, breathing his very breath into creatures, and building with the care, attention, and self-investment of the expert artisan. This is no mere king. This is Yahweh Elohim, the God of the covenant, the God who forges intimate and morally upright relationships with his people. What kind of rule is Adam called to imitate and represent in the world? The sort of rule we see praised in the halal psalms that close the Psalter (Pss. 145–150). He is awesome in power and wondrous in his works, but also abounding in goodness and righteousness, gracious, merciful, loving.
The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. (Ps. 145:9, 13)
Adam’s rule is to be modeled on the character and values of a kingship that is worthy of every exaltation and majesty. Adam’s dominion, like God’s own, is to bless all creation. It is not too much to say that the moral imitation of God that Adam is called to embody makes God present to the creation, not ontologically to be sure, but royally, morally, and even personally. Interestingly, the word of “image” in Genesis 1, tselem, is often properly translated as “idol,” as tselem can call up a concrete resemblance between the image or idol and its referent. The tselem is a localized, visible representation of its object.48 Wolff insists that it is the human presence and calling to imitate God’s ways and rule within the world that is the “evidence that God is the Lord of creation.”49 The human is God’s appointed statue. Indeed, the claim of Genesis 1 that human beings are created for the purpose of imaging God in the world undergirds or provides the rationale for the prohibition of images in the Mosaic law. God’s presence is always personal, ever moral, relationally freighted with covenantal promise and obligation. No man-made, lifeless thing can bear the weight of representing the divine presence. Such things are worthy only of mockery in the biblical record (e.g., Isa. 40:18–21; 44:12–20). The second commandment’s prohibition against images protects not just God against presumptuous and manipulative representation; it also protects human dignity, agency, and destiny, for it is we alone who make God present by our faithful and joyful service within his world.50
As image bearer, an imitator of God, the human is fully dependent upon God. “His rule and his duty to rule are not autonomous; they are copies.”51 Adam is called to imitate the character and even the actions of God. Genesis shows God as working: creating, designing, shaping, building, naming, ruling, relating. Christopher Wright suggests that the creation narratives display God as active, working in the world, pursuing missional objectives right from the very beginning. And as God is actively seeking a creation that will praise him, so human beings exist both to praise God themselves52 and to work toward the end of all things glorifying God. Adam was created to do something. We exist for a mission. Thus Wright can say that “to be human is to have a purposeful role in God’s creation.”53 Work, purposefully interacting with the created order, is central to both the identity of God and human being in Genesis 1–2. God is a worker, and he has made us as such as well. Doing as God does is part and parcel of what we are. Called and responsible human being is important to the life and development of the creation. God’s purpose for Adam54 is specified in Genesis 2:15 as to work and keep the garden, itself linking up with 2:5 (“no man to work the ground”). As God has formed and filled the earth, he calls the human to be fruitful (fill) and have dominion (form). As God has named Adam, he invites Adam to name the animals (Gen. 2:19).55
The calling to imitate God is pervasive in Scripture. The people of God are called to treat strangers kindly because God welcomed and treated them well when they were strangers in Egypt (Ex. 23:9). Israel is called to be holy because Yahweh their God is holy (Lev. 11:44). The righteous man acts as a model of good character in Psalm 112, a character that is demonstrated in God’s own action toward the world in Psalm 111. Indeed, the action of the righteous man “endures forever” (Ps. 112:9) even as God’s “righteousness endures forever” (Ps. 111:3). Jesus expected his disciples to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven, because this is the way God forgives (Matt. 18:21ff.). The disciples are told to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them because God in his own goodness makes his sun shine on the evil as well as the good (Matt. 5:43–48).56 As the language of the image of God so strongly indicates, human beings are creatures who have to do with God. We are, as Spykman puts it, “God-defined and primarily God-related.”57 In explaining what it is to be human, Genesis 1 tells us that the other creatures were made “after their kinds,” but God has created the human “in his image and likeness.” As image bearers we are other than God, but fundamentally near to him at the same time. Although a creature like any other, the human was uniquely created with a unique capacity for communion with God. Our otherness from God, yet our calling to image him in the world, demands a communion—a walking with the other—that defines us as creatures who are constituted by a need and a desire for relationship with God. Augustine famously caught it in his prayer: “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” And Calvin would cast the same reality in the opening lines of his Institutes: “without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”58 And Scripture itself touches the same vein with its recurring admonition that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Deut. 10:12, 20; Ps. 2:11; 1 Sam. 12:24; 2 Chron. 19:9).
We have been made for communion with God. In order to bear God’s image into the world we must first be oriented toward him. “To be fully human is not to be autonomous but to be in communion with God.”59 Luke 3:38 depicts Adam’s original communion with God in terms of sonship.60 The human enjoys both a special task and a special status within the creation. Although one of the many creatures within the vastness of universe, this creature is covenantally made, fitted for intimate relationship with the Creator of all. As a son bears the family name and honor, so Adam was called to represent the presence of God in the world, to resemble and embody his care and rule in all things.61 But this is never static or something to be taken for granted. As the son must listen to his father and be careful to follow his instruction, so Adam is to walk in the ways of God. As Adam copies God’s righteous and holy character, he in fact makes that character and rule present in the world around him. The presence of God is thus presented or embodied to all of God’s creatures through the special status and life of the image bearer. God rules and directs his creation through the imitative activity of the human imager such that “nothing, however insignificant, could be credited to God’s creatures without also seeing it as the work of the giving God.”62
The Integrity of Human Agency
The imago Dei is a calling, but it is also a gift, a product of God’s grace. That really is the point of Psalm 8. At one and the same time the psalmist is stunned by the majesty of God and the expanse of the universe God has made, and he is amazed by the fact that God has called the human species to live in his creation as his very own sons and daughters, people who exercise a dominion over the earthly creation that reflects something of God’s own honor and glory. By giving mankind dominion over the earthly creation (Ps. 115:16), God has in a real sense invited the human into a partnership in the divine rule over the world. Indeed, this dialogue of the speaking God and the responsive, answering human being coming together in the making of history speaks to the very heart of the biblical notion of covenant. In covenant, God as the great king speaks first. His gracious invitation, promise, and empowerment go before us in all things. But the drama of history and human life is never a monologue, a story told from one voice. The very idea of human being as image bearer should tell us that we are constituted not to be autonomous authors of our own identities and lives, but rather to be imitators and copiers of our heavenly Father, even as our voices of response are truly our own.
Human life is never wholly self-determined or fixed by forces outside of ourselves. That is true for us, and it was true for Adam and Eve as well. Much within their world was already designed, prescribed, and set into motion by God. Their lives were conditioned by the kinds of creatures God had made them to be, the environment in which they had been set, and the relations between them and God, each other, and the world about them. And of course, God’s sure but mysterious leading of all things toward his appointed ends was ever present.63 But the declaration of Adam’s rule over the nonhuman world signals the fact that human beings exercise a real responsible agency in the world. Divine grace, calling, enablement, and command, while constituting the given limitations of Adam’s existence64 (and ours too), also formed the very conditions that made Adam’s dominion possible. Covenantal dependence on God and submission to his Word are not impediments to true freedom, but rather the essential conditions for that freedom. The tragedy of the garden story is that Adam and Eve refused their calling to live by the Word of God, and thus they forfeited their freedom and became slaves to their own sin. Biblically speaking, freedom is not a matter of removing any and all constraints, but the removal of impediments to true flourishing, and human flourishing can only be understood as genuine image bearing. God’s gracious, loving call upon the man and the woman, and his every word toward them in the garden, was a threat only to human autonomy, the notion that humankind is free to do as it pleases and is bound to submit to nothing but its own will. Spykman notes that “true freedom rests on willing submission to the Word of God, not emancipation from it.”65 God’s call upon the man and the woman was thus a permission and an invitation to freedom. When they heard what God would have them to be and do, however much that was an intention for them from the voice of another, is it not inconceivable that they would resent it or see it as an obstacle to their freedom?
God said to the man and the woman in the garden, “Have dominion.” This command was given only once God had blessed the pair for the job he commissioned them to. “Blessing,” writes Terence Fretheim, “is an act subsequent to their creation. Blessing is a word of empowerment, of divine sharing with the creatures, which is then capable of fulfilling the named responsibilities.”66 Adam’s place of dominion over the earth is due solely to the gracious blessing of God, for calling in God’s world is always the result of his grace (1 Pet. 4:10–11).67 Adam’s glory will be derived from his conformity to the commission of the God whose name is “excellent in all the earth” (Ps. 8:1, 9 NKJV ). Blessing and law, divine initiation and creaturely response, grace and obligation come together in God’s first address to Adam. Indeed, the divine word spoken to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28, while being imperatival, is both command and invitation at the same time. As such, it carries the sense of my saying to my wife, “Dance with me,” or saying to my toddler, “Come on, you can walk,” or Jesus’s simple summons to a disciple, “Follow me.” It is both a command and an invitation to join into an action, an action to which the speaker is completely committed and in which he is involved as well. This suggests that the command of the garden is less a dictatorial command (though, to be sure, God’s commands are his law) so much as it is an invitation to a life as God’s image bearer, an invitation to participate in God’s kingdom rule over all things.
God does not hoard his gifts or his rule. The One we see throughout the creation story of Genesis is a God who magnificently gives, shares, authorizes, and makes room for the creatures he has made. And when it comes to humankind, God is so generous that he names this creature as his very own representative, the reflection of his own character and rule.
The sovereignty of God is both a biblical truth and a precious tenet of the Reformed faith. That God is sovereign, however, does not mean that he is the sole actor in history. God names the realms of the earthly creation, but he gives Adam the privilege of naming its animal inhabitants. Adam is truly a coworker with God, an apprentice. It is Adam who tills and keeps the ground. Adam’s commission to bear the image of God on behalf of God’s kingdom was not only tolerated, but also designed and provided for by God himself.
Human beings are important to the biblical story. They have a real role to play within God’s creation, a role that makes them covenantally responsible for the earthly creation under their care. As Spykman put it: “We are responsible to God and responsible for his other creatures, accountable to our Maker for his cosmos.”68 The existence, nature, office bearing, decisions, and actions of human beings shape history. This point is made recurrently in the early chapters of Genesis. The reality of the human ability to shape history and the destiny of the world itself could not be made more clear than in the awful words of Genesis 3 in God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve’s rebellion: “cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). The garden was a place of sanctuary, a meeting place for the Lord and his image bearer. Adam was called not just to work the ground but also to “keep it.” The same word appears in the book of Numbers to refer to the priestly service of guarding the temple.69 Upon reading the story of human rebellion from the word and rule of God recounted in Genesis 3, we might be tempted to ask questions like, “Where was God?” “Why did he allow the fall?” “Why didn’t he protect the man and the woman?” But these all miss the point. God had made every provision for securing the holiness and integrity of the garden. He had created, endowed, and authorized one to guard the holy sanctuary. Adam’s job was to protect the garden. The right questions upon reading the story of the garden debacle are: “Where was Adam?” “Why did he fail in his mission to ‘keep’ the Lord’s garden?” Adam should have killed the snake right off. The trajectory from what Adam failed to do to what God promises that a future son of man will do in Genesis 3:15 is straight as an arrow.
The great biblical truth of responsible human agency, however often missed by evangelical Christians, is affirmed by Francis Schaeffer:
Man is wonderful: he can really influence significant history. Since God made man in his own image, man is not caught in the wheels of determinism. Rather man is so great that he can influence history for himself and others, for his life and the life to come. . . . One of the great weaknesses in evangelical preaching in the last few years is that we have lost sight of the biblical fact that man is wonderful. . . . Man is indeed lost, but that does not mean he is nothing . . . [for] even though he is now a sinner, he can do those things that are tremendous. . . . In short, man is not a cog in a machine; he is not a piece of theatre; he really can influence history. From a biblical viewpoint, man is lost, but great.70
As a dialogical, covenantal story in which both God and his human image bearers are real actors, the Bible credits the full reality of both as historical agents. God’s speaking and actions shape and change things. The responses of human beings to God’s word and presence also effect historical change. We might say, then, that the biblical story is both theocentric (God-centered) and anthropocentric (human-centered) at one and the same time.71 If we understand that human beings exist in the world in order to pursue God’s kingdom rule over all things, we cannot help but affirm the significance of human existence. Richard Pratt goes so far as to point out that the Bible is actually as much about people as it is about God. God is sometimes absent from a particular episode or story, but human beings are always present. Pratt suggests that Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:10—“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—both sums up the central message of Scripture and provides us with an important insight into what God is doing, and what we are to be about as well.
The Bible’s focus on the kingdom of God is so overwhelming that it may appear at first to draw all attention toward God and away from us. To be sure, the honor of God is our highest goal, but Christians often miss a crucial aspect of God’s plan for the arrival of his kingdom at earth. One of the most remarkable things taught in the Bible is that God has determined to bring about his kingdom on earth in a particular way. He has chosen to work out the plan for his ultimate glory through a special instrument. What is that instrument? What is that created means by which the kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven? The answer of the Bible is straightforward. The instrument is the human race. That’s right. God ordained humanity to be the primary instrument by which his kingship will be realized on earth.72
Reformed Christians sometimes believe that a Reformed piety demands that they say that the Christian faith is all about God and not about us. And this, we think, is the only way to protect a God-centered faith, one that respects the biblical reality of our inability to save ourselves from sin and does not fall into a legalistic and moralistic conception of religion in which we are able to save ourselves by religious performances. The concern is valid. We are utterly dependent upon God’s grace for salvation. Indeed, he is the sole agent in the act of redemption. We receive grace; we do not earn it. We do not work toward salvation, but we do work from it. We are not saved by works, but we are saved for them. This reality is brought home powerfully in the call of Abraham as it is recorded in Genesis 12. God made a series of promises to Abraham, promises that depended on nothing but God’s gracious initiation and provision. God’s promises to Abraham included such things as God’s presence with him (blessing and protection), a land for his own, and that Abraham would become a great nation. In the midst of all of these amazing sovereign promises, God twice tells Abraham the purpose of the divine calling that has come upon him: that Abraham will bless others (Gen. 12:2–3). God calls Abraham into relation with himself—something Abraham cannot himself forge or force—so that Abraham will then become God’s ambassador among the nations. Abraham was saved for mission. His own salvation was none of his doing. It belonged to the Lord alone. But once saved, once brought into covenantal relationship with God, Abraham is called and empowered to act as God’s representative, his image bearer in the world.73 Christopher Wright notes that the story of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12 begins with God’s call for Abram to leave his father’s homeland and to travel to a far off land. Now, the call precedes anything that Abraham will do, but he is called to obey, to act in accordance with God’s gracious calling and promises.
“Get yourself up and go from here to the land I will show you.” All that God goes on to promise depends on that. No leaving, no blessing. Bluntly put, if Abraham had not got up and left for Canaan, if he had not trusted God enough to obey him, the story would have ended right there.74
There are any number of points at which the Abrahamic mission depended upon Abraham’s obedience. A crucial part of the covenant promises was that Abraham would be the father of a great nation. He would have children. This was a sovereign promise made by God. Yet its fulfillment both demanded and completely depended upon Abraham’s obedience. If he and his wife Sarah did not engage in marital sexual relations there simply would be no children. Later on in the story, God tested Abraham’s faith by calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham’s willingness to go through with the command moved the Lord to swear an oath:
By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. (Gen. 22:16–18)
Abraham has done nothing to merit or earn God’s promise, yet the promise does come as a result of Abraham’s obedience. And amazingly, Paul later tells us in Galatians 3:16 that Jesus himself is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise of offspring to Abraham. We might even say that the coming of Jesus was itself dependent upon the obedience of Abraham. All peoples will be blessed by God’s promise of offspring to Abraham, a promise that will be gloriously realized in the birth of Jesus, “the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Yet the promise of the Abrahamic blessing was not something that applied only to Jesus. It stood before and called every generation of Abraham’s family. We see this clearly in Genesis 18:19:
For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, to that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.
Abraham is to instruct his children and all who live in his household to “keep the way of the LORD”—another way of saying “to be imitators of God” or “to be his image bearers.” To know God’s gracious election (“I have chosen him”) is to be called to walk in the way of the Lord, actively seeking righteousness and justice, and thereby being and acting as mediums of God’s blessing. “How was Abraham going to be a blessing to the nations? . . . [Only] by trusting and obeying God himself.”75 Abraham’s active image bearing—and “walking in the way of the LORD” can also be summarized here as “keeping God’s law”—could not save him. Genesis 15:6 clearly tells us that Abraham was saved by his faith in God. The sequence of Genesis 18:19 must be kept in view. First, God chooses—or elects—Abraham. Only then is the commandment given for him to instruct his household in the ethical life that God expects of his image bearers. Finally, we are told that God will fulfill his promises toward Abraham, a phrase that drives us back to those very promises in Genesis 12:1–3. Like the opening of Genesis 12, Genesis 18:19 also includes two purpose clauses. God chooses Abraham so that he will live as God’s imitator in the world, and that takes place so that blessing will come to the world. Far from ignoring or annulling responsible human action in the world, God’s grace is the precondition and foundation for Abraham’s action in the world. Election leads to image bearing, and then the two of them together lead to mission.
Now, when we are talking about Abraham, the issue is God’s elective and redemptive grace, not creation. But the pattern of divine initiation and then human response, God’s sovereign action and then human obedience (even grace and then law), holds for human beings in the integrity of creation as well. Indeed, in Romans 4:17 Paul likens God’s calling of Abraham to a new creation. Just as Adam was created for a mission, so Abraham was graciously called to be a light to the nations. And just as in the case of the Adamic calling, the mission laid upon Abraham required his obedient service to God and his word. Abraham’s walking in the way of the Lord, while blessed and provided for, and empowered by God—such that Abraham could not fulfill his calling without God’s loving presence in his life—changed the world.
Is biblical religion God-centered? Absolutely. But it is also human-centered. Pratt is right to say that a “God-centered theology that fails to give serious attention to human beings is not God-centered at all.”76 While God is sovereign, and the kingdom of God is ever the result of God’s “direct and clearly manifest action,” God also uses “nature and men to fulfill his ends.”77 This was so in the garden, and it is a pattern that continues, even into the drama of sin and redemption. Created in God’s image, human beings have been endowed with gifts and abilities from him, and authority to employ those gifts on behalf of God’s rule. Jesus gave his disciples power and sent them into the world to use it for his kingdom. We see God working in the world through human beings even into the age to come, when the people of God will sit next to Jesus and rule the new earth (Rev. 3:21; 5:10).
Hearing and Doing
As a creature summoned into relationship with God and to his obedient service, Adam was to exercise his calling to represent God’s kingdom in the world by his submission to God’s word. He was to desire the things God desired, to delight in the things God delighted in. God’s call expects an answer, an active submission to his will and ways. We often think of language as something that defines our humanity, something that is distinctive among all God’s creatures. And so it is. But our speaking is itself responsive. It is an answering. And to answer we must first listen. Echoing the exposition of Hans Walter Wolff, Kevin Vanhoozer has suggested that above all else it is the orientation to God and his word signaled by the human faculty of hearing that defines the human as a covenantal creature. Descartes famously captured the essence of the human in the phrase, “I think, therefore I am,” but we might be closer to the mark biblically to say, “I hear, therefore I am.”78
The book of Proverbs connects the human act of hearing with orienting one’s attention and heart to God by attending to his Word.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor. (Prov. 15:32–33)
Hearing precedes speaking in Old Testament wisdom thought.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Prov. 18:13)
The mouth is an organ of answering, responding to the call of God. The call expects an answer, but the call must be heard and acknowledged before the speech of the creature is accredited. Wolff wisely points out that Adam’s speaking begins only once he has received the gift of the commission to name the animals. And he is not quoted in the biblical text until he receives the gift of Eve (Gen. 2:23). With a word of thankfulness and wonder upon receiving “the perfect gift, man is for the first time a whole man.”79 Scripture is replete with affirmations of hearing the word as constitutive of the image bearer. For example: Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” The divine calling of Deuteronomy 6:4—“Hear, O Israel”—grounds the image bearer as a summoned creature made for the purpose of joyful and obedient service. The Servant of the Lord is depicted in Isaiah 50:4–5 as one who hears, one who is oriented toward the word from the moment of awakening each morning.
The predominantly royal tenor of the Genesis creation story is evident both in its depiction of God as Creator and Ruler, and the close association of mankind’s creation after the image of God and the calling placed upon human beings to exercise a vice-regency within the world, the mission of ruling the nonhuman creatures and subduing the earth. Adam and Eve were created to be God’s representatives and agents in the world, being “granted authorized power to share in God’s rule or administration of the earth’s resources and creatures.”80 God, humanity, and the world are drawn together into a single kingdom administration. God has authorized the human to rule the created order on his behalf.
Yet, the relationship between humankind and the nonhuman creation is not merely one of humanity being God’s delegated ruler, and it is certainly different from God’s relationship to creation. As a creature, the human is part of the created order, and even dependent upon it. The relationship between humankind and the material order is not linear but reciprocal or mutual.81 Although divinely appointed as ambassadors of God’s own kingship over the material creation, human beings are also called to serve the creation.82 Genesis 2:15 tells us that the Lord put Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it.” The calling to have dominion and rule the earth from 1:28 is now cast in terms of serving the earth. Interestingly, the language of 1:28, while certainly royal, also appears in pastoral contexts in the Old Testament.83 Rule, yes, but with the same care that the shepherd gives to his flocks. The terms used in 2:15, however, are not drawn from agriculture or herding, but rather from religious service and worship. Israel is called to serve the Lord (e.g., Ex. 9:1, 13). She is called to keep the commandments (Ex. 13:10; 20:6). And her priests are called to guard the Lord’s house (Num. 1:53; 3:8). Ellen Davis points out that the language of the human calling to the earth suggests a certain subordination of the preferences of the human to the needs of the land, for as human beings are called to serve God, they are likewise called to serve the land, and to keep the soil is akin to what it means to keep the commandments. Davis also notes that the language of serving and keeping is not merely that of promoting well-being but also protecting from violation and impoverishment.84 Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts the essential mutuality of human beings and the created order rather pointedly when he writes that
[the] freedom to rule includes being bound to the creatures who are ruled. . . . [They] constitute the world in which I live, without which I cease to be. . . . I am not free from [them] in any sense of my essential being, my spirit, having no need of nature, as though nature were something alien to the spirit. On the contrary, in my whole being, in my creatureliness, I belong wholly to this world; it bears me, nurtures me, holds me.85
As we have noted previously, the Hebrew word for image in Genesis 1 is tselem, a word that can be translated sometimes as “idol.” It is also the Hebrew for “statue” or “figurine.” The connections here are perfectly natural, as a deity might be cast or sculpted into a statue, the image of which is then worshiped as the representation of the deity. It was also perfectly natural for ancient kings to erect statues of themselves and set them in distant areas of their domains to remind their subjects of the king’s sovereignty over them. Gerhard von Rad notes the analogy here to Genesis 1 declaring human beings as God’s image bearers:
Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth. The decisive thing about man’s similarity to God, therefore, is his function in the non-human world.86
The statue thus represents and even mediates the presence and dominion of the king. We might say then that humankind is God’s statue, the representation of his rule in the world. But as God is known by his activity rather than abstractly,87 “that you may know that I am the LORD”—ruling is an activity after all—so the human representation of God is active as well. Adam is called to name the animals, to keep and till the ground, and to obey every word that comes out of the mouth of God. The Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, loved to mock the idols of the pagan peoples surrounding Israel. Their gods were deaf and mute, lifeless and impotent (e.g., Isa. 44:9–20; Jeremiah 10). As we become what we worship, the idolater is just as impotent as the idol: deaf to God and blind to the world. Imaging the one true God, however, is ever active, working in the world.
To bear the image of God in the world is be an office bearer in his kingdom. Adam was called to steward the manifold riches of the garden and thereby bring God’s kingdom to bear upon all of creation—as are we as his children. As a servant of God and a guardian of all that was entrusted to him, Adam was called to mediate the blessings of God’s holy and righteous kingship to all creatures. Adam and Eve’s rebellion from the word of God and the attendant woe their sin brought upon themselves, their children, and the world around them has not changed the creational design and mission. Whether we build cities or tend livestock, play music or go to market, teach our little ones to tie their shoes or vote on legislation, “eat or drink, or whatever [we] do,” like Adam, we are called to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Not one word of God’s creational design and intent has ever been annulled. The garden call heard by our first parents still holds, still tells us who and what we are, still urges us to walk in the way of the Lord in all things. We have truly been made for this.
What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (WSC Q.1)
To be called by God is to be called to creaturehood, and in the case of human beings to be a particular sort of creature, one made for the purpose of bearing God’s image into the world. As we have seen, this calling may be typified as a call to represent and embody God’s kingdom rule, a call to the imitation of the divine moral character, a call to glorify God in all things. The call of Genesis 1 is also a call to worship. Psalm 148 calls all of God’s creatures to worship, from the angels in heaven to the sun, moon, and stars, from the forces of the earth to mountains and forests, from the creatures of the great depths to the sheep and cattle in the pasture, and yes, all human beings too: kings to commoners, men and women, old and young. All creatures of God, writes Wendell Berry, are “members of the holy communion of Creation.”88 Psalm 148 is representative of a biblical choir calling all God’s creatures—each and every one of them—to the worship of God.89 All creatures proclaim his rule. We are all his servants, called to keep his Word, called to seek his kingdom with every breath, and called to glorify him in all things.
Dr. Mike Williams is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the author of Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (P&R, 2005) and This World Is Not My Home: The Origins and Development of Dispensationalism (Christian Focus, 2003), and co-author with Robert A. Peterson of Why I Am Not an Arminian (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
1 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 58.
2 Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 91.
3 The assumption that the derivation of a word, or the uses of its cognates, automatically defines the word.
4 Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 56. George Eldon Ladd made much the same point some years ago in a little book entitled The Pattern of New Testament Truth. Ladd was explicitly talking about the Old Testament, but his statement could legitimately be expanded to include the entirety of the biblical redemptive drama: “The Old Testament never views the earth as an alien place nor as an indifferent theater on which man lives out his temporal life while seeking a heavenly destiny. Man and the world together belong to the order of creation; and in a real sense of the word, the world participates in man’s fate.” George Eldon Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 32.
5 Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1970), 40, emphasis in original.
6 F. LeRon Shults, Reforming Theological Anthropology: After the Philosophical Turn to Relationality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 164.
7 Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, 33.
8 Douglas John Hall, Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 26–27.
9 Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, 33.
10 Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 49.
11 Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), writes that “our creatureliness is an abiding reality. We never were, nor can we ever become, anything but what we are—crown creatures of God’s making. We are ‘essentially’ creatures . . . Our primordial creatureliness still defines who we are” (195, 197). Thus Spykman quite correctly presents his discussion of anthropology (the doctrine of humanity) under the larger heading of “creation.”
12 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill, Library of Christian Classics, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), I.5.1, I.6.1–2.
13 Ibid., I.5.1; cf. I.14.21.
14 Ibid., I.6.2; cf. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 12, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter, trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 159–60.
15 Calvin, commentary on Psalm 24:1. Quoted in Susan E. Schreiner, The Theater of His Glory: Nature and the Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 70.
16 Following in the train of Calvin and Kuyper, Bavinck denied that angels bear the image of God, saying, “Men indeed, but never the angels, are spoken of as created in the image of God.” Quoted in G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, Studies in Dogmatics, trans. Dirk W. Jellema (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 86.
17 Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 83.
18 The language of image bearing is not, of course, limited to these few texts. There are a number of texts that exalt Jesus as the paradigmatic image of God (e.g., 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15) and several that address the redemptive renewal of the image in human beings (e.g., Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:9–10). We will take up several of each of these kinds of statements in due course.
19 J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 17.
20 Hendrikus Berkhof, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 179. Quoted in Middleton, The Liberating Image, 18.
21 Hall, Imaging God, 91.
22 See Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 141–82, for a historical-theological survey of different interpretations of the imago Dei. Also see D. J. A. Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968): 54–61.
23 Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: 1986), 28, 69. Also see Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 142, 162ff. Grenz notes that three factor taxonomies have sometimes been pursued (substantialist, relational, and dominion). The two-factor taxonomy we are suggesting here has been more common, however, as the calling to have dominion is usually seen as an aspect or consequence of a relational understanding of the imago Dei. See Hall, Imaging God, 88–112: “Two Historical Conceptions of the Imago Dei.”
24 Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 162.
25 Middleton, The Liberating Image, 25, 53. Middleton goes so far as to say that “while rule may well be grammatically only the purpose and not the definition of the image in 1:26, an initial look at the overall rhetorical world of the text suggests that it is a necessary and inseparable purpose and hence virtually constitutive of the image” (54–55). It is worth noting that Grenz comes to quite a different conclusion regarding scholarly “consensus” on the relationship between the imago Dei and the calling of dominion. Writing a couple of years before Middleton, Grenz suggests that a recent consensus has emerged that dominion and the imago Dei are not synonymous, but rather that dominion is a consequence of image bearing. See Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 197.
26 See Shults, Reforming Theological Anthropology, for a concerted critique of substance dualism and faculty psychology as the key to understanding human uniqueness and identity.
27 Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 73.
28 Spykman, Reformational Theology, 228.
29 Ibid., 224, emphasis in original.
30 Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 64–75, 69.
31 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, God and Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 554, emphasis in original.
32 Ibid., 555.
33 Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Theology of the Imago Dei in the Postmodern Context,” in Personal Identity in Theological Perspective, ed. Richard Lints, Michael S. Horton, and Mark R. Talbot (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 77–78. Notwithstanding the relative paucity of the language of “image” in the Bible, theological anthropology has often placed an inordinate emphasis upon it. G. C. Berkouwer, however, rightly suggests that one cannot judge the importance of image to the biblical depiction by the relative infrequency of the term: “It is indeed rather striking that the term is not used often at all, and that is it far less ‘central’ in the Bible than it has been in the history of Christian thought. This apparent discrepancy vanishes, however, when we note that Scripture’s references to the image of God, whenever there are such, have a special urgency and importance. Furthermore, there is the possibility that Scripture often deals with the concept of the image of God without using those exact words, so that we surely should not a priori limit our investigation of the concept to considering only places where the term itself is used.” G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, 67. As we will see, the conceptual domain of image bearer and image bearing is both highly significant and capable of being conveyed in a number of ways in Scripture.
34 C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1942), 1. Similarly, Calvin wrote that “the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted [the image] may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creations; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what ends he created man.” And for Calvin, the end for which God created man was present at the beginning. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1 of Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 296.
35 Alistair I. McFadyen, The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 31.
36 Ibid., 18.
37 See Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 28. The third and sixth days each receive two divine speeches.
38 Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 30. Cf. Stephen Motyer, “Call, Calling,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 80. Motyer comments: “When God is the one who bestows names, the action is almost equivalent to creation. ‘Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing’ (Isa. 40:26).”
39 Guinness, The Call, 4.
40 Ibid. The Call, 32–50, is critical of the common reduction of calling to occupation, pointing out that the modern habit of associating calling or vocation with occupation owes more to the Reformation polemic against the medieval Roman Catholic tradition of identifying calling with ecclesiastical office than it does to the Bible. Cf. Gary D. Badcock, “Calling/Vocation,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 94. Also see Lee Hardy, The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 80ff., for the Puritan distinction between “general” and “particular” (what Guinness calls “primary” and “secondary”) calling.
41 Spykman, Reformational Theology, 224.
42 See Lints, et al., Personal Identity in Theological Perspective, in which the notion of relationality pervades each of the contributed essays.
43 Hans Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, trans. Margaret Kohl (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 159.
44 D. J. A. Clines appropriately comments: “That man is God’s image means that he is the visible corporeal representative of the invisible, bodiless God: he is representative rather than a representation, since the idea of portrayal is secondary in the significance of the image. . . . The image is to be understood not so much ontologically as existentially: it comes to expression not in the nature of man so much as in his activity and function. This function is to represent God’s lordship to the lower orders of creation.” Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” 101.
45 Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 51.
46 Paul G. Schrotenboer, Man in God’s World: The Biblical Idea of Office (Pittsburgh: Radix Books, 1989), 12.
47 Middleton, The Liberating Image, 60–61.
48 Middleton suggests that “a basic word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness may well be important for understanding the imago Dei and that this dimension of its meaning should not be summarily excluded from consideration.” The Liberating Image, 24.
The second term used in Genesis 1:26, “likeness,” demuth, is less concrete than tselem and might suggest no more than likeness or vague similarity. While today it is agreed by most exegetes that there does not appear to be any firm or technical distinction between the two words, traditional systematic theology typically distinguished them in terms of a broad and a narrow image or an ontological and moral image. Unfortunately, this tendency runs against Calvin’s wise counsel: “There is also no slight quarrel over ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ when interpreters seek a non-existent difference between these two words, except that ‘likeness’ has been added by way of explanation.” Calvin, Institutes, I.15.3. Likewise, Bavinck failed to find any significant difference in the two terms, claiming that “they are used promiscuously and interchangeably without any apparent reason.” Quoted in Spykman, Reformational Theology, 224.
Sarna agrees that there is little to be made of the distinction between tselem and demuth as the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cognates of these both seem to have been used as more or less synonymously. “The words used here to convey these ideas can be better understood in the light of the phenomenon registered in both Mesopotamia and Egypt, whereby the ruling monarch is described as ‘the image’ or ‘the likeness’ of a god. In Mesopotamia we find the following salutations: ‘The father of my lord the king is the very image of Bel (salam bel) and the king, my lord, is the very image of Bel’; ‘The king, lord of the lands, is the image of Shamash’; ‘O king of the inhabited world, you are the image of Marduk.’ In Egypt the same concept is expressed through the name Tutankhamen . . . which means ‘the living image’ of (the god) Amun,’ and in the designation of Thutmose IV as ‘the likeness of Re.’” Sarna is quick to point out that the difference between biblical and nonbiblical use of “image” and “likeness” terminology is not to be found in the meaning of terms but rather in the referents to which they are applied. Where the Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts apply them only to kings, in Genesis they are applied to mankind in general. “All human beings are created ‘in the image of God’; each person bears the stamp of royalty. This was patently understood by the author of Psalm 8.” Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society), 1989, 8.
49 Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 160.
50 Thus, image bearing speaks right to the heart of the biblical depiction of covenant. The covenant formula not only promises God’s presence with his people, but also calls forth the blessing and the calling for them to truly be his own as well. In this light, it is not accidental at all that one of Paul’s favorite names for the church is “the body of Christ.”
51 Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 161.
52 E.g., Isa. 43:7, 20–21; Jer. 13:11; Eph. 1:6, 12–13; 1 Pet. 2:9, 12.
53 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), 126.
54 Because it is founded in Adam in the garden, the calling is universal, coming to all human beings. “The differences among men are not that some of them are God’s servants called to obedience and some are not, for all are called.” Schrotenboer, Man in God’s World, 10.
55 “Name-giving in the ancient orient was primarily an exercise in sovereignty, of command.” Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed., trans. John H. Marks, et al. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 81.
Richard Bauckham argues, however, that the association of naming and authority has been abandoned by most recent exegetes. “If we did read it this way, we should have to take Adam’s naming of Eve (Gen. 2:23 and 3:20) as an expression of his power over her.” Rather than focusing on authority, Bauckham suggests that naming is an expression of knowledge, acknowledgment, and recognition. Thus, naming is “the presupposition for relationship. Parents naming children are recognizing them as persons in their own right and giving them the wherewithall to be identified as persons by other persons and thus to enter interpersonal relationships.” Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 130.
Also see George W. Ramsey, “Is Name-Giving an Act of Dominion in Genesis 2:23 and Elsewhere?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50 (January 1988): 24–35, in which Ramsey argues that “if the act of naming signifies anything about the name-giver, it is the quality of discernment.” When Adam named the animals, he was discerning something about the way that God created them. The same is true, according to Ramsey, relative to Adam’s naming of the woman. It was “a cry of discovery, of recognition, rather than a prescription of what this creature built from his rib should be . . . it is an act of discernment rather than an act of domination.”
56 Examples could be multiplied. See, e.g., Deut. 10:17ff.; 14:1; 16:18ff.; 24:17–22; Lev. 19:34.
57 Spykman, Reformational Theology, 226.
58 Cf. the third-century church father Irenaeus of Lyons: “For the glory of God is a living man, and the life of man consists in beholding God.” Adv. Haer. IV.XX.7, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (1885; repr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953).
59 J. Todd Billings, Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 33. Cf. Richard Lints, “Imaging and Idolatry: The Sociality of Personhood in the Canon,” in Lints, et a., Personal Identity in Theological Perspective, 208.
60 Cf. Gen. 5:3, where image is linked to sonship.
61 See Edward Curtis, “Image of God (OT),” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed., David Noel Freedman, et al. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:390.
62 Kelly M. Kapic, God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 141.
63 E.g., 1 Sam. 2:6–7; Ps. 37:23; Prov. 16:9, 33; 21:1; 1 Cor. 12:18; 15:38; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:19.
64 McFadyen argues that as a relational creature, one who is made for covenantal dialogue with God, the human cannot avoid being in relation to God. “Our freedom is limited to determining what form that relationship, our response, is to take. That means that we have the freedom of a creature in relation—we can determine our own stance in the relation,” but not whether we will relate. The Call to Personhood, 22.
65 Spykman, Reformational Theology, 251.
66 Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 50.
67 God’s calling precedes any demand. The “let us make” comes before the instruction to “be fruitful.” Thus Emil Brunner wrote that human responsibility before God “is not first of all a task, but a gift; it is not first of all a demand, but life; not law, but grace. The word which—requiring an answer—calls man, is not a ‘Thou shalt’ but a ‘Thou mayst be’. The primal word is not an imperative, but it is the indicative of the divine love, ‘Thou are mine.” Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, trans. Olive Wyon (London: Lutterworth Press, 1939), 98, quoted in David Cairns, The Image of God in Man (London: Collins, 1973), 155.
68 Spykman, Reformational Theology, 251.
69 See Peter J. Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000), 54–55.
70 Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City (Chicago: IVP, 1969), 80–81.
71 Spykman, Reformational Theology, 200.
72 Richard L. Pratt, Designed for Dignity: What God Has Made It Possible for You to Be (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1993), 6–7.
73 See my Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 100–19, for a fuller exposition of the Abrahamic covenant of Gen. 12:1–3.
74 Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 79.
75 Ibid., 83.
76 Pratt, Designed for Dignity, 2.
77 Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, 35.
78 Kevin Vanhoozer, “Human Being, Individual and Social,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, ed. Colin E. Gunton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 171, 175–77.
79 Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 77.
80 Middleton, The Liberating Image, 27.
81 “Man has to cope in the world with the very things that God has created.” Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 160.
82 “God placed the human in the garden to care for what was already there ([Gen.] 2:15) and, while the presence of the human was crucial for its life and health (2:5), the garden is also a home for other creatures of God. Unlike the view of other ancient Near Eastern creation texts, human beings were placed in Eden not to serve the gods but to serve the creation.” Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament, 47.
83 See James Limburg, “The Responsibility of Royalty: Genesis 1–11 and the Care of the Earth,” Word and World 11 (1991): 14–30. Cf. Michael D. Williams, “Man and Beast,” Presbyterion 34, no. 1 (Spring, 2008): 12–26.
84 Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 2001), 192.
85 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, trans. Douglas Stephen Bax (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 67.
86 Von Rad, Genesis, 59–60.
87 See my Far as the Curse Is Found, 25–31.
88 Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays, by Wendell Berry (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), 106.
89 Also see Ps. 65:12–13; 69:34; 89:12; 96:11–13; 97:7–9; 103:19–22; 145:10; 150:6; as well as 1 Chron. 16:31–33; Isa. 35:1–2; 40:10; 43:20–21; 55:12; Phil. 2:10; Rev. 5:13.