James Barr On The Imago Dei

Source: http://tinyurl.com/244sj4u

What is the locus of the image of God? James Barr presents evidence that suggests that, after all, it is human rationality:

For one thing that seems clear about the image of God is that it is attached to humanity and humanity only: the animals do not have it. This, incidentally, is an additional reason why Barth’s interpretation should be rejected: for ‘male and female he created them’, out of which Barth constructed what was in his view the essence of the image, is quite obviously something that is not peculiar to humanity but is fully valid of the animal world also. The distinctiveness of humanity from the animal world is not only emphasized in the story of creation in Genesis 1 but is also reinforced in Genesis 9, where the killing of animals is sanctioned but the killing of humans is to be punished, expressly because God had made humanity in his own image. The male-female relationship cannot possibly be the key to the enigma of the image of God.

Psalm 8 also emphasizes the distinction between human and animal:

Thou hast put all things under his feet,

all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

But, as we come down into the Hellenistic age, what was the image then taken to be? As we have already seen, the Wisdom of Solomon, which we have consulted so often, gave a first pointer:31

God created man with incorruptibility

and made him as an image of his own eternity (223)

—and, like Genesis itself, the Book of Wisdom does not make it clear what happened to that image after Adam’s disobedience. But the same book also celebrates wisdom as something that comes near to God in the possession of immortality; and wisdom, on the other hand, is something that humans may possess. On the other hand, the emphasis on the absolute transcendence of God makes less attractive any understanding of the image as a physical showing forth or manifestation of the divine.

The contrast with the animals was very probably a force that propelled the image of God with great ease into the intellectual area. How did man dominate the animals? Not by sheer strength, for the animals had the advantage in strength, in speed, in adaptation to their environment. Human domination rested upon use of technology, however primitive then compared with now, and technology rested upon human powers of thought, reason, language, and abstraction. Thus we hear about the unthinking, unreasoning character of the beasts, which are aloga, mindless (2 Pet. 212, Jude 10); and Paul speaks contemptuously of the tetrapoda, four-footed things, among the objects of idolatry (Rom. 123). Does God care about oxen? he asks dismissively (1 Cor. 99). But this sense of distance from the unthinking, unreasoning animal has its reflection also in the Old Testament: thercb or brute beast is a standard image of the totally stupid, unreflecting person, for example Psalms 7322, 927, Proverbs 121, 302.

This is an important consideration: gender differentiation (and, by extension, the social nature of human beings) is not something that differentiates human beings from all animals. Human reason is. And, further, the unique calling of human beings in the Genesis text, dominion over the earth, is based fundamentally on that unique gift.