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Chosen by God, Part 2: What the Image and Likeness of God (Imago Dei) IS

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June 26, 2012 Tags: Image of God

Today's entry was written by Joshua M. Moritz. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: At the center of the theological and cultural controversy surrounding biological evolution stands the question: “How do human beings—creatures uniquely created in the image and likeness of God—fit into the scientific picture of life’s origins and development?” In this three-part series, Dr. Joshua Moritz endeavors to address this question by exploring what Scripture means—and does not mean—by the designation “image and likeness of God”. Part 1 began by describing some common misconceptions of imago Dei. Today's post examines how the phrase "image and likeness of God" is used within Scripture itself.

Left: "Abrahamic Covenant" by Christoph Weigel, 1695.
Courtesy Pitts Theological Seminary, Emory University.

The Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou hast given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life. — Basil of Caesarea (c. 330 AD)

In the Bible there is only one designation that the human species is given and that animals are not. Genesis 1 says that humans, unlike animals, are created “as the image and likeness of God” (imago Dei). In our last post we saw that a consistent reading of Scripture reveals that the imago Dei is never defined according to one characteristic or a specific collection of qualities that set humans apart from other creatures. Nor does the Bible ever equate the image of God in humans with an immaterial soul that Homo sapiens possess and other creatures do not. If the imago Dei is not some capacity or quality that we humans intrinsically possess, then what can it be? It would seem that the imago Dei in humans must be either a function the human species fulfills or a consequence of a certain type of unique relationship that human beings have with God.

Taking a close look at Scripture in its original languages and its original cultural context, we will see that the phrase “image and likeness of God” is not owing to any skills, behaviors, or souls that Homo sapiens might possess in distinction from animals, but rather because God chooses human beings from among the animals and sets them apart for the sake and fulfillment of his divine purposes. In other words, the image and likeness of God in humans is best perceived in light of the Hebrew theological framework of historical (or biblical) election. In this way the imago Dei can be understood as a designation given through the free historical action of God in his own choosing of Homo sapiens and his calling them out from among the multiplicity of life-forms he also created “from the dust” to serve as his representatives to creation, and to uphold God’s justice and orient the creation towards fellowship with him.1

Biblical, historical election

Before we get into the details of what it means to define the imago Dei as God’s historical election of the human species, I must first emphasize that the concept of historical or biblical election which I will discuss here is to be clearly distinguished from the classic theological concept of election which was developed by the Protestant Reformers. That use of election emerged as a way to understand the eschatological destiny of individual human beings in light of a timeless act of “unconditional election.” In other words, the Reformation use of election addressed the ultimate spiritual fate of human persons as decided by the sovereign God outside of time, in and for eternity. On the other hand, biblical or historical election as described in Scripture is always conceived as “a concrete historical act on God’s part that forms the starting point and basis of the salvation history of God with his people.”2

In both cases those who are elected are not chosen because they are ‘the greatest’ or inherently more worthy than others, but rather they are elected as a result of mysterious acts of divine love and grace. But election in the biblical understanding relates primarily to a people whom God has chosen in the midst of history for a special purpose within the wider context of God’s design, even when an individual is appointed to stand as representative for the whole community. This purpose of election is furthermore defined not in terms of privilege, but rather for the sake of service. For example, the elected Israelite king is called to be “the guardian of the humble and the needy, the weak and the helpless” and the mission of the divinely elected king is to establish righteousness and justice throughout the land.3 Thus in exercising dominion the king is to “watch carefully over the rights of his subjects, and so ensure, in particular, that the weaker members of society may enjoy his protection and thus have justice done to them according to their need.”4

Within the Hebrew Scriptures the service of the chosen ones is rendered through their obedience to God’s commandment. By obeying God’s commandments, the elected live in community or fellowship with God. Likewise, the mission of the elected is to represent God to “the many” in terms of God’s sacredness, authority, and dominion. For instance, with regard to Abraham, “the many” are “all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3) who will be blessed through his election; for Israel, “the many” are the gentile nations to whom Israel—as God’s elect—is to bear God’s light and justice. Chosenness in this way serves a larger purpose in that “the chosen people does not withdraw from the human family, but exercises a special office within it, an office defined by the particular character and will of their universal God.”5 The non-elect are thus to be blessed in and through their relationship with the elect.

The chosen person or people is elected in order to serve as God’s agent in relation to a more comprehensive object of God’s love. To this end the prophet Isaiah speaks of the people of Israel as elected to act as God’s servant among the nations, the means by which “he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isa 42:1). Israel is to serve the will of God on behalf of the human race as a whole. Having been called for the purpose of service and obedience, the elect ones are solemnly accountable to God for the completion of their mission. To myopically ignore God’s far-reaching salvific enterprise and to break God’s commandment is to violate the conditions of election and risk judgment and reverse exodus or exile where the elected one is driven out of the land of promise and into the wilderness (Amos 3:2).

In the Hebrew or biblical understanding, election is always in relation to the lineage or genealogy of a people. It is not temporally bounded by the specific individual or even generation that is elected, but encompasses the entire line to which they are related, stretching both forward in time to include descendents, and backwards in time to the promises given to the ancestral founders of the lineage. Election in the biblical sense “is understood as an act of sanctification, a term that is interpreted to mean ‘set apart.’”6 Finally, the act of sanctifying election is related to the giving of the commandments, the promise of progeny, the bestowal of the divine blessing, and the bequest of land.

Election in Genesis

Each of these structural elements describing historical election are also present in the early chapters of Genesis as they describe the first humans who are created as the image and likeness of God. In the Genesis passages depicting the first human beings, we find the divine blessing, the multiplication of progeny, the giving of commandments and the promise of the land (Gen 1:28 and Gen 2:15-16).

As a fundamentally genealogical category, the Hebrew idea of election makes sense of Genesis 5:1-3 where Adam passes his “image and likeness” to his son Seth. The term likeness as found in Genesis 1 and 5 is uniformly associated with human genealogy. ‘Likeness’ first appears when God proposes the creation of the human race and next appears when this creative act is recapitulated (5:1), in a summary that also serves to bridge the creation of the human species and the creation of Adam’s individual lineage. Then, ‘likeness’ appears for a third time on the occasion of Seth’s birth.7 Since divine election for service always implies a covenant that is to be kept by the elected, viewing the imago Dei as God’s election of Adam and Eve also illuminates passages such as Hosea 6:7, which specifically refer to God’s covenant with Adam.

Structurally the election narratives of Abraham and Israel link their calling and vocation to that of Adam. In his election, “Abraham is to restore what Adam has done” and thus reaffirm the true meaning and purpose of humanity.8 As Abraham and Sarah are elected by God to be a nation (ethnicity or race) of priests and a light to the other nations (ethnicities or races) so Adam and Eve, as the primal human pair, are chosen and called to be a species of priests to the other hominids and to non-human animals. In this way we may understand Adam and Eve as the covenantal prototypes of both Abraham and Sarah, and Israel.9

According to the Genesis narrative the nations in relation to Israel parallel the animals whom Adam is called to both serve and rule.10 As Abraham and Israel are each commissioned to grow into a numerous people, so Adam and Eve are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. The commission to Adam “to take possession of the earth is related to Israel and its land.”11 Similarly, as Israel holds a place of honor among the races, so humans occupy a place of honor among the animals.12 However, as “the election of Israel neither signaled YHWH’s renouncement of the other nations nor involved their rejection in any way,” so the election of humans in no way indicates God’s rejection or lack of concern for non-human animals.13 Elected to be both king and priest, the human being bears God’s image, sacredness, and authority to the non-human creation. Acting as vice-regents or kings on God’s behalf, human beings are the brethren of the animals that are under their dominion. As the elected high priests of creation Homo sapiens are called to intercede before God for the sake of the cosmos with the ultimate aim that all creatures should live in God’s presence.


1. For a more lengthy discussion of the imago Dei as election see Joshua M. Moritz, “Evolution, the End of Human Uniqueness, and the Election of the Imago Dei,” Theology and Science 9:3 (Aug 2011).
2. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 442.
3. Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1955), 10.
4. Johnson, Sacral Kingship, 7; see Ps 72:12-14
5. Jon D. Levenson, “The Universal Horizon of Biblical Particularism” in Ethnicity and the Bible, ed. Mark G. Brett (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 155.
6. Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, trans. Leo G. Perdue (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 45; Joel S. Kaminsky, Yet I Loved Jacob: Reclaiming the Concept of Biblical Election (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 97 ff.
7. W. Randall Garr, In His Own Image and Likeness: Humanity, Divinity, and Monotheism (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 126.
8. N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 266.
9. See Chapter 9 in Joshua M. Moritz, Chosen From Among the Animals: The End of Human Uniqueness and the Election of the Image of God, PhD dissertation (Berkeley: GTU, 2011).
10. Wright, 267.
11. Preuss, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1, 115: Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 263.
12. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 261.
13. Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, vol 2, trans. Leo G. Perdue (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 285.

Joshua M. Moritz, PhD, is Lecturer of Philosophical Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco, and Managing Editor of the journal Theology and Science. He has studied at the Graduate Theological Union, Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. Dr. Moritz holds degrees in theology, philosophy, history, the classical languages, and evolutionary biology.

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George Bernard Murphy - #70654

June 26th 2012


So what is the image of God?

wesseldawn - #70748

June 29th 2012

God is a Spirit (immaterial/eternal/immortal force from Heaven (different from the physical plain of existence) - not to be confused with the mortal ‘soul’ (body and accompanying personality and emotions/hormones).


soul/body = mortal (spirit of earth)

spirit = immortal (spirit of heaven)

Merv - #70665

June 26th 2012

According to the essay Dr. Moritz wrote just above this the image of God as best understood from Scriptures is our election by God—or the fact that humans were chosen—given a stewardship role to play in creation.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70668

June 26th 2012

I think the grain of truth in this position is that humans should not feel smug and superior to other creatures becuae we are created in God’s Image.  All creatures are created by God and are loved by God, however all creatures are not the same.  Humans have a special role, as do others, and we have been given special gifts to serve in this role, which is what we call the Image of God.

However, just being created in the Image of God does not make humans superior.  We need to faithfully carry out our role, which often we fail to do.  As Jesus said, “From whom much is given, much is required.”  See also the Parable of the Talents and Paul’s model of the Church as the body.

Ecology illuminates how all persons and all creatures are interdepent with each other.  It really does not matter in God’s Kingdom how many gifts you have, just how you use your gifts, faithfully or not.

The Image of God is our ability to relate and care about others.  When we do that we fulfill our Image and purpose.  When we don’t we don’t.

Other creatures fulfill this by instinct, but humans are Godlike in that we have the choice.  Sadly many of us are not Godlike in that out of fear or greed or indifference we do not put the needs of the greater community first.    


Every creature    

George Bernard Murphy - #70671

June 26th 2012

Well Roger I have had a few dogs whose character seemed superior to humans.

wesseldawn - #70749

June 29th 2012

Animals are capable of great caring, some of them even moreso than some humans are!

The role of the imago Dei in humans is one of morality - not nurture! 

Animals are not moral (obvious in sexual matters), they are instinctive.


GJDS - #70755

June 30th 2012


The best way to understand the matter is to refer to Mark 1:8-11; Mat 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-35. This sets everything aright, including whatg election and calling by God means, and how we are ‘given life’.

I am reminded by the discussion (I think my memory is right) the classification by Aristotle: he stated that the earth contains humans (hellenics or civilised), barbarian (who are the same as animals) and Scythians (who are so degenerate they cannot be considered at the level of animals).

My own view is why insult monkeys and others by saying they are as bad as human beings or gave rise to us (tongue in cheek with smily face).

Jon Garvey - #70756

June 30th 2012


Augustine has a good angle on the matter of “superiority”. He says that even a fallen human has a greater dignity than a sinless animal (or rock, I guess) because of what God has granted to his nature - and that too is why men are punished for sin, whereas animals and rocks are not. A condemned king is still a king.

I see there a parallel with Jude 8, where the writer condemns those who slander even fallen celestial beings, because they fail to appreciate the greatness of the nature God has given them (and quotes an archangel as calling on the Lord to rebuke Satan rather than doing that himself). Interestingly the next verse compares such slanderers to unreasoning animals, acting by instinct.

Celestial beings, humans, unreasoning animals in 3 verses - is what distinguishes them really just their appointment and calling, or are ontological differences being under-emphasised in this series?

Francis - #70669

June 26th 2012

Dr. Moritz,

You wrote “In our last post WE saw that a consistent reading of Scripture reveals that the imago Dei is never defined according to one characteristic or a specific collection of qualities that set humans apart from other creatures.”

WE saw? Perhaps this was just literary license. But not everyone is in your “WE”. I for one disagreed with your reading, or at least understanding, of Scripture.

“Elected to be both king and priest, the human being bears God’s image, sacredness, and authority to the non-human creation. Acting as vice-regents or kings on God’s behalf, human beings are the brethren of the animals that are under their dominion. As the elected high priests of creation Homo sapiens are called to intercede before God for the sake of the cosmos with the ultimate aim that all creatures should live in God’s presence.”

I fully support being a good steward of the earth. (And consequently applaud the exemplary husbandry practiced by hunters and fishermen in preserving and improving their sport.)

However, are you equating man’s relationship with the environment (including non-human life) with a king’s/priest’s relationship with the human beings under his care? A moral equivalence?

Secondly, which creatures are having difficulty in fulfilling the “ultimate aim” of ‘living in God’s presence’?

Jon Garvey - #70674

June 27th 2012

Case overstated, I think.

Polycarp, in the 2nd century, often referred to believers as ” the elect”, which was a little before the Reformers. He spoke of “the number of God’s elect being saved with mercy and a good conscience.” In that he appears to have foreshadowed the Reformers’ “mistake” in expressing election in terms of individual salvation rather than service.

Why might that be? The word “elect” or “choose” (bachir) is fairly sparingly used in the OT realted to a chosen nation, Israel, but proportionately more in the new (ελεκτος). You can use a concordance to see from the 23 NT references whether the emphasis is actually on “salvation” or “service”. It’s an eye-opener.

In fact I have a lot of sympathy for mankind’s role being stewardship, for that role to be that of priest-kings (especially in the case of Adam and Eve) and even that the image of God has much (but not everything) to do with appointment. Probably more, in my view, to do with representation, though - which is how it encompasses both ruling and caring, for God’s rule is just that.

But ontology has been too hastily dismissed here (apparently with a view to maximising our identity with the animal kingdom and minimising our distinctiveness - why would that be?). And too much of the nature of that stewardship role has been read into the text, as Francis rightly says. The “ultimate aim that all creatures should live in God’s presence” sounds as if it is derived from the eschatological speculations of R J Russell which are, it has to be said, just that - speculations, and very far as yet from the theological main stream.

Joshua Moritz - #70767

June 30th 2012

Dear Jon,

Thank you for your comments.

I must confess that a 1500 word post on the Biologos Forum is hardly the place to make a substantial “case” in any area of scholarship. The point here in my second post was not so much to list all of my “evidence” as to give some basic conclusions from the academic research I’ve been doing for the last five years or so and to present these conclusions in a non-technical and generally accessible manner. If you would like to see a bit more of my “case” before you ultimately declare that its “overstated” I would encourage you to read a longer and more detailed discussion of mine that can be found here (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14746700.2011.587665).  I also would recommend that you read my article “Animals and the Image of God in the Bible and Beyond” (found here http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6385.2009.00449.x/abstract ). If you want to explore my own work on this topic any further I can send you a preview copy of my 650 page research monograph on this subject (entitled Chosen From Among the Animals) that, with any luck, should be on the shelves (at least in a few academic institutions) within the next year or so. In this monograph I spend about 60 pages discussing the role of ontology.


Regarding the doctrine of election and the Reformers, I was merely describing a point of general consensus within contemporary Biblical scholarship regarding what historical or Biblical election means within the ancient Hebrew and early Jewish context and I was not making any judgment on the theological rightness or wrongness of the Protestant Reformers more philosophically abstract (rather than historical) concept of election. I certainly never used word “mistake” in this context. If you wish to read more on the general concept of Biblical or Historical election I would recommend:

Seock-Tae Sohn, The Divine Election of Israel (Eugene Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1991)

Joel S. Kaminsky, Yet I Loved Jacob: Reclaiming the Concept of Biblical Election (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007),  

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992),

H.H. Rowley, The Biblical Doctrine of Election (Eugene Oregon: Wipf and Stock)

Jon D. Levenson, “The Universal Horizon of Biblical Particularism” in Ethnicity and the Bible, ed. Mark G. Brett (Leiden: Brill, 2002)

Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, vols 1 & 2, trans. Leo G. Perdue (Edinburgh: T & T Clark).


I would entirely agree with you that the Imago Dei has to do primarily with representation. As is well known the concept of the ‘image’ as used in Genesis has a deep ancient Near Eastern background. From a comparison of the Hebrew text with ancient Near Eastern parallels it is clear that the phrase “image of God” emerges from a common royal ideology where individual Mesopotamian, Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian kings are referred to as the image and likeness of particular gods. The Hebrew phrase, “image of God,” (selem elohîm) used in Genesis 1:26-27 is the exact counterpart of the Akkadian [removed]salam [God’s name]: “image of Enlil [Marduk, etc.]”), an expression which often appears as an epithet of Mesopotamian kings. References to the king as the image (salmu) of God abound in the Neo-Assyrian royal correspondence. One Neo-Babylonian text declares “The king of the world is the very image of Marduk,” and an ancient Assyrian text reads, “the father of the king my lord was the very image of Bel, and the king my lord is likewise the very image of Bel.” In this ancient Near Eastern conception, the king—more accurately understood as a priest-king—was seen as “the gods’ authorized deputy or viceroy on earth.” In the estimation of many scholars this “description of Near Eastern Kings as the image of a god…provides the most plausible set of parallels for interpreting the imago Dei in Genesis.”  (R. Middleton, 121)

Joshua Moritz - #70768

June 30th 2012

Within this same ancient Near Eastern royal ideology (Konigsideologie) we find that the very kings predicated as the image and likeness of a god are simultaneously chosen or elected as king by the god whom they image. For example Thutmose IV of Egypt, “son of Atum, living image of the All-Lord, sovereign, begotten of Re” inscribed on a stele “that in a dream at the foot of the great Sphinx of Giza he had the experience of being elected king by the sun god Re”—the god of whom he is the living image. The kings of Babylon and Assyria—referred to as the image or likeness of particular gods—are similarly spoken of as being called or chosen by these gods to occupy the office of king. Examples of the divine election of such kings include Nebuchadnezzar I, the image of Marduk, who speaks of himself as “the prince beloved of Marduk—the king of the gods,” and explains that “Marduk commissioned him”; Nabupaliddin, king of Babylon, who similarly calls himself “the chosen of Marduk”; and Tiglath-pileser I who speaks of the gods who called him, crowned him, and solemnly appointed him as king. Another Babylonian text describes the king as “the very image of the Sun god” and continues, “the king, my lord, is the chosen of the great gods…The king, my lord, is the perfect likeness of the god.” The motif of the divine election of ancient Near Eastern kings was even more “consistently at work in the Hittite kingdom, where a whole dynasty, not just an individual, might be elected, and the support of the electing deity for this regime might be the theme of tradition.” This link to the claim to divine election is particularly pronounced “when a certain individual is irregularly called to become king.”

In similar terms, “Shalmaneser III, Shamshi-Adad, Adad-nirari III, Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon of Assyria, Merodach-baladan, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon, Ashurbanipal, Shamash-shum-ukin, Nabopolassar (king of Babylon), Nebuchadrezzar II, Nabonidus, and even Cyrus and Darius speak of their call to the kingship and of their having been chosen by the great gods.”

However, while the Mesopotamian, Hittite and Egyptian understandings of divine image and likeness related only to an individual king or dynasty, the Hebrews were unique in broadening this understanding to include the entire human species. What we find, then, in Genesis 1 is “a genuine democratization of ancient Near Eastern royal ideology” (Middleton). In this way “humanity is dignified with a status and role vis-à-vis the nonhuman creation that is analogous to the status and role of kings in the ancient near East vis-à-vis their subjects.” As the image and likeness of God, the whole human species “is called to be the representative and intermediary of God’s power and blessing on earth.”

Similarly, in the ancient Near Eastern conception of divine election discussed above it is never a whole people group or “nation that is chosen of the gods, but rather the king” or dynasty alone. The Hebrews broadened this Near Eastern understanding of the election of kings to embrace not only the entire people of Israel but also the many nations which descended from Abraham. Before the Hebrews’ expansion of the ancient Near Eastern concept of election, “the people, as such, was never the object of divine activity in election, or of the history based on this activity.”In this way election “became the starting point for a much broader sense of historical processes that was worked out in constantly new ways.”

All that is to say simply that the historical concept of election, as the central interpretive framework in Hebrew thought, illuminates the meaning of the representative dimension of the imago Dei by showing exactly how humans are designated and created as the image and likeness of God.


Joshua Moritz - #70769

June 30th 2012

For Above References see:

A. R. Millard and P. Bordreuil, “A Statue from Syria with Assyrian and Aramaic Inscriptions,” The Biblical Archaeologist 45:3 (Summer, 1982), 135-141.

See Simo Parpola, “The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52:3 (July 1993) 168).

J. Richard Middelton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 113.

Simo Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, (Eisenbrauns, 2007), 99.

W. Randall Garr, “The Nouns תומד and םלצ,” in In His Own Image and Likeness: Humanity, Divinity, and Monotheism (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 136.

 J. M. Powis Smith, “The Chosen People Source,” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 45:2 (Jan.1929), 74.

Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, vols 1 & 2, trans. Leo G. Perdue (Edinburgh: T & T Clark).

Beyond this, I suggest that the Hebrew expansion of the concept of election is related to the Hebrew ‘democratization’ of the image of God. In light of the various parallels in both language and theology discussed above, there is clear exegetical warrant for making this move. This is especially the case when one considers that “the Priestly writers of the Hebrew Bible [who] did a great deal to democratize various theological ideas” are also those who crafted both the image of God texts and many key election texts. Thus, in the same way that the Priestly authors of Genesis widened the Near Eastern understanding of the divine image to include all of humanity, these same writers likewise intended to broaden the ancient concept of the divine election of kings to embrace all human beings.

A proper exegetical and theologically parsimonious understanding of the meaning of the imago Dei within the anthropology of Genesis 1 and 2 thus reveals that the Hebrew idea of God’s historical election of a person or a people (as in the case of Abraham, Noah, or Israel) in fact encompasses humanity as a whole. In this way Homo sapiens as Homo sanctus—meaning “humans the holy ones,” “the ones set apart for special purposes,” or “set apart to and for God”—are chosen by God in a concrete historical act to be a species set apart as God’s possession for God’s purposes. The human species, whose sanctification or “separation is beneficial to the world as a whole.”

There are also many purely linguistic considerations with regard to how various election terms are used throughout scripture (which you can read about in my more substantial work) but now I would like to move onto another point you mentioned.

Regarding your comment on eschatology in my sentence “the ultimate aim that all creatures should live in God’s presence.” That sentence should actually have been in quotes (I take the blame for the sloppy editing here) because this is from Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, Volume 3 on page 523.  Pannenberg is certainly not alone in his understanding of eschatology here and one can find similar eschatological sentiments in Irenaeus, Basil of Ceasarea, Saint Isaac the Syrian, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa (and many other Early Church Fathers), Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley. N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis are some more contemporary thinkers who have this understanding of eschatology, and so do many academic theologians from a number of backgrounds and traditions—including Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, Polkinghorne, Colin Gunton, Miroslav Wolf, Carl Braaten, Michael Welker, LeRon Shults, Stan Grenz, Roger Olson, Amos Yong, and so on.

I thus am not quite sure what you are referring to as the “mainstream here” and why you identify a quote from Pannenberg uniquely with the thought of Robert Russell (although I’m sure Bob Russell would certainly be flattered by your mistake).



Jon Garvey - #70804

July 3rd 2012


Thanks for your extensive reply. I’ve been away for a few days so am late in getting to it, and feel I must respond out of civility before I’ve really been able to study and digest it.

Firstly, I’d be very interested in your monograph - I don’t know if the BL people would be able to furnish you with my e-mail address, which I’d be very happy for them to do.

My problems re the overall image/election theme are not so much that I disagree with anything in particular, but that there seem to me to be other streams at work in Scripture that are in danger of being under-emphasised: for example, it seems to me that the vital theme of “election-on-behalf-of” regarding man, Israel, the Davidic Kings, the people of Christ (and others) is juxtaposed with “others-given-on-behalf-of-the-elect”.

This applies at the creation level too - undoubtedly man is created for the world, but also the world is created for man. In the “scientific” context (as well as the purely theological) that raises issues about ontological human exceptionality, and whether Darwinian evolution really is a sufficient account of our nature, as opposed to our calling. I don’t think theology can make the case that humans “must” be ontologically indifferent because “image always means election.”

I’m aware of the “image” motif regarding kings in ANE history (thanks for detail on that). John Walton covers it at length (including in his own pre-publication article!), and of course I’m also aware of the connections made between representative divine images in temples and man as God’s designated image in that sense. In both cases, as I understand it, one needs to include the idea of the king’s/god’s power and glory being believed to be present in the image. That was the whole basis of OT condemnation of idolatry surely: not only that the peoples worship a false god, but that they credit his power and divinity to a piece of wood.

If, though, mankind is a “true” image, then I would understand that some actual transformation of “mere animality” has occurred, so that God is actually present to the world through man. That doesn’t deny his animality, but does seem to require that it is ontologically transcended, whether one thinks in terms of classical “ensoulment” or not.

Finally, the quotes in the eschatology sentence make a huge difference. I cited Russell because I read him on it a fortnight ago, but don’t doubt Pannenberg’s influence. Taken as one description of the eschaton, I happily agree with it. Taken as a definition (which is appeared to be minus the quotes) it seems too restrictive. Maybe I was oversensitised by Russell’s theodical approach to this - he appears to require, in effect, the resurrection of every organism that ever lived in order to justify their suffering within the evolutionary jungle. As such I suspect it is well beyond the Scriptural data - rather like using “all things united in Christ” to insist that includes the old teddy-bear that got accidentally trashed. One would need, in other words, to clarify what Pannenberg means by “all creatures” and why.

wesseldawn - #70730

June 29th 2012

 often find this failure in Christian literature to explain what “imago Dei”is exactly, seeming instead to go off into tangents about unrelated points!


“God is a Spirit”  (John 4:24) A spirit is a “supernatural /immortal/eternal” entity. Therefore “image Dei” is just a fancy way to say Spirit. This particular “Spirit” is capitalized because it’s speaking of God - as in the great Spirit from which all spirits are made in the likeness of.


In Gen. 2:7 we see that ‘man’ is only an animal (soul /ruddy= the animal principle only).

In Gen. 2:8  man/animal/ruddy, we see man entering a garden where it got God’s Image (Spirit).


Therefore, according to the Bible, ruddy was both soul (mortal) and spirit (immortal), a brute  animal (mammal) that got a supernatural component! The other animals don’t have that image and the reason why they have not (and cannot) evolve to the same degree!


Last para: Adam was not called to serve the other creatures, he was to “have dominion” over them - revealing that he was different from them!

GJDS - #70766

June 30th 2012

Reply to Jon, 70756

I think the greatest dignity that can be confered to human beings is that God took the form of a human as the Son of Man, and He lived amongst us, and died as we do, without sin. It is this, in my view, that sets Mankind apart from all others. My tongue in cheek comment is to point out our other great difference to other biological life, in that we are able to willfully do what we know is bad. I would never have said that about my pet dog, who I still think had a far more pleasant nature than many of us human species.

Having said that, I do not think any innocent animal can perform some of the great and glorious acts of exceptional human beings.  What a puzzle we human beings are to ourselves.

wesseldawn - #70779

July 1st 2012

Animals do not have what we do (or I should say, in the same measure).

The earth itself has some of spiritual essence (otherwise the entire universe would be habitable) and animals get a kind of secondary spiritual influence because of it, whereas human beings are animal (soul) with an immortal image attached to us (direct influence).

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