5. Imago Dei as Rationality or Relationality: History and Construction
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92 5. Imago Dei as Rationality or Relationality: History and Construction when throughout the centuries Christians have had questions about the meaning of human life, they have turned to a concept, traditionally rendered in Latin: the imago Dei. The term comes from the Hebrew scriptures and indicates that humanity in the intention of God is humanity “in the image of God.”1 The origins of the imago Dei symbol are found in the book of Genesis in only three direct references. The first reference is found in Genesis 1:26–27, in which the priestly writer, “P,” offers an account of the creation of the world: Then God said: “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (27) So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God God created humankind; male and female God created them. (28) 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (RSV) The second reference dealing with the image of God is Genesis 5:1–3: This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created humankind, God made humankind in the likeness of God. (2) Male and female God created them, and God blessed them and named them humankind when they were created. (3) When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. (RSV) Haslam-Chapter-05.indd 92 Haslam-Chapter-05.indd 92 9/6/2011 12:34:00 PM 9/6/2011 12:34:00 PM imago dei as rationality or relationality ‡ 93 The final reference, Genesis 9:5–6, follows the story of the great flood and locates the value of human life in its being created in the image of God: God said to Noah: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of humankind; of every human being’s brother I will require the life of human being. Whoever sheds the blood of human being, by human being shall his blood be shed; for God made human being in God’s own image.” (NSV) There are a variety of interpretations of the meaning of this symbol as it appears in the Hebrew scriptures. It has been argued, for example, that the symbol indicates a physical resemblance between the human being and God. According to Cuthbert A. Simpson, “In the mind of P, there can be little doubt, bodily form was to some extent at any rate involved in the idea of the divine image.”2 It has been argued as well that the symbol of the imago Dei is linked with the idea that human beings have dominion over other creatures. This argument is often based on the symbol as it is found in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle . . .” Critics of this interpretation of the imago Dei symbol have argued that mere proximity between the imago and dominium does not necessitate equating the two concepts.3 Still others have argued that it would be irresponsible exegetically to dissociate the imago Dei symbol entirely from the concept of human dominion, though it would be necessary to understand this “dominion” as an expression of the long-suffering love of God and not the abusive dominion of a despot.4 Paul Ramsey offers a helpful rubric for understanding the variety of interpretations of the imago Dei symbol. He divides them into two categories: the substantialist conception and the relational conception.5 The substantialist conception considers the imago Dei as referring to the human being’s possessing some quality, capacity, or characteristic inherent in its creaturely substance that renders it similar to God.6 In Ramsey’s words, a substantialist conception of the imago Dei symbol refers to “something within the substantial form of human nature, Haslam-Chapter-05.indd 93 Haslam-Chapter...


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