Six Assumptions About The Meaning of the “Imago Dei”

Although there is deep disagreement concerning what being made in the image of God means, most theologians share a common set of assumptions regarding the doctrine. Let me share a few – specifically six – of those assumptions with you.

  1. Most theologians agree that the terms in Genesis 1, selem and demut, connote reflection and representation in some sense.
  2. They agree that selem and demut, that is, “image” and “likeness” do not mean two different things. That “image” and “likeness” meant two different things was a common assumption of Patristic and medieval reflection on the doctrine. The view that these words meant two completely different things is rejected by John Calvin and by modern exegetes.
  3. Theologians agree that understanding the ancient near eastern context in which Genesis was written is significant for understanding the terms.
  4. Theologians recognize that imaging necessarily requires embodiment. There is no space in the Bible for a non-embodied image.
  5. Theologians recognize that in the New Testament, the term image of God is Christological.
  6. Most theologians recognize that there is a dynamic element to the image of God. Those in the Western tradition have typically argued that the image was once perfectly possessed by Adam, but that it was marred or lost at the fall. Those who are in Christ are growing into the image of God once again. Eastern traditions have emphasized that Adam was created in an immature state, and that the goal was to grow up more fully into the image of God.

These six assumptions aren’t universally shared by all theologians, but they are indeed assumed by most theologians working on the topic today. In a subsequent post I will address some different views concerning the image of God.


These 6 assumptions are based on Marc Cortez’s book Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed.

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