The first argument stems from the biblical truth that humanity has been created in “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26, 27) and that the renewal of that image involves not only what happens within individual hearts and minds in relation to God, but also inevitably includes the transformation of our social relations (Eph. 4:24 with 5:1 and 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:10 with 3:12-4:1).
Without rehearsing the convoluted theological history of the problems associated with the precise identity of the “image of God,” I only wish to call attention here to few salient introductory points before moving on to consider its social dimension. First, whatever else it means, humanity not only bears the image of God in that we inescapably reflect God, but humanity is also called to image God. The image of God is both a gift and a task. “Image” is therefore appropriately used as noun and a verb.
Most Reformation theologians have therefore spoken both of post-fall humanity’s retention of the image and of our inability after the fall to fulfill our calling to actively image God. The question, then, for us is: does the image of God embrace the social dimension of humanity’s created existence? And if it does, what bearing does God’s own eternal sociality have upon our understanding of humanity’s calling to image God’s life on earth?
According to Genesis, it was no divine monad who created man in his image. The immediate context would appear to provide us with the “missing link” sought for in the interpretation of the “Let us make . . . in our image” in Gen. 1:26-27. The presence and activity of the divine Spirit in Gen. 1:2 seems to be the most likely referent of this address within the structure of the creation narrative itself. In fact, as Sinclair Ferguson notes, “the engagement of the Spirit in the work of creation would mark the beginning and end of a literary inclusio in Genesis 1” (The Holy Spirit [InterVarsity Press, 1996], p. 21). In support of this reading, one discovers in the wider canonical context of the Old Testament how Yahweh’s ongoing creative work typically includes the activity of his Spirit (Ps. 104:30; Job 33:4). Victor P. Hamilton explains,
"The best suggestion approaches the trinitarian understanding but employs less direct terminology. Thus Hasel calls the us of v. 26 a ‘plural of fullness,’ and Clines, God here speaks to the Spirit, mentioned back in v. 2, who now becomes God’s partner in creation. It is one thing to say that the author of Gen. 1 was not schooled in the intricacies of Christian dogma. It is another thing to say he was theologically too primitive or naïve to handle such ideas a plurality within unity. What we often so blithely dismiss as ‘foreign to the thought of the OT’ may be nothing of the sort. True, the concept may not be etched on every page of Scripture, but hints and clues are dropped enticingly here and there, and such hints await their full understanding ‘at the correct time’ (Gal. 4:4)” (The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 [Eerdmans, 1990], p. 134).Being privileged to live “at the correct time,” and having been trained by the New Testament authors to read the Old Testament with the new eyes afforded us by the final, defining revelation of the Son of God, we know that all three persons of the Godhead participated in the creation of the world and humanity, specifically that God the Father created the world, as Irenaeus has nicely put it, using his “two hands,” the Son and Spirit. H. C. Leupold says, “Behind such speaking lies the truth of the Holy Trinity which, as it grows increasingly clear in revelation, is in the light of later clear revelation discovered as contained in this plural in a kind of obscure adumbration. The truth of the Trinity explains this passage” (Exposition of Genesis: Volume 1 [Baker Book House, 1949], p. 86).
As Christians, therefore, we cannot but read Genesis 1, with its narrative description of God, his Spirit, and his powerful Word, as a trinitarian text, and the “let us make man in our image” of Gen. 1:26-27 as a reference to the uncreated original “social” God creating man to reflect the life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within man’s own dynamic social relations with his Creator and fellow creatures.
Continue with Part VI