Struggling Over the Imago Dei (Part I)
My paper presents several sample issues where these two theologies part company, and one of these examples is the nature of the Imago Dei, the Image of God.
I thought I would do some blog posts sharing what I am learning about the Imago Dei, and its different intepretations in Bible. Let's start with Holiness Theology, where the Imago seems visual and, indeed, rather anthropomorphic!
Ezekiel's visions of God really push the envelope in giving us visual images of the divine. The prophet goes so far as to describe the occupant of the throne atop God’s chariot carriage. He claims that God’s presence on the throne has a “likeness” or “semblance” (דמות), which he attempts to articulate. Peering up and into the heart of God’s glory, Ezekiel tells us, he sees what looks like a throne, and “upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form” (Ezek 1:26 NJPS emphasis added). Something very similar occurs at Ezek 8:2 (LXX), where God appears with “a likeness [דמות] as the appearance of a man” (NASB). The Image of God for Ezekiel has a flaming lower body and a humanoid head and upper torso, much like the god Ashur in Mesopotamian iconography.
Reverence Theology would be aghast at what Ezekiel is attempting. Using the self-same Hebrew word (דמות), Isa 40–66 insists that God’s semblance is fully incomparable. Isaiah 40:18 inquires rhetorically, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” No answer is possible; God cannot be compared to anything at all. The Holy One, at Isa 40:25, asks a similar question, “To whom then will you compare [דמה] me?” And again at 46:5 God asks, “To whom can you compare [דמה] me or declare me similar? To whom can you liken me, so that we seem comparable?” (NJPS). There is no way around it. Reverence Theology insists repeatedly that you must never claim “God is like this” or “God is like that.”
Yet, Reverence Theology also has a notion of an Imago Dei, and I'll save that for the next post in this series...