Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ramifications of "imago Dei" as fuction rather than ontology

I enjoy the posts at the Musings on Science and Theology blog, and today the author included his interactions with Bill Arnold's Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). This involves consideration of the ancient near eastern context as it relates to various facets of the creation narrative. In regards to the "image of God" Arnold writes:
On the basis of numerous parallels from both Egypt and Mesopotamia, it has become clear that the phrase is related to royal language, in which a king or pharaoh is the “image of (a) god.” Thus humans are created to function in the divine image through the exercise of “dominion” and “rule,” … The image of God is about the exercise of rulership in the world. p. 45
This means that "image of God" is a functional and representational concept, not an ontological one referring to an aspect or aspects of human nature that somehow sets them apart from the rest of non-human animals. I share Arnold's understanding, and I believe it can be supported not only with reference to Genesis, but also in keeping with the rest of the biblical text as it articulates a monistic anthropology rather than a dualist one found throughout much of Christendom. I'm in the minority here, but I'm in good company with some of the scholars how have articulate this view, such as Nancey Murphy and Joel Green.

I would also slightly supplement Arnold's terminology and concept in the quote to rulership with intimately connected to an ethical sense of stewardship rather than dominion in that dominion and that the idea that humanity is "better' and somehow discontinuous with the rest of creation has contributed many times to the abuse of nature, particularly when combined with some eschatologies where the creation is viewed as temporary and soon to be discarded.

Beyond that we should also note how important a shift in the idea of the image of God is to many areas of theology, not only anthropology, but also the neurotheology, creation care, and animal theology. A shift from viewing humans as created in the divine image and thus having a spirit or soul to living in the creation and tasked as wise stewards representing God has significant ramifications for Christian theology and praxis.

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