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Reform Magazine | October 21, 2017

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Chapter & verse: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Chapter & verse: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Rosalind Selby examines the meaning of being made in God’s image

On 19 February, the entire first creation story is set in the lectionary (Genesis 1:1-2:3). It’s a very long reading, and perhaps some preachers will shy away from it because of the sheer length. Or, perhaps, because of the so-relevant issues raised, a few verses might be selected. I’m going to pick up from 1:26, and ask: what does it mean to be made in the image of God? What does that image consist in?

Interpreters have made a number of (sometimes unexpected) suggestions over the centuries: humans are political. (But what about ants and bees?) Humans laugh. (But some apes seem to have a sense of humour.) We are tool-makers. (But over 30 species of birds use tools, and that’s before we begin on mammals.) We cook. (I have to say, that was a new one for me, and I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work!) We are rational. (But many animals are intelligent enough to problem solve.) Only human beings walk upright and have an upward gaze. (But some great apes and monkeys do too.) An 18th-century suggestion was: only human beings have noses. (Presumably someone hadn’t met an elephant, tapir or bottle-nosed dolphin.) More serious suggestions concern human beings uniquely having bodies inhabited by souls which are immaterial – just like God. But this is taken from Greek philosophy and not from the Bible. In Scripture, to be human is to be a whole being, material and non-material.

Another possibility is that human beings’ ability to form loving relationships reflects the inner nature of our triune God, which is perfect relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But we see many animal species (and some plant species) living in relationship with one another, and this theory presupposes a particular understanding of the Trinity. (There are discussions about these possibilities in Keith Thomas’ Man and the Natural World and Jürgen Moltmann’s God in Creation.)…

Rosalind Selby is Principal of Northern College, Manchester

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This is an extract from the February 2017 edition of Reform.

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