Monday, May 31, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment One


God said, “Let us make man according to our Image, according to our Likeness; and let them rule the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the cattle, and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” And God create man, according to the Image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1.26-27)

Man, Woman, the Image and Likeness of God and the Fall

This text will examine the “Fall” of Adam and Eve as recounted in Genesis chapters one through three. Emphasis will be on what the text means in saying that man is created according to the “image and likeness” of God. This analysis will seek to give light to the question of what the transgression of Adam and Eve was and what is the death that is said to be the result of the Fall. The discussion will therefore necessarily take place in a soteriological context.

For the most part, the referenced texts of Genesis will follow the reading of the Septuagint Greek and not the Hebrew. The reason for this decision lies in the importance of the Septuagint as the standard scriptural text used by the Church Fathers. The Hebrew texts available today (generally descendants of the Masoretic endeavor) often do not reflect the same emphases as the Septuagint. Some scholars have even argued that the Hebrew texts themselves were altered to deemphasize or eliminate readings that favored Christian arguments against the Jews. Current debate using the texts discovered in Qumran has indicated a closer affinity to the earlier Hebrew text exists in the Septuagint than in the majority texts derived from the Masoretes’ text.

The quotations of the text here will thus be a blend of the Revised Standard Version and the New English Translation of the Septuagint and my own rendering. The simple goal in producing these quotations will be to provide a clearer English translation of the Greek. I will not engage in ‘bending’ the translation to fit my argument, but will choose a translation that agrees with the Church Fathers’ received understanding of the text. I invite those who can read the Greek to review and give feedback on the translations themselves, especially if they judge the translation to be in error or merely inferior.

Finally, I welcome comments that address the issues discussed, my analysis, interpretations and arguments, and discussion that intends to contribute to clarity.

A Note about Pronoun Usage

Nowadays, any discussion about the creation of “man” in the image and likeness of God too often leads to political arguments over the equality of the rights of women vis a vis men. It is often argued that using the term “man” reflects a “patriarchalism” that views God in “male terms”, and therefore that using masculine pronouns to refer to God debases and excludes women socially. Thus, the movement to replace masculine pronoun references to God with “gender neutral” phrases developed and has been debated for decades.

Historically, the rise of this issue coincided with the decline in competency in grammar. English has developed a fairly broad range of nouns taking the neuter gender (“tree”, “house”, “California”, etc.). Even so, many are still familiar with objects that are in fact neither male nor female but have traditionally taken masculine or feminine pronouns. For example, “ship” or “boat” historically took feminine pronouns. To refer to a vessel in the feminine, as in “she’s a beautiful boat”, rarely if ever confused someone into thinking of a boat is somehow biologically female. It is analogous to the reality that when one says, “Give us a kiss”, people rarely conclude that the speaker is a group.

The ascription of different genders as appropriate for particular nouns derives from older forms of English and other languages (such as French, German, Latin, Greek, etc.) wherein the inflection of the noun required a coordinating inflection in its associated pronoun. In these languages the form of the noun determined its grammatical gender and accompanying pronouns. Thus nouns that in nature referenced things neither male nor female but whose forms were similar to nouns that did refer to male or female objects came to grammatically require particular pronouns that followed the conventions for those male or female objects.

In the second half of the last century, the demand arose to choose “gender neutral” terminology to emphasize that a text that traditionally may have used words like “man”, “he”, “his”, etc., actually referred to men and women. This demand functioned as a somewhat awkward and ham-fisted means of emphasizing the social and political equality of men and women. As noted, it also came during an era in which the mastery of grammar was deemphasized or ignored.

In this study, I sometimes will use the word “man” in its inclusive sense to refer to males and females. Pronouns also will occasionally correspond to the grammatical gender of nouns to which they refer. I leave it to the intelligence of the reader to ascertain the distinction between grammatical consistency and politico-sociological ‘brainwashing’ intended to oppress members of one or the other gender of the human race.

What is the Image and Likeness? – Not a Physical Similitude

I say all this particularly in preface to my discussion of image and likeness. The image and likeness of God in man (male and female) was never intended or understood as a physical similitude. While this should go without saying, yet again it must be asserted to clarify that the pronoun usage in this study, and the use of certain nouns like “man” are generally to be understood in an inclusive manner that encompasses both male and female, and therefore does not limit the scope or validity of what is being argued. The image and likeness of God is present in all people, male and female, from the youngest to the oldest.

That said, we may begin by asserting that the “image of God” in man is not some visible, physical likeness. When we speak of man being an image of God, we are not thereby asserting that God has two arms, two feet, and hair on His “head”. St John the Theologian states that “no one has ever seen God” (Jn 1.18, 1 Jn 4.12), and also recounts our Lord himself stating, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4.24) St John further emphasizes this non-physicality when he argues that “For not loving his brother whom he has seen, how is he able to love the God whom he cannot see?” (1 Jn 4.20)

Genesis states, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen 2.7) “Living being” may also be translated as “living soul”, and perhaps more significantly for our discussion “breath of life” may be translated as “spirit of life” (or, stretching it, “living spirit”). The relation of the words “spirit” and “breath” or “wind” indicates the invisibility or non physicality of the life of God in man, and therefore of the image and likeness of God in which man was created. (Note also Gen 1.1 and the tendency of modern translator to render “Spirit of God” as “divine wind”, exemplify the perhaps unconscious attempt by modernist scholars to avoid a Christian interpretable reading.)

The image and likeness of God is spiritual and thus, like the wind, invisible, but not de facto imperceptible. The likeness to God that reveals itself in man is found in the “fruit of the Spirit” that is particularly distinguishable in faithful Christians. St Paul notes, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” He further challenges the Galatians, “If we live by the Sprit let us walk by the Spirit.” (Gal 5.22-23, 25) Again, these are qualities that can be perceived, both by the individual and the observer, but are not per se physical attributes. What this ‘image and likeness’ of God is and what it means for humanity will form the central focus of this study.

Next installment: Image and Likeness – Genesis, Creation and the Garden of Paradise


Daniel Pane said...

Dear Abouna, can I get your permission to translate your writings to bahasa Indonesia and post it to my facebook fan page name "Katolik Timur" (Eastern Catholic)?

The Byzantine Rambler said...

Dear Daniel:

For what it's worth, you may translate my poor ruminations. I fear it may be a waste of effort, but if you wish, go do it.

Doc Hannon said...
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