What the image/likeness schemata isn’t

I just finished translating Genesis 1 from Hebrew this afternoon.   I had to look up the words for “image” and “likeness” because they aren’t normal Hebrew vocab nor had they yet appeared in the narrative. It reminded of an earlier theological issue:  image and likeness.

Unique to the Eastern Orthodox scheme is their insistence that we are created in the image of God but have not yet achieved his likeness.  Indeed, as one succinctly summarizes, they are not two ways of saying the same thing.  As one more scholarly venue notes, we already have the image of God but not his likeness.  The more we are deified (theosis) the more unto the likeness we pertain.  This scheme encompasses both grace and works.   We have the image by grace but we achieve the likeness by works (and so allow James 2 its full force).

What are we to make of this?  Admittedly, it’s a very nice construction.  Despite their usual antipathy to logic, it is very logical and depending on which Father you are reading, it can be very beautiful.  I have to wonder, though, if that’s what Moses is really talking about.  Hebrew poetry and idiom lives on parallelism.  One line or clause will expand or repeat the idea of the previous clause, or it will contrast it.  Such a comparison/contrast goes like this:  A/’A, or A/~A.   What Hebrew thought does not do, however, is go A/B within the same unit of thought.    Indeed, it would no longer be parallelism if it did.  This doesn’t mean the image/likeness scheme is wrong, per se, it just means that Genesis 1 doesn’t teach it.

There are other historical and theological issues with it.  It seems no different than medieval semi-Pelagianism.  Indeed, it seems a lot like the post-medieval nominalism of Gabriel Biel (which is more than ironic since many try to tag that onto Luther!).   Of course, that, too, doesn’t mean it is wrong; it is just an observation.

An extended meditation:  man’s problem is not ontological, but ethical.  It was the devil who recommended to Adam that he could transcend his current human limitations.

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