Tuesday, January 24, 2006

imago Dei, imago Christi

Further reflection:

In order to make good on this comment over on the blog discussion that has so warped my attention span:

"Okay, I can’t help but retrace a thought from Travis: we treat this as a solely hermeneutical question, but in fact, it is a theological and anthropological question as well. In other words, it is a question involving our beliefs about who God is and what God is like, and who we are and what men and women are like. In my opinion, this is the REAL discussion, because these beliefs affect in a strong way how we interpret this particular handful of snarky Bible verses",

here is some stuff I've been reviewing for the theological anthropology section on my Systematic Theology comp tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. And what am I doing? Yes, I'm blogging. Again.

No one picked up on the suggestion that we talk theology/anthropology instead of playing "What Does the Bible Say," round 12,846,729,000,000,000,003. But here is what I meant. What are human beings? Well, we could get all complicated and stuff, but why don't we start with the affirmation, straight from the Bible and Christian tradition, that whatever human beings are, they're the image of God, whatever that is. We can even set aside for right now what that even means. All we need to say, here, is that the imago Dei applies to all human beings that have ever been, regardless of any other characteristic that might distinguish them. Including gender. Even in the CofC, this is not a particularly contentious assertion. Everyone's ready to say, sure, women are made in the image of God just like men are--who would say different? Go read your Bible, for crying out loud.

From here what needs to be talked about is what does this mean in terms of the way we interact with and treat each other, as men and women, in the church and out of it.

From Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, (excerpts taken from pages 69-76):

As women's experience of their own worth is articulated today, ownership of the imago Dei doctrine is occurring at a foundational level...Practically speaking, this leads to the moral imperative of respect for women, to the responsibility not to deface the living image of God but to promote it through transformative praxis...If women are created in the image of God, without qualification, then their human reality offers suitable, even excellent metaphor for speaking about divine mystery, who always remains greater then ever.

Further, Christian women, Johnson says, are imago Christi:

Due to the androcentric nature of the traditioning process, the understanding that women are likewise christomorphic has been more difficult to grasp...But this confession [that Jesus is the Christ] also witnesses to the insight that through the power of the Spirit the beloved community shares in this Christhood, participates in the living and dying and rising of Christ to such an extent that they can even be called the body of Christ. Identified with the redemptive acts of Christ's historical and risen life, women and men together form one body that lives through, into, with, and in Christ.

Johnson points to baptism as the sign of this imago Christi reality, and cites Paul: Galatians 3:27-28, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and 2 Corinthians 6:15a (later she also cites Acts 9:1-5, pointing out that there is an identification by Christ of "men and women" perscuted by Saul and Christ himself); and continues,

If the model for sharing in the image of Christ be one of exact duplication, similar to the making of a xerox copy, and if Christ be reduced to the historical individual Jesus of Nazareth, and if the salient feature about Jesus as the Christ be his male sex, then women are obviously excluded from sharing that image in full. But every one of those suppositions falls short and twists the central testimony of biblical and doctrinal traditions. The guiding model for the imago Christi is not replication of sexual features but participation in the life of Christ, which is founded on communion in the Spirit: those who live the life of Christ are icons of Christ...One in Christ Jesus, women precisely in their female bodily existence and not apart from it are imago Christi.

The fundamental capacity to be bearers of the image of God and Christ is a gift not restricted by sex....Such views [of restriction] are distortions of God's good creation in women. They do not derive from the egalitarian doctrines of the imago Dei or imago Christi central to Christian life, but from androcentric attitudes striving to protect patriarchal privilege. As such they are simply wrong, expressions of the sin of sexism. Women know from experience that such views are also existentially ridiculous, as well as logically incoherent when set within the larger context of Christian belief. As women name themselves in power, responsibility, freedom, and mutual relatedness, and affirm themselves as embodied, self-transcending persons broken by sin and yet renewed by amazing grace, new ownership of the gift of the female self as imago Dei, imago Christi is transacted. Simultaneously, it becomes obvious that the imago is flexible and returns to its giver, so that women who are genuinely God's image in turn become suitable metaphors for the divine.

If women truly are the image of God, the image of Christ, then women, too, fall under the same privilege and responsibility to be that image.

This requires witness. It, in fact, demands it. How can we affirm all of this, and yet still think that the Church of Christ status quo of female silence is in any way consistent with this affirmation?


Anonymous said...

The jump from "What does the Bible say?" to consideration of other important sources of knowledge, such as anthropology as you suggest, is a difficult one to make for Church-of-Christers, but one that I think needs to be made. As a wise man once said, we need to develop communities of informed judgment. Or, something like that, I forget.

Anyway, if God's image is present in humanity, which I believe it is and to which I believe scripture and Church tradition also attests, then that really does change the argument (and many other arguments, for that matter). I wonder how debates over homosexuality, abortion, the death penalty, war, and gender issues would change if the image of God in humanity was our starting point.

Thinking like this is new to me, in spite of my 18 hours of Aquino, but I appreciate you pointing us this way.

I hope the comp goes well.

Kent said...

Wow! Great discussion JTB. Your reputation preceeds you and does not disappoint.

Basically what I get out of what you said is that we all can agree that we are all created in the same image, so what goes on is nothing but pure discrimination.

I appreciate your words. I just wonder how we move the conversation to this point? As you saw in the discussion on Clarke's blog, most still want to take the discussion in the same old direction. We have to refocus the conversation but how do we do that and get others to go along who are stuck in the "old paths"?

Alan said...

Hello JTB,

Because of my conviction about the role of the scriptures, I come to a different conclusion (as you know). I'm posting merely to make sure you know that I don't think women are less in any way than men. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you posted other than the last sentence. To me that is not contradictory. My reason for believing as I do about women's role in worship is based entirely on my understanding of scripture, and not in even the tiniest way on any presumption that men are better equipped for the public role.

It is far harder for me to take this position than to take yours. But I have no choice because of what I believe the scriptures mean. I hope that does not hinder our ability to consider one another brother and sister.


JTB said...


I appreciate your comment and the fact that you paid this humble little not-so-secret anymore blog a visit and invested the time to read this post. That says a whole lot about the kind of humility you advocated for over on Clarke's blog, and that is a precious thing that should never go unnoticed or thanked.

I realize that we are at an impasse on this, and why. In my opinion, a reading of the Bible which leads to a conclusion not in harmony with 1) one's understanding of the character of God, 2) one's experience of the freedom and responsibility of all human beings, 3) the unimpeded communication of the gospel to others, and perhaps 4) one's own personal sense of relationship to God indicates that there is some kind of problem to be identified. Either the problem rests with the way I am understanding the Bible, or it rests in the theological convictions being challenged. When the theological convictions in question are supportable--as I think this one in particular is--then I take it that it is my hermeneutic that requires some overhaul. The question, then, that I would ask you at this point is, what is it about the hermeneutic that forces this conclusion that is so compelling?


Thanks for the link. I debated about linking over there myself but my habit has been to keep this little blog mostly to myself. Thanks for the nudge out of my shell.

And Kent, thanks for the ego-boost. I just finished that dreaded exam (8:30-3:30 of typing, typing, typing about everything I supposedly know about, well, everything) and it's nice to come home to a compliment. As to the question--I don't really know. I think, honestly, that it comes down to a matter of personal experience. I can't tell you how many times I've read, over at the gal328 forum, that people first began pondering the ethics of the CofC practice of women's silence at the birth of a daughter, or the questioning of a daughter, or the call of a daughter to ministry. Now that I'm having a daughter of my own I can better understand why this might be so. While words can work magic, sometimes, people have to have ears to hear them.

Thanks y'all.

Alan said...


> The question, then, that
> I would ask you at this
> point is, what is it
> about the hermeneutic
> that forces this
> conclusion that is so
> compelling?

Here's a brief outline of how I arrive where I am. I believe that God created the universe, including mankind. I believe there is evidence in the nature of creation, confirmed and elaborated in the Bible, that God has a strong desire for a relationship with us. The Bible tells me that our sin stands in the way of that relationship, so he sent his Son to address that problem, proving and demonstrating how amazingly much God wants a relationship with us. All of that would be futile if we didn't have a reliable way to know who God is, what he has done for us, and what he wants us to do and be. But we do have a reliable source for all of that, in the Bible. God is both highly capable and highly motivated to provide us with the message, and he has done it.

I cannot accept the notion that God did not preserve the reliable account of Jesus' sacrifice, or of how we should respond to it. The Bibe certainly claims to be inspired by God (for example the long list of verses I quoted at clarkecomments.com from Paul and Peter).

I read about how David viewed God's word in Psalm 119, and I believe we are called to have the same devotion to the scriptures that he had (now including the NT). Certainly the NT scriptures call for such devotion to the apostles' teachings.

I don't think God provided a clearer message to the first century church than the message he provides to us. I don't think he expected something different from them than from us. So for example, he gave commands to the Corinthian church on how to conduct a worship service. I think they were recorded for us for a reason.

If there is a correct way to understand the Bible, I believe it can be found in the Bible. What other reliable source could there be? If it is up to each person to choose a hermeneutic, then we become judges of God's word. If we don't like the conclusions from one hermeneutic, we just choose another. That is not a recipe for learning what God had in mind. It is a recipe for making the scriptures conform to our preferences.

Ok I'd better not write any more, since I said this would be "brief" ;-)


JTB said...


Thanks for responding to the question.

I think where we definitively part ways is in the conviction that the Bible provides within itself an adequate and clear methodology for its own use. Since I have no confidence this is the case, I am not alarmed at the prospect of having to figure out how best to understand the Bible, that is, choose a hermeneutic. Of course, there are guidelines; an indispensable part of any hermeneutic is an intent to be faithful (this is a much larger concept than it sounds like for me but I've been typing all day and want to get to daily re-run of Gilmore Girls).

I think at this point we have reached the bedrock difference between us on this. Having come to this meta-hermeneutical realization, though, reveals why the conversations we have about women's silence are essentially two different conversations. I can't take for granted how you read the Bible, and vice versa; and because, in the end, the theological discussion of imago Dei, etc., does circle back a faithful reading of Scripture (faithful, I hope, even operating with a different hermeneutic :), discussion consists of talking past each other, though unintentionally.

So I would make a final plea in another theological direction at this point: an appeal toward eschatological resolution, and in the meantime, recognition that faithfulness can never be expcted to be uniform, so God bless all of us Christians who disagree with each other. Amen.

Alan said...


God must have known we would approach the scripture with different preconceptions and would therefore wrestle with different conclusions. Perhaps it is to keep us humble. Too often that is where we fall short. Instead of accepting one another and admitting we don't know it all, we become judgmental and put up walls. However, the call to unity and love demands that we extend grace and patience. Anyway, God is wise enough, powerful enough, and loving enough to fix things like this.

Anonymous said...


I am not going to even attempt to respond to your post, especially since I dropped out of the only anthropology class that I've ever had....but I wanted to thank you for linking to my site and I hope to see you there again soon.


Brian said...


I'm late to this discussion, but I wanted to add that unfortunately, we cannot take for granted that everyone in the Church of Christ realizes that women posses the imago Dei.

While doing my "field work" requirement at Harding, I taught Bible classes at a small CoC in NE Arkansas which shall remain nameless.

During my time there, I raised a bit of controversy by indicating that God was not male. I literally could not believe the reaction I got.

From two different women, I head the following:
"If God wasn't a man, he wouldn't have put the men in charge!" and (I still shudder to think about it) "The Bible says that God created MAN in his image."

This was in a private conversation, not during Bible class. But I made sure to emphasize in the next class that both men and women were created in God's image. It is very scary to me that I had to do that.