, , ,

Revising and developing my notes on the theology of psychology, with particular emphasis on biblical counseling. One important aspect of any psychological system is its anthropology: what is a human being? The answer to that question is a theological question: psychology as a discipline of observation cannot answer that question.

A critical element of biblical anthropology is that human beings are in the image of God. The discussion of this issue is enormous. Here are three voices on the issue. Biblical Doctrine, John MacArthur, explains there are three basic views as to the doctrine of the image of God:

Three views have been offered in answer to the question of how exactly man is in God’s image: substantive, functional, and relational. First, the substantive view says that the image of God is inherently structural to man it is a characteristic within the makeup of man….

 Second, the functional view asserts at the image of God is something that human beings do….

Third, the relational view claims that relationship is the image of God.

The best view however isn’t the image of God is substantive or structural to man. Function and relationship are the consequences of man being the image of God structurally….

The structure probably consist of the complex qualities and attributes of man that making human. This includes his physical and spiritual components. The image could also be linked to personhood and personality and to the powers to relate and operate.


MacArthur anr Biblical Doctrine, pp. 412 – 413.


  1. John S. Hammett, in the chapter “Human Nature” in A Theology for the Church, avoids the question of structural, functional or relational:

Despite the paucity of biblical teaching on the image of God, we may draw five biblical parameters. these guidelines do not answer all the questions we have concerning the image of God, but they give us guidelines by which we may evaluate suggested interpretations of the image of God.

Creation in the image of God is affirmed for all persons….

Creation in the image of God involves being like God in some unspecified way….

Creation in the image of God is the basis for human uniqueness and dignity (Gen 9:6; Jas 3:9-10)….

Even after the fall, humans are spoken of as being in the image of God, so the image is not completely lost in the fall. However, it does seem that the image was damaged in the fall, for there are verses that speak of the restoration of the divine image or conformity to the image of Christ as an ongoing process in the Christian life (2 Cor 3:18; Eph. 4:23-24; Col 3:10).

Moreover, since Christ is the perfect image of God (Heb 1:3) and the result of this process of restoration is being fully like Christ (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; 1 John 3:1-2), we may speak of the image of God as being not only are created design but also our eschatological destiny.

Theology, p. 294.

Bavnick has an extensive discussion of the doctrine, the history of the doctrine and critiques of the various views.  He concludes:

In our treatment of the doctrine of the image of God, then, we must highlight, in accordance with Scripture and the Reformed confession, the idea that a human being does not bear or have the image of God but that he or she is the image of God. As a human being a man is the son, the likeness, or offspring of God (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9).

Two things are implied in this doctrine. The first is that not something in God—one virtue or perfection or another to the exclusion of still others, nor one person—say, the Son to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit—but that God himself, the entire deity, is the archetype of man. Granted, it has frequently been taught that man has specifically been made in the image of the Son or of the incarnate Christ,72 but there is nothing in Scripture that supports this notion. Scripture repeatedly tells us that humankind was made in the image of God, not that we have been modeled on Christ, but that he was made [human] in our likeness (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7–8; Heb. 2:14), and that we, having been conformed to the image of Christ, are now again becoming like God (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; 1 John 3:2). It is therefore much better for us to say that the triune being, God, is the archetype of man,73 while at the same time exercising the greatest caution in the psychological exploration of the trinitarian components of man’s being.74

On the other hand, it follows from the doctrine of human creation in the image of God that this image extends to the whole person. Nothing in a human being is excluded from the image of God. While all creatures display vestiges of God, only a human being is the image of God. And he is such totally, in soul and body, in all his faculties and powers, in all conditions and relations. Man is the image of God because and insofar as he is truly human, and he is truly and essentially human because, and to the extent that, he is the image of God. Naturally, just as the cosmos is an organism and reveals God’s attributes more clearly in some than in other creatures, so also in man as an organism the image of God comes out more clearly in one part than another, more in the soul than in the body, more in the ethical virtues than in the physical powers. None of this, however, detracts in the least from the truth that the whole person is the image of God. Scripture could not and should not speak of God in a human manner and transfer all human attributes to God, as if God had not first made man totally in his own image. And it is the task of Christian theology to point out this image of God in man’s being in its entirety.

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 554–555.

So the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. The human is not the divine self but is nevertheless a finite creaturely impression of the divine. All that is in God—his spiritual essence, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self-communication and self-revelation in creation—finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 561.