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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Imago Dei

In the Genesis creation story, God says, "Let us make humankindin our image (בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ), according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26 NRSV). In the context of the Ancient Near East, the "image of God" was most commonly associated with kings. Kings were described as "the image of a god". "To be made in the 'image of God' is to be given regal status" (Alexander 125-126). Such an association pairs well with God's declaration to "let them have dominion". Yet Calvin is not fond of using "dominion" to define the imago Dei (1.15.4). Calvin, instead "posits knowledge, then pure righteousness and holiness" (1.15.4) as comprising the imago Dei. This threefold definition could fit well with the historical context, namely, as a regal status exercised in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Yet such a status does not belong to each person individually, but to humanity as a whole. When we fail in our role, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, we all suffer together: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly" (King 87).


Alexander, T. Desmond. From Paradise to the Promised Land. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. MacNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1961.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Why We Can't Wait. London, England: Penguin Books, 1963.

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