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Christian Doctrine and the Paradox of Theseus’ Ship

There is an old thought experiment that dates back to the ancient Greeks that surrounds Theseus’ ship. As a youth, I grew up with the stories of Theseus, the six labors, his battle with the minotaur, and the various adventures that surrounded this Greek hero. In his writings, the Historian, Plutarch recorded that Theseus’ ship was left docked in the harbor of Athens as a memorial to the hero, and little by little, as boards began to rot, the Athenians replaced those rotten boards with fresh lumber, preserving the monument.

The thought experiment…the Paradox of Theseus…raises the question, if you are replacing parts of Theseus’ ship, at what point does the ship cease to be Theseus’ ship? Philosophers have debated this for ages and many answers are given to this question. Some argue that when even one board or plank of the ship is replaced, it is no longer Theseus’ ship. Others argue that regardless of how many boards are replaced, it is aways Theseus’ ship. Thomas Hobbes went as far as to raise the question of “what if” when the rotten planks were replaced, someone had taken the old rotten ones, preserved them, and slowly rebuilt Theseus’ ship…then, which one would be the real one?

Aristotle provides us with the main solution to this paradox when he distinguishes between formal causes and material causes. The formal cause — the form that it takes — is not changed even if the actual materials have changed. Thus, in the formal sense, the ship in the harbor is Theseus’ no matter how many boards are changed. One could even replace the wooden boards with plastic ones and the formal cause would remain unchanged even though the material cause was radically different.

From a Christian perspective, while Aristotle is helpful, one might argue that Plato is even more helpful. Plato spoke about forms for things, but argued that the perfect forms exist only in a spiritual realm, or a “World of Forms.” Thus, when we see a circle, what we really see is an imperfect representation of the perfect circle in the world of forms. The same thing can be said about rocks and dogs and even people. There are lots of varieties of each, but each matches a class of entity whose perfect representative exists in the spiritual realm. Thus, Theseus’ ship in the harbor is Theseus’ ship, no matter how many boards are replaced because it is the embodiment of an ideal form. In the case of Hobbes, then, both the ship in the harbor and the preserved rotten ship are Theseus’ ship — both are imperfect physical representations of the original form. Just like there are many dogs, but one “Dog Form,” so too there can be many Ship’s of Theseus.

The Christian philosopher, St. Augustine, fleshed this idea of the Forms out further, locating these forms in the mind of God. God understands the perfect triangle or circle or dog, etc… and the physical world (particularly the fallen physical world) is an imperfect reflection. Thus, while the perfect form of Theseus’ ship exists in the mind of God (remember, all things in this world decay and rot over time), the ship kept in memorial is always Theseus’ ship because it reflects (however imperfectly, whether by decayed wood or replaced timbers) the perfect image in God’s eyes.

Okay, it is an interesting thought experiment, but of what value is it to Christians who no longer really care about Theseus, ancient ships, or Greek Philosophy? On the most basic level, one could argue for the importance of studying reasoning and logic as a part of our growing and maturing as Christians. Indeed, our God is reasonable and is not a God of chaos (1 Corinthians 14:33) and so, the more our lives reflect that the more our lives reflect the character of God. But that would lead us to the more important application of this idea.

We are told in Scripture that humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This image was not lost in the Fall (Genesis 9:6), but it was clearly distorted, twisted, and bent by sin. In the New Testament we are told that Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and we are being molded and remade into Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). Thus, the life of the Christian is a process by which one is changed from the image of the man of dust into the image of Christ — the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49). We are Theseus’ ship, as it were, constantly having our spiritual planks replaced (sin has rotted them) and being remade and conformed into the image of Christ — a process not complete until we see heaven. Further, while (as Augustine would teach) the perfect circle or the perfect dog exists in the mind of God, the perfect man exists as a person.

Indeed, we are changing. In fact, spiritual stagnation is the worst thing that can happen to the Christian. They become dull, complacent, and no longer engage in the good works for which we were created (Ephesians 2:10). Change into the image of Christ is a mark of the Spirit’s sanctifying work upon our lives. The thing that strikes me is how often (as Christians) we are tempted to want to relive the past — one more shot at the “old man” and not a pursuit of growing as the “new man.” Yet, no matter how much we might wish it otherwise, we can’t go there — we are no longer the person we once were. The planks have been changed. The old ship of Theseus, composed of Hobbes’ rotten boards, won’t float. The new ship in the harbor will, but the new ship is composed of new pieces; if you go back and take out the new pieces and replace them with the old rotten ones, it will sink too. If you want to live…and I mean really live out your identity as an image-bearer of God, then you can only do so with the new boards — the new, sanctified boards. No, I am not the same man I was 27 years ago when I became a believer, but that is a good thing; my life was sinking fast due to the rottenness of sin in my soul; I am grateful for the new boards that God has been constantly replacing in my life. May we all genuinely be grateful for those changes (even the ones that hurt when initially made).

The Gospel and Brushing Your Teeth

I publicly confess that I am not overly fond of brushing my teeth. I do brush my teeth, mind you, but it is not a part of the day that I look forward to. In fact, after I got married, one of the great sacrifices that I made to please my new bride was that I agreed to brush my teeth at least twice a day. Indeed, such monumental compromises only take place when someone is very much in love. And yes, after nearly 14 years of marriage, I am still scrubbing those teeth morning and evening as a faithful expression of my love for my wife.

Now, as random a piece of information as that may seem, there is a rhyme and reason to my madness. In our theological circles, we often talk about how the Bible is “our only rule for faith and practice” and that God’s word is there to equip us for “every good work.” Now, typically, we apply this as a guide to what we believe in our spiritual life and to what we do in our gathered worship. We also tend to be quite comfortable applying this principle to moral questions and for most, it is not too great a shock for me to say that we should rely on Biblical principles to guide our professional lives and our personal interactions in the community as well. So far, so good…

Yet, if we are going to take this language to its logical end, we ought to be able to apply the Bible and its principles to even the most mundane things that we do…well, like brushing teeth. So, the obvious question is, how does the gospel inform and even transform your teeth brushing?

Most of us will be quick to think of 1 Corinthians 6:19 and cite that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and thus should be cared for. This is a good start, though it does take a passage that is talking about not engaging sexually with cult prostitutes a little out of context. So, where else might we go? Peter reminds us that we are to always be ready to give a defense of the hope of the gospel we have within us (1 Peter 3:15) and Paul teaches us that we should be well thought of amongst the unbelievers in our community (1 Timothy 3:7). One logically might infer from those statements that it might be an impediment to sharing the gospel were we to have bad breath or a little piece of parsley leftover from dinner caught in our teeth. Moreover, if we are to be “winsome” with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-22), we ought to take care of ourselves in such a way that potential converts would want to fellowship with us and not see our presence as something to be dreaded. Yet, is this as far as the application of the gospel can go to the mundane areas of our life?

As Christians, we understand that we are made in the Image of God (Genesis 1:27). The idea that the scripture presents is that when we look at ourselves in the mirror or at others, we are looking at ones who represents God himself. Now, as you are reading this, don’t get a swelled head, the Bible also affirms just how far we are from a perfect representation as Christ is the only one who has done that for us. Yet, even so, it means that we carry within ourselves an inherent dignity and that as Christians, we have a responsibility to see that dignity preserved in others as well as in our own lives. God has given us these bodies and how we treat them with a certain degree of reverence ought to reflect the reverence for the one in whose image we are made. Thus, the abuse of our bodies is sinful because it reflects a lack of respect for God’s image and care for our bodies—even in simple ways like good hygiene—is an aspect of our worship, not of ourselves, but of the one in whose image we are made.

The atheist or non-Christian in our culture will have other reasons for their hygiene, most of which are quite practical, though some border on vanity. They will not, though, understand the fullness of their actions or root those actions in anything or in anyone outside of themselves. As Christians, we are ultimately “People of the Book,” and that book, the Bible, instructs us in not only the most significant things we do, but also in the most mundane aspects of our life. Of course, to be able to apply the book one must first know it, so I encourage you to drink deeply of God’s word and then apply it to things in your life both great and small. And, let the word of God, not practicality or vanity, guide your every action in all of life.


Inalienable Rights

On July 4, 1776, 56 men gathered to sign a document that would swiftly plunge the 13 colonies that they represented into a war for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was designed to be a clear statement of their justification for rebellion against the world’s dominant empire. This document, from the beginning, lays out these men’s fundamental presupposition: that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable rights guaranteed by mankind’s creator.

We hear this language a lot, but what does it mean that these things are “inalienable” and why did these men believe that such rights were guaranteed by their creator? To begin with, the word inalienable (also written as “unalienable” at times, these are just two spellings of the same word) means that these things can neither be taken away nor can they be given away. In other words, our forefathers understood that these three rights were part of our very makeup as human beings and there is nothing one could do to remove or sacrifice these rights. I can no more give up these rights than I can change my species.

So what makes these rights inalienable? The immediate answer, which comes right from the text of the Declaration of Independence, is that such rights come from and are guaranteed by God, our creator.  But why? In Genesis 1:26, God says: “Let us make man in our image and after our model.” This verse is the basis for what is known as the doctrine of the “Imago Dei,” or that mankind is made after the image of God. In other words, what is being taught is that human beings have some of the same attributes that God has. Certainly there are some attributes that belong to God alone: his infinity, his omniscience, etc…, but many traits we share. Thus, when we talk of God having intelligence, will, and a freedom to pursue his pleasure, we recognize that, as image bearers, the same language applies to us as well. Thus, the reason that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights is because God has these rights in his very being.  For us to be human and in the image of God means then, that we too have these rights.  In turn, if a government or an institution seeks to usurp those rights or treats us as if we do not have those rights, they are no longer treating the people as if they are human.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, it is worth remembering that the reason we have dignity and certain inalienable rights is because we are image bearers of God, yet what happens when a government rejects the very notion of God as foundational? What happens when a society is no longer taught the doctrines that undergird some of these ideas? Friends, while many of our founding fathers were not what we would define as evangelical Christians, all of them had a clear understanding that Biblical principles were an essential part of the foundation of a free society and if you lose those principles you will lose the society that the principles protect. Currently, the government, the ACLU, the teachers unions, and many other secular groups are working hard to eliminate God’s word from our classrooms and from our government.  What happens if a generation grows up thinking that either there is no God or that if there is a God, he has no relevance to life in society? As such takes place, we will lose those freedoms that our founding Fathers understood to be inalienable and grounded in the fact that we bear God’s image in our persons.

Pray for our nation. Pray that God will convert our political leaders who are not born-again Christians. But just as importantly, pray that those in influence will once again realize that if we are going to preserve freedom in America, we need to preserve the Biblical foundation for the rights that our founding fathers understood to be inalienable.  My fear is that people no longer desire to be “human” by God’s definition, but want to be human by their own definition—Man made in man’s own image.  If that is true, we will cease to be “human” and will lose the freedoms that we have.  As Christians, we have the knowledge of the truth—it is a shame that so many in the church keep silent about that truth.  Let us be bold and outspoken and let us call for reform to our very wicked government lest we be in a situation where Abraham must stand before God once again and say, “if I can find just 10 in America…”

Education Versus Programming

(the following is excerpted from my essay, “Teaching Image Bearers, not just Warm Bodies,” which is part of the compilation: Docens Coram Deo: Teaching Before the Face of God.  This book is written as a festschrift in honor of Bob Grete and Harold Thomas, the founders of Rocky Bayou Christian School, on the school’s 35th anniversary.  Copies can be acquired at the above link; I served as the editor of this Festschrift.)

            As mentioned before, the naturalistic model sees the human mind as nothing more than a super-computer, capable of processing and retaining a vast array of data which is then manipulated by genetic programming in such a way as to output a result that we commonly describe as thought.  Thus, in principle, educating a human is akin to programming a computer.  Yet, if humans are altogether different than a computer, what must our approach to education be?

            The beginning of the answer to that question is found in the very meaning of the word, “educate.”  The English word derives from the Latin verb, educere, which literally means, “to lead out.  Thus, the purpose of education is not so much that of putting in, but bringing out.  Now one might argue that children are not born with an innate knowledge of history, mathematics, or even of the Bible and thus, “putting in” is an important part of education.  And indeed, that is where instruction comes in—instruction coming from the Latin verb, instruere, which literally means, “to pile in.”  Yet notice the relationship of these two terms.  Instruction is not the end goal—education is.  In other words, you instruct towards the end of educating a student—you pile in mathematics, history, science, and Bible not so that a student will be full of ideas (many of which a student may never use again in life), but you instruct so that something will be brought out in them.  What needs to be brought out?  It is the image of God that they bear which needs to be brought out.

            In the fall, the righteous image of God in man has become warped, distorted, mangled, and bent, but not lost (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9).  We are born in the state of sin (Psalm 51:5), by nature we do not seek righteousness (Romans 3:10-11), we are at enmity with God (James 4:4), our hearts are corrupt (Mark 7:21), we commit sin through both action and inaction, and we sin with our intentions (Matthew 5:21-48) as well as with our activities.  In addition, when we break a portion of the Law, we are guilty of breaking it as a whole (James 2:10).  There is nothing good in us by nature (Romans 7:18)—we have been corrupted by sin in every aspect of our being.  Of course, education is not a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption and sanctification, yet it is a tool by which the Holy Spirit can and does use, both in the process of growth in grace and to enable parents to fulfill their God-given mandate to raise up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 4:9; Proverbs 22:6).

            Thus, if our teaching reflects only the idea of giving students information, we are not fulfilling our calling.  When little Billy asks, “Why do we need to study literature?”, it is not enough to tell him that he needs the knowledge of literature so that he will be able to communicate ideas with others in this world, nor is it enough to tell him that God has called him to take dominion of the world, and that means taking dominion of the literary culture as well as the geography.  These statements both may be true, but they are yet insufficient.  We must also be telling little Billy that he is made in the image of God and that God loves language and that God loves expressing himself through every form of language; thus, if he is to reflect that image of God faithfully, he needs to nurture within himself that same kind of love for language and the study of literature is designed to help nurture that love and appreciation for the expression of ideas through language.  I have applied this to literature, but the same argument can and should be applied to every discipline of study.  There is a reason that we expose students to a broad array of academic studies rather than allowing them to concentrate their studies in a particular area of interest, and it is not to make students more “well-rounded,” but it is because God’s character is reflected in each of these disciplines and to reflect the Imago Dei, each of these disciplines must be applied to our character.  Thus, if we are to educate and not program, and if education is a tool used by the Holy Spirit in sanctification to bring out the Imago Dei, we must instruct in every academic discipline.

Foundational Biblical Principles to Classroom Management

Some initial thoughts as to some Biblical principles that ought to shape the way Christian schools and Christian teachers order their classrooms.  These thoughts are not meant as exhaustive, but instead are meant to be a Biblical foundation upon which a philosophy of Christian education can be built.

1.  The interaction with students, from instruction to discipline, must be built on the principle that students bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and though that image was twisted and deformed as a result of the fall through the entrance of sin and death (Romans 5:12), the image of God was not lost in the fall (Genesis 9:6).  Thus, a large part of the role of Christian education is that of “straightening” the fallen person—helping to restore the person in such a way that they accurately reflect the image of God.  As Christ is the perfect reflection of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), it is into the image modeled for us by Christ that we seek to direct the transformation of our students.  The life and well-being of the child is seen by scripture in a special way (Psalm 127:3; Matthew 19:14; Mark 9:42).  How we handle sin in the classroom as well as education in the classroom must be seen in this context, and teachers are to understand that they are to be held to a higher standard than others (James 3:1).


2.  Education is a divinely ordained responsibility of parents, but particularly that of the Father as the covenant head of the household (Ephesians 6:4; Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:7, 20-21; 11:19; 32:46; Psalm 78:5; 2 Timothy 1:5).  It is also noted in scripture that the Levitical priests were to come alongside of the parents for the purpose of educating their children (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Judges 13:8; 1 Samuel 12:23; Ezekiel 44:23; 2 Chronicles 15:3) as part of the larger covenantal community of believers (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Matthew 2:6; Romans 9:25; 2 Corinthians 6:16).  There are also occasions where others within the covenant community who had particular gifts and skills were gifted to teach (Exodus 35:34).  While it is recognized that God’s people can learn things from non-believers (1 Kings 5:6; Acts 7:22), the Bible presents teaching as an activity to be undertaken by the covenant community.  Though the Levitical Priesthood has fallen away and been replaced by Christ (Hebrews 7), all believers are now priests (1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 66:20-21) and thus responsible to fulfill the Levitical functions which are not a part of the sacrificial system as that role has been fulfilled by Christ alone (Hebrews 10:10-14).  Hence, Christian parents must not only seek to oversee the education of their children, but they also have a Biblical mandate that the education of their children is done by Christians, and not by non-believers.  In turn, teachers must be mindful that they are serving as proxies for the student’s parents, not as replacements and are to instruct in such a fashion as to honor the parents for whom they are acting.


3.  The teacher must understand that the Biblical end of education is to equip the students to obedience to God’s commands so that their days may be long in the land (Deuteronomy 5:33; 11:9).  Hence, children are also commanded to honor their parents (which implies an honoring of their instruction) so that their days may be long in the land (Exodus 20:12).  The Biblical idiom of “living long” does not so much refer to long physical life in the land as it refers to the life and essential health of the covenantal community of the faithful in the land which God had given them.  This language, though, is later applied to the church (Ephesians 6:3) under the auspices of living faithfully in the world.  To accomplish this, teaching is to include the law for righteous living (Exodus 24:12; 2 Kings 17:27) and also instruction in more mundane areas (2 Samuel 1:8; Exodus 35:25; Isaiah 28:23-29).  In addition, scripture mandates the teaching of the history of God’s acts (Exodus 12:14; 2 Samuel 1:18; Psalm 66:5).  Thus, teaching that is scriptural (and hence mandated to be done within the community of faith) is teaching that covers every discipline of life and is designed so that the believer may walk in reverence and obedience to the commands of God (Deuteronomy 14:22; Micah 4:2; 1 Peter 1:16).  The implication of this marks Christian teaching as being something distinct from secular (the Greek model) education.  For the heathen, religion and faith have no bearing on one’s thinking, philosophy, or ordinary life; for the Christian, knowledge of God lived out in faith is everything—there is no aspect of life that religion is not meant to touch and inform.  Hence, the Christian classroom needs to reflect that principle.


4.  Discipline is a God-given tool by which education is furthered (Hebrews 12:5-11; Psalm 50:16-23; Proverbs 12:1; 13:24; Revelation 3:19).  It is designed to keep children from vicious teachings and error, to suppress feelings of bitterness of students who have been wronged, to punish wrongdoing, and to show the repulsive nature of sin and the pains that are associated with it.  Said discipline should be non-preferential and balanced to suit the infraction.  Discipline also should not be designed to break, humiliate, or discourage the child from a pursuit of a God-honoring life.  It should be firm, but delivered with a spirit of kindness and not vengeance or anger.  Ultimately discipline should build up not only the student being disciplined, but the entire class as well.  Finally, once discipline is administered, the student is to be considered as justified as to the law of the classroom and should be reinstated to the covenantal community of the class in question without lingering reminders of said sin.



A few final thoughts about the childhood education that Jesus would have received:

  1. Synagogue schools were funded by the parents of the children attending.  The education of poor students was funded by donations given in the temple or at Sabbath worship.
  2. Teachers were salaried by the synagogue and were not allowed to accept money from wealthy families lest favoritism be given.
  3. Teachers were forbidden from losing their patience with students for not understanding concepts, but were expected to be able to make them plain to all.
  4. Kindness was encouraged and schools used the strap in discipline, not the rod.
  5. Parents were prohibited from sending their children to schools in other communities for the purpose of eliminating rivalries and to maintain the educational level of the town.
  6. Leviticus was the first book taught to children (particularly Leviticus 1-8).
  7. Other passages of scripture that were found in Children’s primers were: the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41); the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118); and The Creation and Flood narratives (Genesis 1-11).
  8. To the Jew, the study of scripture was of greater importance than any other study they could pursue.  The culture considered it profane to even learn a trade apart from a study of the scriptures.  The study of trades did not replace scriptural study, but flowed out of scriptural study.


Part of a Traditional Jewish Morning Prayer:

“These are the things of which man eats the fruit of the world, but their possession continues for the next world: to honor the father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and the study of the law, which is equivalent to them all.”

(Peah 1:1)

The Reflection of God’s Image (b): Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 10)

and the exact image of his essence…


So, understanding the theology of this passage in terms of the divine nature of Christ, what does that mean for us as humans apart from the theology of salvation?  We are told in scripture that as human beings we too are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Yet in the fall of Adam and Eve, while the image of God within us was not lost, it was severely twisted and warped by sin.  Living as sinful men and women, that sin nature distorts the image of God, making it difficult to see or understand and impossible to experience.  Yet, Christ is the exact image of God (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15), and Christ, in all his being and glorious work, did so without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  In other words, if we want to look at a picture of what our lives ought to look like were we not marred by sin, Christ provides that picture!

Thus, that is why, when we talk of our sanctification, we often use the language of being made more like Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1).  Or, perhaps to put it in another way, as we grow in grace, our lives should more and more reflect Christ and less and less reflect our old, sinful man.  People should be able to look at your life and at mine, as believers in Jesus Christ, and see Christ reflected in us. 

So how do we engender that in our lives?  Certainly the process of our sanctification is a process driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but there are also many passages in scripture that exhort us to labor alongside of the Spirit as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:10).  In other words, the way in which we order our lives either resists or compliments the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  So how do we being the process of what Peter refers to as “supporting” or “reinforcing” our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7)?  To begin with, we need to go back to the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law of God, and seek to apply that to our lives.  Why is this the place to begin?  First of all, Peter says as much in 2 Peter 1:5, for the very first attribute that is to be added to faith is that of ajreth/ (arete), or “moral excellence.”  Where else would we find God’s standard of moral excellence other than in God’s moral law?  In addition, the moral law itself is a reflection of God’s perfect and holy character, thus, if we are being remade into the image of Christ who is the perfect image of God, then ought not we strive to instill within our lives the moral excellences as taught by God and demonstrated by his very character?

Loved ones, how important it is to apply God’s law to our lives and seek to live it out.  Indeed, we cannot do so in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit, these character traits may be worked out in our lives.  Through the process of sanctification we are being made ready for glory—we won’t ever be fully glorified here in this world, but as we grow in faith, we should be more and more reflecting Christ and less and less reflecting our old, fleshly, sinful selves.  How deep and wide is the chasm that Christ bridged between sinful men and God himself, let us walk along that bridge, not resisting the movement of the Holy Spirit, but participating with it, so that our lives reflect the reality of the Spirit’s work in us and on us in every way.  Look to your lives, beloved, and apply God’s perfect law so that you may reflect Christ to a sinful world—Christ who is the exact image of His essence.

The Imago Dei, Evolutionary Dogma, and Human Dignity

“And God created man in his image;

In the image of God He created him;

Male and Female, he created them.”

Genesis 1:27


            One of the delights that comes along with my position as Discipleship Director at Rocky Bayou Christian School is that I get to lead 3 chapels per week with different groups of elementary school students.  The setting of our elementary chapels is smaller and more intimate than that of our Academy chapel services, and allows me a lot more one-on-one interactions; our time together is usually one of the highlights of my week.

            About a month ago, I was doing a chapel reflecting on Psalm 128 and the fear of the Lord.  I began by asking students some of the things that made them afraid for the purpose of contrasting worldly fear and the Fear of the Lord.  For most students the responses were fairly typical: spiders, snakes, bats, monsters on TV, having to go to the principal’s office, etc…  Yet, my heart broke when I got to mid-week and I was leading this discussion with the third group of elementary schoolers.  One sixth-grader raised his hand when asked about what he was afraid of and said, “old people.”  That one statement opened up what seemed like the floodgates of similar comments, like “the smell of the places where old people stay, etc…”  My heart was crushed that students from Christian homes in a Christian school would make comments like that.  It also made me aware of how our churches have allowed evolutionary teaching to degrade the teaching of the Imago Dei and thus to redefine, even in our church settings, where human dignity and worth finds its source.  Needless to say we set aside the topic of fear and spent our time talking about the Image of God.


The Imago Dei:


            The doctrine that man is created in the image of God finds its roots in Genesis 1:26-27.  God, on the sixth day of creation (literal, 24-hour days, thank you), chose to make a creature that would reflect his being, made in his own image, and set into the world to take dominion of it—ruling over the creation as stewards or regents on God’s behalf.  God made this decision within his Triune fullness, for he said, “let us make man in our own image…”  Thus, at the onset, one of the things that we learn is that mankind is made in the image of the fullness of the Godhead—our image does not just represent God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, but in the image of the Triune God, we were made. 

            What, then, does it mean to be in the “image” of someone else?  The Hebrew term that is used in Genesis 1:26-27 to describe God making mankind in his image is ~l,c, (tselem), which refers to that which is made to reflect the image of someone or something else.  This can refer to anything from a statue or an idol to a painting or drawing of another.  In other words, a ~l,c, (tselem) was something that reflected or represented something else.  It is no the original “thing,” whatever that original may have been, and thus was understood to be derivative of the original.  The image is not equal to the original in any way, the image owes its existence to the original, and the image gains any honor that it might have from the original, not from within itself.   It is worth noting that in the Septuagint, the Greek term used to translate ~l,c, (tselem) is ejikw/n (eikon), the term from which we get the English word, “icon,” a word that carries with it many of the same connotations. 

In many ancient cultures, kings would place a symbol or statue of themselves in a public place to represent their authority and their dominion over that particular town or territory.  No human king could be in all places at once, and though the statue was not the king himself, the statue represented the king, reminded the people of the glory of the king, and established that the particular king had authority over the lives of those who lived in that realm.  This very practice is a human example of what God did in creation.  God not only created man and woman, but  he did so for a purpose—so we might glorify him by taking dominion over the creation as his regents (Genesis 1:28-30) and then turn that work into obedient worship (Genesis 2:15-17).  Adam and Eve were given authority over the earth even to the point of naming the creatures (Genesis 2:19-20), a privilege that only belongs to God.  Thus, note, Adam and Eve did not carry with them their own authority, but they acted on behalf of God and in his authority.  Indeed, their sin was an action taken in their own authority (Genesis 3:6-7), and we have paid the penalty for that action, generation after generation, throughout history, and we continue to pay that penalty in this world today.


Warped but Not Lost:

            We must note, in recognizing mankind as fallen, that we have not lost the Image of God—had we lost that image, there would be nothing left to redeem.  Instead, the Image of God in us has been bent, twisted, warped, and otherwise mangled.  It is distorted, in some cases, almost beyond recognition.  Not only that, I would suggest that many have sought to further warp and twist the Image of God within themselves through intentional immorality, drug use, and body modification (radical body piercings, tattoos, bodily mutilations, etc…).  It is interesting, when you attend to the various Biblical accounts of demon possession, the primary thing that you see the demons doing is robbing the people of the things that reflect God’s Image—they rob the people of speech, of human contact, and they distort their bodies.  The account of Legion is a typical example of this activity (Mark 5:1-20).  Legion robbed the man he possessed of society and family as he was living in the tombs (Mark 5:3), robbed him of human dialogue as he spent his time howling like an animal (Mark 5:5), and robbed him of a normal physical human appearance as he was cutting himself to pieces with sharp rocks (Mark 5:5). 

            We see people in our own society doing these same things to themselves.  We live in a culture where younger and older generations set themselves at odds with each other, breaking down the unity of the generations that is necessary for a healthy society.  As a result, older generations are not passing down their accumulated wisdom to those who will follow them and younger generations are not seeking to learn from the wiser older generations.  In our culture, we go as far as to glamorize youth, so we have middle-aged men and women who have become obsessed with vanity and pursue a variety of youthful activities (we usually call it a mid-life crisis), rejecting the wisdom of age and maturity for the folly of youth.  We see people not developing their intellect, but instead sitting like zombies before electronic amusements (whether TV or computer games) for forty or more hours a week.  We see youth engaging in drug use, which numbs the mind, and over time, does permanent damage to the intellect that is meant to reflect God’s intellect.  A trend that has been growing in popularity is “cutting,” where people slice on themselves with razor blades, not deep enough to kill, but deep enough to damage their bodies.  Tattoos have become the rage as a form of “personal expression” and some people have been going as far as to have tattoos on their face as well as on the rest of their bodies.  Sexual-reassignment surgery has become more acceptable.  We could go on endlessly, and my purpose is not to decry the ills of our culture, though they are many, but instead to point out that when we pursue these activities, we are doing to ourselves the kinds of things that demons have always sought to do to humanity in the past—in many ways, we are furthering the ends that Satan began at the fall.


The Perfect ~l,c,:

            Assuming that the Devil’s goal is to mock God by further bending and warping the Imago Dei within man, then we should not be surprised that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is the restoration of the Imago Dei in those who have been called to God in faith.  We call this process sanctification.  Yet, we must ask what the goal of this sanctification—what the object of the restoration of the Imago Dei—looks like.  For a goal to be a genuine goal, it must not be ambiguous, but must be definite.  With this in mind, Paul reveals to us that Jesus Christ is the ejikw/n (eikon) of God who is unseen (Colossians 1:15).  In other words, one of the aspects of Christ’s redemptive work was to demonstrate to us—in his person—what the goal of our sanctification looks like.  Thus, when Paul speaks of our sanctification, he refers to it as our being made to “share the likeness”—su/mmorfoß (summorphos)—of the ejikw/n (eikon) of the Son (Romans 8:29).  Thus, to set the contrast, all are born into this world after the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3) and after one becomes born again, one is slowly transformed into the image of Christ.  Those who remain in the likeness of Adam stand before God bearing the sin and guilt of Adam; those who are found in the likeness of Christ stand before God bearing the righteousness of Christ.  The image you bear makes all the difference in the world.


The Nature of the Imago Dei:

            There is some discussion as to the extent to which the Imago Dei extends within man.  Some would argue that the Imago Dei is limited only to the spiritual/intellectual aspects of a person and then there are others who would argue that the Image of God also extends to man’s physical attributes.  The rationale for the first position submits that man did not come alive until God breathed into him “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7) thus separating him from the rest of the creatures that God had made.  In addition, this position argues that for mankind to be made into the image of an invisible God, it ought to go without saying that such an image is then contained within the mind and the spirit.  Finally, this position would point to passages like Romans 12:2, where Paul speaks of our sanctification as being guided by the transformation (“metamorphosis”) of our minds, and 1 Peter 1:13, where Peter commends us to “gird up the loins” of our minds.  The strength of this also lies in the diversity of the human race and form and in the fact that the Scriptures reveal almost nothing about the physical form of Jesus while revealing countless insights into his spiritual, moral, and intellectual state.

            The theological ramifications of this first, and predominant, view are many.  To begin with, this view leaves one open to a Greek dualistic division of mind and body.  Also, it denies the unique created beauty of the human body.  If the body is simply an incidental vessel used to house the eternal spirit, what motivation is there to treat the body with dignity so long as the mind is intact?  Such a view has led to Christian asceticism as well as to gluttony amongst believers.  C.S. Lewis develops this idea further in his Chronicles of Narnia and in his Space Trilogy.  In each of these sets of stories, there are creatures of many forms and types, yet all bear the Image of God—in the language of the Space Trilogy, they are all hnau.  Thus, in turn, Azlan can come in the form of a Lion to redeem peoples of various forms and types. 

The great danger of this position lies in the fact that it posits being rational, and not being human, as the qualifier for being an Image Bearer, and this has sweeping social consequences.  What about the person in a vegetative state, is this person no longer in the Image of God because of a lack of brain function?  What of infants and even embryos, do they exhibit sufficient rationality to be declared image bearers?  How do we decide what that mark of “sufficient” rationality is?  Certainly Scripture does not inform us clearly on that matter unless we are to take Jude 10 to imply that as unbelievers act as “unthinking animals,” that only those who are born again believers should be considered Image Bearers.  Does that mean that only believing humans have moral dignity that is intrinsic to their very being?  What if the science-fiction writers are correct and there are races of aliens on different worlds?  What about robots created to simulate human thought?  What of certain animals—certainly some monkeys exhibit more “rationality” than some infants. 

It seems far more theologically and morally consistent to affirm that the Imago Dei is contained within the physical as well as the spiritual/intellectual form of man—our totality being God’s representative upon this world.  God designed our bodies in a particular way, and we look markedly different than any other species on the planet.  God uses human terms to describe himself to us (hands, feet, etc…) and while any theologian worth his salt will point out that this is merely an anthropomorphism, God regularly chooses to use such language to convey meaning when it is not necessary to make his point.  But more importantly, Christ took on flesh not simply to dwell with us in the flesh and to die in the flesh, but to redeem the flesh as well.  And, as a result of that redemption, we will have new, glorified bodies as well in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).  Were the Imago Dei contained only in the intellectual/spiritual aspects of man, what would be the purpose of redeeming the body as well as the spirit?  Thus, for the purposes of this discussion, I suggest it be considered that the Imago Dei rests not only in the mind and spirit of man, but in the flesh as well.


The Rise of Darwinism and the Decline of the Imago Dei in Religious Thought:

            We live in an age where doctrine is often considered to be irrelevant to Christian life—a consideration that reflects the woeful lack of understanding as to what doctrine really is and represents, but that is a debate for another day.  More importantly, we live in a culture that is a product of Darwinian teaching in the classroom and that teaches a humanistic and not a Christian worldview.  Sadly, this kind of teaching has a devastating effect on society as a whole, and has even infected Christian churches and Christian schools, as the experience that I shared in my introduction demonstrates.  So, what has happened?

            To understand this, the first thing that one must do is understand the philosophical ramifications that come along with a Darwinistic/naturalistic/humanistic worldview.  To begin with, under an evolutionary model, mankind has risen to a place of prominence in this world simply through a series of genetic mutations brought about by cause and effect—the process that governs all of nature.  It is also assumed that humans are still in the process of evolving, opening the door for a hierarchy within the human race, some people groups being “more evolved” than others.  In the naturalistic model, there is no room for human freedom (libertarian or compatiblist), in fact, there is no will at all—the only thing that there is room for is naturalistic determinism.  In addition, as neither reason nor presuppositions can be adequately explained in a causal world, what we perceive to be thought, willful choices, morality, and meaningful principles is merely an illusion—a figment of our imagination, but then again, imagination itself cannot be accounted for as a result of cause and effect.  Furthermore, naturalism permits no transcendent God upon which ideas and norms find their meaning.  Morality, then (even though it is an illusion), is nothing more than a set of social constraints imposed on the people by the ruling class.

            With no creator to serve and to guide one’s life, the Darwinian worldview leaves one to determine one’s own meaning and purpose.  Thus, if your life is to have meaning and worth, you must create that meaning and worth yourself.  This is a stark contrast to the Christian model, which asserts that our meaning and significance is not self-generated or self-decided, but is given to us by God as bearers of his image.  In other words, the very fact that we are created in the image of God means we have dignity and purpose in our lives.  The answer to the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” is not left up to us, but is given to us by God, for the answer is that life is given to us so that we might glorify Him with the aim of enjoying Him forever. 

            So, where does that leave us?  Given then, the naturalistic worldview that Darwinism demands, we live in a society where a great many (if not most) people understand the value of their life to be something that they earn by their accomplishments.  What are the societal ramifications of this? 

  1. Abortion is legal and even encouraged in certain segments of our culture.  In addition, many doctors even counsel parents to have selective abortions for high risk pregnancies, multiples pregnancies, and pregnancies where the child has a probability of being born with severe physical or mental disorders.
  2. Partial-Birth Abortion, which is nothing short of infanticide concurrent with delivery, is promoted as an ethically viable action in certain segments of our society.
  3. Children with disabilities are often mainstreamed in school systems and do not receive the specialized attention that they need to master skills.
  4. The poor and homeless are considered second-class citizens and rarely receive the legal and societal support necessary to become self-supporting.
  5. Elderly are often placed in care homes where adequate care is not given.  Elderly in such homes often go unvisited by family. Neglect and abuse of said patients is also commonplace.
  6. Euthanasia is considered a “humane” option for the elderly and severely disabled by some segments of our culture.

The list could go on, but the point is clear: if you don’t have a clear sense that your dignity comes from the fact that you bear God’s image, your view of human worth will be based on what the person produces, not upon whose image that they bear.  Thus, when the value of life is based on production, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, etc… all become reasonable options in society.  At the same time, when you hold to a clear articulation of the doctrine of the Imago Dei, a person has dignity regardless of what they are capable of producing; hence the newest embryo and the most decrepit individual have dignity and worth, for they both bear the image of the divine creator.


Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed

            This is a documentary movie that is soon to arrive in cinemas that is designed to expose the way that Darwinistic scientists have been black-listing scientists who would suggest that a designer guided the development of life on earth, not random chance mutations.  The purpose of this movie is not to set forth an argument for Biblical creation nor is it designed to argue for the doctrine of the Imago Dei.  Instead, its purpose is to expose the censorship that is taking place against those in what is called the “Intelligent Design” movement.  To this end, one of the things that the movie brings out is the serious danger to social institutions and human worth that comes from a Darwinian naturalistic worldview.  In particular, the genocides of the 20th century are brought out as a result of consistent naturalistic thought (one race is further developed than another).  This line of reasoning does underline the importance of the doctrine of the Imago Dei, and for that, this movie promises to have great value.  The Christian must be warned, though, that if he expects to see an argument for a Biblical model of creation in six-literal days, he will be sorely disappointed.  Theologically, Intelligent Design is a contemporary version of Natural Theology from previous generations, and while Natural Theology can and does clearly point to the existence of a God, the best description of God that Natural Theology can arrive at is the description of the God of Deism.  Without the Bible, you cannot know the God of the Bible, hence proponents of natural design hail from seemingly every religious background.


Final Thoughts:

            We are left asking the question, “What does this doctrine of the Imago Dei mean for me?”  What it means is that first, we must recognize the human dignity that is in others—regardless of their age, their development, their circumstances, or their accomplishments.  We have dignity because we are created in God’s image—from the embryo to the grave (and even in the grave, in terms of the dignity with which we honor the dead).  Secondly, we need to help others understand that they have dignity because they bear the image of God.  Largely this is taught by the way we treat others, particularly those who have nothing in this world.  When we treat the homeless beggar with dignity and respect, that will go a long way to teach him that he has some genuine value in this world.  And thirdly, we who understand that humans bear the image of God, must work to protect the dignity of others.  This third element should lead us to social actions that will abolish institutions and practices that rob people of the dignity that is theirs because they are created in God’s image.


Reverence, the Image of God, and Politics

“revere all, love the brotherhood, fear God, revere the king.”

(1 Peter 2:17)


            Reverence is a term that we hardly ever apply to life anymore, especially not toward others and even more especially not toward the king (or president and governors…).  Reverence denotes placing a high value on someone’s head.  For example, if someone shows you a priceless book, perhaps an original manuscript of Milton’s Paradise Lost that contains Milton’s own handwriting and notes, you would treat it with far more deference than you would a paperback science fiction novel.  The reason that you treat it with reverence is because of the inherent value of the item.

            Yet what Peter is telling us first in this verse is that other humans ought to be treated with reverence.  Why?  Because they are created by God and your attitude toward them is part of the way you witness Jesus Christ to them.  It may be that it is your reverence toward your neighbor that guides him to salvation.

            This has a great deal of ramifications in our lives today.  First, it means that we must take other’s needs very seriously, even when they may seem silly or insignificant to us.  For example, we might think it silly to wear gloves while handling a book.  Yet, if that book is ancient, the oils on our hands can damage the manuscript.  We might not understand the ways and reasons that our neighbor does what he or she does, but we need to treat those ways with dignity and respect. 

            This is very much the idea the Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians where he is talking about food ways and stumbling blocks.  If what you are doing would cause your brother to stumble, cease doing it.  You cease not for your own sake, but for the sake of the other person’s faith.  This is what it means to revere a person.

            And if you take seriously the idea of revering a person simply on the basis of their being a human being, which God has made in His image, that puts abortion in a different perspective.  No longer can you justify abortion on the basis of a mother’s “rights to her body,” but you must deny abortion out of reverence toward that little child.  It puts euthanasia in a different light as well.  It puts the care of the homeless, the disabled, the homebound, the elderly in nursing homes, and the nameless people you pass on the bus, at the grocery store, etc…, all of these people, in a different light.  Each of these not only should be treated with dignity because they bear the image of God, but you who understand these things, now have an obligation to respect and to preserve their dignity.  Indeed, you may even be given the opportunity to show someone that they do have dignity for the first time in their life.  You may have the opportunity to restore that person’s sense of dignity after they have had it stripped violently from them.  The Imago Dei brings a dignity to humans that has nothing to do with what they have produced or accomplished—it has nothing to do with their wealth or their bloodline—it has everything to do with whose image they bear.

            Peter frames this verse with a second call to reverence.  Not only must we show reverence toward all people, but we must show reverence toward our political leaders.  It is easy to revere those politicians that we support, but what about those with whom we disagree?  We tend to be quick to criticize and make personal attacks against those running for or within public office, but is that right?  Was Peter only referring to those benevolent political leaders?  The Caesar of Peter’s day was Nero.  Nero went out of his way to execute Christians through horrible means.  Nero would later take Peter’s life as well.  This is hardly what I would call a beneficial leader.  In fact, thinking of some of the worst leaders we have had, most pale in comparison to Nero.

            Encapsulated within the bookends of reverence is a love for the brethren and a fear of God.  This is the heart of the Christian life.  But Peter reminds us that the flesh of the Christian life, that which the world can see and by which the world evaluates us and the God which we serve, is the reverence by which we deal with the world.  This is the means by which we publicly live out our faith in the face of a watching world.  Does not James say the same thing about pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)?