The Image of God, part 2
Aug 18, 2019
We come now to the most controversial aspect of our sequence. What does the Father-Son relationship mean in terms of the nature of God? This is the main issue that wracked the church in the early fourth century between the Trinitarians and the Subordinationists. More important is what Jesus believed about Himself and how He presented Himself to the public as the Messiah.
If words have any meaning, a Father-Son relationship implies that the Son has a beginning point. One can have an unbegotten Father who has no beginning, but is it possible to have a “Son” who is coeternal, as the Trinitarians declared? In other words, was the Son a derivative of the Father or not? Was the “firstborn” Christ a second generation from the Most High God, or was God somehow bringing Himself to birth?
From a Jewish perspective, the basic truth of “one God” is paramount, and a Trinity of Gods is totally unacceptable. There is little doubt that on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the 3,000 who were converted to Christ knew nothing about a Trinity. If Peter had preached the Trinity to them, their converts may have been few. Yet just three centuries later, this was made the litmus test for salvation, something which Paul Himself did not even think to include in Ephesians 2:8.
From the early church writings, we find that “orthodoxy” in the first three centuries believed that Christ was subordinate to the one true God. Christ was the mirror “image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). To them, an “image” was not the same as that which it was imaging. Sonship meant being an “heir” of another’s estate (Galatians 4:1), and therefore, the Son of God had been “appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2).
They taught, according to Paul’s theology, that Christ was called to “subdue” the earth (Genesis 1:28), and for this reason, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:28,
28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
Authority is not sovereignty. Authority on every level is authorized by a higher power and is therefore accountable to the one that has delegated that authority. Men often delegate authority to those who are unworthy, but God gives authority to those who have proven themselves to be faithful. Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), and for this reason we read in verse 9, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him.”
Though salvation is freely given, the authority of sonship first requires faithfulness as a servant. A son in Hebrew thought is one who follows the pattern of his “father,” regardless of biology. Children of light are those who are enlightened. Children of wisdom are wise. Children of the devil act like the devil. Sons of thunder have thunderous personalities or are loud mouthed.
Children of God are like their heavenly Father. An ideal son is a mirror image of the Father. In other words, he is in the image of God. Through sin, Adam lost that image, but Jesus Christ was obedient in every way and was an "exact representation” (Hebrews 1:3) of His heavenly Father in every way. He did not lose the “image” as Adam did.
The sons of God too are begotten through their ears by receiving the seed of the gospel (living word). That which is begotten in them is also in the image of God. The sons of God, by “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). These have a glorious destiny.
Take note that Paul speaks of a mirror when he discusses the topic of images. Images look like the real but are only mirror images. If both Christ and the sons of God are destined to be in the image of God, then is it feasible to say that such terminology makes them coequal, coeternal, and part of the Godhead?
The subordinationist view itself was not highly developed, because the Trinitarians had not emerged yet. Disputes and objections push all sides into defining their positions more carefully. The dominant discussion, brought about by Jewish monotheism, was whether Jesus should be considered a perfect human being or a subordinate God (as in a derivation of the Father).
What is a God?
From the Jewish standpoint, the Messiah was an agent of the one true God, and as such he might be called “God.” Such was the case when God told Moses in Exodus 7:1,
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you (as) God [elohim] to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.”
The Hebrew text does not include the word as in this verse. It reads, “I make you God to Pharaoh.” Adding as to the verse is done according to the judgment of the translator attempting to interpret the apostle’s mind and intent. Seeing Moses as God (or a god) did not scandalize the monotheistic Jews, for they understood that it meant that Moses was speaking for God as a divine agent (or prophet).
So Moses could be considered to be “God” within the context of the law of agency, which says that a man’s agent is equivalent to himself. Hence, to reject Jesus is to reject the One that sent Him. Not even Athenasius “The Hammer” would have included Moses in the Trinity.
The God/gods and “ruler” were not two different things. This is a Hebrew parallelism, where a matter is stated and restated in another way. So the rulers were called elohim. A god, then, is a subjector, one who subjects, a master or ruler who has power or authority over servants.
Grammatically speaking, any legitimate ruler or judge was an elohim. So Exodus 22:28 says,
28 You shall not curse God [elohim], nor curse a ruler of your people.
The King James Version of Exodus 22:28 reads,
28 Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
This is made clear in Exodus 21:6,
6 then his master shall bring him to God [elohim], then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
The KJV renders the phrase, “unto the judges.” The judges were in a position of authority, so they were “gods.” From God’s perspective, of course, only those that He authorizes are true elohim, for they must be in agreement with Him and be in His image to be called “gods.” The Second Commandment prohibits images of God, but this obviously applies to imperfect images. Jesus Christ is exempt from that prohibition, because He is “the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
Compare also the biblical prophecies of the Messiah as God’s “servant.” This concept was best promoted by Isaiah in the messianic “Servant Poems.” The Gospel of Mark also presents Christ as the Servant, even as Matthew presents Him as the King. Peter says in Acts 3:13,
13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus…
Like a son to his father, a servant is subordinate to his master. Malachi 1:6 says, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.” The servant pattern for the Messiah was pictured by Isaac, the son of Abraham, who was dedicated to God on an altar on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2, 3). Isaac was a son with a servant’s heart, making him a type of Christ whom the Father would offer up as a sacrifice. Isaac was 37 years old at the time, according to the book of Jasher, and he could have fought his father to save his own life. However, he submitted to his father’s will and allowed his father to bind him.
So also, Paul says in Philippians 2:8 that Christ was “obedient unto death.”
It goes without saying that the Old Testament teaches monotheism. First and foremost, this was set forth in the great Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4,
4 Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our Elohim; Yahweh is one!”
Some have interpreted the plural term Elohim to indicate a trinity yet to be revealed. This is often brought up in the context of the “Us,” and “Our,” that the Creator uses in Genesis 1:26 and 28. These are applied to a trinity rather than to the heavenly court. In the context of verse 27, however, we see that “in the image of God HE created them; male and female HE created them.” Scripture does not use the plural “they” as if to say that man was created in THEIR image.
The Hebrew language sometimes uses plurals in ways different from other languages. For example, paniym means “face, presence,” as we see in Genesis 4:14, “the face of the ground.” Genesis 17:3 says that “Abram fell on his face.”
The same word can be translated as “faces,” as in Genesis 40:7, “Why are your faces so sad today?” Again, in Exodus 25:20 speaks of “the faces of the cherubim.”
Translating the word properly depends upon its context. The same is true of the Hebrew word ne’urim, “youth,” as used in Psalm 127:4, “So are the children of one’s youth.” To render it “youths” would not be grammatically correct, even though the word is plural.
In the same way, Elohim can be either singular or plural, depending on its context. Translators must also look for singular or plural verbs and nouns surrounding elohim. Deuteronomy 5:6, 7 uses the word in both contexts,
6 I am the Yahweh your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 7 You shall have no other elohim before Me.
In verse 6, Elohim refers to the one God; in verse 7 it refers to other gods. The other gods are explained further in verse 9, “You shall not worship THEM or serve THEM.”
The imprecise (Hebrew) language alone gives men cause to disagree. But Malachi 2:10 says, “Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us?” The prophet knew nothing of multiple creators. But if that was the case, then what role, if any, did the pre-existent Christ have in creation? Was He actually the “one God” who created all? Were all things creation BY Him or were they created THROUGH Him? Did He provide the Father with the double witness establishing all things? Why is Jesus called “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14? Did the “one God” Himself need a double witness to create all things?
This is part 2 of a series titled "The Image of God" To view all parts, click the link below.