The Image of God – The Bible and Ethnicity Pt. 1
The Bible and Ethnicity is a massive topic. There are numerous principles, stories, and histories that deal directly with the subject of ethnicity. In the many weeks to come, I will be highlighting the various pieces of the ethnicity puzzle in Scripture and I do believe there will be much for us to consider in the modern world. However, like every time we open the Bible, we must remember that the problems in the modern world that we are exposed to are not the same as those in Scripture. If we are not methodological, we can easily distort the message of Scripture by reading into Scripture what is not there.
Therefore, in my treatment of Biblical passages, I am choosing to use the New Testament word for nations or peoples, which is ethnos. This means I will lean in to using “ethnicities” rather than races. Let’s do this!
“Then God said let us make man/humans in our image, after our likeness…So God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” Genesis 1:26-27.
At rock bottom, we find that God created the peoples of the world (Male and Female) in his own image. Genesis 1:26-27 was written much later than the events it speaks of. Thus in part, the author is trying to create touchstones in their history, but also knows that religion (and religious practices and ideas) shape the identities of people. Thus, the appeal to this creation story is an exercise in ancient identity formation. And, the message is clear. Genesis 1 is making a claim that all men and women share in the very quality of God.
This idea of the “image of God” is easily confusing in the modern world. In a strict sense some may wonder, “So was God the color of Adam and Eve?” This of course misses the idea of what the image of God actually is. The image of God is not something physical. Remember, elsewhere we learn clearly that God created all things (Genesis 1:1, see also the Apostles and Nicene Creeds). Thus, he is not part of the physical universe since he made it. This means, that what we share with God, is beyond skin.
A detailed study of this through church history confirms this to be the view of majority of Christian theologians and Pastors through 2000 years of Christian history. Moreover, most theologians through the centuries speak of the cognitive power and awareness of human beings (as opposed to animals) that makes them in his image. As God reasons, so can humanity. Thus “reason” or the powers of reason is in part what the image of God is. However, we would be lacking if we did not also speak about other things that we do as humans such as the ability to be relational and show love. These too describe the image of God.
The point is that the image of God was not identified in any physical way. Thus, the image of God transcends skin color. God is no color. For sure, 3500 years after this page in Genesis was written, we do have a Hebrew boy, who is God in human flesh. But, God in his eternal self is no race or ethnicity. The God of the universe has placed his image upon/in every human being regardless of their skin color.
This is the basis for a Christian perspective on human love that transcends looks. From here we can ask pointed moral questions that apply to today.
Does our society value all ethnicities in the same way that God does?
Do you look at others from the standpoint of the image of God or some other standard?
A Follow up Question
When does God give his image to human beings?
The answer is that God does not wait for every little baby to be conceived to give of his image at the right time. Instead, we should think of the process more biologically. Namely, according to the very thing that humans are, namely humans, they produce offspring that by definition have the image of God. They are developing according to what species they are. Thus, we do not have to think of God “sending” his image at every conception. We should think God providing the powers resident within nature itself to keep producing offspring that have the very image of God.
The image of God is constantly created every time someone conceives.
Summary: The Teaching of the image of God, tells us that God has given such value to human beings, whatever their ethnicity, that Christians should have a strong ethic of love across all ethnicities.