Sin and the Image of God

I have been thinking alot about the nature of sin lately.  It seems to me that this is a much unexplored area of theology (for obvious reasons!).  This is such an important concept to wrestle with despite its personal difficulties b/c i am beginning to believe that our understanding of sin, particularly the fall, has dramatic implications for the rest of how we understand the Christian faith.

Here is tonight’s (this morning?) thought on sin.  I was reading a textbook for an upcoming class when i came upon this quote: “Created in the image of God, man has a natural capacity for receiving and appreciating the self-revelation of God (22).”

 I find this quote so interesting b/c it was my impression that Berkof, the author, was a staunch Reformed thinker.  If this is so, then the Imago Dei was completely destroyed in the fall.  The above quote doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of his thought.

I have been thinking on this, and i don’t believe i can recall Scripture addressing the Image of God (@ least in those terms) after the first few chapters of Genesis. 

Can anyone think of any references?  A better understanding of how the image was tainted/corrupted/lost would have a dramatic effect on one’s understanding of sin. 

A specific question i have regarding this issue: Did Adam & Eve quit believing in Yahweh after sin?  If not, then total depravity might be difficult to hold onto.  Has anyone pursued this line of thought before.

That’s enough late night questions for tonight.


9 responses to “Sin and the Image of God

  1. D — I’m not as familiar with the intricacies of Reformed thought, but where does that idea come from (that the Imago was destroyed at the fall)?

    It seems that one can affirm God’s existence (as the demons do) without “receiving and appreciating” his self-revelation. Of course, I don’t think the imago was destroyed, but I’m not sure the quote is inconsistent with Ref. thought.

  2. Derek,

    If I’m hearing you correctly and understand where you are coming from, you are saying that a Reformed theologian generally holds that our Imageo Dei was permenantly tainted upon the fall, so much so that we cannot choose God any longer, but must be chosen by Him, enabled to believe by the Holy Spirit to be a part of the elect whom He knew and predestined from the beginning of time. If such is the case, then your position would seem to be consistent with said assertion. How can one have “a natural capacity for receiving and appreciating the self-revelation of God” if the imageo dei is permenantly tainted to such an extent? While I would ascribe to the belief that we have a natural capacity for receiving and appreciating the self-revelation of God, I too do not understand how a reformed theologian could hold such an assertion.

    Chris, it seems to me that we are conflating “affirming God’s existence” and “receiving and appreciating his self-revelation” in your entry. There seems to be a drastic difference between “receiving” God’s self-revelation and mere acknowledgement of His existence. The way I am understanding “receiving” here is the reception of the Holy Spirit upon salvation. What is God’s “self-revelation”? Was it not most fully explicated when He stepped into human history through Jesus Christ? If so, then receiving his self-revelation would be receiving Jesus Christ. Therefore, is it possible for the demons James spoke of, who acknowledge that Jesus is God, to “receive” him?


  3. Chris, i may be incorrect here, but i believe that this idea was first Augustine who promoted this idea. Here is a snippet from Calvin regarding original sin:

    “Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. . . For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle.”

    You should really check out Calvin here (site:, particularly his explanation of how he views totally depraved people doing good works (see Book 2, Chapter 3). Basically God stops some from completely going of the deep end externally (in regards to sin), without moving inwardly in their spirits. Coarsly put, God ties them down.

    It seems best to me to infer here (from Calvin at least) that the image has to be totally destroyed by original sin. How can the image of God (which is good) be in people who are “totally devoid of goodness.” If the image is somehow an inherent piece of “God-likeness,” then our total corruption renders it dead. Hence, Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irrestible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. The Imago Dei being completely torn to pieces is logically consistent with Calvinism.

    Let me throw a caveat in here. It seems that a quick check of a few current reformed thinkers (Sproul, Erickson) shows that they do not believe in the Imago Dei being completely destroyed. Although this will probably seem arrogant, it is my contention that they are not willing to follow their TULIP model all the way to its logical end as Calvin did.

    What do you think Chris?

  4. Aaron, i agree with you. If we are devoid of goodness (Calvin), totally depraved, then our ability to appreciate and receive his revelation (which all agree was good) will be completely ruined.

    If our “God-likeness” is completely ruined, then God has to “force his goodness” into us.

  5. Aaron — you are correct — my intention was to point out this possible equivocation. Derek — you wondered if Adam and Eve “quit believing in Yahweh.” I wanted to point out that they could continue believing (in the thin sense) without “receving and appreciating.” That being said, I think Berkof’s quote is odd given Calvin’s views on the Imago.

  6. Chris,

    Thanks for the response! I guess I just misunderstood what you were saying. Thank you for clearing it up. 😉 Good chatting with you.


  7. I see what you’re saying now Chris. I’d have to agree with your distinction being veryhelpful when thinking of Adam & Eve post-fall. I think you’re right.

    However, i still have a tough time (as it sounds like you might) with the implications of total depravity on the Imago Dei. This becomes especially difficult to hold if one’s view of the imago is broad, touching on creativity, rational thought, or other activity we do. It starts to become a bit of a stretch.


  8. Dear Chris:

    The issue of Total Depravity must address whether it was intensive or extensive. In other words, the Image of God is effaced but not erased. Also, even Gen 9:6 talks about the unsaved being made in the Image of God. The Bible teached that we are born with the propensity to sin not the necessity to sin (1 Cor. 10:13).


  9. My thoughts,
    I have been thinking about this for some time now. If man was created in the image of God and then sinned, then the reflection they have of God would be warped. If we look at the world around us, we can see people that worship many different gods. Most, if not all, people have a knowledge of some sort of God. However, it would seem that their understanding/beliefs are warped by their sinfulness.

    If man’s natural understanding of God is warped, then it would make sense that it would take God reveling His true nature to us in order to get accurate understand of who He is.

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