Nick Spencer says nobody really knows what it means – but that hasn’t lessened its impact.
You could make the argument that phrase “image of God” – which is not a particularly common phrase in the Scriptures – you could make the argument that it’s probably one of the most important phrases that’s ever been penned by a human being. The problem is that (putting it provocatively) no one really knows what it means. And it’s been interpreted many, many different ways, and very often in ways that aren’t really there in the Scriptures.
So, for an example, towards the end of the 17th century, it was quite popular to interpret the image of God saying, humans are rational. God is rational; humans are rational – that is how we are made in his image. Now, that’s not really there in the text. It’s interpreted different ways; we are relational in the same way as God, Trinity, is relational. We are creative. The God of Genesis 1 is a creative God; we are creative – we have a job to do, which is tending, caring, looking after creation and one another. Different ways of interpreting it.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter too much how you interpret it, as long as you recognise that it is the image of God. And human beings are somehow linked to that which is of absolute value. So, somehow or other, when I’m engaging with you, in some attenuated or thinned out or disturbed kind of a way, I’m engaging with God. And again, that puts a real onus on me to respect you. How that respect cashes out differs in different ways, but the point is that respect is there.