Monday, June 12, 2017

Eikon in Colossians 1:15 (Christ)

The Image of God: Christ in Colossians 1:15

ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως

What does the clause ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου mean (Colossians 1:15)? When the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the "image of the invisible God," what does he have in mind? Is the clause proof for the full deity of Jesus Christ? Admittedly, exegetes part ways in their understanding of εἰκὼν and its semantic relationship to the Son of God. Some commentators see in this Greek word, unequivocal proof that God's Son is ontologically equal to his Father. For example, Ralph Earle insists that εἰκὼν means a "likeness"--it is not, however, an accidental similarity (per accidens), but a derived similitude that apparently occurs by means of divine generation. Earle also quotes Thayer's Lexicon which avers that Christ is the εἰκὼν of the invisible God: "on account of his divine nature and absolute moral excellence" (Earle 349). Biblically, this word is likewise implemented to describe the Roman emperor's image on a silver coin, and the relation of humanity to God (Matthew 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:7ff). Nevertheless, numerous scholars continue to view εἰκὼν as a delineation of Christ's pantocratic nature, thereby making the Son of God ontologically equal to his Father. By ontological equality, they mean that the Son of God is equal to his Father with respect to being or ontos, but the Son is not hypostatically identical to his Father.

B. P. Lightfoot writes that εἰκὼν involves two prominent notions: (a) it connotes an archetype of some copy; (b) the word implies the divine epiphaneia of the incarnate or preincarnate Son (Earle 349). Charles J. Ellicott buttresses Lightfoot's comments by adding: "Christian antiquity has ever regarded the expression 'image of God' as denoting the eternal Son's perfect equality with the Father in respect of His substance, nature, and eternity" (ibid.) The view of Trinitarians accordingly can be summed up in the following words: "Thus EIKWN does not imply a weakening or a feeble copy of something. It implies the illumination of its inner core and essence" (Kleinknecht qtd. in Earle 349). Trinitarian scholars generally believe the word εἰκὼν provides evidence that Christ is one in nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit: this Greek word allegedly strengthens the doctrine that God's Son is homoousios to patri although Lightfoot acknowledges that εἰκὼν in and of itself "does not necessarily imply perfect representation" (145).

How should we view the arguments made by Earle, Ellicott, and Lightfoot (et al.)? Is Christ equal to Almighty God or not? Is Colossians 1:15 strong proof of his divinity? Upon closer examination of εἰκὼν, we must question the confidence with which Trinitarians speak vis-a'-vis the language "image of the invisible God" when it's applied to the preeminent Son of Jehovah. After reviewing the lexical evidence for εἰκὼν, it can be said that there seems to be no adequate proof for this frequently asserted claim. If we examine the word in se, it is difficult to ascertain a meaning that definitively substantiates Trinitarianism simpliciter. According to BAGD [now BDAG], εἰκὼν primarily denotes "image, likeness" (222); humanity (andros) is said to be the εἰκὼν καὶ δόξα θεοῦ (1 Corinthians 11:7). Paul also (in eschatological terms) contends that Christians will one day bear φορέσομεν καὶ τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ ἐπουρανίου (1 Corinthians 15:49). When citing this passage from Corinthians, BAGD/BDAG states that "the image corresponds with the original" (222). However, although being used to denote "image" or "likeness," εἰκὼν also carries the sense of "form, appearance."

Hierocles reports that Pythagoras--in the estimation of his disciples--had Θείαν εἰκόνα (the appearance of a God). Romans 1:23 likewise wields εἰκὼν in a similar manner despite referencing other things. In Romans 8:29, Paul tells the holy ones of Rome that God purposes to shape them in the εἰκὼν of His beloved Son: συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ. But not only are Christians to enjoy heavenly existence in the Son's likeness, anointed Christians correspondingly are being progressively changed into the εἰκὼν of the Father (2 Corinthians 3:18).

At the culmination of this age, these followers of Christ will see God and be made like unto Him (1 John 3:1-2). This crowning moment signals that the "divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) will be appropriated by spirit-begotten children of God in order that men and women might become like the Father (Clement of Alexandria). With these uses of εἰκὼν in mind, it is difficult to see how the term when applied to Jesus Christ, can denote that the Son of God is homoousios to patri. Yet there is one more area that needs to be investigated.

Philo of Alexandria is known for using "image" in his writings. Martin Hengel discusses this philosopher in the book, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion. According to Philo, the Platonic realm of transcendent Forms (Ideas) is God's "eldest and firstborn son." That realm is synonymous with the divine Logos (God's reason that exists immanently within the cosmos). For Philo, the Logos is the "mediator between the eternal Godhead and the created, visible world." At the same time, the Logos is also "God's image" (εἰκὼν): Philo is never quite clear about what he perceives the Logos to be. In varying delineations, he calls the εἰκὼν of God, the sinless mediator, the spiritual primal man, the spokesman, the archangel, and the second god (deuteros theos). This deuteros theos is neither created nor uncreated--yet Philo does not necessarily equate the εἰκὼν of God with God (52). This claim is substantiated by referencing Somn. I, 157, 228-230.

In this portion of his famous work, the Alexandrian refers to the εἰκὼν of God as both kurios and archangel. This point is significant because it is here that he distinguishes the Logos from the Father who brings forth the Logos. The Father is ho theos, but the εἰκὼν can only be considered theos (without the article). This indicates that Philo viewed the Logos as mediator of creation and a secondary god, inferior to the Father of Israel (Isaiah 64:8). This philosophical detour alerts us to the fact that εἰκὼν when used by Philo may not mean that Logos qua εἰκὼν is to be equated fully with its prototype. The sun's reflection in the water is not the same as the actual sun: it does not possess the same nature that the sun does, being only a reflection of the thing itself. Similarly, Jesus as the εἰκὼν of God, does not possess the substance of the Father, but is homoiousios with him. One day anointed Christians will enjoy this same privilege, to a lesser degree of course, when they experience life in the εἰκὼν of the Son--being made like unto his image and that of his Father's (Revelation 22:1-5).

6 comments:

Alethinon61 said...

Hi Edgar,

I think that trying to squeeze ontology out of εἰκὼν is about like trying to squeeze water from a rock. Adam was made in the image of God, and Jesus is his corrective counterpart.

To repeat with minor edits what I once said on Trinities:

IMO, the reason Trinitarians argue the way they do about this verse and others has little to do with the texts themselves, and everything to do with the nature of Trinitarianism: It's presuppositional in character, meaning that the later doctrine forms the very context within which the biblical texts are understood.

Greg Bahnsen, who was a student of Cornelius Van Til and a proponent of Van Til’s presuppositional approach to apologetics, would ask the atheist how the uniformity of nature and inductive principle comport with the atheistic worldview. His contention was that things like the rules of logic, the inductive principle, the uniformity of nature, math, science, etc., don’t make any sense in a worldview which holds that there is no god but only “matter in mindless motion.” For the presuppositionalist, the coup de grace to atheism is that without God you couldn’t prove anything at all, because there would be no reason to expect nature to be uniform, or for the rules of logic to be real, etc. We couldn’t even trust our own minds in an athiest’s universe. Reasoning itself only make sense if God exists. Thus, every atheist who even debates the existence of God has already lost the argument in doing so, because he is assuming what can only be true if God exists.

That argument (the Transcendental Argument for God, or “TAG”) can be quite compelling. However, something un-compelling but very similar seems to go on in the minds of Trinitarian apologists (albeit subconsciously). The problem is that their Christology is presuppositional in nature, but they often don’t realize it. This makes discussions with our Trinitarian friends challenging, because they believe that their approach is like that of a William Lane Craig when they’re really Christological Van Till-ians in disguise.

This, I believe, is why these arguments over what this or that text may be saying are always so challenging and frustrating. Jesus’ begotten-ness, his sonship, his kingship, his authority, his priesthood, his miracles, his status as savior, his death, resurrection, and exaltation, etc., don’t make sense to a Trinitarian apart from the Trinitarian worldview. The nature of the belief makes it impossible for them to accept an alternative view of Christ, possibly from even understanding it at all.

I should add that Unitarians seem to suffer from similar interpretation-shaping and blind-spot-inducing presuppositions, and so conversations with members of these groups can be equally frustrating. Indeed, in my experience conversations with Unitarians can sometimes be even more frustrating, because we enter them with a certain expectation of common ground, but end up engaging in a dialogue that is no less stymied in the end.

~Kas

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kas,

Very well-stated remarks, and I like the point regarding presuppositionalism and TAG. Once you get to the heart of Trinitarianism, it becomes evident that philosophical baggage drives the whole enterprise, including how the Bible is interpreted. It's also funny that Moises Silva recognizes many of these factors, including fallacious appeals to words in order to prove Jesus' deity. Yet he too holds the presuppositions of Trinitarianism firmly in place as does Craig, etc.

One reason I moved on (for the most part) from Trinitarian discussions is because I found myself getting nowhere in these interminable discussions.

Thanks,

Edgar

Alethinon61 said...

"It's also funny that Moises Silva recognizes many of these factors, including fallacious appeals to words in order to prove Jesus' deity."

Are you referring to John 1:1c? Where does Silva make that observation? If it's a good one I'll have to add it to my series on John 1:1 :-)

~Kas

Edgar Foster said...

Kas,

Silva makes some general comments about trying to establish serious theological points by appealing to words like eikwn and so forth. I do not remember him commenting on Jn 1:1, but my statement was based on a book I'm now reading: See http://www.zondervan.com/biblical-words-and-their-meaning

Alethinon61 said...

Hi Edgar,

My mistake. I have dyslexia, and when I read "fallacious appeals to words in order to prove Jesus' deity" my mind transposed it to "fallacious appeals to word order to prove Jesus' deity".

Since John 1:1c is the only verse I'm aware of in which it has been fallaciously argued that word order shifts the meaning to one that supports Jesus' "deity", I assumed that Silva spoke to that fallacious though popular desperation, I mean misconception;-)

~Kas

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kas,

No worries, my friend. I envy (not covet) your poetic writing ability. If you like lexical semantics, Silva's book is a good one.

Yes, the misconceptions associated with John 1:1. :)

I have never read Silva comment on that verse, but not too long ago, Caragounis and Jan Van der Watt wrote a thorough article on 1:1. See http://www.bsw.org/filologia-neotestamentaria/vol-21-2008/a-grammatical-analysis-of-john-1-1/525/

Best,

Edgar