Image of God: Scriptural Anthropology: A Response to the Papers

Daniel W. Hardy
Cambridge University

With the helpful papers provided by Kepnes, Umar and Richardson, we are in a position (a) to address some fundamental aspects of Scriptural Anthropology as it appears in the early parts of the Book of Genesis and in other key texts in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an, while also (b) considering how in doing so we may come together in Scriptural Reasoning. At the risk of oversimplifying the papers, here I must confine myself to a few summary remarks about both of these.

Addressing Fundamental Aspects of
Scriptural Anthropology

The papers show profound characteristics of Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, whether through various midrashic interpretations that bring to light easily unnoticed aspects of the texts (Kepnes) or through more definitive Christological or Qur’anic readings (Richardson and Umar). Much can be learned of the differentiation of the three Abrahamic traditions from these three papers.

Yet it seems to me that the issues faced in these texts need to be seen within still more encompassing ones, and these lead us to ask questions about what these texts are, mean and do within these encompassing contexts. Within the historical context in which they were written or compiled, the Genesis texts attempt to state the antecedent conditions of humankind in the world with God ; by doing so, they locate the basis for human relations to God, to other human beings and to the world as these play out elsewhere in the Scriptures. However, they also clearly anticipate the ultimate aim of humankind in the world with God, and by doing so propel human beings forward. Both ? antecedent conditions and ultimate aim ? are matters worked out in practice : that is why Umar is right in saying the Jews ? despite their awareness of human limitations ? ‘wanted truth-for-life? to understand the human condition so as to avail themselves of its highest reaches.’ The ‘suspension’ of human beings between antecedent and ultimate, as well as the complex, incremental manner of their understanding and practice of both (their incapacity to know either fully), is why ‘none of us is all here’. It is also, I think, why the Hebrew texts as we have them are as rich and nuanced as Kepnes’ analysis demonstrates; inevitably the antecedent conditions of humanity are portrayed in complex imaginative terms, whose mystery is grasped in the varieties of midrash. For these reasons, it is somewhat dangerous to over-define the meaning of these texts: doing so would leave them less embracing of the variety of humanity, and would provide a ‘determinative and definitive image that determines us’.

By contrast, the Qur’an in its oral and verbal form ‘is all there’, ‘display[ing] the image openly’, ‘a full image of God, [where] we, at any given point, are partial and incomplete images’. And for Jews ‘the gift of the Torah? is the provision of a stable guide’ without which we are ‘thrown back and forth between the two impulses’ (the yetzer ha- ra and the yetzer ha- tov ). For Christians, according to Richardson , the Christological manifestation of the image of God is determinative though with an eschatological dimension.

While there is clearly an affinity between the three, Qur’an, Torah and Jesus, these alternatives are difficult to harmonize. At least the Qur’anic and the Christian views, while they may establish only the basic pattern of the relationship between God and the human being, and may therefore only provide the ‘parameters’ for human life, still resemble a divine insertion of normativity ? normative humanity in the world ? into history. To be sure, such a thing ‘furnishes for human beings the mode of participation in the divine life without ceasing to be creaturely and yet truly experiencing this life as blessedness and beauty’. But does it allow their participation to be fully historical?

My worry is that such views establish the pattern of relationships between human beings, between them and the cosmos and between them and God, in a fundamentally a-temporal manner, and thereby suppose that these relationships are not ‘immersed’ fully in history. Perhaps the norms thus presented are more history-laden while still normative; perhaps they are best seen in portrayals of the particular spatio-temporal humanity of people actually living with ‘pure intentionality’ in the complexity of their circumstances. Such a way of seeing both Genesis and New Testament texts, and perhaps Qur’anic ones, may be more true to what we find in them than concentrating on the norms which appear in them as such. Perhaps we should expect to see the norms indirectly rather than directly, as occurring in the practices of people as they move forward in God’s purposes, and to see the satisfying of these norms as promissory, not yet complete. In other words, perhaps we need to learn to find the presence and purposes of God in the completeness of promises, not primarily in promises completely fulfilled. ??

Coming Together in Scriptural Reasoning

If there was ever good evidence of the presence amongst us Scriptural Reasoners of the antecedent conditions which the Genesis, New Testament and Qur’anic texts continue to specify, it is in our common wish to bring the three Abrahamic traditions more closely together. All three sets of texts are profoundly social in their implications, and at least partly directed to resolving the extreme difficulties of achieving the compassionate concern for each other which is clearly the antecedent and ultimate purpose of the Lord for us all. Even in Eden, with only two people present, the difficulties begin, ‘behind the Lord’s back’. (Sometimes I wonder if the serpent is not an externalization ? an assigning to a third party ? of the intrinsic difficulty of two people achieving com-passion!) When people are not in such an idealized Eden-like state, and are in much more complex forms of sociality, ones also formed by historic and present economic, political and other factors, how much more difficult all this is! Of this there is much more said later in Genesis and elsewhere.

Such a theo-social-political-economic reading of Genesis, New Testament and Qur’anic texts, referring not only to our traditional groupings but also to the circumstances of the world today, needs to be our business in Scriptural Reasoning. Only thus, and by attempting to live together ourselves ? and as representing our traditions ? by reference to the ultimate aim of the world, that is the promise of the kingdom of God as variously stated in Hebrew, Christian and Muslim scriptures, will we be fully responsible as Scriptural Reasoners.


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