Are angels made in the image of God? Some answer negatively on the basis of the fact that Scripture affirms this of human beings (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) but nowhere explicitly says the same of angels. But to conclude from this fact that angels must not be made in God’s image is a case of the ad ignorantium fallacy (appealing to ignorance). In fact, there are many good reasons to believe that angelic beings are divine image bearers:
- The Essence of Divine Imaging—What does it mean to bear the divine image? Presumably this has to do with certain essential “soulish” capacities that a being has in common with the Deity. Three such characteristics come to mind: (a) cognitive capacity—the ability to use reason, form beliefs, perceive things, etc.; (b) conative capacity—the ability to make choices or act intentionally; and (c) moral capacity—being such that one’s choices are susceptible to ethical evaluation (praise and blame) and having duties or obligations. Do angels have such capacities? According to the biblical accounts, angels clearly have cognitive, conative, and moral capacities just as humans do. It would appear, then, that they bear the image of God.
- “A Little Lower than the Angels”—It is said about Jesus that God “made him a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5 and Heb. 2:7). Presumably this refers to the fact that in sending his Son to Earth in human form he was in this way making him “lower than the angels.” But if humans bear God’s image and angels don’t, then surely humans would not properly be considered “lower” than angels. It seems, then, that angels also must be divine image bearers.
- The Glory of Angels—It is clear from many biblical passages that angels are immensely glorious beings, so much so that even righteous people are tempted to worship them (cf. Rev. 19:10). Moreover, angelic beings such as the archangel Gabriel, are given significant cosmic responsibilities. The notion that such beings do not also bear the image of God seems incongruent with these facts.
- Angelic Impersonations of Humans—In some biblical narratives angels appear in human form (e.g., Gen. 18-19, Gen. 32:22-32, Heb. 13:2, etc.) in order to perform certain tasks. And down through history there have been thousands of reports by Christians of encounters with angels in human guise. The fact that such impersonations occur also seems incongruent with the denial that angels are divine image bearers.
Have you done research on Bonhoeffer and Barth’s reworking of the imago dei in relational terms rather than various inherent capacities? I find it much more compelling and helpful in understanding what was lost and what still remained in the creature even after the (impossible) reality of sin.
I haven’t been able to find a lot of secondary literature on Barth’s understanding of the imago dei, but for my ethics class at PTS, I am writing a paper against the use of torture from a Christian perspective. I wrote a blog post about it and Dr. Hunsinger writes a very compelling case against torture from this sort of relational understanding of the imago dei: http://kaitdugan.blogspot.com/2011/10/torture-and-imago-dei.html
That isn’t directly connected to the idea of angels and the imago dei, but you can see in his argument the benefits of reworking the concept from the relational side.
Hope all is well with you and the family! Very excited to see more TU students interested in PTS and theology!
That’s interesting stuff from Hunsinger. But relationality itself must be analyzed in terms of cognitive, conative, and, perhaps, moral qualities. So it doesn’t really work as a substitute account of imago dei so much as a secondary characteristic of it.
One’s views of the imago dei are directly tied to certain prior ontological and epistemological commitments. Is it possible for the creature to have true knowledge about God? And if so, how does one have knowledge about God and where can it be found? For Barth, true knowledge of God can not be secured outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the event of revelation. With this radical christocentrism, Barth operates out of an analogia fidei and abandons a form of the analogia entis which understands any natural knowledge of God to be possible for the human creature. Thus, Barth’s conception of the imago dei is reworked so it isn’t understood in metaphysical categories. So we’d have to step back a bit to assess these broader and more fundamental commitments in order to appreciate the differences between the understanding of the imago dei you present here and Barth’s relational account of the imago dei.
I might be coming to Indiana for New Years for Elise’s wedding. If you and the family are around, I’d love to stop by to see everyone and talk theology. Let me know!
There is a book available for free at Smashwords, called “The Angel Ultimatum” that makes a very strong case that Angels were made in the image of God.
These are interesting, and persuasive, considerations. Do you think that being made in God’s image is an essential feature of humans and angels? If so, that would appear to commit us to saying that Satan and the demons currently bear God’s image as well, which may not be an unpalatable commitment. For such entities are no less a part of God’s creation. In a somewhat recent discussion on Alexander Pruss’s blog—I’m unfortunately unable to locate the exact post at the moment—I recall that someone suggested that these beings are exceedingly beautiful, despite their extreme corruption. I’m uncertain what kind of beauty the commenter had in mind, but I suppose it was a kind of beauty consistent with these entity’s being immaterial. What are your thoughts on that suggestion?
Yes, I do think bearing God’s image is an essential property of humans and angels. And I do believe that fallen angels (e.g., Satan) still bear the image of God, though of course it is marred by their rebellion. Also, I believe all fallen creatures do retain beautiful qualities. Just how beautiful a fallen angel can be, though, I wouldn’t want to speculate.
Wow.. thank you for this post, this is the question I was thinking about since 2003. Really liked it..
One question: “And down through history there have been thousands of reports by Christians of encounters with angels in human guise.” Will you please give some example..
There are all sorts of websites devoted to purported angel encounters. For example:
Naturally, the stories run the gamut in terms of plausibility, from the very compelling to the downright silly. But such stories are very common.
Psalm 8 convinces me. Assuming angels are in the image of God, it’s incorrect to argue, as some do, that mankind being male and female is crucial to imaging God fully.