The Image of God and the Western Mind

So far our journey of exploration has found that God’s image, and our having been created in His image, runs headlong into the inescapable conclusion that it covers the whole package of human existence, body, soul and spirit. As several of you have commented, the idea of God having a form is a tough one to grasp, leading to difficulty in understanding that His image is also reflected in our human form. Certainly there are many who would argue against this notion, and yet looking at Scripture, it’s also hard to miss.

As commenters Matt and Steve have pointed out, the difficulty that many of us have in seeing this is that most of us are Western in our orientation, and this makes quite a lot of Scripture hard to understand, for the Scriptures were not written by Western minds or in a Western mindset; they were written from a Hebrew perspective, which is quite different.

In the early years of the church, the dominant mindset was Hebrew; even the Gentile believers learned to view things in the Hebrew manner, but as time moved forward, and Christianity became more and more populated by Gentiles, and Christianity became dominant in Europe, there came an impetus to move in a direction more akin to the traditions of the ancient Greek s and Romans, and away from that of the Jews. With time, even pagan ceremonies and observances were incorporated into the church because the church had become part of the State, beginning with Constantine making Christianity the State Religion of the Roman Empire.

By the time of the Reformation, Christianity was dominated by Western (Greek) thought, and many of our doctrinal traditions of today came out of this period when some of the greatest theologians of all time wrote from an entirely Western point of view, including such names as Luther and Calvin. To the Western mind, God is most notable for His free exercise of power, while to the Hebrew, God is most notable for His restraint. The Western mind see the physical realm as fallen, corrupt and depraved, while to the Hebrew it is God’s perfect creation. To the Western mind, the human body is inherently evil, to the Hebrew the human body is inherently good; God’s own image. To the Western perspective, a spirit having a form is hard to conceive of, but for the Hebrew mind, it is a given.

The Scriptures are more difficult for those of us who were raised and trained in the West; we miss things like the proper role of covenants, the nature of our own beings and how to understand apocalyptic texts; we even understand writers like the Apostle Paul as Western, when in fact, Paul was a Pharisee among Pharisees, trained by Gamiliel; the intellectual antithesis of Greek philosophy. I think we need to follow this trail for a bit, so when we come back later, I think we need to take a look at a few things Paul wrote about that will shed some more light on this line of thinking; see you then.

 

NOTE: If you are interested in reading more about the Hebrew influence in Christian thought, you might enjoy Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith by Mervin R. Wilson.

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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18 Responses to The Image of God and the Western Mind

  1. pipermac5 says:

    Matthew Henry is also highly-regarded and widely-read, but he has added a significant amount of cultural-baggage to the mix, as is evident by his commentary on Isaiah 20.

    Blessings!

    Steve

  2. Matt Brumage says:

    To the Western mind, God is most notable for His free exercise of power, while to the Hebrew, God is most notable for His restraint.

    I love that! I’m quoting you somewhere, even if I may need to invent an entry for it. That is the best condensation of the difference between worlds of thought I’ve run across. I suppose I should be looking for more of the grace of my Master in his Hebrew Scriptures.

  3. Ooo, I have to correct you on part of this. Greek thought is not western thought, the western thought derived from Rome. We in the east see things vastly different from the west, and we don’t look upon creation as corrupted, nor do we have the same definition/view of “original sin” as in the west. The Greek Orthodox church, her associated Orthodox brethren, as well as the Oriental Church, developed separately since the sack of Rome by the Visigoths (410) – cutting of much of the communication between east and west – finally culminating with the start of the Great Schism in 1014.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Forgive me for being slow, but I don’t see the correction, in fact you made my point, for which I thank you. Maybe there is confusion over my use of the term “Greek”. I am referring to the teachings of the ancient philosophers whose thought has had such a profound influence in Western thought, not the teachings of Eastern Orthodox tradition. For what it’s worth, it’s my view that get (Orthodox) get a number of things right, that we in the Western tradition miss.

      • Mel Wild says:

        Important distinction with philosophical, not theological. I also agree that Eastern Orthodox have some things right that the Latin West could learn from.
        Good discussion!

      • Matt Brumage says:

        I suspect our Modern Theologian is referring to the Roman appropriation of Greek philosophy, versus the “Alexandrian” use of those philosophers, which developed along different lines. Alexandrian may not be a valid term, but I want to differentiate even beyond Byzantine. Byzantine writings were re-introduced into Roman philosophical streams when Islam spread into Palestine and Asia Minor causing a major refugee migration. The newly introduced writings helped spawn the Renaissance. But I believe Alexandrian streams more or less stayed put in Northern Africa. I think between Islamic and Christian wars, the Alexandrian schools (Jewish and Christian) were severely damaged, especially with the loss of Alexandria and her library. Again, I’m not sure but I think Eastern Orthodox teaching is one of places we can find surviving developments off this Alexandrian theological and philosophical stream. Perhaps MT can help correct my gross oversimplification and misuse of terminology. I’m really borrowing heavily from “text-type” terms rather than actual church history terms, so I’m probably miserably short on my explanation.

      • Okay, yes, it was a confusion over your use of the word “Greek”

      • Dang! Hit the wrong key.

        When I was young, everyone from the Eastern tradition was referred to as Greek, whether we were Ukranian, Russian, Romainian, etc. There were two terms, Greek Orthodox to refer to those from the Patriarchal tradition, and Greek Catholic to refer to those whose were under Rome, but still followed the Orthodox tradition. Both were just Greek as a shortcut.

  4. Mel Wild says:

    “To the Western mind, the human body is inherently evil, to the Hebrew the human body is inherently good; God’s own image. ”

    Very true. And this creates a different image, if you will, of words like “flesh” and “world” in the New Testament. We often interpret these terms as physical evils, rather than mindsets. The irony is, when we make the physical flesh and earth evil, we succumb to a worldly (Greek) mindset.

  5. gaustin00 says:

    I don’t know if I am on the right track but Don this was helpful to me for my homework for the class I attend where we are using “Stealing from God” by Frank Turek. Without me understanding this “western vs eastern” thought none of his chapter on Reason made sense …but now it seems that this atheism that promotes us to be just molecular machines makes it come together in my mind. Of course atheism is wrong, it just is a victim of its own western thinking! Just a rambling thought which occurred to me and may not make any sense at all to anyone else but it did to me; in fact it made it reasonable to begin to understand the thinking of we are “all good” vs we are “all bad”…without Christ there is no hope at all.

  6. Very interesting and points out the necessity of context and history when studying the Bible.

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