Wilhelmus á Brakel on The Image of God and Dominion of Man

I appreciated Wilhelmus á Brakel’s discussion of the image of God and the creation of man. The discussion is broken down into three elements: basis, form, and consequence. Brakel begins to illustrate these aspects with the following example:

If a painter wishes to make a good picture, he must first have a proper and well-prepared canvas. He cannot paint a picture in water, in air, or in dry sand. He either needs a piece of wood, canvas, or some other solid material, which in turn must have been properly prepared, Having all these, he then must have a suitable model for that which he wishes to express.

The soul is the basis for the image of God. The soul is the “part” of man which carries, or displays the image of God. Just as the canvas is not the picture, the soul is not the image. But just as a picture could not exists without a canvas (or other similar medium), the image of God would not exist without the soul.

Some thoughts: Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” What is the role of male and female in the image of God? Is it that male and female both are in the image of God- i.e. as individuals- or that male and female together-i.e. so that the image of God cannot be understood without male and female together- are in the image of God? The first option would support á Brakel’s position, the second would oppose it.

If the soul is the medium of the image, the basis, what is the substance-or form- of the image? “The essential form, the true essence of the image of God, consists in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, they being the qualities that regulate the faculties of the soul: intellect, will, and affections.” There is solid biblical ground for considering knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as the attributes of God’s image. We do not see these qualities described at man’s creation, but each one is used to describe aspects of man’s re-creation:

Col. 3:10: and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Eph. 4:24: and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

What I appreciated most was how á Brakel connected the image of God and the dominion of man. This is an important area of debate as some teach that the image of God is the dominion of man. But á Brakel correctly describes man’s dominion as the result of God’s image in man: “The consequence of the image of God is the exercise of dominion over the entire earth.” Because man had pristine knowledge, righteousness, and holiness he was immanently capable of exercising dominion over God’s creation.

This does provoke some other questions. First, we notice that dominion, like the image of God, is something that the man and woman share in equally. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Does this do anything to answer the previous question about the role of male and female and the image of God? I don’t think so. Whether man and woman individually or collectively portray the image of God, man and woman would exercise dominion. Does the joint exercise of dominion offer any support to the feminist argument that the submission of wives to their husbands is a result of the fall? Not necessarily. The sphere of dominion is God’s physical creation. The dominion mandate says nothing about human institutions- even God-ordained ones.

The language of Genesis one should not be ignored. The image of God was something Adam and Eve had. The dominion over earth was something Adam and Eve did. Therefore, I consider á Brakel’s distinction of the basis, form, and consequence of the image of God helpful.

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