Biblical scholarship has undergone a transformation in the last few decades. The emergence of the so-called “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus” has challenged the Western Church’s traditional view of how the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have portrayed Jesus. Third Quest scholars such as Ed Sanders have argued that Jesus must be a historical figure which squarely fits within first century Judaism.[1] This historical approach to the canonical gospels presentation of Jesus has been picked up by other scholars and applied to the rest of the scripture.

wrightOne such scholar is highly respected New Testament scholar, N. T Wright. He has challenged the traditional Calvinist view of the doctrine of justification.[2] He has suggested that Paul’s understanding of justification derived more from his Jewish temple theology rather than a law court setting. He has suggested that modern biblical scholarship has failed to correct traditional errors because it has offered “Twentieth Century answers to Eighteenth Century questions.”[3] However, Wright does not simply offer temple theology as merely a Pauline theme of justification, he expands it to encompass all Biblical theology. He sees it as a thematic entirety of the biblical metanarrative.[4] Biblical scholar, Ben Meyer agrees with Wright’s assessment, noting, “The indispensability of the temple, an institution increasingly laden with functions, meanings, values basic to national life, is evident from the fierce drive to rebuild it in the late sixth century.”[5]

If scholars like Meyer and Wright are correct in asserting an overarching theme of temple theology throughout the whole of scripture, then, it is necessary to revisit all theological concepts considering this temple theology. The most obvious place to begin such an endeavor would be to understand the significance of humanity within a temple theology perspective. However, this would be a large undertaking in and of itself, therefore this paper aims to revisit the significance of Adam from the correct framework. Namely, the significance of Adam is properly understood when the concepts of “Imago Dei,” and the implications by way of “The Fall” and the “Kenosis of Jesus” are viewed through the perspective of temple theology.


No biblical or systematic theology can be considered whole and complete without the study of man. “As a matter of fact, the two anchor points of theology, like the two foundations of a cable bridge, are the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man.”[6] Biblically, the doctrine of man begins during the creation scene when God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen 1:26).[7] The key terms in this verse are the Hebrew terms image (tselem) and likeness (demuth). This “image” and “likeness” is known as Imago Dei

Meaning of “Image” and “Likeness”

Scholars have differed as to what these two terms of the Imago Dei mean. Some scholars have attempted to separate these terms in their meanings; while others simply see them as parallelism within the Hebraic writing style. Louis Berkhof comments on these two words,

The terms “image” and “likeness” have been distinguished in numerous ways. Some believed “image” had reference to the body, and “likeness” to the soul. Augustine held that the former referred to the intellectual, and the latter, to the moral faculties of the soul. Bellarmin regarded “image” as a designation of the natural gifts of man, and “likeness” as a designation of that which was supernaturally added to man. Still others asserted that “image” denoted inborn, and “likeness,” the acquired conformity to God.[8]

Towns cites Stevens, who also examines the same issue,

The Hebrew words “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demuth) mean nothing more nor less in the context than their English equivalents. The LXX translates tselem with the corresponding Greek word eikon, and demuth with the corresponding word homoisis. Whereas there is literally a distinction between an image and a likeness, the latter word being broader and more inclusive one, yet it is futile to attempt to make any precise distinctions between the two words as they are found in this context. Parallel words to give essentially the same thought are a familiar Hebrew mode of expression. The meaning of the passage obviously is that man is created to resemble God in some important ways.[9]

Whether the scholar understands the “image” and “likeness” to be distinct or not, the concept of this anthropology cannot be understated. Since the first man, Adam, is described in the Bible as being made in the “image” of God (v.27), “[he] cannot in every respect be likened to the whole of creation.”[10]

This significant difference of the first man, Adam, from the rest of creation begs a question: In what way does Adam and therefore humanity reflect the image of God? Henry suggests that how one answers the question of “the imago-inquiry soon becomes determinative for the entire gamut of doctrinal affirmation.”[11] The traditional view within biblical scholarship is that the image of God is “limited to immaterial nature and serves to simply reflect specific attributes of God” while distinguishing between essential and nonessential elements in God.[12] For the majority of scholars the image of God does not include any physical or substantive properties. Davis sums up most scholars in this way, “Both terms, therefore, point to spiritual qualities shared by both God and man. It is this image and likeness that completely distinguishes man from the animal kingdom.”[13]

However, a couple of challenges to this view arises. First, it implies a reading of the Old Testament text which the Old Testament itself does not support. Commenting on this issue Von Rad writes,

The interpretations, therefore, are to be rejected which proceed from anthropology strange to the Old Testament and one-sidedly limit God’s image to man’s spiritual nature relating it to man’s “dignity,” his “personality,” or “ability for moral reason,” etc. The marvel of man’s appearance is not to be excepted from God’s image. This was the original notion, and we have no reason to believe that it gave way… to a spiritualizing and intellectualizing tendency.”[14]

The second challenge arises from the resurrection of Jesus. This challenge arises from in what manner was Jesus resurrected. If Jesus was resurrected into a body containing physical properties, and if one affirms that Jesus is the full representation of God (Heb 1:3) then it must be affirmed that physicality properties must be attributed to God. Therefore, any hermeneutical suggestion as to what the image of God is must be able to account for both the physical and spiritual attributes of man.

imago dei

Image Dei from the Perspective of Temple Theology

John Walton has argued that Israelite temple tradition, as well as the Old Testament, has been heavily influenced by Near Eastern thought.[15] Walton notes, “From the standpoint of the deity, the temple is his/her estate and residence. The earthly temple was a symbol, an echo, a shadow of the heavenly residence.”[16] The temple therefore was the place where heaven and earth intersected. While Walton examines several aspects of temple theology, two of them bare significant relevance to the current discourse: 1. Iconism, and 2. Sacred Spaces.


No temple is complete without an idol. The idol is the image of the god and signifies the divine presence residing in the temple. According to Walker and Dick, it is on the shoulders of the god being represented to approve and initiate the manufacturing of the idol.[17] Once manufactured, certain rituals where performed to bring about the transference of the divine presence from the spiritual world to the physical one in a process referred to as “actualizing the presence of the god in the temple.”[18] Walton likens this process to the Christian doctrine of inspiration of scripture, in as much as the process was not viewed as a human contrivance, but rather a miraculous act of the god.[19]

Another aspect of the idol was that it did not merely represent the deity but was the means by which the deity manifested its presence. This manifestation would include revelatory and mediation practices.[20] In terms of temple theology, the idol could be said to have been animated by the process of actualization. However, this must not be confused into a thinking which identifies the idol with the deity, itself. [21] Walker and Dick compare it to the Aristotelian philosophical concept of body and soul.[22]

Sacred Spaces

Sacred spaces were the specific locations where ancient peoples believed the gods traversed. Sacred spaces, therefore, were chosen by the gods before the building of the temple. One common type of sacred space was a garden. These locales were chosen, built upon, and sculpted to preserve and signify the sanctity of the sacred place. They were filled with images of the deity to endorse the sanctification of the chosen location.[23]

Revisiting the Creation Narrative

Looking at the creation narrative of Genesis 1 through the lenses of “Iconism” and “Sacred Spaces,” there are some striking similarities. First, it may be shown that God initiated the idol making process through the creation of the first man, Adam (vs.26-27). By imbuing Adam with his own “image” and “likeness,” God created an analogous idol of himself. This explains, the later cultic prohibition of graven images (Ex 20:4), since God had done so through the creation of Adam.

The next striking similarity is the “actualization of the idol” through ritual. Once again, God does not leave it up to the creation to provide the means of transference but does it on his own as a miraculous act of Deity. Towns suggests, “Life is a part of the nature of God, and when God gives life to something; He gives part of his nature to it.”[24] In Genesis 2, the Bible says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (v. 7). In this ritual act of resuscitation, God animates Adam through the transference of his nature.

Additionally, Adam is given revelation by God. He is told that all the fruit of the trees are his to eat except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (vs. 16-17). This also fits with the idea, that man is the idol of God. He is to receive revelation from his Deity, through which his actions are to be governed.

Finally, there is the sacred space. God places his idol (Adam) into a garden which He planted himself (v.8). This effectively establishes the garden as God’s sacred space. The place where he will traverse. However, God is not content with a mere plot of ground. God tells Adam to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). This multiplication was to increase the number of idols until they covered the whole earth, thereby, designating all of the earth as God’s sacred space.

The Fall

T. Wright has suggested that the Western Church is in danger of moralizing its anthropology.[25] This seems to be due to the idea that the incident related in the third chapter of Genesis commonly known as “The Fall” is the dominate feature of God’s purposes. “The Fall” also known as original sin) is the biblical narrative of the origination of evil in the world. Many scholars and laypersons, alike, have approached the biblical narrative from the point of view that the removal of sin and its effects on human beings by redeeming the marred imago dei and whisking humanity into the heavenly residence of God as the sole purpose of God’s redemptive act. Ascribing to this view, Towns writes,

“According to its largest meaning as used in the Scriptures, the word salvation represents the whole work of God by which He rescues man from the eternal ruin and doom of sin and bestows on him the riches of His grace, even eternal life now and eternal glory in Heaven…Therefore it is in every aspect a work of God in behalf of man, and is in no sense a work of man in behalf of God.”[26]

From this traditional view is the implied exaltation of the character of man. This presents a serious challenge for scholars to explain, “how Adam and Eve, endowed with original righteousness and no hindering force of sin, were seduced into committing sin.”[27] Yet, if one understands the fall from the perspective of Adam as an idol, then, there is no need to presume some original righteousness. Therefore, Adam (and subsequently Eve) were status neutral. In other words, Adam was neither righteous, nor unrighteous; in as much as a statue, in and of itself, is sacred or common.

One additional point of importance must be mentioned concerning “the fall” of mankind; that is its nature. This aspect cannot be overlooked as Davis notes, “Needless to say, it is impossible to understand the rest of the Bible without understanding Genesis 3.”[28] Therefore, in order to understand what God has been and is doing; it is important to understand precisely what occurred. Paul tells Timothy, “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (2:14). Yet to the Roman Church, Paul would write, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—” (Rom 5:12). Two very pertinent questions come up when one looks at these two passages: 1) Why the separation between Adam and Eve in relation to deception. 2) What exactly is the nature of the sin committed.

The answer to both these questions lay in understanding the event through the lens of temple theology. Since it has been argued that primary purpose and function of human beings was to be the God created idol through which God traversed his created reality; then the nature of “the fall” is simply this: What was purposed for worship of the creator denied such a vocation and worshiped the creation itself. In simplified language, the living idol did not worship the creator and as such did not reflect the image of God into the creation. Instead, he reflected the sin-marred creation (the serpent) into himself (Gen 3).

As a result, death entered into the world, not because Eve was deceived, but rather because Adam, who was not, did not impart God’s justice into the creation. Such justice actions were seen to be the responsibility of the idol of the god it represented. As Walton notes, “In Egypt of the Early First Millennium, for instance, court cases being tried were set before god Amun.”[29] It may also be argued that Adam failed to properly communicate the divine revelation as the medium through which God had spoken.

Kenosis of Jesus Christ

The final concept in which Adam bears theological significance is upon the kenosis of Jesus. The word itself is taken from the Greek in the Philippian 2:7 passage which reads, “Rather, he made (Gk. kenoó) himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Kenoó, from which we get kenosis, has the meaning of emptying.[30] In the context in which Paul uses the word, he seems to be saying that the second person of the Triune God, emptied himself of his Godly attributes. In other words, God became man.

Exactly what Godly attributes were emptied and how this was accomplished is debated among Biblical scholars. However, for the purposes of this paper, the concentration will be focused upon the result of the kenosis. The traditional understanding of the result is known as the doctrine of hypostatic union. C. Blaising defines this union, stating, “In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united with forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion.”[31]

This doctrine is not without its difficulties. As Blaising also notes, “Admittedly, the doctrine leaves many metaphorical questions unanswered.” Temple theology does little to answer those questions. However, what it does do is hold in unity the anthropology of God with anthropology of man.

Jesus tells the woman at the well, “God is Spirit.” (Jn 4:24). Yet, we know from scripture that Jesus was worshiped as God from very early on in the church’s history (Cf. Matt 2:11, 28:9; Jn 20:28, etc.) Yet, we also find in Jesus that God became a physical being. (Jn 1:1-18). So then, if God is Spirit, how does a physical being come to be worshiped?

Temple theology suggests a very strange and unique occurrence happened. This occurrence, however, is the exception to the rule rather than its affirmation. Sometimes, the exceptions can be more significant than the rule itself as is the case here. It has already been argued that Adam was created by God to be his idol. This idol received the transference of Godly attributes in a process referred to as “actualization.” Yet, it has been maintained that the idol was never identified as the god it represented. Jesus breaks this rule. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3).[32] The Greek word used for image here is charaktér, which carries the connotation of graven image. This connotation brings us back to the temple theology of an idol. God becomes the idol of himself through the person of Jesus by the interlocking of the divine nature with the physical nature in such a way that each nature remains separate yet are interlocked with each other so there is no distinguishing between the end of one with the start of the other—The hypostatic union.

New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright has argued for a bodily resurrection on the grounds of what he has called “transphysicality”. He uses the word in order to put “a label on the demonstrable fact that the early Christians envisaged a body that was robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one.”[33] It must be noted that Wright’s context is dealing with the resurrected body and not the pre-crucifixion body. Still, it is not too difficult to imagine that if Jesus could maintain such a body post-resurrection, then his pre-crucifixion body would be of the same nature. Temple theology would suggest that this is true. Indeed, the first chapter of John is riddled with temple theology from his allusion to the creation narrative (Jn 1:1); to the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (v.14).


The Significance of Adam does not lie in the narratives historic authenticity or lack thereof. It does not lie in its explanation for the problem of evil. No, it lies in the way it tells the reader who he or she is; and the way it reveals who God is. The significance of Adam is his iconistic vocation as the created idol of God meant to act as the corridor from the heavenly (spiritual, if you like) planes to the physical one. These are not two separate planes of existence but rather one large, immeasurable reality. The significance of Adam is that we are corrupted idols that have blasphemed the temple of creation by marring our representation of the creator God. As a result, God, himself took on flesh, to restore his image and sanctify his temple redeeming the marred idols in the process. This is evidenced throughout the scripture as “New Creation” (Cf. Rev 20; 2 Cor 5). [34] It is only when one peers at the scripture through the lens of temple theology that the whole of Biblical narrative can be understood. Therefore, when John was given his great vision of the future, he says, “The Lord God almighty and the lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:22).” For God will live in the creation and the creation will live in God.





Holy Bible: New King James Version : New Testament. Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 1979.

Holy Bible (Niv). Zondervan, 2008.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1932.

Blaising, C. “Hypostatic Union.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Davis, J.J. Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis. Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998.

Henry, C. F. H. “Image of God.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Jacobsen, T. “Graven Image.” In Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, edited by P. D. Hanson P. D. Miller, S. D. Mcbride. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1987.

Meyer, Ben F. “The Temple: Symbol Central to Biblical Theology.” Gregorianum 74, no. 2 (1993): 223-40.

Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism. Fortress Press, 1985.

Stevens, W.W. Doctrines of the Christian Religion. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.

Strong, J. and W. Baker. Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance. AMG Publishers, 2004.

Towns, E.L. Theology for Today. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001.

Von Rad, G. Genesis: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press, 1973.

Walker, C.B.F. and M. Dick. The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian Mīs Pî Ritual. Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki, 2001.

Walton, J.H. Ancient near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Baker Publishing Group, 2006.

Winter, I.J. &Apos;Idols of the King&Apos;: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in Ancient Mesopotamia. On Art in the Ancient Near East Volume II: Brill, 2009.

Wright, N. T., “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels.” January Series, Calvin College, 2012.

Wright, N. T., “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story.” Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California, 2016.

Wright, N. T., “Jesus at the Crossroads of History.” N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology, 2016,

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Fortress Press, 2003.

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.

Wright, N.T. Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. InterVarsity Press, 2009.


[1] E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press, 1985), 113.

[2] N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (InterVarsity Press, 2009).

[3] N. T. Wright, “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels” (paper presented at the January Series, Calvin College2012).

[4] N. T. Wright, “Jesus at the Crossroads of History” (paper presented at the N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology2016),

[5] Ben F. Meyer, “The Temple: Symbol Central to Biblical Theology,” Gregorianum 74, no. 2 (1993): 229,

[6] E.L. Towns, Theology for Today (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001), 555.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are Holy Bible (Niv) (Zondervan, 2008).

[8] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1932), 191.

[9] W.W. Stevens, Doctrines of the Christian Religion (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967).in Towns, 571.

[10] Towns, 564.

[11] C. F. H. Henry, “Image of God,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 592.

[12] Towns, 572.

[13] J.J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998), 81.

[14] G. Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1973), 58.

[15] J.H. Walton, Ancient near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Baker Publishing Group, 2006).

[16] Ibid., 113.

[17] C.B.F. Walker and M. Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian Mīs Pî Ritual (Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki, 2001), 8.

[18] Ibid., 4.

[19] Walton, 114.

[20] I.J. Winter, &Apos;Idols of the King&Apos;: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in Ancient Mesopotamia, On Art in the Ancient Near East Volume II (Brill, 2009), 13.

[21] T. Jacobsen, “Graven Image,” in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, ed. P. D. Hanson P. D. Miller, S. D. Mcbride (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1987), 22.

[22] Walker and Dick, 6.

[23] Walton, 118-19.

[24] Towns, 104.

[25] N. T. Wright, “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story” (paper presented at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California2016).

[26] Towns, 420-21.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Davis, 85.

[29] Walton, 115.

[30] J. Strong and W. Baker, Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance (AMG Publishers, 2004).

[31] C. Blaising, “Hypostatic Union,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 583.

[32] Holy Bible: New King James Version : New Testament (Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 1979).

[33] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003), 539-40.

[34] Cf. N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).