The Imago Dei and the “Humanity” of Scripture

In his contribution to the book Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church (Crossway, 2008), Paul Wells considers the humanity of scripture, a topic he contends has been left largely unexplored by conservative evangelicals when discussing the doctrine of Scripture. In writing of the dearth of detailed engagement with the humanity of Scripture, he writes with wit: “It seems that each new evangelical publication added another coat of rust-preserver to the breastplate protecting the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God, while not even applying a Band-Aid to the Achilles’ heel of the humanity of Scripture” (28). Thus Wells suggests: “The whole question of the nature and humanity of Scripture, far from being resolved by looking at its divinity, needs to be dusted down and aired out” (29).

Wells notes that generally four models are used to explain Scripture as divine-human discourse. He presents these and comments upon their strengths as models, but also their limits:

This model sees Scripture as a witness, used by God to bear testimony to himself. While this is a useful model, Wells expresses some reservation due to its having been co-opted by neoorthodox theology. The neoorthodox have muddied this model by holding to an “occasional” unity between God’s witness to himself in Scripture, and the human witness to God and his work in Scripture; i.e., there is a “lack of real unity between the divine and human in witness” (37).

This is a favorite model used in Reformed theology, already at the time of Calvin. When wedded to a covenantal schema, it helpfully shows that “human beings can be partakers in the knowledge of God’s truth” (38). Unfortunately, accommodation has been invoked to suggest that God accommodates himself to error and fallibility in Scripture.

Analogy between Christ and the Bible
This is a popular model because of its ease of appeal to John 1 and Hebrews 1, as well as its “neatness” (although Wells notes that this “neatness” is its strength and its weakness). Wells notes, however, that usually this model is invoked in polemics. There are helpful ways of invoking this model; Kevin Vanhoozer avoids “strict analogy” when he suggests that “as the logos indwelt the flesh of Jesus, so meaning indwells the body of the text” (40). But the great weakness of this model is, as Wells notes, “Christ and Scripture are not equivalent realities as there is but one hypostatic union” (39).

The “Servant Form” of Scripture
Wells suggests that affirmation of Scripture’s “organic” inspiration (as opposed to either dynamical or dictation models) is an affirmation of its “servant form”: “The word ‘organic’ indicates that in inspiration God strengthens the self-activity of human beings in such a way that their words are his word” (40). Bavinck notes that this servant form is a “lowly” form, but that it still tightly interweaves the divine and human in Scripture so that separation is impossible (41). Wells suggests that Warfield used the terms “concurrence” and “superintendence” to say the same thing. A weakness, however, is that the servant for of scripture can be “radicalized.” This was the case of G.C. Berkouwer who so emphasized the servant side that he relativized its theopneustery.

As should be evident from the above, each model has heuristic value, but contains some limitations as well. No one model can be absolutized without problems resulting. Wells avers that a preferred way of modeling the divine and human in Scripture would be to imagine it in terms of the imago dei. He writes:

If the doctrine of Scripture in general benefits from many complementary models – prophecy, witness, incarnation, accommodation, regeneration, sanctification, complementarity – the humanity of Scripture does not necessarily come into its own in these constructs. The most favorable biblical model for developing a positive construction of the humanity of the Word is the imago dei, created, fallen, renewed, glorified, human nature in its fourfold state, to use Thomas Boston’s classic categories…. [In using this approach] the whole of the theology of the humanity of Scripture would become a theology of beauty, as the Lord himself, the true image, is supremely beautiful in all he was, is, did, and does, and all he will be eternally. It would be a theology of our humanity taking pleasure in and being uplifted by the humanity of Scripture, quite different from the spirit of much of the stuff I’ve had to plough through.

Pgs. 56-57

He concludes:

In more classic terms it seems that Bavinck’s reference to the work of the Spirit in revelation and renewal is useful if the priority of the Spirit is maintained in both areas. God renews human language in inspiration and the inscripturation of his Word of revelation, and he renews human beings through his life-giving Spirit. There is a monergism of the Spirit in both instances; God is the author of Scripture and the author of salvation, He calls his prophets and apostles to speak his word, and he calls his people to confess his name. However, this is not all. As the Spirit who initiates the work of regeneration continues that work through the stages of the ordo salutis, so also the inspired Word continues to be the Word of God as the Holy Spirit speaks through it hic et nunc. The dynamic relation of Spirit and Word is not the property of the Barthians! God is the perpetual author of Scripture, and his word remains a dynamic, penetrating, and redemptive force as the viva vox Dei.

Pgs. 60-61.

This was a most enjoyable and informative read and part of a fine collection of essays!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA



2 thoughts on “The Imago Dei and the “Humanity” of Scripture”

    1. My pleasure. I’m surprised to hear of a critical review in that particular journal. I’d think this collection of essays would have been much in harmony with the general tenor of the gospel coalition, although I must admit to not being too up on the details of who is saying what over there … Oh well, I’m glad to give the book some positive press over here!



Comments are closed.