Calvin contributes to our understanding of the image of God, but his concept of the image of God has some limitations. Later reformed theologians have overcome some of the problems by using what they learned from Calvin. The following points are problematic aspects in Calvin’s Understanding of the image of God: (1) the soul being the primary seat of the image of God, (2) seeing the soul as the “nobler part” and the body as “the prison of the soul,” (3) viewing the angels as also created in God’s image, and (4) seeing woman as the image of God only in a secondary degree. Later Reformed theologians consistently developed Calvin’s insights to their logical conclusions.
This inquiry is primarily meaningful in a historical sense in that it uncovers how Reformed theology developed the concept of image of God; it is also meaningful in the sense that it shows the way in which our theology should be developing. That is, Reformed theologians are not just to repeat what those of previous generation said. Rather they are following Calvin who himself corrected the church fathers’ and the medieval theologians’ understanding of the image of God and providing a more biblical understanding of the image of God. Authentic Reformed theology has to be faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures and correct inadequate understandings of previous generations.
Some of the later Reformed theologians have corrected Calvin’s understanding of the image of God using what they have learned from Calvin himself, as we have clearly seen in the understanding of the image of God as the whole being and in the more scriptural and positive understanding of the human body. Indeed, it is problematic both to disregard traditions that are biblical, or to simply rubber stamp the past.
We look forward to future of Reformed theology that follows the path of Calvin and the later Reformed theologians by correcting faulty traditions by going back to Scripture. We also attempt to address the unsatisfactory atemporal approach to Calvin and promote a view of theological development from a Reformed perspective.
Note: A longer text on this subject was published in the journal (Seung-Goo Lee, “Calvin and
Later Reformed Theologians on the Image of God,” Unio cum Christo 2.1 [April 2016]: 135–47) and is now available on the website.