Paul in Colossians 1:15 says Jesus is the “image of God.” The verse reads in various versions:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (NIV)
who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (ASV)
So Paul in the same verse that he says Jesus is a created form — the “firstborn of all creation” — Paul says the “image” of God was Jesus. (For scholarly agreement, see our article “Paul’s Flawed Christology.”)
Now Jesus said something that one might think is similar but it is very different. If you had seen Jesus, you had seen the Father. See John 14:7-9. Jesus explains the Father dwells in Himself.
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14:10(NIV)
Now what Jesus says does not turn into idolatry. He is speaking of the dwelling presence of God, and not that Jesus Himself was the “image” of God. Jesus’ portrayed His actions as a reflection of the will of God, and not that His face / image was the face / image of God the Father.
But Paul uses the very word for “image” — a Greek word that we know as icon — that transgresses the command in the Bible against having an ICON or “image” of a creature as representative of God. This is in the Second Commandment as Jews count. (Part of the First as others count.) God means you are not to think by looking at the IMAGE or ICON of a creature that you are looking at God, for the Creator cannot be represented by what He created. The “firstborn,” as Paul calls Jesus in Col. 1:15, cannot be an “image” of God without violating the Second Commandment. (To repeat, on the scholarly agreement that Paul says Jesus is a “created being” in Col. 1:15, see our article “Paul’s Flawed Christology.”)
The Commandment in part b says:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…. (Exodus 20:4.)
Does this permit you to treat a man as an image of God and avoid its prohibition merely because you did not yourself ‘carve’ an image? No. The true meaning of idolatry can be violated by treating a true man (even though indwelled by the Father) as an image of God.
For idolatry is about “giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God.” (“Idolatry,” Wikipedia). And Paul just said Jesus was a created form — the “firstborn over all creation.”
In a number of places, the Hebrew Bible makes clear that God has no shape or form, and is utterly incomparable; thus no idol, image, idea, or anything comparable to creation could ever capture God’s essence. For example, when the Israelites are visited by God in Deut. 4:15, they see no shape or form. Many verses in the Bible use anthropomorphisms to describe God, (e.g. God’s mighty hand, God’s finger, etc.) but these verses have always been understood as poetic images rather than literal descriptions. This is reflected in Hosea 12:10 which says, “And I have spoken unto the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the hand of the prophets I use similes.” (“Idolatry,” Wikipedia.)
For example, Deuteronomy 4:15 says: “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully.”
So is it proper for Paul, with his understanding of Jesus as a created being, to make Jesus the Man the “image” of the invisible God? Not merely the representative, agent or divine dwelling of God, but the “image” of the invisible God? If not, it is because Paul’s words themselves transgress the Ten Commandments even as Paul understood Christ’s nature.
What do others think about this?