Notes on Genesis (xxvii) Likeness and image, revisited

‘Now Adam…begot a son according to his form and image, and named him Seth.’ (Gen 5:3)

Adam ‘s third son, born to him when he was extremely advanced in years, is described in terms that recall the relationship of Adam to God expressed by the phrase ‘image and likeness’ (Gen 1:26f), but the order of the two terms is reversed and in the Greek the very Platonic word ‘form’ (idea) is used instead of ‘likeness’ (homoiosis; the letter attributed to James refers to this word at 3:9); apparently in the Hebrew both words are identical with the ones used earlier. Adam’s procreation of Seth thus recalls God’s creation of Adam himself. Origen introduces another element when, having quoted words of the Apostle that may themselves constitute a quotation from a very early hymn, that ‘[Christ] is the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), he discusses the relationship between Adam and Seth in language that furnishes a reminder of the earthly origin of some of the language that the Church uses to speak of the members of the Trinity: ‘Christ is the invisible image of the invisible God, just as according to the Scripture narrative we say that the image of Adam is his son Seth…This “image” preserves the unity of nature and substance common to a father and a son.’ Indeed, according to one way of translating another passage in St Paul, it is ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named’ (Eph 3:14f).

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