Book Review: “The Imago Dei as Human Identity” by Ryan S. Peterson

Book Review: “The Imago Dei as Human Identity” by Ryan S. Peterson June 16, 2021

The Imago Dei as Human Identity is the latest theological treatment for the critical doctrine of the image of God in man. For Ryan Peterson, the imago Dei is found not in any particular part or aspect of human nature, but is rather a description of humanity identity itself.

This is exactly the book on this topic that I was hoping for. It is excellently argued. The structure of the book is a bit stiff, given that it is a fairly direct adaptation of a doctoral dissertation, but this does not detract from the material in the least. I found it an enjoyable read, and I am largely convinced of Peterson’s thesis, though I think there are a few things I might add to the thesis.

Peterson provides a solid foundation of imago Dei from which to work in future studies of theological anthropology. He does not dismiss past positions, but adopts their strengths while effectively critiquing their weaknesses.  More specifically, Peterson interacts with Middleton, Clines, Barth, Aquinas, Irenaeus, and Augustine, among others.

The strongest parts of the book are his interactions with the above scholars and his canonical approach to the question, drawing in the New Testament usage of Genesis passages and incorporating them into his thesis.  In fact, I would say the New Testament forms the bedrock of his thesis, which is Christologically oriented.

If Peterson is lacking anything, it is in his direct treatment of the philology of the Hebrew, in which he sidesteps the linguistic issues that surround Genesis 1:26-27. He makes reference to some debates, but that is not really what he is getting at in this monograph. While I think he could strengthen his case by closer exegesis of the primary text, I don’t see anything linguistically that would overthrow his position. No doubt Peterson decided the same and decided to leave the Hebrew to Hebrew scholars.

For the best in-depth studies on the Hebrew issues, see Randall Garr’s very detailed monograph and David J. A. Clines’ 1968 article in the Tyndale Bulletin, reprinted with slight revisions in 1998.

Browse Our Archives