In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4
In my two years of involvement in the ethics community at a state medical school, I’ve found that the Christian concept of the imago dei speaks to unaddressed problems in bioethics. The philosophy of materialism so dominates medical study and practice that descriptions of the individual do not rise much past the biological system that is the body. Theological and, to a large extent, metaphysical explanations are excluded. This leaves ideas on ethical behavior merely as encouragement to be nice or to ensure individual choice.
The Bible uses many terms to describe the human being, including nephesh, ruach, lebh, basar, psyche, soma, and sarx. None of these descriptions falls into a neat, Western, body-soul-spirit framework. These words instead speak of a richness that extends far beyond any reductionist view of the person. The doctrine that people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6) gives us insight into human purpose and ethical behavior toward others.
Last fall, I presented a poster at a symposium and included in it a paragraph on using the imago dei as a basis for a theory of personhood. A medical researcher nearby left her poster and asked me what data I used to support my conclusions. I explained that my paper examined the theoretical constructs we use when treating our patients. It never occurred to her that she had, or might need, a philosophical framework in order to interpret her own data. Medical practitioners need to recognize the body as one aspect of the whole person formed in a way to reflect God, even to represent Him in the world. Ultimately, an understanding of our humanity in terms of the imago dei points to the new Adam who in His blameless life was, and is, the image unmarred.