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REVIEW: Created in God’s Image by Anthony Hoekema14 min read

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In Created in God’s Image (1994), Anthony Hoekema (1913-1988) appraises Biblical anthropology in a comprehensive way, but also brings to light modern thinking on the areas that continue to develop or remain contentious. In doing so, he opens up the student of scripture to important conversations, ideas, and impacts that make biblical anthropology important and engaging. Beginning with a compelling argument for the importance of this area of study, he continues through the unique features of the Bible’s narratives on the creation of mankind, the image of God (imago dei), and the origin, spread, nature, and restraint of sin. He finishes with a review of the bipartite and tripartite views of man’s makeup and the question of free will, and what true freedom is. In each chapter, there are important ideas to wrestle with, even disagree with, which make for engaging reading.

The Imago Dei

One of the most surprising discoveries revealed in this book is how much confusion and disagreement there has been over the history of Christianity regarding the definition of the attributes that make up the imago Dei (ID), or image of God, in mankind. The author first quotes Irenaeus (130-202 AD), writing “For Irenaeus, the image of God meant man’s ‘nature as a rational and free being, a nature which was not lost in the fall’” (p. 34). [1] By contrast, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) thought the ID was to be found in the intellect of man, not in the free will as Irenaeus thought. John Calvin (1509-1564 AD), attempting like most reformers to think supremely biblically about such matters, concluded that the ID was in the mind and affections, or “in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.”

Hoekema does mention that Calvin opposed those who thought the ID was in man’s ability and authority to have dominion over the earth and its creatures, which seems an obvious place to start due to its proximity to the creation of man in Genesis and the mention of the ID, as well as His image in male and female. But as Hoekema moves into the Neo-orthodox theologians, we encounter  Emil Brunner’s somewhat obtuse oppositional male/female model, and also his helpful bifurcation of ID into formal and structural components.

Why the Imago Dei is All Over the Place

What becomes obvious in reading this section is that across much of Historical Theology, there has been a serious lack of a meaningful, structured and consistent Biblical taxonomy for anthropology to help rightly “divide between spirit and soul” (Hebrews 4:12).  As a trichotomist, I see this primarily as a failure of the bipartite (a.k.a. dualist) model. Rather than leading to clarity, it has led to a muddle of terms, both biblical and coined (e.g. Calvin’s “linaments”). Berkouwer (1903-1996), another neo-orthodox theologian, has the good sense to bring in our spiritual relatedness and relationship with God as central, and rightly (in my view) rejects defining the ID in terms of reason, morality, or freedom of the will (p. 60). Hoekema goes on to summarize his views, which include the helpful high-level view of our roles of mirroring and representing God, which seem to be our main functional similarities to God (i.e. “what man does”). At a structural level (“what man “”is”), Hoekema’s summary, however, seems to be a long list that includes all but the kitchen sink, which I again blame partly upon the lack of clarity brought about by a dualist anthropology. His list includes the mind, will, and emotions (functions of the soul according to trichotomy), as well as the spiritual functions of conscience and communion (Sinclair, 2020). [2]

One of the reasons to reject the functions attributed to the soul is that this same soul life (nephesh) is attributed to the animals in scripture, and certainly they do have at least a mind and emotions, if not a will (though some would say they only have instinct and no personal ability to choose). As science has progressed, we often find that although animals have a much more primitive version of these faculties, they may be more advanced than we had previously assessed, and so the difference between us and they is more a matter of degrees than a binary. Beyond the functional representation of God in dominion and the structural in the genders, it seems reasonable to attribute the “spiritual” functions of intuition, communion, and conscience to mankind (assuming we can stray from the explicit nature of our federal headship and gender in scripture to these more inductively defined structural components) since they seem entirely absent in the animal kingdom (that is, a binary yes or no – yes in man, no in animals).

Self Image

On the topic of self-image, I found Hoekema frustratingly safe and orthodox, if not fundamentalist. While he does make overtures to a healthy self-assessment, he continues to describe most self-interest as pride and conceit, rather than differentiating between healthy and unhealthy self-interest, i.e. stewardship of the created self v. vain conceit based on either the created self or an imagined projection from the wounded soul. He does concede that we ought to “use our gifts in the service of God and others,” and that “many evangelical Christians seem to have a self-image that is much more negative than positive” (p 107), but offers no real corrective other than a better self-assessment, and of course, putting on the new man in Christ rather than staying in the old man.

The problem with this rubric is in assuming that (a) all in the old man, that is, or old self, was not from God, and (b) that God is disinterested in restoring the created self (“our gifts”) as part of His redemptive work. I believe the lack of sound theology and inclusion of the notion of the stewardship of our created selves in light of God’s restoration is a huge missing piece from modern evangelicalism. Rather than showing love and appreciation for the individual, we act as if all that we were in Adam was wicked, and all that we need to be is found in Christ. But our very selves were not in either Adam or Christ, but in creation, which to me is part of who we are in God’s intentions. Not with respect to righteousness, but with respect to beauty and truth and redemption. As well-read and fully developed as much of Hoekema’s anthropology is (including his later review of trichotomy), this seems to be the least developed concept in the book. But perhaps he is just the victim of decades, if not centuries of incomplete, if not warped or missing thought on this in Christianity.

Original Sin

The book’s discussion of the origins of sin, and of the concept or original sin seemed comprehensive and compelling, and I especially appreciated his discussion of the two parts of original sin that we receive, the guilt of Adam, as well as the corruption of sin. I would have liked to have seen him mention that the great Methodist preacher John Wesley did not believe in inherited guilt, but only inherited corruption; this absence made it seem as though to deny inherited guilt might be heretical, or outside of the bounds of Christian faith (Arnold, 2020; Collins & Wall, 2020).

I also greatly appreciated his clear analysis of why it is nearly impossible to argue from scripture that Adam and Eve were merely myths or metaphors rather than actual historical people. It may seem incredible to those who doubt the historicity of the Bible or believe in the evolutionary origins of man instead of de novo creation, but consistent hermeneutical practice may make the acceptance of a historical Adam and Eve a logical necessity. [3]

The Myth of the Adamic “Covenant of Works”

Hoekema’s explication of the curses and sentence upon Adam and Eve were informative, though his interpretation of Genesis 3:16b, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you,” as sexual desire and the subordination of women respectively (both existent before the fall) seems wildly mistaken compared to more standard reformed responses, i.e. a desire to conquer his authority and his abuse of that authority (Grudem, 1994, pp. 463–464). Included in this discussion of the fall was the question of whether or not Adam and Eve were part of a covenant, and what that agreement consisted of. Not only does Hoekema make a good argument that there was no “Adamic covenant,” since covenants are not only typically sealed with the blood of an animal, he argues that such blood covenants are part of redemption, which was not needed before the fall.

Along with convincingly denying the existence of an Adamic Covenant, he challenges the idea that this original agreement was a “covenant of works.” However, while he agrees with Vos (Vos, 2014, pp. 29–33) that Adam and Eve were given a “probationary command,” he treats this as essentially consistent with the idea of a covenant of works, where God expected “perfect obedience” for the maintenance of righteousness (p. 121).

I would have liked to seem him go further into reconsidering this covenant of works mentality, as many have using the new perspective on Paul (Dunn, 2007), and reconsider whether or not the Adamic agreement was one of grace, not mere law keeping. In particular, I would like to have seen him take issue with the idea of God requiring slavish and perfect obedience in order to maintain a relationship with Him, especially for Adam and Eve, who were sinless and loved by God. I am not intimating that God would accept some level of sin, but I would prefer to consider God’s expectation for us, even under the Mosaic covenant, as one of grateful imperfect obedience, as Calvin describes our walk under the New Covenant (p 240). As a prompt into what this might mean, consider Jesus, who never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), yet certainly complained to God in the garden, saying “if possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). He struggled, yet without sin. This can still be considered perfect obedience.

Tripartite Anthropology

Lastly, and certainly not least, Hoekema reviews the two structural models for biblical anthropology, bipartite and tripartite, but as what I would call a practical monist, he essentially denies the truth or value of either model, opting for an almost exclusive emphasis on the psychosomatic unity of the human. Of course, in reality, he agrees that body, soul, spirit, heart, and other biblical terms all have some value as differing ways to view the whole human, but he seems to want to severely limit their interpretive or taxonomical usage out of fear of denying the essential unity of the human. That is, to avoid a type of modalism, he has rejected the bipartite or triune nature of man. This comparison to the trinity seems appropriate, since just as God is three persons with one essence, humans may be viewed as having three parts but one essence. [4]

As a primer on Biblical anthropology, Hoekema’s book is a nice overview of not only the relevant doctrines involved, but the Historical Theology included. In at least one instance, the author quoted from a Dutch text by Bavinck which has not been translated into English, which in the footnote included the reference of “translation mine.” This small detail, plus his admirable handling of various views, makes this volume useful as an in-depth introduction, and a jumping off place for further thought and discussion.


Arnold, B. T. (2020, June 1). Toward a Wesleyan Understanding of ‘Original Sin.’ Firebrand Magazine.

Collins, K. J., & Wall, R. W. (Eds.). (2020). Wesley One Volume Commentary. Abingdon Press.

Dunn, J. D. G. (2007). The New Perspective on Paul (Second Edition,Revised edition). Eerdmans.

Green, J. B. (2008). Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. Baker Academic.

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House.

Hoekema, A. A. (1994). Created in God’s Image (Reprint edition). Eerdmans.

Nee, W. (1968). The Spiritual Man. Christian Fellowship Publishers.

Sinclair, D. (2020). Tripartite Biblical Anthropology: A Structure for Exegetical and Theological Discussion. Whole Reason.

Vos, G. (2014). Biblical Theology (3 edition). Banner of Truth.


[1] Interestingly, Hoekema also notes that Irenaeus was a trichotomist who taught that unbelievers lack a spirit. A more modern trichotomist like Watchman Nee (1903-1972) would say that the spirit of the unregenerate is dead, and so subsumed into and dominated by the soul. (Nee, 1968, pp. 34–35 Vol. 1)

[2] Hoekema also adds our ability to appreciate beauty, but fails to mention what trichotomists call intuition.(Sinclair, 2020)

[3] In passing, Hoekema quotes Catholic theologian S. Trooster regarding the reality of Adam and Eve, remarking “evolution has utterly destroyed the Eden-myth and the Adam-myth.” Further, “acceptance of the modern viewpoint…eliminates the possibility of accounting for the genesis of evil in the world on the basis of sin by the first man.” In other words, evolution not compatible with either a historical Adam and Eve, nor the doctrine of original sin.

[4] There seems to be somewhat of a disproportionate fear of this human modalism among not only monists (I use the term loosely) like Hoekema and Green (Green, 2008), but among dualists. There seems to be a fear of trichotomy in not only creating too many parts, but in multiplying them needlessly. Underneath, I sense a resting on tradition rather than vigorous thought about the obvious and varied New Testament uses of psyche and pneuma.