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Can a Single Person Fully Image God?
By Stephen J. Wellum
Stephen J. Wellum is a Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
My short answer is, yes. However, the explanation as to why this is so requires a whole-Bible answer since on the surface, the answer seems to be no. This is especially the case if you limit your discussion to the creation story and the OT covenants. For example, think about what Genesis 1–2 teaches us about the creation of male, female, and marriage.
In Genesis 1, everything seems to center on the creation of male and female on the sixth day (Gen. 1:26–31). On this day, God created man—male and female—to be his servant-sons,hiskings and queens to rule over creation and to marry and have children. In fact, this is beautifully portrayed in Genesis 2, where we’re told that no suitable helper was found for Adam from the rest of creation, so God created Eve to complement him (Gen. 2:23). The creation of Eve then becomes the basis for the institution of marriage, which is the foundation for human society (Gen. 2:24), something we tinker with to our societal destruction.
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Furthermore, after the Fall and until the end of the age, creation order continues in the Noahic covenant which includes marriage and the family (Gen. 9:1–7). Even under the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants, the assumption is that humans will marry, have children, and carry out the creation mandate. In fact, not to marry and have children is viewed as abnormal. So, if we limit ourselves to the OT alone, it would seem that single persons can only truly image God in marriage.
But this would be a wrong conclusion. Let me explain why in four steps.
First, even in Genesis 1–2, Scripture does not reduce the image of God to the male-female relationship in marriage.
Marriage is certainly an expression of what it means to be image bearers, but we, as individuals, are created in God’s image, regardless of whether we’re married or not. Otherwise, from conception, we wouldn’t bear God’s image. We’d only do so after we become married, which is not the case. Instead, it’s better to stress that we’re created for relationships, which is uniquely expressed inheterosexualmarriage, but is not limited to it, as evidenced in unmarried children in families and people in communities.
Second, as vital as it is to think about our human creation, we must first think about the ultimate purpose for our creation, namely, to be in covenant relationship with our Creator.
After all, the glorious triune God of Scripture is the most central person in the creation story, and the purpose of our creation is to know and glorify him. God has created us not merely for each other, as significant as that is, but for his own glory andforcovenant relationship with him. We fulfill, then, the purpose of our creation in relationship—first to God, and second to one another, with marriage being but one way to express human relationships.
Third, we find proof that marriage is not the ultimate expression of how we image God through the coming of Christ and the inauguration of the new covenant.
Why? Because in Christ’s work, he fulfills the previous covenants and unveils God’s ultimate purpose for us. In this regard, consider Ephesians 5:21–33 in relation to marriage. In giving instructions for Christian marriages, Paul grounds his teaching in Genesis 2:24 as you would expect. But then he does something unexpected. He says that God created marriage to be a “mystery,” that is, a revelation of God’s ultimate purpose or plan, which has now been unveiled in Christ’s coming.
For Paul, God designed marriage to be a typological pattern to reveal something greater, namely Christ’s relationship to his church. This only makes sense if human marriage is viewed not as an end in itself but as means to a greater end. In other words, as vital as human marriage is, God did not intend it to be permanent in his plan and thus the only expression of our image bearing. Instead, God designed marriage for multiple reasons, but most significantly to point beyond itself to the greater and more ultimate relationship God created us for, namely, for us to beinrelationship in the church, and as the church, to be in relationship to Christ.
Fourth, this truth now makes sense of two other NT truths related to marriage.
First, Jesus teaches that as significant as marriage is for this age, there is no marriage in the consummation (Matt. 22:29–30). In other words, God intended human marriage to be temporary for this age and revelatory of something greater. What is eternal, then, is not human marriage but Christ’s relationship with the church. If this is so, then marriage cannot function as the only place we image God.
Second, this truth also makes sense of Paul saying that singleness is a charismatic gift (1 Cor. 7:7, 25–40). In the OT, there’s nothing comparable to this teaching. But now that Christ has come, the new creation has begun to dawn, and the old creation structures are being transformed, including marriage and the family—although this will not fully occur until the consummation. In the church, singleness is not viewed as subpar or abnormal, since singles, along with married couples, are part of what is permanent: the church. As God’s people, we live out the purpose of our creation and image bearing in relationship to one another and to Christ.
So, can a single person fully image God apart from marriage? The short and long answer is, yes. In Scripture, tied to God’s created order, human marriage is vitally important, but it’s not permanent nor is it the only place where humans fully image God. If we’re married, our marriages ought to reflect all that God created them to be. However, the marriage relationship is not an end in itself. Instead, the church is—the church which is comprised of singles and married couples as God’s new humanity and new creation. Single people, as individual believers and especially as part of the church, fully image God as they build relationships with each other and grow in their relationship with the triuneGod centered in Christ Jesus our Lord.
https://www.9marks.org/article/can-a-single-person-fully-image-god/. Accessed, March 31, 2017.