Monday, June 3, 2013


Among the popular buzzwords, used by the news and entertainment media are "icon" and its derivative, "iconic."  Rock singers are iconic, as are movie stars, sports figures.  Anybody who's anybody is ether "iconic" or  "an icon."  Frankly, this sort of trivialization of a fine old word has started to bug me!

As a person who has a little knowledge of biblical Greek and of church history, as well as one who is a lover of words, I felt compelled to post a few of my thoughts on these words which do have some precise meanings.

My Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary gives the following definitions:  Icon, also Ikon, n. (Latin from Grk Eikon, for Eikenai to resemble).

1:  a usu. pictorial representation - image.
2:  a conventional religious image typically painted on a small wooden panel and used in the devotions of Eastern Christians.
3:  an object of uncritical devotion:  idol.
4:  emblem, symbol.
5a:  a sign (as a word or graphic symbol) whose form suggests its meaning.  b:a graphic symbol on a computer display screen ...

The word "iconic" was simply given without definition.

Just to be sure I know what I'm talking about, I checked the word on Wikipedia to see if it agrees with my Webster's.  It basically did, but what struck me was the following comment:

"Some writers say that the term 'icon' and 'iconic' have been overused ....  The Christian Examiner nominates 'iconic' in its list of overused words, finding over 18,000 'iconic' references in news stories alone, with another 30,000 for 'icon,' including its use for SpongeBob SquarePants."

I'll say Amen to that!

Though Greek dictionaries elaborate much more, a brief definition of the word eikon as used in the New Testament is "image," "likeness," "form," "appearance."

The first use of eikon in biblical Greek is in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, ca 200 BC) in Genesis 1:26, where it is used to translate the Hebrew Tselem - "image."

"And God said, 'Let us make man according to our image (eikon), and according to our likeness" (also 1:27; 5:1).

The word eikon is used in biblical Greek of various images:  the image of Caesar on a coin, idols made in the image of man and other creatures, but the idea of the image of God is used again in the New Testament, though with some new emphases.

In Genesis 5:1, we are told again that God made man in His image (eikon), but in verse 3 we're told that Adam "begot a son in his own likeness and image (eikon).  Something seems to have changed after the fall.  Something apparently happened to that eikon of God.  There has been much theological ink spilled discussing this image.  Questions like, in what way(s) was the first man the image of God?   Has that image been lost?  Is man today still the image of God?

The usual answers to these questions seem to have to do with the fall.  When the first humans sinned, their image was in some way marred or defaced.  But man cannot lose the image; man IS the image, the representative likeness of the Creator within His creation.  This is what we are; this is what I am.

In the well-known story of the question of the lawfulness of paying tribute to Caesar, Jesus points out to His questioners that it is Caesar's image (eikon) which is impressed on the tax coin.  "So then pay back to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God" (Matthew 22:16-22 and parallels).  Is this an allusion to the image of God in man?  As Caesar's image reminds of his sovereignty and ownership, so God's image reminds of His sovereignty and ownership.

But the Apostle Paul gives us some new information on this question.  Though man is still the image of God (1 Corinthians 11:7), there is a new Man who does not bear that marred image.  It is Jesus Christ.

" ... Christ who is the image (eikon) of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).

" ... the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, who is the image (eikon) of the incorruptible God ... " (Colossians 1:13-15).

So while the image of God in me is in many ways less than perfect, there is one in whom that image IS perfect.  But here's the good stuff.  I will someday bear that perfect image myself!  Every one of us who knows Jesus Christ has this promise.

" ... whom He foreknew, He also predestined conformed to the image of His Son ... " (Romans 8:29).

"And even as we have borne the image of the man of dust (Adam) we will also bear the image of the heavenly Man" (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Of course, we recognize that that promise is aimed at the future, when Jesus returns and we are raised bodily.  But wait!  There's more!

"But we all, with face unveiled, as we gaze on the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being transformed into that very image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This passage is telling us that this is a right now situation.

So, to sum up. The first human beings were created in God's image as His representatives on earth.  However, through their original sin, the image that Adam passed on was in some way marred.  He passed on his own image which we, his descendants bear.

Then God's incarnate Son came as the perfect image of God.  And we who know Christ will at His coming, be restored to His image.  But we, right now are in the process of transformation into that image.

If I were a rock star, movie star or sports star, I think I would resent being called an "icon" - - a representation of the real things.  But I can take comfort in being and becoming an icon of Jesus Christ.  Though I still must wonder how well I am representing the real thing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since reading this I am suddenly noticing the word iconic being used all over. Oh well, awesome post!