Click to Change

Return to Top

Return to Top

Printer Icon


The Blue Letter Bible

Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

Choose a new font size and typeface

xv. εἰκών, ὁμοίωσις, ὁμοίωμα.

There is a twofold theological interest attending the distinction between εἰκών and the two words which are here brought into comparison with it; the first belonging to the Arian controversy, and turning on the fitness or unfitness of the words before us to set forth the relation of the Son to the Father; while the other is an interest that, seeming at first sight remote from any controversy, has yet contrived to insinuate itself into more than one, namely, whether there be a distinction, and if so, what it is, between the ‘image’ (εἰκών) of God, in which, and the ‘likeness’ (ὁμοίωσις) of God, after which, man was created at the beginning (Gen. 1:26).

I need hardly remind those who will care to read this volume of the distinction drawn between the words during the course of the long Arian debate. Some there may be who are not acquainted with Lightfoot’s note on Col. 1:15 in his Commentary on the Colossians. Them I must refer to his discussion on the words εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ. It is evident that εἰκών (from εἴκω, ἔοικα) and ὁμοίωμα might often be used as equivalent, and in many positions it would be indifferent whether one or the other were employed. Thus they are convertibly used by Plato (Phoedr. 250 b), ὁμοιώματα and εἰκόνες alike, to set forth the earthly copies and resemblances of the archetypal things in the heavens. When, however, the Church found it necessary to raise up bulwarks against Arian error and equivocation, it drew a strong distinction between these two, one not arbitrary, but having essential difference in the words themselves for its ground. Εἰκών (==‘imago’==‘imitago’==ἀπεικόνισμαEtym. Note. 11), and used in the same intention of the Logos by Philo (Leg. Alleg. iii. 31), always assumes a prototype, that which it not merely resembles, but from which it is drawn, a παράδειγμα (Philo, ibid.); it is the German ‘Abbild,’ which invariably presumes a ‘Vorbild;’ thus Gregory Nazianzene (Orat. 36): αὕτη γὰρ εἰκόνος φύσις, μίμημα εἶναι τοῦ ἀρχετύπου. Thus, the monarch’s head on the coin is εἰκών (Matt. 22:20); the reflection of the sun in the water is εἰκών (Plato, Phoedo, 99 d); the statue in stone or other material is εἰκών (Rev. 13:14); and, coming nearer to the heart of the matter than by any of these illustrations we have done, the child is ἔμψυχος εἰκών of his parents. But in the ὁμοίωμα or ὁμοίωσις, while there is resemblance, it by no means follows that it has been acquired in this way, that it is derived: it may be accidental, as one egg is like another, as there may exist a resemblance between two men in no way akin to one another. Thus, as Augustine in an instructive passage brings out (Quest. lxxxiii. 74), the ‘imago’ (==εἰκών) includes and involves the ‘similitudo,’ but the ‘similitudo’ (==ὁμοίωσις) does not involve the ‘imago.’ The reason will at once be manifest why εἰκών is ascribed to the Son, as representing his relation to the Father (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; of. Wisd. 7:26); while among all the words of the family of ὅμοιος, not merely none are so employed in the Scripture, but they have all been expressly forbidden and condemned by the Church; that is, so soon as ever this has had reason to suspect that they were not used in good faith. Thus Hilary, addressing an Arian, says, “I may use them, to exclude Sabellian error; but I will not suffer you to do so, whose intention is altogether different” (Con. Constant. Imp. 17–21).

Εἰκών, in this its augustest application, like χαρακτήρ and ἀπαύγασμα (Heb. 1:3), with which theologically it is nearly allied, like ἔσοπτρον, ἀτμίς, ἀπόρροια (Wisd. 5:2 26), like σκιά (Philo, Leg. Alleg. iii. 31; but not Heb. 10:1); which are all remoter approximations to the same truth, is indeed inadequate; but, at the same time, it is true as far as it goes; and in human language, employed for the setting forth of truths which transcend the limits of human thought, we must be content with approximate statements, seeking for the complement of their inadequacy, for that which shall redress their insufficiency, from some other quarter. Each has its weak side, which must be supported by strength derived from elsewhere. Εἰκών is weak; for what image is of equal worth and dignity with the prototype from which it is imaged? But it has also its strong side; it implies an archetype from which it has been derived and drawn; while ὁμοιότης, ὁμοίωσις, and words of this family, expressing mere similarity, if they did not actually imply, might yet suggest, and if they suggested, would seem to justify, error, and that with no compensating advantage. Exactly the same considerations were at work here, which, in respect of the verbs γεννᾶν and κτίζειν, did in this same controversy lead the Church to allow the former and to condemn the latter. The student who would completely acquaint himself with all the aspects of the great controversy to which these words, in their relation to one another, gave rise, above all, as to the exact force of εἰκών as applied to the Son, will find the materials admirably prepared to his hand by Petavius, De Trin. ii. 11; iv. 6; vi. 5, 6; while Gfrörer (Philo, vol. i. p. 261 sqq.) will give him the very interesting, but wholly inadequate, speculations of the Alexandrian theosophists on the same subject.

The second interest in the discrimination of these words lies in the question, which has often been discussed, whether in that great fiat announcing man’s original constitution, “Let us make man in our image (κατ᾽ εἰκόνα, LXX., עֶלֶס Heb.), after our likeness” (καθ᾽ ὁμοίωσιν, LXX., דְמוּת Heb.), anything different was intended by the second from the first, or whether the second is merely to be regarded as consequent upon the first, “in our image,” and therefore “after our likeness.” Both the εἰκών and ὁμοίωσις are claimed for man in the N. T.: the εἰκών, 1 Cor. 11:7; the ὁμοίωσις, Jam. 3:9. The whole subject is discussed at large by Gregory of Nyssa in a treatise which he has devoted exclusively to the question (Opp. 1638, vol. ii. pp. 22– 34), but mainly in its bearing on controversies of his own day. He with many of the early Fathers, as also of the Schoolmen, affirmed a real distinction. Thus, the great Alexandrian theologians taught that the εἰκών was something in which men were created, being common to all, and continuing to man as much after the Fall as before (Gen. 9:6), while the ὁμοίωσις was something toward which man was created, that he might strive after and attain it; Origen (De Prin. iii, 6): ‘Imaginis dignitatem in primâ conditione percepit, similitudinis vero perfectio in consummatione servata est;’ cf. in Joan. tom. xx. 20; Irenaeus, v. 16. 2; Tertullian, De Bapt. 5. Doubtless the Platonist studies and predilections of the illustrious theologians of Alexandria had some influence upon them here, and on this distinction which they drew. It is well known that Plato presented the ὁμοιοῦσθαι τῷ Θεῷ κατὰ τὸ δυνατόν (Theoet. 176 a) as the highest scope of man’s life; and indeed Clement (Strom. ii. 22) brings the great passage of Plato to bear upon this very discussion. The Schoolmen, in like manner, drew a distinction, although it was not this one, between ‘these two divine stamps upon man.’ Thus Anselm, Medit. ma; Peter Lombard, Sent. ii. dist. 16; H. de S. Victore, De Animâ, ii. 25; De Sac. i. 6. 2: ‘Imago secundum cognitionem veritatis, similitudo secundum amorem virtutis;’ the first declaring the intellectual, as the second the moral, preëminence in which man was created.

Many, however, have refused to acknowledge these, or any other distinctions, between the two declarations; as Baxter, for instance, who, in his interesting reply to Elliott the Indian Missionary’s inquiries on the subject, rejects them all as groundless conceits, though himself in general only too anxious for distinction and division (Life and Times, by Sylvester, vol. ii. p. 296). They were scarcely justified in this rejection. The Alexandrians, I believe, were very near the truth, if they did not grasp it altogether. There are portions of Scripture, in respect of which the words of Jerome, originally applied to the Apocalypse, ‘quot verbs tot sacraments,’ hardly contain an exaggeration. Such an eminently significant part is the history of man’s creation and his fall, all which in the first three chapters of Genesis is contained. We may expect to find mysteries there; prophetic intimations of truths which it might require ages upon ages to develop. And, without attempting to draw any very strict line between εἰκών and ὁμοίωσις, or their Hebrew counterparts, we may be bold to say that the whole history of man, not only in his original creation, but also in his after restoration and reconstitution in the Son, is significantly wrapped up in this double statement; which is double for this very cause, that the Divine Mind did not stop at the contemplation of his first creation, but looked on to him as “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 3:10, on which see Lightfoot in loco); because it knew that only as partaker of this double benefit would he attain the true end for which he was ordained.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1504,G3667,G3669.]

Return to the Table of Contents

BLB Searches
Search the Bible

Advanced Options

Other Searches

Multi-Verse Retrieval

Daily Devotionals

Blue Letter Bible offers several daily devotional readings in order to help you refocus on Christ and the Gospel of His peace and righteousness.

Daily Bible Reading Plans

Recognizing the value of consistent reflection upon the Word of God in order to refocus one's mind and heart upon Christ and His Gospel of peace, we provide several reading plans designed to cover the entire Bible in a year.

One-Year Plans

Two-Year Plan


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.