Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | April 16, 2008

Perichoresis Part 2

The Church Fathers coined the term “perichoresis” in part to help us understand what it means to be made in the image of God.

Much of Christian reflection on humanity being made in God’s image has centered around the fact that we are reasonable creatures, i.e. we possess the faculty of reason in a way that other creatures do not.

The shortcoming of this approach is that it fails to adequately address what the image of God is. Jesus reveals God to be first and foremost the Triune relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To speak of God from a Christ centered perspective is not to speak first and primarily of “reason” but of “relationship.” To speak of God in the light of Jesus is to speak of the Father who loves the Son in the communion of the Spirit.

That’s why, in Genesis, when God says he will make humanity in his image he creates them male and female. Male and female denotes relationality. As he is a relational God, existing forever in relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit, so he also makes us relational in his image.

The Church Fathers described the relationality of the Trinity using a Greek compound word (perichoresis) that means “to dance around.” The image, I think, is of something like a circle or square dance where individuals remain distinctly themselves while participating in the dance.

In marriage, scripture says, the two become one flesh. Neither loses their distinction as individuals but both become participants in the relationship of being one flesh together. The man and woman are living in a kind of perichoresis within their marriage and this is a reflection of the perichoresis of the Triune Life.

We have been created in relationship and for relationship. The Son shares with us the perichoresis he has with the Father, in the Spirit, and we only understand our true identity as children in God’s image when we understand how the Son has adopted us into that perichoretic life.


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