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THEOLOGY > Man > Crown of Creation > Image of God


The initial text is as follows:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . so God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Gen. 1:26-27).

Additional passages related to the image of God are: Gen. 5:1-2; 9:6; Ps. 8:5; I Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9:

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created (Gen. 5:1-2);

Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man (Gen. 9:6);

For You have made him a little lower than the angels (lit., Elohim), and You have crowned him with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5);

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God (I Cor. 11:7);

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God (Jas. 3:9).

Two words in Genesis embody the Biblical teaching of the Imago Dei:

“image” - Heb., tselem; speaks of a “statue” or “form” and is from a root meaning “to cut” or “to carve” (Num. 33:52; Dan. 2:32); in the Septuagint the Gr., eikon, transl. tselem; the Lat., is imago;

“likeness” - Heb., demuth; speaks of a resemblance or a similarity between two things (Gen. 5:3; Ezek. 10:1, 22); in the Septuagint the Gr. homoiosis, transl. demuth; the Lat., is similitude.

“Image” and “likeness” are not two different entities, characteristics, or faculties possessed by man; the words are virtual synonyms, typical of the Hebrew style known as parallelism, whereby two different words are used to convey a single concept—together the words (“image” and “likeness”) suggest intensity in the identification of man with God. Buswell wrote: “It is futile to attempt to make any precise distinctions between the two words as they are found in this context” (A ST of the Christian Religion, 232). Literally the Old Testament text could be translated: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”

At times the two words are used together and at times individually; for instance, in Genesis 1:27 “image” is used without “likeness,” while in 5:1 “likeness” is used without “image,” and in 5:3 both words are used of Adam and Seth but in a different order from 1:26 (“in his own likeness, after his image”). Only “image” is used in 9:6. Thus, their usage in the Old Testament indicates the close relationship between the two words and their interchangeableness.

Also in the Old Testament, “glory and honor” are used in Psalm 8:5. Though the words, “image” and “likeness,” are not mentioned in the context, surely the Imago Dei is the intent of the passage. Man’s nature in Psalms is associated with his rule in the same way it is in Genesis. It is obvious that the terminology of Psalms and the terminology in Genesis are both referring to the nature of man which is a reflection of God.

In the New Testament “image” (eikon) is used in I Corinthians 11:7, while “likeness” (homoiosis) is used in James 3:9 (transl. as “similitude” in NKJV, but “likeness” in ESV). Thus, their usage in the New Testament also indicates the close relationship between the two words. The additional word, “glory,” is added in I Corinthians 11:7 to describe man.

All of these words from the Scriptures suggest similarity and dissimilarity between God and man; that is, they indicate a reflection of God by man and a distinction between God and man; together they convey man’s essence in his relationship to God—man is like God, but man is not God.

Several thoughts are suggested.

The image is affirmed but never defined. In both Testaments the teaching is that man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; Ps. 8:5; I Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). At least four different words are used to convey the concept: “image,” “likeness,” “glory,” and “honor.” Though the references are relatively few, the testimony is unmistakable.

But neither in Genesis, nor in the rest of the Bible, do the Scriptures delineate the precise nature or meaning of the image. So, on the one hand, the image is the essence of man’s being; but, on the other hand, the image is a mystery—it is never defined nor explained. It is no wonder that the psalmist proclaims: “What is man?”

More vital than the precise meaning or definition of the concept is the concept itself. It is the most significant point in speaking of man, for it is foundational for understanding man’s being and constructing a valid anthropology; man’s sin and Christ’s redemption are related topics that must consider the fact of image.

Man himself, all that he is, is the image of God. According to Scripture, man is made in the image of God. Therefore, the image is not something man has, but the image is what man is. The image is not composed of a set of characteristics or qualities that are a part of man, making the image some sort of entity that man possesses. Rather, man in his totality is the image of God; so the content or composition of the image is man. The image must be defined as being what man is.

The total man, both the material and the immaterial, is like God. It is not that some part of man bears the image or is the image, but that man himself is the image, man in his entirety. God created man in His image, therefore, at the point of his creation, man as man was, and still is, the image of God; the creation was not a process but an act.

The living being who was made from dirt was at the moment of his creation, and in his present state is the image of God!

Man is like God in some sense. The image is a Theistic concept; that is, the image speaks of God. Therefore, the image should be understood in terms of Who or what God is, not what man has. Image is more related to the essence of God than it is to the characteristics of man; so reflection on the image should focus more on God than man.

Understanding of the image begins with some understanding of God, and moves from God to man. It is an understanding of Who or What God is, and then it is seeking to discover what it is that is true of man that is a reflection of God. The image is to be understood in terms of man being like God; it means that man is defined in terms of God and not that God is understood in terms of man.

In some sense God made man like Himself; that is, man mirrors God. “The simple declaration of the Scripture is that man at his creation was like God” (C. Hodge, ST, II, 96). Man was made like God in terms of being, that is, his nature or his composition.

There is a correspondence between God and man, and this correspondence is spoken of as “image and likeness.” This means that man is a reflection of God and that he displays a resemblance to God; there is a similarity between what God is and what man is. The correspondence is not some sort of commonality that both partake of, nor of God in some way aligning Himself with man, but the correspondence is that man is a mirror of God.

There is a correspondence for the purpose of the representation of God by man, for man is God’s representative on earth; and for man to fulfill his purpose, he must be like God (see: Purpose of Man). This is God’s determination for man, not man’s determination for himself.

Man is not God, does not partake of God, does not emanate from God. There is a dissimilarity between God and man. Though man is like God, man is not God and did not become God when he was made in the image of God; and in his origination he did not flow out from God in some sort of emanation. There is an essential separation between Deity and humanity. Man is like the Divine, but man is not divine—man is only the image.

One point that needs to be affirmed is that man’s image is derived, while God’s image is intrinsic to Him. Being made in the image of God does not indicate that God shares or endows man with part of Himself, or that man in some way is an extension of God; no part of man becomes Deity. There is a total disconnect between the two. Man became man; God remained God.

But man was made to be the image of God; and by virtue of his being, his existence, his essential essence, he is showing forth God constantly, even while he is not God. In some manner every person daily displays or shows forth the God of the Bible. The statue may reflect the sculptor, but the statue is distinct from the sculptor (see: Display the Image).

The image differentiates man from the rest of creation. A separation exists between man and the other parts of God’s creation, whether animate or inanimate. What is true of man is true of no other part of the creation of God, and it is man’s likeness to God that creates this division.

Man and beast are both from the earth, but only man is endowed with the image of God, crowned with glory and honor. The fish do not bear the image, nor do the birds; and none of the inanimate order mirrors God. Man stands alone, alone in his relationship to God and alone in his relationship to creation (see: Classification of Man).

Though the image is rarely mentioned in Scripture, its importance cannot be over emphasized; it is that which describes man and distinguishes man—man is defined by the image. The image was bestowed on man, and in that act the profound significance of man is found.

The image defines man in relationship to creation. It is proper to reflect on the image from two perspectives: how man is like God, and how man is unique when compared to all of creation. On the one hand, man mirrors God; and, on the other hand, man is not typical of the rest of creation.

It is in the dissimilarity between man and the rest of creation that man’s relationship to creation is defined. In this separation or distinction there is the basis for God’s command to man regarding the dominion. That which distinguishes man makes possible the dominion of man (see: Dominion Mandate).

It is the image that elevates man in his association with the rest of creation, bestowing upon man a glory that enables him to fulfill his role in relationship to creation. Dominion is conceivable because of that which defines man. If man is to rule over creation, then he must be equipped to rule—thus the purpose of the image.

Because man is the image of God he is to creation the epitome of sovereignty. As God is Sovereign over the Cosmos, so man is sovereign over the world (see: Nature of the Image and Display the Image).

Return to: Crown of Creation; Next Article: Interpretations of the Image

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