Question: What does “man made in the image of God” mean?
As I began to study to answer this question, it became obvious that the theology of “Imago Dei”[i] is quite varied and complex, even among orthodox theologians. To this I had previously paid little attention. My unstudied view centered on the moral qualities of man. Louis Berkhof explains that he early Church Fathers “were quite agreed that the image of God in man consisted primarily in man’s rational and moral characteristics, and in his capacity for holiness…”[ii] My answer, however, will consider it from a contextual concept in the book of Genesis. I believe John Piper is correct stating, “The Bible is not as concerned as we are to discover the precise nature of man’s God-likeness.”[iii]
In the book of Genesis, there are three texts applicable to the “image of God” idea.[iv]
Genesis 1:26-27 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:[v] and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Genesis 5:1-2 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
The first mention in Genesis 1:26-27 provides several clues that should not be excluded from understanding that man is created “in the image of God.”
- The significance of man in creation is seen in the consultation of the Godhead: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v. 26). This consultation is abruptly inserted into a record of creation that previously proceeded without discussion. Man’s creation is distinct and different from what came before.
- The responsibility of man over creation is seen in the dominion that he is given: “let them have dominion” (v. 26). No other thing created in these six days is given dominion over the earth and the things of the earth.
- The uniqueness of man among creation is seen in the unity and duality of his creation: “created he him; male and female created he them” (v. 27) “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. (Genesis 2:21-22). Man, Adam and Eve, are creative, procreative, and united in one. No animals were created in this distinct way.
- The importance of man to creation is seen in his being the final and crowning point of the creation: “Let us make man…And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (6th day)…”And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (7th day). No other creatures or things were made after man. They were the finishing touch!
Note that there is no indication that man lost the image in his fall, though it might be considered marred. Even in his depraved condition man continues the benefits of being created in God’s image. Genesis 9:6 cites the “Imago Dei” reasoning to condemn murder and support punishment of murderers. This is not only after the fall, but after the flood as well! Man was still “in the image of God.” (Cf. also 1 Corinthians 11:7, man is (presently) “the image and glory of God,” and James 3:9, which also speaks of man in the image of God in the present tense.)
In some way man is like (in the likeness of) God. Adam and Eve do not resemble God in the sense that God has flesh and blood, or male and female body parts. “God is not a man” and “God is Spirit” (Numbers 23:19; John 4:24). God exists without a body, as we understand it. Nevertheless, it is best to understand that the whole man (combining body and soul) is created in God’s image – rather than parcel the “Imago Dei” out piecemeal.
Unlike the animals, with whom man shares physical characteristics (e.g. eyes, ears, legs, etc.) man also has the breath of God in them (Genesis 2:7). Unlike the angels, who are ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14), man is created with authority, to have dominion over the world God made (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). The statements of Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 5:1-2 support man’s unique role in God’s creation as his “Imago Dei.” This interpretation remains consistent with Genesis 9:6, as well as 1 Corinthians 11:7 and James 3:9.
[i] The Latin Imago Dei is the common theological term for the concept “Image of God.”
[ii] Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1939, p. 202. See, for example, Augustine in The City of God (New York, NY: The Modern Library, 1950, p. 407): “God...created him a soul endowed with reason and intelligence...”
[iii] The Image of God: An Approach from Biblical and Systematic Theology (Studia Biblica et Theologica, March 1971)
[iv] “Likeness” in Genesis 5:1; “likeness” translates the Hebrew word demût; “image” translates the Hebrew word selem. In addition, Genesis 5:3 speaks of Adam’s son born in his image: “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth:” Seth was begat in a way that he was like his father. As Seth was patterned after Adam, so Adam was patterned after God.
[v] Some writers claim a difference or distinction between the words image (selem) and likeness (demût) in Genesis 1:26, where God consults and resolves to create “in our image, after our likeness.” The commentary on the actual doing of the resolution in verse 26, as stated in verse 27, clarifies that “likeness” is a restatement of “image” – therefore it is not necessary to mention likeness (demût) again in verse 27.