Friday, May 19, 2006

In the Image of God

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan asks what it means for us to be in the image of God. Here are some of my thoughts...

In Genesis 1:27 (NIV/ESV), it is written

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

But what does that mean? Are we still in God's image? How does it affect us?


What did it mean for Adam and Eve to be in God's image? We get a good idea from looking at the context of the passage.

Then God said "Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number... Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the ground."
Genesis 1:26-28 (NIV)

What it meant for Adam and Eve in part was that they were given the power and the authority to rule, under God, over the rest of creation. We see this again when we consider what the Bible says about Jesus being the image of God.

It is clearly not something physical - both male and female were created in God's image, and they are not the same as each other physically.

So, being in God's image was a gift of God to Adam and Eve. It was linked to their God-given authority and ability to rule over creation.


Possibly surprisingly, there are only two other references in the Bible to man being in God's image.

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
Genesis 9:6 (ESV)

With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
James 3:9 (ESV)

Both of these references say that in some way there is a dignity attached to human life because we were made in the image of God. So therefore we should not kill others, nor should we curse them.

Are We Still in God's Image?

However, I would like to suggest that both of these verses still hold true if they refer only to the original creation of people as in God's image. We aren't now in the image of God in the same way that Adam was created. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, we are sinful. We all reject and ignore God. By contrast, God is holy and we are forbidden even from making an image and claiming it to represent God (Exodus 20:4-6). Since God is holy, isn't it blasphemy to say that anything made by human hands is his image (Exodus 32)? Isn't it also blasphemy to say that sinful human beings are the image of God?

Secondly, it's not what Genesis teaches us. After the creation in Genesis 1 and 2, people start rejecting God and come under his wrath in Genesis 3 and 4. Then, in Genesis 5, we get a family tree running from Adam - the first man to sin - to Noah, from whom we are all descended. This is how Genesis 5 begins:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived for 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
Genesis 5:3 (ESV)

Genesis is explicit that Seth (Adam's son, through whom all modern humanity is descended) was made in Adam's image, whereas Adam was made in God's image. But between the creation of Adam and the birth of Seth, we have Adam starting to sin and coming under God's judgement. We see that in the family - all of Adam's descendants sin, just like Adam did.

The New Testament is very clear, as we shall see later, that we are all naturally in Adam's image rather than God's.

But Adam's image is not totally distant from God's. We still retain some of the abilities which God gave us to worship him and rule creation. We still retain a little of the dignity (hence the prohibition to kill).

Jesus is the Image of God

The next major aspect of the Bible's teaching about the image of God is that Jesus is it. So we see in Colossians:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created.....
Colossians 1:15f (ESV)

We see the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:4

...Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV)

Remade in God's Image

Before the fall, humanity was in the image of God. Now we are only in the image of Adam. But in Christ we can again become the image of God.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
Romans 8:29 (ESV)

As was the man of dust [Adam], so also are those who are of dust, and as is the man of heaven [Jesus], so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:48-49 (ESV)

[Christians] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge, after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:10 (ESV)

Christians will be in God's image again! It is therefore clear that we are not now naturally in God's image, otherwise we would already be like Jesus.

As Charles Wesley wrote:

Adam's likeness, Lord efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Oh to all thyself impart,
Born in each believing heart.
from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"


What really got me thinking about this originally, and why it matters, is because of a discussion I had with a Christian friend about why Jesus died for us. She said that God loves us because we are in his image, and that did not sound right to me.

We are not now in God's image in the way that Adam was. We do not deserve God's love at all - all we deserve is God's wrath and judgement. But praise God that he has shown mercy to us not because of who we are but because of who he is! Praise God that though we, through our own sin, are no longer in his image, he will remake us into the image of his Son, who is the image of God!


Dan Edelen said...


Interesting thoughts. Thanks for the link and for comments over at Cerulean Sanctum.

I will think about this a bit.

beepbeepitsme said...

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
Anne Lamott