An understanding of the image of God in man is significant for at least two reasons.[i] First, Genesis 1-3 are the introductory chapters to the Bible and set the stage for all of redemptive history as it unfolds in the pages of Scripture. To have a full and accurate understanding of redemptive history, we must have an accurate understanding of the introductory material to Genesis. Second, it is clear from Scriptures that God places a high degree of value on humans precisely because they are created in His image (Gen. 5:1-3; 9:6; Ps 8; James 3:9). To know God in a fuller sense, we must develop a concrete understanding of God’s image in man. To know God's image better is to have a better comprehension of the one who created it. Thus, humans are the image of God in that God has willed them to be his image, and has instilled in them all the necessary elements to be an accurate image (spirit, intelligence, emotions, dominion, etc.), and although these elements are unique and integral to humanness, they do not fully constitute the meaning of the image of God.
Many of the views that have been held throughout history overlap on various points.[ii] Thus, I have dissected and compartmentalized all the views into four categories: (1) the substantive view, (2) the relational view, (3) the functional view, and (4) the Reformed view. [iii] Each view is a makeup of one or more of these views. Although the Reform view incorporates the three previous views, I will address it as a separate category since it is the most widely held.
The Substantive View
This view argues that "the image of God is identified as human reason, will, or personality."[iv] Calvin would go on to argue that the image of God can be found in all that separates us from the "lower animals."[v] This view primarily argues from a logical perspective and from basic observation. One can easily see that humans are far superior to the creation which surrounds them. No matter how smart monkeys are, they have never invented something as basic as a shovel. Humans on the other hand have learned how to split the nucleus of an atom. Humans are intelligent, rational, creative, imaginative, and possess an eternal spirit which, unlike all other living creatures, was breathed into us by God himself (Gen. 2:7). Edwards held that "there is a two-fold image of God in man, his moral or his spiritual image, which is his holiness...and God's image, consisting in men's reason and understanding, his natural ability, and dominion over the creatures, which is the image of God's natural attributes."[vi]
The Relational View
William Dyrness argues that "Adam, the first man, was told to name the animals (Gen 2:19-20). This was not merely to categorize all the animals, but to discover their essential relationship to humanity and to each other." He goes on to say, "Surely this duality is a vital part of their being: humans are made for relationships, to complement each other in love."[vii] Gerald Bray has argued this very point, though less convincingly. He states that the "notion that the eikon tou Theou is the basis on which human relationship should be based, and the standard by which they should be conducted is the common element which provides us with the key to understanding what the image of God means."[viii] The relational view holds that the essence of the imago Dei (the image of God) is to be found in the fact that only humans possess the unique ability to experience and sustain a real and emotional relationship with each other and, more importantly, with God. To have a relationship with God is the purpose for which humans were created. No other creature was created to have relations with God. Thus, being made in the imago Dei means we have the ability to know, serve, and love other humans and God, and "we are most fully human when fulfilling our spiritual potential."[ix]
The Functional View
To my knowledge, no one presently holds exclusively to this view. However, the Socinians did exclusively hold to this view at one time.[x] The functional view is usually incorporated into other views, and for good reasons. In Genesis 1:26-28, the idea of dominion seems to act as an inclusio around the creation story of man and woman. Note, "let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion..." (28). "And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion... '" (v.28). Yet Dyrness rightly observes, "It is not clear though whether the image consists in dominion itself, or whether dominion is that for which men and women are uniquely suited by virtue of this image."[xi] Thus, the argument states that the imago Dei is to be found in what we do, not in what we are, nor in what we possess. Humans are God's representatives on earth to govern, control, and subdue the earth. And it is in the functioning of this role that humans fulfill what it means to be made in God's image.
The Reformed View
This view has been held by Unger,[xii] Hodge,[xiii] Berkhof,[xiv] Grudem,[xv] and Packer.[xvi] It takes into account all the previous views and argues that there are at least six elements that define the imago Dei in man. First, “image” and “likeness” convey the same meaning, as is evident from the use of only “likeness” in Genesis 5:1. In Genesis 1:26 “likeness” is used to qualify “image”, “to express the idea that the image was most like, a perfect image."[xvii] Thus, man not only bears, but is in some way the very image of God. Second, man was created in "true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness."[xviii] After the fall these things were lost but are regained at regeneration (Eccl. 7:29; Col 3:10; and Eph. 4:24). Third, at creation man was endowed with "intellectual power, natural affections, and moral freedom."[xix] Note, sinful man is still considered to be made in God's image (Gen 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). Fourth, the psychosomatic nature of man is also an aspect of the imago Dei. Since we see in Gen. 2:7 that God breathed into Adam the "breathe of life", making him a "living soul" (nephes), and since the shedding of human blood is tantamount to the destruction of God's image (Gen 9:6), then it must be concluded that both the body and soul are essential elements of the imago Dei. Fifth, the immortality of the soul is also said to be a part of the constitution of imageness, since God is also immortal.[xx] And sixth, dominion is also a necessary aspect of imageness (Gen. 1:26; Ps 8:5, 6).[xxi] All these elements taken together are what constitute the imago Dei.
The Imago Dei
I agree with the Reformed view that the spiritualness of man, the "psychical power"[xxii] of man, the intellectual and moral nature of man, the physical body, and man's dominion are all aspects of the imago Dei; however, I disagree that these attributes constitute the full imago Dei. Rather, I would say they are attributive.
The Meaning of bě
In Genesis 1:26-27 we read the words, "Let us make man in our image...So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them" (italics added). The Hebrew preposition being used here is bě. However, it is quite possible that the translation of the Hebrew word bě as "in" may not be the best translation. It can be translated as the essence of the predicate "as",[xxiii] which is a commonly accepted translation. For example, in Exodus 6:3, God says, "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as [bě]God Almighty." That is, "in my capacity, nature, as God Almighty."[xxiv] There are several other instances were bě is used as an essence of predicate, such as Numbers 18:26, "The tithes which I have given you as [bě] your inheritance". Psalm 78:55, "He drove out nations before them; He apportioned them as [bě] a line of inheritance." And Deuteronomy 1:13, "Choose wise...men, and I will appoint them as [bě] your heads."[xxv] Thus, Genesis 1:26-27 could be read as, "Let us make man as our image...So God created man as his own image, as the image of God he created them." The question, however, is should it be?
The Meaning of 'Image'
If we understand properly what is meant by the word 'image', then it will become clear that 'as' is probably the best translation of bě. However, to best understand what is meant by 'image', we must understand what it meant to the original author and audience. But this is difficult to do from the Old Testament (O.T.), particularly since the O.T. is laden with commandments against the making and worshipping of images. Thus, it is necessary to search extra-biblical texts in order to gain a fuller understanding of 'image'. In the ancient near-east (ANE) it is known that Assyrian kings would set up statues of themselves in conquered territory in order to make it known to the inhabitants of that land that the king whom the statue represents is present in dominion though physically absent. "To revile the royal image is as treasonable an act as to revile the king himself "[xxvi] Also in the ANE, when a god was believed to have established his image in either an object or a king (as was thought by the Egyptians) the primary purpose of the image was that it was believed to be filled with the "breathe" or spirit of the one for whom the image represents.[xxvii] Yet in Genesis 2:7 we are told that all humans possess the "breath" of God, not just kings. This is not to say that Moses borrowed from ANE cults to come up with the creation story, but rather the Genesis account of creation is set over and against ANE mythology. It is mankind, not kings or statues, that are to be treated as God's image.
Throughout the O.T. an image is always a three-dimensional object.[xxviii] Thus, the physical body is as much a part of God's image as our spiritualness, rationale, intellect, etc.[xxix] This is not to say that the physical form of man is a representation of God, for "God is spirit" (Jn 4:24), but that man is the corporal representative of the invisible God. Thus, as God's image/representative, man is to exercise dominion over all the earth and subdue it. Just as a statue was to represent the presence of a king's dominion and rule, who was physically absent, so also humans are to represent the presence of God's dominion and rule, though He is physically invisible.
The Meaning of 'Likeness'
Some have argued that the word 'likeness' is there to qualify "image", in that it tones it down. That is, the author does not want the reader to understand 'image' to be representational but only representative. However, the text does not warrant this sort of reading. Furthermore, Genesis 5:3 says Adam "fathered a son in his likeness" (demuth). Are we to understand that Adam fathered a child who was not representational, i.e., did not look like him in some way? However, we ought not to infer that man looks like the invisible God. But Genesis 5:3 shows that "likeness" means more that representative. In the ANE when a statue was built to represent a certain god, it often was representational of the characteristics of that god. Thus, for example, "a fertility god may be represented by a bull."[xxx] The physical design of man was not chosen at random by God, but in some way is representational of the characteristics of God. But this point must not be pressed too far. Suffice to say that the phrase, "Let us make man as our image, after our likeness", is to say that God made man as a representative that in some say is also representational.
Male and Female
It is important to note that it is not just man that is created in the imago Dei, but "as the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Thus, a world populated with only males is a world that lacks a fuller and more complete representative of God. This is not to say that a man or woman by himself or by herself is not a complete image of God, or is somehow lacking the image of God. Men and women distinctly are both made in God’s image. It is to say, however, that a world populated with both men and woman is a world a fuller and more complete representation of God. For this reason, although women were not regarded as equal to men in Israel, they did enjoy much greater dignity than in many of its neighboring countries.[xxxi] "Thus, the most basic statement about man, according to Genesis 1, that he is the image of God, does not find its full meaning in man alone, but in man and woman."[xxxii]
Elements of the Imago Dei
Dominion is to be considered as an integral aspect of the image and not merely a consequence. It is clear from Genesis 1:26 that dominion was a clear intent for God having created man in the first place. Exegetically, it could be read as, "Let us make man as our image...so that they may rule."[xxxiii] This point is strengthened when one considers 1:16-18, "And God made the two great lights...And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth". It cannot be said that the giving of light is merely a consequence of God having created them and set them in the sky, rather the giving of light is an integral aspect of what they are—“two great lights".[xxxiv] Furthermore, Psalm 8:5 -8 drives home the very idea that humans were created for the very purpose of having dominion over the created order, having been made "a little lower than God [Elohim]."
True knowledge, true righteousness, and holiness are also aspects of the imago Dei with which humans were created.[xxxv] In Ecclesiastes 7:29 we are told that "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." Certainly "upright" does not refer to humans' ability to walk upright, which is made clear by the adversative conjunction, but rather means moral fiber. Ephesians 4:23-24 tells us "to be renewed...and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." The word "renewed" clearly indicates that humans once existed in true righteousness and holiness and are now in need of having that condition reinstated. The word "renew" is also used in Colossians 3:10 in the same way, but regarding knowledge (cf 1 Cor. 13:9, 10).
Humans were also created with intellectual power, natural affections, and moral freedom.[xxxvi] This is a fact that is attested to by creation itself. Clearly human beings are far more superior than all other animal life on earth. Just as the heavens declare the glory (or greatness, or magnificence) of God, and the sky proclaims His handiwork, so also man's ability to rationalize, to split the atom, to have relationships, and to make moral decisions proclaim the imageness of God.
Still another element of the imago Dei is that of spiritual immortality. [xxxvii] It is only in regards to humans that we are told that God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul (nephes)" (Gen 2:7).[xxxviii] This verse of Scripture is especially interesting when one considers that in the ANE it was thought that when a god would establish a king as his image, a portion of that god's spirit would dwell in the king.[xxxix] This is not to say that humans are divine in any sense, but it can be said that, apart from sin, there is nothing in humans that God did not already possesses on an infinite level.[xl] The point is that only humans possess the very "breath ' of God, thus making humans spiritually immortal beings (Matt. 25:46). However, the body is also closely linked to the spiritualness of humans and is essential to the completeness of being a soul. For we see in Genesis 9:6 that the premise of God's detestation of murder is that "God made man in his own image." Thus, murder of a human being is tantamount to attempted murder on God. Furthermore, Paul understood the whole of salvation to include both body and spirit, to include all of creation (Rom 8:18-25). In short, man as an immortal soul is an aspect of the imago Dei.
The Imago Dei Defined
The Reformed view would say that the imago Dei consists in the four points that have just been stated, taken collectively.[xli] For this reason it is often said that although "man is still in the image of God, in every aspect of life some parts of that image have been distorted or lost."[xlii] This statement would certainly be true of righteousness, holiness, and true knowledge. However, I do not believe the image of God in man has been entirely lost, precisely because I do not believe God’s image consist in the various qualities that humans possess. Rather the image of God consists in the fact that God has determined that humans should be his image. In the ANE a statue that was deemed to be the image of a god remained that image regardless of any vandalism or meteorological abuse it sustained.[xliii] Now certainly extra-biblical understanding of imageness is not sufficient evidence alone to ague this point, but this argument is substantially strengthened when we consider the biblical texts that clearly show that humans are still the image of God and are still functioning as the image (Gen. 9:6; Ps. 8:5-8; Matt. 22:18-21; James 3:9). Though it is true that the image has been battered, damaged, and even (in the case of the unregenerate) has lost certain elements of the original imago Dei, humans still remain God’s image by he very fact that they are still human. Take, for example, a rusted out 1920 Model-T Ford sitting out in a field. It has no engine and no transmission. For all intentional purposes, it is useless. It will not function as it was originally created to do. Yet, even though it is missing some of its original elements and cannot function as it was originally intended to—it is still an automobile. It is just as much an automobile as any other automobile on the road today.[xliv] Hence, the image of God “does not consist in anything that man is or does. It consists in the fact that man himself and as such is God’s creation. He would not be man, were he not the image of God. He is God’s image, in that he is man.”[xlv]
[i] This article is adopted and revised from an original paper published by the author at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, October 2, 2002.
[ii] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1996), 202-203. Berkhof offers a concise but helpful survey of the views held by lreneaus and Turtullian, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, and a host of others all the way through Schleiermacher.
[iii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 520-529.
[iv] Herbert Lockyer Sr., Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), 502
[v] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: WM. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 2:160.
[vi] John H. Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathon Edwards, vol. 2 (Powhatan, VA: Berea Publications, 1992), 3. Edward held to a substantive/functional view.
[vii] William Dymess, Themes in Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill: 1979), 80-81.
[viii] Gerald Bray, 'The Significance of God's Image in Man," Tyndale Bulletin 42.2 (1991): 222.
[ix] Lockyer, illustrated Bible Dictionary, 502.
[x] Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., 528.
[xii] Dyrness, Themes in Old Testament Theology, 83.
[xii] Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966).
[xiii] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Hendrickson Publishers, 1999).
[xiv] Berkhof, Systematic Theology.
[xv] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994).
[xvi] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993).
[xvii] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 203.
[xviii] Ibid., 204.
[xix] Ibid., 204.
[xx] Ibid. , 204.
[xxi] Ibi,d. 205.
[xxii] Ibid., 207.
[xxiii] Allen Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 395.
[xiv] D.J.A. Clines, "The Image of God in Man," Tyndale Bulletin (1967): 76.
[xxv] Ibid., 77.
[xxvi] Ibid., 83.
[xxvii] Ibid., 81.
[xviii] Daniel Block, ''The Image of God in Man" (clasroom lecture, 20200--O/d Testament Theology, Pt. I , Fall 2002, photocopy),60
[xxix] Clines, "The Image of God in Man," 86.
[xxx] Ibid., 92.
[xxxi] Ibid., 94.
[xxxii] Ibid., 95.
[xxxiii] Ibid., 96. Clines further points out that in the Hebrew the waw joining the two jussives carries final force for the second.
[xxxiv] Ibid., 97.
[xxxv] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 204.
[xxxvi] Ibid., 204.
[xxxvii] Ibid., 204-205.
[xxxviii] W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr., Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Word (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985) 237. It is significant to note that the Bible does not describe us as possessing a soul, but as being souls. The Hebrew word (nepes) is also used in Gen 1:20, 24 to refer to all other creatures on earth. What complicates matters is the fact that English has no accurate equivalent with which to translate the abstract Hebrew concept of nepes. This is further complicated by the fact that versions like the King James use 26 different words to translate the one word nepes. Suffice it to say that the imago Dei does not consist in humans being a trichotomous unity to reflect a triune God, rather man is comprised of body and spirit, and the two taken together are a "living soul".
[xxxix] Clines, "The Image of God in Man," 81.
[xl] Gordon McCleod, "The Kenosis Passage," (classroom lecture, 324--Systematic Theology C, Spring 2002).
[xli] Berkhof, Systematic Theolgoy, 204.
[xlii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 444.
[xliii] Clines, "The Image of God in Man," 99.
[xliv] Now certainly any analogy will collapse if pressed too far. One could argue that the automobile would cease to be an automobile if it were thrown into a compactor and turned into a cube of metal. However, I have already pointed our from Scripture that man as a living soul (i.e., body/spirit) will always exist as such.
[xlv] Clines, "The Image of God in Man," 101.