What does it mean that Man was created in the “image of God (Gen. 1:26)?
The idea that we were created in the “image” and “likeness” of God is not just an Old Testament idea. This important revelation is repeated in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). These words clearly indicate that human beings are, in some way, a concrete reflection of God.
Since these statements are found in both the Old Testament and New Testament, we may assume that in some way this reflection of God still exists. Since we have clearly established that there is a material part to Man and an immaterial part to Man, it is appropriate to carefully study to determine the meaning of this very important concept.
In looking at certain key, biblical points, we may conclude the following concerning being created in the “image” and “likeness” of God:
Conclusion # 1—The “image of God” is not a major emphasis on a physical likeness. Although we will not deny that God formed the material part of Man from the dust of the ground and we also will not deny that the human body is a carefully constructed masterpiece of God’s creative genius, and that when Jesus Christ came to this earth He came in human form, this is not the primary emphasis of the phrase “image of God.” We come to this conclusion based on the following observations:
Observation #1—God is Spirit. John 4:24 It may be observed that when God originally created man it was many years before the physical birth of Jesus Christ. The Godhead, at the point in history in which this decision was made, was immaterial, not material. This legitimately enables us to look to the immaterial part of man to discover the meaning.
Observation #2—Animals have bodies . Animals have material bodies which, in some ways, are superior to human bodies. There is no place in Scripture where it is stated that an animal was created in the “image of God.” We are quick to admit that God is the Creator of animal life (Gen. 1:20-25). There is no question that He has masterfully created every physical body, including both animals and humans, yet no animal is created in the “image of God.” We would conclude from this that the primary emphasis of these concepts is not a physical emphasis.
Observation #3—Material structures are inanimate. A material structure of anything, including a body, is not, in and of itself, alive. In order for something to be alive, there must be a special life dynamic given by God to that structure. It is precisely this that brings the structure to life. Although God formed man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), it was not until He breathed into his nostrils “the breath of life” that Man “became a living soul.” Our conclusion, based on these observations, is that the main idea behind being created in the “image of God” is not that which is physical or material.
Conclusion #2—“Image of God” is an emphasis on a natural and moral likeness.
Observation #1—The natural likeness refers to the personality. As we previously studied in Theology Proper, God is a Person comprised of intellect, emotion and will. God’s intellect is very systematic and orderly. The earliest record we have of man’s design by God indicates he had these same qualities:
Quality #1 – Man was created with a will –he could make choices (Gen. 2:16-17).
Quality #2- Man was created with emotions –he needed companionship (Gen. 2).
Quality #3- Man was created with an intellect –he could govern a garden and animals (Gen. 2:15, 19-20).
This was a natural personality likeness between God and Man.
Observation #2—The moral likeness refers to righteousness and holiness. It seems evident that when Adam and Eve were first created, God gave them a moral character that was very reflective of Him. They had a unique ability to look at all of life in a total purity, prior to the fall (Gen. 2:25; 3:7). The character of Man was originally so righteous and holy that God, Himself, classified His creation as being “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
At the moment of sin, it was not the material part of Adam and Eve that changed, it was their immaterial parts that immediately changed. Their intellect, emotions and will and righteous character were so greatly affected that they could not face each other and they could not face God (Gen. 3:7-8).
At the moment of the fall, it was not their physical of material structure that changed, it was their immaterial structure that immediately and drastically changed. This, then, leads us to the conclusion that being created in the “image of God’ is more of an emphasis on the immaterial than the material.
What part of the human being is still today in the “image of God?”
Since sin has entered humanity–we no longer have the same Edenic existence that Adam and Eve had. Therefore, we need to consider what exactly is the image of God today. There are three observations we want to make:
Observation #1—The image of God is not a physical body. As we have said, although the body has been carefully designed by God, this is not the primary emphasis of the “image of God.” It is clear at “death” that the body is not transported into the presence of God. It is also clear that at the resurrection, the body is drastically changed in order to fit God’s criteria of being a body able to go to heaven. Our conclusion then is that the “image of God” is not a reference to ones’ physical body.
Observation #2—The image of God is not the moral character. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that the righteousness and holiness that we once had before the fall was totally lost at the fall. No longer does God evaluate us as being “good” or “righteous” (Rom. 3:10-12), but He does classify us as being “dead in our transgressions” (Eph. 2:1). This is precisely why one must be “born again” (John 3:3). We are born physically with a moral and spiritual depravity. We are not righteous or holy and are certainly not in the image of God morally or spiritually. In fact, we all fall far short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
Observation #3 —The image of God is the personality. The ability to systematically think and reason, the ability to emotionally relate and make logical choices is the natural likeness that, to some extent, is still a reflection of the “image of God.” Since all human beings are born in the same spiritual condition—lost, all human beings are born in a natural condition–being in God’s image.
This suggests that there is a certain majesty to the human being and an accountability for being a human being. Humans, as no other created being, were specifically created by God on earth in His image. It is the immaterial side of a human that has been created in the image of God.
Pastor David E. Thompson is pastor/teacher at Texas Corners Bible Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan with a nationally syndicated radio show reaching all across the United States. Pastor Thompson may be classified as a true systematic Bible expositor and communicator of God’s Word. He carefully expounds books of the Bible in a way that is contextually, exegetically, grammatically, historically, and theologically accurate to the text and relevant to the time. He is also an very skilled in New Testament Greek.