Are we made in God’s bodily likeness?
Published: 1 February 2015 (GMT+10)
How are we ‘in the image of God’? Today’s correspondent advances the view that perhaps we possess some sort of bodily likeness to God. CMI’s Shaun Doyle examines the Scriptures to see what we can and can’t say about a bodily likeness to God from the Bible.
L.W. from Australia writes:
Just a small insight that may be of help to your organisation. Your website says of man being created in the image of God that it was not a physical likeness (your ‘however’ comments are noted). But our physical likeness is an image of what God is spiritually. We know God is spirit, but His spiritual form is what our physical form is based on. God repeatedly refers to Himself with body parts. Now these are not anthropomorphisms as commonly believed (and which is not Scriptural), but an actual description of His spiritual body which is the spiritual archetype of our physical bodies. Take God revealing himself before Moses. The terms ‘back’, ‘front’, ‘face’ etc are God’s spiritual realities; they are His form! This means we can take the term ‘image’ in its plain and inclusive meaning. We are made in His image in all its facets. God, Jesus and the angels came in the form they did before men, because that is Their spiritual form. Sorry, ran out of room for quotes, references etc. Good work.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
I presume the article you are referring to is Does God have body parts? (see also Is God ‘simple’? for related information). Regarding anthropomorphism, a need for it does indeed arise out of the phenomena of Scripture. It’s no secret that God is pictured with human body parts throughout Scripture, and He even appears to various people (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, and Moses) in human form in theophanies. However, there is more data to consider than this.
First, God is omnipresent, which means He is fully present everywhere (Psalm 139:7–12), but not in any localized sense such that He can be confined to a particular location (1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:24; Acts 17:24,28). This doesn’t stop God appearing to us in localized forms, or even assuming human physicality (as in the Incarnation), but it does mean that we cannot maintain that God must have a localized form like we do. However, this renders your notion of ‘spiritual form’ rather ambiguous. If God’s ‘spiritual form’ and our physical form are analogous to each other, does that mean God’s ‘spiritual form’ has a measurable shape and size? After all, if we have arms like God does, and the length of our arms are measurable, shouldn’t God have a measurable arm length too? But if God has a shape and a size, then God has a localized body, which would be a denial of God’s omnipresence.
Second, Jesus makes two interesting statements that, when put together, significantly diminish any morphological likeness between humans and God. First, Luke 24:39, in which Jesus tries to convince the disciples of his physical resurrection, says: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Second, John 4:19–24:
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.”
The woman references a theological dispute between Jews and Samaritans about where they should worship God. However, Jesus cuts her off by saying that the time has come when worship will not be concerned with place. Why? The reason Jesus gives is “God is spirit”. Putting Luke 24 and John 4 together, they clearly show that, since God is spirit, He does not have a tangible and visible body like us. Even more important is to realize that in the light of Luke 24 this contrast between spirit and body applies as much to Jesus’ incorruptible resurrection body as to our fallen bodies.
Finally, nobody has seen the Father (John 1:18), and in fact the Father cannot be seen (1 Timothy 6:16). Now, Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) (He is also in the form of God—Philippians 2:6), but if ‘image’ means ‘bodily likeness’, we simply can’t know that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Therefore, if God has a body natural to his existence, His ‘body’ is invisible, intangible, shapeless, sizeless, and not localized. How is that anything like what we know a body to be? It would seem that if our (and Jesus’) likeness to God consists in bodily likeness, even if only partially, it’s a very bad likeness indeed! And note that in all this I did not overdetermine the metaphysical implications of the biblical language of omnipresence and God’s being spirit; I merely showed that both ideas stand in stark contrast to our physical existence. But this still clearly implies that the image of God does not consist in a bodily likeness.
Hi Shaun. I'm surprised by the amount of feedback you're getting. As happens any time this is discussed, I'm left feeling as though our bodies are unimportant when we look at how we are made in the image of God. Your view (which is the view of many others) sounds to me like the body is just an incidental container for the image of God, and that God then takes on the form of that incidental container when he reveals himself to creation (both before and after the Incarnation). In other words, if God had made us with one leg, two heads and three arms, then he would reveal himself that way.
I wonder whether it's more subtle than that. How would you respond to the following:
God's chosen form when revealing himself to creation is that seen in the Bible - two arms, two legs, a back, a front and so on (e.g. Ex 33:20-23, Eze 1:26-27, Dan 7:13). This form communicates something about God to his creation. Therefore, when he creates people in his image, part of that creative act is to form humans using the form he has chosen to reveal himself. That is not to say that God's essence includes the human form, but rather that the human form is the image with which he has chosen to reveal himself to creation.
You may then argue that the human form is not God's image, but if it is the means by which he communicates of himself, then whether it is essential to him, or a condescending revelation, humans can still be said to be in his image. Can they not?
We don't need a body to be God's image bearers, but it's proper to have a body to be God's image bearers in a physical world. Of course, God could've created a purely non-physical world, and in such a world there would've been no point to physical image bearers. But God did not create a purely non-physical world. And if God wanted image bearers in the physical world, it would make no sense to use non-physical beings, because they have no intrinsic connection to the physical world. What good is an image bearer who can disappear from the stage at will? Only image bearers with bodies would have an intrinsic connection to the physical world, which makes them far more suitable candidates for bearing God's image in a physical world than beings without bodies. As such, it's the nature of the physical world we were made to rule over, not God's nature, that determines why we should have bodies. Our bodies are only as "incidental" as the physical world is.
As to your suggestion, it doesn't deal with all the data. In Exodus 3:1–6 God reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush. The burning bush clearly has a physical shape, but it's not a human shape. God only needs to reveal himself to us in a human form if He becomes a human; otherwise, He's free to reveal himself in any form He wants. As such, I think your suggestion also has it backwards; the human form presupposes God's revelation of himself in a human form, not the other way around. He has often revealed himself to us in human form because we know the human form, and so likely makes communication easier. The point is that it's a means by which God freely chooses to reveal himself. He's not bound to using the human form.
If being created in God's image is to have a phyiscal form that resembles God,
then Genesis 1:26 becomes a bit weird because
"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."
seems like God is doing something which He hasn't done earlier, but God had already created chimps which are similar to us,
so why bother saying something like that if He had already created beings in His image, but only to a lesser extent?
Respectfully, I disagree for two simple reasons. Yes, God is spirit and the spirit does not have a body. But an image does not require a body. It only requires light. The scripture is quite clear that God radiates His glorious light which may include an image that may look quite human. (Genesis 5). Secondly there is some physical bodily aspect to God, because Jesus is God. And Jesus in His heavenly realm is the only physically resurrected body. Although different from us, His image is quite like ours.
So I think there are several logical inconsistencies with your argument. I believe God does and always has had an image radiating from Himself. And that image was probably manifested in the creation (Gen5), the incarnation and consummated in the resurrection. I think this helps enlighten the creation of man and how we are made in His image. (no pun intended)
If you are willing, I would love to write a detailed rebuttal for consideration. I think we should not be so traditional on this subject and consider all the scriptures on this matter. Focusing on the "body" does not fully address all the scriptures on this subject.
If God has no body, then God has no body for us to be made in the image of. But you don't seem to be finding our bodily likeness to God in a body that God has. Rather, you seem to be finding it in some sort of image God supposedly projects, that we are then modeled after.
Now, God does indeed have an image that intrinsically 'radiates' from himself—the person of Jesus himself (John 1:1–5, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). Nonetheless, taking 'radiance' in too literal a manner in Hebrews 1:3 is precluded by Genesis 1:3: "And God said 'Let there be light,' and there was light." (For more information on the theological use of 'light' in the Bible, please see What does “God is light” mean?) Nonetheless, the Word did not start out with flesh or as some holographic simulacrum of human flesh, but took on flesh (John 1:14) "at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice" (Heb. 9:26). The Word is God's intrinsic image because He is a personal instantiation of the divine being distinct from the Father, not because He is or intrinsically projects a holographic simulacrum of a human body.
"However, the Son has not always had a physical body" I suppose that none of us can come to such a conclusion; none of us was there ... at the beginning! The point, seems to me, is that as we are now, WE DO HAVE A BADLY DIMINISHED PHYSICAL NATURE BECAUSE OF SIN. Not about the potentiality of Adam's physical nature BEFORE sin! With a physical body Jesus compared - through the walls - to his disciples. God's omnipresence is not incompatible with the powers of a NOT contaminated body through which - we see as a poor reflection in a mirror (1Cor.13:12) - We measure the world around us in (only) three dimensions + time. How many 'dimensions' does God have?
I disagree; I think we can come to the conclusion that the Son has not always had a physical body with reasonable certainty. For a start, it's absolutely clear that He didn't have a human body before His Incarnation, otherwise He would've been human before He became a human, which is self-contradictory. As to other types of physical bodies, I would cite my analysis of God's omnipresence in this article as clear and convincing evidence that the Bible implies that the Son was incorporeal before the Incarnation.
"Progressive creationist Hugh Ross has erred on these points, and fallen into a false kenotic view of the Incarnation, and his fellow old-earth apologist William Lane Craig has severely criticised him for it, pointing out problems for the Atonement."
Thank you L.W. from Australia for your question and praise God someone out there takes the scriptures just as they read. When the Bible shows so clearly that God has a bodily form, then it is so sad to see people twist scripture to try and show something else. N.D.D
Please look at L.W.'s response in the comments; his metaphysical views are actually much closer to my own than to those who would read God's 'body parts' language in a woodenly literal manner. The substance of our disagreement is over semantics and methodology.
Moreover, 'literalness' is not determinative for biblical meaning; authorial intent is. For instance, we do not believe Genesis 1–11 is historical narrative because it's the 'literal' reading, but because it's the meaning the author intended to convey. Please see Should Genesis be taken literally? and Does God have body parts? for more information.
Is it possible that while the Son was historically incarnated thousands of years after Creation, the Incarnation combined divine and human natures in such a way that it happened in both history and in Eternity. Thus, while prior to the Incarnation Christ was only a promise and not physically present in history, the peculiarities of Eternity allowed him, once incarnate, to be present as God the Son, complete with human nature, "alongside" history and thus to be physically present and seen by Abraham et al and even to be fully present and active in Creation. As a result, it would not be surprising that the general physical pattern for Adam and Eve, "already" selected by the Trinity for mankind should be expressed as being fully "in God's own image."
The problem with this idea is that it steps too closely to an ancient Christological heresy known as Eutychianism, which essentially melded Jesus' divine and human natures together to produce a new nature that was neither truly human nor truly divine, but a sort of 'divine-human hybrid'.
Moreover, this seems to destroy the notion of Christ's body being like our own, since it runs into the contradiction of being without beginning or end, and yet having a historical beginning. In such a case, Christ's human body is not really a human body any longer. By the Christological dictum "What has not been assumed has not been healed", on this idea Christ did not assume a proper human body, therefore the human body cannot be healed by Christ's saving work. The classical and orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is this, from the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451:
"one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [emphases added]".
It isn't a hybrid nature that is the uniting principle of the Incarnation, it's the personal subject of the divine Logos. For a scriptural exposition of this, please see The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?
As the author of this email I think it is only fair to our readers and myself that I point out that in a subsequent email I further explained my understanding of what it means to be made in God's image, showing that Mr Doyle had largely missed my point. This was not surprising given the difficulties of the concept and the necessary brevity of the original email.
To help explain what I meant I used the concept of the relationship of concrete physical realities with supposedly 'abstract' ones. The specific example was of Charles Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species".
We intuitively understand that this book is much more than the paper and ink copies (or electronic ones). Indeed its real power, and ability to change the world, lies in the spiritual world as it's information is transferred into the minds of men. Since Darwin first thought those thoughts it has had a spiritual existence that is reflected in its physical realities, called books.
Thus we have the 'BOOK' (it's spiritual reality), and we have the 'books' (the spiritual reality's physical counterparts). The paper and ink of themselves mean nothing, it is in it's spiritual reality that it's great power lies, and against which we contend. Hence the apostle Paul's references to spiritual warfare.
Now, if a spiritual reality such as Darwin's book, which is has no physical dimensions, nor any place in which we can say 'there it is', can be represented on earth by physical books, then it can be imagined that when God says we are made in his image he actually means we are a physical representation of what he is spiritually. Read Exodus 33:21-23, are these bodily terms really anthropomorphisms, or is God giving Moses some idea of the true reality of which our bodies are but physical images. Alas my word count is up.
Not only did I not publish your second (or subsequent) responses, but neither did I publish my own. Nevertheless, since you raise the issue, here is my response:
"You have raised two very thorny issues of metaphysics—the problem of universals, and the status of abstract objects. These are complex philosophical problems that CMI does not take any concrete stand on, other than to say that God alone is self-sufficient, and that all things derive from Him (whether as necessary reflections of his nature, as some would argue with e.g. abstract objects like numbers, or by his creative fiat, as with e.g. the physical universe). This is why I said in my last response, "And note that in all this I did not overdetermine the metaphysical implications of the biblical language of omnipresence and God’s being spirit". I did not want to enter into complex debates about metaphysics, but merely intended to show that describing God's native mode of subjective experience as 'corporeal' requires a radical departure from our typical notions of corporeality, including that which we find in Scripture. For this reason, I'm not going to comment on the specifics of your analogy—some may like it, others may not, but it's really irrelevant to the biblical theology objections you initially raised to us saying that God has no body parts (i.e. God is incorporeal). If by 'incorporeal' we just mean that God 's mode of subjective experience is sufficiently distinct from our bodily experience as having size, shape, and localization (among other traits) as to be able to brand it 'non-bodily', then there can be no biblical objection to using the word 'incorporeal' to explain God. After all, 'incorporeal' is a negative term meaning 'non-bodily', so it doesn't actually give us a positive description of God's native mode of subjective experience. The metaphysics are interesting, but the Scriptures don't give us much positive data to say much beyond 'God's mode of subjective experience is qualitatively distinct from our bodily experience'."
In addition, Exodus 33:21–23 is not anthropomorphic language; it's a theophany.
And for brevity's sake, the rest of the exchange between us reiterated our similar (though not necessarily identical) metaphysical views, though we preferred different language, and that the rest of the exchange was mainly over definitional matters on words like 'body', 'spirit', 'corporeal', 'immaterial', etc.; preludes to a discussion on metaphysics. As such, though I maintain there is a semantic and biblical theology issue that remains a good teaching point here, Lachlan and I are actually is more significant agreement than is the case with many other commenters here. Let the reader decide whether my response was adequate.
God being omniscient would have already known what the Lord Jesus would be like in physical form. Is it not within the realm of possibility that we were made in His image that is in the image of Christ. Just a thought.
But even God's foreknowledge of the specific morphology Jesus' Incarnation will take on presupposes His foreknowledge of human morphology. Besides, the foreknowledge of a future image does not constitute people before Christ as having been made in God's image precisely because the fact of Jesus' incarnation was still future at that time. We are made in the image of what God is, not in the image of what He knew His Son would become.
We have seen that the human nature is a likeness of the spiritual. (Gen. 5:1) For instance, God has a will, so have men and angels; God has reason and memory, so have his intelligent creatures—angels and men. The character of the mental operations of each is the same. With the same data for reasoning, and under similar conditions, these different natures are able to arrive at the same conclusions. Though the mental faculties of the divine, the angelic and the human natures are similar, yet we know that the spiritual natures have powers beyond and above the human—powers which result, we think, not from different faculties, but from the wider range of the same faculties and the different circumstances under which they operate. The human nature is a perfect earthly image of the spiritual nature, having the same faculties, but confined to the earthly sphere, and with ability and disposition to discern only so much beyond it as God sees fit to reveal for man's benefit and happiness.
The divine is the highest order of the spiritual nature; and how immeasurable is the distance between God and his creatures! We are able to catch only glimpses of the glory of the divine wisdom, power and goodness as in panoramic view he causes some of his mighty works to pass before us. But we may measure and comprehend the glory of perfect humanity.
I think you're missing something. God the Son is part of the Trinity. All three persons of the Trinity existed from the beginning. Therefore, we can be the physical image of God the Son, who is indeed God.
However, the Son has not always had a physical body, and only acquired one after humans had had bodies for a very long time. As such, we cannot say that humanity was originally made in the bodily image of the Son. However, we can say that Christians are remade in the image of the Son in salvation (Romans 8:29), and this will include a transformation of our bodies to be like His at the end (1 John 3:1–3).
First, your email articles bless me. I have a BA in geology, minors in several other fields, and an MA in Christian counseling from Liberty U. The articles consistently strengthen my reverence and praise of God, and of His infinite wisdom, mercy and grace.
Second, in Genesis 1:26 we find two Hebrew words translated as likeness and image. Likeness refers to the nature of the spirit: the abilities of man's spirit are like God's - we have the ability to think, feel and act (will) like God. Image refers to the fact that God breathed His Spirit into Adam (Eve) such that their spirits were formed in His image/character/nature. Spiritual death occurred when God separated them from Him - His Spirit. The old self was thus birthed in death, and one must be born again to begin being formed in His image and gain eternal life. All people reveal God's likeness, but only those who are born of God can begin to bear His image. "Christ in you the hope of glory" is the gospel message. (Col 1:27)
May our Lord & Savior increase your faith.
If God’s ‘spiritual form’ and our physical form are analogous to each other, is God then male or female because Elohim created both the first Adam and Eve in His image according to Gen 1:27? If God’s ‘spiritual form’ is male, does it then mean that Eve was not created in the image of Elohim?In the real story of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man was in agony in hell without his physical body. Does this mean that the rich man’s ‘spiritual form’ was analogous to his physical form? I do not think L.W thought through the above questions.
You have done well in pointing out what the scripture does clearly teach without adding any extra interpretation, or tenuous logical arguments. Thanks for a clear and helpful overview of your topic.
:) well put.
But Jesus is God! If you concede that we have a morphological resemblance to Jesus Christ, then we do have a morphological resemblance to God Himself. Q.E.D.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." (John 1:1-3)
"By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world." (I John 4:2-3)
This has no relevance to being made in God's image in Genesis 1:26–27. Jesus was incarnated well after many people were born. As such, Jesus' incarnation can't prove that e.g. Solomon was made in God's morphological image. After all, Genesis 1:26 doesn't say: "Let us make man in the image of what one of us will take on in 4000 years' time". Jesus' incarnation presupposes the human nature that was originally made in God's image; not the other way around.
It would seem therefore that 1. that all humanity has a physical body as Christ had a physical body, and that all humanity will be resurrected AND 2. that the saved have the same Spirit that Christ had, so that in both senses the saved are fully in the image of God (Romans 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18) without of course actually being God. The ultimate expression of this image is yet to come (1 Cor 15:49, 1 Jn 3:2, Phil 3:21).
After the Fall, Adam and Eve retained some of God's originally-included qualities so that not all of His image was lost because of the necessary introduction of physical and spiritual death (Genesis 1:26, Romans 3:23, James 3:9). All humanity therefore retains these non-physical image-of-God attributes.
I am a creationist and in general I have found the CMI articles are very reliable and well-argued.
But I'm afraid I am not completely convinced by the point of this article. We Christians believe the trinity of our God - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, the Son Himself is God. He not only came to the earth in the form of human being. He also reveals His look in the vision of The apostle John, which John describes (Revelation 19:11-16). Also, In Genesis 3:8, it says that "And they [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." To me, this seems to indicate the physical existence and appearance of God in the garden. To my understanding, when it says that we were created in the image of God, the image is not just that of the Father, but as well as those of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus the last sentence of the article, "But this still clearly implies that the image of God does not consist in a bodily likeness" is not convincing or persuasive....I would appreciate a further clarification on this issue. Thank you.
My article assumes that God can appear in bodily form, and even take on flesh, as in Jesus' incarnation, but that does not mean that God's native mode of existence is in a bodily form. For instance, if God appears in a theophany to e.g. Moses, it does not thereby mean God is not in any sense present on the other side of the world, or even on Pluto, when He appears to Moses in a theophany. It just means He has appeared in a special way to Moses.
Even in Jesus' incarnation, just because he has taken on flesh and become a human doesn't mean he thereby sacrificed his divine omnipresence. Instead, Jesus gained a human nature, which naturally includes a human body, without forfeiting His divine attributes. As such, Jesus is localized as a man, but is omnipresent in his divine nature. See Spacetime and the Trinity and The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? for more information.
What it means, the image of the Creator Of All is in every thing. The whole dimension is the Creator. And when it comes to worship,The most holiest and peaceful land is under your feet, as it is you that create your life. There would be no need for a Holy City, as the whole World would be our Holy City and we would be citizens of that world. Just go outside and worship the Creator and his Creation. But this dose not stop you from coming together to worship as a congregation. But have NO idols at your place of worship. The Creator Of All, Created this dimension so he could live in it as all of us. When the Gnostic Jesus Said, The Kingdom Of The Creator is within, that is what he meant. Peace be with you.
The relevant passage in the Bible is Luke 17:20–21:
“Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst [emphasis added]’” (Luke 17:20–21, NET).
In some other translations, the phrase I have emphasized in the passage above is rendered “within you”. However, the NET Bible translation note on this phrase explains why this is a poor rendering:
“This [i.e. the rendering ‘in your midst’] is a far better translation than ‘in you’. Jesus would never tell the hostile Pharisees that the kingdom was inside them. The reference is to Jesus present in their midst. He brings the kingdom. Another possible translation would be ‘in your grasp’.”
This comports with the fact that the phrase in Greek is entos hymōn, which uses the second person plural pronoun, not the second person singular pronoun. That also makes it very hard to read this passage as an endorsement of a private, inner spirituality as the sine qua non of Christianity.
All this reinforces the point that Jesus was no Gnostic. He is the Word who was with God and is God (John 1:1), and through Him everything was made (John 1:3) which God called “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Moreover, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14, 1 John 4:2). He was also raised bodily from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3–4, Luke 24:39–43, John 20:27). The early church fought Gnosticism tooth and nail because the Bible is suffused with testimony to the goodness of matter and the supreme goodness of its Creator.
As such, while we can worship God anywhere because He is everywhere, that does not mean matter is something to be abandoned. Christ will never abandon His flesh; instead, He glorified it.