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Did the Fall destroy God’s image in man?

Published: 18 November 2012 (GMT+10)

Bruce B. from New Zealand wrote in response to Is the whole creation fallen?:

123rf.com/Nirot Sriprasit

I note your article includes the phrase, “He has a special relationship with humanity that is different from His relationship to the rest of Creation, by virtue of man being in His image.” and would like to pass on the observations of an elderly biblical scholar, a friend of mine. He points out that most ministers some time or other will use such a phrase, or claim that ‘man is made in God’s image.’

But he argues that man’s disobedience of God resulted in Adam no longer being the image of his creator because it introduced sin as a characteristic of mankind. Sin is not a characteristic of God, and since every human who descends from Adam carries the sin in our nature we cannot be in the image of God.

I delight in the articles on your website, and would be pleased if you would discuss this issue.

CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:

Dear Mr. B.,

I certainly believe that the Fall affected the image of God in mankind, that the image is marred and mutilated by sin. But I believe it’s still there in a substantial way, because it’s the basis for God’s relationship with us—we were created to relate to God in a way that is different in kind, not only degree, from the way the rest of creation does. This cannot be attributed to man’s intelligence and moral accountability only; angels are intelligent and morally accountable, yet there is no salvation for the fallen angels (Hebrews 2:16).

The image of God is also the basis for the inherent wrongness of killing a human being. We’re allowed to kill animals for food—although the Bible indicates that in the New Heavens and Earth there will be no animal death of any kind. But in God’s institution of capital punishment for murder, the express reason that is given is “For in the image of God, God created man”. Now, some people say, “Yeah, He created (past tense!) us in His image, but we lost it at the Fall; there’s nothing that says we’ve still got His image!” Yes, it is past tense, but the past tense doesn’t negate the present possession of His image, and frankly the command doesn’t make much sense if we’re no more in God’s image than anything else. If the ‘image’ was lost at the Fall then why is not permissible to now kill human beings or abort babies, for example?

There’s also Matthew 12, which I think is important for understanding humans as remaining in the image of God. In that passage, the Pharisees ask Jesus whether or not Jews should pay taxes. He replies by asking for a coin. When Jesus asks them whose image and inscription is on the coin, they say, “Caesar’s.” Jesus takes Caesar’s image and inscription to indicate his ownership of the coin, he says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” But then he adds, “And give to God what is God’s.” What is God’s? Well, if we apply the same criteria, it’s what has His image. What has His image? Us. In Genesis Adam was described as a son of God because he was supernaturally created by God. This term was also applied to the angels (sons of God). However, after Adam it was not used of humans again in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament, believers are called sons of God again. This is because we have been supernaturally reborn (born-again) by the Spirit of God. In addition, we are reminded that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in sin-wracked, fallen bodies. That is just one example where sin and God seem to coexist within mankind. Many people think that God can’t coexist with evil, but if that were the case, God wouldn’t act in the fallen sinful world at all; and Jesus wouldn’t have been able to come in the Incarnation.

Of course, one could make the argument that a broken image is worse than no image at all. It’s a constant reminder that we’re not what we’re supposed to be; we fall so short not only of God’s standard, but of what we are, or at least what we were made to be. We were made to rule angels, but instead we’re fallen and subject to ‘the elemental powers of the world’ in our unregenerate state.


Lita Cosner

Jeff M. from the United Kingdom writes in response to article The Fall and the existence of other religions.

Hello Lita

I wonder if I can ask some supplementary questions?

1.Why does God feel the need to be “glorified”? Is he insecure? It seems a strange desire from the Supreme Being.

2. You say God waited until the time of Pax Romana because communications were much easier then. Why did He not wait until this century, when the Internet could have spread His word even more effectively? Or until the year 2417, when we will all be able to communicate telepathically?

CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for writing in. I’ll take your questions one at a time.

1. God doesn’t need anything outside of Himself; He is self-existent. But God deserves glory and honor because He is the Creator (Revelation 4:11). We owe Him our existence, and every good thing is a result of His providence. So He is deserving of worship in a way that no created being is. And that He deserves our worship means that ego doesn’t come into it. For a limited analogy, consider a husband who is jealous when his wife flirts with another man. That jealousy doesn’t come out of insecurity or ego, necessarily, but out of a rightful sense of deserving the wife’s unconditional loyalty based on their marriage vows. But the wife chose at some point to take marriage vows, so perhaps it’s a bit more analogous with a father’s rightful expectation that his children will obey him.

2. We can rarely give definite answers for why God did something one way as opposed to another. I’ll leave out the prophecies, etc., because God could have made the prophecies go a different way if He had wanted Jesus to come in the modern age. I think one excellent reason Jesus came in the first century is so that billions of people who have lived between then and now could hear the message and believe. The Internet can and does spread His message effectively now, just as the printing press did in Gutenberg’s day, etc.


Lita Cosner

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Adrian C.
I'd like to state my opinion on this as some may find this helpful. I believe God's image in humans is not being good but the ability to do good (or bad). In other words, it's free-will, reason, self-consciousness.

In Genesis this seems to be related to God breathing into Adam (breathing, nefesh, meaning soul as well). Therefore, God made us with the spiritual structure that He has (and animals don't): soul/spirit which imply free will, reason, etc. Even though corrupted, we still have these.
Jesse J.
Man is identified as being tripartite: “divided into three parts; threefold”. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that man consists of three parts: soul, body, and spirit. It seems logical to assume that this verse refers to the same three parts of man that God had in mind in Gen. 1:26-27. Thus, it is argued herein that the image God refers to in Gen. 1:26-27 includes, 1) man’s soul, the image of the Father; 2) man’s body, the image of the Son; and 3) man’s human spirit, the image of the Holy Spirit. When Adam sinned his human spirit became dead to God, and thus, he was dead (separated from God), just as God had warned him. We receive a new (quickened) spirit when we become believers into Jesus Christ (Eze. 36:26).
Lita Cosner
Thanks for this comment; this describes one view of the composition of humans, and another one is the bipartite view, which is held by many Christians, which says that humans have a physical component (body) and an immaterial component (soul/spirit). CMI doesn't take sides on this theological debate, however.
Tim R.
Another passage that could possibly be used to support the idea that mankind still bears God's image, however marred, is James 3:9: "With [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness (similitude) of God".

Great website - I read every article! Keep up the great work!
Gary J.
Apparently different groups of Christians have different definitions of "image of God". The definition I am familiar with is not the same as what Lita described in the article. Instead, the image of God in man is defined as the perfect knowledge of God's will and the ability to live according to his will. Adam and Eve had such an image but at the Fall it was completely lost, not just marred. Humans are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), have a corrupted knowledge of God's will, and are totally incapable of living according to his will. Only when the Holy Spirit works faith in a human through the Gospel is that image restored in some form. This side of heaven, however, we retain our "sinful nature" (Rom 7:18) which makes our life as Christians a constant battle to overcome what we do by nature, i.e., sin. Before conversion, the situation was even worse in that we were spiritually "dead in transgressions" (Eph 2:1-5). Basically the unregenerate person is incapable of a relationship with God. That was the image that Adam's children (and we) inherited from Adam. By God's grace he calls all to repentance and faith through his Word. Those who resist the work of the Holy Spirit remain spiritually dead and bound for hell. Others are converted by the Holy Spirit purely out of God’s grace as they hear the Word of God and so believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and are bound for heaven. "By grace you have been saved!" (Eph 2:5).

My point is this: when one understands that humanity lost the “image of God” (rather than ending up with a marred copy as Lita describes it), i.e., man’s free will is totally corrupted as a result of the Fall, he sees that the unconverted person is a spiritual corpse and cannot in any way participate in his conversion any more than a physical corpse can restore life to his own body. Salvation is purely the work of God; damnation is purely the work of man. So the nature of man before conversion – whether having a marred image of God or no image of God at all – is crucial for a correct understanding of how we are saved. A marred image leads to synergism; a destroyed image leads to pure grace.

By the way, thank you for this website. I read the articles on it every day as well as subscribe to Creation and the Journal of Creation. They are all very informative.
Lita Cosner
Thanks for writing in. I was unaware that certain Christian groups have a different concept of the image of God, and it was helpful to hear your theological reasoning for your view. However, the concept of man in the image of God continues to be an important idea throughout Scripture—the remaining image of God in mankind would seem to be important for the Incarnation, for instance. And it is hard to reconcile James 3:9 with the idea that the image has been completely lost.
I don’t see this as a monergism/synergism issue; someone with a marred image of God might even be worse off than someone with no image of God. Animals, for instance, undoubtedly lack the image of God and are incapable of the horrific evil that humans can perpetrate on one another. I don’t see how my view leads to synergism; we are just as incapable of saving ourselves with a broken image as with no image.
michael S.
Question number 1 is not only a complete fabrication or strawman representation of scripture but it is an astonishingly strange way to look at things, and shows a baffling bewilderment about "God". It's almost as if "God" is an impersonal, hypothetical THING, to the questioner's mind.

Such questions always gave me personal proof that you can only understand the things of God if you are indeed in Christ/God, otherwise you are so completely entrenched in darkness, that your thoughts become twisted.(the natural man)

I remember when Jesus said words to the effect, "how can you understand heavenly things if you can't understand earthly things".

The natural man can not understand the things of God. I don't think evolutionary atheists ever completely know just how much their displays of scriptural truth help our faith, and boost it by the strange NATURAL things they say.

I'm not having a pop at the questioner - I am genuinely observing something that has been consistently displayed in those that do not believe. If the bible was not true, then they should have been able to grasp what it says but no matter how intellectual they are, they can't. This is a tremendous personal proof for me.
F. K.
In response to the question, Why does God need to be glorified? I would like to say this -- it is for our enjoyment! Consider an earthly example: Our Olympic heroes come home and are given a parade. People come out in droves to show them their appreciation, they are cheering and waving flags and taking photos. Now, you look at the faces in the crowd. Aren't they enjoying giving this adoration to their sporting heroes? Don't they come away with huge smiles and saying things like, "Wasn't that great!" "I'd love to do that again!"
"We should do this more often!" God is far more glorious than any sporting hero could hope to be, and as our Creator and Redeemer, so much more worthy of praise. It is our priviledge to gloryify and adore such a wonderful God who has made our chief duty an enjoyment!
Lester V.
I concur with Lita's analysis of the image of God in man. In Genesis 5:3, when Seth was born, it says that Adam begat a son "in his own likeness, after his image." That would seem to indicate that Adam was no longer "in the image of God," but now (after the Fall) had his own image, which differed from the one he had when he was first created. Just as a mirror in a fun-house distorts, but does not completely destroy, the image of the person reflected in it, so the Fall warped and distorted the image of God in man, even though that image was still present. Furthermore, man's nature as spirit-soul-body reflects the Trinity, and when Adam sinned, his spirit died, cutting him off from fellowship with God. Paul calls this condition "being dead in trespasses and sins." The new birth is referred to a spiritual birth, in which man's spirit is re-born (or re-created). After the new birth, man's soul must be renewed (through the Word of God), and his body must be transformed (by the resurrection, but neither of them are re-created as his spirit is. Thus, I submit that the Fall immediately resulted in the death of man's spirit (one-third of God's image in man), but it took time for the other two-thirds of God's image to be impacted by lies, false beliefs, disease, and death.
Jay M.
I find the phrase "If the ‘image’ was lost at the Fall then why is not permissible to now kill human beings or abort babies, for example?" to be rather strange. Aborting babies IS killing human beings, so isn't the author repeating themselves here? It might also come across to readers that the author does draw a distinction between killing a human and aborting a baby.
Lita Cosner
I meant "aborting babies" as a subset of killing human beings; of course we believe that babies are fully human from conception.
David S.
What's this about 2417? Is it something from popular culture, not the Bible?
Is it the questioners assumption that by 2417 humans will be so degenerated that we will need and accept wireless implants to help us remember, communicate and think? I hope Jesus comes first.
Anil G.
I'd like to point out another answer to the reader's question number 1: "Why does God feel the need to be glorified? Is he insecure?".

I find that being a part of glorifying God (by praising him) and also observing his glory (by seeing him do things in my life and others) is immensely enjoyable and fulfilling. In fact, the most enjoyable and fulfilling thing I know.

I also always find that whenever I try to "do something for God" he does something much greater for me. This is without any single exception in my experience.

I therefore think that it should be evident that it is hardly for his benefit that there is any instruction to glorify God in the Bible.
Judie S.
I think there is another possibility Jesus came then rather than now.
The internet arose from scientific discoveries made possible by the Christian view of the world and therefore of science. That view MAY not have been possible before the freedom brought by the new covenant in Jesus.
Alex F.
I would just like to add another point to the last question down the bottom.

As CMI have often pointed out, science only really got going under christian influence, because christian scientists decided that God created the world orderly and intended Man to investigate it. Possibly if Christ had not come when he did, we would not have internet today.
Don H.
I love the way Lita is courageous enough to tackle hard questions.
One thought re why God didn't wait until our time with the internet for Jesus to come:
Without the gospel there'd be no science as we know it & thus no internet etc.

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