Made in the image of God
The historical biblical account of the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26-27) states that God made the first man and woman ‘in His own image’. What does this mean? And why is it important?
The occasion was the sixth day of Creation Week, after God had prepared the earth as a habitation, and after He had created the fish, the birds, and the other animals. These were all created by divine fiat, which means that God commanded (or willed) each event to happen and it was done. In the case of the creation of man, there is a difference. The inspired record reads: ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.... So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them’ (Genesis 1:26-27).
A Divine Council
In this intriguing verse God appears to be talking to someone.1 Calvin said, ‘This is the language of one apparently deliberating... he enters into consultation.’2 Many other commentators refer to it as ‘a council’. But if this is so, with whom is God consulting? And why? Does the Bible give us any hint?
Since the Lord needs no other counsellor,3 any such consultation must have taken place within the Godhead—between God the Father and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.4,5 Hebrews 1:2 tells us that when God made the worlds (KJV) or universe (NIV), He did so by His Son.6
God could easily have commanded the creation of man by His own Word, as He had done in the case of the animals (Genesis 1:20,24) and the plants (Genesis 1:11), but He chose not to. Man is not a close cousin of the animals, nor a distant relative of primitive plant life, nor a product of slime. Rather, he is someone great, wonderful and different, the most excellent of all God’s works, and a special expression of the divine nature, created by God’s own personal activity. God introduces him with solemnity, dignity, and the honour of an intimate deliberation on the part of the Godhead.
Although man was formed from the dust of the ground, God personally ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7). Man’s life is thus not the result of spontaneous reorganization of molecules within his body, nor is it derived by evolution from any animal or ‘lower hominid’ (as theistic evolutionists teach), but is a direct gift from God. This is further emphasized in the Bible by Luke’s genealogy of Adam, where he designates Adam as being not the son of an anthropoid ape, but ‘the son of God’ (Luke 3:38).
What was there for God to discuss with the Son? Revelation 13:8 tells us that the Lamb of God (i.e. Jesus) ‘was slain from the foundation of the world’. By the sixth day of Creation Week the foundation of the world had been well and truly laid, but with the creation of man, God was about to initiate that chain of events which would lead inexorably to the future crucifixion and death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross as an atonement for the sin of mankind. In His earthly life, Jesus affirmed His willingness to do the will of the Father in this regard, in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39, 42). Did He perhaps also do so in the heavenly council, immediately before God created Adam?
In the Image of God
When God created man in His own image,7 He purposed that mankind (both man and woman) would resemble God in certain ways, and share certain of the divine prerogatives. Concerning this we note:
1. It was not a physical likeness, but...
Although God is spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a body like a man, when He appeared visibly to men according to the Old Testament record, He did so in the form of a human body (e.g. Genesis 18:1-2; 32:24, 28,30).8 Dr Henry Morris writes: ‘There is something about the human body therefore, which is uniquely appropriate to God’s manifestation of Himself, and (since God knows all His works from the beginning of the world—Acts 15:18), He must have designed man’s body with this in mind. Accordingly He designed it, not like the animals, but with an erect posture, with an upward gazing countenance, capable of facial expressions corresponding with emotional feelings, and with a brain and tongue capable of articulate, symbolic speech.’9,10
Furthermore, the human body was the form in which God the Son would be incarnated or ‘made in the likeness of men’ (Philippians 2:7). Thus God made man in that bodily form which He Himself would one day assume—the form in which He wished to reveal Himself.
2. It was a mental likeness.
God endowed man with intellectual ability which was and is far superior to that of any animal. Thus man was given a mind capable of hearing and understanding God’s communication with him, emotions capable of responding to God in love and devotion, and a will which enabled him to choose whether or not to obey God. Man was thus equipped, not only to ‘love God and obey Him for ever’, but also to do God’s work on earth—to be His regent and govern the creation in co-operation with his Creator.
This is seen in God’s command to Adam and Eve11 that they exercise dominion over the earth and its animals (Genesis 1:26,28), in Adam’s task of cultivating the garden (Genesis 2:15), and in the statement that Adam gave names to certain of the animals on the earth (Genesis 2:19-20).12
Man’s intellectual gifts are further seen in his ability to design things and then make them, to appreciate beauty, to compose glorious music, to paint pictures, to write, to count to large numbers and do mathematics, to control and use energy for his own benefit (e.g. fire, electricity, nuclear power), to organize, to reason, to make decisions, to be self-conscious, to laugh at himself, and to think abstractly. All this behaviour is non-instinctive, as distinct from animal behaviour, and as such it is of unlimited variety.
3. It was a moral likeness.
Man only, of all God’s creatures, has a spirit or God-consciousness, that is, a capacity for knowing God and holding spiritual communion with Him through prayer, praise, and worship. Since the Fall (Genesis chapter 3), man has had inborn moral awareness of good and evil, or conscience, which he perceives in his spirit.13
Man was made not only negatively innocent (that is, without sin), but positively holy, otherwise Adam could not have had communion with God, who cannot look upon iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). This is further confirmed by Genesis 1:31, when God affirms that everthing He had made (including man) was ‘very good’, which would not have been true if man had been morally imperfect.
4. It was a social likeness.14
God’s social nature and intrinsic love is seen in the doctrine of the Trinity. God—who is love—created man with a social nature and a need for love. The statement in Genesis 3:8 that ‘they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ suggests that Adam and Eve enjoyed fellowship and communion with God, perhaps on a daily basis.
God also provided for human fellowship and love in a very special and intimate way. Before He created Eve He said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him’ (Genesis 2:18). He then made Eve out of a bone taken from Adam (Genesis 2:21-24), a fact which Jesus used in His debate with the Pharisees to uphold the sanctity of marriage and the intimacy of love within the marriage relationship (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-8).15
When God created the vegetation and the animals, He made them all ‘after its/their kind’ (the phrase occurs ten times in Genesis 1:11-25). When He created Adam, He made him after the God-kind — in the image and likeness of God (cf. Acts 17:28). After the Fall, man is still said to be in God’s image (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7) and likeness (James 3:9). However, this image was defiled by man’s rebellion at the Fall, and all aspects of God’s image were tarnished. Nevertheless, these aspects were perfect in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15), and ‘the express image’ of God (Hebrews 1:3), both in His life on earth and in Heaven.
The Apostle Paul says that we are transformed or renewed into the image of God by the Gospel, and that this image is then ‘in righteousness and true holiness’ (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). This is not something that the natural man can bring about by his own efforts, but is the result of our ‘receiving Christ’ in faith and repentance (John 1:12; Galatians 2:20). It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; Romans 8:28-29), who takes up His abode within God’ children (1 Corinthians 3:1; 6:19). ‘God is long-suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).
References and notes
- Two other occasions when this plural/consultative form of divine speech is used are Genesis 3:22 and 11:7. Return to text.
- John Calvin, Genesis, translated and edited by John King, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, p. 91, 1965. Return to text.
- Isaiah 40:13; Romans 11:34. Return to text.
- John 16:13 indicates that the Holy Spirit speaks. Return to text.
- The plural form for ‘God’ (Elohim) and the plural pronouns ‘us’ and ‘our’ used with a singular verb in Genesis 1:26 foreshadow the doctrine of the Trinity. Compare Genesis 1:1-3 and Matthew 28:19. Return to text.
- See also John 1:3, ‘All things were made by Him [i.e. the Word or Logos = Jesus Christ]; and without Him was not anything made that was made’, and John 17:24, where Jesus speaks of God the Father’s love for the Son, ‘before the foundation of the world’. Return to text.
- Some commentators differentiate between the terms ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God. Others treat them as synonyms, meant to emphasize the idea of resemblance. Moses appears to do the latter: thus he uses ‘likeness’ as an explanation of ‘image’ in Genesis 1:26 (there is no ‘and’ between the two phrases in the Hebrew); he uses ‘image’ twice with no mention of ‘likeness’ in Genesis 1:27; he uses ‘likeness’ (only) in Genesis 5:1, and ‘image’ (only) in Genesis 9:6. Return to text.
- We understand that this was the Lord Jesus Christ, as ‘no man hath seen God [the Father] at any time’ (John 1:18). Return to text.
- Morris, H., The Genesis Record, Master Books, El Cajon, California, p. 74, 1976. Return to text.
- Animals communicate in several different ways, including voice, facial expression, posture and odours, but none is capable of speaking grammatical phrases or sentences. Return to text.
- Note that Genesis 1:27 tells us that Eve also was made in the image of God, and the command in Genesis 1:26 and 28 is in the plural ‘them’ (i.e. Adam and Eve), and hence all their descendants (i.e. mankind). Return to text.
- Man thus was given dominion over all things—animal, mineral and vegetable—not for personal exploitation or tyranny, but as God’ representative. It is a delegated position of service and stewardship, and this implies accountability. In everything man does he is responsible to God (Revelation 20:12). Return to text.
- Man is a three-fold being or tri-unity of body, soul, and spirit. Vegetation has body and unconscious life; animals have body and conscious life (Hebrew: nephesh, usually translated ‘soul’); man has body, conscious life (or soul, comprising in man the intellect or mind, emotions or sensibility, and the power of choice or will), and spirit (God-consciousness). Man is the immortal and unique image of God in all three aspects. Some commentators compare this tri-unity of man to the Trinity within the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Return to text.
- Adapted from Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, Michigan, pp. 156-7, 1977. Return to text.
- The making of Eve from Adam is an absolute stumbling block to theistic evolutionary interpretations. Some say ‘dust to Adam’ sybolizes evolution from lower forms, but what about ‘rib to Eve’? Return to text.