1 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Although the above passage, Psalm 8 (KJV; all other Biblical quotations are from the ESV), doesn’t state that man was made in the image of God, it suggests that he was.
In the past few days my family and I have been reading the section “Man in the Image of God” of Chapter 21, “The Creation of Man,” in our reading of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In this post I’ll share some of what we read and of what I read from other books in preparation for our family reading of the section. Topics that I’ll consider are passages from the Bible that refer to man’s being in the image of God, the meaning of “image of God,” the distortion and restoration of God’s image in man, specific aspects of our likeness to God, and implications of the doctrine.
Passages from the Bible Referring to Man’s Being in the Image of God
– (Genesis 1:26-27) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
– (Genesis 5:1b) When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.
– (Genesis 9:6) Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image. (God is speaking to Noah and his sons.)
– (1 Corinthians 11:7) A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
– (Colossians 3:10) [You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
– (James 3:9) With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
The Meaning of “Image of God”
In Genesis 1:26-27, quoted above, God describes man as being “in our image” and “after our likeness.” Both the Hebrew word for “image” (tselem) and the Hebrew word for “likeness” (demut) refer to something that is similar to but not identical with something else. The word “image” can also be used of something that represents something else. Grudem illustrates the similarity and difference between the two words in a footnote that we read in our family reading of the section but that I won’t share here because I understand “in our image” and “after our likeness” to be an example of synonymous parallelism and “image” and “likeness” to have equivalent meanings in the passages quoted above.
The basic idea conveyed by God’s describing man as being made in His image or likeness is that we are copies of Him. Although I didn’t share them with my family, I found enlightening the implications that Geoffrey W. Bromiley draws from this in his International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible article on the image of God: “(1) that man is not to create God in his own image, (2) that he is to learn his true nature from God and not vice versa, and (3) that Christ, who is the express image of God, is the true original of man” (Bromiley, page 803; see Bibliography below).
I also didn’t share with my family the summary provided by Grudem in a footnote of the three major views identified by Millard J. Erickson of the image of God in man which have been held throughout the history of the church. They are: (1) the substantive view, which identifies the image of God with some particular quality of humans, such as reason; (2) the relational view, which identifies the image of God with the relationship of human to God and/or of human to human; and (3) the functional view, which identifies the image of God with a human function, such as exercising dominion over the creation. For more on the views, see footnote 8 on page 443 of Grudem (see above) or pages 460-469 of Erickson (see Bibliography below).
The Distortion of and Restoration of God’s Image in Man
Man’s sin caused his likeness to God to be distorted but not lost. That he is still in the image of God is indicated by Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 (quoted above).
Our redemption in Jesus Christ means that we can progressively become more and more like God. Paul told the Christians at Colossae, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10), and those in Rome that God intended for them “to be conformed to the image of his son” (Romans 8:29).
Although we are still imperfect, Paul told the Christians in Corinth, “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Christ]” (1 Corinthians 15:49). Since Jesus Christ is “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), this means that eventually we shall be restored fully to the image of God. This will take place when Jesus returns, 1 John 3:2’s affirming, “We know that when he appears we shall be like him.”
Specific Aspects of Our Likeness to God
The books that I consulted while preparing for our family reading from Grudem’s Systematic Theology and writing this post identified various aspects of our likeness to God. Here I’ll note some which Grudem identifies that show us to be more like God than the rest of His creation, except possibly angels, is.
Morally, we have an inner sense of right and wrong. Our likeness to God is reflected when we act according to God’s moral standards, and our unlikeness to Him is reflected whenever we sin.
Spiritually, we have immaterial spirits as well as physical bodies and thus have a spiritual life, enabling us to relate to God as persons, and immortality.
Mentally, we have an ability to reason and learn; to use complex, abstract language; to be creative in such areas as art, music, literature, and technology; and to experience a complexity of emotions.
Relationally, we experience a depth of interpersonal harmony in marriage, in family life, and in church life; and we have been given the right to rule over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26, 28) and even to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
Physically, our bodies reflect something of God’s character, for example in its enabling us to see; and our ability to bear and raise children like ourselves reflects God’s ability to create humans (and angels) who are like Himself.
These differences between us and the rest of creation are not absolute differences but often are differences of very great degree. Out of all creation only man is so much like God that he can be said to be “in the image of God.” Moreover, unlike the rest of God’s creation, we have the ability to grow to become more like God throughout our lives. Grudem suggests some practical ways in which we can grow morally, spiritually, mentally, and relationally. If your would like to know what he suggests, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll tell you some of what he suggests.
Implications of the Doctrine
Erickson gives these implications of the doctrine:
– We belong to God.
– We should pattern ourselves after Jesus, the perfect revelation of God.
– We experience full humanity only when we are properly related to Jesus.
– Learning and work are good.
– We are valuable.
– The image is universal in mankind, meaning that there is dignity to being human and we should respect all people.
If you don’t understand any of these implications, which are given on pages 472-474 of Erickson (see Bibliography), please ask about it in a Reply to this post and I’ll try to explain it.
While preparing for our family reading of Chapter 21 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology and while writing this post, I often consulted my other systematic theology textbooks and my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias. Although I appreciated what each says about man’s being created in the image of God, I was helped most by these two (besides, of course, Grudem):
– Bromiley, Geoffrey W. “Image of God.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4 volumes. Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979-88. Vol. 2, pages 803-805. The article contains two sections: Man as Made in the Image of God, and Christ the Image of God.
– Erickson, Millard J. “The Image of God in the Human.” Christian Theology. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 457-474. The chapter contains sections on the relevant Scripture passages, views (and evaluation of the views) of the image, conclusions regarding the nature of the image, and implications of the doctrine.
While I was preparing this post, I discovered that the book which two of my children, Robert and Shekinah, gave me for Christmas contains a chapter which describes as well as any of my other books the greatness of man’s creation (including his being created in the image of God), the tragedy of his fall, and the hope of his restoration. The book is Evan B. Howard’s The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BrazosPress, 2008; BrazosPress is a division of Baker Publishing Group) and the chapter is Chapter 5, “Christian Experience” (pages 145-194).