What is the image of God?
The image of God is what sets human persons apart as unique in God’s creation.
Where in Scripture do we find this idea?
We find it in the account of creation.
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:24-28)
What are we taught in these verses?
- All living beings are created by God (v25-26).
- Of these creatures, only humans were created in God’s image (v26).
- That being in the image of God enables man to rule the rest of creation (v28).
- That both men and women are in the image of God (v27).
Where else in Scripture do we find this idea?
In Genesis 5, we read:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. (Gen 5:1-2)
What is taught us in Genesis 9?
In verse 6, we are taught that being in the image of God makes the life of each human person uniquely valuable. This is the basis of our concept of the sanctity of human life.
How does this verse teach the sanctity of human life?
In these verses, God states the general law that anyone who takes an innocent life must have his life taken from him. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed…” The basis or reason for this law follows in the next clause “…for in the image of God He made man.” (Gen 9:6) Thus, being in the image of God makes human life uniquely precious over against the life of all other created beings.
What else can we learn from this passage about God’s image in humans?
Two things: First, that it was not just Adam and Eve who were in the image of God, but all the descendants of Adam are equally understood to be in God’s image; Second, that human persons are, in some sense, still in the image of God even after the fall into sin.
What does God mean when He teaches us that we are made in His “image” and “likeness”?
Clearly, God created man with some kind of similarity to His own person.
What is this similarity?
Unfortunately, there is no place in Scripture where this is clearly defined. Thus, various explanations have been suggested and the question continues to be discussed.
How can we find an answer to this question?
One way to do this is to focus on what makes us different than the other animals and to assume that this must be the image of God.
What is this difference?
Theologians have pointed out that only man is able to reason and make choices based on this reasoning. Thus, they conclude that the image of God must be our rational soul. Driver reasons this way:
It [the image of God] relates, from the nature of the case, to man’s immaterial nature. It can be nothing but the gift of self-conscious reason, which is possessed by man, but by no other animal. In all that is implied by this,—in the various intellectual faculties possessed by him; in his creative and originative power, enabling him to develop and make progress in arts, in sciences, and in civilization generally; in the power of rising superior to the impulses of sense, of subduing and transforming them, of mounting to the apprehension of general principles, and of conceiving intellectual and moral ideals; in the ability to pass beyond ourselves, and enter into relations of love and sympathy with our fellow-men; in the possession of a moral sense, or the faculty of distinguishing right and wrong; in the capacity for knowing God, and holding spiritual communion with Him,—man is distinguished fundamentally from other animals, and is allied to the Divine nature; so that, wide as is the interval separating him from the Creator, he may nevertheless, so far as his mental endowments are concerned, be said to be an ‘image,’ or adumbration, of Him. source
Is there any other place in Scripture which would support this?
There is; consider Job 32:8 “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.”
This appears to be the understanding of those who distinguish between the natural and the moral image of God.
Yes, it is. The natural image is understood to be our rational soul as given above. The moral image is the use of these faculties to the glory of God; in other words, holiness of life. Augustus Strong writes:
It is of great importance to distinguish clearly between the two elements embraced in this image of God, the natural and the moral. By virtue of the first, man possessed certain faculties (intellect, affection, will); by virtue of the second, he had right tendencies (bent, proclivity, disposition). By virtue of the first, he was invested with certain powers; by virtue of the second, a certain direction was imparted to these powers. As created in the natural image of God, man had a moral nature; as created in the moral image of God, man had a holy character. The first gave him natural ability; the second gave him moral ability. source
Why does Strong say “it is of great importance to distinguish clearly between the two elements embraced in this image of God”?
Because it explains how in one sense humans lost the image of God and yet in another how they still retain the image of God. Theologians have said that when humans fell in Adam, they lost the moral image of God but still retain the natural image of God.
What arguments are made in favor of this understanding of the image of God?
It shows clearly the difference between humans and animals since animals have no reasoning ability and are never said to be holy.
Where in Scripture is this distinction taught?
There is no place in the Bible where this distinction is clearly and explicitly made. It does, however, help us to understand different Scriptures.
What are these Scriptures?
There are two texts which call our salvation in Christ a “new creation.”
- Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2Cor 5:17)
- For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Gal 6:15)
This reference to creation leads us to think back to our original state as we were created by God and to see our salvation in Christ as a restoration of that original state.
What other Scriptures speak to this issue?
Consider Ephesians 4:24 where Paul writes: “…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
What does Paul mean here by “new self”?
In the previous verses, Paul had been speaking of their old self which was full of darkness, wandering from the life God gives with minds closed and hardened against God. The new self, on the other hand, is said to be created “in the likeness of God” τὸν κατὰ θεὸν κτισθέντα which Paul identifies as righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Why is this important for our understanding of the image of God?
Because previously, we had learned that humans were created in the image of God and that they continue to be in the image of God. Yet, here Paul speaks of God creating the image of God in those who did not have it (their “old self”). From 2Cor 5 and Gal 6, we learn that this is a new creation. In other words, the old self did not have the image of God, and the new self has it restored.
Does not Paul say something very similar in Col 3?
He does. Here, however, Paul explicitly uses the word “renewed” or “renovated.” “…and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…” (Col 3:10) The idea here is clearly that our old self is being renovated until its original beauty and holiness is restored.
Does not Paul’s use of the word “created” and “new creation” point to a restoration of our original creation?
Yes, Olshausen makes this point in a comment on Eph 4:24. He writes:
The words κατὰ Θεὸν κτισθείς (created after God) convey, no doubt, an allusion to the creation of man, Gen. 1:27, καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον, κατʼ εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόυ. The new birth is the second creation (see at Eph 2:10), wherefore the new man is called καινὴ κτίσις, בְּרִיאָה הֲדָשָׁה (See at 2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15.) Now, as God in the beginning created man after his own image, so too in regeneration he again creates him after the same, because sin had dimmed the image of God. That Paul employs κατὰ Θεόν in our passage in the sense of κατʼ εἰκόνα Θεοῦ is shewn by the parallel passage, Col. 3:10, κατʼ εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσαντος αὐτόυ, after the image of him who created him. source
Meyer also writes: “Thereby the creation of the new man is placed upon a parallel with that of our first parents (Gen. 1:27), who were created after God’s image…” source
In terms of the previous distinction between the natural and moral image of God, we would conclude that Paul is teaching that we lost the moral image of God in Adam’s fall, but it is restored to us when we are saved in Christ?
Yes, this is correct. Hellenbroek’s catechism is very typical:
4. Q. Wherein did God create man?
A. In His image.
5. Q. Wherein did the image of God consist?
A. In knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.
8. Q. Prove that the image of God consisted in knowledge?
A. Col 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him.
9. Q. Prove also that it consists in righteousness and true holiness?
A. Eph 4:24 And that ye put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. source
Where does Scripture teach that we have lost some part of the image of God?
Again, there is no such explicit teaching in Scripture, but it is a conclusion drawn from these facts:
- humans were originally created in God’s image (Gen 1:26);
- humans continue to be in the image of God after the fall into sin (Gen 9:6);
- the image of God is restored to sinners when God saves them (Eph 4:24 & Col 3:10).
The conclusion drawn is that man once had the full image of God but lost part of it and that this is restored to him in salvation.
What part of the image of God is retained by all human persons even after the fall?
This is what we called previously the natural image of God. It includes all our faculties by which we are able to reason, to make decisions, to communicate and to live in relationships.
Is it not possible that humans lost the image of God entirely after their fall into sin and regain it again when they are saved in Christ?
No, this is contradicts the Scripture (see above on Gen 9) which teach that man retains some part of the image of God even after the fall.
Why do you believe that human persons retain this part of the image of God?
First, because Scripture teaches that, in some sense, man is still in the image of God even after the fall. Second, without something of the image of God, people would be less than human and not even able to act sinfully or virtuously. Humans would be reduced to animals. In fact, no human action is moral (or immoral) unless committed with the use of our human reason cf here.
What does Paul teach in 1Corinthians 11?
Here, focusing specifically on the husband, Paul says that he is “the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” (1Cor 11:7)
This seems to imply that the wife is not in the image and glory of God or at least not to the same extent as her husband.
Here Paul is focused especially on the concept of male headship. In the church, this principle shows itself in the fact that men have the responsibility to lead and govern and the women cover their heads to show their submission to this authority. Now in terms of these differing roles, which one is more like God? The headship of the male? Or the submission of the female? Clearly, the male in his position as head since God is the supreme authority in heaven and earth. To say in this context that men and women are equally in God’s likeness would imply that in some way God submits to someone else’s headship as women do in the church.
Apart from this context of roles in the church, Scripture is clear that men and women are equally created in God’s image (Gen 1:27 ). Paul makes a similar point in Galatians 3. Here the context is not roles in the church or creation by God but redemption in Christ. Here too, there is no difference between male and female. In Christ, says Paul, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female….
What is taught us in James 3?
James rebukes those who curse others are made in God’s image. With it [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. (Jas 3:9). Again, we are warranted to conclude from this text that humans are still image-bearers even after the fall into sin.
What about Jude 10?
Here Jude refers to τὰ ἄλογα ζῷα or “unreasoning creatures” which only serves to show that Jude saw the gift of reason as constituting a difference between animals and humans.
Would Jude have also said that human reason was the image of God?
But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. (Jde 1:10)
Are there other places in Scripture where the image of God concept appears?
There may be a reference to it in John 1:8-9: He was not the Light, but He came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. (Jhn 1:8-9) Here the Logos enlightens every man.
What is this enlightening?
How might this be a reference to the image of God?
It is clear that the enlightening here cannot be the saving work of the Logos (as in Jn 1:12, 13) since it includes every man.
Might this be a reference to the natural image of God which is God’s gift to every person and enlightens them?
Previously, John had declared that in the Logos was life and this life was the light of men (Jn 1:4).
Does “life” here mean salvation? or is it the natural life of the mind which is the light of all human persons?
Who argues for this interpretation?
Consider these words by E. Y. Mullins:
…it is well to develop a truth which bears an important relation to a number of important doctrines. It is the distinction between the natural and the spiritual relations of Jesus Christ to the human race. It is a clear teaching of the New Testament that Christ was the medium and goal of all creation. “All things have been created through him and unto him.” “In him all things consist,” or hold together. (Col 1:16, 17) By him God made the worlds. (Heb 1:2) He is the source and ground of all man’s natural powers. “He is the true light which lighteth every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). The divine image in man’s original constitution was derived from Christ. Christ sustains nature and man in all their activities. Our natural powers of reason, of will, of conscience, of emotions, are derived from him. source