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In The Image of God

Genesis 1:27 (ESV) … “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

The creation of man does not take place through a word addressed by God to the earth, but as the result of the divine decree, verse 26 “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” which proclaims at the very outset the distinction and pre-eminence of man above all the other creatures of the earth.

The occurrence of “us” in this passage has been understood by historical theologians to refer to the plurality of the godhead or The Trinity: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. However, this understanding would have been unknown to the authors of the Old Testament and so another possible explanation is the so-called “plural of majesty,” but this type of grammatical usage is more common for nouns and adjectives than verbs. A simpler explanation is that “us” reflects an announcement by the single God of Israel to a group in His presence—the heavenly host. Other OT passages support the idea of a heavenly host or divine council, such as found (Psa 29:1; Psa 82:1). This explanation also applies to Gen 11:7. The phrase “our image” then means that the members of the heavenly host also reflect the divine image.

Being created in the image of God distinguishes people from all other earthly creation. God’s image is not described as being possessed in part or given gradually; rather, it is an immediate and inherent part of being human.

The image of God likely does not refer to any specific ability (intelligence, sentience, emotional capacity, free will, etc.). This would result in an ethical problem, since human beings do not possess these abilities equally. Likewise, connecting the image of God to the internal makeup of a human being—by appealing to the application of the Hebrew words nephesh for “soul” or ruach for “spirit” for people - does not resolve this issue, as both terms are used to describe members of the animal kingdom.

Rather, it refers to our creation as God’s image, His unique representatives on earth. People are thus God’s agents, functioning as He would if He were embodied. Jesus is the ultimate image of God (Heb 1:3).

Ultimately, the Bible indicates that the image of God inherently belongs to all humans equally and immediately. The Bible deliberately presents the image of God as that which fundamentally distinguishes humanity from the rest of earth’s living creatures.

Finally, we must understand that God wants all humans to believe in Christ and be conformed to the image of Jesus. As Jesus imaged God, so must we image Jesus. In so doing, we fulfill the rationale for our creation: we image God (Gen 1:27). This process is a gradual one: “And we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory into glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

In this passage, being filled with the Spirit is linked to imaging Christ—the ultimate fulfillment of our status as God’s imagers. One day, our imaging of Christ will transcend our life on earth. As Paul also says: “just as we have borne the image of the one man who is made of earth, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor 15:49). [1]

[1] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 1:26). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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