Written by Ekkehardt Mueller
According to Gen 1:26-27 humanity was created in the image of God. What does this precisely mean?
The phrase “image of God” is found four times in the OT–Genesis 1:26, 27 and 9:6. In the Pentateuch the Hebrew term “image” occurs also in Genesis 5:3 and in Numbers 33:22. Whereas Seth is son of Adam according to his image (Gen 5:3), the text in Numbers talks about idolatrous images, in which we are not interested right now.
In addition the term “likeness” is employed in Genesis 1:26; 5:1, 3, which may be a synonym. The LXX terms are eikon (Gen 1:26, 27; 5:1, 3; 9:6) and homoiosis (Gen 1:26).
The question is, what does the image of God stand for? Some have suggested that the image refers to mental and spiritual capacities. Others stress a physical resemblance. Still others connect the image of God to the idea of being God’s representative on earth. Yet others talk about the capacity to have a relationship with God. Since no definition is given of what the image of God means, the context should be consulted.
The immediate context contains two blessings, namely Genesis 1:28 and 2:2-3. The first blessing seems to present the idea that humans become God’s representatives to rule over creation. However, they become involved in sin. By mentioning nakedness Genesis 2:25 prepares for the fall. After their transgression of God’s command, Adam and Eve realize that they are naked (Gen 3:11). The term “sin” is used for the first time in Genesis 4. Genesis 3 and 4 are similar in structure insofar that a transgression occurs, God begins an investigative process and a dialogue with the sinners, and then utters a verdict. At the end of Genesis 4 those who live in sin have become quite perverted and are hostile to God. But there is another line. Interestingly enough, the divine blessing given to Adam and Eve in Gen 1:28 (and mentioned again in 5:2) is to a certain extent repeated to Noah and his family (9:1, 7), Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12:2-3; 17, 7, 15-16), Jacob (Gen 35:9-12), and Israel (Ex 1:7). Thus, it seems likely that the image of God primarily has to do with being God’s representative as well as with standing in an intimate relationship with God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Israel are therefore–in a limited way–images of God, but the ideal is not reached in them because they are affected by sin, and obviously it was sin that damaged the image of God in humanity.
The image of God may also be explained somewhat by Genesis 5:1-3. In verse 1 Adam is described as in the image of God. This image of God is found in both genders who are blessed (verse 2). According to verse 3 Seth is the image and likeness of Adam. Both words found in Genesis 1:26 occur here again and remind us of that text. The two preceding verses (Gen 5:1-2) connect the image of God with the fact that Seth is born in Adam’s image. Genesis 5:1-3 may therefore suggest that the image of God also includes a resemblance of all human faculties and the entire human being with the Lord of the universe.
In the NT Jesus is presented as the ideal Israel–Matthew 2:15, 17. He is called the “image of God” (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). He is the ideal image and at the same time “the radiance of his [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of his nature” (Heb 1:3). Believers are becoming conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29) and transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18).
. See, Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary 1 (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 29-31.
. See, Miguel Gutierrez, “‘L’homme créé à l’image de Dieu’ dans l’ensemble littéraire et canonique Genèse, chapitres 1-11,” Th.D. dissertation, Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg, 1993.
. The Sabbath blessing (Gen 2:2-3) is elaborated in various passages in Exodus. The Sabbath clearly is linked to the relationship that God and his human children enjoy. Furthermore, Gen 1-3 as well as the first Sabbath passage seem to have a connection to the sanctuary (Gen 2:2 and Ex 39:43) which also points to the divine-human relationship and may have a connection with the issue of the image of God. See, Angel M. Rodríguez, “Genesis 1 and the Building of the Israelite Sanctuary,” Ministry, February 2002, 9-11; Angel M. Rodríguez, “Eden and the Israelite Sanctuary: A Study in God’s Abiding Interest in Harmony and Restoration,” Ministry, April 2002, 11-13, 30.