The Image of God

As we know a lot depends (as with all things) on definitions.   Just what the phrase ‘image of God’ means is subject to some debate.

 I have generally given the answer from the Wizard of Oz movie:  to be like God is to have a heart, a brain and courage, or from the Shema:

Deut 6:4-5 ‘“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[b] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

This greatest commandment is stated in scripture variously as:

Luke – Heart, soul, strength and mind

Mark – Heart, soul, mind and strength

Matthew – Heart, soul and mind

Deut – Heart, soul and might

LBB – Heart, might, mind and will

So one definition of the image of God is for a creature to have a heart to love God, a mind to know God and a will to obey God.   This would obviously apply to angels.   Angels are also referred to as ‘sons of God’ as is Adam and so this too would imply they bear the image of God.   Also the famous ‘Let us make man in our image’ could be God counseling with the hosts of heaven (not by way of advice but by including them in His decision) and scripture says ‘the sons of God rejoiced’ at the creation (Job 38).

These are just some of my thoughts about the image of God – kind of just off the top of my head. My bible software (Logos) has a LOT more to say about it and below are some quick hits from the web that I found interesting and informative.

From the website we have the following:

Are angels made in the image of God?  Some answer negatively on the basis of the fact that Scripture affirms this of human beings (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) but nowhere explicitly says the same of angels.  But to conclude from this fact that angels must not be made in God’s image is a case of the ad ignorantium fallacy (appealing to ignorance).  In fact, there are many good reasons to believe that angelic beings are divine image bearers:

  1. The Essence of Divine Imaging—What does it mean to bear the divine image?  Presumably this has to do with certain essential “soulish” capacities that a being has in common with the Deity.  Three such characteristics come to mind:  (a) cognitive capacity—the ability to use reason, form beliefs, perceive things, etc.; (b) conative capacity—the ability to make choices or act intentionally; and (c) moral capacity—being such that one’s choices are susceptible to ethical evaluation (praise and blame) and having duties or obligations.  Do angels have such capacities?  According to the biblical accounts, angels clearly have cognitive, conative, and moral capacities just as humans do.  It would appear, then, that they bear the image of God.
  2. “A Little Lower than the Angels”—It is said about Jesus that God “made him a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5 and Heb. 2:7).  Presumably this refers to the fact that in sending his Son to Earth in human form he was in this way making him “lower than the angels.”  But if humans bear God’s image and angels don’t, then surely humans would not properly be considered “lower” than angels.  It seems, then, that angels also must be divine image bearers.
  3. The Glory of Angels—It is clear from many biblical passages that angels are immensely glorious beings, so much so that even righteous people are tempted to worship them (cf. Rev. 19:10).  Moreover, angelic beings such as the archangel Gabriel, are given significant cosmic responsibilities.  The notion that such beings do not also bear the image of God seems incongruent with these facts.
  4. Angelic Impersonations of Humans—In some biblical narratives angels appear in human form (e.g., Gen. 18-19, Gen. 32:22-32, Heb. 13:2, etc.) in order to perform certain tasks.  And down through history there have been thousands of reports by Christians of encounters with angels in human guise.  The fact that such impersonations occur also seems incongruent with the denial that angels are divine image bearers.

However if there is a different definition of image of God we get a different answer.  The following is a very well reasoned answer defining the image of God as ‘doing what God does’.   If the word ‘in’ is translated ‘as’ we have ‘Let us make man as our image.’   This would make men image bearers more than images of God.

The Lexham Bible Dictionary

The Image as a Physical Attribute. The image of God is often defined as an ability dependent on the human brain, including:

• Intelligence

• Rationality

• Emotions

• Volitional will

• Consciousness

• Sentience

• The ability to communicate.

Many of these options are coherent, but defining the image of God in any of these ways fails exegetically and creates a problem for beginning of life and end of life ethics:

• All are not equally present among all human beings.

• All are not present in all human beings at all times.

• Some are not unique to human beings.

For example, the fertilized human embryo does not possess these abilities or attributes. To an embryo, they are potential attributes. If the image of God is said to be any of these things, the human only potentially bears the divine image until those attributes are possessed. This means that one must either deny the human personhood of the embryo or produce a more coherent alternative for defining the image of God. Even after birth, these options would mean that a severely retarded or brain-damaged child does not bear the divine image. Such definitions, if held consistently, would result in the loss of the image for some human beings.

Scientific and psychological research question whether some of these attributes are unique to humans. In regard to intelligence, the field of animal cognition has demonstrated that many animals have intelligence that cannot be assigned merely to instinct (Griffin, Animal Thinking; Pearce, Animal Learning and Cognition). For example, the ability to remember instructions or act contrary to instinct constitutes intelligence. Several species of mammals and birds score higher on simple intelligence tests than human infants or toddlers. Animals have been shown to grieve as well, so human emotion is not unique. Animals also show the ability to communicate (Savage-Rumbaugh, “Language Learning in Two Species of Apes”).

Scripture gives no indication that the divine image is bestowed incrementally or intermittently, and demands that the image must be unique to humans with respect to creation.

The Image of God as the Immaterial Nature of Humans.

 Humanity’s inner or “spiritual” nature may offer a better strategy for defining the image of God.

Spiritual Abilities. “Spiritual abilities” are “God-directed” abilities or spiritual inclinations of the inner life. Examples include:

• The belief in God

• A desire to know God

• Prayer

• Knowing right from wrong

These abilities require cognition. As with the physical abilities that require brain function, spiritual abilities or desires are not possessed equally by all humans. Furthermore, some animals may possess moral awareness (Putz, “Moral Apes”; Griffin, Animal Minds).

The faculty of knowing right from wrong is specifically denied as being part of the image of God. Scripture is clear that this sort of moral awareness only came about after humanity’s creation in God’s image, not in association with it. As Bray points out: “[C]onferred moral awareness is directly contradicted by the narrative in Genesis itself. It is extraordinary that this was never recognized, yet it is plain for all to see that Adam, though he was created in the image of God, was not allowed to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When he did so, God said ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us,’ implying that in this particular at least, there had been an important dissimilarity between Himself and His human creature” (Bray, “The Significance of God’s Image in Man,” 207).

The Meaning of the Image of God

A more coherent understanding can be found by appeal to Hebrew syntax with respect to the prepositional phrase בְּצֶלֶם (betselem). The preposition (ב, b) should be understood as what Hebrew grammarians variously refer to as:

• The “beth of essence (beth essentiae) or equivalence” (Joüon and Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 2:487).

• The “beth of identity” (Waltke and O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 198).

• The “beth of predication” (Gordon, “ ‘In’ of Predication or Equivalence,” 612–13).

The preposition “in” should be understood as meaning “as” or “in the capacity of.” Humanity was created “as” the image of God. The concept can be conveyed if we think of “image” as a verb: Humans are created as God’s imagers—they function in the capacity of God’s representatives. The image of God is not a quality within human beings; it is what humans are. Clines summarizes: “What makes man the image of God is not that corporeal man stands as an analogy of a corporeal God; for the image does not primarily mean similarity, but the representation of the one who is imaged in a place where he is not.… According to Gen 1:26ff, man is set on earth in order to be the representative there of the absent God who is nevertheless present by His image (Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” 87)”

Every human, regardless of the stage of development, is an imager of God. There is no incremental or partial of the image via some ability, physical or spiritual. No member of the animal kingdom, regardless of any cognitive ability it might have, is an imager of God. The same goes for any intelligent life form, artificial or the hypothetical extraterrestrial.

This understanding lends clarity to the Old Testament passages. Being created as God’s imagers means we are His representatives on earth—the only qualification for this is that we are human. This is why the creation of humankind as God’s image in Gen 1:26–27 is immediately followed by the so-called dominion mandate of Gen 1:28. Humanity is tasked with stewarding God’s creation as though God were physically present to undertake the duty himself. Genesis 9:6’s requirement of capital punishment for murder is because the intentional killing of an innocent human was tantamount to killing God in effigy. Clines argument with respect to Gen 5:1–3 is also brought into sharper focus: “Seth is not Adam’s image, but only like Adam’s shape” (Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” 78n117). Seth resembled Adam, but he was not Adam’s representative on earth. The prepositional changes in Gen 5 serve to distinguish the point of Gen 1:26–27 from Gen 5:1–3.

This view means that all human endeavor and enterprise has spiritual meaning—work is a spiritual exercise. Vocation is worship, no matter how mundane. Any task performed to steward creation, to harness its power for God’s glory and the benefit of fellow imagers, and to foster in the harmonious productivity of fellow imagers, is imaging God. This application of the image has been referred to as the “cultural mandate” or the vocational view of the imago Dei (Sands, “The Imago Dei as a Vocation”)

The Plural Language Associated with the Image of God

Problematic Interpretations of the Plurality. The plurality in the expression “let us create humankind in our image” may points to plurality within God. Christians see the Trinity in this language. However, an ancient Israelite or Jew never would have presumed this (Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 27–28; Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, 133–34). This option reads the New Testament back into the Old—the language does not specify (or limit) the plurality to three persons. The Old Testament uses the language of divine plurality in contexts that, were the Trinity to be imported into the passage, would result in its members being corrupt and wicked (Psa 82; Heiser, “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism?”).

Plurality may be an example of the “plural of majesty,” a grammatical use of the plural to point to “a fullness of attributes and powers” (Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 28). However, the plural of majesty is not used with pronouns or verbal forms, the latter of which is present in Gen 1:26 and 11:7.

In reference to Isaiah 6:8, the plural language in Gen 1:26 may be a self-deliberation or self-encouragement. This perspective is akin to the “editorial we.” The plurality describes how people deliberate with themselves. However, it is difficult to see how this view can work with the meaning of the image as God’s representative. It is also difficult to cohere this view with Psa 8, in which humanity is said to have been created a little lower than elohim (Psa 8:5). That the word elohim is to be taken as a plural is evident from its citation in Heb 2:7, where the writer quotes the passage from the Septuagint, which renders elohim as “angels.”

Some look to humanity as the referent of the plurality. Bray writes, “A more awkward question is raised by the use of the plural in Gen 1:26, implying as it does that man, as the image of God, somehow reflects a plurality in God” (Bray, “The Significance of God’s Image in Man,” 197).

An Announcement to the Heavenly Host. In Genesis 1:26, God, the lone speaker, is probably announcing His intention to create humankind to the members of His heavenly host (Psa 82; 89:5–8). Wenham writes, “From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held that the plural is used because God is addressing his heavenly court” (Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 27).

As humans, we use this sort of language with regularity. A mother could announce to her family, “let’s make dinner”—and then proceed to do so herself, for their benefit, without their involvement in the event. This is more coherent than a mere rhetorical self-reference since it involves the audience, though without necessarily requiring their active participation. This is also the most coherent explanation for the other plurality language we have touched upon (Gen 11:7; Isa 6:8). God among his heavenly host is a familiar biblical description (Deut 33:1–2; Psa 68:17; 1 Kgs 22:19–23).

Bray notes: “More probable is the idea that God is here speaking to the heavenly hosts, though this raises such questions as whether angels are also created in the image of God, whether angels took part in the work of man’s creation” (Bray, “The Significance of God’s Image in Man,” 198). Clines asserts that this view “would imply that man was made in the image of the elohim as well as of God Himself (‘in our image’); it would mean that the elohim shared in the creation of man (‘let us make’)” (Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” 66).

The text is clear that the angels did not participate in the creation of humankind. The singular suffix (“so God created humankind in His image”) makes that point as well. There is no contradiction if “let us create” is taken as an announcement of the single Creator to a group.

Angelic beings are also divine imagers—representatives of their Creator. While humans image God on earth, angelic beings image God in the spiritual world. They do God’s bidding in their own sphere of influence. The Old Testament and New Testament describe angelic beings with administrative terminology, such as:

• “Prince” (Dan 10:13, 20–21)

• “Thrones” (Col 1:16)

• “Rulers” (Eph 3:10)

• “Authorities” (1 Pet 3:22; Col 1:16)

First Kings 22:19–23 illustrates the heavenly bureaucracy at work. Angelic beings were created before the earth, and therefore before humans (Job 38:7–8). The notion that God decided to make humans to represent Him and His will on earth mirrors what God had already done in the spiritual world. God announces that, as things are in the heavenly realm, so they will be on earth. Humanity is lesser than angelic beings. However, humans are not their representatives, but are destined to rule over angels and to inherit the nations ruled by some of the sons of God (1 Cor 6:3; Rev 2:26).

The Image of God in the New Testament

The functional view of the image described argues that the phrase means humans are created as God’s image. Taking that understanding to the New Testament’s image of God language brings the meaning and importance of the image doctrine in New Testament theology into clear focus.

Paul argues that believers are destined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). We are to live as God would, to represent him and his character. Paul elsewhere refers to Jesus as the image of God (2 Cor 4:4). The writer of Hebrews uses the same verbiage, calling Jesus “the express image of God” (Heb 1:3). As humans gave visible form to God, so Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus was truly incarnate, becoming human to atone for humankind, but also an example for humankind (Phil 2:6–10; 1 Pet 2:21).

These New Testament passages convey that Jesus was the imager of God. As Jesus imaged God, we must image Jesus. In so doing, we fulfill the rationale for our creation. This process is gradual: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Paul also links our resurrection to Jesus as the image of God in 1 Cor 15:49.

 From the website we have:

Man and Angels: Are Both in God’s Image?


Author: Tom Terry

Have you ever read Genesis 1:26 and wondered what in the world God was talking about when he decided to make man in God’s image? The passage reads, “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.”

Many people have speculated about the image of God, thinking that it refers to man’s intellectual capacity, or his ability to make moral judgments. Many have wondered if angels are made in God’s image since they would seem to be above us in the current created order (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7). Angels seem to be able to have intellectual capacity and make moral judgments.  So how can man, being lower than the angels be created in God’s image and the angels being higher than man not be in God’s image? These are interesting speculations. However, the scripture does not seem to refer to such characteristics as being the reason why man is categorized as being in God’s image.

I believe that the answer to the issue of what it means to be in God’s image is easily found in the scripture. I believe the answer is found right in the text of Genesis 1 for all to see. In fact, from what we know about the angels I think that in Genesis 1 we have the answer as to why man is in God’s image and the angels are not.

This can be a complex issue and I don’t want to treat it in a cavalier manner. Yet space is limited so I encourage you to study and think on this issue after you read what I have to say.

The answer to our inquiry about God’s image is found by combining what we know about the Adamic covenant with God’s creative acts. Let’s first outline the command that God gives concerning Adam. God says in Genesis 1:26 that man is to rule over the earth. He repeats this idea in verses 27 and 28 when he said to Adam, “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.”

These are very important commands, and they form the first part of the covenant God made with Adam. That covenant is still in place today for you and I.  It is God’s covenant with man—regardless of whether man is a believer or not.  What did God command man to do?

•    Be Fruitful
•    Multiply
•    Fill the earth
•    Subdue
•    Rule

Have you ever wondered why God issued these five commands to man? He did so because in the preceding verse (26) he declared man to be made in his image. These two ideas are inseparably linked.

What is an image? An image is a representation of something else. It bears the characteristics of, or performs a function, which is similar to the original thing it represents. Since the Bible is an ancient book written to an Ancient Near East (ANE) culture, we should look to the popular images of that day to help us interpret what an image’s purpose was during that time. Probably the best example is that popular god images of the ANE we’re used to establish and extend the rule of the supposed god the image represented. In fact, even in the New Testament era with the empire of Rome, images of the ruling Caesar were spread throughout the kingdom as a sign that Roman authority extended to other lands, signified by the presence of these false images.

This is what the concept of an image represents in Genesis. By making man in God’s image, God’s intent is to demonstrate his rule and authority over his territory. Man is, essentially, his regent. But there is much more to the concept of man as God’s image than simple rulership.

When God declares that we are in his likeness he is essentially saying that we are to be like him. But how are we supposed to be like him? Look at the list:

•    Be Fruitful
•    Multiply
•    Fill the earth
•    Subdue
•    Rule

If we are to be like him, and if these things are the visible sign that we are like God then we must ask the question, when did God do these things? The answer is found in God’s creative acts.

When was God fruitful? When he created all things, particularly, man.

When did God multiply? He did not multiply himself rather he multiplied by creating man who was designed to be like God.

When did God fill the earth? When he created all life in the seas and on the earth.

When did he subdue? When he brought the undefined mass of the earth under his control to form the earth’s habitation.

When did he rule? When he issued his first command to man to do these very same things that God himself did.

But what about the angels? If the angels are higher than man aren’t they also in God’s image?

If we define God’s image according to what we’ve discovered in scripture then it would seem that angels, though powerful and intelligent, are not made in God’s image. Why?

Are angels fruitful and multiply? We have no record in the scripture that angels function in this way. Angels, it would seem, don’t have children or create disciples. But man is specifically equipped and commanded to do these things as also God did.

Do angels fill the earth in the sense of spreading themselves over the earth to extend their rule? No. Earth is the realm that God has given in trust to man. Angels serve man’s needs on earth according to God’s instructions, but they do not extend a rule they have been given as man has been given.

Do angels subdue, that is, create things and bring things under their control? We might note that angels are spiritual warriors to fight against the demonic to bring things under God’s influence. But we have no record that angels do this in a creative fashion as man does.

What about rule? Do angels rule? Certainly there are angels that have authority. But do they rule in the same way that man is commanded to rule in Genesis? We have no indication that this is so.

In one sense we are making an argument regarding angels from what the Bible does not say. That can be a bit tricky. Yet what the Bible does reveal about angels would seem to support these conclusions.

So, what is God’s image? Let’s put it this way: God was essentially telling Adam, “Adam, do what I do.” It’s just that simple. Man is made to experience life in a similar, though limited way, as God does. Man is to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue and rule because that is what God did when he created all things. By doing these things God was acting out of his character and he has enabled us to do the same thing. We are his image therefore, we must do what God does.

This realization of the high station that God has given us should encourage us. The worth you and I have before God is higher than any other created thing. We are designed to think what he thinks, feel what he feels, and do what he does. What higher place for a person can there be but that? You and I have inestimable value before God because we were created to be like him. It’s that simple.

In the Mosaic Law God commanded that Israel was not to make any images of God or false gods. Why? Because the image of God had already been established in man. And it was established a second time in Christ, whose function as God’s image, unlike Adam, was never corrupted. We are therefore unique in all of creation.

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