Friday, May 16, 2014

We Are Made in God's Image

"Let us make man in our image . . . . "

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 on 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 1:26-27 ESV)
God's Image — What Is It?

The words "in God's image" have always been a bit mysterious to me. I remember, way back in Bible college, text written on a blackboard summarizing what, supposedly, it meant to be made in God's image. In God's image was in big block letters with a four-point ordered list beneath. I remember only two of the four points: We, as image-bearers were given the ability to make judgments and dominion over the earth. You've may have seen similar lists, perhaps with the same items, or maybe different ones.

Since my college days, I've read a little more about what it means to be an image-bearer, enough to know that throughout history, there's been much discussion about how to define the image of God, and no complete agreement. That's not surprising, because scripture doesn't tell us exactly what it means; at least, it doesn't give us a list of things that comprise the image of God in human beings.

There's no reason to stop with a list of four items that make us in God's image. Any way scripture says we are like God—any similarities between genuine human nature and God's nature—should, in my thinking, be included as an element of our image-bearing. Here is a list collected from various theologians, not intended to be conclusive, as ways human beings image God:
  • Communication. God speaks, and so do we.
  • Creativity. God makes things, and we do too—not out of nothing, like God does, but still, we create.
  • Intelligence. God thinks, and we think.
  • Relationality. The persons of the Trinity are in a relationship with each other, and God relates to us, too. Like him, we were created naturally relational, desiring connection to God and other human beings.
  • Morality. God is perfectly righteous moral being, and we were created as moral beings. We are no longer righteous, but before the fall the first man and woman were.
  • Spirituality. God is a spirit, and we are spiritual beings. 
  • Dominion. God rules creation, and he has charged us with ruling creation under his authority as his representatives.
The bottom line is that human beings were created with qualities that reflect God. We are copies of our maker in ways that the rest of God's creatures aren't. At the climax of creation, God set apart his next creative act with these words, "Let us make man in our image," and he did exactly that. Male and female—all humankind—were created as image-bearers, and that gives us status and value above all the other creatures.

God's Image After the Fall

Humankind was created in God's image, but if you know the whole story of the beginning of the world, you know we didn't remain as we were created. Adam disobeyed God, and nothing has been the same for the human race since then.

Are we still image-bearers? Scripture says we are. Even after the fall, God refers to us as "made in his own image" (see Genesis 9:6). We know the reflection is marred—defaced is my favorite word for it—because the New Testament tells us Christ's redemptive work is needed to restore it.1 But it's still there, and serves as the basis for God's commands to us regarding our treatment of creation and other people.

Because We Are Made in God's Image

I understand Genesis 1:26 (see above) to be teaching that the dominion over creation given to humankind is based in our image-bearing. I wouldn't include it in my list of capabilities that make us like God, but rather, I understand it as the purpose of our image bearing. We are made in the image of God so that we can be agents of God's providential care for his creation. He reigns in his world, and because we are like him, we serve as his vice-regents. It's the assignment he gave us as creatures made to represent him in the world.

Or to use Luther's language of vocation, we wear the mask of God as we do our God-given work. God cares for what and who he has made through the work of his image bearers, whether they are aware of it or not.

That every person is made in the likeness of God is the foundation for God's commands about how we ought to treat other people. God forbids murder because every human being is made in his image.(Genesis 9:6). All human life is highly valued, for human beings are uniquely like God, so that killing another person is destroying a reflection of God himself.

What's more, James writes that it is hypocritical to bless God and at the same time curse another person (James 3:9-10), because that person is made in God's image. A mouth that blesses God should speak respectfully of those made in his image. And those who love God should love their neighbor because their neighbor is God's own image-bearer.

Learn More
  1. Study these biblical texts: Genesis 1:24-28, Genesis 5:1-3, Genesis 5:9-6, Colossians 3:10, James 3:9-10.
  2. Read the chapter on the nature of man or the creation of man in your favorite systematic theology. There should be something included on what it means to be made in the image of God. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine is particularly thorough (Chapter 21, Section C.)
  3. Read Made for More by Hannah Anderson, which Kim reviewed two weeks ago. Update: Persis suggests Created in God's Image by Anthony Hoekema, too.

This post is one of a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe

1Don't worry, there will be more on this in a later post in this series.


  1. I would also recommend "Created in God's Image" by Anthony Hoekema.

  2. Thanks Persis. I'll add that to the list in the post.

  3. Strongly second the recommendation to Hoekema. "Created in God's Image" is very thorough and offers good theological and scriptural structure for considering what it means to be an image bearer. All while still being accessible--it's academic, but not laden with jargon. (P.S. Thanks for including "Made for More"!)

  4. After reading Hannah's book, I caved and bought Hoekema's book, too :) Next on my reading list.