the image of god
Few verses have been a foundation for as much misunderstanding of GOD's ways than has GENESIS 1:26; "And God said, Let us make man [mankind] in our image, after our likeness…" Isolating this passage from the rest of the scriptures, theology has invented such fables one can hardly imagine. For starters, from the phrase "let us" they have surmised that GOD must be an assembly of Persons, a group of Natures, manufacturing from one God three gods. Their new gods they have named "God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost". The Holy Mother Mary, the "queen of heaven" and mother of God came later in their evolving doctrine (see the Study, Origins of the Trinity). Is it not reasonable to suppose instead that the us in GENESIS 1:26 might refer to GOD and HIS angels, the host of heaven, even the Cherubim?
But even beyond that, from this verse in GENESIS is put forth the idea that, "in our image, after our likeness" means that the Creator formed mankind so that he looked like GOD Almighty. Really? Let us take a few moments to more clearly examine this and the other passages wherein this concept of mankind looking like GOD is suppose to have its foundation.
- GENESIS 1:27 So God created man [mankind] in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
A casual reading of this verse would seem to indicate that both the male and the female were created to look like GOD. But if so, which parts of man and which parts of woman does GOD look like? Does HE look like both a male and a female? And beyond that, do not most of mankind’s features have a specific purpose and function, which a Deity would not need? GOD doesn’t need eyelids to moisten and protect HIS eyes. GOD doesn’t need shaped ears to funnel in sounds so HE can hear. HE doesn’t need legs to move HIM about. Does GOD have a naval, finger nails that need clipped, or sex organs? Just what kind of an image of GOD are we?
In endeavoring to understand scripture, one is wise to look for themes or patterns which flow through its pages and not just accept some theology from what a verse or two might appear to indicate. Follow the theme and therein one can understand the Book. Let us therefore search through the holy pages to see how this concept of man being made in GOD's image is used elsewhere. Perhaps then we will be able to arrive at a more precise understanding of what GOD means when HE says that mankind was made in HIS image.
In the apostle Paul’s letter to the believers at Rome, he likens those who "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man" as vain and foolish (ROMANS 1:21-23). This scripture admonishes as vain and foolish those who think that GOD resembles a man. Paul's revelation here reinforces our suspicion that something is not fully understood about mankind being made in the image of GOD.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he writes that He "who has delivered us from the power of darkness is the image of the invisible God" (COLOSSIANS 1:13,15). If GOD then is invisible, one wonders how can HE possibly look like a human? Along with the writings of the apostle Paul, the fourth Gospel records Yeshua as saying that GOD is a spirit (JOHN 4:24). A spirit does not have a form to image (LUKE 24:39). Being made in the image of GOD must obviously be something different, something other than simply physical appearance.
The words of GOD must harmonize. HE is not in the habit of revealing himself as one thing to one of HIS servants and then something contrary to another. If HE is an invisible spirit, then HIS image must be something other than a physical likeness. To re-examine just what is meant by the phrase "God created man in his own image", let us return again to GENESIS and take a broader look at the context of mankind being created in this image.
- GENESIS 1:26-28 And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Notice what follows each of the two occurrences where it is written that mankind was made or created in GOD’s image. "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion…" Then, "So God created man in his own image…and said unto them…have dominion over…every living thing that moveth upon the earth". Is this repeated association between being made in the image of God and having dominion a coincidence? Are we not being told something about the image of GOD and HIS heavenly hosts? Does not GOD exercise dominion over all creation and do not HIS heavenly hosts exercise dominion over that which they have been assigned dominion over? "Let us make man in our image!" Is this not the key to unlocking the meaning of this most important verse? The reader may want to refer to these other verses regarding this hosts of heaven and their dominions (GENESIS 32:2 PSALMS 82:1; 89:8; 95:3; 135:5; 136:2 JOB 1:6; 2:1 DEUTERONOMY 32:8-9 ISAIAH 14:13; 24:23).
Let us consider another closely related usage in scripture of this word image. In the first chapter of GENESIS GOD had been re-creating and re-making the earth after it had evidently been destroyed (GENESIS 1:2), so as to make it ready to be re-inhabited (GENESIS 1:28). The interested reader may want to consult Without Form and Void by Arthur C Custance. Then, two thousand years later, in GENESIS 9, the inhabitants of Noah's kosmos (except those few with Noah) had been destroyed. This occurrence of image comes shortly after the waters had receded and Noah and his family had exited the ark.
- GENESIS 9:1-3, 6 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth [eres, Land]. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things…Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
Notice how man’s dominion is again repeated in these passages? "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth." "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you." "Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Then comes the reason, "for in the image of God made he man". Some people miss-read verse 6 trying to tell us that man should not be killed because he is the image of GOD. However, the very next phrase states, "by man shall his blood be shed". It is clearly saying that because man is in the image of GOD, only he has the authority to kill, to recompense due punishment to the evil doer.
The image of GOD that man was given was not the physical appearance of an invisible spiritual deity. Rather, mankind was evidently imaging GOD and the heavenly hosts in his hierarchal position. Mankind was given dominion over his small world as GOD had dominion over HIS larger world. Like in the United States, the State government is in the image of the Federal government. Both have Senates, both have a House of Representatives, both have Supreme Courts. The States' dominion images the Federal, just on a smaller scale. This was the very way man was created in GOD's image!
Notice also that GENESIS 1:26 states "let us make [fashion] man in our image". It appears that man had already been created sometime before this occurrence. Otherwise, this verse would say something like, "let us create a being in our image and call it man". By verse 26, man is already something; now GOD is going to fashion him into something beyond what he was when first created. Man was already there according to verse 26, probably being created in verse 24.
- GENESIS 1:24-25 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh, beings which breathe] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Mankind was made from the dust of the ground. So were cattle. So was everything that breathes, every nephesh. Man breathed and became a living soul. So did everything else that "creepeth upon the earth". But then, after that, GOD selected mankind to assume a role beyond that which the rest of the animal kingdom knew. Man would be fashioned into the image of his Creator.
This word image is most often used in the Bible in the relation of making an idol to be worshipped as a god. Worshipping the image, one was declaring his subservience to its authority. The image of stone or wood wasn't necessarily the exact physical likeness of the god, but rather it served as a symbol of some higher power. Offering themselves as servants to the image, they hoped to receive certain blessings from the deity, like rain for their crops or victory in battle. So also, man being in the image of GOD, meant that GOD had delegated to man certain authority over some portion of HIS creation. Loosely speaking, man was made as an idol, an image of the invisible Creator.
The first usage of image in the Christian Scriptures is in MATTHEW 22:20. Yeshua had asked to see some money, a coin, on which was the image of Caesar. "And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?" The image on the coin wasn’t an exact likeness of Caesar, as the image only resembled him. It was not even a figurine but a small roundish flat coin. However, the coin was backed up by the "power and dominion" of Caesar. When Caesar gave his image to the coin, it was as if he was transferring the authority of his throne to the redeemable value of the coin. Seeing Caesar's image on the coin, gave its possessor a sense of authority when laying it down for some purchase. As such, when GOD made mankind in HIS image, HE transferred certain power of authority to man which the rest of the animal kingdom did not have.
- PSALM 8:4-6 What is man [mankind], that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.
Not understanding what being in the image of GOD entails, many have assumed that if mankind had the physical likeness of GOD, that would make him akin to GOD. They mistake being in the image of GOD as being godlike. This misconception has issued forth a caldron of erroneous teachings. Supposing that we are all godlike, many are led to believe that there is something innately good or holy in all men. They imagine that somehow, the life of each human should be deemed precious and protected at all cost. Some call it the sanctity of life. They teach that war, poverty, disease, abortion and even the death penalty are affronts upon GOD himself. Too many fail to understand what is meant by mankind being made in the image of GOD.
Some go as far as to say that being made in GOD's image means that there is a part of GOD in each of us, that in a certain respect we are all little gods. Of course, they don't bother to read a thousand pages of scripture that follow these verses, where GOD demonstrates how little HE esteems the worth of some men. Lets briefly cite something Isaiah wrote.
- ISAIAH 40:17-18 All nations before him [GOD] are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
We are also reminded of Lot with his wife and two daughters being the only ones spared when GOD destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We remember how only Noah and his small family of eight were saved by GOD from the great flood even as the rest of the entire human race were drowned. We think of how GOD instructed Joshua to kill every man, woman and child who dwelt in the land that had been promised to Israel (JOSHUA 6-9). And let us not forget that Yeshua Himself said of Judas Iscariot, that "good were it for that man if he had never been born" (MARK 14:21). One has to step around and ignore some pretty plain and oft repeated statements in scripture to maintain this assumption that all life is somehow sacred and should be preserved at any cost.
Others falsely assume that being in GOD’s image would make us immortal. They suppose that when one dies, he doesn't really die but instead goes directly into heaven to finish out eternity with GOD. They err, thinking we must all have a spark of the divine. But this is evidently not the case. Mankind was only in God’s image in the nature of his dominion which he exercised over GOD’s creation. Even as the wise preacher observed, the genus of mankind is no more godlike then the beast of the field!
- RSV ECCLESIASTES 3:18-20 I said in my heart with regard to the sons of men that God is testing them to show them that they are but beasts. For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.
This is a very difficult concept for many to accept. They just can’t fathom that when they die, just like for all the other animals, that’s the end. The idea that one corrupts no differently than a dead dog along the side of the road is far removed from their comprehension.
It seems that every culture has done something to hedge their bet so that they might live again. The Pharaohs built colossal Pyramids because their religious leaders promised them that this is how they would escape death and be carried into the afterlife. Today, we deck our caskets with flowers and fill the cold lifeless bodies with red dye to hide the color of death, trying to paint a more pleasant picture of corruption. The minister holds up the Bible and declares that this poor soul lying before us is not really dead but is floating somewhere up there with Jesus. But all this graveside chatter is just that, for without the resurrection, man is not immortal, rather "he is like the beast that perish".
- PSALM 49:7-20 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him…That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish…Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
- But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah. Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him…he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
The psalmist trusts that GOD shall redeem his soul from the power of the grave, otherwise he acknowledges that death is the end. If GOD chooses to rescue us from corruption, only then can we see light again. Not because we were made in the image of GOD. Nor because a priest performed one's last rites, nor because we were faithful Church goers, occasionally dropping a coin in the plate. Not even because we daily prayed and read our Bibles. Only if we are redeemed, only if we are chosen, only if we are called forth.
- ISAIAH 26:19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
"Awake and sing!" This is our hope. If GOD redeems us from the power of the grave, only then can we live again. As Job queried, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (JOB 14:14). Only if he is awakened. The world's way is the false way to resurrection. It proclaims that we are all immortal because we are all GOD's children, created in HIS image. Yet the apostle Paul affirmed that not all are GOD's children (ROMANS 9:8). Scripture exposes the world's broad way which leads unto destruction and corruption but it also reveals GOD's narrow way which leads unto life and resurrection (to read more related to this topic, see the Study, Body, Soul and Spirit).