Wednesday, January 07, 2009

In What Way Are We Made In the Image of God?

I love studying the Bible with my kids more and more. Last night we had read from Mark 14 and talked about how the meaning of the Lord's Supper had its historical roots and theological typology in the Passover at the exodus pointing to the atoning sacrifice of the crucifixion of Christ and giving us unity in the Body of Christ. This somehow led to a discussion of how we are created in the image of God. Luke offered a popular speculation that one way we bear God's image is in that we have free will. So I pointed out that while we have free will, our free will is limited to God's created order, but that God's will is not limited by His created order. Hope offered that His will is His created order. (!!!!!) How could I argue with that since God creates all that He wills? God's will is creative. Human will is reactive. What dear children I have.

26 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.”

27 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

I explained to my kids the problem of speculating different ways of how we are made in the image of God is that the Bible doesn't tell us. The best theological answer to the question is, "I don't know." If we focus the answers to questions we have of the Bible to what the Bible doesn't say, then we are likely missing the message that God has for us.

We are made in the image of God and that is enough information for us. Is it not enough to indicate our status as the pinnacle of creation to say that God made us in his image? Did He make anything else in His image? The Bible doesn't say that He did. But I looked to see what the Bible had to say about images.

The Hebrew word translated image in the creation account is Tselem. Elsewhere it is typically used to refer to idols, false gods or statues. The only place it is used positively is with respect to man's image. There are several other words throughout the Hebrew text translated image and they likewise are almost exclusively used to refer to idols and false gods, apparently interchangeably according to the preference of the human author. With this one could observe that wile man being made in the image of God is a good thing, man's creation of false gods in his image is not a good thing.

(Daniel used tselem in the Aramaic, but I have ignored the usage here.)

I looked the word up in the Greek and found the word Eikon used exclusively. The only time eikon was used to translate anything Christ said was when he answered the question about taxes and asked to see a Roman coin. He asked whose likeness was on the coin. The word used here was eikon in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It's notable since Christ's teaching was with regard to the fact that we are made in the image of God and the money was made in the image of Caesar: "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”

So, one message that we need to gain from the fact that we are made in the image of God is that we belong to God. One observation I have at this point is that if all human beings belong to God (John 17) then we are all going to heaven. This isn't the case. Therefore, do we all bear the image of God?

John never used the word in his Gospel or the three letters. But he did use eikon several times in Revelation negatively with regards to people worshipping the image of the beast. (John made notable references to Daniel's imagery in Revelation obvious only to those who were familiar with Daniel's writing in the late first or early second century. Since Daniel used tselem in the Aramaic, and it was likely translated eikon in the Septuagint, I checked to see if John merely copied Daniel. He didn't. John's was a new usage of eikon.)

Paul used the word a few times in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Colossians. This is where his teaching gets interesting. I've included passages below of all uses of tselem and eikon, but here I'll pull out Paul's usage for commentary:


21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21-23

Observation: The true and living God is immortal - some translations read "incorruptible". Man is mortal - some translations read "corruptible". The image of God is a good thing. The image of man is not a good thing except where it perfectly reflects the image of God.

Note: Paul is not making a distinction between fallen man and man before the fall except that man as fallen necessitates his discussion. Just as we cannot generalize the observation of man being made in the image of God in the creation account beyond the fall, we cannot likewise generalize Paul's teachings to man outside of the fall.


28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29

Observation: Those whom the Father foreknew are at some point in time not in "the image of His Son", but are "predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son". A transformation takes place in some. Question: does the "image of his Son" equate to the creation of man in the image of God in Genesis?


7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 1 Corinthians 11:7

Observation: Glory is mentioned alongside image, but Paul seems to make some fine distinction here to prevent demeaning women to a status less than men. Paul's point is rather to draw a parallel between God's relationship with man and a husband's relationship with his wife. Question: Is Paul's observation that a man is the "image...of God" particular in the sense that all people versus some people are made in the image of God or a general statement referencing creation as an apologetic reference for the formation of a principle applied to a marital relationship. I suspect the latter.


49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:49

Observation: This is in the context of a discussion of the resurrection. The "image of the man of dust" is that of a corrupted body that will die. The image of the man of heaven is that of a resurrected body that will not die. Could it be that the image of God is that which is undying and that mankind lost that image in the fall such that everyone born is not born in the image of God, but that we look to the day when we will once again bear a perfect image of God?


18 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 Corinthians 3:18

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:9-10

Observation: This is pretty straightforward. The image of God is that into which we are being transformed. I would call this sanctification, or the process of making us more holy. God is holy and we are called to be holy as He is holy. Perhaps the image of God is His holiness. That is, man was created holy, set apart from the rest of creation. At the fall, man chose to be set apart from God which is a distortion of that holiness. Sanctification is a restoration of that relationship with God which would be consistent with everything we have read up to this point. This may be what the image of God is all about.


4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Colossians 1:15

Observation: Christ is the image of God, which we know from John 1. John uses the word Logos there as a philosophical treatise, but the sense is the same in that Christ is the manifestation of God in creation as He takes on the form of man. He is capable of dying, but demonstrates the incorruptible power over death in His resurrection. He is without sin being the perfect image of God and God Himself in the flesh.


Concluding observations:

1) Bearers of the image of God are called to glorify God.

2) If believers in Christ are being transformed into the image of God then we are not perfectly in the image of God. Man was created in the image of God and under the fall have made images of false gods to worship, whether of metal, wood, false ideologies or even ourselves. Any distortion of the image of God can be said to be a false god of which we are all guilty except Christ who is God.

3) Regarding the will of man being the image of God:

a) I have this contention: that where our will departs from the will of God, we distort the image of God. Where our will agrees with the will of God, we do well to call attention to the will of God. Even Christ, who is God, said, "I have not come to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me." How much more should we seek to be able to honestly say the same thing?

b) Being so, we must be humbly certain that we not believe falsely and claim such as the will of God. This most often takes the form of uncertain judgments and poor teachings. But leaders and teachers must be subject to the discernment of fellow believers lest any be led astray. But rather, for any of God's provisions in which we rejoice let us demonstrate our submission to Him by our submission to His word and to His people.



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Relevant Passages:


Hebrew: tselem


Genesis 1:26-27
26 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.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 5:3
3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

Genesis 9:6
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image."

1 Samuel 6:5
5 So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land.

1 Samuel 6:11
11 And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors.

2 Kings 11:18
18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the Lord.

2 Chronicles 23:17
17 Then all the people went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.

Psalm 39:6
6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

Psalm 73:20
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

Ezekiel 7:20
20 His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them.

Ezekiel 16:17
17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.

Ezekiel 23:14
14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion,

Amos 5:26
26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves,



Greek: Eikon

Matthew 22:20
20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”

Mark 12:16
16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.”

Luke 20:24
24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.”

Romans 1:21-23
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 8:28-29
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Corinthians 11:7
7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 1

1 Corinthians 15:49
49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

2 Corinthians 3:18
18 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 Corinthians 4:4
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Colossians 1:15
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Colossians 3:9-10
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Hebrews 10:1
1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

Revelation 13:14-15
14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast m it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.

Revelation 14:9-11
9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 15:2
2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.

Revelation 16:2
2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

Revelation 19:20
20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

Revelation 20:4
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

All quotes of the Bible were taken from the English Standard Version.

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