Table of Contents
Part III: The Terms "Image"
and "Likeness" as Used in Genesis 1:26
The Creation of the Image
THOSE who are offended at the Christian's assertion that God
is the Father only of those who are His children by rebirth,
observe with a show of confidence that we are obviously God's
children because He created us. There are three things which
may be said against this view: the first thing that undermines
it somewhat is its inconsistency, the second is that it leads
to an absurdity, and the third, it makes the whole of the plan
of redemption meaningless.
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In the first place, the statement
is invariably inconsistent, because if really pressed in the
matter, most of those who present this argument don't really
believe in creation anyway. They almost always believe that man
was evolved. They may speak of man's creation as a kind of sop
to their listener, supposing it to be the orthodox thing to believe,
but completely without conviction as to the fact, themselves.
In the second place, it leads to
an absurdity for the following reasons: We know only from Scripture
that man was created, and if this revelation is made the basis
of the Fatherhood of God, the same Scripture tells us that the
animals were created, in which case He is the Father of the animals
as well. One cannot have it both ways. If one is going to appeal
to Scripture to demonstrate that God is the Father of
men because He created
them, and for no other reason, then one must also say by the
same Word of Scripture that God is the Father of animals because
He created them, too. Thus, carried to its logical conclusion,
the argument from mere creation per se, leads to the quite
untenable position that God's relationship to man as Father is
also His relationship to all other animals, a concept which is
both comfortless and dishonouring to God, because by the principle
of "like father like son" He then assumes a nature
which is less than human -- leading inevitably to such forms
of idolatry as the Egyptians once practiced -- thus providing
the basis, I think, of Romans 1:22-25.
It is not, then,
the mere fact of creation which constitutes the Fatherhood of
God with respect to man. No. The words of Genesis are to be read
with far greater care, for they reveal an added dimension which,
rightly understood, is the sole basis upon which the Fatherhood
of God is predicated in Scripture.
In the third place, this dimension
is one which was lost to man in Eden with the terrible consequence
of reducing him not from his high status of man to the lower
status of animal, but to something far more dreadful than mere
animal, a state the redemption of which occupies the whole of
the rest of Scripture and in the meantime makes man an alien
within the realm of Nature. A solecism among animals, he seems
bent upon destroying his own species. He is a plunderer of his
own habitat the earth. A creature who unlike all other creatures
has aspirations far beyond his powers of realization, he lives
as a consequence in a state bordering despair. No other species
is alien to the rest of Nature, no other species is bent upon
destroying itself, no other species deliberately destroys its
own habitat, no other species seeks to be something which it
is not by nature capable of being.
Genesis tells us that man was created
in a special way, bearing the stamp of God upon him which the
animals did not bear. Genesis also tells us that he lost it.
In doing so, he became an entirely unique creature, whose uniqueness
lay in a propensity for wickedness exactly commensurate with
his original capacity for the opposite. Bearing the image of
God, he had a capacity for goodness which, when the image was
lost, became a capacity of equal magnitude for wickedness. The
question is, What was the nature of this stamp of God, the loss
of which wrought such a profound change in human nature and the
recovery of which is the central theme of the whole of the rest
In Genesis 1:26 and 27, the following
all too familiar words are to be found:
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
So God created man in his own
image, in the image of God created he him, male and female
created he them.
bears the most careful examination, and it is possible to show
by a study of subsequent occurrences -- allowing Scripture to
be its own best interpreter -- that these terms, "image"
and "likeness," far from being synonymous, have precise
meanings which demonstrate a clear and absolute difference between
It is important, however, before
proceeding to the words themselves, to note a significant omission
in the second part of this excerpt from Scripture and to observe
also the distinctive use here, as elsewhere, of the word "make"
(Hebrew 'asah) as opposed to the word "create"
Reading this passage attentively,
one observes that whereas verse 26 reads, "Let us make
man in our image, after our likeness. . . ."
verse 27 on the other hand reads, "So God created man
in his own image, in the image of God created
he him." There is in verse 27 no reference whatever
to the likeness. But this omission is not because of any redundancy
in the terms "image" and "likeness." There
is a much more significant reason.
The verb used in verse 26 is "make";
the verb used in verse 27 is "create." And these two
words are also by no means synonymous. With reference to the
image, Scripture employs the verbs create or make as
the context requires. But in connection with the likeness, Scripture
employs only the verb "make," and never the verb "create."
This is important. The fact is, the Hebrew word 'asah, here
rendered "make," has in the Old Testament the root
meaning "to appoint," and in precisely the same way
in the New Testament "make" frequently signifies "appointment."
Thus, for example, in 1 Kings 12:31 Jeroboam "appointed"
priests of the lowest of the people who were not Levites. The
verb here is 'asah. Similarly, in Hebrews 7:21 and 28
we have the statement that Jesus was "made" (i.e.,
appointed) a priest after the order of Melchisedec. In Jeremiah
37:15 the prophet was put into a private house which had been
constituted ('asah) a prison. The cities of refuge were
appointed ('asah) for the safety of those who desired
to escape the hand of the avenger to seek a fair trial. In each
of these cases the concept is strictly not one of creation, but
rather the circumstances were in various ways modified so that
the significance of things referred to was changed. Thus in Genesis
1:16 the sun, the moon, and the stars which already existed were
later given their special appointment as time keepers. Creation
is probably not in view here at all.
as is only to be expected, in the Old Testament many words through
the centuries changed their meaning, so that although they retained
their original sense, they also acquired secondary meanings.
And one of the best ways to discover which is the more ancient
meaning where several alternatives exist, is to consider personal
names in which the word forms a part, as for example, the name
Asah-el in 2 Samuel 2:18, "God hath appointed." In
2 Kings 22:12, 14 we have the name Asahjah which means "Jah
hath appointed." In 1 Chronicles 4:35 we have Asiel which
means "appointed of God." Essentially, the older meaning
is not one of actual creation but rather of appointment. Thus
while the image can quite properly be spoken of as having been
both appointed for man and originally created in him, the likeness
was appointed for him only, but not actually created. The likeness
is, in fact, something to be achieved by a gradual process throughout
a lifetime, a process completed only when having passed through
death the child of God finds himself in the presence of Christ.
As David said, "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with
thy likeness" (Psalm 17:15). This distinction is one which
is observed throughout Scripture, as can be shown by reference
to other passages in which the two words occur, and it bears
in turn upon the equally important distinction between a Christian's
"standing" and "state." There are, therefore,
good reasons for saying that the words are by no means synonymous.
And it remains only to examine carefully what each term specifically
first of all the word "image," it may be useful to
review briefly some of the interpretations that have been placed
upon it which are strictly philosophical rather than Scriptural.
In the first place, it may be said that there is a pretty general
agreement among Christian scholars who hold otherwise very diverse
views, that the image, the Imago Dei, is the chief possession
of man which makes him uniquely related to God; but there is
by no means the same general agreement as to what this Imago
Dei actually is. For example, there are those who believe
that man alone has self-consciousness. It is widely held among
animal psychologists, and the matter has been explored at great
length by such people as George Herbert Mead (2) and Ernst Cassirer, (3) that animals have consciousness only. That is, they
are fully aware of what is going on around them and able to make
decisions on the basis of this awareness. But they do not "stop
and think about themselves." Man alone is able to think
about his thinking, to consider himself as though his self were
another and in so thinking to observe
2. Mead, George Herbert, Mind, Self, and
Society, University Chicago Press, 1934.
3. Cassirer, Ernst, An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a
Philosophy of Human Culture, Yale University, 1944.
his own thought processes.
One must certainly assume that God has self-awareness also. In
this case, we have a unique faculty shared by both man and God
and by none other of His creatures -- except perhaps the angels.
This faculty is held by some people to be the image.
Then there are
those who believe it is man's ability to reason which sets him
apart from all other creatures. This capacity is perhaps seen
in its purest form when man becomes a mathematician. In fact,
Kant said that man's powers for rational thought in mathematics
were as perfect as God's: that he could, for example, know that
2 and 2 make 4 as absolutely as God knows this. Sir James Jeans,
(4) and many others
like him, perceived so clearly the mathematical structure underlying
all physical phenomena that he gave to the Creator the title
"the Pure Mathematician."
At one time a proposal was made
to set out in giant dimensions on the Sahara Desert a series
of bonfires forming a right-angled triangle, on each side of
which the square would be erected. The plan was to set forth
the theorem of Pythagoras on a vast scale at such a time of year
that if there were any inhabitants on Mars who shared any essential
part of our nature and if they were as sophisticated as we are,
they would observe this message and acknowledge it by setting
forth on their own planet some mathematical equation in reply.
The point is that mathematics is the one universal language which
it was believed all rational beings would be able to speak. Animals
appear at times to be able to observe the difference between
one and several, and at times to be able to observe when one
is missing from a number. Whether they can advance beyond this
stage is not certain. But in any case they deal only in concrete
situations and as far as we know never in abstract concepts.
Yet much of mathematics is pure abstraction -- negative numbers,
for example. This enormously valuable, one might even say powerful,
faculty for precise rational thinking makes man in one respect
equal to God in capacity. Some men have believed that herein
he bears the image of his Maker. The Imago Dei is rationality.
Another faculty which some people
believe sets man apart from the rest of the animal order is the
ability to create. For many years whenever fossil remains of
primate form were exhumed, they were always considered to be
human if they were found in association with tools which there
was reason to believe had been made by them. This was an assumption
which had to be hedged somewhat, because it was always possible
that the bones of advanced primate forms might be buried together
with primitive weapons not because the subhuman
4. Jeans, Sir James, The Mysterious
Universe, Cambridge, 1931, p.132.
creatures had manufactured
them but rather because they had been killed by them. Early men
could have hunted and killed these more primitive creatures,
possibly in self-defense, and not taken the trouble to retrieve
their weapons. Such a circumstance is known to have happened
with other prehistoric creatures, and the association of crude
weapons with certain South African pre-humans could be a case
are not a few animals which use tools of a kind or at least weapons
in the form of sticks or stones. Baboons may use either, and
there are some birds which pry grubs out of cracks in wood by
using small sticks. However, this is not really the same as creating
tools, for such creatures merely make use of what is at hand.
Captive chimpanzees have been induced to make "tools"
for reaching bananas that were otherwise out of reach which are
quite elaborate for them. But here, too, the components of such
tools had to be at hand. It does seem, then, that according to
our present knowledge, man is the toolmaker; and by the same
token, man the creator, is a unique creature. Clearly God also
is a Creator. Not a few people believe that the image which man
bears is his power to create.
In the case of each one of these
faculties -- the power to think about thinking, the power to
be rational, the ability to create -- this may be said to be
a common feature, namely, that they are shared by men of all
faiths and by men of no faith whatever. Even the most superstitious
and ignorant may be quite rational (perhaps cunning would be
even a better word) when it is vital that they be so; even the
most sickly and retarded individuals can be keenly aware of themselves;
and it is rare indeed to find a person of mature years who cannot
or does not create something during his life time by ordering
and arranging things in a new way, for even the power to set
things in order consciously and deliberately is an expression
of creativeness. If all men, therefore, have in some measure
all these faculties whether they are wicked or holy -- humble
believers or militant atheists -- then it would be difficult
to equate such a universal possession with the image of Genesis
1:26, which according to Scripture has been lost in man and must
be restored. One surely need not re-create something which may
already be present in an exceptional way even in the most wicked
man who has no place at all for God in his thinking.
There is a further faculty which
man has, which many people feel has first claim as the hallmark
of the stamp of God's image upon his nature. This is his power
of making moral judgments. It matters not whether he obeys the
judgments he makes. The important thing in the eyes of people
who hold this view is that he recognizes a difference
between a moral right
and a moral wrong. Cultural relativism often makes that which
is wrong in one society quite right in another society, and vice
versa, but this does not really weaken the argument for man's
moral sense. It is not a question here of whether all men agree
upon a right as being universally so, but only that all men agree
that there are such things as rights and wrongs, and that such
judgments are not based on expedience. This moral faculty appears
to be universal, even among such people as the Andaman Islanders
who, according to Radcliffe-Brown, (5) although they collectively did not recognize tribal
laws of any kind, yet individually were guided by what was personally
felt to be right or wrong. The argument is that God makes moral
judgments and has invested this same capacity in man, thereby
stamping him with His own image. Even this faculty, though it
does indeed appear -- unlike the others -- to be a kind of spiritual
one, still cannot logically be equated with the image of God,
because those who are furthest from God are often found to have
the most highly developed moral sense. It is, in fact, a form
of self-righteousness, a possession which, far from bringing
a man nearer to God, is likely to have precisely the opposite
effect -- as the New Testament shows only too clearly.
None of these,
then, can safely be identified as the image of Genesis 1:26,
which was impressed upon Adam at the time of his creation. We
must, therefore, turn for light to Scripture itself by examining
carefully some other passages in which the word "image"
In this connection, I believe the
key passage of Scripture is to be found in the incident recorded
in Matthew 22:15-22. On this occasion the Scribes and Pharisees,
always on the watch for opportunities to trap the Lord in His
words that they might have something to accuse Him of, attempted
to get Him to commit what was virtually treason against Caesar.
Having in mind the injunction implied in the Mosaic law to the
effect that the chosen people were debtors unto God only, they
asked, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?"
The Lord Who carried no coins invited them to produce one for
inspection. He then asked them a question that seemed innocent
enough, "Whose is this image and superscription?"
Hardly realizing the significance of the question, they readily
answered, "Caesar's." Then said Jesus "Render
therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto
God the things that are God's."
The key here, of course, is the
image. That which bears the image
5. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R., The Andaman
Islanders, new edition., Free Press, London, 1948.
of Caesar is Caesar's.
That which bears the image of Adam is Adam's. That which bears
the image of God is God's. It is all a question of whose
image it is. The man stamped with the image of God belongs
to God, is His possession, His Man, His Child.
Elsewhere in Scripture
the Image is similarly taken as a symbol of belonging: he who
bears the image of God belongs to God. Colossians 3:10 tells
us that the recovery of the image is a creative act. Romans 8:29
tells us that the elect are predestined to the recovery of this
image and that in the process, by becoming a brother of Christ,
we recover our sonship of God. By direct creation Adam, while
he bore the image of God, was thereby identified as a son of
God (Luke 3:38) and accordingly, He who later bore the express
image of the Father was the Son of God (Hebrews 1:3) --
a Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Now while Adam himself was created
with this image, his disobedience so robbed him of it that all
his children thereafter bore not the image of God but his --
and even his likeness (Genesis 5:3). In this particular
passage, it will also be noticed that in verse 1 the fact is
re-affirmed that originally when God created man, He also appointed
him to be in His own likeness. The change of verb in this carefully
worded sentence bears out the beautiful sense that Scripture
makes provided that one treats it with sufficient care. In verse
3, it is stated that Adam's children were not merely "his
sons," so that by this relationship they bore his image,
but in the end their characters developed as his, so that they
also came to bear his likeness. In this we once again see confirmation
of the vital distinction between the words "image"
and "likeness," for it is apparent that the image is
that which establishes relationship, and likeness is that which
establishes similarity of character. In the matter of the relationship,
the choice is not ours, either in natural generation or, in the
final analysis, in supernatural generation, as Romans 8:29 and
John 1:12 and 13 assure us.
On the other hand, I John 3:1 and
2 have these comforting words for the Christian:
Behold, what manner of love
the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the
sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew
Beloved, now are we the sons of
God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know
that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall
see him as he is.
We have here,
then, a double assurance. First of all, the image has even now
been re-created. This is a present fact guaranteeing our sonship,
recovering for us by a creative act of God the relationship with
Him which effectively makes us men in the sense that Adam was
there is the further guarantee that how ever much we may fail
in this mortal life to achieve a true likeness to God
in Christ, we shall one day, nevertheless, see that likeness
perfected, assured of awakening with it as David also was assured.
In Romans 1:21
and following, Paul points out that idolatry in its crudest forms
begins when man, unconsciously making the assumption that he
bears God's image, assumes that God bears his. But the
image he now bears is a fallen one, reflecting nothing of God's
true glory but only the corruption of human nature; and so, re-creating
God after this corrupt pattern, man changes the truth into a
lie and makes a mockery of worship. The fact is, of course, that
man bears the image not of unfallen Adam but of fallen Adam,
of Adam after he lost the image of God. And until this Image
is re-created in man, he cannot possibly achieve any God-like
character. We cannot imitate God, that is, we cannot become God-like
in nature, until first of all we have become His "dear children"
(Ephesians 5:1), since only the children of God are partakers
of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). This divine nature is not
something which man has, merely by being human, but it is something
only when by an act of God, as John 1:12 puts it, he becomes
a son of the Father in heaven.
It is not, therefore, the possession
of a faculty that constitutes in man the Imago Dei, but
the possession of a relationship. By creation, God reconstitutes
in man, when he is born again, something which sets him apart
from all unredeemed men and makes him a member of what is, in
fact, a new species, the blameless family of God. He becomes
related as a son to the Father and knows it. He knows
it because the new spirit born within him bears witness to this
fact in a self-conscious way and because he is assured of it
by the Holy Spirit of God, whereby he cries, "Father"
(Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
As a dog recognizes a dog even
when man has manipulated its form and character almost beyond
canine recognition, and as a horse recognizes a horse, and as
each species recognizes all other members of its own species
as belonging to its own family, as its own "kind" --
so the new man in Christ recognizes by some inner perception
all other members of his own "species" and acknowledges
without hesitation the same Father.
Any man so transplanted into the
kingdom of God is also at the same time brought into a new relationship
with the whole realm of Nature. This thought is explored much
more carefully in Part II, "Nature as Part of the Kingdom
of God," but it may be well to give one or two illustrations
of the kind of evidence which Scripture supplies as to the fact
itself. Consider, for example, the rather striking but all too
association of ideas in Matthew 6:25-34. The Lord is in this
passage telling the people how the fowls of the air are the subject
of God's watchful care (verse 26), how He ensures that grass
shall grow to provide the basic food for all earth-bound creatures
(verse 30). For after all, in the strictest biophysical sense,
all flesh is grass. And then He draws from this a very practical
lesson, namely, that His listeners, if they take care to make
sure that they, too, belong to this kingdom, will share the same
care that God shows to His other creatures. In other words, as
God cares for the creatures and living things which are part
of the kingdom of Nature, so He cares for those who belong to
the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of Nature is, in fact, part
of the kingdom of God.
Man enters this
kingdom by being born again, and without this rebirth he neither
belongs to it nor understands it. In John 3:3, the word "see"
in the Greek has the meaning of "understand," the usage
being exactly as it is in English when after being given an explanation,
one may exclaim, "Oh, I see!"
Diametrically opposed to this kingdom
is the kingdom of Satan. And it is instructive to notice that
whereas Satan or his emissaries have had to ask permission of
the Lord to enter into members of the kingdom of Nature, even
such unclean ones as are mentioned in Matthew 8:30, 31, there
is no evidence in Scripture that the demons ever sought the Lord's
permission to enter into unredeemed men, such as Judas. On the
other hand, Satan did have to ask permission with respect to
Peter (Luke 22:31, 32), a request which was, of course, denied.
Even the dead bodies of the saints seem to be inviolate, for
Satan found himself similarly opposed when he sought the body
of Moses (Jude 9).
A striking recognition of these
two components in the kingdom of God, the human and the animal,
is accorded in a remarkable manner in Jonah 4:11. The human component
is represented in this case by infants not yet able to tell their
right and left hands apart; and the animal component, by "much
cattle." The text reads:
And should not I spare Nineveh,
that great city, wherein are more than 120,000 persons that cannot
discern between their right hand and their left hand . . . and
Wicked as Nineveh
had become, God nevertheless declared it ought to be spared if
for no other reason than that it contained a large number of
"members" of His kingdom. Such were the animals, because
unfallen: and such were the little children not yet accountable
(Luke 18:16). The association of these two orders of living creatures
is most significant.
So redeemed man and Nature share this together, that
while they suffer the effects of sin in the world, they are both
nevertheless part of the kingdom of God, and in a new way akin
to one another. Only unredeemed man is alien both to heaven and
to earth. What a terrible thing this is! When man, quite convinced
by an evolutionary philosophy that he is one with the rest of
Nature, argues on this account that only if he is allowed to
act "naturally" will he achieve the kind of life and
the kind of society that he longs for, he is completely deceiving
himself, for Nature's nature is unfallen (though disturbed by
the presence of sinful man), but man's nature is not unfallen.
When Nature acts naturally, it is acting according to the law
of God, and the same is true when redeemed man acts according
to his true nature. But when fallen man acts naturally, he is
not acting according to the law of God but giving expression
to his fallen state. As Barth put it, "Sin is man behaving
naturally." The freedom from anxiety that living creatures
have (to which the Lord Himself made reference, thereby confirming
our own impressions as we watch animals) results from the fact
that they live in obedience to God's law written within them,
law which we refer to with little true understanding, as "instincts."
Redeemed man shares this much with Nature, that he too has the
law of God written within (Hebrews 8:10), though his obedience
to it is by no means perfect. But natural man is in rebellion
against this law, whether he realizes it or not, so that in many
ways he is by nature not merely alien to, but at war with, all
other creatures. When he is transplanted by a new birth, by re-creation,
he experiences in an entirely new way a sense of affinity with
every other part of the kingdom of God including the realm of
Nature. This common experience, which amounts to a new discovery,
is beautifully summed up in those perceptive verses of a well-known
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder song overflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
think we do not enjoy the fullness of this sonship experience
as we should, because we have failed to realize some of its implications.
Were we to do so, we should perhaps be not quite so surprised
at the idea of St. Francis preaching to the animals. In a way,
he was merely sharing with them the Good News.
In summary, then, we have proposed that true man,
by biblical definition, is man bearing the image of God
whereby he is related to Him as a son to the Father and is a
member of the kingdom with its laws written within him, serving
as the counterpart of animal instincts. The members of the kingdom
of God thus share this common experience, that both are guided
and governed largely from within.
Peter Lange, (6) in his commentary on Genesis, seems to me to come
very close to this position when he remarks, "Man is nowhere
said (as the animals are) to be after his kind, but when
this new entity is to be brought into the cosmos, God is represented
as saying to himself, or as though addressing some higher associate
than nature, 'Let us make man in our image.' The image,
therefore, in the case of humanity may be said to stand for
the 'kind' or to come in place of it." It would be a fair
rendering of the word "kind " in Genesis 1 (Hebrew
min) as "akin to," i.e., as offspring are "kindred
to" parents. In this case, "in our image" is a
parallel through a special kind of kinship, kinship with God
as a child with his Father.
Unredeemed man, lacking this relationship
because he lacks the Image and lacking this system of inner guidance,
is alien to that kingdom and therefore alien also to the rest
of Nature which is still part of it. This total alienation both
from true manhood and from Nature makes unredeemed man a unique
and lonely creature. Such is the penalty of having lost the Imago
6. Lange, Peter, Commentary on Holy Scripture:
Genesis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, reprint p.355.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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