Made in the Image of God (part 1 of 4)

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.”  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[1]

We are Made in God’s Image

In this passage in Genesis, we find an amazing truth, God created man in his own image. In his Notes on the Old Testament, Barnes’ writes:

When the Creator says, “Let us make man,” he calls attention to the work as one of pre-eminent importance. … in the former mandates of creation his words had regard to the thing itself that was summoned into being; as, “Let there be light;” or to some preexistent object that was physically connected with the new creature; as, “Let the land bring forth grass.” But now the language … ascends to the Creator himself: Let us make man. This intimates that the new being in its higher nature is associated not so much with any part of creation as with the Eternal Uncreated himself.

Theologians and layman have contemplated this truth and have sought to understand exactly what this means. Some interpret this in a scope far beyond the true meaning and ascribe God-like characteristics to the human race, making us little gods, an extrapolation that far exceeds the plain reading of the text and the Bible as a whole. Others, in an attempt to swing the pendulum the other way, downplay the passage to avoid elevating man to a position which is unfounded. What can we surmise from the Bible that can be accurate, Christ-exalting, and give integrity to the creative work of God who has made us in His image?

What exactly is that original likeness? Does Scripture tell us?

This series of posts is not an in-depth study, but rather shows areas that could be explored further to help us understand what it truly means to be made in the image of God. Complete books are written on this topic and to cover it in a few short blog posts does not do the topic justice.

Rather, I am writing so we may contemplate the workings of the blood of Christ and how its effect to purify us from the penalty of sin, also restores us to the original design which God intends.

Are we Made in God’s Image Bodily?

To begin, let’s examine the most obvious aspect about us, and that is that we have a body. It is important and interesting to note that the visions of God seen by the prophets show God, though He is a spirit, to have “human-esque” physical qualities. Visions are not metaphysical, but they do communicate using metaphysical aspects (comparisons and descriptions of the material world). Isaiah sees God sitting (Is 6:1). In Revelation, John
also describes God ‘sitting’ on the throne (Rev 5:1, 6). When describing his vision, Ezekiel says that God had the appearance of a man (Ez 1:26).

I mention these visions because God wants to teach us something of His nature that we can relate to physically (if not functionally) through these passages. At the same time, we must remember that no man has seen God, and these are only visions.

Scripture speaks about God metaphorically as having hands (at His right hand are pleasures forevermore), arms (arm of the Lord), feet (that earth is His footstool), a mouth (to form words and to create the universe), and His eyes look to and fro upon the earth, and so forth.

What can we gain from these visions?  First, it seems that God desires us to think of Him as having these bodily aspects as a comparison to ours. They are more about His glory and less as a way for us to see we are made in His bodily image. In other words, when we think of God sitting on His throne in heaven and that His feet are on the earth as His footstool (Isaiah 66), we can’t help but think, “Wow, what an awesome God.” Or when we contemplate that He measures the earth with the span of His hand (Isaiah 40), again, we should have the same reaction, He is not like us! God talks of Himself in this way so that we cultivate a fear (awe) of Him and His marvelous power and omniscience. Most importantly, if this is how God describes His body to us, we can readily deduce that our body is in no way made in the image of God.

We may conclude with certainty that we are not made “bodily” in the image of God. Since God is a spirit (John 4:24), and Jesus says, “we have never seen His form” (John 5:37) it is reasonable to focus on the non-bodily aspects of our image being like God. Also, scripture teaches that the bodily aspects of God are radically different from our bodies. Both of these findings are important.

Conclusion: We are made in God’s image, but bodily, we are not like Him. God is a spirit.

Next week, part two.

[1] All Scripture passages are from the English Standard Version translation.