The Heart of It All: Humanity

July 31, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

Made in the Image and Likeness of God (Part 1)

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” … So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him.[1]

As the verses quoted above state, human beings (male and female) are created in the image and likeness of God. In saying this, God was saying that He was going to create beings that were like Him. He wasn’t saying that humans would be exactly like Him or that those He was about to create would be divine like He is, but rather that human beings would possess some similarities to God.

The Hebrew word used for image is tselem, which means a likeness, semblance, or image. Another meaning of image would be something that represents something. The Hebrew word translated as likeness, dĕmuwth, means similar, in the likeness of, like as. These two Hebrew words are virtually synonymous. So in speaking about the kind of creature He was going to make, God said He would make humans similar to Himself, in the way that an image is like the original, but is neither the original nor exactly the same as it. The words dĕmuwth (likeness) and tselem (image) are both used in the following verse:

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.[2]

The meaning here is that Seth, while not exactly like his father, was like him in many ways. This is often the case between a parent and child. This verse helps give a good understanding of what image and likeness to God means.

Wayne Grudem expresses it this way:

It is evident that every way in which Seth was like Adam would be a part of his likeness to Adam and thus part of his being “in the image” of Adam. Similarly, every way in which man is like God is part of his being in the image and likeness of God.[3]

Human beings were made to have similarities to God. Even though Adam and Eve sinned and were separated from God, and through sin all of humanity is separated from God, this hasn’t caused the image and likeness to be completely lost. After destroying all humanity, except for Noah and his family, in the flood, God reiterated that humans are made in His image. In the New Testament, reference is also made to people being in God’s image.

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.[4]

With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.[5]

While humans are still in the image and likeness of God, it’s not exactly the same as it was before the fall. Prior to the fall Adam and Eve were pure and were posse non peccare, a theological term meaning able not to sin. While they could choose to sin, they could also choose not to sin, and thus to remain sinless. After the fall they were different. Their moral purity was gone, and the desire and ability to stay aligned with God’s will was distorted. Their ability to not sin and thus remain sinless was no longer there, as from that point on they, and all of subsequent humanity, were non posse non peccare, meaning not able not to sin. From that point on, humans were sinners by nature, and while they can refrain from sinning sometimes, by nature they sin and don’t have the ability to not sin. Though we are still in the image of God, that image has become altered due to sin.

The original human nature was that of prefallen man, but human nature ever since the fall has been corrupted by the effects of sin. Thankfully, as Christians, we can counter some of the effects of our fallen nature through believing, abiding in, absorbing, and applying God’s Word; and at the time of the resurrection of the dead, when Christians are raised in glory and reunited with their bodies, we will be freed from the effects of our fallen human nature. More on this later.

Are “Image” and “Likeness” the Same?

Throughout Christian history there have been different points of view as to what the image and likeness of God mean. Some of the early Church Fathers felt that image (tselem) and likeness (dĕmuwth) represented two distinct things. Some felt that image had to do with bodily traits, and likeness was found in the spiritual nature of man. Others taught that image had to do with the characteristics of man as man, and likeness had to do with qualities which are not essential to man. Others felt image was the ability to reason and likeness was original righteousness.[6] Some felt that image was the rational mind and free will, which humans retained after the fall, while the likeness was a special gift of righteousness which was lost because of sin.

Roman Catholics today make a distinction between image and likeness, with the image being reason and free will, and the likeness the added endowment of righteousness.[7] They believe the image, the rational mind, and free will, were untarnished by the fall, but the likeness, the additional righteousness, was lost; yet is restored by baptism.

Martin Luther took a different view, teaching that both the image and likeness were lost when man sinned. He taught that intellect and will remained, but are impaired. John Calvin felt that the prefallen Adam was righteous and had true holiness, that it wasn’t an additional gift, and that image mainly referred to the mind and heart. He claimed that the image was destroyed and obliterated by the fall, though there were remaining traces of it in humankind. But in his view, even this remnant was maimed and completely polluted.[8]

Later theologians, and the majority of theologians today, believe that the image and likeness don’t refer to separate things but are synonymous and can be used interchangeably; that the use of both words is an instance of synonymous Hebrew parallelism.[9] This is a literary technique of using synonyms to strengthen the point being made, which is used many times throughout the Old Testament.

While over the centuries different theories regarding the image and likeness and exactly what they mean have been put forth, there is no place in Scripture where God specifically states in which exact ways humans are made in His image and likeness. It seems that, as Wayne Grudem expressed above, it’s best to consider that every way in which man is like God is part of his being in the image and likeness of God.

Humanity’s Unique Features

As humans are the only creatures that God states are made in His image and likeness, this makes humans significantly different from all of the animal creation. While animals might have some elements of these features, or have them to some degree, man has them in a qualitatively greater fashion. Following are some of the ways we can see that humans have similarities with God which His other earthly creations don’t have or don’t have to the same degree.

  • As God is a plural being in the Trinity, in a similar fashion, human beings reflect some of that plurality in that man and woman are two which become one flesh in marriage. (See The Heart of It All: Humanity--The Creation of Man as Male and Female.)
  • Humans are personal beings. We interact and establish deep and complex relationships with others.
  • God is spirit; human beings have a spirit.
  • We have self-awareness; we are conscious of ourselves, of our own existence. We can know, examine, and judge ourselves.[10]
  • We possess free will and self-determination. We have the ability to choose among options, and having decided on an option, we can move toward achieving that goal.
  • We are moral beings and have an inner sense of right and wrong.
  • Our immaterial invisible spirits are immortal. God has always existed and immortality is part of His essence, and being in His likeness (though not exactly like Him), the spirits of human beings are immortal in that they live forever after their separation from the body at death.
  • We are rational creatures with the ability to think logically, to reason, to be aware of the past, present, and future.
  • We are creative. While we don’t create to the degree that God does, we possess creativity of ideas and thought and thus can “create” new music, art, or literature. We can think of new ideas and possibilities and bring them into being.
  • We use complex language to communicate.
  • We experience a wide range of emotions. Some ‘soulish’ animals show a few emotions, but the variety of emotions in humans far surpasses them.

J. I. Packer offers the following:

God’s image in man at Creation, then, consisted (a) in man’s being a “soul” or “spirit” (Genesis 2:7, where the NIV correctly says, “living being”; Ecclesiastes 12:7), that is, a personal, self-conscious, Godlike creature with a Godlike capacity for knowledge, thought, and action; (b) in man’s being morally upright, a quality lost at the Fall that is now being progressively restored in Christ (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10); (c) in man’s environmental dominion. Usually, and reasonably, it is added that (d) man’s God-given immortality and (e) the human body, through which we experience reality, express ourselves, and exercise our dominion, belong to the image too. The body belongs to the image, not directly, since God … does not have one, but indirectly inasmuch as the Godlike activities of exercising dominion over the material creation and demonstrating affection to other rational beings make our embodiment necessary.[11]

There are other ways in which God’s image and likeness are manifest within humankind, but these are some of the most significant.

Original Goodness

The Bible says that when God completed creation He stated that everything He made was very good. This included Adam and Eve. It also says that man was made upright.

God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.[12]

God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.[13]

The New Testament makes reference to God’s image and likeness as having to do with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This would indicate that part of the nature of the first two humans, before the fall, would include some elements of “knowledge, true righteousness, and holiness.”[14]

Now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.[15]

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.[16]

Having been created very good, with elements of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, would mean that Adam and Eve were not created in a state of innocence with moral neutrality, but rather were created morally upright.

From the time they were created until the time they sinned, Adam and Eve were morally upright and were capable of not committing sin. It’s not possible to know how long they were in this state before sinning. What is known is that their firstborn Cain and their second son Abel were born after they sinned. Their third son, Seth, was born after Cain slew Abel, which means he was born a while after Cain and Abel. According to the genealogies in Genesis chapter 5, Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old, so it is conceivable that the time before the fall could have been decades long.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they continued to be in the image and likeness of God; however, they were not as fully like God as they had been. They were no longer morally upright as they once had been, because they had chosen to disobey God’s command. It corrupted the original human nature.

It also changed their relationship with God, as they were sent away from Eden and blocked from returning “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Along with this, physical death entered into humanity. God telling them that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die, implies that if they didn’t eat of it, they wouldn’t have died. Exactly how that would have happened, Scripture doesn’t tell us, but it does express that death entered humanity due to sin.

Out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[17]

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[18]

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.[19]

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.[20]

Louis Berkhof expressed it this way:

Man, as he was created by God, did not bear within him the seeds of death and would not have died necessarily in virtue of the original constitution of his nature.[21]

J. Rodman Williams explains:

Let us be quite clear. Physical death is by no means portrayed as the “natural” issue of man’s existence. “Returning to dust” is not the result of man’s being human and finite, rather it is the result of finite man’s failure to partake of God’s own self-offering and instead to seek his own prideful ends.[22]

God’s Plan of Salvation

Adam and Eve sinning brought changes in humanity of epic proportions. The consequences of their sin brought a separation between God and humankind. It caused a distortion and degradation within the image of God in man so that man was no longer morally pure, causing them to live in a state of sinfulness, no longer having the ability to not sin. Thus God’s Word says that all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[23]

While the human spirit lives beyond the death of the physical body, the body returns to dust, in accordance with God’s judgment for sin.

The consequences of sin among humanity are deeply connected to God’s plan of salvation. In Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, and return, these consequences are overcome. His death and resurrection has brought about the salvation of our souls, meaning that the sins of humanity have been atoned for by Christ and that atonement is available to all who accept Him. The separation between God and the believer is no longer there, as Jesus’ death has brought reconciliation between God and those who have received His Son.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.[24]

You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.[25]

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[26]

While all the bodies of believers die, at Jesus’ return their bodies will rise from the dead (the bodies of those believers who are alive at that time will be immediately changed), and their spirits will be joined with their resurrection bodies, and their rejoined bodies and spirits will live forever.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”[27]

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.[28]

Through God’s love, grace, and mercy, manifest in Jesus’ death and resurrection, humans have been given the opportunity to overcome all of the effects of their sins and fallen nature. Physical death will be defeated as we rise from the dead and receive resurrected, imperishable bodies. The spiritual separation caused by sin will be gone and fellowship with God will be fully restored. Instead of being like the first man, the man of dust, Adam, we will be like the man from heaven, Jesus, and will bear His image.

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.[29]

We shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.[30]

[1] Genesis 1:26–27.

[2] Genesis 5:3.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 444.

[4] Genesis 9:6.

[5] James 3:9.

[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 202.

[7]Gordon R. Lewis, and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Vol. 2, p. 124–125.

[8]James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, Vol. 1 (N. Richland Hills: BIBAL Press, 2000), p. 459.

[9] James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, Vol. 1 (N. Richland Hills: BIBAL Press, 2000), p. 153.

[10] Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Vol. 2 Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 150.

[11] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, Chapter; Humanness (Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), p. 72.

[12] Genesis 1:31.

[13] Ecclesiastes 7:29.

[14] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 204.

[15] Colossians 3:8–10.

[16] Ephesians 4:22–24.

[17] Genesis 2:9.

[18] Genesis 2:16–17.

[19] Genesis 3:19.

[20] Genesis 3:22–23.

[21] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 209.

[22] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 259.

[23] Romans 3:23.

[24] 2 Corinthians 5:17–19.

[25] Colossians 1:21–22.

[26] Romans 5:10–11.

[27] 1 Corinthians 15:51–54.

[28] 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17.

[29] 1 Corinthians 15:47.

[30] 1 Corinthians 15:49.