The Image of God
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man his blood shall be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6).- Genesis 9:6
Yesterday we considered a few of the competing definitions of what it means to be human in the history of Western thought. Being disciples of Jesus, however, we must first and foremost be concerned with what His Word says about us. A few weeks ago we studied Genesis 1:26–27, one of the most important texts regarding the doctrine of man in all of Scripture. In these verses, Moses tells us that God created man in His “own image,” and after His “likeness” (v. 26).
In the history of Christian theology, some have distinguished between the “image” and the “likeness” of God in human beings. Traditional Roman Catholic theology often states that “image” refers to our ability to make rational choices, while “likeness” points to an extra gift of righteousness given before the fall. After Adam sinned, this view maintains, only the likeness was lost. Protestants, on the other hand, have largely agreed that we cannot differentiate between the “image” and the “likeness” of God in humanity, because both terms refer to the same thing — our ability to reflect the Lord’s own holy character.
We will consider this important idea more next week. For now we will note that man as imago Dei (made in the image of God) tells us several important things:
Imago Dei means that man is not God. Man reflects the Lord and therefore is not the Lord. We are creatures, and, consequently, we are dependent, finite, and derived. Moreover, we are accountable to God; He is not accountable to us (Job 38–42).
Imago Dei distinguishes man from the animals. We are subordinate to the Lord, not to the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Instead, man has dominion over the other creatures God has made (Gen. 1:28). We must rule wisely and compassionately, as we will be judged for all of our transgressions, ecological and otherwise (Lev. 25:1–7; Deut. 25:4). While humans have a greater ultimate worth than animals, those who, for example, do not endorse abortion on demand while maintaining poor stewardship of God’s creation will have to answer for their sins.
Sin did not destroy the image of God in man. Today’s passage tells us that even after the fall, mankind is still made imago Dei. All people still reflect, in some way, the dignity of the Lord, no matter how we have marred His image. Thus, our treatment of others reveals what we think of our Creator. If you have been cruel to another, go apologize and remember that if you are cruel to His image, you are sinning against God (James 3:7–10).
Passages for Further Study