What does the "image" of God mean?

What is Genesis 1:26 referring to? Are humans literally created in the image and likeness of God?


The Bible uses the word for image in many ways, including denoting a statue, an idol or a copy ( Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words , 1985, "Statue"). Barnes' Notes  says, "'Image' is a word taken from sensible things, and denotes likeness in outward form, while the material may be different" (notes on Genesis:1:26).

Likeness means "the original after which a thing is patterned" ( Vine's , "Likeness"). "'Likeness' is a more general term [than image], indicating resemblance in any quality, external or internal" (ibid.).

The creation of all living creatures was introduced with the repeated phrase "according to its kind" (Genesis:1:21, 24-25). The introduction of man seems to break the pattern, as it does not say, "The earth will bring forth man according to his kind." However, the pattern isn't broken at all. Rather, in verse 26 God announced, "Let Us make man after Our image, according to Our likeness"—to resemble God.

Additionally, He endowed man with the ability to think, to create and to dominate the rest of creation. These are godlike qualities, superior to any other creature.

In its notes on Genesis:1:26 Matthew Henry's Commentary  says, "Man was not made in the likeness of any creature that went before him, but in the likeness of his Creator; yet still between God and man  there is an infinite distance " (emphasis added). True, there is an infinite difference between God's original creation making humans in His form and shape, with godlike abilities, and His incredible plan to make us of His substance, along with His holy, righteous character. Then the children of God, forever thankful and submissive to the eternal God, will be completely in the image and likeness of our Father (1 John:3:1-2).

For more information, please read our booklet Who Is God?


davepermar's picture

Thanks for the explanation. It's interesting to note that the two words used for image and likeness are also used in Genesis 5:3, which talks about how Adam had a son "in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth." Seth was in the image and likeness of Adam, just as Adam was created in the image and likeness of God. These are the only two verses (Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:3) in the whole Bible where these two words are used together. This is a strong indicator to me that God is not some blob shape, but has a definite form and shape. And since Seth was in Adam's likeness and image, and Adam was created in God's likeness and image, then we can logically conclude that humans are made in the same likeness and image of God, as you explain in your answer. If God was a blob, then we would look like blobs, too. But He isn't, and neither are we. What does anyone else think about it?

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