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?


rwp_47's picture

Hi Dave ...
This is one of those questions that I think most shy away from - and for a number of reasons. For one thing I don't think the answer is really all that clear. And I think the thoughts we might have on the subject would appear to conflict with other things the church holds. And for that reason I think most are leery of venturing an honest opinion. But I'll just go ahead an jump in.
If we believe man is a soul with a body and a spirit - then wouldn't that be what God is as well - a soul with a body ad a spirit? Many might object and say - no, that's not right, because God is a spirit (a spirit being). But I've wondered about that too ... what does that really mean, a spirit being? I mean, isn't that what we'll be in the resurrection? A spirit being? But will we not still be a soul with a body and a spirit - only our body will be composed of spirit rather that flesh & blood? And "if" that's the case - since we'll be like him wouldn't that be the way he is too? In many places God speaks of his soul. And we know he has a body and a spirit. but again, I think many might object because they would say that would mean a soul was immortal and quote Eze:18:4 (The soul that sins shall die). But surely God's soul is immortal. And we got ours directly from him thru Adam (Gen:2:7). And after all - the word died- didn't he? But isn't he immortal? And what does immortal mean anyway? No one really seems keen on actually defining that. We just assume everyone just knows what it is. But suppose a soul is something that could only die if it was actually executed - but otherwise would never die. Wouldn't that be immortal. Something that wouldn't die a natural death? A few months ago Darris McNeely commented in a Beyond Today program (I Believe, Help My Unbelief). He used Matt:10:28 and did it in such a way that got me to thinking.
Matthew:10:28. ... "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul [G5590 psyche]: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [G1067 gehenna]."
It struck me that this scripture tells us that only God can kill one's soul - and he only does so in the lake of fire (after the millennium). At the very least that struck me as being at least "conditionally immortal". And Abraham? In that case wouldn't his soul be immortal? Because there's no Gehenna for him.

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