The fact that God made man in his image and likeness delineates the most fundamental difference between humans and other creatures. All other distinguishing characteristics between man and the animal world fall within its broad spectrum.
The image of God imparts special meaning, harmony, intelligence and design to human life. To be human is to be created in the image of God. This is the certain testimony of the Bible!
Three scriptures in the book of Genesis refer to our being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 9:6). As we will see, they show that the "image of God" is of crucial importance to the grand purpose of humanity on planet earth. They are not just statements of historical fact; they point directly to mankind's awesome destiny.
We begin our formal study with an overview of this intriguing subject.
What does the first chapter of Genesis teach us about the image of God?
"Then God said, 'Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth..." (Genesis 1:26).
Man stands apart from all other living creatures because of his relationship to God. The flora and fauna had already been created when God brought man onto the scene. Man was the crown of the physical creation and was designed to rule over it. Of all that God created, only man was made in God's image and likeness.
The Hebrew Scriptures do not precisely explain what is meant by the image and likeness of God. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says of the words image and likeness: "'Image' suggests reproduction in form and substance, physical or spiritual: and 'likeness' gives the idea of resemblance and outward similarity."
Man, of course, by no means possesses all the powers, characteristics and attributes of the great Creator God. Nevertheless, we have been created as much as is physically possible in God's own image and likeness.
Throughout the Bible the relationship of God to man is represented as that of a father to his children. And children usually have a strong resemblance to their parents. The author of Hebrews explains our relationship to God: "For both He who sanctifies [Christ] and those who are being sanctified [Christians] are all of one [Father], for which reason He [Christ] is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: 'I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.' And again: 'I will put My trust in Him.' And again: 'Here am I and the children whom God has given Me'" (Hebrews 2:11-13).
The verses quoted above also express and envision God's remarkable purpose for humankind. The message of the Bible shows that God created man with a mind capable of communicating with God and thinking like He thinks. And God wants us to be even more like Him—both in character and, ultimately, in composition. Our destiny is to be like Jesus Christ now is as the glorified Son of God (1 John 3:2).
Are both sexes included in God's grand purpose for humankind?
"So God created man in His own image; the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27; compare Genesis 5:1-2).
In verse 27 the Hebrew word for "man," etadam (including the accusative particle et), is a collective noun meaning humanity or the race as a whole—not just the proper name of Adam, who was the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Chronicles 1:1). So the image of God applies both individually and collectively. Each person, male and female, is made in God's image, as is the human race as a whole.
Is this weighty account in Genesis 1 repeated at a key juncture in early human history?
"This is the book of the genealogy [generations, KJV] of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day that they were created" (Genesis 5:1-2).
After the original description of the creation of mankind in the Garden of Eden, we are again reminded of our uniqueness at the beginning of a new epoch in human history.
Are human beings once again told of their creation in the Bible's first book?
"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6).
A person created in God's image is so precious in our Creator's sight that anyone who would deliberately and maliciously take another's life could himself be facing the death penalty from his peers. This final reminder in Genesis is positioned just after the time of Noah's flood—another benchmark in history. All three accounts of this essential theme in the human story of God's creation of us in His own image appear in the immediate context of human reproduction. Two appear directly before a command "to be fruitful and multiply," and the third appears at the head of the first genealogical record. This reproductive relationship has some important spiritual implications in terms of God's ultimate plan and purpose for mankind.
Does the Bible also mention the two words image and likeness in connection with the normal reproduction of a human being?
"And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth" (Genesis 5:3).
The Bible interprets the Bible. The context (Genesis 5:1-2) mentions God making men and women in His own likeness. Does this passage give us an important indication as to what our Creator intends by the expression "the image of God"? Just as our Creator made humans in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), so did Adam have a son, Seth, who was in Adam's image and likeness (the same Hebrew words are used in both passages). As The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible observes: "Man's resemblance to God is analogous to Seth's resemblance to his father Adam. This makes it certain that physical resemblance must not be excluded" (p. 683).
In other words, just as children resemble their human parents, so do all humans resemble our Creator. Although God is spirit (John 4:24) rather than a physical being, all humans bear a physical resemblance to Him. He actually showed Moses His back in His glorified form (Exodus 33:18-23). In regard to such physical resemblance, it is noteworthy that Jesus Christ appeared in human form and shape to His disciples after the resurrection. In the Transfiguration account (Matthew 17:1-9), Jesus also appeared in the same glorified form to Peter, James and John.
When God appeared in vision to the biblical prophets they described Him in human form. Certainly man has been physically designed to be as much like God as it is possible for a physical being to be made in the image and likeness of the awesome spirit being that God is. In this lesson we will also discover that there are other ways we humans are intended to become like our Creator, and why.