WHAT IS THE IMAGE OF GOD?

PMW 2019-054 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The postmillennial hope involves a holistic worldview, not a piecemeal approach to life. Hence, the title to this blog: PostmillennialWorldview. One of the most important worldview questions today regards the identity and meaning of man. Unfortunately, evolutionary science and philosophy prevail in modern culture, teaching that man is ultimately a random, chance collection of molecules that has developed from fish through apes to modern man.

But here in the very foundational book of all of Scripture we learn that man has from the very beginning existed as a high and noble creature. He was created as the very “image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27; 5:1), being distinguished from and exalted over the animal kingdom over which he reigns (Gen. 1:28).

The concept of God’s image is not given any specific definition in the text. But though the term itself appears abruptly, the concept flows naturally out of the creation revelation in Genesis 1. The idea is deep and multi-faceted though we may note several textual indicators for its meaning.

First, the image of God involves personality. Since man is the image “of God” who reflects God, we may note that God himself is a personality. God is a person who speaks and acts throughout Genesis 1. And he speaks about and communicates with man whom we well know is a personality. He speaks about man in our text (Gen. 1:26), assigns him a task (Gen. 1:28), then speaks to him (Gen. 1:29–30). Then in the next chapter (which is a return to and a narrow focus on day six when man is created) God commands him and assigns him further tasks (Gen. 2:7–8, 15–17).

Second, the image of God involves rationality. As God’s image man also reflects the rationality of God. Not only does God speak as a person in the creation account, but he reasons as a person. He communicates within his innermost being when he determines to make man (Gen. 1:26). This reasoning process is a rational activity. Chapter 2 notes that God evaluates man’s initial situation and observes a lack in his situation then determines to fill that lack (Gen. 2:18).


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Third, the image of God involves authority. In the creation process God assigns names to features of creation, which demonstrates his authority over them. Just as a parent has the authority to name his child, so God exercises his authority in giving names to various parts of creation. For instance, in Genesis 1:5 “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (cp. Gen. 1:8, 10). In Genesis 1:28 God assigned man authority over the animal world. We see Adam actually beginning to exercise authority over the animal kingdom when hdse assigns the animals names (Gen. 2:19). Adam is acting as God acted; that is, he is functioning as the image of God.

Fourth, the image of God involves creativity. The whole thrust of Genesis 1 emphasizes God’s wonderful creative capacity. In fact, the creation account opens: “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), then all through the passage we see him creating (Gen. 1:20, 21, 27; 2:3) and making (Gen. 1:7, 16, 25, 26, 31; 2:3). After he creates man he places him in the Garden of Eden commanding him to cultivate it (Gen. 2:15). Planting, hoeing, and harvesting involve a creative capacity. This creative activity is unlike that which animals can do. We soon learn that man begins creating human culture in building cities, working with iron, creating music, and so forth (Gen. 4:20–22).

Fifth, the image of God involves morality. God creates a perfect world that he declares “very good” (Gen. 1:31). In this good creation God tests Adam with the obligation to obey his word (Gen. 2:16–17). Moral issues are not extraneous to the created order, and Adam was originally created upright (Eccl. 7:29). Nor does man create his own morality: he was created a moral being subject to God’s moral character (Deut. 32:4; Isa. 45:21; Rev. 15:3).


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Sixth, the image of God entails man’s existence as a social creature. God is one being uniquely existing in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; cp. John 10:30). We see this strongly suggested by the plural expressions God uses in speaking of himself: “Let us make” (Gen. 1:26; cp. Gen. 3:22). God is a self-contained society and therefore his image will reflect that for “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Thus, before Eve was created God declared: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

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5 thoughts on “WHAT IS THE IMAGE OF GOD?

  1. ajmacdonaldjr July 5, 2019 at 8:08 am

    I think the image of God is seen in the woman and the man *together.* Scripture says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; *male and female created he them*” so it would seem that man as *them* (male and female) is made in the image of God. “God blessed *them,* and God said unto *them,* Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion.”

  2. Kenneth Gentry July 8, 2019 at 6:18 am

    It is certainly true that God’s image is more fully expressed in man and woman together. However, each individual carries the image of God, which is why when you kill a person you are guilty of attacking the image of God (Gen. 9:6). And which allows for unmarried young people and older singles also to be the image of God.

  3. Alvin Plummer July 16, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Across the Stars and commented:
    What is the Image of God? Gentry provides an interesting perspective here.

  4. Howard King July 17, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    An image is ordinarily a visible thing. God is invisible; but there is a correspondence between the physical abilities of man and the spiritual attributes of God. Hence the basis for anthropomorphic language. I believe that, besides the things asserted in your article, man is the visible image of the invisible God. This is why no explanation of the term is given when it is first used — it needs none. It is the most obvious and all-embracing concept. Add to this, the beauty and majesty of the first man, his extraordinary mental powers, his supremacy over all the other creatures, and his moral perfection. These are finite properties that correspond to the infinite attributes of God. I discuss this more fully in my book, The Myth of Sexual Equality.
    And the idea that man and woman together constitute the image of God involves a misreading of the text, which reads “So God created THE man in his own image, in the image of God created he HIM; male and female created he THEM. According to my Hebrew interlinear Bible, the article is used with adam to refer to the man consistently until Ch 5, when it becomes a proper name for the man. The reason for this is that when the new book which begins at 5:1 was written, there were other men in the world, his sons, and he needed to be distinguished from them. So, as Paul says,, summarizing the teaching of this text, “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. (1Co 11:7). “In the image of God created He HIM.” “Male and female created He THEM”.

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  5. Kenneth Gentry July 17, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    I believe the word for “man” here is generic rather than individual, as per the standard modern English versions (e.g., ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) and the leading commentators. The preceding verse (1:26) has the plural verb (“let them have dominion”) following the initial deliberative plural statement: “Let us make man in our image” (though there without the definite article). The image of God involves dominion, which is specifically applied to both genders.

    Besides, the word elohim (“God) often follows the same pattern as adam (“man”), sometimes having the definite article, sometimes not. The substantive usage of adam , like elohim, can therefore be either a common noun or a proper noun. A distinctive of Gen. 1:27 seems to account for the shift: Gen. 1:27 is a poetic statement composed of three lines, each employing the verb bara (“create”). The fluidity between the definite and indefinite forms shows that we cannot use the definite article in the way you suggest. Thus, the man (the special creation of God) is given dominion over all the other creatures.

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