The Image Of God, Genesis 1:26-27

In this day and age I might be accused of advocating “human exceptionalism”.  Which I am!  Humans are exceptional by God’s design.  We bear God’s image and likeness and nothing else does.  

Hippos are people too.  On October 15th, for the first time in US history, animals were granted legal status as “interested persons.”  Not all animals all the time, just some hippos in this situation.  When Columbian drug king Pablo Escobar died his pet hippos ran free across his land.  The problem is they’ve obeyed God and were fruitful and multiplied.  Since they will do serious damage to the ‘biodiversity’ and be a danger to humans, scientists want to sterilize them or hunt them.  

But they face opposition from the Animal Legal Defense Fund in America.  In Ohio, a US District Judge granted the request of the ALDF to recognize the hippos as legal “interested persons.”  This would allow animal rights scientists to give depositions related to a situation in a foreign country.  In other words, they hope that this is a legal channel to influence the decision of the Colombian government regarding the fate of the hippos.  

As for US legal precedent, its huge.  Christopher Berry is the ALDF’s lead attorney in the case and said the ruling was both narrow and profound.  Animal rights activists are hailing it as a big step towards granting “personhood” to animals in the US Justice system.  (I wonder if we can get them to be just as zealous for “personhood” of humans still in the womb).  

In animal rights views, it’s not that animals are humans, rather its that humans are animals.  There are human animals and there are non-human animals.  We’re all animals.  And the rights humans enjoy should be afforded to non-human animals as well.  Actually according to the Humane League:  Animal rights advocates believe that non-human animals should be free to live as they wish, without being used, exploited, or otherwise interfered with by humans.  

I have questions on that:  how does the Humane League view lions interfering with zebras?  How do they feel about Orcas not letting seals live as they wish?  How do they view the wildlife rule of tooth and claw, kill or be killed?  If all animals are free to kill and eat each other and fight each other, how come humans can’t also?  If humans are nothing more than animals then why can’t human animals act like ‘animals’?  Why are we saddled with all these moral obligations that other animals aren’t?  If we are exploiting and killing animals aren’t we acting like, ‘animals’?  And if animal rights activists say we humans are not supposed to act like animals, then, are they saying that humans are somehow more than just animals?  Hmmm.  Something smells fishy….or human!  

I am an animal lover by the way, so don’t take me as being supportive of animal abuse or puppy mills or anything like that.  I love animals, honestly, because that’s the way God made us:  to take care of the animals he created.  Loving and caring for animals is part of the command to rule over them.  

But you can see where this idea of man and animals being on the same level is worldly.  It’s not biblical.  The Bible bestows a glory on man not given to animals.  That glory is the image of God.  The “imago dei” as its elegantly called in Latin.  It’s something unique to us.  No hippo, no horse, no elephant, no eagle, no matter all their beauty and wonder, possess what God has given us in this glorious image of God.  

Of course there is a bumper sticker out there that may offer one exception to all this.  It says, “I Love My Granddogs.”  Some among us may really believe that dogs are people too.  There may be something to it.  You’ll remember that it wasn’t Adam who had a problem with being alone.  It was God who didn’t like Adam being alone.  Remember he was in the garden before Eve was made surrounded by all the animals and naming them.  I think when the dog came up to him there was an instant bond.  God was like, “Hey Adam, how’s it going, are you getting lonely?”  He was probably playing fetch with the first dog and was like, “No, this is great.  I got this awesome place to live and I got my best friend here.  What more could I need?”  Then God was like, “Take a nap, I’m going to show you something.”  

Let’s look at this glory of man.  Turn to Genesis 1:26-27 with me and follow along…

The image of God.  The likeness of God.  What does that mean?  Well it doesn’t mean that we’ve been made to be identical to God, like we are made gods like God is God.  “Image” in the Hebrew refers to “imitation of an original”.  That imitation is a representation of that original.  Also likeness means, “copy” or “model”.  Genesis 5 tells us Adam had a son in his likeness, named Seth.  Same word.  Same thought:  Seth was not Adam, but, a “model” of Adam, an “imitation” of Adam, a “representative” of Adam.  You could tell a lot about Adam by looking at Seth, who bore Adam’s image.  You can tell a lot about God by looking at man, who bears His image.

The word “image” in the Hebrew is used to refer to idols and statues as well in the Bible, which are physical figures meant to portray the gods they are made after.  Perhaps here is an underlying reason for the prohibition of making any image of God, like in the 2nd commandment:  “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or the waters below.”  (Ex 20:4).  Why?  Because God has already made an image of Himself in man!  Therefore if a man wants an image of God then that man ought to devote Himself to living for God!

Another example from home.  My kids love to draw, like lots of kids.  All my books in my office are stuffed with pictures they’ve drawn because I use them as bookmarks.  If you randomly pick up a book and pull it out there’s a good chance that it will be a picture of two people.  One will be a cute little girl and the other will be some guy with hair all over his head and face like a muppet and eyes peeking out behind glasses.  Usually they’ll be holding hands.  Usually I ask, “Is this what I look like to you?”  And with super cute big eyes and a smile they nod enthusiastically.  Then I put it in the most unused book I’ve got, and contemplate a new razor.  🙂

They are making an image of me.  It’s a copy of my bearded and bespectacled likeness.  It’s not me, but, it represents me, and shows what I am like.  

If you read theology book after theology book looking for an explanation of the meaning of “image of God”, you’re going to get a couple of things over and over.  For one thing we are told that while we are not identical, we are similar to God.  God made us to be similar to Him in certain ways.  He made us to resemble Him.  There are 2 ways we are similar to God.  First we are like God in having personality, and second we are like God in morality.  We’ll come back to these two in a moment. 

The image of God not only means we are similar to Him – which we’ll talk about in a second – but image of God means also that we represent Him.  We model God, we portray God, we show forth God.  By looking at man God can be seen.  Don’t get nervous as though I’m deifying man.  I’m merely pointing out that just like looking at the natural world tells us things about the Creator, so too looking at the crown of creation – man – we can see things about God.  The very existence of the stars and the sun and the mountains preach rich theology.  How much also then does man as man speak about God?!  

Let’s come back to the personality and the morality of man as the substance of the image of God.  Man has personality.  We are not machines.  We are not biochemical machines.  As Francis Schaeffer says, there is something about man that is categorically “mannish”.  It makes us more than hippos.  By saying “personality” it’s not meant like we mean it when we say “Oh your little girl has so much personality”.  That’s talking about zest, or charm, or humor, or strong-will.  Personality as part of the image of God means that we have intellect, emotion and will.  

We as man have an intelligence instantly beyond animals.  Gorillas don’t teach humans how to speak – we teach Gorillas like Koko to use sign language.  Tigers don’t establish academies of education; as Wayne Grudem says there’s no “history of canine philosophy” where labradors and yorkshire terriers sit around discussing metaphysics, epistemology, value theory.  There are no Teslas of the insect world or hippos inventing iPhones.  Grudem points out:

“…even developing physical and technical skills we are far different from animals:  beavers still build the same kind of dams they have built for a thousand generations, birds still build the same kind of nests, adn bees still build the same kinds of hives.  But we continue to develop greater skill and complexity in technology, in agriculture, in science, and in nearly every field of endeavor”

Animals don’t play organized sports, write poetry or create plays and learn instruments; the eagle doesn’t feel pride when their offspring finally leave the next to live on their own – no pictures hung on the tree trunk!  Animals live by instinct, and their animal impulses.  There is no thinking, feeling and acting by self-determination that comes anywhere near what we see taking place in us as humans.

Nor do we see among animals the sort of moral agency that we have.  We are moral actors on the stage of life.  We have a conscience, an innate knowledge of right and wrong.  We have a capacity for morality and immorality, for holiness and wickedness.  Turn to Romans 2:14-15 with me and follow along. 

A great example is in Genesis 20 when God came to Abimelech, the king of Gerar.  Turn to Genesis 20 with me.  Abimelech was consistent with his conscience.  He did not know Sara was married.  He thought she was single.  Had he known she was married, he would not have taken her to be his wife.  He pleads his innocence with God, and God affirms his innocence.  God affirms the fact that Abimelech acted righteously with the information he had.  (Note too that that is the reason God kept him from sinning.  There’s a lesson in that.  Stick around, we’ll get to it in 5 years). 

We need to keep a balance.  On the one hand not thinking so highly of ourselves that we think we are gods, or can become gods.  We need to keep a humble eye on the mankind in the mirror.  Like David said in Psalm 8, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”  

On the other hand we need to be careful of that Puritan tendency to reduce man to something less than man and loathe mankind in His fallenness.  We need to humbly keep a view of our corruption and fallennes while also seeing the great nobility and wonder of man, made in God’s image.  The Fallenness of man is so awful because of the fact that man is so wonderful, its what John Howe said in Living Temple saying a “noble ship makes a great wreck.”  The wreck of the Titanic is so incredibly awful, more than that of some canoe, because of how awesome the Titanic was.  If you run over a squirrel you will feel bad but tomorrow forget about it.  If you run over a child you will never get over it for as long as you live.  Do you see the point?  Hamlet declared “What a piece of work man is!  How noble in reason!  How infinite in faculty!  In form and moving how express and admirable!  In action how like an angel!  In apprehension how like a god!”

In this day and age I might be accused of advocating “human exceptionalism”.  Which I am!  Humans are exceptional by God’s design.  We bear God’s image and likeness and nothing else does.  


What does this mean?  If we have the image of God as humans then what implications are there?  Or obligations?

First, both male and female bear the image of God equally.  Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created hi male and female he created them both.”  Both are fully human, both are fully image bearers of God.  Genesis 5:1-2 reiterates this, turn there with me and follow along.  Male and female are equal image bearers of God from the beginning, and, they are equal in the end as well.  First Peter 3:7 instructs husbands to “be considerate” towards their wives and “treat them with respect”.  But Pete explains why:  because they are “heirs with you [husbands] of the gracious gift of life”.  In other words, they are co-heirs of eternal life with us just like they are co-image bearers, and we are to treat them accordingly.  

Second is to reverence man.  Not worship, but, honor and esteem man as the unique image bearer of God.  Robert Burns was walking along with a nobleman in London when he stopped to speak to a poor man.  The nobleman was condescending and annoyed when he criticized Burns for talking to a man with such a ragged coat.  Burns replied, “I wasn’t talking to the coat, I was talking to the man.”  

Mankind has intrinsic worth, value, dignity and deserves a respect and awe as the image bearer of God.  This is the basis of James’ warning when he says, “Do not use your tongue to praise God and then turn around and curse men, who are made in God’s likeness.”  

Man should be highly revered.  It’s the same thing with man as it is with creation, remember:  if I can wonder at the incredible world God created how much should I also wonder at the incredible creature God made in His image?!  That includes babies in the womb, people of different skin colors or wealth, or health or mental capacity or political affiliation.  As Believers we remember all men are created by God as image bearers and that is a powerful mindset to have. 

Third, promote, protect the life of mankind.  There is the first command in the whole Bible by God to “Be fruitful and fill the earth”.  It was stated positively “Do this” which is based on the image of God.  There is a negative command too, given to protect human life, and ultimately to promote it.  Turn to Genesis 9:6.  Noah is coming off the boat and God tells him in verse 6, 

Just like God is the Ultimate Creator, so we get to participate in “procreation”.  Just like God brought a man and woman into the world, in a lesser but similar way, as image bearers, we get to bring other human beings into the world through children.  God wants the earth filled up with His image bearer.  We’ll come back to this in chapter 2 when talking about marriage.

Fourth, and related to the promotion of life, the image of God means that man has rulership.  Turn to Psalm 8:4-8 with me.  God rules His creation, His kingdom is an everalsting kingdom, His rule is a righteous rule.  We know this has always been and it is the promise of the kingdom to come:  a rule of righteousness, peace, justice and wisdom.  Man, made in God’s image, means that man is also to image God in how he rules over what God has given him.

Man is not only ruler over the earth, the plant and animal kingdom, but, man’s rule is seeMan’s rule over everything is to be performed in such a way that it reflects the God He created.  

Fifthly, we can worship God.  The image of God enables and demands that man worships God.  The full expression and glory of man the image-bearer is seen when he freely worships the glorious God who made him.  

Sixthly, the image of God while not lost, but marred in the Fall, is redeemed in Jesus Christ.  The Bible says Jesus is the “Last Adam”.  He is the New Adam of a new human race, the redeemed human race.  The first Adam was created in God’s image, the Last Adam came as “the exact representation of God’s being” (Heb 1:3) and as 2 Corinthians 4:4 states “is the image of God” and as Jesus said about Himself “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).  Not:  “You’ve seen something like the Father” or “You get a pretty good idea”, but, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:10) and He as the Last Adam is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).  

Through Adam came corruption and death, through the Last Adam comes righteousness and life.  Through Adam you are born in sin and condemned by God.  Through the Last Adam you believe and are forgiven and redeemed.  Through Adam we follow Satan, through the Last Adam we follow God.  Through Adam fellowship with God was broken and lost.  Through the Last Adam fellowship with God is restored and found.  By following Adam we go deeper into corruption and death.  By following the Last Adam, Jesus, we renew more and more the image of God.  “Put on the new self” Colossian 3:10 says, “which is being renewed in knowledge of the image of its Creator”.  Or as 2 Corinthians 3:18 teaches, “And we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…” 


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