KEY TEXT: Genesis 1:26-28 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 and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them,"Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
KEY THOT: According to Genesis 1:26-27, the first human couple (Adam and Eve) were created in God's image (Latin: Imago Dei): "Let Us make man in Our
image, according to Our likeness..." and then it goes on to say, "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." The first thing to note is how the pronouns for God shift from plural to singular: from "Let Us... Our image...Our likeness" to "His own image... He created him... He created them". Note also the change of pronouns from singular to plural in the first created human: "So God created man...He created him; male and female He created them." The first thing we observe about God is He is a plurality of persons, not singular. This is the first hint of the doctrine of the Trinity of God. Secondly, God also made human as a plurality of persons: male and female. It's not just man alone who reflects God's image but both male and female together reflect the full image of God.
What does it mean when we say humans are created in the image of God? This question has been debated by theologians (Jewish and Christian) down the ages. First thing we note is that we reflect the image of a Communal God--not an individualized God but a community of Divine Persons in unity. Like Himself, God created man as a community of inter-dependent persons, not as independent individuals. We are created for community because God our Creator is a Community of Persons. It is in community that we discover our full humanity. And this requires both male and female participation in the community to fully reflect God's image. Male alone or female alone individually cannot reflect God's image completely.
Secondly, God created man from dust and breathed on him a spirit so that man became a living being (soul): "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (KJV: soul)" (Gen. 2:7). So, man was created as a tripartite being--a soul animated by a spirit from God with a body made from dust. This means that our spirit, soul and body are created in God's image.
Most theologians have no problem with affirming that the first two components of our tripartite humanity (spirit and soul) are created in God's likeness ("according to Our likeness"). That is, just as God is Spirit, so we have a spirit within us that allows us to commune with God by worshipping Him "in spirit." Similarly, just as God is a Person, we also have a personality (soul) which enables us to think, to feel and to make decisions freely like God. But what about our physical form? Does it also reflect God's likeness?
Most theologians allow that we are like God in our spirit and our soul (person) but God is non-material and therefore our physical being (body) is unlike God. But that would contradict Scripture which says that we are created in the likeness of God. In fact, whenever God manifests himself in physical human-like forms in the OT, theologians would describe these manifestations as anthropomorphisms, from two Greek roots anthropo (man) and morphe (form). In other words, God took on human forms, which imply that God accommodate himself to human forms to communicate with humans. Some of these anthropomorphisms are even attributed to the pre-incarnate Christ: e.g. the Captain of the Lord's army that met Joshua:
- Joshua 5:13-14 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "Are You for us or for our adversaries?" So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?"
Most Bible scholars accept that this is the pre-incarnate Christ. But the pre-incarnate Christ appeared on earth in a physical form just like a man. In fact, his appearance as a man is not limited to his earthly appearances but also in the heavenlies. In one of his night visions, Daniel saw what seems like a Man approaching the throne of God. He describes him as "like the Son of Man":
- Daniel 7:13-14 "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed."
In other words, this pre-incarnate Christ in heaven also has a form that appears like a man. Perhaps, our physical form (body) is derived from this image of God. But his spiritual form is unlike our physical form, which is made from dust. Our physical form is at best a reflection and a shadow of God's own spiritual appearance. In fact, when Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he has a glorified body which remains with him when he ascended into the heavens. When the apostle John saw this same glorified Jesus recorded in the book of Revelation, he describes him with almost human-like characteristics:
- Revelation 1:12-16 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
Perhaps, when God created us in His image, He not only made us with a spirit and soul like Him. He also made us with a physical form like Him. If we have difficulty with this idea, perhaps we may consider the incarnation of Christ himself, that He came not just in a spiritual form but in human form. And it is in his totality of spirit, soul and body that the apostles beheld the glory of the Father: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). And John is not apologetic to describe Jesus as the Word of life in physical terms: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life..." (1 John 1:1).
For this reason, Paul did not just pray that our spirit and soul be made holy, but our entire being (spirit,soul and body) be made holy for His coming: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The image of God needs to be redeemed and restored completely in preparation for Christ's coming. While this present body is corrupting and corruptible, the new spiritual bodies we will inherit will be eternal and holy. And only then will our full image of God (Imago Dei) be restored.
Abba-Father, You have made us in Your image and in Your Son's likeness. We thank You that one day, our spirit, soul and body will be redeemed and restored unto the image of Your Son and in His likeness. Amen.