"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Treachery Of Divorce (5:31-32) by Mark Copeland


 The Treachery Of Divorce (5:31-32)


1. We live in an age of easy divorce...
   a. Many if not all states have "no-fault" divorce laws
   b. In some cases, all it takes is for one person to decide to have a
      divorce, and their spouse can do nothing to prevent it

2. What does God think about divorce?
   a. What was His view of divorce in the Old Testament?
   b. What does He think of it now?

3. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus addressed the issue of divorce...
   a. As He taught His disciples concerning the righteousness of the kingdom
   b. In which He described the effects of divorcing one's spouse

[In this lesson, "The Treachery Of Divorce", we shall use Mt 5:31-32 as
our text.  To understand Jesus' comments in their context, let's first
determine what was...]


      DIVORCE" - Mt 5:31
      1. This was the "traditional" interpretation of Deut 24:1-4;
         handed down orally
      2. In applying the Law, they had focused on the idea of giving
         certificates of divorce
      3. They concluded divorce was permissible as long as a 
         certificate of divorce was given

      1. Please read Deut 24:1-4 carefully...
         a. Verses 1-3 simply describe a particular situation
            1) WHEN a man is displeased with his wife and gives her a
               certificate a divorce and sends her out of the house...
            2) WHEN she has left and becomes another man's wife...
            3) IF her second husband detests her and gives her a bill
               of divorcement and sends her out of his house, or if the
               second husband dies...
         b. It is in verse 4 that Moses actually commands what must not be done
            1) Which was: "her former husband who divorced her must not
               take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled;
               for that is an abomination to the Lord"
            2) This passage is simply forbidding a man to remarry his
               wife after she had been married to another - cf. Jer 3:1
      2. Note also Paul's understanding of the Law - cf. Ro 7:1-3
         a. A woman was bound by the Law to her husband as long he lived
         b. If she married another while her first husband was still
            living (implying a certificate of divorce was given), she
            became an adulteress (i.e., defiled)!

[So the scribes and Pharisees had interpreted the Law to permit divorce
as long as a certificate of divorce was given to the wife.  We have 
tried to point out that was not the case.  What does Jesus say?]


      1. The only acceptable grounds for divorcing a wife is SEXUAL IMMORALITY
      2. Otherwise, divorcing a wife "causes her to commit adultery"
      3. How?  By placing her in a position where she is likely to 
         remarry, in which she becomes an adulteress
      4. This is what the Law implied in Deut 24:4 and Jer 3:1
         a. That is why the first husband couldn't take her back
         b. Even if her second husband had died!
         c. Because the wife had become "defiled"!
      5. Notice these comments by KEIL & DELITZSCH...

         "The second marriage of a woman who had been divorced is
         designated by Moses a defilement of the woman...a moral
         defilement, i.e., blemishing, desecration of the sexual
         communion which was sanctified by marriage, IN THE SAME SENSE
Lev 18:20 and Num 5:13,14..." "Thus the second marriage of a divorced woman was placed implicit upon a par with adultery, and some approach was made towards the teaching of Christ concerning marriage (Mt 5:32)..." "If the second marriage of a divorced woman was a moral defilement, of course the wife could not marry the first again even after the death of her second husband...because the defilement of the wife would be thereby repeated, and even increased, as the moral defilement which the divorced wife acquired through the second marriage was not removed by a divorce from the second husband, nor yet by his death."
6. Jesus simply made clear what the Law itself implied: To divorce a woman for any reason other than sexual immorality would cause her to be defiled (when she remarried)! 7. Therefore, I believe that a careful study of the Law concerning divorce reveals... a. That Jesus' teaching was really in harmony with the Law itself b. But the "traditional interpretation and application" of the Law had missed the mark by placing emphasis upon the mention of giving a certificate of divorce B. "WHOEVER MARRIES A DIVORCED WOMAN COMMITS ADULTERY" 1. Jesus goes on to say that anyone who marries a person who has been divorced (lit., "put away") also commits adultery! 2. Jesus does not use the definite article in reference to one put away, therefore He seems to refer to ANY "put away" person! In other words... a. A person put away for reasons OTHER than adultery cannot remarry 1) Because such would "cause them to commit adultery" 2) Or to put it in O.T. terms: "become defiled" b. Nor can a person "put away" for the reason of adultery remarry 1) For such a person is an "adulteress" or "adulterer" 2) As such, is "defiled" and would thereby cause anyone who married that person to commit adultery! CONCLUSION 1. Jesus later taught more concerning the subject of divorce and remarriage - Mt 19:3-12 a. Defining who has the right to divorce their spouse and remarry b. Indicating that some might need to "make themselves eunuchs" for the sake of the kingdom of heaven 2. But in our text (Mt 5:31-32), Jesus reveals "The Treachery Of Divorce"... a. A man who divorces his wife for any cause other than sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery (by placing her in a situation where she is likely to remarry and become defiled; i.e., an adulteress) b. Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery -- The harmful effect of divorce is seen in that it creates situations where adultery is committed! 3. Perhaps we can better understand why God hates divorce - Mal 2:13-16 a. When we put away our spouses, we treat them treacherously! - Mal 2:14 b. When we divorce our spouses, we cover our garments with violence! - Mal 2:16 4. Making divorce "legal" does not change the facts of the matter... a. The one put away still becomes defiled (commits adultery) if they remarry b. Whoever marries the one put away still commits adultery -- It is still a "treacherous" act! As difficult as Jesus' teaching on the subject of divorce might seem in today's permissive and immoral society, those who respect the authority of Jesus Christ will abide by His teaching. Have you found yourself in an adulterous relationship? There is hope in Jesus Christ (cf. 1Co 6:9-11)! Yet true repentance requires that you stop committing adultery, even if it means becoming a "eunuch" for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 19:11-12).

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

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In the “Image and Likeness of God” [Part II] by Eric Lyons, M.Min. AP Staff


In the “Image and Likeness of God” [Part II]

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.
AP Staff

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the March issue. Part II follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]


What is it that actually makes man a divine image-bearer? Or, is it even possible for one to know what it means at all? The great reformer Martin Luther believed that man cannot comprehend the meaning of imago Dei (“image of God”). He wrote:

[W]hen we speak about that image, we are speaking about something unknown. Not only have we had no experience of it, but we continually experience the opposite; and so we hear nothing but bare words.… Through sin this image was so obscured and corrupted that we cannot grasp it even with our intellect (as quoted in Chaney, 1970, 13:18, emp. added).

Admittedly, it is much easier to speak of what the “image of God” is not than what it is. The simple fact is, in most cases wrong answers are easier to eliminate than right ones are to defend. In commenting on Genesis 1:26-27, Henry Morris wrote: “This is a profound and mysterious truth, impossible to fully comprehend” (1976, p. 73, emp. added). Camp agreed: “Several elements of our nature seem to distinguish us from animals, but without scriptural guidance it is impossible to be certain which are intended” (1999, p. 44, emp. added). Wilson suggested: “The only way in which Genesis explains the image of God is to define its purpose—man’s dominion over creation—rather than its nature or location” (1974, p. 356).

Part of the difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of the “image of God” is the fact that the Bible does not define what being created in the image of God means; it simply states that to be human is to bear God’s image. Hence “whatever meaning is to be ascribed to the concept in its Biblical locus must be derived from its usage” (Anderson and Reichenbach, 1990, 33:201). How, then, is it used in Genesis 1:26-27? Speaking in a broad sense, as Morey has explained,

[d]espite all the elaborate attempts to read highly technical, theological, and philosophical concepts into the biblical words “image of God,” we should take them in their simplest meaning as they would have been understood by the people to whom Moses wrote. In this sense, “image of God” simply meant that man was created to be and do on a finite level what God was and did on an infinite level. Man was created to reflect God in the created order. Thus, we do not need to divide up the image of God into such categories as “inner and outer,” “higher and lower,” etc. Neither should we reduce the image-bearing capacity of man to one of his functions such as reason, language, or emotion. The “image of God” simply means that man reflects his creator in those capacities and capabilities which separate him from the rest of the creation. The nobility, uniqueness, meaning, worth and significance of man all rest on his being made in the image of God and being placed over the world as God’s prophet, priest, and king (Gen. 1:26,27) [1984, p. 37, emp. added].

When Moses wrote of man’s creation in the “image of God,” he did indeed “separate him from the rest of the creation.” In fact, Moses’ entire discussion appears in the context of man being different from animals. As Morris correctly observed:

[M]an was to be more than simply a very complex and highly organized animal. There was to be something in man which was not only quantitatively greater, but qualitatively distinctive, something not possessed in any degree by the animals.... [T]here can be little doubt that the “image of God” in which man was created must entail those aspects of human nature which are not shared by animals—attributes such as a moral consciousness, the ability to think abstractly, an understanding of beauty and emotion, and, above all, the capacity for worshiping and loving God (1976, p. 74).

It is apparent from the text of Genesis 1 and 2 that the creation of man differed markedly from that of all other life on Earth in at least the following ways.

(1) A “divine conference” preceded the forming of man. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26, emp. added). Such never is said of animals. Feinberg noted:

[M]an is the apex of all creation. Man’s creation by God comes as the last and highest phase of God’s creative activity.... Now there is counsel or deliberation in the Godhead. No others can be included here, such as angels, for none has been even intimated thus far in the narrative. Thus the creation of man took place not by a word alone, but as the result of a divine decree (1972, 129:238).

(2) Man’s creation was unique in that God “breathed life” into him (Genesis 2:7). As James Orr wrote in his classic text, God’s Image in Man:

The true uniqueness in man’s formation, however, is expressed by the act of the divine inbreathing.... This is an act peculiar to the creation of man; no similar statement is made about the animals. The breath of Jehovah imparts to man the life which is his own, and awakens him to conscious possession of it (1906, pp. 41,46).

(3) The sexes of mankind were not created simultaneously, as in the case of the animals. Rather, the first female was “built” from a section of the first male’s flesh and bone.

(4) Unlike animals, mankind is not broken down into species (i.e., “according to their kind” or “all kinds of”), but instead is designated by sexuality. God created them male and female (see Hamilton, 1990, p. 138).

(5) The Psalmist (8:5) spoke of man as being created a little lower than the angels (elohiym; ASV “God”). As Keil and Delitzsch put it in their commentary on Psalms:

According to Genesis 1:27 man is created in the image of God; he is a being in the image of God, and, therefore,...since he is only a little less than divine, he is also only a little less than angelic (1996, 5:154).

Leupold, in his Exposition of Genesis, commented: “Man is not only made after the deliberate plan and purpose of God but is also very definitely patterned after Him” (1942, p. 88). The psalmist’s point was that man, because he bears the image of God, is indeed “patterned after Him.”

(6) Finally, the text of Genesis 1 explicitly states that mankind alone was created in the image of God. Nowhere is such a statement made about the rest of Earth’s life forms.

Unlike the other creatures that God created, man alone bears a special resemblance to Him. Of all the living beings that dwell on planet Earth, one solitary creature was made “in the image of God.” What is it that composes the critical essence of man that distinguishes him from all of creation, and what are the ramifications of this distinction?

We believe it is unwise to restrict the meaning of the “image of God” to one particular “feature” as some have tried to do. The apostle Paul declared that man is “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29). Such a concept certainly would consist of more than one bond of similarity (cf. Chafer, 1943, 100:481). As Victor Hamilton observed: “Any approach that focuses on one aspect of man...to the neglect of the rest of man’s constituent features, seems doomed to failure” (1990, p. 137). Or, as Poe and Davis wrote: “The idea of the image of God represents a far more complex matter, however, than one essential thing” (2000, p. 136). We agree wholeheartedly. It is evident from the context of Genesis 1 that the “image of God” denotes in a number of ways how man resembles God, and yet at the same time is distinct from animals. The features that make up this image link humankind to what is above, and separate him from what is below (see Marais, 1939, 1:146). What, then, are the characteristics peculiar to man that liken him to God, differentiate him from the lower creation, and allow him to subdue the Earth?


There are several different aspects that deserve to be explored in responding to such a question. Those enumerated below certainly would be included, but are not discussed in any specific order of importance or priority.

(1) First, man is capable of speaking. Although some might consider this to be a trivial feature in man’s likeness to God, the Scriptures teach otherwise. God, in His dealings with mankind, has revealed Himself as a speaking God. The phrase “and God said” occurs ten times in Genesis 1 alone. God Almighty spoke to create the “heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” (Exodus 20:11; Psalm 33:6-9), and He spoke to communicate to man (Genesis 1:28). Then, very soon after God created Adam, He expected him to name the creatures brought before him (Genesis 2:19). Adam named the animals of the Earth; he spoke of the helper that God had created for him as “woman”; and later, when attempting to justify his sinful actions, he “creatively” offered excuses and placed blame on others (Genesis 3:9-13)—all of which indicates that man was created with the ability to speak. As Werner Gitt observed in his book, The Wonder of Man:

Only man has the gift of speech, a characteristic otherwise only possessed by God. This separates us clearly from the animal kingdom. We are able to use words creatively, but we are unable to create anything by speaking, as God can do.... We are able to express all our feelings in words, and we can enter into trusting relationships like no other beings on Earth. In addition to the necessary “software” for speech, we have also been provided with the required “hardware” (1999, p. 101).

The renowned language researcher from MIT, Noam Chomsky, has championed the idea that humans are born with a “built-in universal grammar”—a series of biological switches for complex language that is set in place in the early years of childhood. This, he believes, is why children can grasp elaborate language rules even at an early age. Powerful support for Chomsky’s theory emerged from a decade-long study of 500 deaf children in Managua, Nicaragua, which was reported in the December 1995 issue of Scientific American (see Horgan, 1995). These children started attending special schools in 1979, but none used or was taught a formal sign language. Within a few years, and under no direction from teachers or other adults, they began to develop a basic “pidgin” sign language. This quickly was modified by younger children entering school, with the current version taking on a complex and consistent grammar. If Chomsky is correct, where, then, did humans get their innate ability for language? Chomsky himself will not even hazard a guess. In his view, “very few people are concerned with the origin of language because most consider it a hopeless question” (as quoted in Ross, 1991, 264[4]:146). The development of human language, he admits, is “a mystery.” The fundamental failing of naturalistic theories is that they are inadequate to explain the origins of anything as complex and information-rich as human language, which itself is a gift from God and part of man’s having been created “in His image.”

The fact is, no animal is capable of speaking in the manner in which people can speak. Speech is a peculiarly human trait. In an article titled “Chimp-Speak” that dealt with this very point, Trevor Major wrote:

First, chimps do not possess the anatomical ability to speak. Second, the sign language they learn is not natural, even for humans. Chimps have to be trained to communicate with this language; it is not something they do in the wild. And unlike humans, trained chimps do not seem to pass this skill on to their young. Third, chimps never know more than a few hundred words —considerably less than most young children.... [E]volutionists have no way to bridge the gap from innate ability to language relying on natural selection or any other purely natural cause. Why? Because language is complex and carries information—the trademarks of intelligent design (1994, 14[3]:1).

Another MIT scientist, Steven Pinker (director of the university’s Center of Cognitive Neuroscience), stated in The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind:

As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world. For you and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other’s brains with remarkable precision. I am not referring to telepathy or mind control or the other obsessions of fringe science; even in the depictions of believers, these are blunt instruments compared to an ability that is uncontroversially present in every one of us. That ability is language. Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds. The ability comes so naturally that we are apt to forget what a miracle it is....
Language is obviously as different from other animals’ communication systems as the elephant’s trunk is different from other animals’ nostrils.... As we have seen, human language is based on a very different design. The discrete combinatorial system called “grammar” makes human language infinite (there is no limit to the number of complex words or sentences in a language), digital (this infinity is achieved by rearranging discrete elements in particular orders and combinations, not by varying some signal along a continuum like the mercury in a thermometer), and compositional (each of the infinite combinations has a different meaning predictable from the meanings of its parts and the rule and principles arranging them). Even the seat of human language in the brain is special... (2000, pp. 1,365, emp. added; parenthetical comments in orig.).

It is evident that only man was given the gift of speech. It is a fundamental part of his nature that associates him with God and separates him from the rest of creation.

(2) Second, man can write, improve his education, accumulate knowledge, and build on past achievements. The Bible mentions two occasions when God Himself wrote something. The first, of course, was on Mount Sinai when He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses: “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). The second time was during Belshazzar’s feast: “In the same hour came forth the fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote” (Daniel 5:5; cf. also 5:24-28). Werner Gitt thus observed:

Various writing systems have been devised by man, who is now able to record thoughts and ideas. The invention of writing is one of the greatest achievements of the human intellect. The human memory span is brief and the storage capacity of the brain, though vast, is limited. Both these problems are overcome by recording information in writing. Written information can communicate over vast distances; written records may last for many years, even centuries. Only nations possessing the skill of writing can develop literature, historiography, and high levels of technology. Nations and tribes without writing are thus restricted to a certain level of cultural development. Written language offers the possibility of storing information so that inventions and discoveries (like medical and technological advances) are not lost, but can be developed even further (1999, p. 103, parenthetical comment in orig.).

It is this ability to “develop even further” that allows mankind to improve his own educational levels, accumulate knowledge, and build on past achievements. The adage that we “learn from our mistakes” contains more than just a kernel of truth. It actually represents the basis of cumulative human knowledge. Human society today is in many ways a far better place than it was, say, two thousand years ago. We have cracked the human genome, developed cures for deadly diseases, and landed men on the Moon. Today the citizens of most civilized countries are better fed, better clothed, and healthier than they have ever been. Transportation, educational, medical, industrial, and even recreational facilities are vastly improved compared to those of previous generations. Prospects for mankind’s future hardly could be brighter.

But compare mankind’s achievements to those of the animal kingdom. Truth be told, animals today possess no greater knowledge than they did 200—or 2,000—years ago. Insofar as discernible improvements to their habitats, knowledge base, or past achievements are concerned, animals of this generation fare little better (if any) than their ancestors of previous generations. Humans, however, not only learn from their mistakes, but also are capable of planning and building for the future. No animal has the ability to do that. Man, as a part of his endowment in the “image of God,” has the ability to improve and progress—a trait that is conspicuously lacking in any inhabitants of the animal kingdom.

(3) Third, man is creative. In Genesis 1-2, the words “created” (bara) and “made” (asah) are used fifteen times to refer to God’s work. His omnipotence is seen in His ability to create something out of nothing simply by speaking it into existence (cf. Hebrews 1:3). The amazing and intricate design of His creation testifies to His creative prowess (see Ackerman, 1990, p. 48). Like God, man also is able to create and invent, although he does so on a distinctly different level. Consider the creativeness in Picasso’s paintings, Mozart’s music, or Goethe’s writings. Man has built spaceships that can travel 240,000 miles to the Moon; he has manufactured artificial hearts for the sick; and he continues to construct computers that can process billions of pieces of information in a fraction of a second. Animals cannot do such things because they lack the inherent creative ability with which God has endowed man. Spiders may weave intricate webs, beavers may build fascinating huts, and birds may construct homey nests, but they are guided by instinct. In his Great Texts of the Bible series, James Hastings commented:

It may possibly suggest itself here that some of the lower animals are producers no less than man. And so they are, in virtue of the instinct with which the Almighty has endowed them.... But they are artisans only, working by a rule furnished to them, not architects, designing out of their own mental resources. They are producers only, not creators... (1976, 1:53-54).

Exhaustive attempts have been made to teach animals to express themselves in art, music, writing, etc., but none has produced the hoped-for success. Beyond the simple and clumsy drawing of a circle, no attempt at creative expression has ever been observed. There is an enormous, unbridgeable gap between humans and animals in the realm of creativity and aesthetics. When one considers the genius of man’s creativeness in areas such as literature, art, science, medicine, technology, etc., it is clear that a huge gap separates man from all members of the animal kingdom—and that this gap is indeed unbridgeable. Certainly, in his creativity, man is made “in the image of God.”

(4) Fourth, closely related to man’s creative ability is his gift of reasoning. Admittedly, animals possess a measure of understanding. They can learn to respond to commands and signs, and in some cases even can be trained to use minimal portions of sign language, as in the case of the chimpanzee named Washoe who was taught certain portions of American Sign Language. But, as biologist John N. Moore has pointed out:

Although the chimpanzee Washoe has been taught the American Sign Language, such an accomplishment is primarily an increase in an ability of the anthropoid to respond to direct presentation of signs. And, further, the learned capability of the chimpanzee Lana to utilize push buttons connected with a computer to “converse” with a human trainer depends fundamentally upon increased conditional reflex response to signs (1983, p. 341, emp. in orig.).

Even though apes, dogs, and birds can be “trained” to do certain things, they cannot reason and communicate ideas with others so as to have true mental communion. The intelligence of animals is unlike that of humankind. As Moore went on to discuss,

[t]he purest and most complex manifestation of man’s symbolic nature is his capacity for conceptual thought, that is, for thought involving sustained and high order abstraction and generalization. Conceptual thought enables man to make himself independent of stimulus boundness that characterizes animal thinking. Animals, especially primates, give undeniable evidence of something analogous to human thought—analogous yet medically different in that their thought is bound to the immediate stimulus situation and to the felt impulse of the organism. Animal thinking, too, is riveted to the realm of survival (broadly taken) and therefore encompasses a variety of needs pertinent to the species as well as to the individual. These differences account for the distinction between conceptual thought, which is the exclusive prerogative of man, and perceptual thought, a cognitive function based directly upon sense perception, which man shares with animals (p. 344, emp. in orig.).

Thus, the issue is not “can animals think?,” but rather “can they think the way humans do?” The answer, obviously, is a resounding “No!” In summarizing his thoughts on this subject, Trevor Major offered the following conclusion concerning the intelligence of chimpanzees.

Are chimps intelligent? The answer is yes. Do chimps possess the same kind of intelligence as humans? The answer would have to be no. Humans are more intelligent, and they possess additional forms of intelligence. What we must remember, also, is that the greatest capabilities of the apes belong to a handful of superstars like Kanzi and Sheba. Even these animals lack the empathy, foresight, and language capabilities of all but the youngest or most intellectually challenged of our own species (1995, 15:88, emp. in orig.).

In any examination of the intellectual capacity of God’s creation, one of the most obvious differences between humans and animals is that animals do not posses the ability to know and love God. Animals cannot look at the heavens and understand them as God’s handiwork (cf. Psalm 19:1); they cannot perceive that there is a God based upon what is made (cf. Romans 1:20; Hebrews 3:4); neither can they understand God’s written revelation. For this reason, animals are neither righteous nor sinful. Feinberg was absolutely correct when he wrote that this feature “must stand forth prominently in any attempt to ascertain precisely what the image of God is” (1972, 129:246). Some authors, such as Gordon Clark, have argued that “The image must be reason because God is truth, and fellowship with him—a most important purpose in creation—requires thinking and understanding” (1969, 12:218, emp. added). While we never would go so far as Clark and limit the “image” to reason alone, it most assuredly plays a critical role in man’s rule over God’s creation and in his unique relationship to God—a relationship that animals cannot have, partly because they lack the intelligence for such.

(5) A fifth characteristic included in the “image of God” is man’s free-will capacity to make rational choices. God Himself is a Being of free will, as the Scriptures repeatedly document. The psalmist wrote: “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does” (135:6). God’s free will is apparent in Romans 9:15: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” He is a God Who “would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). God has free will, and has employed it on behalf of humanity.

As a volitional creature endowed with what we often refer to as “free moral agency,” man likewise possesses free will. And as such, he is capable of choosing his own destiny. When animals react to their environment, they are guided by instinct. The Arctic tern travels from the Arctic to the Antarctic and home again each year—a round trip of 22,000 miles—without concern for changes in climate or in the environment (see Devoe, 1964, p. 311). Salmon are able to find their way back home through thousands of miles of trackless ocean to the same river and same gravel bed where they once were hatched (Thompson and Jackson, 1982, p. 24). Salmon and Arctic terns, along with thousands of other creatures, are guided by the amazing trait we refer to as “instinct.”

But unlike animals, man does not rely primarily upon instinct for his survival. Rather, God gave him the capability to plot the course of his own life and then to carry out his plans in a rational manner. Adam and Eve freely chose to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, even after being instructed otherwise (Genesis 2:16-17). Joshua challenged Israel to serve either Jehovah or some false god (Joshua 24:15). Jesus chastised the Pharisees of His day because they were “not willing” to accept Him as the Son of God (John 5:39-40). But Adam, Eve, the Israelites, and the Pharisees did have a choice!

Today, in a similar fashion, each person has a choice regarding whether or not he or she accepts the invitation of Jesus (Revelation 22:17; Matthew 11:28-30). Unlike all of God’s other creatures that act primarily on instinct, human beings are able to think rationally and act willfully in regard to the choices they make. And, as numerous scholars have noted, it is this ability to choose that helps explain why there frequently is so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world. The simple fact is, we do not always choose correctly.

(6) Sixth, of all the creatures upon the Earth, only man has the ability to choose between right and wrong. Animals do not possess an innate sense of moral “oughtness.” A dog might be taught by his master not to do certain things, and even may fear punishment, but he certainly does not possess a conscience. A Doberman Pincher does not feel sorry about biting the paperboy; nor does he feel guilty after eating his master’s birthday cake. A lion has no pangs of conscience because it kills a young gazelle for an afternoon meal. There is simply no evidence to show that beasts possess any sense of morality or ethics.

True morality is based on the fact of the unchanging nature of Almighty God. He is eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17), holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), just and righteous (Psalm 89:14), and forever consistent (Malachi 3:6). In the ultimate sense, only He is good (Mark 10:18). Furthermore, since He is perfect (Matthew 5:48), the morality that issues from such a God is good, unchanging, just, and consistent—i.e., exactly the opposite of the relativistic, deterministic, or situational ethics of the world.

There is within each man, woman, and child a sense of moral responsibility which derives from the fact that God is our Creator (Psalm 100:3) and that we have been fashioned in His spiritual image (Genesis 1:26-27). As the potter has sovereign right over the clay with which he works (Romans 9:21), so our Maker has the sovereign right over His creation since in His hand “is the soul of every living thing” (Job 12:10). As the ancient patriarch Job learned much too late, God is not a man with whom one can argue (Job 9:32; 38:1-3; 42:1-6).

Whatever God does, commands, and approves is good (Psalm 119:39,68; cf. Genesis 18:25). What He has commanded results from the essence of His being—Who He is—and therefore also is good. In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah declared of God: “He showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). In the New Testament, the apostle Peter admonished: “As he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, ‘Ye shall be holy: for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

The basic thrust of God-based ethics concerns the relationship of man to the One Who created and sustains him. God Himself is the unchanging standard of moral law. His perfectly holy nature is the ground or basis upon which “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “evil” are determined. The Divine will—expressive of the very nature of God—constitutes the ultimate ground of moral obligation. Why are we to pursue holiness? Because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16). Why are we not to lie, cheat, or steal (Colossians 3:9)? Because God’s nature is such that He cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Since God’s nature is unchanging, it follows that moral law, which reflects the divine nature, is equally immutable.

God has not left us to our own devices to determine what is right and wrong, because He knew that through sin man’s heart would become “exceedingly corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, God has “spoken” (Hebrews 1:1), and in so doing He has made known to man His laws and precepts through the revelation He has provided in a written form within the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:11ff.; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Thus, mankind is expected to act in a morally responsible manner (Matthew 19:9; Acts 14:15-16; 17:30; Hebrews 10:28ff.) in accordance with biblical laws and precepts. Surely, then, this is a part of our having been fashioned “in the image of God.”

(7) Seventh, man possesses a conscience. While writing to the first-century Christians in Rome, Paul argued that even the ancient Gentiles, who had possessed no written law from God and who did not have access to the Law of Moses (without becoming a Jewish proselyte), nevertheless had a form of law “written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15). Hence, their consciences either accused them or excused them. Whenever man violates his conscience, he feels guilt. And although a person’s environment admittedly plays a major role in his or her individual concept of morality, the need for morality is acknowledged universally by humans all around the globe.

Furthermore, the conscience must work in close concert with our judgment in order to prompt us to review that judgment (i.e., our concept of right and wrong) to determine if we are acting in accordance with it. One of the best and most comprehensive discussions we have seen on this subject can be found in Guy N. Woods’ book, Questions and Answers.

[C]onscience is thus a safe guide in ascertaining whether our conduct is in harmony with our judgement; and, so long as it is not allowed to become hardened, seared over and callous, it serves effectively in the area which God designed for it. But, it was not intended to serve as a standard of right and wrong; and, it is not a “creature of education” so as to be equipped for such action. If we think what we are doing is right, we have a good conscience (Acts 23:1; I Tim. 1:5,19; Heb. 13:18; I Pet. 3:16,21), a pure conscience (I Tim. 3:9; II Tim. 1:3); and a conscience void of offence (Acts 24:16). If we think we are doing wrong, our conscience is evil (I Tim. 4:2). What we think, however, does not determine what is right and wrong and, like Paul when he persecuted the saints, we may have “a good conscience” although we are grievously in error. In such instances, it is the judgement which is at fault, and which must be “educated.” When this is done, the conscience will swing around and approve that which it formerly condemned, and oppose that which it before approved.... It is wrong to disregard the promptings of our conscience, because it is designed to lead us to review our judgement; but, it is our judgement (our concept of right and wrong) which determines whether the conscience approves or condemns us (1976, pp. 213-214, emp. in orig., parenthetical item in orig.).

How does one explain this? The only way to explain it is to acknowledge that man was given a conscience “in the beginning” as a part of having been created in the image of God.

(8) Eighth, like God, man can experience heart-felt emotions. Camp addressed this fact when he wrote:

Several elements of our nature seem to distinguish us from animals.... Perhaps the most fundamental difference is self-transcendence, the capacity to make oneself and the world the object of reflection. Other aspects of our uniqueness, some of which flow from self-transcendence, include moral and spiritual awareness, creativity, and abstract reasoning. We also have a unique capacity for worship, love, fellowship, and emotional experience (1999, p. 44, emp. added).

As an example of this point, consider 1 John 4:8,16, wherein the apostle recorded that “God is love.” If we were created by God in His image, then we, too, should be capable of, and radiate, love. This is why Christ told His disciples: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). And this is why Paul admonished first-century Christians: “Let all that ye do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

God can experience anger or righteous indignation [as He did when the Israelites built and worshiped a golden calf (Exodus 32), and as Christ did when He ran the moneychangers out of the Temple (Matthew 21:12)]. Thus, we, too, can experience righteous indignation (“Be ye angry, and sin not,” Ephesians 4:26).

God is merciful, as Paul described Him in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 when he referred to Him as “the Father of mercies.” Consequently, we, too, should strive to be merciful, just as Christ urged us to do when He said: “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

God is compassionate, as is evident from the fact that He said: “As I live...I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die” (Ezekiel 33:11). Furthermore, he is “longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). This is exactly why Christ commanded us: “But love your enemies, and do them good” (Luke 6:35). And so on.

(9) Ninth, man alone possesses a unique, inherent religious inclination; he has both the desire and the ability to worship. Regardless of how “primitive” or “advanced” he may be, and despite living isolated from all other humans, man always has sought to worship a higher being. And even when man departs from the true God, he still worships something. It might be a tree, a rock, or even himself. As one writer observed, evidence reveals that “no race or tribe of men, however degraded and apparently atheistic, lacks that spark of religious capacity which may be fanned and fed into a mighty flame” (Dummelow, 1944, p. ci). The steadily accumulating historical and scientific evidence forced unbelievers to accept this fact decades ago. In their text, Infidels and Heretics: An Agnostic’s Anthology, Clarence Darrow and Wallace Rice quoted the famous skeptic, John Tyndall:

Religion lives not by the force and aid of dogma, but because it is ingrained in the nature of man. To draw a metaphor from metallurgy, the moulds have been broken and reconstructed over and over again, but the molten ore abides in the ladle of humanity. An influence so deep and permanent is not likely soon to disappear... (1929, p. 146, emp. added).

More than twenty years ago, evolutionist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University admitted: “The predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature” (1978, p. 167). Thus, both believers and nonbelievers readily admit that religion is ingrained in man. Yet no chimpanzee or dog ever stopped to build an altar, sing a hymn of praise, or give a prayer of thanks. Man’s unique inclination to worship someone or something, and the fact that he alone is amenable to God (Acts 17:30; Hebrews 14:13), is a vital part of the image of God that he bears.

(10) Finally, and very likely most important, is the fact that man bears the spiritual imprint of God due to the fact that he possesses an immortal soul. Only man is endowed with an immortal soul; animals do not possess such a soul (see Thompson and Estabrook, 1999, 19:89-92). Unlike animals, man possesses a God-given spirit that returns to Him when man dies (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Such never is affirmed of animals. Scripture refers to Adam, the first man, as the son of God (Luke 3:38), and to mankind in general as “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29). No animal ever was described by such language. Man is the only physical being upon this Earth that possesses an immortal soul given to him by God—the Father of Spirits (Hebrews 12:9). This immortal spirit that is given by God (and that one day will return to Him) most assuredly makes us divine image-bearers. It likens us to God, separates us from the lower creation, and gives us a reason to live—and to live in accordance to God’s will! As Poe and Davis noted:

In whatever sense people are made in the image of God, this image or likeness refers to the sense in which people are like God. People are like all other animals in many respects related to the physical world, but people are like God in many respects related to the spiritual world (2000, p. 134, emp. added).

Leupold perhaps summarized the matter best when he stated that “...the spiritual and inner side of the image of God is, without a doubt, the most important one” (1942, p. 90). Henry Morris agreed when he wrote that the image of God “involves many things, but surely the essential fact is that man has an eternal spirit, capable of fellowship with his Creator” (1965, p. 65, emp. added). This is why, to use Hastings’ words, man is “fitted to hold communion with God” (1976, 1:57).


The Bible paints a picture of man as a being that stands on a different level from all other creatures upon the Earth. He towers high above all earthly creation because of the phenomenal powers and attributes that God Almighty has freely given him. No other living being was endowed with the capacities and capabilities, the potential and the dignity, that God instilled in each man and woman. Indeed, humankind is the peak, the pinnacle, the crown, the apex of God’s earthly creation.

Man was commanded to “subdue and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The Hebrew word for “subdue” (kabash) is described in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance as meaning “to tread down,” “to bring under subjection,” etc. The same word is used in Numbers 32:22, 29 and Joshua 18:1 where it is used to describe the subduing and pacifying of Israel’s enemies.

Man’s “pre-emptive authority” over the creation, including the animal kingdom, was demonstrated forcefully in a single stroke when God granted mankind permission to kill and eat animals for food (Genesis 9:3-4). Interestingly, however, within the same context God specifically forbade manslaughter “for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:5-6). If man “shares kinship” with animals or if animals possess immortal souls, why would God permit him to kill his own kin—relatives whose souls are no different than his own? As Neale Pryor commented: “Animals also have a ruach [a Hebrew word for “breath” or “life”—EL/BT] (Genesis 6:17). Killing one who has a ruach or nephesh would not necessarily constitute murder; otherwise animals could not be sacrificed or slaughtered” (1974, 5[3]:34). God’s prohibition against murder carried over even into New Testament times (Matthew 19:18). At the same time, however, God broadened the list of animals that men could kill and eat (Acts 10:9-14). Why was it that men could not kill other men, but could kill animals? The answer, of course, lies in the fact that animals were not created “in the image of God.”

And what a tremendous difference that fact should make in our lives! As Poe and Davis put it:

Whether people are an aspect of God or creatures of God has profound implications for human existence on earth. If people are the result of the creative activity of God based on God’s intentional, self-conscious decision to make people, then creation results from the purpose of God. People have a purpose, and this purpose emerges from the Creator-creature relationship. If, on the other hand, people are aspects of a...unity of which all things are a part, but which lacks self-consciousness, then life has no purpose. It merely exists (2000, p. 128, emp. added).

Unbelievers are forced to conclude that, in fact, life does “merely exist,” and that it has no real purpose. In his book on the origin of the Universe, The First Three Minutes, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg wrote:

It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more or less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning.... [Yet] the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless (1977, p. 154, emp. added).

The truth is, however, that man’s existence is not “pointless.” We alone have been made in the “image and likeness of God.” And while in some aspects man is indeed different from his Creator-God, we nevertheless are justified in concluding that man—to use the words of Robert Morey—was created to “be and do on a finite level what God was and did on an infinite level” (1984, p. 37, emp. added). What a thrilling concept!


Ackerman, Paul D. (1990), In God’s Image After All (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Anderson, V. Elving and Bruce R. Reichenbach (1990), “Imaged Through the Lens Darkly: Human Personhood and the Sciences,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 33:197-213, June.

Camp, Ashby L. (1999), Feet Firmly Planted (Tempe, AZ: Ktisis Publishing).

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (1943), “Anthropology: Part 3,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 100:479-496, October.

Chaney, Charles (1970), “Martin Luther and the Mission of the Church,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 13:15-41, Winter.

Clark, Gordon Haddon (1969), “The Image of God in Man,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 12:215-222, Fall.

Darrow, Clarence and Wallace Rice (1929), Infidels and Heretics: An Agnostic’s Anthology (Boston, MA: Stratford).

Devoe, Alan (1964), The Marvels and Mysteries of Our Animal World (Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest).

Dummelow, J.R., ed. (1944), The One-Volume Bible Commentary (New York: MacMillan).

Feinberg, Charles Lee (1972), “Image of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 129:235-246, July–September.

Gitt, Werner (1999), The Wonder of Man (Bielefeld, Germany: Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung E.V.).

Hamilton, Victor P. (1990), The Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Hastings, James (1976), The Great Texts of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Horgan, John (1995), “A Sign is Born,” Scientific American, 273[6]:18-19, December.

Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).

Leupold, Herbert C. (1942), Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Major, Trevor J. (1994), “Chimp-Speak,” Resources (in Reason & Revelation), 14[3]:1, March.

Major, Trevor J. (1995), “Do Animals Possess the Same Kind of Intelligence as Human Beings?,” Reason & Revelation, 15:87-88, November.

Marais, J.L. (1939), “Anthropology,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Moore, John N. (1983), How to Teach Origins without ACLU Interference (Milford, MI: Mott Media).

Morey, Robert A. (1984), Death and the Afterlife (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House).

Morris, Henry M. (1965), “The Bible is a Textbook of Science: Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 122:63-70, January.

The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Orr, James (1906), God’s Image in Man (London: Hodder and Stoughton).

Pinker, Steven (2000 reprint), The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (London: Penguin).

Poe, Harry Lee and Jimmy H. Davis (2000), Science and Faith (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman).

Pryor, Neale (1974), “Abortion: Soul and Spirit in the Hebrew Language,” Spiritual Sword, 5[3]:33-35, April.

Ross, Philip E. (1991), “Hard Words,” Scientific American, 264[4]:138-147, April.

Thompson, Bert and Sam Estabrook (1999), “Do Animals Have Souls?,” Reason & Revelation, 19:89-92, December.

Thompson, Bert and Wayne Jackson (1982), “The Revelation of God in Nature,” Reason & Revelation, 2:17-24, May.

Weinberg, Steven (1977), The First Three Minutes (New York: Basic Books).

Wilson, Edward O. (1978), On Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Wilson, S.G. (1974), “New Wine in Old Wineskins,” Expository Times, 85:356-361, September.

Woods, Guy N. (1976), Questions and Answers (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College).

In the "Image and Likeness of God" [Part I] by Eric Lyons, M.Min. AP Staff


In the "Image and Likeness of God" [Part I]

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.
AP Staff

The Hebrew slave who dwelt in Egypt 3500 years ago was considered to be the property of Pharaoh. All Egyptians detested that slave because of his association with shepherding (cf. Genesis 46:34). He labored rigorously from sunrise to sunset, constructing the impressive store-cities of Pithom and Raamases. The only one he knew who was considered to be like a god was Pharaoh, the supposed incarnation of the Sun god, Ra. Pharaoh also was considered the sole person who bore “the image of God.” The Egyptian canal digger and the merchant, the taskmaster and the Hebrew slave, all were innately inferior because they were not divine image bearers (or so they had been told, and thus so they thought). Such a designation never was applied to the common man in Egypt, nor anywhere else for that matter. The rulers of empires were the sole beings referred to as “images” of gods.

What a joy, then, it must have been for a former slave in Egypt to find out that he was created in God’s image. After generations of bondage in Egypt, the Israelite was humbled—and yet thrilled—to learn that he was as special in the eyes of Jehovah as Pharaoh thought he was in the eyes of Ra. How delighted the Gentile convert must have been when he realized that he was as much an image bearer as any king. The Gentile discovered that high-ranking officials were not the only ones who bore God’s image. Rather, mankind as a whole was created God’s vice-regent.

Outside the Bible, archaeologists and historians never have found where mankind in general was said to have been created in the “image” of a particular god. Three Akkadian texts from the Sargonic period of Assyria’s history use the Akkadian cognate of tselem (“image”), but it is employed only in a context where kings are being discussed (Miller, 1972, 91:294-295). Genesis 1:26-27 describes all mankind with language that previously had been applied only to the supreme rulers of nations.

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

The Creator of the Universe has honored mankind by endowing him with certain qualities that are intrinsic to His nature. Through the centuries, many have contemplated the meaning of the phrase “in the image and likeness of God.” Much has been written on the subject, and no doubt much more is yet to be written. Here, however, we would like to take a logical approach in searching for this meaning. First, we intend to narrow the possibilities by eliminating inaccurate definitions. Second, we want to discuss whether the image of God in man has been “lost,” as some have claimed. And third, we plan to deal with the actual meaning of the Bible’s statement that man exists in the image and likeness of God, and investigate the ramifications of that statement for those people today who want to build and sustain a rock-solid faith based on this marvelous truth.


Before we elaborate on what being created in the image and likeness of God means, it is appropriate to inquire as to what it does not mean. First, it does not mean that we are divine. Satan strives daily, of course, to persuade us to believe that we are God (cf. Genesis 3:5). In fact, deification of self is the central message of the New Age Movement (see Bromling, 1989, p. 39). Consider, for example, the following quotation from Ramtha, a so-called “channeled” spirit that allegedly speaks from a higher realm through New Ager J.Z. Knight:

“I am Ramtha, the Enlightened One, indeed. And who be you, my most illustrious brotheren [sic], who have gathered yourselves into this wondrous audience? You be that which is termed Man, you be that which is termed Christus, you be that which is termed God. Fallacy? Reality! You be of your importance and your value and your word far greater than that which you have first concluded yourself to be. You be the totality of all that The Father is: God Supreme. What else be there? What grander state is there?” (see Ramtha 1985, p. 22, emp. added).

This is the same message that leaps from the pages of the writings of Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine. In her book, Out on a Limb, she told of her discussions with a friend by the name of Kevin Ryerson who allegedly was able to “channel” John—a disembodied spirit from the days of Christ’s earthly sojourn. Once, when Ms. MacLaine was speaking with “John,” he allegedly said to her: “[Y]our soul is a metaphor for God.... You are God. You know you are divine” (1983, p. 188,209, emp. in orig.). In addressing what she refers to as her “higher self ” in her book, Dancing in the Light, MacLaine said: “I am God, because all energy is plugged in to the same source. We are each aspects of that source. We are all part of God. We are individualized reflections of the God source. God is us and we are God” (1991, p. 339, emp. added). In her 1989 book, Going Within, she wrote: “I, for example, do a silent mantra with each of my hatha yoga poses. I hold each yoga position for twenty seconds and internally chant, ‘I am God in Light’ ” (1989, p. 57).

In the book he authored refuting MacLaine’s views, Out on a Broken Limb, lawyer F. LaGard Smith stated:

The heart and soul of the New Age movement, which Ms. MacLaine embraces along with her reincarnation ideas, is nothing less than self-deification.... But it really shouldn’t be all that surprising. All we had to do was put the equation together: We are One; God is One; therefore, we are God. The cosmic conjugation is: I am God, you are God, we are God.... Surely if someone tells herself repeatedly that she is God, it won’t be long before she actually believes it! (1986, pp. 178,179-180,181, emp. in orig.).

When Shirley MacLaine stands on the sands of the beach and yells out loud, “I am God,” she literally means just what she says! But such a concept is not inherent in the biblical statement that mankind has been created in the “image and likeness of God.” God’s Word does not indicate that He created men and women in His essence, but in His image (Genesis 1:26). Only God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God revealed this truth when He said to the king of Tyre through Ezekiel: “You say, ‘I am a god, and sit in the seat of gods, in the midst of the seas,’ yet, you are a man and not a god” (Ezekiel 28:2, emp. added). In the Bible, only the wicked elevate themselves to the status of deity. King Herod flirted with self-deification—and died in a horrific manner as a result. Luke reported the event as follows:

So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not the voice of a man!” Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten of worms and died (Acts 12:21-23).

This stands in stark contradistinction to the reaction of Paul and Barnabas when the heathens at Lystra attempted to worship them (Acts 14:8-18). Had they held the same views as Shirley MacLaine and her New-Age kin, these two preachers would have encouraged the crowds in Lystra to recognize not only the preachers’ deity but their own deity as well! Yet, consider the response they offered instead:

They rent their garments, and sprang forth among the multitude, crying out and saying, “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, that ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is” (Acts 14:14-15).

The testimony of the Creation itself is not that man is God, but rather that God transcends both this world and its inhabitants. In Romans 1, the apostle Paul spoke directly to this point.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness; because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. ...Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, so that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature, rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever (Romans 1:18-25).

The idea of self-deification effectively eliminates the entire scheme of redemption, and negates 4,000 years of Heaven’s interaction in men’s lives. It denies the role of Jesus in creation (John 1:1-3), the amazing prophetic accuracy of the Old and New Testaments (1 Peter 1:10-12), the providential preservation of the messianic seed (Galatians 3:16), the miraculous birth of Christ (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23), the significance of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), and the hope of His second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). When man decides to declare his own deity, he foments rebellion against the legitimate Inhabitant of heaven’s throne. And he will bear the consequences of that rebellion, just as angels of old did (Jude 6). Certainly, then, the phrase recorded in Genesis 1:27 which states that “God created man in his own image” does not mean that man is God.

Second, this description of man obviously does not refer to his physical appearance. It is true, of course, that some writers have suggested exactly the opposite, and have defended the view that when the Bible speaks of man being created “in the image of God,” it means a physical image. Theodore Nöldeke argued as early as 1897 that the concept of the “image of God” basically had to do with man’s physical appearance (see Miller, 1972, 91:292-293). Hermann Gunkel also took this position in his commentary on Genesis (1964, p. 112). In 1940, after respected theologian Paul Humbert published his now-famous word studies of tselem (“image”) and demuth (“likeness”), the view that the “image of God” actually was something physical became more widely accepted by many critical scholars (Miller, 91:293).

Others, although careful to place more emphasis on the fact that man was indeed created in the spiritual image of God, nevertheless have suggested that “in some sense, therefore, even man’s body is in God’s image in a way not true of animals” (Morris, 1976, p. 74). In his book, The Genesis Record, Henry M. Morris wrote:

There is something about the human body, therefore, which is uniquely appropriate to God’s manifestation of Himself, and (since God knows all His works from the beginning of the world—Acts 15:18), He must have designed man’s body with this in mind. Accordingly, He designed it, not like the animals, but with an erect posture, with an upward gazing countenance, capable of facial expressions corresponding to emotional feelings, and with a brain and tongue capable of articulate, symbolic speech (1976, p. 4, parenthetical comment in orig.).

While it might be tempting to believe such an interpretation of Genesis 1:26-27, the actual phrase “image of God” does not refer to the fact that man’s physical being has a form or shape like God. It does not mean that God has two eyes, two ears, two arms, and two legs. As T. Pierce Brown noted:

The fact that God is spoken about as one who has eyes, hands, ears, and so on, has no bearing on the subject for two reasons. First, if God is trying to let us know that He can observe us, hear us, and minister to us, He has to do it in words that mean something to us. These expressions are called “anthropomorphisms” or “forms of man” figures of speech. Second, a bird or a fish may have eyes without being in the form of a man. So it is not without reason to speak about God’s eyes, ears, or hands, although He is Spirit (1993, 135[8]:50).

Nor does man’s creation in God’s image have anything to do with man’s posture, as Morris suggested in the last sentence of his assessment. Some have attempted to make a connection between Genesis 1:26-27 and Ecclesiastes 7:29 where it is stated: “God hath made man upright.” But as L.S. Chafer correctly noted, “God, being incorporeal, is neither perpendicular nor horizontal in His posture” (1943, 100:481). Gordon H. Clark addressed this topic when he wrote:

This image cannot be man’s body for two reasons. First, God is spirit or mind and has no body. Hence a body would not be an image of him. Second, animals have bodies, yet they are not created in God’s image. If anyone should suggest that man walks upright, so that his bodily position could be the image, the reply is not merely that birds also walk on two legs, but that Genesis distinguishes man from animals by the image and not by any physiological structure (1969, 12:216).

In their commentary on the Pentateuch, Keil and Delitzsch remarked:

There is more difficulty in deciding in what the likeness to God consisted. Certainly not in the bodily form, the upright position, or the commanding aspect of man, since God Himself has no bodily form, and the man’s body was formed from the dust of the ground (1996, 1:39).

Being made in the image of God, then, does not refer to the physical body, the posture, or the authoritative aspect of man.

Although it is true that the word “image” (Hebrew tselem) is a term used in certain contexts within the Old Testament to refer to a model or to idols (and thus can refer to a similarity in physical appearance), it cannot, and does not, denote such meaning in Genesis 1:26-27, nor in any of the other passages referring to the imago Dei (“image of God”). God is not “like unto gold, or silver, or stone” (i.e., He is not physical; Acts 17:29). As Ashby Camp observed:

God, of course, is a spirit (Jn. 4:24), and the O.T. stresses his incorporeality and invisibility (see Ex. 20:1-4; Deut. 4:15-16), so the resemblance no doubt relates to some nonphysical aspect(s) of humanity (1999, p. 44).

Since it is the case that a spirit “hath not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39; cf. Matthew 16:17), then man does not bear the image of God in his physical nature.

Third, the “image” (tselem) of God does not refer to something different than the “likeness” (demuth) of God. The Greek and Latin “church fathers” frequently suggested a distinction between the two words. They taught that tselem referred to the physical, and demuth to the ethical, part of the divine image (Feinberg, 1972, 129:237). Other theologians (like Irenaeus, A.D. 130-c. 200) taught that “image” denoted man’s unchangeable essence (viz., his freedom and rationality), whereas “likeness” referred to the changing part of man (i.e., his relationship with God). The first thus related to the very nature of man, while the second was that which could be lost (Crawford, 1966, 77:233). As of 1972, this still was the official view of the Roman Catholic Church (Feinberg, 129:237). It is not a correct view, however, as Hoekema pointed out:

The word translated as image is tselem; the word rendered as likeness is demuth. In the Hebrew there is no conjunction between the two expressions; the text says simply “let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate insert an and between the two expressions, giving the impression that “image” and “likeness” refer to different things. The Hebrew text, however, makes it clear that there is no essential difference between the two: “after our likeness” is only a different way of saying “in our image.” This is borne out by examining the usage of these words in this passage and in the two other passages in Genesis. In Genesis 1:26, both image and likeness are used; in Genesis 1:27 only image is used, while in 5:1 only the word likeness is used. In 5:3 the two words are used again but this time in a different order: in his likeness, after his image. And again in 9:6 only the word image is used. If these words were intended to describe different aspects of the human being, they would not be used as we have seen them used, that is, almost interchangeably.... The two words together tell us that man is a representation of God who is like God in certain respects (1986, p. 13, emp. in orig.).

Despite the influence of those who claim that these words carry very different ideas about the image of God, a careful study of such passages as Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1-3, and 9:6 reveals that, in fact, these two Hebrew words do not speak of two different entities. “Likeness” simply emphasizes the “image.” As William Dyrness noted in regard to tselem and demuth: “[T]he two words should be seen as having complementary rather than competing meanings. The first stresses its being shaped and the second its being like the original in significant ways” (1972, 15:162). Charles Feinberg, writing on “The Image of God” in the respected religious journal Bibliotheca Sacra, agreed when he remarked:

A careful study of Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1,3; and 9:6 will show beyond question that it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the two Hebrew terms are not referring to two different entities. In short, use reveals the words are used interchangeably (1972, 129:237).

There actually is no good evidence for making any distinction between the two and, in fact, the words are essentially synonymous in this context. Keil and Delitzsch remarked in their commentary on Genesis that the two words are “merely combined to add intensity to the thought” (1996, 1:39). As Clark put it: “Man is not two images. To distinguish between image and likeness is fanciful exegesis” (1969, 12:216).

Fourth, the “image” has nothing to do with the sexual distinction between man and woman. Karl Barth, one of the most popular theologians of the twentieth century, suggested, however, that it did (see Clark, 12:216). Yet how could this be the image of God in man if a sexual distinction also is present in animals? Furthermore, since there are no sexual distinctions in the Godhead (spirits do not have a gender), one wonders how this could be the image at all. Realistically, sexuality could not be the image of God that man possesses.

Fifth, the “image” is not man’s domination of the lower creation around him. In a “letter to the editor” that Norman Snaith penned to the Expository Times in 1974, he boldly claimed:

The meaning is that God created man to be his agent, his representative in ruling all living creatures, and he was given sufficient (to quote the psalm) “honour and glory” to do this.... Biblically speaking, the phrase “image of God” has nothing to do with morals or any sort of ideals; it refers only to man’s domination of the world and everything that is in it. It says nothing about the nature of God, but everything concerning the function of man (1974, 86:24, emp. added, parenthetical comment in orig.).

In regard to this kind of thinking, we would be wise to remember that

man must exist before dominion can be invested in him, and that man has authority because of the truth that he is made in the image or likeness of God. The authority is not the cause of the image or likeness, but the image and likeness is the ground of the authority (Chafer, 1943, 100:481, emp. added).

In commenting on this subject James Hastings wrote:

The view that the Divine image consists in dominion over the creatures cannot be held without an almost inconceivable weakening of the figure, and is inconsistent with the sequel, where the rule over the creatures is, by a separate benediction, conferred on man, already made in the image of God. The truth is that the image marks the distinction between man and the animals, and so qualifies him for dominion: the latter is the consequence, not the essence, of the Divine image (1976, 1:48, emp. added).

“Dominion,” Keil and Delitzsch noted, “is unquestionably ascribed to man simply as the consequence or effluence of his likeness to God” (1996, 1:39). As William H. Baker commented: “[I]t is the presence of the image of God in people that makes them able to exercise dominion over the earth. Dominion itself is not what constitutes the image” (1991, p. 39, emp. in orig.). Although somewhat closely related to the image of God, exercising dominion over the world is not itself that image.


Through the years, numerous scholars have suggested that the image of God spoken of in Genesis 1:26-27 refers to some sort of “spiritual perfection” that was lost at the time of man’s fall, and thus is incomprehensible to us today. Reformer Martin Luther claimed that the image was an original righteousness that was lost completely. He averred: “I am afraid that since the loss of this image through sin, we cannot understand it to any extent” (as quoted in Dyrness, 1972, 15:163, emp. added). John Calvin similarly spoke of the image of God as having been destroyed by sin, obliterated by the Fall, and utterly defaced by man’s unrighteousness (see Hoekema, 1986, p. 43). At other times, he took a less “hard-core” approach and vacillated between a complete loss and a partial loss of the image. In his commentary on Genesis, he wrote: “But now, although some obscure lineaments of that image are found remaining in us, yet are they so vitiated and maimed, that they may truly be said to be destroyed” (as quoted in Hoekema, p. 45, emp. added). Keil and Delitzsch commented that the “concrete essence of the divine likeness was shattered by sin; and it is only through Christ, the brightness of the glory of God and the expression of His essence (Heb. 1:3), that our nature is transformed into the image of God again (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24)” [1996, 1:39]. Canadian anthropologist Arthur C. Custance, in his book, Man in Adam and in Christ, observed:

Genesis tells us that man was created in a special way, bearing the stamp of God upon him which the animals did not bear. Genesis also tells us that he lost it.... Now while Adam himself was created with this image, his disobedience so robbed him of it that all his children thereafter bore not the image of God but his—and even his likeness (1975, pp. 103, 109, first emp. added, last emp. in orig.).

When we see in Genesis 1:26-27 that man was created in the “image and likeness of God,” does the language refer only to Adam and Eve as these writers would have us to believe? Or does it refer to all mankind in general?

It is our position that the “image of God” spoken of in Genesis 1:26-27 does not refer to some kind of “spiritual perfection,” especially considering the fact that the members of the Godhead (Who created man) are omniscient and therefore knew that man would sin. Why would Deity create man with an image that required spiritual perfection, knowing beforehand that man was going to sin and thereby “lose” that image? Granted, if this phrase referred just to a sinless condition, then it would have been lost in the Fall and man no longer could be called God’s image bearer. Yet the Bible clearly reveals that man still retained the image of God after the Fall. In addressing this fact, Gordon H. Clark remarked:

Can man still be in the image of God? Yes, the image is still there. Paradoxical though it may seem, man could not be the sinner he is, if he were not still God’s image. Sinning presupposes rationality and voluntary decision. Animals cannot sin. Sin therefore requires God’s image because man is responsible for his sins. If there were no responsibility, there could be nothing properly called sin. Sin is an offense against God, and God calls us to account. If we were not answerable to God, repentance would be useless and even nonsense. Reprobation and hell would also be impossible.... [T]he fall and its effects, which have so puzzled some theologians as they studied the doctrine of the image, are most easily understood by identifying the image with man’s mind.... “Out of a man’s heart proceed evil thoughts.” Note that in the Bible the term heart usually designates the intellect, and only once in ten times the emotions; it is the heart that thinks. Sin thus interferes with our thinking. It does not, however, prevent us from thinking. Sin does not eradicate or annihilate the image. It causes a malfunction, but man still remains man (1969, 12:216,217-218, emp. in orig.).

Various writers have suggested that the image of God in man has been damaged by sin, but not destroyed. Feinberg, in speaking of the image of God as what he called an “inalienable part of man’s constitution,” spoke of that image as currently being in a “marred, corrupted, and impaired state” (1972, 129:245). Hoekema elaborated on the same point when he wrote:

In other words, there is also a sense in which human beings no longer properly bear the image of God, and therefore need to be renewed in that image. We could say that in this latter sense the image of God in man has been marred and corrupted by sin. We must still see fallen man as an image-bearer of God, but as one who by nature...images God in a distorted way (1986, p. 31).

The well-known British writer of Oxford University, C.S. Lewis, expressed this very idea in a most unforgettable manner via a personal letter to one of his friends.

[I]ndeed the only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is the distortion of an energy breathed into us.... We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege (1966, pp. 71-72).

While the fall of man was tragic, and the consequences far-reaching, man’s sin did not so completely shatter the image of God within him that it no longer existed. Man still possessed the ability to discern right from wrong. He still had the desire, and the capability, to worship his Creator. The late Reuel Lemmons, while editor of the Firm Foundation, devoted one of his editorials to this concept.

The fall did not impair man’s ability to reason nor destroy his desire to worship. If so, then where did Abel’s sacrifice come from? If Calvin’s view were right, then the world would have been left completely without a witness to the very existence of God from Adam at least until Jesus. If the link were completely shattered, and man was a wandering star, consigned to the blackness of unrelatedness with God, then where did the Old Testament come from?
The fact is that man was then and is now in the image of God. He never lost the capacity to respond to God, even though separated from God because of his rebellion. His sacrifices throughout the Patriarchal age, and his submission to ten commandment law in the Mosaic age, demonstrates the fact that his “image” was never totally shattered. He retained his capacity to recognize the law of the Lord, and even to correct his wayward ways through repentance. Although dimmed and obscured by rebellion, the image was still visible (1980, 97:546).

G. Campbell Morgan, in his book, The Crises of the Christ, lamented: “By the act of sin, the image and likeness of God in man was not destroyed but defaced, and in all the history contained in the Old Testament Scripture, is seen a degraded ideal” (1903, p. 26). In Genesis 5:1-3, Moses recorded:

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.

There would be no point in once again proclaiming Adam and Eve as image bearers if, by this time, the divine likeness already had vanished. Thus, in spite of Custance’s insistence that Adam’s “children thereafter bore not the image of God but his,” the real truth is that “the likeness of God that stamped Adam (and Eve) was perpetuated in his offspring, despite the corruption caused by sin” (Camp, 1999, p. 45, parenthetical item in orig.). That is to say, Seth, being made in the likeness of Adam, similarly possessed the “image of God,” just as his father had. In addressing the fact that man’s sin did not cause the loss of his humanity, Feinberg wrote:

Nowhere does the Old Testament indicate that the divine image and likeness are lost.... When one contemplates Genesis 9:6; James 3:9; and 1 Corinthians 11:7, it can be seen that it is incorrect to say unqualifiedly that the image of God was lost through sin. There are references where man’s nature after the fall is still the “work and creature of God” (see Deut. 32:6; Isa. 45:11; 54:5; 64:8; Acts 17:25; Rev. 4:11; Job 10:8-12; Ps. 139:14-16). The insurmountable obstacle to the position that the image of God is entirely lost through the fall is the fact that even fallen man is man and is not short of his humanity.... [T]hat which relates to rationality, conscience, and self-consciousness cannot be less, for then man would cease to be man. In spite of the fall, man did not become a beast or a demon, but retained his humanity (129:245).

Perhaps an even stronger argument may be found in the passage in Genesis 9:6, to which Feinberg referred. It states: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: For in the image of God made he man” (emp. added). According to this passage, fallen man still bears the image of God. The account of Adam and Eve’s fall had been recorded earlier in the book; that man had become a rank sinner is stated unequivocally in the immediate context of the passage. “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (8:21). Although God’s assessment was absolutely correct in regard to mankind, “in Genesis 9:6 murder is forbidden because man was made in the image of God—that is, he still bears that image” (Hoekema, 1986, p. 17). Chafer rightly commented:

To sin against man either by murder or by slander is reprovable on the ground of the divine image being resident in man. A definite sacredness appertains to human life. Man must respect his fellow man, not on the ground of kinship, but on the ground of the exalted truth that human life belongs to God. To injure man is to injure one who bears the image of God (1943, 100:489-490).

Anderson and Reichenbach added: “To kill a human is to forfeit one’s own life, for the denial of another’s image is a denial of one’s own. This value emphasis is reiterated in James 3:9, where to curse persons is to fail to properly recognize the image of God in them” (1990, 33:198).

If one suggests that Genesis 9:6 is referring only to the past and says nothing about the future, then he does violence to the meaning and intent of the passage. Moses, writing approximately 2,500 years after the Fall, said that the reason murder is wrong is because the victim is someone created in the image of God. If man no longer bore the image of God after the Fall (and apart from redemption), these words would have been completely meaningless to the Israelites (and, thus, subsequently, are valueless for man today). Without doubt, this passage teaches that man still bears the image of God. Notice what King David wrote about man approximately 3,000 years after his initial sin in Eden.

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:4-6).

Although this statement does not contain the phrase, “image of God,” it nevertheless reminds one of the proclamation contained in Genesis 1:26-27. David used powerful, poetic language to describe contemporary mankind as having “all things under his feet.” As Keil and Delitzsch affirmed: “...[I]t is the existing generation of man that is spoken of. Man, as we see him in ourselves and others...is a being in the image of God” (1996, 5:94-95, emp. added). Nowhere does the Old Testament indicate that the divine image was lost. Thus, it is incorrect to say (at least unqualifiedly) that the image of God vanished when sin entered the world.

In the New Testament, one can read where the apostle Paul, in addressing the then-current subject of head coverings, wrote: “Man ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7, emp. added). Paul used a present active participle in describing man’s nature to note that man “is” the image, not that he “was” or “used to be” the image of God. Elsewhere in the New Testament, James wrote: “But the tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God” (3:8-9, emp. added). The English verb “are made” (ASV) derives from the Greek gegonotas, which is the perfect participle of the verb ginomai. The perfect tense in Greek is used to describe an action brought to completion in the past, but whose effects are felt in the present (Mounce, 1993, p. 219). For example, when the Bible says “it is written,” this usually is stated in the perfect tense. That is to say, scripture was written in the past, but is applicable in the present. The thrust of the Greek expression, kath’ homoisosin theou gegonotas (“who are made after the likeness of God”), is that humans in the past have been made according to the likeness of God and they still are bearers of that likeness. For this reason, as Hoekema noted, “It is inconsistent to praise God and curse men with the same tongue, since the human creatures whom we curse [whether Christians or non-Christians—EL/BT] still bear the likeness of God” (p. 20).

A final text that speaks to the fact that man still bears God’s image can be found in Acts 17:28-29 where Paul, preaching to the pagan Gentiles in Athens, quoted from their own poets and proclaimed that the whole human race is of the offspring of God. He did not say that man was a divine image bearer and then lost that image. He said, “we are (esmen) also his offspring” (17:28). The Greek esmen is the first person plural of eimi (to be). This recognition—of being Jehovah’s offspring—served as a basis for the apostle’s argument, as the next verse clearly indicates: “Being then the offspring of God...” (Acts 17:29, emp. added).

None of the above verses can be viewed as teaching that the image of God has been lost. But this fact does not minimize the devastating impact of sin, which always has been repulsive and always will be. According to biblical instruction, sin did not destroy the divine image stamped upon man by Jehovah. While it is true that after the Flood, God referred to the imagination of man’s heart as being evil “from his youth” (Genesis 8:21), it also is true that just a few lines later, Moses recorded God as telling Noah that murder is wrong because man is a divine image bearer (9:6). Thus, Hoekema properly remarked:

We may indeed think of the image of God as having been tarnished through man’s fall into sin, but to affirm that man had by this time completely lost the image of God is to affirm something that the sacred text does not say (p. 15).

If, then, it is the case that the image of God does not refer to “spiritual perfection,” how does one correlate the image that Christ Himself possessed, and “the renewed image” that Christians possess, with such passages as Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 9:6, and James 3:9—each of which teaches that man innately bears God’s image? The answer, of course, lies in the fact that the “image of God” applied to Jesus in the New Testament is a much “fuller” term than is intended in the usage found in Genesis 1:26-27. That is to say, the image Jesus possessed (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3) is one that included spiritual flawlessness and the glory that emanated from the Lord’s divine nature (two traits, incidentally, that humans do not, and cannot, possess). It is obvious that Jesus represented the “image of God” in an extremely unique sense. As Robert Morey has suggested:

This is why the Apostle Paul could refer to Jesus as the messianic image-bearer of God (Col. 1:15). As the second Adam, Christ was the full and complete image-bearer. This is why Christ could say that to see Him was to see the Father (John 14:9). Christ reflected on a finite level as the second Adam what the Father was like on an infinite level (1984, p. 37).

While it is true—as both Old and New Testament testimony makes clear—that God created man in His image, the Bible similarly teaches that Christ bore the image of God. He was the perfect image—an unsurpassed example of what God wants each of us to be like. When Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 about how “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them,” he used the word eikon for “image”—the Greek equivalent of tselem. Verse 6 of that same chapter elaborates on what, exactly, he meant by his use of that term: “Seeing it is God that said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul reiterated this same fact when he wrote in Colossians 1:15 of Jesus, “who is the image of the invisible God.” This is precisely the point Christ Himself was making when He said to Philip: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Boiled down to their essence, the two passages amount to this: If you look carefully at Christ, you will see God, since Jesus is His perfect image. There is a remarkable corollary in Hebrews 1:1-4:

God...has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (NKJV, emp. added).

According to W.E. Vine, the word translated in this passage as “image” (charakter) denotes

a stamp or impress, as on a coin or a seal, in which case the seal or die which makes an impression bears the image produced by it, and, vice versa, all the features of the image correspond respectively with those of the instrument producing it (1966, p. 247, emp. added).

Just as one can look at a coin and know exactly what the die was like that produced it, so we can look at Christ and know exactly what the Father is like. In commenting on the Greek word charakter that the writer of the book of Hebrews employed, Hoekema observed:

It is hard to imagine a stronger figure to convey the thought that Christ is a perfect reproduction of the Father. Every trait, every characteristic, every quality found in the Father is also found in the Son, who is the Father’s exact representation (1986, p. 21, emp. in orig.).

When we reflect on the fact that Christ is the perfect image of God and is one with Him, it helps us understand just how much we are able to view God through Christ. Because Christ was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), we can witness the image of God in all of its perfection. Christ bore the image of God in a way that man cannot. For example, when Paul referenced Psalm 8:6 in his letter to the Corinthians (“He has put all things under His feet”—1 Corinthians 15:27), he took a passage of Scripture that applies to all men and applied it in a distinctive fashion to Jesus. Although God has indeed put all things under the feet of mankind, He has given His Son dominion over “all things” in a deeper, more permanently abiding sense. Men, for example, can control and dominate the animal kingdom, but they cannot cause donkeys to speak (Numbers 22:21-30) or shut the mouths of hungry lions (Daniel 6:11-24; 1 Kings 13:28). One can see clearly that the language applied to man likewise applied to Christ, yet when applied to Christ, it was used in an exclusive manner.

Using the same type of logic, it also is reasonable to conclude that the image of God possessed by Christians (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:22-24) simply is one that is more “refined” than what non-Christians possess. In commenting on Colossians 3:10, Camp wrote:

Paul here implies that sin makes man less like God than he should be, but I believe he is using “image of his Creator” in a fuller sense than intended in Gen. 1:26-27. Man is like God in some aspects of his nature and therefore has the potential (and duty) of being like God in action. The sinner is less like God in action, even if the divine aspects of his nature are unchanged, and therefore can be said to be less like his Creator (1999, p. 47, emp. added, parenthetical item in orig.).

Realistically then, “the things that make mankind in the image of God are still present in the worst sinner as well as in the best saint” (Brown, 1993, 138[8]:50). All kings and peasants, all sinners and saints, possess God’s image; it is the use of this image that makes the difference in mankind’s relationship with God.

[to be continued]


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