What does “man is the image of God” mean?

In Genesis 1:26, “God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Hebrew root dama, from which we get ADAM).

What does the Bible mean by man being created in the image, in the likeness of God? What is certain – if we accept that God is Spirit (of course, when the Word was made flesh,the picture changes) –  is that man is composite of spirit and flesh, while God is pure Spirit. What is important is that Genesis 1:26 does not specify what it means by man as the “image of God.” If, however, we examine the rest of scripture, the following human attributes emerge, which man shares with God: creativity, power to reason, power to make decisions, moral conscience and personal relationships. These are called the communicable attributes of God. The attributes that God does not share with man are God’s incommunicable attributes, for example, his omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) and eternality (no beginning), immutability (unchanging).

Observations in the graphic:

1. God occupies the large grey section and the  blue section. God is Spirit (John 4:24); the Bible doesn’t say more about the “composition” of God’s Being.  Two important features of (God is a) “Spirit”:A. The spirit does no consist in material or bodily parts (flesh) (Jeremiah 10:1-16 and Luke 24:39). You can’t imagine Jesus before he took on flesh. B. Spirit is personal, rational (distinguishes between true and false) moral (distinguishess between right and wrong), and self-conscious. (See Francis Schaeffer – 50 minutes into the lecture). Man’s spirit shares A and B with God(‘s Spirit).
2. Man’s spirit occupies the blue section.
3. Man’s flesh occupies the lilac section.
4. The blue shaded area contains the shared (spiritual) attributes.

The term“attribute” has at least two meanings:

  1. A noun: “characteristic,” “property,,” “quality.”
  2. A verb: “to ascribe.”

In an nutshell, God creates man. Man, as is true of all creatures, has attributes. God created man in His image, which means that God gave (“communicated”) certain of His attributes to man.

We distinguish between three kinds of human image of God:

  1. Before the Fall, in the Garden of Eden Only two human beings are involved: Adam and Eve.
  2. After the Fall, outside the Garden of Eden, which comprises all human beings.
  3. Also after the Fall, which comprises those fallen human beings who have been saved by God’s grace.
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3 thoughts on “What does “man is the image of God” mean?

  1. Language either describes our deepest concepts, or creates them, or isn’t capable of doing that. I was just studying aleph and learning about the verb structure in the Hebrew language. Remember I am a learning, whereas you are very learned so be patient with me, please! To be or not to be: your quote, “The bible doesn’t say more about the “composition” of G-d’s being” is an interesting and fun one to contemplate. As I have come to understand it, the concept of “to be” is not found in Hebrew’s language structure. If ancient Hebrew didn’t have a single lone verb meaning “to be”. G-d and the thought or concept of G-d cannot be limited to a notion of “being” or “not being”. Instead the word “One” and the thought “G-d is One” is going to be something that each person perhaps has the right to decipher on his/her own, and debate with others about it or about how to best describe the concept of G-d. I found an interesting site http://hethathasanear.com/Presence.html that speaks of “the Presence that is Present”—again, though, it is language and the art of language tries to serve the soul’s experience or the essence of a thought. It is sacred in my opinion to gather to talk about what the meaning may be and Torah, if it speaks to us, it will do so as we each discover it and relate our discoveries. When I read “G-d is one” and that G-d made us in his image, to me that means that G-d is One with us and each of us have or are a part of that Oneness. Take the word atonement, for example, “at-one-ment.” Through our life struggles, sorrows and realizations of separation, we go full circle and come away from separation from G-d and one another by learning anew and gaining that atonement.

    • Elaine, yours in inverted commas.

      “Language either describes our deepest concepts, or creates them, or isn’t capable of doing that.”

      The relationship between thought and language is a knotty one. As to your sentence above, “describe” (communicate) when attributed to thoughts usually implies a linguistic medium. You can, of course, describe thoughts through pictures, but this kind of description is usually less specific than words.

      “I was just studying aleph and learning about the verb structure in the Hebrew language. Remember I am a learning, whereas you are very learned so be patient with me, please! To be or not to be: your quote, “The bible doesn’t say more about the “composition” of G-d’s being” is an interesting and fun one to contemplate. As I have come to understand it, the concept of “to be” is not found in Hebrew’s language structure. If ancient Hebrew didn’t have a single lone verb meaning “to be”. G-d and the thought or concept of G-d cannot be limited to a notion of “being” or “not being”.

      Actually the concept “to be,” in its different verb forms, e.g. “I will be whom I will be,” that is eternal being – is central to Judaism; that is what YHVH means. When it comes to grammar, yes, Hebrew doesn’t have a present tense conjugaison of “to be.” So, not “I am a man,” but “I man,” (Ani ish), “I silly” (Ani tipeish).

      “Instead the word “One” and the thought “G-d is One” is going to be something that each person perhaps has the right to decipher on his/her own, and debate with others about it or about how to best describe the concept of G-d.”

      The Bible is God’s revelation to us, not our hypotheses about God, which is what Reconstructionist Judaism maintains. Here is rabbi Bronstein: “Tradition tells us that the Torah was dictated by God to Moses, and then transmitted through the generations. Reconstructionist Jews see the Torah as the Jewish people’s response to God’s presence in the world (and not God’s gift to us). That is to say, the Jews wrote the Torah.” See my http://onedaringjew.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/the-spirit-of-reconstructionist-judaism/.

      “It is sacred in my opinion to gather to talk about what the meaning may be and Torah, if it speaks to us, it will do so as we each discover it and relate our discoveries.”

      By “if it speaks to us” do you mean if sheds light on our own thoughts and experiences?

      “When I read “G-d is one” and that G-d made us in his image, to me that means that G-d is One with us and each of us have or are a part of that Oneness.”

      We share certain attributes with God, which God has built into our natures. These are the attributes God communicated to us. In this sense we are his “image.” we are not, however (alas!), the “EXACT representation of his being” (as Jesus is described) in Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

      The noun “representation” is not the best translation, because, as we see in Hebrews 1:3, a representative of deity cannot sustain all things by the word of his power, only deity can. The adjective “exact” (identical) redeems the inadequacy of the noun it describes.

      “Take the word atonement, for example, “at-one-ment.” Through our life struggles, sorrows and realizations of separation, we go full circle and come away from separation from G-d and one another by learning anew and gaining that atonement.”

      It’s nice to “play” with language, which can yield new insights. In this case, “atonement” is a very bloody business, and without Christ shedding his blood for sinners, and one’s trust in what he has accomplished, we’d be, at best, going round and round for ever.

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