So God created man in His own image, in the image of God
him; male and female created He them (Genesis 1:27).
What does it mean to say that I am created in the
image of God? In our previous lesson, we examined what God is. We
pointed out that biblically and logically God is not a physical,
anthropomorphic (man-like) being. If we follow that logic, it should be
obvious that to be in God’s image cannot be a physical creation.
The left-hand picture above is me. The pictures to
the right are all pictures created in my image. It is obvious that the
pictures are identical. The reason they are identical is because they
are created in the same image. If I am created in the physical image of
God, and if you are also created in the physical image of God, then
what will be true of you and me? Obviously, we would look exactly the
same. Fortunately for you, that is not the case.
|HEBREW Words for GOD
in Genesis, 6,000 in Old Testament
If we are not in God’s physical image, then what
does Genesis 1:27 refer to? The answer is found in the meaning of the
word “God” in the Hebrew language. The chart above shows the
words translated “God” in the Old Testament of the Bible and what their
uses and meanings are. You will notice that the word Elohim is used
exclusively in Genesis 1. This word conveys the power, strength, and
majesty of God. It is also a plural word. This pluralness is carried
all through the scriptures. In Genesis 1:26 we read “Let us create man
in our image.” The question is “Who is He talking to?”
By reading further, we find the reason for this
plural usage. Genesis 1:2 tells us that “the Spirit of God moved upon
the face of the waters.” John 1:1; Colossians 1:13–19; and other
passages tell us that Jesus was there at the beginning. In Matthew
28:19 we read, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit” (NIV). There are three separate entities to this thing that we
call God—and yet one God. So, too are there three separate entities to
each of us—and yet each of us is a single being.
Man is created in God’s image in that man possesses
the ability to function in total freedom from instinct. This is a major
difference between man and animals. Animals are driven almost entirely
by their instincts. Man’s behavior, on the other hand, is not a product
of instincts. Man acts in the past, present, and the future on a basis
that is not instinctive in any way. Man creates art and music, worships
God, and engages in a myriad of activities that lie outside of
The skeptic may respond that
man’s ability to do
these things is caused by his intelligence. The human brain is a
wonderful piece of equipment, but it is not the cause of our ability to
worship, create art, feel guilt, be sympathetic, or many of the other
characteristics which are unique to man. I have a mentally retarded son
with an IQ of less than 50, but he does all of these things that we are
discussing. There are apes with IQs close to 100 such as Koko, the
gorilla at Stanford University, trained and studied by Penny Patterson.
While researchers tend to anthropomorphize their subjects (turn them
into humans) just as many people do with their pets, the fact is that
worship, artistic creativity, musical creativity, guilt, sympathy,
forgiveness, and altruistic behavior do not stand out as
characteristics clearly seen in gorillas, chimpanzees, or any other
animals. Humans that we may have written off as vegetables do the
things about which I am talking, and intelligent animals do not.
Another skeptic response to this discussion may be
that what we are talking about is a learned behavior. The idea is that
if we raise our child in certain ways, and that if we raised a
chimpanzee the same way we raised our child the chimp would do
everything our child does. This experiment has been performed a number
of times, beginning with work at Indiana University in the 1950s.
Chimps raised in human homes are resourceful and demonstrate amazing
abilities, but they do not become humans, nor do they demonstrate the
special human characteristics in any way or to any degree. Ultimately
normal chimpanzee behavior is displayed.
We are not just created in God’s image with the
characteristic we have called intellect. We also are in God’s image by
being created with characteristics that are in the image of His Son.
John 1:1–14 tells us that God became flesh and dwelt among us. In Jesus
we see another set of characteristics that are unique to human beings,
but have nothing to do with intellect. As you look at the
the right, what do you see happening? Is the dog expressing massive
guilt for having chewed up the slipper?
We tend to anthropomorphize animals, and it is easy
to tell ourselves that the dog is expressing great guilt by cowering
and slinking along the ground. The fact is that the dog has learned
that if he looks pathetic enough, he avoids the consequences of
whatever has displeased his master. There is no evidence that animals
feel guilt, have sympathy, compassion, or can love in the agape type of
self-sacrificial love that Jesus called for from His followers. This is
another set of characteristics that are peculiar to man and are
evidences of man’s spiritual nature—created in the image of God.
Mentally challenged humans do demonstrate these
characteristics. These special characteristics are even seen in feral
children who are not raised in human homes. In spite of the fact that
we try to turn our pets into humans in one way or another, these
characteristics are not seen in objective experiments.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to
soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body
in hell (Matthew 10:28, KJV).
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray
whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming
of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23, KJV, italics is in the
What we are showing you in these verses is that just
as the biblical picture of God is a plural picture of a triune
being—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; so too is man a triune being—body,
spirit, and soul. The body is the molecular physical form that we dwell
in. The spirit is the life force God has put into man. The soul is that
part of man which is created in God’s image and which gives us the
capacity to worship, create art and music, feel guilt, sympathy,
compassion, and unselfish love. We could say that a car has three
components—the physical car (that which we see), the fuel (the
spirit—the energy that makes the car go), and the driver. You can have
a car that is running without a driver, but it is without direction and
would not function properly. A human body can be breathing and
digesting food, but the soul may have left the body—a situation that
life support makes possible.
Man’s soul is separate from his body. God created
man’s spiritual make-up in His image. He formed man’s body of the dust
of the earth (Genesis 2:7) and built in the genetic blueprint for
future generations—a blueprint that is similar to the makeup of other
living things. The unique part of man which is separate and distinct
from all other living things is the part uniquely created in God’s
image. This soul is identical for all human beings no matter what the
condition of the physical body might be. If we truly believe that all
human beings are uniquely and specially created in God’s image with a
spiritual makeup which is eternal and of equal value in all humans,
then our viewpoint of man is going to be special as well. No matter
what your gender, your skin color, your education, your income, your
age, your physical condition,
or what you have done—you are special.
You are special because you are uniquely created in the image of God.
If, on the other hand, I view man as a being without
this spiritual makeup, and if I explain man’s existence as a product of
blind, chance-driven physical processes over long periods of time, my
conclusion will be quite different. Not only will I view man as totally
the product of a gradual change as seen in the picture above, but I
will also have to consider man to be nothing special. Nietzsche said it
well when he said:
There is no reason why the stronger and the smarter should
be constrained by a “value” that is obviously not in their interest.
Our decisions about abortion, suicide, euthanasia,
and countless other issues are strongly flavored by how we view man.
Viewing man as a special creation of God with an eternal spiritual
makeup leads to a different conclusion on these issues than if we
believe that we are merely physical beings in a meaningless universe
with an insignificant role in the cosmos.
(from English-Speaking Justice by G. P. Grant)
Lesson 5 Questions
© 2009, John N. Clayton
Lesson 5 cover picture: iStockphoto.com/yorok
Return to the Main
Intermediate Correspondence Course.