Lesson 5

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He 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
First Use
Other Uses
Plural--Power, strength, majesty
Genesis 1
200 in Genesis
Genesis 14:18
16 in Genesis
To be, being
Emphasizes promise
Genesis 2:4
150 in Genesis, 6,000 in Old Testament
Shortened form of Yahweh

43 in Old Testament
Plural--Ruler concept
Genesis 15
8 in Genesis

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 instinctive drives.

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 picture to 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 kill the 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 God your 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 KJV).
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 continue to be constrained by a “value” that is obviously not in their interest.
(from English-Speaking Justice by G. P. Grant)
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.

© 2009, John N. Clayton
Lesson 5 cover picture: iStockphoto.com/yorok

Lesson 5 Questions

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