The Spiritual Status of Pre-Adamic Hominids/Humans Outside the Garden & Their Imago Dei?

I have been concerned with this whole thread getting started with an unprovable assumption, which to me does not make any sense. It seems, and I was taught this in no uncertain terms, that the dominant belief about origin of this world in the Judeo-Christian tradition is that God created a perfect world, and we humans (Adam & Eve), with a little help from Satan, ruined what God desired for this world.
This makes no sense to me. Why would our omnipotent God let us ruin what He really wanted?
With a perspective allowed by twentieth century physics, I have come to a different interpretation of what God meant when He said, “This is good. This is very good.” Since the created universe includes the entire dimensions of space and time for the whole existence of the universe as a physical entity, God, the Creator, must of necessity exist outside of the dimensions of space AND TIME, as we experience them in our existence in this universe. Did God really mean that His universe had properly functioned, for His purposes, that He knew from observation as He was finishing the creation that it really did work as He desired? Did He know then that “all things had worked together for good to those who love God”? If so, His purposes for putting us here never were intended that all humans through all time would live forever in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus gave a clue as to what God’s real purposes are in His answer to those who asked Him whether the man blind from birth had sinned, or whether his parents had sinned. Jesus said the man was blind so that the glory of God could be shown through him.
Did God create us here so that we could experience some things that we won’t be able to experience in Heaven? For example, in Heaven we won’t be able to help the sick, or comfort those in distress. And in this world, we could not do those things if there was noone who was sick, or in distress.
Yes this is a different interpretation of a fundamental assumption that has been deeply embedded in our Christian tradition.

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It is critically important that we have and exercise the capacity to love. But, are you making the claim that God’s capacity and willingness to love are what the image represents?

Yours is an interesting assertion but I believe that very little (or any) textual support for your claim exists. I would truly love to be directed to any relevant scriptures.

Anyway, I think I’ll just extend my post just a bit.

In the ANE generally and the Enuma Elish specifically, the image of god was a “badge” of regal authority. In the case of the Enuma, only Marduk, the king, was made in the image of god (their chief god, Apsu, I think). That image, so the story went, was what marked Marduk as king and delegated Apsu’s divine authority to Marduk.

Now, as it happens, many (most) scholars believe that the first creation story was intended, among other things, to be a polemic against the pantheistic theology of the Enuma Elish. So, when it came time to reveal God’s will vis His image, His author was inspired to write, “Nope! All of humanity will bear God’s image, not just a single king.” Put another way, God felt it necessary to reject the image-as-regal-authority vested in a king was wrong. Instead, His author democratized His image claiming that God’s regal authority is vested in all mankind, not just a king. The biblical text surely supports this idea since God explicitly says the He will make mankind in His image so that they may rule over His creation (Gen 1:26-28)

Love as the image of God is not mentioned here nor, as far as I can tell, anywhere.


Me too. As a non theist I have trouble wrapping my head around the notion of God as a singular being at all. But the best I’ve been able to do is to think of God as that in relationship to which all else is. So, to my mind, the fullest image bearer of God would be everything in creation. The reason why the idea of ourselves as image bearers is important is that it helps us to focus on God as He relates to us. But I don’t think God is anything like a man who has been just waiting for creation to finally turn out something with His resemblance. To think that would be to diminish God my making ourselves the unit of His measure. I would think that God would have been ecstatic when dogs came into being and equally pleased by everything else that bears the imprint of His relationship. Primitive hominids? No problem, there is a lot of image to bear. He needs us all.

Really good questions. I was thinking about writing an article along these lines, so thanks for spurring my thoughts. Lots of good thoughts in the replies too. Wish I had time to reply to everything, but I’ll mainly focus on your questions about the image of God and try to clean up in the end.

Your first sentence blends so many big ideas that the thread splintered into many directions. Let’s take it from the top with the image of God in Genesis 1. Verse 26 says, “Let us make adam (humanity) in our image…”

This is a declaration of purpose (telos). At what point in history did God decide that purpose? We don’t know. In the text, he announces it on the sixth day after the creation of the animals. Did God wait until mammals evolved to decide to create humanity in his image, or did he determine that purpose before the foundation of the earth? I strongly suspect the latter is true, and a jury of my peers probably would agree with me, but it can’t be definitively proven.

In Gen 1:27 God achieves his creative purpose:

So God created adam (humanity) in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

I agree with most of what @St.Roymond and @mtp1032 had to say, but I disagree that “male and female he created them” indicates the male was created first (conflating Gen 1 with Gen 2) or that God invented biological sex or sexual dimorphism at that point in the first humans. Even plants and fish and birds were “male and female” long before humans appeared on the scene. (See @Christy’s thread on design language.) If the point of naming “male and female” as created (plurally) in the image of God was intended to focus on biology and producing offspring, I would expect the language of Gen 1:22 to be reproduced in Gen. 1:27: “According to their kind he created them.” But it’s not. That waits until the next verse.

The point of v. 27 was radical in its time and, sadly, is just as radical today. In ANE culture, the king was consider the image of God – God’s representative on Earth. Genesis 1 was written to protest against that mythology and offer an alternative. “Male and female” is a merism, indicating all of humanity from A-Z. In that patriarchal culture, I would’ve expected v. 27 to say something more along the lines of the modern ESV, which can’t help but translate adam as “man” instead of the just-as-obsolete “mankind” and mangles (pun intended) the next plural as a singular “him.” Th translators only manage to render the final pronoun accurately in English, since even the Misogynist Bible can’t avoid the obvious.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Unlike Gen 1:26, we can attach some rough dates to 1:27. (Humanity didn’t exist 10 million years ago, for example.) The question then becomes how to understand adam/humanity/human. Scientists term all members of the genus Homo (hominins) as human. In ordinary language, “human” distinguishes us (the only surviving Homo species) from animals. Without doubt, the authors/editors of Genesis 1-11 were ignorant of “deep time,” human evolution, and extinct earlier species, unless you understand the inspiration of scripture as word-for-word dictation. To sum up, Gen 1 conceives and speaks of adam/“humanity” in the same sense we still use it in normal vernacular: What distinguishes humans from animals?

In v. 28 God pronounces his blessing on humanity. The first part of the formula echoes the blessing of 1:22 on the fish and birds to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill” the seas and air. Since we share that much of God’s blessing with the animals, “be fruitful and multiply” can’t confine the image of God to being able to reproduce offspring “according to their kind.” The second part of the verse calls for humanity to “subdue” and “rule” the earth. That tells us something about humanity as created in God’s image.

As before, a definitive answer isn’t possible, but I agree with Middleton’s interpretation in The Liberating Image. His article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology gives a quick history of interpretation of the image of God and an overview of the vocational/functional interpretation,

I’ve already gone on too long, so I’ll come back to your bullet points tomorrow. Again, great questions!


I am not in any such tradition, and think that defines cultural Christianity. I was raised with criticism of the Christian establishment. I have my understanding of Christianity from reading the Bible. I don’t see any mention of a perfect world in the Bible and I frankly don’t see how such a notion is even coherent. What I see is God creating the universe to give rise to life and thus beings with whom He could have a relationship. That relationship was broken by the events described.

If the power of one party is all that signifies then it would not be a relationship at all.

interesting… I am educated as a physicist myself.

Agreed… This does not mean however that God does not use temporal measures of His own. And it does not mean that God does not engage with the universe in a temporal manner as you would expect if He is seeking a relationship with others. Nor does it mean that the universe is a fixed 4 dimensional object like a book with a story/history written by God as its author – which would make for very poor relationships.

I think the physical universe is a womb with limitations which are necessary for the conception and initial development of His children in preparation for existence in a more unlimited reality.

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Yes, and it appears pretty definitive.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34

The rest are not in God’s image because to be the image of God is to be an intermediary between God and others. Given that all of humanity is in the image of God then those to whom we represent God would be the rest of the realm of souls – the animals. So for any animals to be in the image of God would be contradictory.

On the other hand, there’s this interesting statement Paul makes:

He is . . . the firstborn of all creation

That word “firstborn” is πρωτότοκος (proe-TOH-toh-kohs), and it happens to be a philosophical terms and we need to read it that way because Paul is using philosophical terms that Gnostics used, turning them on their heads. And as a philosophical term it meant “opener of the way”, a term that doesn’t just mean opening a door or gate, it means forging a passage where there was none before and by so doing imposing the opener’s “shape” on that passage, with the result that everything that comes through that passage is shaped by the “shape” of the opener and is thus takes on some aspect of the opener, i.e. is to some extent in the opener’s image.
This may seem odd from our temporal perspective since Jesus did not take on materiality at the start of time, but from that meaning we should conclude that the first moment of creation was the beginning moment of the Incarnation. From the perspective of eternity, that’s no problem!

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Thank you all for your responses! Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to reply to you all individually but I am reading every comment and pondering things. I appreciate the dialogue! I can’t say that I agree with the ideas of only humanity (not every human) being in God’s image. But it is an interesting thought/take!

Something that is important to me which I know a lot of theistic evolutionists maybe don’t agree on is that I do genuinely believe in God’s intention/mandate being to make humanity in His image and to live sinlessly on Earth forever. I know many theistic evolutionists disagree and that’s fine! This is just a very important theological take of mine due to its implications for my own faith regarding the new creation. I just don’t personally believe humans were meant to die physically if they didn’t sin. Not sure if there is a theistic evolutionist model which could hold those thoughts. I also personally do believe God personally interacted with all humans in His image before they sinned. This is also something that I find a tiny bit troubling about some evolution models. The spreading of the spiritual inheritance vocation just by word of mouth. My own belief is that God did have a personal connection and talk to humans and really did offer them the “garden” with Him whether physical or symbolic. So although I can agree that the “image” might have spread culturally for me this would entail God also personally reaching down to everyone personally. I think sin is what causes God to be distant. So any thoughts on this would be appreciated. I know many theistic evolutionists maybe don’t agree with my points but these are (for me personally) non-negotiable in my faith. I hope that makes sense but thanks for all of your replies so far!

Before we can answer the question about whether previous hominid species had the “image of God” in any way we have to sort out what it means for us humans. There have as I underhand it been two views; abilities and communion.

The first corresponds to various estimates of what humans have in relation to their abilities and how these are related to God; intellect and freedom and God’s ordained status as divine representatives on earth as servants and care takers etc. Much discussed in Patristic writers and the scholastics of the Middle Ages. For instance St Bonaventure wrote that God has Intellect, Memory and Will and so do we. Then there is the idea of a special measure of the divine Spirit that is united to the human body forming the Soul. So our having the Spirit from God is part of our Image of God

The second, re-emphasised by theologians such as Jurgen Moltman, is relational and communion. God is Trinity , internal union of persons in love with each other, and humans have the greatest capacity among creatures of the earth to have and experience this free flowing love. It is in loving that we are most like God.

So in in respect of other hominids before modern humans, in as much as they had any of these two sets of traits they would have had elements of Image of God in them and had a special status in God.

But I tend to prefer the Communal /relational idea of Image of God rather than the Abilities model. It seems to me that it is our relationships that are most marred by sin in not being those beings in communion that God intends and it is that which constitutes our Fall as we have failed to be what we ought to be and need restoring back to it and can only fully have it restored by Christ who was and is the Most Supreme Image of God we should have become…

Hi Michael, If “God is Love” is a true correspondence, then is not love such a central part of God that our ability to love is an imparted image of that? Does God just vest His authority, and desire us to rule with an iron fist, or does God want us to rule as He does, with such love that He gives Himself for us? I think you can find references from Paul about how a man should rule his wife… which doesn’t look at all like human ruling via force of arms, or greater strength. If this does not apply to all ruling, why not?
I do not claim to have the one correct understanding of what “the image of God” (or anything else about God) means; I also know, from personal subjective experience, that God does reveal things about Herself in other ways than through scripture. One particularly way that is relevant in this forum is through studying the way His world is built and operates, and by inference, how God interacts with each and every one of His children.


I find it a very interesting (minor subpoint, I believe) in this story that those on His left seem to think that they are worthy of going to Heaven, while those on His right seem to believe that they are unworthy!


A clarification: I do not believe that God knowing what everyone will choose, and fitting the pieces of those choices together so that His purposes are met, in any way constrains our free will, our ability to make choices - good, bad, or indifferent. I believe God knows what happened from an historical perspective, similar to the fact that I know that Neville Chamberlain made a choice that didn’t work out too well, but that knowledge doesn’t mean that I influenced his choice. And, yes, I believe that God does continue to engage with the universe, in our human case most often through other humans. And I also believe that a very important aspect of God’s purposes for us is to develop the kind of relationships that He wants, built on love.


I’m not sure it’s that minor, but thank you for noting it!

I think you are correct in a technical way. By this I mean that if a thing is ABC then an image of that thing could be reasonably understood as ABC (note the italics. ABC is not ABC, but a representation of ABC).

But, at the end of the day, the text claims clearly that God made mankind in His image for one purpose - that humans, male and female, have the authority and obligation to manage his creation as His vice regents. There is no reason to think that the image of God extends beyond the authority of God. So, my first impulse is to suggest that when we claim that the the image of God is the image of love is akin to reading into the text something that is not there.

I agree with you that the “God is love” description is accurate. I just don’t believe that the image of God is love, but let me put it this way. The image of a thing tells us nothing of that thing. So, when you look at a wedding photo image of a groom and his bride. If the groom is a stranger to you, what can you conclude about his character? Is he kind? Is he a wife-beater? Does he love his children? Is he committed to his work at the expense of his wife’s happiness? His image tells you nothing. The fact is that the Hebrew word for image (tzelem) has a wide-semantic range. Tzelem is translated variously as gold statues of mice, heathen gods, boils/tumors, or a man without substance, an empty or shell of a man (psalm 73:20).

The translation of Genesis 3:16 (quoted by Paul), rightly understood, commands 'Adam to exercise his “rulership” for the benefit of his wife. This follows in part with the Hebrew verb translated as “rule,” i.e., mashal. Mashal has a wide semantic range and is used elsewhere to express the idea of managing something for the benefit of another. Just for completeness it also is used in the sense of being prominant. For example, to say that Mt.Everest “rules” over the Himalayas is identical to saying the Mt. Everest “mashal” over the Himalayas. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that mashal is the verb used to express the idea that the sun rules over the day and the moon rules over the night in Genesis 1.

In verse 1:28, the author uses two different verbs. One is rada which is a close synonym of mashal. the other is kivshuah. Kivshuah means to subdue. Read carefully, 1:28 reveals that we are to rule (radu) over living, animate beings ethically. On the other hand, we are to subdue (“kivshuah”) over inanimate objects. Kivshuah is a srong word in Hebrew. It connotes going to war and winning and subjugating the losers. Once again, humans are NOT to subdue living things.


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It’s interesting to me that everyone is looking for something about humans that is like God when the ancient near east meaning of the term was a representative between a god and the people. It usually was used of kings, especially priest-kings, but sometimes of priests; whichever, the person was said to be the image of that god.

But I think the other aspects come in anyway: to properly represent God to the rest of Creation we have to be sufficiently like God to do a good job of it, and to sufficiently stand for all of Creation in respect to God we have to be like the rest of Creation – and so we are, bearing the same material form as God the Son took on, and having various aspects reflective of God, and meanwhile being animals not just from the same body plan (as YECers would have it) but actually emerging from them as the Earth continued to obey the command to bring forth living things.

So St Bonaventure and Moltmann (a great writer, BTW) are both right, though I think Moltmann was right about the relational and communion aspects from the other direction, because as we look at animals and their lives species after species function in relational and communal ways, as in fact do plants as all act together in what we call ecology.

Something about that interaction has bugged me every now and then: since we have been told this, does that confuse the issue?

And yet we cavalierly wipe out species after species, fellow animals who were also given the command to be fruitful and multiply! I’ve always thought that this gave them equal status in God’s “chorus” and that we should have leveled off the human population at about 3 billion. What may grieve God most about this is the Christians who blithely cite “rule and dominion!” as a license to do to nature whatever they please. In my view few branches of Christianity are blameless, though the Roman Catholic church stands out with its mandate of no birth control, and the strand of Protestantism that drove entrepreneurship and “developing” land to human use with no regard for what lived there before human feet walked on it.

Completely agree with you. It is also about humans being representative of God to the rest of creation as communal beings with divine love that is at our best, found in Christ first.

What issue?

The “him” in that quotation is correct; the word is אֹת֑וֹ and it is third person masculine singular. A plural would be clumsy here because the point is the contrast between this clause and the next, which does have a plural, אֹתָֽם : the first clause emphasizes the unity of humankind, the next the complementary dimorphism.

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