What does it mean we are created in the Image of GOD?

Assuming you believe that scripture is inspired by God? What does it mean when He says that we are in “the image of GOD?
Certainly this does not mean that GOD is a bipedal, naked ape.
This question also touches on whether there is a qualitative difference between humans and other animals? I used to think it was awareness of consciousness of being —“I think therefore I am”. Burt after considerable observation of household pets and scholarly accounts of higher primate I am convinced that these animals are conscious of themselves as distinct beings. So what about a sense of morality-the existence of a sense of good and evil, right and wrong. Is it possible so dismiss this as a consequence of evolution since we would not have a higher technological society without it —a sense of cooperation and condemnation of those who do not?
The one fact that convinces me if that we are the only beings can look a the huge (finely tuned) universe and wonder if there was a creator. What do others think?

Here’s my favorite explanation:

More and more Bible scholars associate it with a corporate vocation for humanity, not some inherent quality of individual humans.


The short answer is… It means we are God’s children. That is what you create when you create in your own image: children.

The longer answer is…

  1. First of all an image is not identity but a reflection. There is a correspondence and a relationship.
  2. I believe God is infinite actuality and it is an infinite potentiality in us which reflects that.
  3. Thus I believe being created in God’s image means we are made for an eternal parent-child relationship where there is no end to what God has to give us and no end to what we can receive from Him, and this is the substance of eternal life.
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After much deliberation, I have concluded that I don’t know what the term originally meant, and that it may be shrouded in the mists of time. That being said, we can speak of its implications, that humans have innate dignity.


Originally meant? Originally meant by whom? for whom? Does this mean that in your view this text has no intended meaning for us today?

I only mean we cannot know what the writer of Genesis meant by it, but we can say, from Genesis 9:6, that it gave humans innate dignity.

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In the case of the human writer we don’t even know if he meant anything at all or know if he knows what he meant by it. In the case of God (if you believe He is also a writer of the text), then I would agree it is unlikely that anyone knows ALL of what He meant by it, but that doesn’t mean someone cannot know something that He meant by it. There are indeed a lot of things which it is highly likely that we do not know and near the top of the list I would put what it is that someone else can or does know.

I found the article very enlightening. I am curious if the word “Man” created in God’s image should be read “humanity” created in His image. But I am curious about the actual Hebrew if the word “man” can be translated as “Humans or People”? It would seem not —as in God’s eyes there was only one “man” in Genesis.
Are there any biblical scholars on this forum that could address this? Or do I need to start another topic?

Yes, that is in fact how some modern translations translate it. (NLT, CEV)

Or they use mankind or humankind (NIV, ISV, NET)

Adam can be a proper name or the name of the group. There is debate among Bible scholars on which one is intended in certain verses, but not this one.

@Marshall do you know of any good resources for that discussion.

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You could check out this old one. There was some good discussion there:

Genesis 1:27 (NIV2011)
27 So God created mankind (Hebrew. adam) in His own image, in the image of God He created them (Heb singular); male and female he created them (Heb. singular). The first is in poetic form.

God made all humans, male and female in God’s own Image and made them in the first chapter before God made Eve in the second.

Our capacity for intellect and will (God knows and wills)
Our memory (God remembers)
Our will to act as we choose (God freely wills and acts).
Social creatures (God is social community, F, S and HS in union), acting from love.

In another thread I mentioned the fact that I often suggest that “created in the image of God” applies to all livings things to some degree. That infinite potentiality which reflects God’s infinite actuality is right there in the basic capacity of all living things to learn, grow, evolve, and basically become more than they are. It is like the +1 term in a proof by mathematical induction – it goes to infinity by implication.

But of course, the Biblical text is that we human beings are created in the image of God, and so I acknowledge that the full parent-child relationship with God needs this abstract capable communication that we have and other living organisms do not. Thus I suggest that it is the difference between “good” and “very good” in the degree to which we are created in the image of God.

Ok, not so much disagreement as much as emphasis.

While I love Pete Enns and agree in essence, I find myself reacting to God’s image being defined a ‘corporate vocation.’ It seems utilitarian. This is purely a subjective personal reaction, but this definition feels like a modern cultural lens: Studies have shown that a majority of Americans, for instance, ‘get a sense of identity through their jobs.’ (Gallup 2014). So who are they when they lie newly paralysed on their back?

I view identity and therefore image more in terms of being. I am that I am. Anything we do is an outworking of who we are. That’s the image. The actions are the reflection. When his image is etched on our soul, we reflect it in how we act or react to the dice roll from the cup of life.

I’m a collector of graffiti. One of my favourite pieces - I think from UCLA:
Spinoza - To be is to do.
Sartre - To do is to be.
Sinatra - Do be do be do.

How’s that? Modern American culture at least is extremely individualistic and prone to see everything in terms of the individual.

The corporate identity still gives individual dignity, as seen in Gen 9:6 where the seriousness of taking a human life is linked to the image of God.

I see you work across cultures, as I do. Sounds like interesting work. :slight_smile:

I wasn’t alluding to dignity or individualism in terms of cultural lens, but to workism.
“What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.” Derek Thompson, Workism Is Making Americans Miserable, The Atlantic Feb 24 2019.
When we find identity in what we do, the crash can come harder when work ends through being laid off, permanent sickness or retirement - or when we even fail to break into what we wanted to do - and take a much lesser job and feel a much lesser person for it. Why should we? Whereas the image of God in us shouldn’t shift an iota. Our ‘role’ is not who we are. I think we are fundamentally called to Be first, to reflect the image of God. Whether we clean the floors or make the big decisions. Or wash feet.

It’s undeniable that he’s called us to do, as well. But the role itself, is not the image of God. And that is the difference between Saul and David - the role was the same, the inner being was different.

So I don’t agree that his image - or our identity - is defined in what we are called to do. His image is defined in what we are called to be - and that outworks in what we are called to do. As I said, my point is really more one of emphasis and perhaps just my perspective.

Right. Maybe the image of God is not fundamentally “who we are” as individuals. Maybe that is more along the lines of potentially “children of God,” and identity not a role.

I think the concept “image of God” has had a lot added to it over the years that go beyond the biblical usage. It has become shorthand for individual human dignity and worth.

But there is really good Scriptural and extra-biblical comparative literature support for the idea of image as a corporate calling in its use in the Bible. A lot of our other ideas of what it means have been imposed onto the concept from elsewhere. This Middleton book is cited all over current biblical scholarship.

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Maybe identity and emerging character? What makes us children according to Christ? Acting like our Father would because we become like him from within.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

I also take ‘created in the image of God’ as something stamped into our fallen being, since it is referenced from the outset. I think that when I see an atheist do those self-same things, I genuinely interpret that as the remnant in fallen humanity of what is somehow stamped on us in creation (however that worked). When I encounter someone doing it rough on the street, and look them in the eyes, beyond the hollowness I do see an inherent value of the image of God. As someone said like a ruined cathedral - the majesty is still there within the ruin. So maybe I’m not completely averse to the thought behind the shorthand.

Thanks for the Middleton reference.

Yes, in Genesis 1 there’s wide agreement that adam created in God’s image means humanity (males and females) created in God’s image. This is also the case elsewhere in Genesis and elsewhere in the Old Testament (in Numbers 31, adam repeatedly refers to a group of only young women). The Hebrew word adam occurs over 500 times, even though it rarely shows up in English. Typically, it just turns into a generic term for people or a generic person. This is unfortunate, since it creates the impression that the few remaining mentions of Adam in English are special, even though in Hebrew they are not clearly distinguished from how the word is used elsewhere.

Richard Hess and David Clines wrote a few journal articles that I’ve found helpful:

  • To rebut the idea that adam means red or earth or skin or leather – all based on etymological links between these words – see Richard Hess’ “Ādām as Skin and Earth: An Examination of Some Proposed Meanings in Biblical Hebrew,” Tyndale Bulletin 39 (1988): 141–49.

  • The term adam “is evidently a generic term, which applies either to the collectivity of humans or to an individual human as an example of the human race. It is not the term that is used normally when one is thinking of a specific individual” (David J. A. Clines, “‏םדא‎, the Hebrew for ‘Human, Humanity’: A Response to James Barr,” Vetus testamentum 53, no. 3 [2003]: 300).

  • And for more on how Adam isn’t a gendered term, see Richard S. Hess, “Adam, Father, He: Gender Issues in Hebrew Translation,” The Bible Translator 56, no. 3 (2005): 144–53.

The standard scholarly dictionaries are also helpful:

  • “The Hebrew noun ʾādām generally denotes ‘human being,’ ‘humankind’ ” (Howard N. Wallace, “Adam (Person),” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary [New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992], 1:62).

  • “In conclusion, Hebr. ʾādām corresponds only partially to the word ‘man’ or ‘human’ in modern languages. ʾādām denotes neither ‘man’ as exemplar nor primarily the individual; rather, it denotes the category, humanity as a whole, to which the individual belongs” (Claus Westermann, “‏אָדָם‎ ʾādām person,” in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997], 42).

If verse is more to your taste than dense prose, here’s a summary I wrote of a chapter that discusses this issue (with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan):

adam’s the very motto for our species seen in general.
To track its roots is futile ’cause trajectories are several:
Is it a colour, ruddy ground or skin of some poor animal?
Forsake that etymology for evidence contextual.

It’s people, us, humanity or mankind – pick your favourite.
An adjective for human things is just another use for it.
Somebody or a person’s traits or nations – that’s all literal;
adam’s the very motto for our species seen in general.

—— For adam the best translation
—— Will all gendered terms forsake, shun.
—— Use the German “Mensch,” not “Mann”;
—— “Humankind,” not E-e-e-e-e-nglish “man”!


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