7 Sentences Summarizing the Bible’s Teaching about the “Image of God”

The Bible’s teaching about the “image of God” is important to trace and understand.  Here’s a 7-step summary of it:

(1) God made man in His image to fill the earth with image-bearers who represent Him and rule over creation with wisdom and royal dominion (Gen 1:26-28).

(2) After the Fall, mankind still bears the image of God (Gen 5:3; 9:6; Jam 3:9).

(3) Because of sin, though, unregenerate image-bearers cannot function as faithful representatives of God’s rule because of the corruption of sin and subsequent idolatry (Rom 1:18, 21-23, 25; 3:23).

(4) But God never recanted His creation mandate about multiplying the earth with image-bearers and exercising dominion (e.g. Gen 15:5 17:6, 20; 22:17; 26:22; 28:3; 35:11; 41:52; 47:27; 48:4).

(5) At the appointed time, God sent into the world His Son, an unmade Person who is the very image of God (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:4), who–by virtue of his death and resurrection–has all authority over heaven and earth and has been given the name above every name, over any opposing power, over every conceivable dominion (Eph 1:21; Phil 2:9; Col 1:16; 2:15).

(6) Now, when sinners are united to Christ by the Spirit through saving faith, the image of God is being restored in believers as we are being inwardly renewed (2 Cor 4:16; Eph 4:23) and transformed into Christ’s image (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29), so that we can rightly represent Him as the Church of God mediating the knowledge of Him to the world (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Pet 2:9; Col 2:10; Eph 3:8-9; Phil 2:15).

(7) God will complete the restoration of His image in us when Christ returns to raise the dead, for only then will we–who for now return to dust at death–exercise dominion over God’s renewed world in incorruptible bodies in the likeness of the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45-49).

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9 thoughts on “7 Sentences Summarizing the Bible’s Teaching about the “Image of God”

  1. Mitch,

    Interesting post. It seems that you equate the “image of God” with having dominion?

    And if (4) is as straight forward as you say, am I being disobedient by staying single?

  2. Chris, I equate “image of God” with representation, so I think the consequence (not content) of being made in God’s image is having dominion. Kings in the ANE often set up their image in a land to represent their name and authority, and I think the wording in Gen 1:26 has that kind of connotation. God is setting up image-bearers who will represent His name and authority in His world, and they will steward His rule as royal servants.

    Regarding Point #4, I’m sure you wouldn’t dispute the truth of the statement, but I don’t think your question is an implication that follows. So, no, I don’t believe single men or women are disobedient image-bearers. Since we bear the image of God as individuals, and since we believers are being inwardly renewed and restored as individuals, we can rightly represent the Lord apart from the marriage covenant.

    Ultimately I think Matt 28:18-20 fulfills the intent behind Gen 1:28. Jesus declares that all dominion is His, and then He commands us to make disciples (who will be restored image-bearers) throughout the world among the nations. Single people can and must engage in such important disciple-making and obey the Great Commission, an obedience that coheres with God’s intent to fill the earth with His glory. Paul’s example comes to mind…

    And, lastly, in the New Creation, there will be no marriage except that between Christ and His Church. So if the fully restored image of God will, in the end, not be tied to a marriage covenant, I see no reason to consider single people as disobedient in the meantime.

    Hope I’ve clarified what I think about this. The post was about 7 “sentences,” but there’s certainly the need for nuance and further unpacking for the ideas I’ve summarized.

  3. Is there any substance to the image of God? Or is it simply to be understood as functional?

    And I think if you call something a “creation mandate” then it would be requried that everyone get married. That is, as far as I can tell, what a “mandate” is. And if you tie it to creation, then it would seem to be required of all people. I actually agree with everything you said, but by just stating what you did in your post without the subsequent fulfillment from your response, I think my question is completely valid. And I ask it because there are some who would still see that “creation mandate” as valid today by the fact that it was given at creation, before the fall.

  4. Chris, thanks for dropping by again.

    The substance of being in God’s image is royal representation. Gentry argues in “Kingdom Through Covenant” that being made “in” God’s image would be better rendered “made AS God’s image.” I think the ANE background is key and should illumine our understanding of how the concept was used. When a king set up his image in a land, it represented him. So I think the content of God’s image is royal representation (connected with sonship) and that the consequence of such royal representation is rule and dominion. If the “image of God” has other substance (e.g. moral or intellectual or volitional properties), it’s unclear in the Gen 1 context. People tend to see in the “image of God” concept what they want to see, but I think the function of exercising dominion must be given primary sway. Everything else, in my judgment, is secondary to what it means.

    When I use the word “mandate,” I mean “command,” and that command is reiterated to Noah and subsequent post-Fall generations, right? So it should be obeyed. The question is whether there is a trajectory established in Scripture wherein the mandate might be fulfilled outside the marriage covenant. I say, Yes there is, and this becomes clear from later revelation like Matt 28. And in Acts 1:8, believers are to be witnesses in the power of the Spirit unto the ends of the earth, and all of that shows that God hasn’t reneged on his intent to populate the world with image-bearers who rightly rule and represent him.

    The problem lies in the last phrase of that last sentence: how do sinners rightly rule and represent their Creator? Not through the human marriage covenant but through the New Covenant–which is ultimately what the marriage covenant points to anyway. The command in Gen 1:28 is not simply to be fruitful and multiply but to do so for the purpose of exercising rule and dominion for the glory of God. Our depravity, however, prevents unregenerate sinners–even married ones–from rightly representing the Lord as faithful image-bearers. We need a New Covenant and another Adam.

    The old creation mandate is ultimately fulfilled through Christ’s new creation work of restoring fallen image-bearers and filling the earth with disciples through the church’s mission. The commission of Gen 1:28 becomes caught up and transposed into a higher key when seen through the lens of Matt 28:19-20. This transposition shows how single Christians are not excluded from the image-bearing function of ruling and exercising dominion, for they are in union with the Last Adam who has been given authority and dominion over all things. In Christ, single people are being restored as royal representatives who will make disciples and thus fill the earth with God’s glory. Union with Christ, not union with a spouse, is what matters in the end.

    Lastly, to your statement here: “I actually agree with everything you said, but by just stating what you did in your post without the subsequent fulfillment from your response, I think my question is completely valid.”

    I felt I did mention such fulfillment in my original post, in point #6. I wrote there, “Now, when sinners are united to Christ by the Spirit through saving faith, the image of God is being restored in believers as we are being inwardly renewed (2 Cor 4:16; Eph 4:23) and transformed into Christ’s image (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29), so that we can rightly represent Him as the Church of God mediating the knowledge of Him to the world (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Pet 2:9; Col 2:10; Eph 3:8-9; Phil 2:15).”

    Though not teased out (since I was trying to keep things to one sentence per point), I did mention in point #6 that the image of God is being restored in believers, that we’re being conformed to Christ’s image in particular, and that we rightly represent him now as the Church which mediates the true knowledge of God to the world. My parenthetical Scripture references tie the Gen 1 command to the New Covenant and mission of the church, though, again, none of this was teased out in any detail.

    For more on this topic, there’s some really helpful material in the opening chapters of Greg Beale’s book “A New Testament Biblical Theology.”

    I’m happy to elaborate on any of the above or address a question you have that you felt I didn’t answer adequately. Thanks for the interaction on this important topic!

    Mitch

  5. To understand the concept of the Image of God one must first define God’s image. If you read Genesis 1:26 you will notice two concepts: God’s image and God’s likeness. In my book Made in the Image of God: Understanding the Nature of God and Mankind in a Changing World, I spend four chapters defining God’s image. I then spend two chapters defining man’s image in his pre-sin and sin state. In chapter seven I bring all six chapters together to help us understand the difference – bringing an explanation of what it really means to be in God’s likeness and then what it means to be in God’s image. If you would like to study this subject more my book is available on the topic. In closing I leave you the following excerpt:

    MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD

    “Many theologians believe that the terms “image” and “likeness” used in Genesis 1:26 are parallel terms; that is, they are terms being used to say the same thing for emphasizing a point being made. This is how some of the language is constructed in what we call the “poetic books” or “the writings,” which are part of the Scripture, and is used as a teaching tool format. We find this format in books such as Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Job and Ecclesiastes. But Genesis is not a book that lends itself to this type of format. Genesis is part of the “Pentateuch,” or the books of “the Law”—which comprise the first five books of the Scriptures—and tends to be more technical in nature. If we follow the normal grammatical sentence structure of the English language, when God states, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” we should understand the key phrase to be “according to”, which is a preposition preceding the noun “likeness.” The word “according” is a technical term meaning to be consistent with, or to be in harmony with, some known pattern. The image being spoken of must be consistent with, or in harmony with, God’s pattern or metaphysical structure. Therefore, if we understand God’s metaphysical structure as we have presented it in this book, then “God’s image” must refer to attributes of that structure. If we understand these two concepts in this light, then “image” and “likeness” are not a parallelism.” (p136)

    • Reid, thanks for dropping by the blog. I have some different conclusions than the ones you drew above, so here are a few thoughts in response:

      There are very good grammatical arguments to consider “image” and “likeness” to be the same thing. For instance, in Gen 1:26 God mentions “image” and “likeness” and then in 1:27 He says He created man “in his own image” and doesn’t mention likeness at all. Why the omission of “likeness” in Gen 1:27? It’s easily explained if the terms are parallel in 1:26. In 5:1 the narrator says God made man “in the likeness” of God but doesn’t mention the word “image.” Then in 5:3 Adam fathered a son “in his own likeness, after his image.” The inconsistent use of “image” and “likeness” in some places and only “image” or “likeness” is others is, I think, best explained by simply viewing the terms as essentially parallel. The second phrase can be plausibly (and I think best) understood as in apposition to and parallel to the first phrase.

      In your excerpt you say that Genesis (being in the books of the Law) wouldn’t lend itself to parallelism found in the Poetic books, but that statement simply isn’t true. While Genesis isn’t a poetic book like Psalms or the Song of Songs, the narrator of Genesis certainly uses a variety of literary and rhetorical devices throughout the narrative of Genesis, including parallelism. Even as early as Genesis 1 and 2 we find the use of parallelism:

      “God created man in his own image;
      in the image of God he created him” (1:27)

      “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done,
      and he rested on the seventh day fro all his work that he had done” (2:2)

      “…of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
      in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (2:4)

      “This at last is bone of my bones
      and flesh of my flesh” (2:23a)

      And to your point about following the structure of the English language in Genesis 1:26, I think instead it’s best to follow the original Hebrew, which isn’t as clear-cut as your excerpt makes it seem. The preposition you render as “according to” can also be rendered “as” or “like” or “after.”

      And while you say the preposition is “the key phrase,” I don’t see how that can be demonstrated. Because “image” is mentioned once in 1:26 and then repeated twice in 1:27–in the very next verse–I think the key word here is “image,” not the preposition before “likeness.” And in ancient Near Eastern documents, the case is solidly made by many scholars that “image” is a term of royal representation, for kings would place an ‘image’ of themselves in a land in order to show their authority, presence, and dominion there. This makes especially good sense when we consider that God’s words in 1:26 (right after the “image” and “likeness” phrases) are about man having dominion.

      You say, “The image being spoken of must be consistent with, or in harmony with, God’s pattern or metaphysical structure. Therefore, if we understand God’s metaphysical structure as we have presented it in this book, then “God’s image” must refer to attributes of that structure.”

      But I don’t believe those sentences can be supported from the context of Gen 1:26. The narrator says nothing about his metaphysical structure or attributes at all. Rather, the context speaks of image-bearers exercising dominion as God’s royal representatives in creation.

      Blessings,
      Mitch

      • Hello Mitch,

        I was surfing the Internet and came across your site again and noticed your response to my post. I fully understand your perspective and appreciate your scholarly approach to interpretation. Your arguments are the same as many theologians take and are also the same approach taken on the terms soul and spirit. That is one reason I wrote my book, to demonstrate that there is a difference between soul and spirit just as there is a difference between image and likeness. My first chapter provides my readers with a full hermeneutical approach to my interpretations with a supporting Scripture index of over 1,350 verses. My study combines theology and metaphysics to explain the issues and how we are not only in Gods likeness but how we can also reflect God’s image in the real world. I challenge you to pick up a copy. It is not a book that states we cannot know or understand the nature of God, but provides proof that we can, and goes on to demonstrate to us why what we believe in the Christian faith is true.

        I have spent 27 years developing this view with the support of the Scriptures and I believe in this short time and space we most likely will never come to an agreement on this issue, but I thank you for the forum and let me say God bless you and your ministries.

        Respectfully,

        Reid Ashbaucher

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