I Am The Image of God

I am the image of God.  At first, this may sound like a terribly arrogant claim to make.  God is Holy, Holy, Holy; set apart.  There is no one like Him.  With respect to His abundant mercy and grace, God declares

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Moreover, God has created all things and we are those created (i.e. the creature-creator distinction).  Yet my claim to be the image and likeness of God is well grounded in the Scriptures.  It is not arrogant to claim to be like God in the ways in which He has made me like Him.

The Law

In the beginning, God created the heavens, earth, light, sky, sea, land, vegetation, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds.  On the sixth day, He created the animals and He “saw that it was good (Gen 1:25).” Next, Moses tells us:

26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” Gen 1:26-27

From this, we see that man was created after the likeness of God.  From this, it follows that man is in some sense like God (i.e. has one or more of His attributes).  Which of God’s attributes did he create man with?   Thus far, we only know that man – not the birds, stars, or kangaroos – is the image of God.  Moses’ next reference to the image of God comes after the fall in the time of Noah.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” Gen 9:6

This may imply that murder is offensive to God because man is the image of God.  If so, it follows that man retained all or part of the image of God after the fall[1].

Some Conclusions

Thus ends the list of direct references to the image of God in the Torah and in the Old Testament.  What can we glean to help us learn of what the image and likeness consists?  First, since the animals do not bear this image, any attribute that man and animals share cannot be the image of God.  Therefore, man’s ability to whistle the Andy Griffith song cannot be part of the image of God because this attribute may be ascribed to some parakeets and yellow napes. Second, any interpretation which identifies the image with some attribute not found in God must be incorrect.  Therefore, the image cannot be man’s body since God is Spirit (John 4:24)[2] and, therefore, has no material body (Luke 24:39).  Since the image is not material, it must be spiritual.

More is implied by the immediate context of Genesis 1 and 2.  Gordon Clark comments:Baltimore Oriole

“To be sure, Genesis says that God gave man dominion over the animals; but it is more important to know by what endowment such a dominion can be exercised.  We might guess by noting that although the Baltimore oriole builds a beautiful nest, oriole architecture has not changed in centuries.  One can also note that animals cannot do geometry nor even write narrative.  These missing activities depend on a rationality that animals lack.  We call them brute species.  Man has a mind.[3]

Another aspect of the narrative that may easily be overlooked is that God spoke to Adam and Adam understood and could speak back to God.  The animals cannot pray, nor do they understand what we say.  God imposed enough of His knowledge and thought processes upon Adam that He was able to carry on a conversation.

Moreover, God’s instructions to Adam contained another element which may be of interest.  God did not merely give Adam instructions as to how to subdue the earth but also some moral instructions. God warned Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or there would be a penalty.  Not only that, but God endowed Adam with the ability to understand his obligation to obey Him.  In summary, to quote Gordon Clark,

“the important point is that God and Adam talked to each other and Adam understood.  Animals do not understand, are not subject to moral commands, cannot sin, and hold no religious services.”[4]

New Testament

The first direct and obvious reference to the image of God in the New Testament is

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God…”1 Cor 11:7

The image is not something man has, man is the image.  The New Testament usage distinguishes man from his body such that man is his mind[5] while his body is his vessel.  Paul writes:

1For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” 2 Cor 5:1-2

Here, the context reveals that the tent refers to the body (also see 2 Cor 12:2 and Phil 1:21).  Peter also refers to himself as distinct from his body.

13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 2 Peter 1:13-14

Therefore, the image is not the body but the mind[6].  But not all of man’s mind is like God’s.  Where is the point of identity between man’s mind and God’s mind?  Let us continue to look at the Scriptural data.

9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Col 3:9-10

The image, is renewed through knowledge of God.  In Ephesians, Paul adds righteousness and holiness.

20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:20-24

What the Old Testament suggested, the New Testament confirms; that the image in which man was created consists in knowledge and righteousness.

In most basic terms, the image of God boils down to right thinking.  Right thinking is the combination of knowledge of God plus righteousness.  One may have knowledge of God but not apply it rightly – this is unrighteousness.  Adam was created to think like God.  This does not mean that Adam was omniscient.  It means that Adam knew some things which the omniscient God knows and was endowed with the ability to apply his knowledge as God does.  In other words, man was given Logic.

How can rationality be the image of God if man is the image of God?  For this, we must ask, what is a man?  What is a person?  Can we really know who/what we are?  Does the Bible answer such questions?  Such questions are not easy to answer as

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer 17:9

However, the Scripture says that a man is as he thinks (Prov 23:7).  The perfect Adam possessed the perfect thinking of God and the perfect Adam was the perfect thinking of God.  At the fall, man lost his original righteousness and became dead in sin.  Moreover, his rationality (i.e. his thinking or ability to use logic) was, no doubt, corrupted as well; but not completely lost.  This is why the new man must be renewed in it’s ability to think like God; rationally applying the knowledge of God in righteousness.

Implication and Application

Renew your mind

Ephesians 4:20-24 and Colossians 3:9-10 quoted above speak of the renewal of the believer back into the image of God.  This same process is described in 2 Peter 1:1-16.  The Holy Spirit sanctifies all of us who believe by renewing our minds through knowledge and right thinking.  Therefore, we should daily seek knowledge and wisdom through the Scriptures and on our knees in prayer, that our minds would be renewed in the image of God and in order that we may grow in bearing the fruits of the Spirit.

Christ the Image of God

Since the image of God is knowledge and righteousness, and since God the Son has eternally been all knowing and righteous, it follows that He is the image of God also.  More than that, when the Son became incarnate – joining to Himself a human mind – this mind was created in the image of God as well.  Unlike Adam who fell, the Man Christ Jesus retained the image of God.  Therefore, the mind of the Man Christ Jesus is what man would have been like if he had not fallen.  Furthermore, it is this image of Christ to which we are being conformed in sanctification, and to which we will be perfectly renewed in glorification in heaven.

Man Cannot Know God apart from the Holy Spirit

Two issues arise here.  1. What happened to our knowledge of God at the fall?  2.  What happened to our ability to think rightly given the knowledge that remains after the fall?  Clearly, man lost much of His knowledge of God at the fall, but Romans 1:21 may indicate that there is some knowledge of God left.  Man’s ability to rightly apply his knowledge has also been affected by the fall as is evidenced when we jump to unwarranted conclusions or make a mistake in arithmetic.  However, even if our ability to rationally apply our knowledge was fully retained, we would not be able to deduce a knowledge of God because we don’t have enough knowledge to start our reasoning with.  The Scriptures teach that the Spirit has to give us a new heart which knows God in part before we can know Him in greater part.  No one seeks after God on their own (Rom 3:10-11).

Don’t Disparage Logic.  The Image of God is Logic.

Some say that we can’t know God through logic or rationality.  This isn’t quite right.  Man can’t know God because we think illogically because we are sinners and don’t know God.  When God gives us a new heart, He gives us a saving knowledge of Him.  Through sanctification, He gives us more knowledge of Him and helps us logically apply this knowledge (see 2 Peter 1:1-16).  The image of God is logic.  This does not make God subservient to logic.  We do not “impose” our logic on God.  Rather, God imposed Logic on man so that man could know Him and better glorify Him.  I expect this raises some questions.  Feel free to comment below.




[1] Though Gen 9:6 does not directly imply this conclusion, James 3:9 does.

[2] For this paper, it is also assumed that a Spirit is incorporeal.

[3] Clark, Gordon.  The Biblical Doctrine of Man. p. 7

[4] Ibid. p. 8

[5] The usage of the word mind is not to exclude man’s spirit, heart, soul, person, or self, but to include them all or to make them identical.  The word mind is used to exclude the body.

[6] The spirit or heart will do fine as well but it is awkward to speak of God’s heart and ambiguous to speak of God’s spirit (with a lowercase “s”).  Though Biblically it would mean the same thing.

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  • To my brother in Christ—

    I read through your article on the image of God, and I’d encourage you to go back to Genesis 1 and consider the context. Let’s look at vv. 26-27 again:

    A Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

    B They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

    A’ So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.

    You’ll notice that I arranged it as a chiasm; using this literary tool, we immediately identify in the context what the image of God is – the authority to rule over creation. We are God’s proxies in the created world. We are His mediatorial rulers, given authority to rule over all of creation, including not only the animal kingdom, but also through human governance, as well.

    It is the latter category that is seen in Genesis 9:6. The image of God is not necessarily referring to the offense of murder, but the authority to carry out capital punishment. In other words, it’s precisely because we are God’s proxy that we have the power to put people to death. (The place of this in the contemporary political discussion is certainly an article in and of itself that would find a better home on this page’s sister site!)

    This command, commonly called “the creation mandate,” is the first such instruction to humanity. Interestingly enough, this same mandate is also the final thing humanity is said to be doing in Revelation 22:5 (“they will reign forever and ever”). In a sense, the entirety of Scripture can be seen as one big inclusion with the premise being humanity’s mediatorial rule over God’s creation.

    The problem with Gordon Clark’s analysis (and I beg of you to remember that disagreeing with Clark is not a capital offense) is that the mind is not in the immediate context of Genesis 1. At best, it must be imported in. That’s not to say that there is no “point of identity between man’s mind and God’s mind,” but simply that it cannot be justified and argued through the image of God.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:7 (please note the error of “2” Corinthians in the original post), again, context must reign (no pun intended). The issue at hand is the matter of authority and rule within the local church. Man “should not cover his head, because he is God’s image and glory.” Paul goes on to say that women should have the “symbol of authority on her head,” that is, the head covering. The context is silent concerning the mind; on the contrary, it precisely gives us the meaning and purpose of head coverings – submission and authority.

    You state that “the image is not something man has, man is the image.” But in fact, the image is *indeed* what man has – authority. Other Scripture is then brought into the arena, but it is all based upon a faulty premise, and the conclusions do not follow.

    You write: “What the Old Testament suggested, the New Testament confirms; that the image in which man was created consists in knowledge and righteousness.” The problem is that the Old Testament hardly suggests it, and the New Testament can do nothing to confirm it. Where is “right thinking,” the “combination of knowledge of God plus righteousness,” in Genesis 1? Mustn’t we excise the phrase “image of God” from its context in order to arrive at this conclusion?

    It’s been said that when all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. I am all for drawing attention to the role of the mind, intellect, and logic in today’s society; however, the image of God seems to attract the most diverse of hammers. We must thoroughly examine the context of the language in order to assist us in ascertaining its meaning.

    To the praise of His glory,

    Davey Ermold

    • Patrick T. McWilliams


    • Hi Davey,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. Your interpretation of Gen 1 is very compelling and many of the great theologians of the past have used it. The reason I reject this interpretation is because of what I take to be the NT interpretation of the Image of God.

      Your interpretation of Gen 1:26-27 is that the Image of God is the authority to rule over creation. Mine is that the Image of God is the endowment by which this authority would be exercised. I admit that both interpretations seem supportable by inductive arguments (like the one’s I began with and the one you used) from the context and in the OT as a whole. However, nothing follows from an inductive argument.

      In the NT, I think that my interpretation fares much better than yours and, indeed, is required by the text. You wrote:

      “You state that “the image is not something man has, man is the image.” But in fact, the image is *indeed* what man has – authority. Other Scripture is then brought into the arena, but it is all based upon a faulty premise, and the conclusions do not follow.”

      How can you deny that man is the image of God when 1 Cor 11:7 says “he [man] is the image and glory of God”? What you must do is explain how man can actually be the image of God on your interpretation. How can man be “authority over creation”?

      You also stated that I was eisogeting knowledge and righteousness into the Gen 1 context. You seem to be against using the interpretation provided by Paul in Col 3:9-10 and Eph 4:20-24 which I noted in the article above simply because it is not expressed clearly in Gen 1. If other Scriptures clarify that this image is knowledge and righteousness, summarized by “right thinking,” a better understanding of Gen 1 would be that man was made to think rightly, and he will ruling over creation because of this. Man rules because he is the image of God. The image is not the ruling.

      You did not interact with my discussion of Col 3:9-10 and Eph 4:20-24 except to say that it was based on a “faulty premise, and the conclusions do not follow.” I would be happy to know which premise you refer to and which conclusions don’t follow. That is all I can really say about that.

      But as for your interpretation, I don’t see how it can be upheld in Col 3:9-10. If the image of God is “authority over creation,” than Paul essentially writes:

      “9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the [authority over creation]”.

      Also see Eph 4:20-24 where your interpretation would be:

      “20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the [authority over creation] in true righteousness and holiness.”

      As I argued in the article, I think it follows from these passages that the image is knowledge and righteousness and holiness. From that, the argument proceeded to harmonize this interpretation with 1 Cor 11:7. Feel free to interact with that argumentation.

      In summary, based on 1 Cor 11:7, Eph 4:20-24, and Col 3:9-10, I don’t see how your interpretation of the image of God is tenable, while I maintain that mine is required by these texts and suggested in Gen 1. Your argument against my view was that it goes beyond what is in Gen 1. From this, it does not follow that my interpretation if the image of God in the whole Bible is incorrect. Let’s keep discussing. Thanks.

      • I apologize for how long it has taken me to respond. And after I do, it *totally* will not have been worth it.

        As I poured over all of this, I realized that, at its core, this is a hermeneutical issue. Much like Joel 2 in Acts 2, or Jeremiah 31 in Hebrews 8, there are weighty questions of the use of the OT in the NT, whether direct quotes, or perhaps “simply” allusions or “technical terms” (it seems as if we both place the image of God in the latter).

        Both of us have our predispositions in how Scripture uses Scripture, and I think ultimately we’d be talking past one another because our hermeneutical language is not identical. The issues of “Scripture interpreting Scripture,” the analogy of faith, perspicuity, and others come into play. While I’m certain that there are analogous points, and I’m even more certain that both of us hold Scripture in high regard, we will indeed have to agree to disagree. Although, if you still would like me to answer specific points, I would be more than happy to! =)

        I suppose now would be as good a time as any to confess that I’m what people typically call “dispensationalist…” =P

        • Hi Davey,

          I appreciate the response. So long as we both confess that all Scriptural propositions are true, I don’t see how this is a hermeneutical issue. It is a logical one. If there are 5 Scriptural passages on a given subject, it is always wrong to interpret them as being inconsistent. If we only look at 1 of them and refuse to let the others speak to the issue, this is self-contradiction. Also, our selection of which passage to use and which to discard is arbitrary, and, while God is trying to reveal more on a subject, we are denying Him that possibility. However, if we draw valid conclusions from passage 1, for example, it follows that passages 2-5 will not contradict them. I think you will agree with me so far.

          This is why I argued that the conclusion you drew from Gen 1 was not a valid inference. Then I also challenged you to maintain consistency in 1 Cor 11:7, Eph 4:20-24, and Col 3:9-10. Both these challenges remain unmet.

          My positive argument was that 1 Cor 11, Col 3, and Eph 4 logically imply that the image is the man himself, his knowledge, and his righteousness and holiness. If my argument is valid, one who holds to the law of contradiction and to the axiom that the Bible is the word of God would be forced to conclude that Gen 1 is consistent with these implications, regardless of his hermeneutic. Moreover, as I showed in the article, it is not hard to see this implication in Gen 1 although it is not explicitly stated. As I see it, you either need to challenge the argument, or meet the challenges posed you by 1 Cor 11:7, Eph 4:20-24, and Col 3:9-10 which I made to you in the previous reply.

          I don’t have any problems with dispensationalists. Cjay says I’m a dispensationalist, but I have yet to get a good answer from Cjay or any dispensationalists on what dispensationalism actually is. Maybe you could send me an email Thanks again for interacting with me on this.

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  • Wait so doesn’t this mean that the angels are created in God’s image also since the angels are rational creatures? I suppose scripture never affirms nor denies this though, unless I am unaware of a verse that does.

    • I think it is possible that angels are in the image of God to some degree. Clark mentions this thought in The Biblical Doctrine of Man and probably some other places.

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