In his image

I love this short-hand definition of being in another’s “image”: functioning as he would if he were embodied.

The Faithlife Study Bible:

“The image of God likely [in the Old Testament] does not refer to any specific ability unique to humanity (intelligence, sentience, emotional capacity, free will, etc.). This interpretation results in an ethical problem, since human beings do not possess these qualities equally. Defining the image as the ability to pray or communicate presents the same problem. Likewise, connecting the image of God to the internal makeup of a human being (nephesh [“soul”]; ruach [“spirit”]) does not resolve this issue, as both terms are used to describe members of the animal kingdom. The image also cannot refer to a visible resemblance between humankind and God. Rather, it refers to our creation as God’s image, His unique representatives on earth. In this respect, members of the angelic host are His representatives in their own sphere of responsibility. People are thus God’s agents, functioning as He would if He were embodied. Jesus is the ultimate image of God (Heb 1:3).” (Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 1:27). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

I have some quibbles with that FSB paragraph. Capacities and internal makeup are not relevant to functional responsibilities. God made humans suitable to the task of representing him. But the point is still taken: being in the image of God primarily refers to being his embodied representatives. This accounts for:

  • Genesis 1:26–27 — Where the image is immediately associated with having representative dominion over creation.
  • Genesis 5:1–3 — Where Adam fathers Seth “in his own likeness, after his image…” Seth was, in a manner of speaking, an embodiment of his own father.
  • Genesis 9:6 — Where the image again is immediately associated with representative authority to execute capital punishment, as well as the human life and dignity of the victim killed.

One can speak of image as referring to personhood, faculties, and capacities, and even physicality (particularly with 5:1-3). But it can’t simplistically be about physicality, or merely about personhood or capacities. To “embody” another is the big idea.

Jesus is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15).


May 22, 2018

  1. Being more conformed to the image of God and Christ is a spiritual transformation that even happens as our bodies “waste away” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
  2. There may be other types of creatures that are more in the image of God (defined here as capacity) than we are.
  3. There may be other types of creatures made in the image of God (over other realms) that look nothing like us.
  4. “Image” in Genesis 1 sounds more like a meaningful duty than a superficial likeness — to reflect his rule over the rest of creation.

January 29, 2020

Would you be upset if God made a species of creatures that was superior to you? And that your “imaging” responsibilities were narrow relative to another species who had a broader domain of “imaging”? I would not. I am not equal to God. I am not of the same species as God. God can do as he pleases.

If (and that’s a big “if”!) we found out that dolphins were sentient, that wouldn’t bother me or threaten my theology.

Why *must* humans be the only kind of sentient, relational, emotional, worshipping being in reality?

You do realize, don’t you, that God is capable of creating creatures in his image that look nothing like you? And that he is capable of creating sentient, relational, emotional, worshipping beings that aren’t humans?