In Genesis 1:26, we read, “Then 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.’”
This distinction of being created in God’s’ “image” is something that distinguishes mankind from all other parts of God’s creation.
The Hebrew word for “image” is tzelem, and means “likeness” or “carving.” Each of us are shaped after God in some way. The debate, of course, is how. We know we aren’t perfectly holy or omniscient or omnipotent, so how can we be likened to God?
Theologians have debated this question of the imago dei (the Latin phrase for “image of God”) for centuries. We know if this is a distinct feature from the rest of creation, it has to be something no animal or plant or part of the earth possesses.
Our best guess about the imago dei is that …
- We are likened to God in personhood. This means that, like God, we can have fellowship, commune with others, speak out in conversation or to others, etc.
- We are likened to God in the communicable attributes. Theologians have divided God’s nature into two categories: incommunicable (those attributes that belong to God alone – omnipotent, perfectly righteous, eternal, etc.) and communicable (those attributes that both man and God can share). Thus, God is loving – so can we be. God is faithful – so can we be. God is just – so can we be.
- We are likened to God in reasoning ability and consciousness. Because animals do not have a soul and are not self-aware, and God is, we too have this special thinking capacity and awareness of self.
- We are likened to God in authority and dominion. While we aren’t sovereign like God, He does designate us to rule over the earth (Gen 1:29).
God made us His image-bearers.
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