In the Image of God He Created Them

Sermon preached on Genesis 1:26-2:3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 02/05/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

Scripture speaks of the idea of singing a new song whenever God does some new amazing thing. So then here, in Genesis 1:27, you have the first new song. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The first poetry in the Bible is as an interlude in the sixth day of creation. Indeed, this climactic creative event is worthy of singing praise to God. As the pinnacle of his creation, God has made a creature in his own image. We celebrate this imago Dei, the image of God, and today we will study it.

Let’s begin with the words of verse 26 that say, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” Here God first described man as a special creation. Notice the shift in grammar to the first-person plural. “Let us make man,” in “our image”, in “our likeness.” So far, his other divine fiats had been in the third-person singular, “Let there be” this or that, and then it was. So, changing to the first-person highlights something unique is going on when God makes man.

But then God also speaks in the plural here. There are at least two plausible explanations for this. One is that God is speaking here to a heavenly council of angels and speaks to them in a sort of a royal we. The notion of a divine council of sorts is not problematic itself since we see such described elsewhere. But that view does require you to understand the grammar in some majestic plural, to avoid some inference that God and angels together made in some combined shared image, since it is says, “Let us make man in our image”.

And so, an alternative view is that this is a hint at the Trinity. The light of the New Testament teaches that the one God has eternally existed in three persons. Many Christians have found hints at that truth in the Old Testament, including here. Some have wondered if even the very Hebrew word for God here hints at that. Throughout the Old Testament, God is often referred as Elohim, which is actually the generic word in Hebrew for “gods” plural. Yet, whenever it is used of the one true God, it is treated as a singular, so that singular grammar is used with it, and he is expressly described as one God. So then, here in verse 27, if we understood the plural to express an Inter-Trinitarian conversation, that would certainly explain what is going on here. We know elsewhere that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in creation, and so it would not contradict our theology if this literally was saying, “Let us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make man in our divine image and likeness.” While I wouldn’t be dogmatic, this is certainly a plausible interpretation.

Let’s turn next to really dig into the heart of today’s passage and consider what it means for mankind to be created in God’s image. You will note that for all the creatures made so far in Genesis, that repeatedly it is said that God made them all “according to their kinds”. Each kind or main species of plant or animal God made distinct. And humans then would also be its own unique “kind” of creature. (On a side note, this is where the theory of evolution suffers, that they have yet to be able to show one kind of creature actually changing into a different kind through macroevolution, but I digress.) So then, right away we see starting in verse 26 that there is something different about us than all the other creatures. Even people who don’t believe in the Bible typically acknowledge this when they speak of humans being intelligent life forms. People know that humans have a self-awareness, rationality, creativity, moral sense, and even religious sense, that no other creature on earth has. Here the Bible reveals from the start the explanation for why mankind is so different. We are made in God’s image and likeness.

These are the two words used here to describe this, “image”, and “likeness”, verse 26. The word “image” in the Hebrew has the connotation of something cut out or sculpted, like a statue. The word “likeness” in the Hebrew has the connotation of something that shares a resemblance to something else. Theologians have discussed what these two words mean in relationship to each other. Some think the description of “likeness” is a way to limit the description of the “image”, that we are only like God. Others think “likeness” is a way to heighten the description of “image”, that our image is truly like God. What is probably the best understanding is that these are synonyms. Rather than trying to emphasize some small nuance between image and likeness, we should take them together as a way to understand an important truth about our being image-bearers. This language of being God’s image and likeness expresses that there is a way we truly resemble God yet while not actually being divine. We are finite creatures reflecting the image and likeness of the infinite God. So, because we are created in God’s image, there is a way that we are like God in a way that no other creature on earth is. But there is also a way that we are not like God.

What follows from this truth is our theological categories of communicable and incommunicable attributes. As image bearers, there are certain qualities God communicates to us. For example, the Bible speaks of things like knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as qualities we can have in virtue of being in God’s likeness and image. Things like that are what we call communicable attributes. But there are other attributes, like God being infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, which we don’t possess, and we call them incommunicable. God’s image elevates man’s being without eliminating the creator/creature distinction.

Looking again at that poetry of verse 27, we also see that another aspect of mankind being made in God’s image is that God made both male and female versions.
Using poetic parallelism, it starts out saying that God made humans in general in his image, but then expands the idea saying, “male and female he created them.” So then, humans are one “kind” of creature, made up of these two types, both in the divine image. On a related note, we should not have any trouble understanding how both men and women bear the image of God, despite such noticeable differences in their physical images with each other. God does not have a physical body, and so we are surely right to understand that the imago Dei is especially something about how God has made the human soul to reflect him.

We can understand more of what it means to be created in God’s image as we look at the instructions God gave humans here. That begins in verse 26, with a focus on dominion. Dominion is about rule, that you are the king and lord of others. So, humans reflect God’s image when they serve as kings and queens over all the earth, because God is the sovereign king over all creation. In a sense, humans serve as gods to the earth, using the language of Psalm 82:6. God is the high king over all things, we as God’s image bearers are king over all things on earth.

Verse 26 so constrains this dominion when God sets humans over the creatures of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over all the land creatures. In other words, God sets them over all the living creatures that are mentioned explicitly in the creation account. But as Psalm 8:5 can then rightly discern, that means humans have not been set over angels. God assigns us here as his image bearers over these earthly creatures, but not over angels.

When we come to verse 28, we see man’s dominion further referenced but with additional instructions. There, God blesses humans and first instructs us to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Then he tells us to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. Those first three things of being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth, call us to reproduce and spread throughout the earth. While each of those words on their own can have broader meanings, when used together in the Bible they typically have reproduction in view. What is interesting about this three-fold call to reproduce is that it was also said to the sea creatures and somewhat similarly to birds, in their realms respectively. It is also interesting that it is not said to the land animals. A conclusion to draw from that seems to be that in general, this feature of reproduction and filling the realms God has created for us is common to all his earthly creatures, and so while humans are different than the animals being in God’s image, they also have similarity with them too, such as with reproduction. And since land creatures are not told this in the same way, that might suggest their reproducing must be second to mankind’s. Their spread through the earth must not displace humans in the process.

So then, verse 28 finishes by adding to the dominion idea the related concept of subduing. Indeed, in these instructions that God gives man here, he says this is a prerequisite for the fullest expression of their dominion, that they must first subdue all things on this earth. The word subdue refers to bringing something into subjection to you, often with a sense of conquering them. While we might tend to assume a rather peaceful co-existence of man with the animals before the fall, but given these instructions there was apparently some subduing of the earth that would be needed. Even prior the fall, God is telling his image bearers that as gods to the creation, they will need to subdue this earth unto submission to themselves. The serpent in the garden is one example of an animal that needed some subduing. Such subduing would be part of how they were to be God’s image-bearers on earth.

Yet another way that we see the image of God is in verse 29. There it speaks of food for us humans including the plants that bear seed and the trees that bear fruit with seeds. What is surely implied is the work of agriculture. Humans should not only eat the seeds and the fruit, but also use the seeds to farm. You don’t see other animals farming like we humans do. The act of planting a seed that turns into a plant is another way we mimick God as his image bearers. While that is not the same thing as God’s creative speaking things into existence, it is in our finite ability another way we show God’s image as creators of sorts.

So then, related to this idea of working the field is that God in this creation week established a pattern for man to follow as his image bearers. As I said last week, God shows the pattern of daily work, with rest at night, and then having one day in seven as a special day of rest. As mankind follows that pattern of six days of work and a seventh of rest, we again image God.

Even more wonderful, is that in 2:3, God said that seventh day of rest was to be holy, so we see that part of God’s image in us is the idea of holiness. God is holy, in that he is set apart and distinct from all his creation. We have a sense of holiness in comparison to the creation too, because we are also distinct from it being in God’s image. So then, we alone have a conscious way that we can enjoy God in his worship and praise, and he even sets aside one day in seven for us to particularly cultivate that sacred relationship with himself. That is a creation ordinance that we continue today to express every Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, and its because we are image bearers that we enjoy this.

So then, these are all various aspects of what it means to be in God’s image. Let me offer six practical applications and implications that come from this. One application is that God is our master. We are stamped with his image, and like Jesus’ analogy that coins with Caesar’s image belong to Caesar, so too God has stamped us with his image and we belong to God. While we are gods to this earth, so to speak, we serve at his pleasure and answer to him. This would then reject the false doctrine of humanism that makes man of prime importance instead of God.

A second application is that this rejects radical environmentalism or any form of naturalism that would effectively equate humans with the other animals. Some such advocates even speak against what they call speciesism, saying it is evil for humans to think of themselves as more important than animals. This is not to say that humans should maltreat this world, rather as God’s image bearers we should be exercising faithful stewardship of this world that he has entrusted to it. Yet, still creation should be in service to man, not man in service to creation.

A third application is that biological sex is binary. God here made humans either male or female. Our gender and how we express that is to be rooted in this fact, whether you are male or female. That is what you are. As humans have exercised the image of God in biology, we have even seen this reality in our DNA.

A fourth application is the equality of the sexes. While next chapter will get into some of the differences between male and female, this is not one of them. Ontologically, they are both human, and thus they are both image bearers. In other words, there is no room for men to treat women as lesser beings, or vice versa. Any such misogyny or misandry is a sinful degradation of God’s image.

A fifth application is that marriage is between a man and a woman with a key part of it being for the purposes of procreation. We’ll see more of that institution next chapter. This does not mean that there is an absolute requirement for any and all people to get married and any and all marriages to reproduce. Yet, marriage as an institution is rooted in this call here in chapter 1 as image bearers. Humanity will not be able to fulfill the command to fill and subdue the earth apart from procreation, and as we’ll see next chapter that is to be expressed in the institution of marriage between a male human and a female human.

A sixth application is that this speaks against all wicked treatment against other humans, especially the unjust taking of life. Premeditated murder, abortion, manslaughter, suicide assisted or otherwise, etc, is the unjust killing of an image bearer, and Genesis 9:6 will specifically say how wrong that it because of the image of God in humans. Similarly, James says it is wrong to curse other humans because humans are made in God’s image (3:9). So the image of God in humanity speaks to how we should treat one another with dignity because God’s image in us brings such fundamental dignity.

Therein lies the problem. In our last point for today, I want us to reckon with the fact that man has marred this image in our fall into sin. While it has not been completely lost, it has been defaced. Since the fall, God’s image in mankind is in desperate need of restoration. Otherwise, God’s plan for how he would have us be his image in his creation would never come to its full intended fruition.

So then, God had a plan to redeem a people out of this fallen humanity, and in them to restore his image and fulfill his ultimate intention for creation. That plan involved sending forth a new image bearer, God himself in his Son, taking on a human nature, born by the overshadowing of the Spirit, as a second Adam. This Jesus would be an image bearer that would not fall or fail. He would come and suffer and die in the place of us fallen image bearers that all who come unto him in faith would become new creations. So that all who are in Christ, would have the image of God restored to its full glory.

This is what the New Testament declares to us. Passages like 2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15, and Hebrews 4:2 say that Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the exact imprint of God’s nature. Jesus advances the concept of the imago Dei to something even more wonderful as God in the flesh. Not only will we Christians be renewed in God’s image (Col 3:10, Eph 4:24), but the Bible says more specifically that Christians are being made into the image of Christ. All humans descended from Adam have received the image from Adam, like how Genesis 5:2 says that Adam bore his son Seth in his own image. But if we are in Jesus, the second Adam, then we will be made into Christ’s image. 1 Cor. 15:49 says, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [i.e. the first Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [i.e. the second Adam, Jesus].

Hebrews 2 helps us to understand why that is so wonderful. There, it quoted Psalm 8 and said the Son of God came into this world as a human, made for a little while was made a little lower than the angels. In other words, in his taking on humanity, he took on the lower position of being under angels for a time. But then Hebrews speaks of how afterwards he ascended up into heaven at God’s right hand. Jesus is now seated at that highest place, even above all the angels.

In other words, for us now be made into the image of Christ is to ultimately move beyond what was here in Genesis 1. We are not being put not just over the creatures on this earth, but over all things under God, including even angels. We see this confirmed in other places of Scripture that speak of how we will even judge angels in the new creation, 1 Corinthians 6:3. This is because we are not restored simply in the image and position that Adam here had, but into that image of the man of heaven, Jesus, who now has been exalted to the highest place over all created things. Ephesians 2:6 even says that if we are in Christ, we are already seated with him in that highest place.

Trinity Presbyterian Church, in conclusion, God has made humans in his image. So then, let us show dignity to every man and woman because of the image of God. And as image bearers, let us seek to exercise proper dominion and stewardship in this world, following God’s pattern for work and rest.

And as Christians, we now bear the image of Christ to a fallen world. Our task ought no longer to be just to work and rest as lords of this creation. Let us ultimately work and rest as lords of the new creation in Christ Jesus. Part of that is to call all of fallen humanity to look to find their image restored in Jesus. Let us seek to bear Christ’s image to the world around us.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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