{7}         STUDY: “Image” and “Likeness”


That man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) differentiates us from the rest of creation and gives us the position to rule over the rest of creation. It also provide the foundation for human rights. If not, then man is no different from other animals and human dignity has no solid foundation. Atheists cannot provide good justification for human rights.


What is the meaning of the plural “our” in “our image” (Gen 1:26)?

There are similar verses at Gen 3:22; 11:7; 2Sa 24:14; Isa 6:8. Possibilities include:

[1] God plus the created order, especially the Earth.

[2] pointing to the creation of both male and female (see Gen 5:1-2).

[3] God and the angels. Support: [a] When God established the foundation of the earth, angels were present (Job 38:4,7). [b] There were conferences between God and angels in 1Ki 22:19; Job 1:6; Ps 82:1; Isa 6:8. [c] Angels are similar to man (Ps 8:5). Angels appeared in the form of man (Gen 18:2). Difficulties: [a] “Our” in Gen 1:26 does not correspond with “His” in the v27. Does “image of God” equal to “image of the angels”? [b] Ne 9:6 says that only God was involved in creation.

[4] Hebrew custom of using plural for emphasis—the plural of majesty, greatness, magnificence.

[5] self-deliberation of God.

[6] trinity; the concept was absent in the OT, may be explained as revelation implying trinity.

Is there a difference between image and likeness?

[1] Most theologians take the two words “image” and “likeness” are interchangeable because:

Gen 1:26 and 1:27 express consecutively God’s intention and action, the 2 words have the same meaning. The Hebrew prepositions “in (Heb. be) his image” and “according to (Heb. ke) his likeness” are interchangeable.

[2] However, some believe that the two words have different meanings.

In the Bible, “image” (Heb. selem) usually refers to the aspect of representation. “Likeness” (Heb. demut) usually refers to the aspect of similarity.

Therefore, some believe “image” describes man’s representation of God on Earth in terms of his responsibilities described in Gen 1:28, while “likeness” describes man’s similarity with God in terms of mental and spiritual capabilities.

Some interprets “image” to mean a symbol of belonging to God or man’s sonship, and “likeness” refers to the more abstract internal qualities of being similar in character to God. Because of the Fall, man lost the likeness which can only be recovered through Christ (Ro 8:29; Eph 4:24).

What are the characteristics of man as an image of God?

Man is like God in: [a] man can emulate God, [b] man can represent God on Earth.

[1] Moral aspects: [a] We have an inner sense of right and wrong—conscience. [b] As we have conscience, we are morally accountable before God for our actions.

[2] Spiritual aspects: [a] We have self-consciousness, knowing our own existence. [b] We have not only physical bodies but also immaterial spirits with a spiritual realm of existence. [c] We have a spiritual life that enables us to relate to God, to pray to Him and to hear Him speaking to us.

[3] Mental aspects: [a] We have an ability to reason and think logically, analyze in abstract terms, and learn. [b] We use complex abstract language. [c] We have an awareness of distant future and are concerned about life after death. (Ecc 3:11) [d] We are creative, such as art, music, inventiveness. [e] We are able to recognize and to cherish truth, beauty, and goodness. [f] We possess a drive to discover things unknown. [g] We have a large range as well as complexity of emotions.

[4] Relational aspects: [a] We aspire to have deep interpersonal harmony, such as in marriage, in family, and in church fellowship. [b] Despite our different sexual roles, we have equality in importance. [c] We are given the right to rule over the rest of creation. When Christ returns, we will be given authority to judge over angels (1Co 6:3; Ps 8:6-8).

[5] Dignity: We have great dignity as bearers of God’s image. This is the foundation of human rights.

Did man lose the image of God after the Fall?

Based on Gen 9:6, it is clear that even though men are sinful, the image of God in man is not totally lost. However, the resemblance to God has been distorted: [a] Morally, man’s moral purity has been lost; his sinful nature and behaviour do not reflect God’s holiness. [b] Spiritually, man cannot relate to God because of sin. [c] Mentally, man’s intellect is corrupted by falsehood and misunderstanding. [d] Relationally, man’s relationships are often governed by selfishness rather than love. Man experiences alienation or estrangment from other people.

Jas 3:9 describes that all human beings, not just believers, “are made in the likeness of God.” That is why despite all the distortions, man still possesses dignity.

Is man genetically and physically similar to chimpanzee or other primates?

[1] Primates: In biology, primates (a debasing term for humans) are the highest order of mammals which include man and the higher apes, such as gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzees, gibbon.

[2] DNA: Some claimed that human DNA is 98.4% identical to the DNA of chimpanzees. However, when segments of human DNA and chimpanzee DNA were laid side by side, the genetic similarity is found to be 86.7%. Similar procedures found that human DNA is about 75% similar to that of a nematode, a small soil-dwelling worm. Can we then suggest the chimpanzee is less than half way between nematode and human?

In 2005, researchs found that only 20% of the proteins in human and chimpanzee genomes are similar.

[3] Brain size: Average brain size: human 1201 cm3, gorilla 469 cm3, chimpanzee 400 cm3, orangutan 397 cm3. It is clear that the human brain is much larger (2.5 to 3 times) than those in apes, while apes have similar brain sizes.

[4] Other differences: Other significant differences between human and apes include skeletal elements, bipedal locomotion, vision and communicative eyes, communication by speech/language.


        God is a God of life. The Bible is pro-life because man is created in the image of God. Every person is valuable in God’s eyes. Because of this, every human being must be treated with dignity and respect, including the frail elderly, the seriously ill, the mentally retarded, and children yet unborn.

        As Christians, we “are being changed into his (God’s) likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2Co 3:18). The goal for us is a restoration of the likeness that God intended for us at creation.

        The renewed image is characterized by knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24), 3 things that we need to commit our strength to strive for.