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


That man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) is a very important fact. This alone 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. With the concept of image of God, man can claim no more rights than any other animal, or even plant.

o        Human rights are moral claims of basic privileges for all human beings. They are founded on the belief of “human dignity” which is defined as the claim to respect by simply being human. But why would just being human be a sufficient reason for deserving human rights. Because Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). 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. There can be no genuine rights of man except on the basis of faith in God.



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 next verse. 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, sometimes described as 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.

The last 3 explanations appear reasonable.


Is there a difference between image and likeness?

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

[a] While Gen 1:26 reads, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” only “image” is mentioned in Gen 1:27. As the two verses express consecutively God’s intention and action, they have the same meaning. Therefore “image” and “likeness” are the same.

[b] The Hebrew prepositions “in (Heb. be) his image” and “according to (Heb. ke) his likeness” are interchangeable.

[c] Some claim that the misunderstanding (that the two are different) was the result of the erroneous addition of the word “and” (Gr. kai) in LXX between “image” and “likeness”. It was not in the original Hebrew.

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

In the Bible, it is true that both words can mean an object similar to something else. However, “image” (Heb. selem) usually refers to the aspect of representation. [Its Biblical usage includes statues or replicas (1Sa 6:5,11), paintings (Eze 23:14), and pagan idols (Nu 33:42; 2Ki 11:18; Eze 7:20; 16:17).] “Likeness” (Heb. demut) usually refers to the aspect of similarity. [Its Biblical usage includes a model or drawing of the altar (2Ki 16:10), figures of bulls beneath the bronze altar (2Ch 4:3-4), and wall paintings of Babylonian chariot officers (Eze 23:15).]

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. On the other hand, “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; likeness to God is an object for Christians to strive for (Ro 8:29; Eph 4:24; also Ps 17:15).


How is the “image of God” interpreted in church history?

There are 3 schools of interpretation for the “image of God” (Latin: Imago Deo): [a] substantive view: identifying particular quality of man as being the image of God in man; [b] relational view: identifying the ability of interpersonal relationship originated from the image; [c] functional view: identifying human dominion over the creation as the image.

[1] Church Fathers: substantive view

Historically, the “image” had been identified as the spiritual or immaterial properties of a person. Since the time of Irenaeus (AD185), a common view in the church was to differentiate between “image” and “likeness”. It is thought that “image” refers to the ability to reason while “likeness” refers to a person’s correspondence to God in spiritual attributes. As a consequence of human sin, the “likeness” has been lost but the “image”, which distinguishes a person from the animal order, persists unaltered.

Augustine attempted to explain the “image” in ontological terms by appealing to a trinitarian image, such as human memory, knowledge, and will.

[2] Reformation: substantive view

This earlier view was abandoned by the Reformers. They nevertheless perpetuated the standard opinion that the imago Dei was spiritual, but they showed more willingness to understand the “image” in terms of human fellowship with God. Following Augustine, they insisted that the “image” had been mortally wounded in the Fall, which required the intervening grace of the Spirit for salvation.

Calvin used the NT to explain “image” and he believed that the original “image” can be restored in the Christian believer (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). He referred the image mainly to knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, but he also admitted the “image” included to a degree the physical human body. Luther, in a similar vein, believed that Adam’s eyes before the Fall were “so sharp and clear that they surpassed those of the lynx and eagle.”

[3] Modern:

Relational view: In the 20th century, the old view that the “image” was primarily spiritual and ontological was challenged. Emil Brunner believed that our ability of forming interpersonal relationships is a manifestation of the image of God. Karl Barth added also the human ability of partnership with God. While this existential interpretation dwells on relationship, it should be noted that the relationship is the consequence of the “image” rather than its contents.

Functional view: In the 2nd half of the 20th century, the dominant interpretation (following Chrysostom) emphasizes the functional aspect. The “image” is man’s divine ordained role to rule over the lower orders. The idea is the “royal” administration: mankind is God’s image representing Him on Earth as His royal vice-regent.


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

In general, the fact that man is in the image of God means that man is like God in: [a] man can emulate God, [b] man can represent God on Earth, and [c] man is entirely different from all other creatures. Obviously, the image cannot be explained in a physical corporeal sense because God is a Spirit.

[1] Moral aspects: [a] We have an inner sense of right and wrong—with an innate moral code or conscience. [b] As we have conscience, we are morally accountable before God for our actions. [c] When we act according to God’s moral standards, we are holy and righteous.

[2] Spiritual aspects: [a] We have self-consciousness, the knowledge of 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, to praise 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, e.g. mathematics and philosophy. [b] We use complex abstract language. [c] We have an awareness of the distant future and are concerned about life after death. Ecc 3:11: God “has put eternity in man’s mind.” [d] We are creative, such as art, music, literature, and inventiveness in science and technology. [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. There is still enough likeness to God remaining in man that to murder another person is to attack the part of creation that most resembles God; such action betrays an attempt or desire to attack God Himself.

However, man is certainly not as fully like God as he was before the Fall. In every aspect of life, 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.

Only after receiving redemption in Christ can a person progressively recover more of God’s image and likeness.


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

[1] Primates:

In biology, primates are the highest order of mammals which include man and the higher apes, such as gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzees, gibbon. This term in biology implies that man has the same origin as apes (in evolution hypothesis). However, the Bible says that man was specially created in the image of God. Therefore, grouping man with apes is effectively a debasement of man.

[2] DNA:

Past research claimed that human DNA is 98.4% identical to the DNA of chimpanzees and bonobos, a lesser-known chimp-like ape. However, in a more recent research, segments of human DNA and chimpanzee DNA (totaling 1,870,955 base pairs) 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 that a nematode is 75% human? Or that the chimpanzee is less than half way between nematode and human?

Even more recently in 2005, researchers found that 80% of the proteins in the human and chimpanzee genomes are different; only 20% 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 2.5 to 3 times in size of those in apes, while apes have similar brain sizes.

[4] Wonders of the human brain:

[a] It is doubtful that we will ever fully understand the human brain. Some describe it as no more than a wonderful organic computer, but that is a great over-simplification.

[b] Functionality: Our brain is a computer that can change and modify its functionality. Tests with people who have had brain surgery and lost some capabilities indicates that over time part or much of the lost functionality can be recovered with non-damaged portions of the brain assuming capability that lost brain sections once controlled.

[c] Plasticity: Our brain has “plasticity”; it is continually changing. These changes come about by synapses becoming activated or deactivated through the growth or contraction of dendritic spines. Moreover, these changes can take place in surprisingly short times. Varying genetic factors combined with varing environmental factors and the plasticity of the brain gives us “individuality”.

[d] Memory: Our memory is miraculous in terms of its capacity and access. The fact that we can recall anything in our life almost instantaneously as we need it, sometimes with pictures and sound too, can never be achieved by a computer.

[5] Other differences:

The significant differences between human and apes include skeletal elements (skull, vertebral column, thorax, pectoral girdle, arm, hand, pelvic girdle, leg, foot), locomotor anatomy, bipedal locomotion, vision and communicative eyes, communication by speech/language.


Is it true that the Neandertal man (homo sapiens, literal “wise man”) was the ancestor of human beings (homo sapiens sapiens, literal “wise wise man”)?

Neandertal man appeared between 40,000 BC and 150,000 BC. They were found to bury their dead and to make clothes from animal skins. That leads some anthropologists to speculate that they were the ancestors of modern-day human beings.

Until the mid 1990s, anthropology routinely taught that there are no significant anatomical differences between modern humans and Neandertals. However, recent findings have firmly concluded that there are dramatical anatomical differences between Neandertals and modern humans. These evidences refute against any biological link between the two.

Further, the comparison of DNA concluded that the difference was enormous—an average of 26 nucleotide links in the DNA chain differed completely. Modern humans differed from one another in an average of just 8 links of the chain.

Conclusion: The Neandertals could not have made any contribution to the human gene pool.



        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 which God has redeemed us is that we might be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro 8:29). This is a restoration of the likeness that God intended for us at creation. This is an important objective in life.

        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.