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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
This article is concerned solely with the subject of humankind’s status as being created in the image of God. And this image of God is expressed in all human beings alike, regardless of sex or race (Gen_1:27-28: 2:18; see HUMANITY, HUMANKIND). Concerning images in the sense of idols see IDOL,
A unified being
Human beings are different from all other animals in that they alone are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This does not merely mean that certain ‘parts’ of them, such as spiritual, moral or intellectual characteristics, reflect the nature of God. The whole person, exists in God’s image. The eternal God is in some way expressed in human beings, so that they represent God on earth. God has appointed them as the earthly rulers over the created world (Genesis 1:27-28).
Certainly, one result of creation in God’s image is that people have spiritual, moral and intellectual characteristics that make them different from all other creatures. If they were not in God’s image, they would not, in the biblical sense, be human. Even if they had the same physical appearance as humans, they would still be no more than animals. An animal’s ‘animality’ is something self-contained, so to speak, something entirely within the animal itself. But a human being’s humanity is not self-contained. It is not something that exists independently within a person. It is dependent on God in the sense that its relation with God is what makes it human.
Dignity and responsibility
In creating human beings in his image, God has given them a dignity and status that make their relation to him unique among his creatures (Psalms 8:3-8; Matthew 10:31; Matthew 12:12). At the same time God limits their independence. They are not God; they exist only in the image of God. They cannot exist independently of God any more than the image of the moon on the water can exist independently of the moon. People may try to be independent of God, and will bring disaster upon themselves as a result, but they cannot destroy the image of God. No matter how sinful they may be, they still exist in God’s image (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9).
The story of Adam and Eve shows something of the dignity and responsibility that God gave them (and all human beings through them) as being in God’s image. As God’s representative they authority over the lower orders of creation (Genesis 1:28-30; Genesis 2:15; Genesis 2:19-20). God places them in a world where they can develop mind and body through making rational choices and exercising creative skills. God wants them to enjoy fully this unique life he has given them, but they must do so in fellowship with him and submission to him. They do not have the unlimited right to do as they please, to be the sole judge of right and wrong (Genesis 2:15-17).
Since God is unlimited and since people exists in his image, there is a tendency within them to want to be unlimited. But the fact of their being in God’s image means they are not unlimited; they have no absolute independence. They fall into sin when they yield to the temptation to rebel against God and set themselves up as the ones who will decide what is right and what is wrong. They are not satisfied with their unique status as the representative of God; they themselves want to be God (Genesis 3:1-7).
The perfect man
In contrast with Adam and Eve, Jesus shows what people in God’s image should really be. Jesus accepted the limitations of humanity, yet found purpose and fulfilment in life, in spite of the temptations. As God’s representative he submitted in complete obedience to his Father, and so demonstrated, as no other person could, what true humanity was (John 8:29; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 4:15).
There was yet a higher sense in which Jesus reflected the image of God, a sense that could be true of no ordinary person. Jesus was not merely in the image of God; he was the image of God. As well as being human, he was divine. He was the perfect representation of God, because he was God. He had complete authority over creation, because he was the Creator (John 12:45; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:3).
By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus undid the evil consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Romans 5:12-20). But he has done far more than that. He has become head of a new community. Adam and Eve were made in the image of God and passed on that character to the human race that is descended from them. In like manner Christ shares his image with all who by faith are united with him (Romans 8:29). Although this image of Christ is something that believers in Christ share now, it is also something that they must be continually working towards in their daily lives. It will reach its fullest expression at the return of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10; 1 John 3:2).
While the world is still under the power of sin, people do not enjoy the authority over creation that their status as being in God’s image entitles them to. Only at the final triumph of Jesus Christ will humanity, through Christ, enter its full glory (Hebrews 2:5-9; Romans 8:19-23). All people may exist in the image of God, but the only ones who will bear God’s image fully are those who by faith become united with Christ. Only Christians will be human as God intended.
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Image'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bbd/i/image.html. 2004.