And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image….

GENESIS 1:26, 27

The one mark which forever distinguishes man from all other forms of life on earth is that he is a worshiper: he has a bent toward and a capacity for worship.

Apart from his position as a worshiper of God, man has no sure key to his own being; he is but a higher animal, being born much as any other animal, going through the cycle of his life here on earth and dying at last without knowing what the whole thing is about.

If that is all for him, if he has no more reason than the beast for living, then it is an odd thing indeed that he is the only one of the animals that worries about himself, that wonders, that asks questions of the universe.

The very fact that he does these things tells the wise man that somewhere there is One to whom he owes allegiance, One before whom he should kneel and do homage.

The Christian revelation tells us that that One is God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who is to be worshiped in the Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

That is enough for us. Without trying to reason it out we may proceed from there. All our doubts we meet with faith’s wondering affirmation: “O Lord God, Thou knowest,” an utterance which Samuel Taylor Coleridge declared to be the profoundest in human speech.

Bible Christianity needs to recapture the spirit of worship, with a fresh revelation of the greatness of God and the beauty of Jesus![1]

26–27 The creation of humankind is set apart from the previous acts of creation by a series of subtle contrasts with the earlier accounts of God’s acts. First, in v. 26, the beginning of the creation of humans is marked by the usual, “And God said.” However, God’s word that follows is not an impersonal (third person) “Let there be”; rather, what is used is the personal (first person) “Let us make.”

Second, throughout the previous narrative each creature is made “according to its own kind” (lemînāh). But the account of the creation of humankind specifically notes that the man and the woman were not made “according to their own kind.” Rather, they were made “in [God’s] image” (beṣalmēnû). They are not merely like themselves, they are also like God; they share a likeness to their Creator.

Third, the creation of humankind is specifically noted as a creation as “male and female” (v. 27). The author has not considered gender an important feature in his account of the creation of the other forms of life, but for humanity it is clearly of considerable importance. Thus the narrative puts heavy stress on the fact that God created man as “male and female.”

Fourth, only humanity has been given dominion in God’s creation. Humankind’s dominion is expressly stated to be over all other living creatures: those of the sky, sea, and land.

Why the author has singled out the creation of humankind in this way? One answer is that the author intends to portray him as a special creature marked off from the rest of God’s works. But the author’s purpose seems to go beyond merely marking humankind as different from the rest of the creatures; the narrative is also intent on showing that humans are like God. As much as they are not like the other creatures, they are to that extent also like God.

Behind the account of the creation of humans in this narrative lies the purpose of the author of Genesis and the Pentateuch. In this broader picture of humankind’s creation, the reader is given a perspective on certain facts that are to serve as the starting point for the larger purposes of the Pentateuch. Humans are creatures. But more than that, they are special creatures. They are made in the image and likeness of God.

There have been many attempts to explain the plural forms: “Let us make [naʿaśeh] man in our image [beṣalmēnû], in our likeness [kidmûtēnû].” Westermann, 1:144–45, summarizes the explanations given for the use of plurals under four headings: (1) the plural is a reference to the Trinity; (2) the plural is a reference to God and the heavenly court of angels; (3) the plural is an attempt to avoid the idea of an immediate resemblance of humans to God; (4) the plural is an expression of deliberation on God’s part while setting out to create humankind.

The singulars in v. 27 (beṣalmō, “in his own image,” and beṣelem ʾelōhîm, “in the image of God”; cf. 5:1) rule out the second explanation (i.e., that the plural refers to a heavenly court of angels), since in the immediate context humans are said to be created “in his image,” with no mention made of humans’ being made in the image of the angels. To this the author adds a further qualification that God made humankind “in the image of God.” This seems to be an intentional refutation of the notion that the plurals in v. 26 refer to the angels.

The third and fourth explanations are both possible within the context, but neither explanation is specifically supported by the context. It is not convincing to point to 11:7 in support of the notion of deliberation, since the use of the plural in that passage is motivated by the chiastic wordplay between the words nabelâh (“let us confuse,” 11:7) and nilbe (“let us make,” 11:3; see J. P. Fokklemann, Narrative Art in Genesis [Assen: Van Gorcum, 1975]). Where we do find unequivocal deliberation (as in 18:17), it is not the plural that is used but the singular: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” As Westermann has stated, the first explanation is “a dogmatic judgment,” though we could add that it is not a judgment that runs counter to the passage itself. However, if we seek an answer from the immediate context, we should turn to the following verse(s) for additional clues.

In v. 27 it is stated twice that humankind was created (bārāʾ) in God’s image, and a third time that humans were created (bārāʾ) “male and female.” The same pattern is found in Genesis 5:1–2a: “When God created [bārāʾ] man … he created [bārāʾ] them male and female.” The singular “man” (ʾādām) is created as a plurality, “male and female” (zākār ûneqēbâ). In a similar way the one God (wayyōʾmer ʾelōhîm, “And God said”) created humanity through an expression of plurality (naʿaśeh ʾādām beṣalmēnû, “Let us make man in our image”). Following this clue, the divine plurality of persons expressed in v. 26 can be seen as an anticipation of the human plurality of persons reflected in man and woman, thus casting human personal relationships in the role of reflecting God’s own personhood.

Could anything be more obvious than to conclude from this clear indication that the image and likeness of the being created by God signifies existence in confrontation, i.e., in this confrontation, in the juxtaposition and conjunction of man and man which is that of male and female, and then to go on to ask against this background in what the original and prototype of the divine existence of the Creator consists? (K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3/1 [New York: Scribner, 1956], 195).[2]

1:26–28 The crown of God’s work was the creation of man in His image and according to His likeness. This means that man was placed on earth as God’s representative, and that He resembles God in certain ways. Just as God is a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), so man is a tripartite being (spirit, soul, and body). Like God, man has intellect, a moral nature, the power to communicate with others, and an emotional nature that transcends instinct. There is no thought of physical likeness here. In contrast to animals, man is a worshiper, an articulate communicator, and a creator.

There is an allowance for or even an intimation of the Trinity in verse 26: Then God [Elohim, plural] said [singular verb in Hebrew], “Let Us [plural] make man in Our image.…”

The Bible describes the origin of the sexes as a creative act of God. Evolution has never been able to explain how the sexes began. Humanity was commanded to be fruitful and multiply.

God gave man a mandate to subdue creation and have dominion over it—to use it but not abuse it. The modern crises in the earth’s environment are due to man’s greed, selfishness, and carelessness.[3]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Sailhamer, J. H. (2008). Genesis. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 69–70). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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