Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, “Let us make man[a] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
In our brief analysis of two interpretative approaches to Genesis 1, we were unable to devote much space to the sixth day of creation, the first part of which is recorded in verses 24–25. These verses depict God making the land animals, and, just like His earlier work, we are not surprised to see that this creation was also good. With few exceptions, the land animals (especially mammals) are the most intelligent in the animal kingdom. However, the final day of creation did not end with them. Mankind is the pinnacle of the Lord’s handiwork, evident in the large number of verses devoted to His creation (vv. 26–31; 2:4–25).
Today we examine Genesis 1:26–27 and its teaching that men and women are made in the image of God. Whatever this means exactly, and this has been debated extensively in church history, it is clear that human beings are set apart from the rest of creation, for it is man — not the animal kingdom — who is made in the image of God.
We confess that being made in God’s image alludes to a certain excellence possessed by mankind. John Calvin aptly notes that unlike the other days of creation, God pauses on the sixth day to consult with the heavenly court before creating humanity. Calvin writes, God “chose to give this tribute to the excellency of man, that he would, in a manner, enter into consultation concerning his creation.”
We may also say that being in the image of God does not mean that God has a human body. The Lord is Spirit (John 4:24), and therefore, our anatomy cannot correspond to the divine nature. However, this should not be misconstrued to mean that our bodies are less important than our souls. The body is part of the “very good” creation (Gen. 1:31) and essential to our personhood.
Thus we conclude that bearing the image of God enables us to share some of His spiritual and mental capacities. Being made in God’s image means, among other things, that we can understand His revelation, formulate plans, have fellowship with Him, and reflect His attributes, attributes such as dominion (v. 26). Tomorrow we will discuss the nature of our dominion in more detail.
Scripture alone provides a solid foundation for human dignity. Without it, we have no basis for asserting that all men are created equal or that all men must be treated with kindness. That we bear God’s image, however marred it now is, also explains why even the cruelest person is capable of love. Take some time to meditate on the fact that God has made us in His image, and remember that because of this image we must be kind and respectful to others.
In His Own Image, Copyright (2021), Ligonier Ministries.