IBRI Research Report #21 (1984)


Robert C. Newman
Biblical Theological Seminary
Interdisciplinary Biblical
Research Institute

Copyright © 1984 by Robert C. Newman. All rights reserved.


Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written. 

ISBN 0-944788-21-1



One of the most important concepts which theologians have investigated in seeking to understand the Biblical teaching on the nature of man is that of man in the ``image of God.'' Gen 1:26-27 describes man's creation in these terms:

Then God said, ``Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let
them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle
and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.''
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male
and female He created them.1

Apparently this image of God in man was not totally lost by the fall, since Scripture refers to it at later times in prohibiting the killing and cursing of men (Gen 9:6; Jas 3:9). Yet to some degree or in some sense it was lost, since it is being restored in Christians as they ``put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him'' (Col 3:10).

What is this ``image of God'' in man? To answer this question, systematic theologians have primarily worked with the ``image'' passages in Scripture to construct various models. The early Greek theologians, noting the contrast between the (irrational) animals made ``after their kind'' and man made in the image of God, believed the image was man's rational nature, which resembles God's rational nature. Socinian and Remonstrant theologians noted the parallelism between man's dominion over nature and God's dominion over nature; the ``image'' is man's rational nature designed to be appropriate for ruling the earth. Lutheran theologians, by contrast, have tended to emphasize Col 3:10 and Eph 4:24 man's moral nature is the image; this image was lost in the fall when man became a sinner, but it is regained through redemption.2

Reformed theologians have usually included both the rational and moral nature in their definition of God's image in man. For instance, Hodge says:

While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most
prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less
true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature.
He is the image of God and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhab-
itants of earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent and voluntary agent; and as
such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion.3

Other Reformed theologians, such as Buswell4 and Murray,5 express similar views on the way in which man shares God's image. As a result of the fall, the image of God in man is seen as almost destroyed, man becoming rather like a city in ruins.6

In this paper, we would like to explore a different approach to the image of God in man, one which we might call a perspective from Biblical theology rather than from systematic theology. A very fruitful way of viewing man as being in God's image, we shall suggest, is to consider those pictures God gives of Himself which are analogies featuring man in his relationship to other people or to other parts of the created environment, e.g., man as a husband, a king or a gardener. From this perspective, God images himself in man as man is involved in various human activities. We shall also suggest that this approach more accurately reflects the importance that theologians have sensed in the doctrine that man is a being in God's image, as from this perspective many hundreds of verses in Scripture are directly related to the matter rather than only half a dozen.

Our procedure will be as follows. After a brief study of the Hebrew and Greek words translated ``image'' and ``likeness'' in the classic Biblical passages, we shall survey a number of the ways in which God pictures Himself in Scripture, namely those in which He describes Himself by a human analogy. Thereafter we shall examine a number of passages related to idolatry and suggest that these, too, may be relevant to the image of God in man. Next we shall consider whether God's image is related to God's glory. In each of these sections, we shall attempt to show how this approach is helpful in understanding some difficult Scripture passages and in integrating some matters which might otherwise seem unrelated. Finally we shall seek to show not only that this approach is consistent with classic Reformed systematic theology but that it also has greater possibilities for communicating theological truth to the layman.


In the two OT references to man being in God's image, the same Hebrew word tselem is employed, which is elsewhere used fifteen times in the OT. Brown, Driver and Briggs suggest the word should be variously translated ``image, likeness'' or ``mere, empty semblance'' depending on the context;7 Holladay suggests ``statue, image, model'' or ``drawing.''8 Examining each context, we see that occasionally the word is used for idols (2 Kings 11:18; Ezk 7:20; Am 5:26), though it is not the common word for idols. In 1 Sam 6:5,11, the Philistines seek to placate God after capturing the ark by returning it with golden images of mice and tumors. There are two rather cryptic uses: Ps 39:6: ``Surely every man walks about as a phantom,'' which appears in a context of the futility of man's life; and Ps 73:20: ``Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form,'' referring to disaster coming upon the wicked. The cognate Aramaic word is regularly used of idols (15 times in Daniel 2 and 3).

The usual LXX translation of tselem is eikon. This is also used for man in the image of God in 1 Cor 11:7, and for believers assuming the image of Christ or God in Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; and Col 3:10. Elsewhere it refers to man in Adam's image (1 Cor 15:49), of Caesar's image on a coin (Matt 22:20 and parallels), and of the law as an image of good things to come (Heb 10:1). It is used regularly of idols (Acts 19:35; Rom 1:23; 11:4; and the image of the beast in Revelation 13-20). Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich render eikon as ``image, likeness, form'' or ``appearance.''9

The word translated ``likeness'' in Gen 1:26 and 5:1 is demuth. Brown, Driver and Briggs render it ``likeness, similitude,'' and note that external appearance is commonly meant.10 Holladay gives ``pattern, form, shape, image'' and ``something like.''11 An examination of its usage indicates that it frequently occurs in Ezekiel 1 and 10 to describe parts of a vision, comparing the unknown to the known. Elsewhere it is used to speak of poison like a snake's (Ps 58:4), a sound like many people (Isa 13:4), men looking like Babylonians (Ezk 23:15), the images of oxen under the bronze sea (2 Chr 4:3) and an angel who resembles a human being (Dan 10:16). Isa 40:18 is interesting in a context about idolatry: ``To whom then will you liken God? / Or what likeness will you compare with Him?''

In the LXX demuth is rendered variously eidea, eikon, homoios, homoioma and homoiosis, with homoiosis for Gen 1:26 and eikon for Gen 5:1.12 We have already discussed eikon above. Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich render homoiosis ``likeness'' or ``resemblance,''13 but it only occurs once in the NT (Jas 3:9), where James speaks about the incongruity of blessing God while cursing men who are made in His likeness. The synonym homoioma is more common, meaning ``likeness, image, copy, form'' or ``appearance.''14 It is used for men changing God's glory into ``an image in the form of corruptible man'' and of various animals (Rom 1:23); for supernatural ``locusts'' with forms like horses (Rev 9:7); for Christ taking upon himself in his incarnation the likeness of man (Rom 8:3; Php 2:7); for sinners after Adam not sinning like he did (Rom 5:14); and for Christians being united with Christ in the likeness both of his death and resurrection (Rom 5:14).

In summarizing these uses, it is interesting to note that (excepting the cases of man in the image of God) the words usually refer to some sort of external appearance, often static but sometimes dynamic. The traditional theological formulations have usually taken image of God to be a static internal (invisible likeness. We would like to suggest an alternative perspective which may also be fruitful, namely one in which the image of God is a dynamic external (visible) likeness what man does is an image of what God does. We do not have in mind the Mormon view of God with a physical body; rather we are suggesting that human activity somehow images God in a dynamic way to those who see it. It is to this suggestion that we now turn.


God pictures Himself in Scripture by a vast number of metaphors or images. Some of these are non-human, e.g., God is a consuming fire (Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29). Others are human, but consist of attributes shared by God and man rather than images in which God pictures himself acting as a man, e.g., God is love (1 John 4:8). In this paper, however, we are interested in those pictures in which God compares Himself to a human being not just any human being, but one engaged in some particular activity or office: e.g., God as a father, a husband, or a farmer.

It is not our intention to discuss these sorts of metaphors exhaustively, nor even to locate all such pictures. Rather we wish to survey a representative set of such pictures and show how man, through them, images God to himself and others. For purposes of discussion, let us categorize these images in terms of relationships: man in relation to his family, man in relation to society, to animals, to plants, and man in relation to the inanimate. We shall discuss these here in reverse order.

Man in Relation to the Inanimate

Of the various ways in which God pictures Himself as a man relating to his inanimate environment, the best known is probably the potter and the clay. As a potter makes clay pots, so God has made us (Isa 64:8; 29:15-16; 45:9). Clay is probably one of the most pliable materials man has used throughout the centuries to produce useful articles; consequently man's work with clay comes closer to creation than almost any other of his every-day activities. The vast distance between God the Creator and man His creature is also emphasized in this picture. The latter two passages above suggest the vast distance between God's intelligence and man's, since the pot has no intellect and man has virtually none compared with God:

Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker -- an earthenware vessel among the
vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ``What are you doing?''
Or the thing you are making say, ``He has no hands''? (Isa 45:9)

In comparison with man's strength and with the durability of stone and metal vessels, the clay pot is rather fragile. Man, too, is easily broken. So Job laments that he is being crushed like a pot (Job 10:8-9); Elihu agrees that all men are weak like pottery, and therefore Job need not be afraid of Elihu though he fears to argue with God (Job 33:6-7). As a manufactured article, a pot may be broken by its maker/owner as he sees fit. So a pot is shattered by Jeremiah to symbolize the disaster coming upon Jerusalem (Jer 19:1-13), and the Messiah is similarly pictured destroying his enemies (Ps 2:9).

As a potter designs and uses ceramics for various purposes, so God has done with man (Rom 9:19-24). God can raise up or put down men and nations just as a potter reworks soft clay (Jer 18:1-12). The apostle Paul is a chosen vessel (Acts 9:15), and we, too, may become vessels of honor by responding properly to God (2 Tim 2:20-21). The idea of response may sound rather incongruous in this picture, yet it occurs in both of the last two passages; it probably refers to the fact that clay varies in resistance to being worked.

Other human activities in the inanimate environment which receive attention in Scripture are the mason-stone relation, the builder-building, and the metalsmith-metal. As this is merely a survey, we only mention them here.

Man in Relation to the Plants

Moving up the scale of being, there are numerous metaphors in Scripture where God is imaged in human activities of an agricultural sort. Rather than trying to categorize these botanically, let us look at several topics of relevance.

The righteous person is pictured as a healthy tree in Ps 1:3; 92:12-14; and Jer 17:7-8. God is somewhat in the background in these pictures, yet in Psalm 1 the plant has been planted and appears to be watered by irrigation both activities of the farmer-God. The plants of Ps 92:13 are ``planted in the house of the LORD'' and ``flourish in the courts of our God''; possibly these are double-references, alluding both to the practice of growing trees in the courtyard of one's home and to trees in the temple courts; in any case, the context favors a picture of God as the gardener-owner. The farmer watches over his trees to keep them healthy so that they will provide the fruit for which they have been planted. So, too, God has a purpose for man's life, often referred to in terms of bearing fruit.

Conversely, the wicked are often pictured as endangered plants. In contrast to the fruitful tree, the wicked are chaff which the wind disperses (Ps 1:4). Disobedient Israel is God's vineyard producing worthless grapes (Isa 5:1-7), or the wood of a grapevine which is useless lumber (Ezk 15:1-8). As a fig tree which produces no fruit ought to be cut down, so God will do to the wicked, though He is still giving them one more season to produce fruit (Lk 13:6-9). Even now God has laid the axe at the root of the tree in preparation for the felling stroke (Matt 3:8,10). As the farmer reacts to good and worthless plants, he can picture for himself and others how God reacts to righteous and wicked.

God's grace to the Gentiles is pictured graphically in Romans 11 under the figure of the grafted olive tree. Gentiles are grafted in as wild olive branches to replace Jews, represented by cultivated branches, on the holy rootstock. In a somewhat similar figure, professing believers are pictured as branches attached to Christ the vine (Jn 15:1-9). (In a striking picture of the incarnation God the Son becomes a creature the farmer a plant something no farmer can do!) God the Father is pictured as the vinedresser, removing fruitless branches and pruning fruitful ones so that they may produce even more. Here the good and wicked are combined in one figure: God is not looking for mere profession of Christianity, but that vital connection with Christ which invariably produces fruit.

Man in Relation to the Animals

Moving to the animal kingdom, the major picture of God's dealings with mankind is seen in the shepherd-sheep relationship. We see the shepherd finding the sheep, and leading, feeding, protecting and judging them.

As the shepherd seeks and finds his sheep when they stray, so God has sought and found us when we were lost (Isa 53:6; Lk 15;4-7). Israel is pictured as a scattered flock in Jer 50:6-7, 17-20 and in Ezk 34:11-13,15-16. In the context there are (presumably hired) shepherds which have not done their duty, and the owner must intervene to straighten things out, just as Israel's leaders failed and God intervened.

The shepherd leads his flock from fold to pasture to water. So God guides his people through life (Ps 23:2-3; 80:1). He led Israel to Canaan as a shepherd leads his sheep (Ps 78:52-54). Christ, the Good Shepherd, calls his own sheep from the fold and leads them (Jn 10:1-5).

As the shepherd feeds his sheep by finding them pasture, so God provides our nourishment, both physical and spiritual (Ps 23: 1-2). So He will provide for His people at the end of the age:

As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they
were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. And I will bring them out from the peoples
and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will
feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places
of the land. I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be the
mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they
will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock and I will
lead them to rest (Ezk 34:12-15).

As the shepherd protects the flock from predators, so God protects His people, collectively (Jer 50:18-19; Ezk 34:12-16) and individually (Ps 23:4):

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

The good shepherd will even die for his sheep (Jn 10:11-18; Matt 26:31, citing Zech 13:7).

In just one case the slaughtering of sheep, a standard part of sheep-raising, is used in this figure. This occurs in a context of judgment being brought on the selfish sheep (Ezk 34:16-24). In another passage, the separation of sheep from goats is used to portray the last judgment (Matt 25:32-33).

There are other pictures from the animal kingdom, such as the owner-steed of Ps 32:9, and hunting and fishing in Jer 16:16 and Matt 4;19, though in the latter two cases God seems to work indirectly through men. The man-animal figure provides a larger scope for human response while still maintaining something of the great distance between the Creator and His creature. The idea of God's rulership, provision, protection and rescue are prominent, while man's usefulness (though certainly the main reason sheep are raised) is not emphasized.

Man in Relation to Human Society

Let us now move on to those images of God which involve man in relationship with other human beings. We will start with the more distant relationships, those involving society outside the home.

The most prominent picture of God in this category is the king-subject one. Of the various forms of government which men have experienced, it appears that monarchy provides the closest analogy to the God-man relationship. Let us look at several aspects of this relationship touched on in Scripture.

A king has and deserves prestige. As we honor a king, so we ought to honor God. In Mal 1:6-14, God rebukes the priests for disrespect which they manifest in the unfit offerings they present to God. Try offering the same animals as a gift to your governor!

``But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices
a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great king,'' says the LORD of Hosts, ``and
My name is feared among the nations'' (Mal 1:14).

Philo also recognized this perspective. He says that the king is to be honored as ``an image of God.''15

Just as a king rules, so God rules. He rules as king over nature, with the flood chosen as a prime example (Ps 29:1-11). He rules over the nations (Ps 47; 22:28). He rules over kings (1 Tim 6:15; Dan 4:17,25,37). He rules over all that may be called gods (Ps 82:6; 95:3; Jer 10:10-11).

As a king protects those who are righteous and punishes those who do evil, so does God. As king forever, he protects the helpless who depend on Him, avenging them against their wicked adversaries (Ps 10:12-18; 74:12; Isa 33:22). This theme also appears in another relationship, judge-plaintiff and judge- accused. Bahnsen sees this aspect in Gen 9:5-6, where the death penalty is prescribed for killing man. The point of the verse, he says, is not so much that there is a death penalty because man is so valuable (made in God's image) as that man has the right to execute the penalty because he has the image of God and is able to act in His place.16

Moreover, a king is not merely a private citizen; an insult against him is an act of rebellion. So it is with God. In the parable of Lk 19:11-27, the nobleman who goes away to receive a kingdom is hated by enemies who send an embassy to stop his appointment. When he returns as king, they are put to death. Likewise in the parable of the wedding feast for the king's son (Matt 22:1-14), those who refuse the royal invitation or attend in shoddy clothing meet with dire consequences.

This picture reminds us that God is not just a friend of the believer. As king He must rule in righteousness; He shows no partiality; He will condemn the guilty and vindicate the innocent. Our sins against God are greater than they would be if they were against anyone else. We must have proper respect for Him and realize that He has all things under His control.

On the boundary between society and home is the master-slave relationship. The slave is not a part of the family in the sense of blood relationship, marriage or inheritance, but he usually lives in the home. The relation is much more intimate than king-subject, and yet a very substantial distance remains between those involved. This picture is so pervasive in Scripture as to be a ``dead'' metaphor most of the time, that is, one which the reader takes for granted without visualizing the literal picture involved. Thus God is called ``lord'' or ``master'' throughout both OT and NT in words such as adonai and kurios, and men are his slaves by the designations ebed and doulos.

In a few passages this picture is made more explicit. Mal 1:6 says: ``A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is my respect?'' In Eph 6:9 and Col 4:1, Christian slave-owners are urged to treat their slaves with justice and kindness, in view of the fact that they themselves have God as their slave- master in heaven. From the other side, slaves are urged to view their service to their human slave-master as service to God (Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25). One who was involved in the old master- slave relationship would thus have some insight into this aspect of the God-man relationship that the rest of us lack.

Man in Relation to the Family

Moving on to the family, we reach those relationships that are among the closest a person ever experiences. Only a strong friendship may be closer. Let us consider both the father-child and husband-wife relation in turn.

Perhaps we should speak of the parent-child relationship to be more exact. God is pictured as a replacement for both mother and father in Ps 27:10. And in Ps 131:2 the Psalmist seeks security in God as a child does in his mother. In Deut 32:11, God is pictured as an eagle (probably the mother), training the eaglet to fly. He is a mother hen in Matt 23:37 and probably in all those passages which speak of being sheltered under God's wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4).

However, the emphasis of Scripture is on the fatherhood of God, possibly to counteract the goddess-worship prominent in ancient fertility cults, but presumably because the figure is more appropriate. There is much material on Israel and on David's descendant as God's son, but for the sake of brevity we will confine ourselves to passages more directly related to the individual believer.

Two themes are used alternatively to picture our becoming children of God. In the one, God has begotten us (John 1:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3); we are his natural (or rather supernatural) children In the other, God has adopted us (Gal 4:4-7; Rom 8:14-19); though not His natural children, He has been pleased to give us privileges which were not ours. The latter image, it seems, pictures God's grace, while the former pictures our real transformation by regeneration and glorification.

As God's children, we are to have a family resemblance to Him. This resemblance is an evidence of the relationship as well as a goal toward which we strive (1 John 3:1-10; Matt 5:43-48; John 8:36-47).

God provides as a good father does. He gives good gifts to His children, not gifts that are worthless or harmful (Matt 7:7-11). God disciplines as a good father does. The hard things that come into our lives have the same purpose as a father's discipline, both correction and training for maturity (Heb 12:5-11). God loves and forgives as a good father ought, as we see most clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). He forgives when we don't deserve it. He is more willing to forgive than others are. He is more willing to receive us than we are to return to Him.

Finally, let us consider the closest bond of all, that of husband and wife. Surely, we would not dare to propose such a picture of God's relation to us were it not already revealed in Scripture. This picture illustrates God's relation to His people collectively, rather than individually. It is used for both Israel and the Church, though with some differences. Surprisingly, it is not restricted to those who are really His, but the theme of unfaithful wife is used to picture apostasy.

1 Cor 11:7 is also of special interest here:

For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God;
but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman
from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's

This passage seems to be making a distinction between man and woman in regard to the image of God, even though Gen 1:27 clearly implies that both man and woman are created in God's image. My suggestion is that the marriage relation images the God-man relationship, with the husband imaging God while the wife images mankind. Paul carries the figure further by noting that man does not originate from woman (true only of Adam and Eve), and (by analogy) certainly God does not originate from man. Likewise, mankind was created for God's sake just as Eve was for Adam's. In this passage (if in no other) it seems that the dynamic picture of man in God's image is actually the thought in the writer's mind!17

Returning to marriage as depicting the God-man relationship, the wedding is a part of this picture. The covenantal aspect of marriage depicts the Sinai covenant in Jer 31:32. And Isaiah 54, an extensive passage employing the marriage analogy, also speaks of a covenant in v 10, though this may be application rather than figure. Psalm 45 also pictures a royal wedding, which is apparently Messianic. The leaving of parents is seen in v 10, where the bride is told to forget her father's house. The purity of the bride is pictured in Eph 5:26-27 and 2 Cor 11:2-3.

The married state ideally pictures the relation of God to his people. The mutual love and joy that exist between the couple is pictured in Ps 45:11,15. In Isa 62:5, God will rejoice over Jerusalem as bridgroom over bride. Christ's love for the church is given as a model for husbands in Eph 5:25.

The wife's submission pictures ours to God. ``Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him'' (Ps 45:11). ``But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything'' (Eph 5:24).

The bearing of children is a central purpose of marriage. This finds expression in Isa 54:1 as the barren one gives birth, and in Ps 45:16 where the queen will have sons who are princes. Presumably, the children in such a picture represent individual believers, while the mother represents them collectively. This would parallel the figure of Gomer and her children in Hosea and that of a city and its inhabitants as mother and children elsewhere (e.g., Lam 1:1,7; 2 Sam 20:19). Perhaps the increase in family size as a result of childbearing pictures the numerical growth among God's people when they are collectively faithful to Him.

The husband provides protection and provision for his wife. In Eph 5:23, Christ is pictured as the savior of his wife, the church. God promises his wife deliverance from oppression and fear in Isa 54:14-17, although the marriage figure has receded into the background by this point in the chapter.

Even the breaking of marriage finds a place in Scripture as a picture of God's relationship to His people. The adultery, divorce and restoration of Gomer in Hosea 1-3 is an acted parable of God's relation to Israel. The divorce is implied in Hos 2:2 (``not my wife...not her husband'') and a similar figure is used in Jer 3:1,8 for both Judah and Israel. Restoration of the marriage relationship between God and Israel is seen in Isa 54:6-8 and 62:4, and implied in Hos 3:1-5. Nothing quite paralleling this occurs with Christ and the church in the NT, though some have seen the harlot of Revelation as an apostate church.

The marriage relationship is used in Scripture to picture the intimacy possible between God and His people. In light of the Biblcal teaching on marriage, this picture still retains a subordination of man to God. By means of adultery it also illustrates the serious nature of turning from Him after claiming to be His.

Of rarer occurrence is the friend-friend relationship as a means of picturing our relation to God. Abraham is spoken of as the friend of God (2 Chr 20:7; Isa 41:8) and the same is implied for Moses in Ex 33:11. So also Jesus calls His disciples friends (Jn 15:14-16).

As one who is living for God may especially be said to share in God's image (e.g., Col 3:10), we might suggest that one who is in rebellion against God shares Satan's image. No expression quite like this occurs in Scripture (though the mark of the beast in Revelation has some parallels), but the father-son image is employed in this way. Jesus says of certain Jews that the devil is their father (John 8:44), and the context is one of ``family resemblance'' in murder and lying. Similarly, John the Baptist calls a group of Pharisees and Sadducees a ``brood of vipers,'' which suggests the Gen 3:15 reference to the seed of the serpent. The apostle John says that ``the one who practices sin is of the devil'' and that the morality of our actions mark us out as children of God or children of the devil (1 John 3:8,10). Perhaps, then, we should translate Ps 73:20 as ``Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their image,'' referring to God's reaction to the distorted, Satanic image in unbelievers at the judgment.


In surveying the various uses of ``image'' in Scripture, we noticed that many of these have to do with idolatry. Is it merely an accident that idolatry and Biblical anthropology overlap in this word, or is there actually some connection between the two? Let us see.

Certainly in the act of producing idols, man is making images of God, since he bows down and gives them the honor and worship that is due to God alone (e.g., Lev 26:1; Isa 44:15,17). In addition, he makes his idol in the form of some created being (or occasionally some non-existent combination constructed from created beings) since he does not know what God looks like and God has not revealed Himself in a visible form:

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD
spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make
a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or
female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged
bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the
likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. And [beware], lest you
lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host
of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD
your God has alloted to all the peoples under the whole heaven (Deut 4:15-19).

Yet perhaps the prohibition against idolatry is not entirely because man cannot see or has not seen God. We suggest that, in addition, man is not to make images of God for himself because God has already made images of Himself for man! These images are the figures God uses in Scripture to describe Himself, especially those figures of man acting in various capacities like those we discussed in the previous section.

But if this is the case, why does God prohibit man from making those particular idols which are images of man (e.g., Isa 44:3, and presumably the reference to ``male or female'' in Deut 4:16, above)? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that man only images God as man is a dynamic being, so that a carved or cast image of man lacks one of the very things that makes man an image of God. Notice, in fact, that something of this sort is an important theme in passages against idolatry:

Their idols are silver and gold,/ The work of man's hands./ They have mouths,
but they cannot speak;/ They have eyes, but they cannot see;/ They have ears,
but they cannot hear;/ They have noses, but they cannot smell;/ They have hands,
but they cannot feel;/ They have feet, but they cannot walk;/ They cannot make a
sound with their throat./ Those who make them will become like them,/ Everyone who
trusts in them (Ps 115:4-8).

Yet dynamism by itself is surely not the whole story. Recall that Satan will make a living image of the beast in the end- times, and technological man has already succeeded in making images which can move and speak.18 The particular dynamism which images God has a moral element also.

In addition, there is a strong element of role-reversal in idolatry. Instead of the Creator making the creature in His own image, the creature is making the Creator in his own image. This is presumably a part of man's rebellion by which he seeks to be as God (Gen 3:5) and to call God into judgment (Gen 3:10,12,13). Such role-reversal is also reflected since the fall by means of the rebellion of lower against higher in each of the relationships discussed in the previous section: wife against husband, child against parent, slave against master, and subject against king; and (by God's decree) even animal, plant and ground against man.

Another factor is also at work here. Man refuses to accept the God who actually exists and His revelation of Himself, and replaces that God with himself and/or Satan.19 Man thus distorts the image of God not only in false religion but by refusing to apply God's standards to his own actions. And here again, this shows up in man the actor imaging God in a distorted way: husbands tyrannize over wives, parents provoke children, masters mistreat slaves, kings oppress subjects, and man ruins his natural environment as well. As a result, others are turned off to God's revelation of Himself as husband, father, king, etc., due to the bad connotations which their own experience in a sinful world has given them for one or more of these pictures.

We thus suggest that the connection between image in idolatry and image in Biblical anthropology is not merely accidental or imaginary!


Among the various ``image'' passages in Scripture, one seemed clearly to indicate the dynamic relationship we have been investigating, namely 1 Cor 11:7: ``For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.'' Here we suggested (more or less in agreement with Murray and Calvin)20 that in the marriage relation, the husband images God and the wife images mankind. If this is so, then ``glory'' in this passage must mean something like ``image.'' In fact, Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich assign doxa in this passage the meaning ``reflection,'' unique here to the NT but paralleled once elsewhere in a Jewish inscription.21

The word ``glory'' in Scripture has a wide range of meanings both in the Hebrew and the Greek, and the Hebrew kavod does not completely overlap the Greek doxa.22 Both include ideas of honor, fame, magnificence and splendor. In addition, the Hebrew includes ideas of weight and wealth, whereas the Greek includes radiance and brightness. Yet each word seems to have, at least as a connotation or minor part of its range, the idea of that which characterizes (or ought to characterize) someone, perhaps through the concept of reputation in the Hebrew and fame in the Greek. For instance, consider Prov 25:2: ``It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.'' Are not these activities things which characterize God and should characterize kings? Again, when God causes His glory to pass before Moses, Ex 33:18,22, it is God's attributes of justice and mercy that are proclaimed (Ex 34:6-7).

If one searches through the occurrences of ``glory'' in Scripture, a few other examples of this sort surface, seeming to indicate some connection between ``image'' and ``glory.'' Most notable, it seems, is the familiar Rom 3:23, ``. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'' The context deals with the imputation of righteousness to believers through faith in Christ, so the natural reading of ``glory of God'' is that moral quality which characterizes God and which characterized man before he sinned.

Similarly, consider 2 Cor 3:18, ``. . . we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory . . .'' Here it appears that, in addition to the idea of splendor (which is certainly present in the context), a moral resemblance is also in view. This passage connects glory, image and reflection in a single picture.

In addition, there are many passages where the idea of glory as ``that which characterizes God morally'' may be present, but the context is sufficiently ambiguous to allow some such idea as honor or splendor instead, since these also characterize God. Consider those passages in which God is glorified in someone. These may mean that God comes to be honored by men because of the actions of this person, or they may mean that God reflects His moral character in this person. For instance, in John 17:4, Christ has glorified God on earth even before his own crucifixion. In John 17:10, Christ has been glorified in his disciples. In Isa 49:3, God speaks to His servant Israel in whom God will display His glory. Similarly, Christians are to glorify God in their bodies (1 Cor 6:20); Peter was to glorify God in his death (John 21:19); and the Holy Spirit will glorify Christ as He guides the disciples after Christ's ascension (John 16:14).

Likewise those passages which speak of the glorification of believers in the eternal state may have splendor in view or they may be concentrating more particularly on moral excellence. The whole subject requires more investigation than can be given it here. Suffice it to say that an important part of God's splendor is His moral excellence; that this was a part of man's sharing in the image of God; and that this excellence was seriously disrupted in the fall. This is not to say that everything that may be included in God's glory is also included in the image of God in man. Such passages as Isa 42:8, ``I am the LORD . . . I will not give my glory to another'' seem to rule that out. So does the fact that some of God's attributes (or all of them, if very specifically defined) are incommunicable.


In this paper, we have briefly surveyed a suggestion that the image of God in man may be viewed dynamically that God images Himself in man as man engages in various activities such as husband, father, master, king, shepherd, farmer and potter. How does this perspective on image compare with that employed in traditional systematic theology?

First of all, the pictures we have discussed are dynamic and concrete rather than static and abstract. The traditional systematic theology perspective deals with invisible realities about the nature of man, while these Biblical theology perspectives deal with actions and relations that are visible and a part of the experience of nearly all humans. If we broaden some of these categories slightly (say, king-subject to official-citizen, and shepherd-sheep to owner-pet), we find that virtually all mankind has had an opportunity to experience the top side as well as the bottom side of some relation or other; that is, we all have a chance to feel experientially a little bit of what it is like to be God. These pictures are thus easier for the layman to understand than the more abstract systematic formulation, and they make God seem more real and less distant.

Second, these dynamic pictures are all relational: God is pictured by means of relationships rather than as He is in Himself. This seems to be more like the emphasis of Scripture, which concentrates on God as He reveals Himself through word and act in salvation history. We are told little about God that is not related to His dealings with man.

Third, the activities included in these pictures are quite complex, and probably involve mankind in the whole range of his abilities. If so, then these pictures must include man using all the communicable attributes of God (at least those communicated to man; the angels may have some we don't), so that they involve the use of all that could be the image of God in man from the traditional systematic theology perspective. If so, then the two approaches are consistent and must be complementary in some sense, somewhat in the nature of attribute and manifestation, or (to pick an example from quantum mechanics) of position and motion.

Fourth, the dynamic approach uses analogies which are suggestive rather than precise: e.g., God as our father does not include any idea of some goddess as our mother; the analogies can be pressed beyond the boundaries intended for them. Of course, a careful study of their use in Scripture will indicate the location of these boundaries. It is not clear, however, that the more static approach of systematic theology has any advantage here. All concepts employed in describing God's nature must be analogies of some sort, and it is not clear we gain any real precision by constructing our own abstract analogies in place of the Bible's concrete analogies.

Lastly, it appears that these dynamic analogies function in two directions. By means of them, we learn to understand God better through the common relationships of human life. As we experience the joys and frustrations of raising children, for instance, we come to have a better idea of what God deals with in redeeming His people and guiding them on to maturity. On the other hand, the nature of God as revealed in Scripture helps us to see how our human relationships should be transformed to reflect the image of God more accurately. We want our children to grow into responsible adults who have no bad images of fatherhood to distort their ideas of God. Thus we study and apply the Scripture diligently in order that our actions as fathers may not cause God's name to be blasphemed.23

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).


1. Biblical quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.

2. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (1871-73; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 2:97-99.

3. Ibid., 2:99.

4. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), 1:232-236.

5. John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2: Select Lectures in Systematic Theology, (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 34-41.

6. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.15.4; Buswell, Systematic Theology, 1:255-256.

7. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 853-54.

8. William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 306

9. Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 222.

10. Brown, Driver and Briggs, Lexicon, 198.

11. Holladay, Lexicon, 72.

12. See Edwin Hatch and Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897-1906; reprint ed., 3 vols. in 2, Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1954), 374, 377, 669, 992, 993.

13. Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, 568.

14. Ibid., 567.

15. Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1979), 444.

16. Ibid., 442-43.

17. Murray notes on 1 Cor 11:7 that ``Image as predicated of man here is used in a more specialized sense, the image of God that man is as distinguished from the woman'' [Murray, Collected Writings, 2:36]; Calvin says of the same passage that the reference to man as the image of God, expressly excluding the woman, refers to the civil order [Calvin, Institutes 1.15.4].

18. This eschatological act of the false prophet in making a living image of the beast in Rev 13:15 may be viewed as an especially audacious attempt to take God's place and to steal the worship that belongs to Him. Perhaps it is an attempt to mimic God's creation of man in His image.

19. See Meredith Kline's remarks about Eve's religion becoming polytheistic when she accepted Satan's evaluation of the tree, her two gods being herself and Satan [M. G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Wenham, MA: published by author, 1981), 176].

20. See note 17.

21. Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, 203.

22. Ibid., 203-04; Brown, Driver and Briggs, Lexicon, 458-59.

23. My thanks to Dr. Vern S. Poythress for a number of valuable insights and suggestions.

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