The Image of God

The next five theses on the Adam and Eve of Genesis in their context (Adam and the Genome) develop the significance of humanity created in the image and likeness of God.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (1:26-28)

The Adam and Eve of Genesis 1-2 teach us about the place of humans in God’s very good creation. Scot’s five theses can be abbreviated or paraphrased as follows:

Thesis 4: All humans – male and female – are made in God’s image.

Thesis 5: Humans are unlike other creatures.

Thesis 6: Humans are gendered for procreation and mutuality.

Thesis 7: Humans are called to work for earth and its flourishing – to cocreate and conurture as part of God’s design for this earth.

Thesis 8: Humans are called to name creatures in order to understand fit and function so that all creatures might flourish.

Adam and Eve serve a literary function to give a coherent picture of the purpose and nature of humankind.

Image and Likeness. First it is important to understand the image and likeness of God in its ancient Near Eastern context. This is the only way to be faithful to the text. Although it has been common in church history to understand the image of God in relationship to some characteristic shared by both God and humankind, this misses the point. The image of God is defined by human purpose and vocation rather than any particular characteristic. J. Richard Middleton’s The Liberating Image is an excellent resource for digging into the meaning of the Image of God. There are characteristics that enable humans to fulfill their purpose (soul, mind, body, virtue, creativity, etc.) – but these are not essential to “image and likeness” as stated in Genesis 1:26. As the image and likeness of God humans “are called to mediate God’s power and authority in this world.” (p. 129) The language behind “image and likeness” borrows a Mesopotamian idea and challenges the roots of that idea at the same time. Most significantly, there is no royal or priestly class involved. Humankind as a whole is God’s image and likeness, male and female, rich and poor.

Humans are not to make idols because they are God’s image and likeness. No other representation is needed.

Scot takes this one step further.

Humans are not given the responsibility to rule other humans, but to rule creation. … The temptation of Israel, made most famous in the wonderful dialogue between Samuel and God in 1 Samuel 8, was to find a king who would be like the kings of the other nations.” (p. 131)

Humans are not called to rule over other humans … this doesn’t mean anarchy, but it does define leadership where all are to submit to God’s rule.

Scot will bring this up later, but it is worth commenting here. The consequence of sin for the woman in Genesis 3 is severe pain in childbirth and a husband who “will rule over you.” The temptation of humans is to rule over other humans – and this is a result of sin, not a part of the created order.

Because humans are distinct from other creatures as the image and likeness of God, we must also reject the idea that humans are an accident of evolution, of no special importance on the earth or in the cosmos. Humans are tasked with caring for creation, not with abandoning creation or exploiting creation.

Male and female he created them. The union of two genders in humankind is of significance. When the man (or earthling) is called to name the animals it highlights the importance of the male-female partnership.

The story is told in such a way that the act of naming gives Adam an opportunity to observe that he is alone and in need of someone to love and to help him image God to the world. (p. 134)

God genders humans into male and female so they can relate to one another in mutuality and reproduce. Mutuality flows out of being images of God expresses what being an image of God means at its deepest core. (p. 135)

This doesn’t mean that only married couples image God – but that the kind of mutuality found in marriage is one way in which we can image God. Paul makes it quite clear that not everyone is called to marriage. I like the emphasis by Iain Provan (Seriously Dangerous Religion), that the adam in Genesis 2 is not male or female until the split in 2:21-22. After all what is the point of male without female or vice versa?

The man calls the woman ishah because she was taken out of man, ish. God calls the woman an ezer kenegdo. “The man needs someone to be with him, to work alongside him, and someone with whom he can form mutuality.” (p. 138) The idea is one of a strong helper, the word ezer translated helper does not carry a sense of servitude.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Ps 121:1-2)

“Noticeably the term ezer is used in the Old Testament for God and evokes divine help, strength, and accomplishment. [e.g. Ps 121] The term is often used for a stronger person helping a weaker person, so while it is an indicator of mutuality, it also evokes the sense of a “strong helper.” The idea is that the man needed an “ally.”” (p. 138)

While the emphasis above is on the woman, it isn’t to establish superiority. Woman is not better than man, but the emphasis is important to counter the more common argument that woman is created to serve and bear children.

Finally, the earthling names the animals in Genesis 2. “Naming them will give the creatures a known existence, and the man will, by naming the creatures, be given the role as the governor (or subgovernor under God) of those creatures. Naming involves observation, discernment, labeling, and therefore relating.” (p. 137)

Humans are created like the animals, but are not just another animal. Male and female they are created to function together.

Whatever else they are, the man and woman of Genesis 1-2 are a literary Adam and Eve functioning to define important theological points about the nature of humanity in God’s very good creation.

In the next post on this book we will turn to the Fall (Genesis 3) and the last four theses concerning the nature of humankind and the importance of Adam and Eve in the Genesis narrative.


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