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In the Decalogue God forbids the making and or worshiping of images in the form of anything in the created order.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

In Genesis 1:26-28 God makes man in his own image.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Did the authors of the Torah intend for us to see a relationship between these two ideas? Is Man an idol directed toward the worship of God? I recognize that the words are not identical but they seem to have a similar meaning. For instance Numbers 33:52 uses selem, the word used in Genesis 1:26-26, for the idols that the Canaanites worship.

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I find it interesting how you set up your question--you contrast man making an image in the form of a created being against God making an image in the form of himself. Perhaps man is not a forbidden image because God is not created? – Ray May 9 '13 at 22:20
Also, it may be beneficial to be clear on what an "idol" is--is it a forbidden image, or is it a false god? – Ray May 9 '13 at 22:20
I agree. I'm asking if the word "idol" is appropriate here. It at least appears to me that there is intended connection between these two ideas. But if man is made in the image of God why can't Man copy the image of man for according to Genesis he is the image God? – Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 22:31
Of course God doesn't worship the image which he creates. Did He, however, create Man in his own image in order that the creation might worship Him through image stamped on man? The pagans thought their idols were not the gods themselves but were made in there image in order that Man might worship the gods through the image. – Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 22:33
From an Eastern Orthodox perspective, we are "icons" of God (this becomes explicit in the Greek, especially in NT). – Dan May 10 '13 at 6:48

2 Answers 2

Since the word "image" in the two passages is two different words in Hebrew, the answer is no. Perhaps more to the point, God would be degraded if our picture of him was limited to the very imperfect images of him available to us in our fellow man. We are, however, to see suffering man in need of our help as God himself doing the asking. Matt 25:40 "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

I thought from the title that you were going to be asking about the cherubim atop the ark, or perhaps the cherubim protecting the ark in the temple, or perhaps the brazen serpent on the pole in the desert. Clearly the OT prohibition against images was not absolute.

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The Cosmic Temple

Among others, both John Walton (Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology) and G.K. Beale (The Temple and the Church's Mission) argue that the cosmos and Eden are constructed in Genesis 1-2 in terminology fitting of a temple. Beale in an article titled, "Eden, The Temple, And The Church's Mission In The New Creation", elaborates at least nine points of contact between Eden and temple imagery, among them: hithallek describing God's presence in Gen 3:8 and Lev. 26:12, 'abad and shamar as the role of Adam (Gen 2:15) and priests (Num 3:7-8), and its facing east.1

Walton makes a comparitive study, noting, for instance, how commonplace was the connection between temples and rivers which flowed from them:

This association between ancient Near Eastern temples and spring waters is well attested. In fact, some temples in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and in the Ugaritic myth of Baal were considered to have been founded upon springs (likened to the primeval waters), which sometimes flowed from the buildings themselves. Thus the symbolic cosmic mountain (temple) stood upon the symbolic primeval waters (spring).2

If there arguments hold (and Walton thinks the temple-nature of the cosmos would have been assumed by ancient readers), then it would be fitting to find what was normally found in a temple: an image of the deity.

Image of God

Likewise, while the word for image in Genesis 1:26 (selem) differs from that in the Decalogue found in Exodus 20:4 (pesel), Sarna notes the use of the Genesis phrase elsewhere:

The words used here to convey these ideas can be better understood in the light of a phenomenon registered in both Mesopotamia and Egypt, whereby the ruling monarch is described as “the image” or “the likeness” of a god. In Mesopotamia we find the following salutations: “The father of my lord the king is the very image of Bel (ṣalam bel) and the king, my lord, is the very image of Bel”; “The king, lord of the lands, is the image of Shamash”; “O king of the inhabited world, you are the image of Marduk.” In Egypt the same concept is expressed through the name Tutankhamen (Tutankh-amun), which means “the living image of (the god) Amun,” and in the designation of Thutmose IV as “the likeness of Re.”3

The concept seems to express, then, God's ruling presence in the world. Walton, emphasizing that an idol is not the god itself (nor does it have the power of the god), concludes that mankind being made in "the image of God" shares the functional role of an image in a temple: "The image is a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes of the one represented and act on his behalf."2


With some key differences (e.g. God does not worship the image he creates), it seems appropriate to understand mankind's being in "the image of God" along the lines of an image/idol within a temple - as the manifestation of the ruling presence of the deity with the temple-cosmos.


  1. (2005). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 48(1), 10.

  2. Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (p. 124). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

  3. Sarna, N. M. (1989). Genesis (p. 12). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

  4. Walton, John H. (2011-01-04). Genesis (NIV Application Commentary, The) (Kindle Locations 2833-2835). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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