I do not know Hebrew but will often look up keywords in passages to get deeper meaning out of passages. I was studying the creation story (namely the creation of mankind) and looked at the words translated "image" and "likeness in Genesis 1:26. I noticed that the Hebrew word translated as "image" is בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ and is a masculine singular construct and the Hebrew word for "likeness" כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ is a feminine singular construct. My question then is, is there a play on words the author is intending to represent both male and female when he says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..."

  • Interesting observation. After making the statement, "man" is created only in the image, with no mention of likeness (that is found in Genesis 5). Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 19:48

4 Answers 4


צלם is a masculine noun here translated with image. דמות is a feminine noun here translated with likeness. They both have the pronominal suffix ־נו of the first person plural (our). Hebrew does not distinguish between the masculine or feminine pronominal suffix of the first person plural, so we do not know whether our refers to a grammatically masculine or feminine group.

The play on words would then be only related to the grammatical genders of the nouns themselves. Compare this to a sentence in German, French, or Dutch, where two words would be used with a different gender (French le vs. la, German die vs. der vs. das, Dutch het vs. de). It is very unlikely that such a play on words would be noticed by a reader, and we do not know of such wordplay employed by Hebrew writers. Indeed, with two grammatical genders, chances are 50% that a pair of words disagrees (or agrees) on gender (assuming equal distribution over masculine and feminine).

Lastly note that grammatical gender is not the same as physical gender. In every language that I know of that has grammatical gender, there are words which are grammatically masculine but physically feminine or the other way around. There are some indications that speakers of such languages subconsciously associate (physically) masculine/feminine traits to masculine/feminine words, but there is no direct association, so an intentional wordplay is highly unlikely.

  • Thanks for the feedback. I understand that grammatical gender is not the same as physical gender, but there are similarities. Genesis 1:26 is poetic and the power of poetry is that nuances like this can be intentional, though this may not be.
    – Gabe
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:17
  • @Gabe the problem is that it's a very common thing for any two nouns to disagree on gender. If this is intentional, then any other pair of nouns may carry the same poetic weight, which makes the whole system just unworkable. If it would be a very uncommon pattern, it would be more likely to be intentional.
    – user2672
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:18
  • +1, it is not about the gendre, it is about the relationship between God and Adam, isn't it. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 7:59

Here is the full Genesis 1:16 verse:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ:
And G-d said: "Let us make man in our image, as our likeness, and may he rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and over the animals and all of the land, and over all the creeping things which crawl over the land.

I don't think that the genders of צֶלֶם and דְּמוּת play much of a role here. However, that the author chose to use two adjectives to describe the relation between the Man being created and G-d may be significant. The word צֶלֶם appears throughout Tanach, and has the general meaning of image, but in the sense of an idol. If the text in Genesis only used צֶלֶם to describe Man, it might imply that man were a lifeless image of G-d. This, in turn, would imply that he had no faculties for ethics, morality, nor the ability to acknowledge G-d. So the text uses דְּמוּת as well, to describe Man's relationship with G-d.

דְּמוּת generally comes from the verb דָּמָה, which means to be like, or resemble. It is not limited so much to idolatry as צֶלֶם, and so might include other types of similarities between Man and G-d, other than physical appearance. What דְּמוּת means exactly here may not be known for certain. But the biblical commentator Rashi remarks להבין ולהשכיל, "to understand and to discern," meaning that G-d gave Man the ability to reason, presumably to understand morality as well. So there is a traditional understanding that דְּמוּת is covering similarities other than the purely physical.

So while I do not see the gender of צֶלֶם and דְּמוּת coming much into play in Genesis 1:26, the usage of these two words does seem to have importance.

  • Why did you change צלם to עצם? The latter means "bone" and is not used in this verse.
    – user2672
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:54

From a contextual point of view, it would seem that there would be no wordplay intended. The bible clearly states that mankind (both male and female) was made in both His image and likeness.

Genesis 1: 26-27 (KJV)

26 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 creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them

In verses 26 and 27, the bible uses the word “adam” (aw-dawm) for man; according to my concordance means “mankind”. The context would fully support this understanding as verse 27 says that “adam” will be male and female; both made in God’s image AND likeness even though verse 27 only states "image”.

In Genesis 5, we are told that God made mankind (same word adam) creating both male and female in His likeness and He called “their” name “adam”.

Genesis 5:1-2 (KJV)

5 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam (adam), in the day when they were created.

So we clearly see that scripture says that “adam” (mankind) was made after both His image and likeness.


In the scriptures God is male, not male and female. Only male humans are made in the image and likeness of God. He made mankind male and female but only the male was made in the image and likeness of God. Though linguists use the terms "masculine, feminine and neuter" to refer to different word forms this does not mean that the items with a masculine word form are in any sense male nor are items of feminine word forms feminine. The word form relates to a pattern that says nothing about the sex of the item. The exception to that of course is that sexual creatures that actually have a sex will use the corresponding form. So no, there is no word play.

Please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_gender for further information about "grammatical gender".

The apostle Paul certainly understood Moses to be describing only the male as the image of God:

ESV 1 Corinthians 11:7For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.

Also, Jesus is the image of God and he is only male:

ESV 2 Cor 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.


Adam in turn fathered a son who was said to be in his "image and likeness" and it turns out his son was not a hermaphrodite (or at least the text does not suggest that):

ESV Genesis 5:3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

  • Not all "sexual creatures that actually have a sex will use the corresponding form". In Hebrew, אם (mother) has a masculine singular absolute state. In Latin, agricola (farmer) is feminine.
    – user2672
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:12
  • Also, grammatical gender does say something about the sex of the item in the minds of the reader/hearer. See for instance this TED talk, 08:02–09:00.
    – user2672
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:16
  • 1
    Thanks for your feedback. I have to disagree with you that females are not made in the image of God. In the very next verse says "he made them, male and female" (Genesis 1:27). Plus if Adam was made in Gods image and woman was made out of man then she would by default be made in his image. Otherwise, I appreciate the other stuff you added.
    – Gabe
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:22
  • 1
    @Gabe When you say "then she would by default be made in his image" who is "his"? Do you mean Adam's or God's? She is neither in God's image nor in man's. God is not sexually ambiguous and neither are his image bearers, Adam and the Christ.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:51
  • In the Hebrew, God may indeed be masculine, but spirit and wisdom are definitely feminine.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 4:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.