Genesis 1:26 New International Version 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."

What's the difference between image and likeness?

  • 1
    +1 Good question. Tselem (image) is used, also, of the images of idols. Demuth (likeness) is largely used in relation to God, by Isaiah, and in relation to cherubim, by Ezekiel.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 11, 2020 at 12:59
  • Thanks Nigel. For years I just read them as synonyms.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:12
  • I am hoping someone will enlighten us. As yourself, I have just read and not understood. I've looked at Young's Concordance today but scanning the word-usage in scripture hasn't revealed anything to me. My initial thought is that 'image' refers to the appearance and 'likeness' would be more - the manner, the behaviour. But I am guessing, so cannot post a real answer.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:19
  • In addition to Genesis 1:26, you could have piggybacked on the issue of the two aspects of Jesus spoken of in Philippians Chapter 2, where the words likeness, appearance, and nature are used in different ways to describe the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Just a thought . . .. Aug 13, 2020 at 14:45

4 Answers 4


The word image in the Hebrew בצלמנו in v26 speaks of being a representative form, like a shadow. It takes on the form of the original and is intended to imitate the original.

In all instances that the word tselem is used, its always a representation of another. The vast majority of the times unfortunately it is an inanimate object (idol) representing a deity, unlike the case of Adam who is a living image(r) with responsibilities.

The LXX in this verse uses the Greek word εἰκών for image and the word can be understood to mean a copy. God made a copy of Himself in Adam.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. Heb10:1

This verse seems to indicate in the NT Greek usage of the word that the image is a good copy or a good representation of the original unlike a shadow which is too vague.

Its followed by the word translated likeness כדמותנו to further explain and build on the idea that it’s about being similar to God.

This word demure means, similar or like but not the same as, in all other instances it is referenced in the OT

It would at first impression appear that this is referencing the physical appearance and this might include the physical appearance yet is not limited only to appearance but it especially means to be a representative in likeness to God. A copy of God on earth. (This only makes the nachash’s offer to Eve all the more enticing, don’t just be a copy of God but be a god in your own right).

However the Hebrew continues to speak of dominion וירדו and if one were to take the translation punctuations out, one could read the text as saying something to the effect, ’let us make man in our image and likeness with dominion over the earth‘

In which case the emphasis doesn’t fall so much on the exterior appearance but the position of authority. Man was intended to govern on the earth as God governs in the heavens.

Man is the imager of God, like a representative or in modern language like an ambassador of God on the earth, exercising dominion over the realm below the firmament

  • (+1) Some really helpful analysis here, including an explanation of why the Greek terms are not the best starting point for analysing this. I suspect you're on to something big by naming the link to idolatry with image - there could be more under that rock to explain why these terms may have been used in combination in this passage for the original audience.
    – Steve Taylor
    Sep 9, 2021 at 5:21

In the Insight on the Scriptures (published by the Watchtower Society), the article on the word Image says the following:

Whereas references to images in the Bible frequently relate to idolatry, this is not always the case. God, in creating man, said first, “Let us make man in our image [or, shadow, semblance], according to our likeness.” (Ge 1:26, 27, ftn) Since God’s Son stated that his Father is “a Spirit,” this rules out any physical likeness between God and man. (Joh 4:24) Rather, man has qualities reflecting, or mirroring, those of his heavenly Maker, qualities that positively distinguish man from the animal creation. (See ADAM No. 1.) Though in the image of his Creator, man was not made to be an object of worship, or veneration.

Even as Adam’s own son Seth (born to him in his imperfection, however) was in Adam’s “likeness, in his image” (Ge 5:3), Adam’s likeness to God originally identified him as God’s earthly son. (Lu 3:38) Despite man’s fall to imperfection, the fact of mankind’s originally having been made in God’s image was cited after the Noachian Flood as the basis for the divine law authorizing humans to serve as executioners in putting murderers to death. (Ge 9:5, 6; see AVENGER OF BLOOD.) In Christian instructions concerning feminine head covering, Christian men were told they ought not to wear such a covering, since the man “is God’s image and glory,” while the woman is man’s glory.​—1Co 11:7.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers under Genesis 1:26, gives us similar insight:

In our image, after our likeness.—The human body is after God’s image only as being the means whereby man attains to dominion: for dominion is God’s attribute, inasmuch as He is sole Lord. Man’s body, therefore, as that of one who rules, is erect, and endowed with speech, that he may give the word of command. The soul is first, in God’s image. This, as suggesting an external likeness, may refer to man’s reason, free-will, self-consciousness, and so on. But it is, secondly, in God’s likeness, which implies something closer and more inward. It refers to man’s moral powers, and especially to his capacity of attaining unto holiness. Now man has lost neither of these two. (Comp. Genesis 9:6; 1Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9.) Both were weakened and defiled by the fall, but were still retained in a greater or less degree. In the man Christ Jesus both were perfect; and fallen man, when new-created in Christ, attains actually to that perfection which was his only potentially at his first creation, and to which Adam never did attain.

So being made in God's image and/or likeness is to be understood as having similar qualities and capacities as the Creator, but not to the same degree.

Man's likeness to God can also be seen in his governance over the earth as is illustrated in the Awake! December '88 article What Does Genesis Really Say?

Another description of the creation of man is found at Genesis 1:26. There God says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and the domestic animals and all the earth and every moving animal that is moving upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) Since the Bible tells us that God is a spirit, the phrase “in our image” must be understood to mean possessing God’s qualities.

This statement explains, in a way that evolution never could, why man is so different from the animals. Only man can control the animals and the vegetation around him. Only man has a moral sense and a conscience. Only man has a wide freedom of choice and such a developed intelligence. Only man has the ability to conceive of the existence of God and the gift of speech with which to speak to Him. The Journal of Semitic Studies says: “Human speech is a secret; it is a divine gift.”


What's the difference between image and likeness?

As Nihil Sine Deo discussed, image and likeness are similar but carry slightly different connotations:

An Image carries with it the idea of the representative or stand-in function of the one so designated and relates more to one's role than to one's appearance. For an image or idol, it was more important what it represented than what it looked like.

Likeness relates more to the visual appearance.

The immediate context of image and likeness found in Genesis 1:26 relates to man's rule over the creatures in the earth, sky, and sea.

Therefore, Man's designated role in creation is to function as God's images - God's ruling representatives on earth.
To the extent that we obediently and faithfully represent God, when we are looked upon, God's likeness - God's wise and righteous rule in our lives - can be seen and should be apparent to all.

Bonus answer to a question you didn't ask:
This is what was meant by Jesus, the image of God, when he said, "The one having seen Me has seen the Father." When we look upon Jesus, God's ultimate obedient and faithful representative, we see the likeness of the Father in the son's lived wisdom and righteousness and love.

Bonus answer to a second question you'd didn't ask:
Understanding the image of God as a role or office designated to the created class of human beings helps us to resolve issues presented by viewing the image of God as defined by a particular set of attributes like intelligence and decision making.

For example:
What about humans who aren't particularly intelligent or are not able to make decisions?
(like babies or the mentally impaired)

Can they be considered to not be God's images since they don't have these attributes?

If they lack these attributes are they no longer protected by God's command to Noah that, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Gen 9:6)?

Are we free to shed the blood of sub-images who lack these attributes?

Well, of course not. The entire human class has been created in the office of the image of God. It doesn't matter how broken we are or how good of a job we do. We are God's images as a matter of creation, and for that reason alone we all deserve dignity.


The Hebrew meaning of Our Image & Likeness to Elohim:

In Bereishit (Genesis) 1:26, we read "In Our Image, after Our Likeness" (בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ ).

In the Hebrew, we see the word "Tsalem" ( צַלְמֵ֖) traditionally translated as "Image" in English. Then we see the suffix "Nu" (נוּ ) = "Our" in English. - Next we read the phrase "Ki-Demut-Nu" ( כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ) literally translated "Like - Appearance - Our".

Interesting to note the English word "Demure" regarding feminine qualities is similar to the Hebrew word "Demut" ( דְמוּתֵ֑).

However we see "Ki-Demut" ( כִּדְמוּת֙) used later in the Tanakh to describe the "appearance of a son of Adam" ( כִּדְמוּת֙ בְּנֵ֣י אָדָ֔ם) in Daniel 10:16.

Regarding Bereishit (Genesis) 1:26, The "Adam" ( אָדָ֛ם) or Human Image (צַלְמֵ֖ ) is first modeled like the feminine "Demut" likeness of Elohim which supports modern Geneticists discovery that a Y (Yod) chromosome is required to form a female zygote into a male embryo. - [Genesis 1:26] deals with conception before [Genesis 2:7] deals with development of the man and woman.

  • 1
    Thats pretty good. I think man was created on the 6th day but woman on the 7th day. Mmmmm...
    – R. Emery
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:36
  • And I think gen 6 originally followed gen 1
    – R. Emery
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:37
  • [Genesis 1:26] deals with conception before [Genesis 2:7] deals with development of the man and woman. Aug 11, 2020 at 14:01
  • 2
    You seem to be saying that 'image' is 'appearance' and 'likeness' is 'behaviour'. Are you able to supply links to substantiate what you are asserting ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 11, 2020 at 14:05
  • @Nigel J // However we see "Ki-Demut" ( כִּדְמוּת֙) used later in the Tanakh to describe the "appearance of a son of Adam" ( כִּדְמוּת֙ בְּנֵ֣י אָדָ֔ם) in Daniel 10:16. - so we can validate Appearance instead of Behavior as an accurate Hebrew meaning. Aug 11, 2020 at 14:46

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