Genesis 1:26-27 (ESV)

26Then 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 birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

I've always understood this verse to refer to our spirit and its qualities. However, a friend and I each had conversations this weekend with individuals claiming, among other things, that this verse refers to our physical appearance as well - that our sexual nature actually gives physical expression to some attribute of God.

Is there any scriptural basis for such a reading from this passage? In other words, to what does "image" here refer?

  • 1
    Historical note for all the recent answerers. This question is over a decade old, and at one point had an accepted answer. However, both the accepted answer and the associated user were entirely scrubbed from Stack Exchange a few years ago. I check BHSE so rarely that I never bothered to select another answer. I'm not sure what the best option is at this point. Maybe @curiousdannii or one of the other mods could weigh in. Commented May 6, 2023 at 0:05
  • "Accepting" an answer is entirely up to you. You can choose any answer you like for any reason, or not make any choice.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 0:10

15 Answers 15


This is a difficult question because of the temptation towards Eisegesis as our desire to be of value can intersect with this text.

It is useful to include verse 28 when looking at the verses you quote:

26Then 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 birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

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

28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” ESV

There are a number of things that should be immediately noted about the text:

  • the ESV and NIV among others do a good job of highlighting the poetic parallelism in verse 27. "in the image of God" is here parallel with "male and female", and "him" with "them".
  • there is a fairly clear chiastic structure drawing particular attention to verse 27
  • there is also a parallel between 26a and 28a, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" and "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it"
  • the language of authority is ever-present: this is unique to man
  • the command to "be fruitful and multiply" is also present but this is not uniquely given to man: cf verse 22

I've always understood this verse to refer to our spirit and its qualities. However, a friend and I each had conversations this weekend with individuals claiming, among other things, that this verse refers to our physical appearance as well - that our sexual nature actually gives physical expression to some attribute of God.

Is there any scriptural basis for such a reading from this passage? In other words, to what does "image" here refer?

From Gen 1 alone, there is no obvious scriptural basis for reading that "image" includes "our spirit and its qualities". There is more support that our sexual nature in some way reflects the image of God, because of the strong focus on "male and female he created them". This needn't be founded on any anthropomorphism about God: rather it speaks of a simultaneous plurality and unity both within God and within mankind created "male and female". The unity1 is evident in that the commands of God to rule, multiply, subdue and so on are all directed at both male and female, and in the parallel between "him" and "them" in v27.

The other main distinctive of the creation of man already mentioned, is the repeated use of authority language. God's own authority in Genesis 1 is presented as peerless and beyond doubt, so it is doubly significant that he confers authority on man. It is God who has just created the "fish of the sea" "the birds of the heavens" and "every living thing that moves on the earth": when God delegates authority over these created beings to man, he makes man2 to a degree like Himself, strictly in the sense of authority3.


What does “image” in Genesis 1:26-27 mean?

'image' here means:

  1. reflecting the plurality and the unity of purpose of God
  2. sharing the authority of God under Him and over His created works

1 This unity theme is picked up on by Paul in Ephesians 5, and expanded to include unity between God and man.

2 Genesis 5 strongly indicates that 'man' includes not just Adam but also his descendants

3 It is interesting to compare some New Testament references to Genesis 1 and note that authority references are very prominent, eg Colossians 1: "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities" & Hebrews 1: "upholds the universe by the word of his power"

  • 2
    Excellent and well-thought-out answer. One possible counter to the idea that the sexes reflect some plurality of God is the statements by Paul in Ephesians 5 that the sexual union between man and wife actually reflects the union between Christ and the Church. It seems that if it were to reflect some higher order union within God itself Paul would have highlighted it.
    – Austin
    Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 8:22
  • This just confirmed that God lives. The image being humans partaking in authority over the creation and that's exactly what's happening
    – Dong Li
    Commented Apr 11 at 14:12

From a Christian perspective, this passage is typically not seen as God and humanity sharing biological traits. One example, taken more or less at random, is this statement from Answers in Genesis:

Man in the image of God; what does this mean in practical terms? It cannot refer to bodily, biological form since God is a Spirit and man is earthly.

So what can the phrase mean? Here is Jesus on the topic in Mark 12:13-17 (HCSB):

Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said. When they came, they said to Him, "Teacher, we know You are truthful and defer to no one, for You don't show partiality but teach truthfully the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, or should we not pay?"

But knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at." So they brought one. "Whose image and inscription is this?" He asked them.

"Caesar's," they said.

Then Jesus told them, "Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.

Jesus' answer works on two levels:

  1. Tax is due to Caesar because he established the monetary system.
  2. Since people are in the image of God (via Genesis 1), they belong to Him.

Note that coins don't have all the qualities of Caesar. They don't have bodies, but only faces. They don't have authority to command armies, make laws, raise taxes, enforce justice, etc., but they represent a portion of that authority. They are not themselves worshiped, but ought to be respected. Jesus managed to escape their trap with considerable skill in applying the Torah.

However, orthodox Christianity also believes that God became man and through Jesus redeemed and perfected the image of God. Colossians 1:15-20 (HCSB):

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation;
because by Him everything was created,
in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.
He is also the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have first place in everything.
For God was pleased [to have] all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself
by making peace through the blood of His cross—
whether things on earth or things in heaven.

In as sense, God does have all the attributes of humanity in the person of Jesus who has become the first man of the new creation as Adam was the first man of the original creation. So it's possible under a Christological hermeneutics to read Genesis 1:26 as a prophesy that was not fulfilled before Jesus. We also believe that there will be a resurrection when we all will get renewed bodies and live on a renewed earth. (See also Revelation 21.)

  • Is the Greek word used in Mark 12 the same Greek word used to translate Gen. 1:26 in the LXX and NT references?
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 4:21

Umberto Cassuto, in his commentary to Genesis deals with this question:

'In our image, after our likeness' The Jewish exegets have endeavored to soften the corporeality implicit in the statement by means of forced interpretations....On the other hand, many modern commentators take the view that in fact we have here an unquestionably corporeal concept....The correct interpretation is to be sought elsewhere.

Cassuto starts by stating that the meaning of the word tzelem and these verses, have changed over the centuries:

There is no doubt that the original signification of this expression in the Canaanite tongue was, judging by Babylonian usage, corporeal, in accordance with the anthropomorphic conception of the godhead among the peoples of the ancient East. Nevertheless, when we use it in modern Hebrew, and say, for instance, 'all that has been created in the Divine image', we certainly do not associate any material idea with it, but give it a purely spiritual connotation, to wit, that man, although he resembles the creatures in his physical structure, approaches God in his thought and in his conscience. It is clear, therefore, that the meaning of the phrase changed in the course of time; it was corporeal to begin with but subsequently it became spiritual.

Cassuto then goes on to make two compelling arguments:

  • Just because some ancient near east cultures would have understood tzelem to be physical doesn't mean that all ancient near east cultures would have understood tzelem to imply physicality:

Generally speaking, it is an error of perspective to regard all ancient texts as forming a single group. Although they are far removed from us, they may also be distant from one another in time or in degree of maturity.

  • In Genesis 1 God is portrayed as immutable and lofty, omnipotent and fundamentally removed from the physicality of his creations, therefore tzelem must have been understood metaphorically as referring to man's spiritual potential:

when we consider the lofty conception of God that is reflected in our section, we are compelled to conclude that the change [in how to understand tzelem] referred to antedated its composition, and that the expression used here in a sense similar to (if not actually identical with) that which it has in Hebrew today.


Short Answer: To be made "in God's image, according to His likeness" was just the author's (now outdated) way of saying that God made man to be His son -- that is, to look like Him in character and in deed.

Exhibit A: Genesis 5

The most straightforward way of showing this is to read the opening verses of Genesis 5.

In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. . . . When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he begot in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

Many translations insert "a son" after the word "begot" to make sense of it in English, but in Hebrew it simply says "he begot in his likeness, according to his image", and that was enough to say "he begot a son". If there were any confusion as to what sort of relationship the author of Genesis 1:26 meant to describe there, it was cleared up here as the same sort of relationship being highlighted here between Adam and his "begotten": the relationship of sonship.

Exhibit B: Luke 3

Later interpreters understood the language of Genesis in this way. For example, at the end of Luke 3 we read about Jesus' genealogy like so:

When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, [and so on down the line], the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

First-century interpreters understood there to be a parallel between Seth's relationship to Adam and Adam's original relationship to God -- because that's what Genesis 5:1-3 reveals. What was the nature of that relationship? It was one of sonship.

Exhibit C: Sonship in Genesis 1

The consistent picture of sonship throughout Scripture is one of, well, likeness. A true "son" was one who looked like his "father" in character and in deed. It was not even necessary to be a biological offspring (e.g. Prov. 29:21). Here are but a few examples: Abraham was a man of faith, and so all those who have faith like Abraham are called “sons” of Abraham (Gal. 3:6-7) – even if they are not his biological offspring (Gal. 3:29; Matt. 3:9). Those who are murderers just as Satan is a murderer are “sons” of Satan (John 8:39-44). Those who love just as God loves are “sons” of God (Matt. 5:44-45). Those who do not love like God are not His sons (John 8:42). There are countless more examples.

So, we have defined biblical "sonship". How does that relate to Genesis 1? Well, this sort of "sonship" is precisely what we find the author trying to convey in the Genesis 1 account of God's creation of man:

  • Like Him in deed: Notice that right on the heels of "let Us create man in Our image" -- in the same breath -- God continues with "let him rule". The idea here is that being God's son (image / likeness) meant ruling, because God rules, and man was meant to be His son (looking like Him in character and deed).

  • Like Him in character: Notice also that the fact God made man "in His image" is one of the only details about man's creation that the author of Genesis felt necessary to include in his Genesis 1 narration. Clearly the author was trying to set the reader up to understand what was lost (or at least damaged) at the Fall of Genesis 3 -- and clearly what was lost was the relationship and thus moral purity that man originally had prior to sin. In other words, the idea here was that being God's son (image / likeness) meant being morally pure, because God is pure, and man was meant to be His son (looking like Him in character and deed).


The author of Genesis 1 meant to convey that man was created to be God's son in the truest sense -- he was intended to look like God in character and in deed. Thus, he was meant to be pure like God and to rule like God in loving relationship.


There seems to be a common notion that this cannot be a physical likeness because God is spirit. However, I would like to present a different perspective and suggest that this image represents God's spiritual yet visible form.


An image is something that looks like something else. The image can be imaginary (seen in the mind) or physical (seen physically).

In this case, given the fact that in this verse God is forming this image out of clay, it is obviously a physical image he is creating. But, the origin does not need to be physical, just visible.


Let me begin my supporting this with some examples of other things that have no physical mass but may b represented by images:

-Sound does not have mass, and would not be considered physical, yet we can generate an image of its waves.

-Light does not have mass and would not be considered physical, but a simple google search generates multiple images of the light spectrum.

-Visions and Dreams and memories have no mass and would not be considered physical, and yet we can represent them with images.

A ghost/spirit has form and can be seen but is not physical

Some Scriptural accounts of people seeing God/Spirit in a form:

  1. The LORD appeared to Abraham in the planes of Mamre.
    --Abraham saw three men, one of whom he addressed as LORD.
  2. Jacob saw God face to face and lived.
  3. Moses is covered under the cleft of the rock and allowed to see his back.
  4. the spirit alighted upon Jesus in the form of a dove (MT 3:16).

CONCLUSION: God, who is Spirit may not be physical in nature, yet He can appear in form. And He has an image in which mankind is made. We were made to look like Him physically.

Here is some supporting linguistic information available concerning the Hebrew word translated image accessed in the on-line, Blue-letter Bible H6754

Literally this word means "a shadow" from an unused root meaning to shade. Strong's Number H6754 matches the Hebrew צֶלֶם (tselem ),

This word occurs 17 times in 15 verses in the Hebrew concordance of the KJV These uses more strongly support suggest that the word is used to mean a picture of what something looks like rather than metaphorically to represent some invisible nature/character/quality of that which it represents.

Gen 1:26

And God said, Let us make man in our image, H6754 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.

Gen 1:27

So God created man in his own image, H6754 in the image H6754 of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Gen 5:3

And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; H6754 and called his name Seth:

Gen 9:6

Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image H6754 of God made he man.

Num 33:52

Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, H6754 and quite pluck down all their high places:

1Sa 6:5

Wherefore ye shall make images H6754 of your emerods, and images H6754 of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.

1Sa 6:11

And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images H6754 of their emerods.

2Ki 11:18

And all the people of the land went into the house of Baal, and brake it down; his altars and his images H6754 brake they in pieces thoroughly, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of the LORD.

2Ch 23:17

Then all the people went to the house of Baal, and brake it down, and brake his altars and his images H6754 in pieces, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.

Psa 39:6

Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: H6754 surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.

Psa 73:20

As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. H6754

Eze 7:20

As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty: but they made the images H6754 of their abominations and of their detestable things therein: therefore have I set it far from them.

Eze 16:17

Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images H6754 of men, and didst commit whoredom with them,

Eze 23:14

And that she increased her whoredoms: for when she saw men pourtrayed upon the wall, the images H6754 of the Chaldeans pourtrayed with vermilion,

Amo 5:26

But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, H6754 the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.


The word for image is צלם which only appears outside of Genesis in the Tanakh in Daniel. There it's Aramaic, but it's always translated as "image."

I don't see a problem with saying our physical appearance is representative of God. Many theological approaches to God say He has no physical qualities whatsoever but the verse seems to plainly say otherwise. Alternatively "the image of God" as it were can just mean the image God wants, meaning, "exactly as he saw fit to create us." This can then be taken to many different realms such as the human spirit, psyche, etc.

Some interesting approaches:

  • Maimonides—the ability to think and imagine
  • Nachmonidies—the ability to create
  • Eliyahu Dessler—the ability to give without receiving
  • many other philosophical approaches.

In any event, I believe your question is posed incorrectly and actually the burden of proof falls on one who wants to provide an explanation other than God's physical image. Is there any scriptural evidence that it doesn't mean God's physical attributes?

  • 1
    Blue Letter Bible lists 17 usages. From those, it appears to be used frequently in context to "idols". However, Psalm 39:6 and 73:20 both appear to use it in a non-physical sense. I don't even see a usage in Daniel listed there. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 17:19
  • To @GalacticCowboy, you're right, it's in Psalms, though it's 39:7... I missed those two b/c at a quick glance I thought they were different words. It's in Daniel 3:1. And yes, it's used in the context of idols. But obviously it doesn't have to be used only in the context of idols, as seen by the Genesis examples.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 7:22
  • Interesting. two words, apparently spelled the same, but with different Strong's numbers. (Not that those are inspired, so...) 6754 was what I linked above; 6755 is apparently only used in Daniel. Wonder why these ended up separated by Strong? Because of Hebrew/Aramaic, maybe? Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 11:31
  • 2
    @GalacticCowboy who said, "Because of Hebrew/Aramaic, maybe?" Precisely. If you look at the top of 6755, you'll note that it says "Aramaic" to the right of the word. Although they're spelled the same, Strong's notes that one is the Hebrew form and the other the Aramaic.
    – user862
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 4:11

The Day 6 riddle

Gen 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

We can't understand 'image' until we understand why God did not say he made man in his 'likeness' until here:

Ge 5:1 ¶ This [is] the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;

So man was not made in the likeness of God until Chapter 5. The intervening chapters tell us how God made man in his likeness, and when we understand that, we will understand the image.

(You can zoom in by enlarging your browser Cntrl-+ for Firefox)

Image and Likeness

So Christ is the express image of God, and we will be made like him through the cross. The man and his bride are the image and the likeness of God.

The drawing leaves much of the story out, focusing only on the elements related to 'image and likeness'.

  • 3
    But isn't 5:1 a reference back to 1:26? "In the day that God created man..." Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 2:13
  • Yes. The whole story to chapter 5 is one day. It is the story of Day 6.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 2:15
  • 1
    The same story will be told again through Noah, then through the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob with Jospeh thrown in), again with Israel in the desert, again with Israel in the Promised Land and again with the life of Christ. It will also be told many times within these major blocks like fractals.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 2:24
  • We need to know what a day is: And the evening (reconciling Holiness to Grace) and Morning (reconciling Grace to Holiness) were the Xth day. Each major division of the Bible as outlined is a picture of the cross on the largest scale, and is a 'day'. Since the pashat never loses it's meaning, this has nothing to do with 6 literal days. This is the sensus plenior.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 2:30
  • Days 1 through seven are one story. The following major sections each tell the same story focusing on the details of the day. Using remez and drash, all the days become one day, all the stories become one story, and we can say "THIS is the day the Lord has made" and refer to all creation in all time.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 4:36

Given the many different views suggested, it may be time to see if other places in the Bible give insight on this matter of 'image'. This will actually answer what 'image' means in Genesis 2 by a process of "working backwards".

The New Testament speaks of one who is called "the last Adam" and "the second man". This is Jesus Christ. It also speaks of Christ as being the image of God, so the New Testament is the point from which we can work backwards by considering what it says about Christ and 'image'. Consider:

"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam a quickening spirit. Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:45-47)

In agreement with a point made in one answer (that Genesis 2 verse 28 needs to be included with the previous two), here is a quote from a book explaining how this all relates to 'image':

"The main emphasis in Genesis 1:26-28 lies in the concept of 'image and likeness', together with that of 'dominion'.

It has been indicated that what the Elohim passage discloses of the divine image and likeness - eternal, almighty, inscrutable - is that of light; life; spirit; and it may be, love. But - as to that image - whatever may have been true of Adam in innocence, of necessity this was but the palest reflection of the brightness of God's glory manifest in Christ in the fulness of time.

That two men, one of earthy creation, the other of eternal purpose, were determined in the counsels of God before the creation of the world, and manifest - one in substance, the other in shadow - from the foundation of it, is evident. Hence the conclusion of the apostle Paul, 'As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly'. 1 Cor. 15:49.

But the earthy was earthy by definition before the Fall. And if the pale reflection of the image and likeness of Elohim was borne in an earthen vessel, what of that? As to the divine image and likeness in the heavenly, this is another thing. Being heavenly, he is the Son. Then, he is the image of his Father. But that is very, very far from - it transcends beyond measure - the image and likeness of Elohim in Adam.

This image of the Father in Christ, revealed in the gospel of God concerning his Son, is glimpsed in the promise of that gospel from the foundation of the world. Now, however, the Son is risen, and 'God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ', 2 Cor. 4:6 Creation, pp 74-75, John Metcalfe, 2008"

This means that if we want to grasp anything about the image of God in the first Adam, we have but to look to the last Adam - Christ Jesus - the very Son of God. Whatever we see of God in Jesus walking this Earth, we can know with confidence that the first Adam was initially like (until he sinned, and that image was marred).

The text that shows this is the best way to grasp understanding is to consider what Paul said about those who do not understand:

"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" 2 Cor. 4:3,4

The first Adam was a vessel of clay but the last Adam "is the image of the invisible God" Col. 1:15. What is seen in Christ is that divine image - and we can see it once we are no longer blind to the gospel of Christ! That is why the book of Hebrews says that this Son is "the brightness of his [God's] glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb. 1:3). It then quotes Psalm 8:4-8 about man having dominion over the earthly creation, and applies it to Christ, the last Adam. Hebrews 2:6-8 continues by saying we do not yet see all things put under him, "but we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour" Heb. 2:8-9.

So, just look to the glorified last Adam, full of light, life, spirit and love, to know what the image of God is. Tragically, that likeness in the first Adam was marred by sin so that darkness, death, fleshliness and hatred became predominantly obvious. The last Adam had to come to restore all of that so that there will come a time when all things are subjected to Christ in a re-creation.

EDIT: The answer to the main question is that the biblical meaning of glory, as in the phrase "the image and glory of God" is (in Greek) δόξα (Strongs G1391); opinion, judgment or view; splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, dignity, majesty."

However, God is Spirit, the incarnate Son of God told us (John 4:24), which is why we are to worship him in spirit and in truth. There should be no attempt to bring down to the human level the glory of God. Humans must aspire upwards to see the spiritual glory of God. The second matter raised by the OP's friend, "that our sexual nature actually gives physical expression to some attribute of God" strikes me as an example of the former, while the book I quoted from gives an example of the latter - spiritual application, as opposed to carnal application.

I obtained a book that delves into this. I recommend studying The Image of God, Personhood and the Embryo by Calum MacKellar, SCM, 2017


From the first chapter in Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed:

...The term ẓelem, on the other hand, signifies the specific form, viz., that which constitutes the essence of a thing, whereby the thing is what it is; the reality of a thing in so far as it is that particular being. In man the "form" is that constituent which gives him human perception: and on account of this intellectual perception the term ẓelem is employed in the sentences "In the ẓelem of God he created him" (Gen. i. 27)...

Demut is derived from the verb damah, "he is like." This term likewise denotes agreement with regard to some abstract relation: comp. "I am like a pelican of the wilderness" (Ps. cii. 7); the author does not compare himself to the pelican in point of wings and feathers, but in point of sadness... on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form.


We need to understand what God's purpose was in creating man in His own image and likeness. Father's purpose was to have a family in the earth, that He would call "son". Note, it is son without a capital "S". This "son" would be gender free as God does not discriminate between male and female (Gal.3:28). We will also recall that it was Adam who called Eve, woman, not God (Gen.2:23). This son, although he had a body (flesh), would be able to engage two dimensions - that of the earth and of the heavenly (spirit), without having to leave his body.
As flesh cannot stand before God and live, communication was through Spirit (God) speaking to spirit (man)( Rom.8:16) and Deep calling to deep. This son would be an "exact" representation of the Father in the earth. Jesus the Son, said, "if you have seen Me, then you've seen the Father. I and the Father are One". "Because as He (Jesus) is, even so are we in this world" ( 1 Jn.4:17c). When the first Adam (son), became disconnected from Father (orphaned) , because of disobedience in his soul dimension, the management of the earth, not its ownership, changed hands. The earth soon became corrupt as all flesh had corrupted God's way** (order) upon the earth(Gen.6:11,12). Man had marred the image of his Father, but did not lose it.

** This "way of God" went out of alignment - so many generations later, we find John the Baptist with a voice crying in the wilderness, "make straight the way of the Lord" (Matt.3:3)

  • God does not discriminate between male and female Clearly, God did discriminate between male and female. He literally made one male and the other female. Even in the New Testament men and women are discriminated on the basis of roles in the family and in the assembly. Perhaps in the New Creation, there is zero discrimination, but God discriminates between the two as a fact of creation from the beginning of creation.
    – Austin
    Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 2:40
  • @Austin I would not consider it "discrimination" as much as the purpose and place of each of his family members. 1 Cor 11:3 Each one fulfilling their place in this arrangement according to Love results in peace and unity.
    – ACME
    Commented May 5, 2023 at 22:20
  • @ACME, I'm using the term discriminate in it's most basic sense which means to differentiate between one thing or another. What you just described is discrimination. There is another sense in the way it often meant to include some kind of injustice, but that is not original to the basic meaning of discrimination.
    – Austin
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 9:03
  • @austin yes however for clarity a different term may apply. No offense meant
    – ACME
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 23:34

I especially like the answer of Jack Douglass which I have upvoted. This answer should be seen as an addendum to that answer.

We should resist the temptation to read NT theology back into Gen 1 about Jesus being the second Adam (Rom 5:12-19) and Jesus being the image of God (Col 1:15, 2 Cor 4:4, etc).

The "image of God" in Gen 1:26-28 is actually provided by the text itself and confirmed elsewhere.

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.”

27 So God created man in His own image;

in the image of God He created him;

male and female He created them.e

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.”

Thus, in the original creation of mankind, the image of God meant two things:

  1. Man was given dominion over the rest of creation. In this way, mankind was to be God's representative and deputy ruler on earth
  2. Just as God had created creatures, so mankind was to create more creatures by reproducing and multiplying. Note the specific instruction, "to fill the earth"; that is, God's original creation had not filled the earth, but mankind was to complete the task.

This is confirmed in the first genealogy of Gen 5 where we read:

Gen 5:1-3 - This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in His own likeness. Male and female He created them, and He blessed them. And in the day they were created, He called them “man.” When Adam was 130 years old, he had a son in his own likeness, after his own image; and he named him Seth.

Thus, Adam's progeny were intended to reflect the likeness of God, but by the time Adam produced children, they were like Adam - sinful and thus did not reflect the perfect character of God. (See Rom 5:12-19 - Adam's sinfulness was passed to all humanity.)

I must pause to note that one of the purposes of God's plan of salvation is to restore the image of God in humanity as revealed in Christ (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18)


Everything in nature reveals some attribute of God, from how plants grow, to sex, to the stars in the sky, to how clouds form, how wind blows, etc.

There are many scriptures, but here are a few:

Romans 1:20 (KJV 1900)

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Psalm 19:1–5 (KJV 1900)

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, Where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.

Psalm 19 declares that the heavens "speak", declaring God's glory, and this speech can be heard in every language, in every part of the world. Thus the speech is not a human language, but the language of creation that is understood, according to the Psalmist, by everyone in the world.

When we specifically talk of sex, we mean the union of husband and wife, and Paul says this reveals the nature of the relationship between the church and Christ:

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5.29-33)

We also see in the Old Testament God referring to Israel as his bride, and when she was idolatrous this was like running after other men - thus the unfaithful bride. That is a common theme in many prophecies. We see attributes of God revealed in emotions between couples as well -- e.g. God is a jealous husband and wants Israel to remain faithful.

If you want even finer resolution, at the level of sperm and egg cells, then in Genesis 3.15, God says "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

Thus there was a promised "seed" that would reconcile man to God in order to bridge the fall, and this seed was promised to Abraham and the other patriarchs, and then to David. E.g. to Abraham:

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. Gen 22.18.

In both Gen 3.15 and Gen 22.18, the word translated as "seed" is zera - זֶ֫רַע - which means exactly what Elizabethan english "seed" or "issue" would mean. E.g. it is sperm and thus also seed as from a plant, and thus also "decendents".

We can see this use of seed in Genesis 38:9

Genesis 38:9 (KJV 1900)

9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

From this usage of sperm or issue, also comes all the parables about sowing and planting seeds in Mark, etc. as well as the concept of being born again.

For example in John 12:23-25

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

If you think about it, the sperm cell, when it joins the egg, dies. It loses its identity, but it becomes a new creation. So imagine if there was a shy sperm cell that didn't want to join the egg, because it enjoyed swimming around. Then it would "abide alone" and would lose its life. So in the very act of procreation we see some attribute of God's plan revealed.

So yes, in all of creation, especially anything related to human relations, agriculture, the stars, weather such as cloud/rain, animals, all of these reveals God's glory in numerous scriptural metaphors. The Bible is filled with these types of metaphors and parables.


26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image... 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (ESV)

After announcing intent, God does what He said. The announcement is given using the plural form, נַֽעֲשֶׂה, of the verb עָשָׂה, asa. The act of creating is described using a different verb, בָּרָא, bara written as singular, but repeated three times. Without getting bogged down in details, the choice and use of the words asa and bara has an obvious harmony while preserving a distinction:

Announcement    Work
plural asa      singular bara repeated three times

If we preserve the distinction between asa and bara we should understand despite being created in the image of God, there remains a recognizable difference. Therefore, it is reasonable to see man's physical nature as a distinction between created, bara, and made, asa, in the image of God. So the reality man was created with a physical nature says nothing about God's image which He, "us" actually would make man.

The three-fold repetition begins with a duality repeated inversely: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; the final time is given as a duality, male and female He created them lacking the words image and God.

A:  Created God אֶת man in His own image
  B: Image of God created אֹת֑וֹ
A': Male and female He created אֹתָֽם

The three-fold use of the verb create also includes a three-fold use of the marker את. The first as את referring to God; the second אֹת֑וֹ singular; the third אֹת֑וֹ plural. Given this double use of the number three, it seems reasonable to consider there are three qualities man was created with which are in the image of God.

From the Genesis 1 account, three qualities are immediately recognizable:

  1. Dominion over the earth
  2. Dominion over the animals living on the earth
  3. Fellowship with another human

From Genesis 2, a fourth is given: service to the LORD God. The man is to guard and care for the garden the LORD God planted. If we consider man's "out of garden" experience, the two dominions could be considered as one, making the third service to the LORD God:

  1. Service to the LORD God
  2. Dominion over the earth and the animals
  3. Fellowship with another human

Therefore, to be created in the image of God is have a three-fold nature: 1) to be able to serve God 2) to have [limited] authority over what God has created 3) to have fellowship. Fellowship is specifically with another of the same type yet different from other created life. Finally, I would note since each is distinct all three could be restated in terms of fellowship:

  1. Fellowship with God
  2. Fellowship with other living things
  3. Fellowship with one another

I have pondered an aspect of this question quite a bit. God has created an unimaginable variety of things in the universe. Of the spirit; Spirit creatures that do not directly reproduce. Rev 5:11, and of the physical; both inanimate and "living" things that directly reproduce Gen 1-3. All non human physical living things reproduce according to their kinds and inherit instinctual abilities and can learn within these boundaries. Of the living things only Humans procreate other seperate sentient beings with the free will to choose to obey Gods instructions or reject these. And this procreation is without direct divine action. WOW. Also of all living physical things, only humans have a seemingly unlimited capacity for learning, some estimate, wether true or exaggerated, that the number of connections between neurons possible in the Human brain to be more than the number of stars in the known universe. "Why Your Brain is Like The Universe April 20, 2016 - BrainMD Life" This is why God has taken so much time and effort to redeem fallen humankind, and expresses his love for this in giving his dear son as a ransom. humans have a very desirable place in the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose and will endlessly exist as his children if they are obedient. Sadly though far too many of us disobey.


ImageandLikenessin Genesis

As extensively as I could study, this is what I understood regarding the “image” and “likeness” in Gen 1:26:


This is a 3-dimensional copy of the original!

How do I know it is a 3-dimensional copy?

Number 33:52 talks about “their molten images”!

Now, a molten image is cast into a 3-dimensional figure. It is a statue or an idol.


This is the “content” or similitude (with characteristic details) of the original. It could be a drawing, a picture, a bas relief or even a sculpture. But the copy will have the important features of the original.

For example, the idolatrous “King Ahaz goes to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Asshur at Damascus, and sees the altar that is in Damascus, and King Ahaz sends to Urijah the priest the likeness (Demuth) of the altar, and its pattern (details), according to all its work” (2 King 16:10).

This likeness could have been in the form of a drawing, a bas relief or even a clay model. But the details will be made clear.

The Difference:- An amateur can make a 3-dimensional image of Abraham Lincoln. But it may not look like (no likeness of) Lincoln. It may look like somebody else! However, when a professional sculptor makes a 3-dimensional image of the same, it will look like (likeness) Abraham Lincoln! In other words, both made the same image but only the latter made the likeness (the characteristic features of Lincoln)!

So, the Scripture is clear, man is a 2 and 3-dimensional copy (in the physical world) of the Almighty God who is in the spiritual realm! The similitude or characteristic features also include God's creative intelligence, dominion, rationality etc.

So man is a physical copy of the spiritual God in shape and similitude!

This is all the more clear when we read:

“And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years and fathered a son in his own likeness (Demuth), according to his image (tselem), and called his name Seth” (Gen 5:3).

It is obvious that “tselem” and “demuth” cannot mean one thing in Gen 1:26 and another thing in Gen 5:3!

So if Seth was as similar as Adam in shape and form (in 2 and 3 dimensions), then it is obvious that a human being is as similar as the Almighty God in shape and form (in 2 and 3 dimensions)!!

I would say if anyone wants to see how the Almighty God looks like, just look in the mirror!! (I know I am going to get down votes!)

This explains why God took great pains to save the humanity but didn’t do so in the case of the fallen angels!!

Did Adam lose this physical image at the Fall?

Not according to the Scripture! Even after Adam sinned and was expelled from the Garden, man is said to be in the image of God in Genesis 9:6:

“Whoever sheds man's blood, his blood shall be shed by man. For He made man in the image of God”.

We also need to remember that though Adam sinned and was expelled, his own son Abel in the very next generation was “righteous” (Matt 23:35)!

Even before Adam sinned, the Scripture says that Adam was “formed out of dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7). So Gen 3:19 was a reminder of the same to Adam by God; “for you are dust and to dust you shall return”.


So, man is not only similar to the great God in spiritual qualities, dominion, authority etc., but also in shape and similitude!

Man’s physical shape and similitude of the highest spiritual Entity cannot be circumvented in the Scripture.

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