Imago Dei

Imago Dei

Image of God A phrase found several times in the book of Genesis (Gen 1:7–27; 5:1–3; 9:6). Distinguishes humankind from the animal and plant kingdoms. Elevates humankind above all terrestrial created things so as to exercise benevolent and ethical stewardship over creation. Image of God language is found in the New Testament as part of the Christian’s responsibility to imitate Christ, who is the image(r) of God par excellence.”[1]   

“Human beings are unique among all creatures in that they were created to be like God. Genesis 1:26–27 teaches that God determined to create man and woman in His own “image” and “likeness” and that they would have dominion over the animal creation. Both male and female shared this “likeness” to God, which is expressed as eikōn in Greek (Gen. 1:27). While the fall of mankind damaged this “image,” it was not damaged completely. There is still enough in our make-up to hint at what we once were like and what we can become again through the work of Christ.”[2]

“Image of God. Acc. to Gen. 1:26 f. and elsewhere, man was created in the image of God. The term was fundamental to the patristic understanding of the human person. However, until St *Augustine, the primary significance of the expression ‘Image of God’ was the Son Himself, man being a derived image of God, created in accordance with (κατά) the Image, i.e. the Son. The two terms, ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ (Heb. צֶלֶם and דְּמוּת; Gk., εἰκών and ὁμοίωσις; Lat. imago and similitudo), used in Gen. 1:26, were variously distinguished. Some (e.g. St *Irenaeus and *Origen) regarded ‘image’ as referring to man’s original condition, and ‘likeness’ as referring to man’s final state of glory (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2); such a contrast fitted in conveniently with the *Platonic notion that man’s goal is ὁμοίωσις θεῷ (Theaet. 176B) and also with the normal patristic understanding of salvation as *deification (q.v.). Other Fathers (e.g. St *Athanasius, St *Gregory of Nyssa) made no such distinction. The effect of the *Fall on the image received a similar variety of interpretation: for those who made the distinction the ‘likeness’ was lost, or its attainment rendered impossible apart from redemption; for others the image itself was damaged, or destroyed altogether. *Baptism was seen as an indispensable step in the restoration of the image-likeness. There have also been many theories to explain in what the image consists: most located it in human free will, but others found it in man’s superiority to creation, or in a quality of his soul, such as simplicity or immortality, or in his reason. With St Augustine there was a new influential development in the doctrine of the image: the notion of the Son as the Image was dismissed as subordinationist and man’s soul came to be regarded as a direct image of the Holy Trinity, manifesting a threefold structure in memory, understanding, and will (memoria, intelligentia, voluntas).”[3]

Understanding God and his relation to us through revelation is basic to all humanity. Mankind tends to meet one another on naturalistic terms and from subjective reasoning. Why would this be any different when taking into account, faith, hope, and love? We view God from our vantage point, which is problematic in our theological framework and supernatural imagery. Taken that we are created in His (God) image, we fail to realize that God reveals himself to us in different ways but lays the same path for all of us to meet Him if we choose to. In this case, free will is the best, and most compelling evidence for a Divine Creator that is furnished in love.

I find the God versus science debate to be exhausting and not a very good basis for the validity of scripture. We all bring our presuppositions with us to the scholastic table and engaging philosophically with a scientific person tends to get convoluted and confusing. Evangelicals have been doing this poorly for the last couple of centuries; “It was also common sense that gave nineteenth-century evangelicalism its mindset that the Bible could be approached and known apart from historical and literary context. It was not a book for scholars but a book for the people.”[4] The Bible has always been a book for the people, I think that when we attempt to scientificate biblical scripture in order to reveal the naturalistic truth, we run the risk of bastardizing doctrine.

The basic and most profound sentiment towards revelation is God-centered. God only reveals himself to those who seek him: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me” (Proverbs 8:17 ESV). This is throughout the Old and New Testament. It undergirds God’s greatest gift to man, free will; “Had God not revealed himself to us and preserved that revelation in Scripture, we would not know of our need and the solution to that need[5]” God shows us his creation through the eyes in which we choose to see him. It is in his love that He gives us a choice to accept or reject His salvation, and this is ultimately one of the greatest reasons for a belief in the Judeo-Christian faith that I can find.

Recently I have been privileged to speak with many atheists about Christ and biblical doctrine. My go to the question is: “if God would reveal himself to you in person, would you follow him?” I have seen many debates that end with this proposition. I begin most of my debates with this proposition, and depending on the answer it lays the path for the rest of the conversation. God gives us the path to salvation if we choose it. He reveals Himself only to those who seek. This should give all great comfort, knowing that revelation is, in itself, choice. I can give case after case about scientific postulations of creationism, evolution, biology, etc., but if the person asking the questions is not asking with an open heart, the conversation ultimately will not bear fruit.

This brings us to the point of revelation: once we position ourselves open to revelation, humanity begs for purpose. “Since the human is the highest of God’s earthly creatures, the study of humanity brings to completion our understanding of God’s work and, in a sense, of God himself, since we do learn something about the Creator by seeing what he has created.[6]” As we are created in his image (Gen 1:26-27) this gives us our purpose, to live our lives as He imaged us to live; to view our purpose, or image, of Christ. Jesus fulfilled this and gave all humanity a template for God’s purpose for man: “to love God with your whole heart, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) 

This doctrine of imago dei gives all people a mandate: We are to live our lives out as best we can to transform ourselves into divine revelation, as Jesus Christ championed. Our image is that of God, his divine title of perfection. As Dr. Heiser states: “he is what we ought to be.”[7] Although, through depravity and sin, we struggle with this mandate, never – the- less we strive too fulfill the image that which was given to us by God. “It is about humanity’s unique role in being God’s kingly representatives in creation. Once we understand what image of God means in Genesis, we will be in a better position to see how this idea is worked out elsewhere in the Bible.”[8]

Taking from this vantage point, and begging the question of purpose, self-evidence and revelation flow from our image. We are the light that shines in the world of darkness. We, as believers in Christ, bound by His image, can reveal His creation to others through faith, hope, and love. It is out of our ability to forgive, persevere, and show charity through hard times that give forth the greatest natural revelation of the existence of God. This is what Paul is speaking about in the first chapter of the book of Romans verse twenty: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). 

In conclusion, our image of God is the basis for our purpose in life. Our purpose in life is the basis for the revelation of truth. These two are intermingled and necessary to spread the word of God. As we mature in Christ, walk in the path of sanctification, so will our testimony to reveal God’s truth to humanity. This will provide the greatest evidence for God’s divine sovereignty, intervention, and providential purpose in all of human history.


Enns, Pete. “What Does Image of God Mean?” BioLogos, July 27, 2010. Last modified July 27, 2010. Accessed May 28, 2018.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 2013.

The Image of GodTheology Survey. South University, 2016. Accessed May 28, 2018.

Sawyer, Dr. M. James. “Scripture, Theology and Science: Personal Reflections and Conclusions.” Theology Survey. South University, 2016. Accessed May 28, 2018.,%20Theology%20and%20Science%20Personal%20Reflections.pdf?_&d2lSessionVal=e5BnRPzxpNWMWIDwSB4a7GdYM&ou=26881.

Sawyer, M. James. Survivor’s Guide to Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.


[1] Michael S. Heiser, “Image of God,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[2] Eugene E. Carpenter and Philip W. Comfort, Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined and Explained (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 309.

[3] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 825.

[4] Dr. M. James Sawyer, “Scripture, Theology and Science: Personal Reflections and Conclusions,” editorial, Theology Survey, 2016, section goes here, accessed May 28, 2018,,%20Theology%20and%20Science%20Personal%20Reflections.pdf?_&d2lSessionVal=e5BnRPzxpNWMWIDwSB4a7GdYM&ou=26881.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2013), 424.

[6] Ibid, 425.

[7] The Image of God, dir. Dr. Michael S. Heiser, perf. Dr. Michael Heiser, Theology Survey, January 2016, accessed May 28, 2018,

[8] Pete Enns, “What Does Image of God Mean?”, July 27, 2010, section goes here, accessed May 28, 2018,


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on R-Rated Religion and commented:

    Many Christians struggle with the phrasing and concept of the foundational doctrine. This issue is more important now in America than it has ever been. The emergence of trans activism and the left constantly attempting to strip imagers of their God-given position on earth is a sinful attack on Christianity and the imago dei.


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