Gen 1:26 Then 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.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” 28 And 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.”
In Genesis 1:26-28 we have a treasure trove of information about what it means to be human. It means to be made in the image and likeness of God. In the Bible, the words here translated “image” and “likeness” mean a representation or resemblance of something, as in a sculpture representing a god; or describing one thing by comparing it to something else that it looks like. Humans in some ways resemble God, share some of his qualities. What are those qualities? We can first define what is not included in these shared qualities. Humans are not infinite, eternal or unchangeable. They are not eternal because they had a beginning, unlike God, who has always existed. None of their qualities is infinite. Even the good qualities they share with God they do not exhibit to the extent or perfection that God does. And even in their original holiness they were not unchangeable.
Let us turn, then, to what we do mean when we say that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. It seems to me that we can think of their likeness in two broad categories. The first has to do more with externals—circumstances and functions. The second focuses on internals—feelings, thoughts, motivations, character qualities. In part one we will look at how they reflect the image of God in external ways: in their unity and equality and in their distinctions and partnership.
Unity and Equality in Being
It is striking that immediately after God reports making man in his own image, he specifies that “man” means “male and female.” Of all the ways we may have expected God to show how humans are like him, that is probably one we never would have guessed. I mean, God does not have a body, at that point; and when He does take on a human body, it is a male body. He speaks of himself as masculine and most frequently describes himself in masculine roles, such as father, son, bridegroom. So how does female fit into that image? Why would God take such care to mention females as his image-bearers at this early point in the story? Perhaps it is so that her identity as an image-bearer is not missed or mistaken or subsumed by the male terminology often used to designate humans.
Let us expand on that thought. Gen 1:27 states that …”God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” God created all of humanity to reflect his image. He clarifies the meaning of “man” or “human” to mean both male and female. There is no distinction in the way God imbues his image into females or into males. When God says, “Let us make man,” he uses the Hebrew word ‘adam. This word is found 552 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament and all but 10 times is translated as man, men, or Adam, and eight times as persons. By contrast, when God makes the distinction between male and female, he uses the Hebrew words zakar for male and nebeqah for female. And so we see God defining male and female as subsets of humanity and endowing the human race in general, and the genders as subsets equally, with his image. This is a critical, foundational, cornerstone principle. If the foundation is not level, if the cornerstone is not true, the whole edifice will be set off in the wrong direction both horizontally and vertically.
This principle bears viewing from several angles. A full expression of humanness includes both male and female, both Adam and Eve. And yet, Adam and Eve each individually fully reflected the image of God. There is nothing of the image of God which Adam possessed that Eve did not also possess.
This reality becomes especially relevant in the New Covenant when believers are promised that they are being made more like Christ. Men and women are both being inexorably conformed to the image of the Son of God. That must mean that the most important aspects of God’s image are character traits that are not inherently gender-specific. If the most important human characteristic is gender, then women would be at great disadvantage in becoming more like Christ, who took on a male body. Their identity would be overshadowed by the importance of becoming like a male. Male and female believers are both aiming for the same goal. A man’s highest calling is not to reach the pinnacle of godly manliness; a woman’s highest calling is not to reach the pinnacle of godly femininity. But in fact, the chief end of men and women is one and the same—to glorify God by being conformed to the image of Christ.
Consideration of the unity and equality of Adam and Eve takes on even more significance as we realize that it reflects the unity and equality in the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 6). Although they may at times function differently, none outranks any other in power, authority, importance, or worth. Every quality attributed to one in the Scriptures is also attributed to the others. If we cannot affirm this truth—if we assert that there is some inherent hierarchy in the Trinity—then we have dismantled the Trinity into three gods, not one God in three persons. We have abandoned the foundation of our theology of who God is. We have converted Christianity into polytheism.
I am not saying that belief in the unity and equality in the Trinity is dependent upon a belief in the unity and equality of Adam and Eve. Both are independently taught in Scripture. I am saying that Genesis 1:27 allows for no distinction between the image of God in Adam and the image of God in Eve. Attempts to base a hierarchy in male female relationships on an inherent hierarchy in the Trinity are anti-Christian. They will ultimately destroy the faith.
Unity and Equality in Calling
Genesis 1:26 Then 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.”…28 And 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.”
As God has authority over creation, he gives humans authority over creation. God owns creation and rules over it by determining and causing all the actions of all of its creatures. God gives humans a limited version of this rulership. They cannot control creation, but they can husband it, manage it, guide it, steward it, conserve it. They are not merely to observe creation run the course it was set on willy nilly or to maintain the status quo, but to explore it, to discover its potential and then harness that potential for the glory of God. God addresses this commission to them—in other words to both Adam and Eve equally—and blessed them. So far there is no assignment of roles, no division of labor. It is a joint venture between equals.
What to do
God created a coherent and consistent cosmology and gave humans the ability to reason and to apply logic in order to investigate it and understand it. The 17 th century German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”
This task of subduing and having dominion has been called the “creation mandate,” and includes a warrant for every form of human endeavor from the arts to the sciences (except those which God has forbidden). This command taps into the creativity God showed in bringing into existence everything that is in existence. God packed the universe with resources and surprises and waits with delighted anticipation for humans to discover them and in turn apply their creativity to God’s creation. Paul further reveals in I Corinthians 6:2-3 that God’s people will be judging the whole world and judging angels. So God expects humans to use the wisdom and judgment he provides in order to fulfill his command.
Distinctiveness and Partnership
If we combine the stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, we find more nuance in the creation of male and female. In Genesis 1: 26-28, God speaks his instructions to both male and female without role distinctions. Here, their equality before God is emphasized. There is no hierarchy implied. Both receive God’s blessing and the instruction to be fruitful, to multiply, to replenish the earth, to subdue it (a word which implies use of force to control it) and to have dominion over it. Then, in the Genesis 2 expansion on the creation narrative, God issues his first malediction and it is upon isolation and loneliness: It is not good for man to be alone, Genesis 2:18. Thus he indicates that part of being human is to be in relationship with other humans. To be solitary in the extreme is not healthy. Regardless of where we fall on the introvert/extrovert scale, we are never meant to operate without significant connection with other human beings.
As a matter of fact, God emphasized this need to Adam experientially. He paraded all the animals before Adam in quest of a perfect helper for Adam. How exhausting that must have been! Did Adam hold his breath each time a new animal stepped forward, hoping that this time he would find what his heart had been longing for? But no, not this time. Not this time. God allowed Adam to feel his need and to see how rare its fulfillment was. So when God finally created a tailor-made helper for him, Adam exclaims, “At last!! Yes! This is the perfect companion and helper! She is so much a part of me that she can understand me!” Both sameness and distinctiveness are necessary for fellowship and communion.
What would life have been like for Adam without his Eve? He would have had no earthly help to share the burden of ruling the earth. Even without the obstacles to that task introduced by the fall, it was a very large job. Ruling involves understanding and decision-making as well as physical labor. Most of us feel better making big decisions with the counsel of another person, and Scripture advises that approach (Proverbs 15:22). Another missing aspect is simple companionship. Adam could have had a very fulfilling day of tending the garden, but joys shared are joys increased. He had fellowship with God, but God himself is saying that even that is not enough. Humans need to engage with other humans in order to be complete. We were created to be in relationship; isolation is not good.
We find correspondence in the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God eternally exists as one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. We saw that Genesis 1:26 allows us to hear a conversation between the persons of the Trinity. John 16:7-14 and all of John 17, especially verse 24, further illumine the relationship enjoyed among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They have discussed plans and agreed upon distinct but equally vital tasks and operated in complete unity of mind and purpose to bring about the most complex, strategic, enemy-confounding rescue of all time. In the same way, human beings were created to live in relationship with each other, with the goal of single-minded unity in love. [1Co 1:10 ESV] I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
It takes two to make one
Probably the most obvious need for partnership between Adam and Eve was the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. As Genesis recounts the creation of living things, each is endowed with the means to propagate and reproduce. In the case of animals, reproduction is accomplished through the sexual union of male and female (except in a few rare cases). And so it is with humans. Adam could not fulfill the command to reproduce more humans without Eve.
God made Adam and Eve physically different but those differences have a correspondence in a way that brings them back into physical union. That union is further expressed when the two becoming one results in one completely new human being. It is really quite a beautiful mystery that God set in motion when he took one human being, made two out of one, and then told them to become one again.
We are reminded again of the beautiful passage in John 17:22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
And one more thing…
There is one more characteristic I’d like to mention before we finish up this section on the “external” features of Adam and Eve being made in the likeness of the Trinity. This faculty is actually not described in Genesis but is instead acted out and assumed. It is the faculty of language. We have seen conversation among the Trinity and between God and humans. God has communicated this history to Moses in verbal form. Moses has committed the words to writing. God continues to speak to his creatures in verbal form throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, words which have been handed down through the ages in the form of a book that we can open and read to find out what God wants us to know about himself and about ourselves. God speaks to humans in human language, demonstrating both a similarity between him and his creatures as well his tender care in in communicating in a way that his inferiors can understand. It is not coincidental that his most clear and explicit communication, his Son, is called The Word.