“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV)
It may come as a complete shock to you; however, there are two accounts of Creation in Genesis chapters 1-3. Biblical scholars have long agreed that these two accounts (the first is in 1:1-2:4a and the second is in 2:4b-3:24) came from two different sources and were intended to describe a theological truth about Creation, not to provide a scientific explanation for the origins of the cosmos or life. Equating the Creation stories in Genesis as literal and factual accounts of how the world came into existence requires a degree of mental gymnastics to which no one should have to go. I believe God created the heavens and the earth. I have no doubt about that. However, new theories and discoveries in the physical sciences are not a threat to my faith. My faith in God grows when I study the origin of the universe from a scientific perspective.
Here's another fact: the writer of Genesis uses poetry to describe God's generative role in Creation. It makes sense that our Creator God would creatively communicate the story of how Creation through an art form versus using an assembly manual that reads more like how to put together a grill than how to form something as beautiful and complex as the world in which we live. Re-read the whole Creation story and take in its beauty AND its truth. Read it not as a set of literal facts to be defended—but read it for what it teaches us about the God who could have created anything, but chose to create you and me. Now that's a remarkable story worth defending!
Genesis 1:26-27 contains one of the great theological truths about Creation, where it states human beings are created in God's image.
"God said, 'Let us make (Hebrew: aseh—plural) man (Hebrew: a·dam) in our image (Hebrew: sal·me), after our likeness…'" (Genesis 1:26a, emphasis added)
"Aseh" is a plural verb translated as "make" and it might indicate a creative dialogue among the Trinity, a collaborative creative effort between God and the heavenly host, or just a "royal 'we'"—as a king might say, "We will create" when he means, "I will create." For me, it makes more sense, based on sources in the New Testament (John 1, for example), that it's an indication of God's Triune nature, acting as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Creation.
You may have noticed that the word "man" is a translation from the Hebrew word "a·dam" and is where Adam got his name. Adam wasn't a man's name at first—it was the name for all humankind.
"Selem" means "an image, a likeness, a statue, a model, a drawing, a shadow." Kings would send their image out into the far reaches of the kingdom as coins or statues, lest their subjects forget their king in his absence. This passage declares our Creation in God's image—we bear God's image to the world, much like the coins or the statues of old.
So what does it mean to be created in the image of God? Richard Donovan sums it up this way:
• It must have to do with something more than physical likeness, because "God is spirit." (John 4:24)
• It must have to do, at least in part, with spiritual likeness—the capacity for love, forgiveness, grace, generosity, etc.
• God's decision to make humankind in his image is followed immediately by the decision to give humans dominion over all the living creatures (v. 26), so an essential part of being created in God's image must have to do with the proper exercise of dominion. (I would add having "dominion" is not the same as "exploiting" or "abusing.")
I think Donovan is correct, but even more, to be created in God's image is this: It is to live as fully in the way God imagined we would live when he created us. We continually fall short of reflecting that image and our life's journey is to commune with God in such a way that by being present with God, we are transformed more and more into his image. Jesus came to show us how that looks, for he lived in perfect communion with the Father.
Over the next four weeks, we'll grow in our understanding of the image of God. We'll explore the implications of God's image in us for how we live in relationship to God, with our Selves, and with others. I think you're going to love learning more about how special you are to God!