Image and Likeness

Luther Walker

In the first chapter of Genesis, Scripture records that God states He would make man in His image and likeness, Genesis 1:26. However, by Genesis 5:3, after the fall of Adam, the likeness and image of humans is that of Adam, for he passed on his corrupt nature to his children, Genesis 5:3.

The concept of image (צֶ֫לֶם – tsĕ-lĕm) is that which has a similar appearance. When examining God’s appearance, we find that He dwells in light, 1 Timothy 6:16; therefore, when God created Adam, He wrapped him in light so that Adam would have a similar image. When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, they were stripped of this image, Genesis 3:7. It is worthy to note here that the word used in Genesis 3:7, often translated as naked (עֲרוּמִּ֔ים), actually means stripped (עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם). They both knew they were stripped, for they could visibly see that they had lost their covering. However, this does not mean that the similarity to God was lost entirely to humans, for Adam was made in the image of God. This is why, after the Noahic flood in the dispensation of government, a new rule is placed upon the household that if a man sheds the blood of another man, his life is to be forfeit, Genesis 9:6. Although Adam was created in a state of innocence (not knowing good and evil) and resided in the garden during a time when there was no sin upon the earth, his offspring inherit his corrupt nature resulting from the penalties of spiritual and physical death for his trespass and sin, which brought death into this world, Romans 5:12, 17.

In the realm of false religions, an image refers to the representations the leaders and followers make of sticks and stones to represent the gods they create in their imaginations, Numbers 33:52; 2 Kings 11:18. When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, it remained in their country for seven months. During this time, the hand of the Lord was very heavy upon their cities that housed the Ark; therefore, they sought to send it back to its place, 1 Samuel 5:11. After the leaders of the Philistines consulted with their priests and diviners, they were instructed to make a trespass offering of golden images of the tumors and rats that were plaguing them and send the Ark back to Israel, 1 Samuel 6:4-8. This trespass offering was made in accordance with their religious belief that by sending the Ark away with the images of what was oppressing them, they would be freed from the affliction.

Humans are not just soulish (emotional), fleshly-based beings like animals, for we also possess a spirit, 1 Thessalonians 5:23. It is because of the spirit that we have a likeness (דְּמוּת – demût) to God, for His essence is Spirit, John 4:24. The spirit is where our rational and logics reside, 1 Corinthians 2:11. It is in this area of the human nature that Adam was created in the likeness of God, for he was an intelligent, logical creature. Although humans remain rational beings, due to Adam’s trespass causing spiritual death, which is separation from God, our conclusions have become corrupted by the desires from the flesh. In understanding the distinction between image and likeness, we have a few areas in Scripture where the difference is expressed, helping us to comprehend the variance in what is being conveyed. When King Ahaz sent Urijah the likeness of an altar that he saw in Damascus, it was not just to copy its appearance but its use; therefore, rather than just sending an image of the altar, the King sent the Priest the likeness of it so that he could use it for sacrifices, 2 Kings 16:10. He did not want an altar that was similar in appearance, but could be used in the same manner. We also find likeness used concerning what comes from an unrighteous person. The poison of the wicked is likened to that of a serpent, Psalm 58:4. Their vile speech destroys the lives of others in a similar way as the venom from a snake impacts its prey. While describing the Cherubim, Ezekiel expressed their likeness to a human, Ezekiel 1:5, rather than a reference to an image because he focuses on the similarity in how they present themselves. In depicting their likeness, Ezekiel illustrates their appearance as that of burning coals, Ezekiel 1:13, expressing a distinction between their image and likeness. In the book of Daniel, the Second Person of the Godhead is seen in the likeness of a man, Daniel 10:16. In the New Testament, God set aside His outward appearance of Deity and took on the form of a bondservant, being found in the likeness of men, Philippians 2:6-7. However, God is not a man, nor the son of a man, Numbers 23:19; therefore, when He came, it was in the likeness of a human, having taken on an outward image of a man so that He could make propitiation for sins, 1 John 4:10, and through His blood enter the Heavenly temple and obtain eternal redemption, Hebrews 9:12, for all who believe that He died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

Image (צֶ֫לֶם) expresses that which is similar in appearance, whereas likeness (דְּמוּת) describes a resemblance in function. When Adam sinned, he was stripped of the garment of light that expressed his similarity in appearance to God, losing the image. However, before he sinned, trespass brought spiritual separation from God, resulting in our likeness to God becoming tainted and, consequently, producing conclusions that cannot stand when being tested for good, Romans 1:28. In expressing love towards the world, God gave His Son, the Second Person of the Godhead, to restore our relationship with Him and ransom us from sin, 1 Timothy 2:6. Therefore, for those who share in the resurrection of Christ, we can shine as luminaries among this crooked and perverse generation when our lives express a proper opinion of God by living out the righteousness that we now have in Christ, Philippians 2:15. When God raised Christ from the dead, He created a new man, 2 Corinthians 5:17. When we believe the gospel for salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), we are taken out of Adam and immersed into the Christ and therefore partake in His death and resurrection. By seeing things as they really are and taking God at His word, when we put on the Christ as an outer garment, Colossians 3:10, we again express the image and likeness of God by manifesting a character that is likened to the risen and glorified Christ. Although, at this time, we are not again wrapped in light as Adam was, we possess the characteristics of light, which exposes the hidden things by living a life of godliness in the face of the flood of unsavingness the world around us rushes towards, 1 Peter 4:4, and therefore, can live a life that expresses a proper opinion of God by showing forth the image and likeness of Christ in us, Colossians 1:27.