Why prepositions matter

Imaging God occupies an important role in our lives. The little preposition attached to “image of God” in Genesis 1:26–27 becomes important to our understanding of this concept. What does it mean that we are “created IN the image of God”? What’s the difference between being created in the image of God and after the likeness of God, if any? Knowing this will open up an avenue of understanding the various functions of work, leisure and play in our lives.

The Preposition Beth

While some have argued that “image” and “likeness” are different concepts, we agree with Calvin when he says, “. . . interpreters seek a nonexistent difference between these two words, except that “likeness” has been added by way of explanation.” Thus, it functions appositionally, hence the text repeats created in the image of God without “likeness” twice in the next verse (27). Further, the order of these terms switches in Genesis 5:3. In any case, the meaning of “in our image” occupies the discussion here.

In Hebrew, the preposition beth precedes “image.” Determining its relationship is important because word studies on “image” and “likeness” cannot yield great results, since the significance of these plain terms is only known by context. Thus, their contextual meaning must be pursued.

In a seminal writing on the topic, Clines argued that the beth attached to “image” indicates a beth of essence, meaning “as the image of God” instead of “in the image of God.” If this holds true, the image of God means this: humans image God on earth, as if they are themselves God. Even if Clines is incorrect, Biblical precedent avails itself to this conclusion.

As the referential or traditional view argues something in humanity is the image of God. This something might very well be a sharing of God’s attributes. Hence, like the representational view argues, humans rule over the earth as vice-regents. People may act like God because they share something similar to God. As the relational view argues, something about the image of God lets humans communicate with one another and with God. This connection must be allowed because God created humans in his image which means (1) that people share in God’s attributes and (2) that people share in his functions. Therefore, asking the question ‘What attributes of God do we share and how do we share them?’ becomes extremely important to understand what functions we share, and so how we work, have leisure and play.


In the coming weeks, an explanation of what God communicates in people that constitues the image of God will receive attention. Then a discussion of how the idea of image of God connects with the rest of Bible and especially how Jesus and the image of God connect. Then we will be in a position to better understand how we can live, enjoy leisure and play. To image God in these areas is the goal, but one must understand what it means to image God before attempting to image him!

Part 4 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1


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