Bible and Image

 Understanding the importance of the image God and its progression through redemptive history is not only helpful but a necessary venture to bring the Bible’s teaching to bear on modern humanity. However, just like the topic of work, leisure and rest, so also biblical theologies on the image of God are weak and sparse.[1] The following will briefly show how the Bible relates the image of God in redemptive history.

God’s image transfers to children. Genesis 1:26–27 state that God made both male and female in his image. To be made in God’s image means to image God in the world as his physical representatives who participate in a plethora of differing relationships. Genesis 5:1–3 shows that the image of God passes from father to son. Adam fathered a son in his likeness named Seth (Gen 5:3).

This implies that God’s creating people in his image bestows sonship. This is precisely the connection Luke makes in his Gospel. In Luke 3:38, we learn Adam was “the son of God.” Thus, the transfer of God’s image implies sonship.

God’s image remains after the fall of mankind. In Genesis 9:6, the reason murder requires the death penalty is because “God made man in his own image.” Thus, the fall of man did not destroy or damage the image of God. The sanctity of life is guaranteed because people still possess God’s image. Later Old Testament writers speak of the special glory humanity received from God, which hints that God’s image abides in people (Ps 8:5). In the New Testament, persons must not curse each other because humans are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9). Therefore, the image of God remains after the fall.

However, a persistent problem exists. Individuals cannot image God properly because of the pollution of sin. The history of the Old Testament is a history of moral failure, failure to spread God’s name and fame across the globe . The first Adam failed to image God through his life, and no other king, prophet or priest imaged God perfectly. A need for a coming one to redeem humanity existed.

Adam was a type of Christ. According to Paul, Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). Adam typified, that is, related to another Adam-like person, Jesus Christ. Adam failed to manifest the righteousness that images God’s righteousness, but Jesus succeeded, even sharing that righteousness with “many” (5:19). Paul concludes, “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” As Adam represented the race and led it into sin, so Jesus leads the human race into righteousness.

Jesus fully imaged God in earth. According to Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” He reflects God’s glory as humanity in God’s image was meant to do. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15).

When believers trust in Jesus Christ, they become “in Christ.” Jesus prays in John 17:21–23:

that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 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.

Notice the discussion of being in Jesus and in God and how this relates to receiving God’s glory. When one is in Christ, one is in God and manifests God’s glory. The purpose of redemption is to forgive the sins of mankind through Christ, so that humanity can be in Christ and so manifest God’s glory to the world. Believers become one with Jesus in their redemption.

Believers are so identified with Jesus that they die with him and rise with him (cf. Rom 6:1–11). Paul can say in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” To be saved is to be in Christ. To be in Christ means one is identified with God and share in glory. In fact, Romans 8:30 explains the end goal of salvation is to be glorified.

The goal of believers today is to image Christ because he imaged God perfectly. So Romans 8:29 says the purpose of God’s predestination is for believers “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Paul exhorts believers who “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10). Similarly, Paul can say in Ephesians 4:24 “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The reason believers are transformed into the image of Christ is because he images God perfectly (cf. 2 Cor 4:4). Jesus is the full manifestation of God and perfectly images him on earth, being God himself (cf. John 1:1, 14, 18).

Believers image God through imaging Christ to spread God’s glory across the world. So Paul can say in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” In the future, believeres will share in God’s divine nature (2 Pet 1:4) ruling over all the earth in his kingdom (Rev 20). In this kingdom, saints will perfectly image God in bodies that Jesus provides through his resurrection.

Before concluding this discussion, the follow chart will help illustrate the historical progression of God’s image from Adam, to Jesus, and then to Christians.

First Adam

Second Adam


Adam is God’s image Jesus is unique image of God Christians become like unique image of God, Jesus not Adam
Adam receives sonship (Gen 5:1, 3; Luke 3:38) Jesus is unique son of God Christians become like unique son of God
Adam receives glory (Ps 8 ) Jesus uniquely is God’s glory Christians destined to same glory as son of God

Some basic conclusions follow: The concepts of image, sonship, and glory are connected. This connection exists in the New Testament for believers. However, distinctions exist since the Old Testament’s sources these three concepts in Adam, while the New Testament sources these in Jesus.

For our purposes, believers now image Jesus Christ, since he redeems humanity and brings believers into him. As the perfect image of God, believers must image Jesus to image God. So an exploration into how Jesus worked, enjoyed leisure, and played is the most important way believers to balance their lives today.

***And this is precisely what we will explore later this week, as we see how Jesus images God.

            [1] The sparse treatment by G. L. Bray [“Image of God,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy, 575–6 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000)] helps as much as a two-page article can help. For some reason, this biblical-theological theme is largely ignored in studies of progressive revelation, whereas every systematic theology will give large discussions on the image of God.

Playing like God

How can you image God at work, leisure and play? In the Bible, we have clear instruction on how we can do this. No longer do you have to have feel and think fuzzily on how to spend your time. God cares about how you work, have leisure and  play, and he gives us Guidelines to do all three. The Biblical information comes primarily through Genesis 1–2, however brief explorations into other biblical literature also produce some benefit.

Imaging God’s Work

God created the world in six days, declaring it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Then he rested on the Seventh day (Gen 2:1–3). That God worked and apparently enjoyed his work (he said it was very good!) gives people a model to understand work.

While many view work as a means to live, or as means to pay for entertainment, or as a means to live a certain kind of lifestyle, God views work as something natural, normal and human. Working with joy, with creativity, and with purpose emulates God. Thus, work proclaims God’s glory, name and fame, giving dignity and purpose to work.

While Capitalism says that work is a commodity to be bartered with and sold, God says work in itself is a dignified and honorable profession that he authorized. While Socialism says that work belongs to the community, God says he owns work, not the community. The highest good is not wealth or social utopia but God’s glory spanning the world.

In short, neither a boss, money or community owns a person’s work. God owns it and he gives a special dignity to it, as a working God. Humanity must realize this and must do all things to the glory of God. Depreciating work at its worst is dishonoring God whose glory is in work.

Imaging God’s Leisure

God rested on the seventh day and enjoyed his creation (Gen 2:1–3). Leisure does not require production but an appreciation of production. The workaholic understands this little. He works until he drops, steam rolling over anyone in his path. Success and prestige are what make work worthwhile and leisure does not fit into this scheme. The entire Western world seems enamored by the glamour and glory of success.

Leisure makes one feel guilty, therefore. Even in leisure, workaholics think about work. Or, they become so exhausted because of work that leisure becomes a mindless shut down, watching television passively without energy to do anything else. Work becomes an idol, a need and workaholics have no energy or time for anything else, much less leisure.

But God rested. He enjoyed his work. Later Israel would be commanded to rest on the Sabbath day because God did so when he created (cf. Ex 20:8–11). In fact, because of humanity’s tendency to an attitude of acquisition, God made his people rest in various festivals and worship events. Leisure was built into the fabric of Israel’s life. So in creation, God set a template whereby man should emulate his leisure.

Significantly, however, leisure does not involve passivity. Throughout Scripture, leisure  in religious events or enjoying one’s production is to be done with vigor. True leisure lends to worship of God, introspection, cultivation of abilities or increase of knowledge that a typical day of work will not allow, and fellowship with others. Leisure, thus, is as important as work to making a complete a person. Without leisure one cannot properly image God.

Reclaiming leisure as a time of personal enrichment, relationship building, enjoyment of God’s creation or any such activity is necessary to image God. Accepting that six out of seven days God worked, one must realize that was to set up the template of work and rest in creation. Work originally was not toilsome but enjoyable and probably had the character of leisure and play intertwined throughout until the fall happened.

Leisure must be reclaimed to image God properly on earth and fulfill the mission to spread God’s glory. This is a moral issue.  God cares about how people spend our time in leisure.

Imaging God’s Play

Leland Ryken best explains how God “plays.” He is quoted at length here:

At the heart of God’s creation is something extravagant and gratuitous, going beyond what is strictly needed for survival. Someone has commented that the lilies of that Jesus told us to contemplate ‘are lazy lilies, occupying space amid the common field grasses for no reason other than that it pleases God. Can we appreciate God’s creative prodigality?’ God made provision for the quality of human life, simply its survival. He is the God who came that people “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). At its best, leisure is part of the human quest for the abundant life.[1]

It was this beautiful creation that God playfully made. Consider the Jerusalem Bible translation of Proverbs 8:30–31:

I was by his side, a master craftsman,

delighting him day after day,

ever at play in his presence,

at play everywhere in his world,

delighting to be with the sons of men

This remarkable Proverb concerning creation illustrates something of the playfulness of God. With regard to the sea, Psalm 104:26 says, “There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” In these passages (others exist), God added an element of play into the created order.

Thus, humanity should not to shy away from joviality and playfulness in life. Since God is this way, monotone humdrummers do not image God properly. Of course, all of this must be measured by the effects of the fall of man, the subsequent revelation of Jesus, and redeemed humanity’s ability to image God in this life.

***Later this week, we will look at how the fall of mankind affected the way we work, take leisure and play. We will also see how Jesus did these things. Until then!

            [1] Ryken, 179.

How God Implants His Image

So how did God implant his image in people? The Biblical text indicates two unique events concerning the creation of humans that the rest of creation does not share. This helps discern what differentiates humanity from animals, and thereby explain what people received from God that animals did not receive.

The creation account relates that God made humans on the final day of creation (1:26–31). This day receives special attention, creating an apex to the creation account. No other being receives the “image of God.” No other day receives God’s declaration of being “very good” (1:31).  Humanity also receives the regal function of ruling creation (1:26, 28). No other day or created being receives such honor and dignity. In fact, this day becomes so important that Genesis 2:4–25 further develop day 6. That is, humans receive almost an entire chapter so that one can see a clear emphasis on the importance of humans. So something about humanity as honored beings leads to the conclusion that at creation God transferred his image to them.

Another curious event clarifies how people gained the “image of God.” Genesis 2:7 explains that as God created man, he breathed into him. The text reads, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Deliberately so, the text used this anthropomorphic image to report man’s creation. The same imagery is not used for other creatures, even if they were created similarly. Something unique about man’s creation yielded a need to explain it in terms of God breathing into man’s nose. Perhaps this was the vehicle by which God’s image was imparted? Since the text does not make this connection, the best one can say is that humans play a prominent, even a glorious role in God’s universe. Whatever else that means, it, at the very least, means God’s image affords humanity this honored role.

So what? Why does any of this matter? Tomorrow I answer “why” understanding the image of God is important. Until then!

Part 6 Part 5 Part 4 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1 (Check out part 1 to see where we are headed)

*edit* by “tomorrow” I mean Monday.

Sharing God’s Glory

Imaging God means we share in God’s communicable attributes, as suggested yesterday. I believe that we share primarily in God’s glory.

Whatever humanity shares with God, it is in a completely different relationship than how God possesses it. God bestows upon people his nature, and humans receive. Psalm 8 illustrates the point well. As the Psalmist looks upon God’s creation and his favor to humanity, he explains “[You have] crowned him (man) with glory and honor./ You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;/ you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:5–6). God crowned man with “glory,” that which can only belong to God. God proclaims, “I am Yahweh, that is my name; my glory I give to no other nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa 42:8). However, in a derived sense God has given glory to humanity.[1]

In my judgment, God bestows glory on his creatures via the “image of God” in humanity. This means the referential view holds much truth. Something in people is the image of God and that something contains God’s glory, and his other communicable attributes. This enables humanity to become God’s representatives on earth, while the “image” is not itself the ability to represent God. In fact, this divine image inside of people allows relationships among man and woman and between people and God to occur. Hence, Genesis 1:27 focuses on the relational aspect of man and woman, while Genesis 2:15–25 focuses on the relational side between both man and woman and people and God.

Part 5 Part 4 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

            [1] Beck and Demarest explain that people receive God’s communicable attributes, but not his incommunicable attributes (such as self-existence, externality and immutability) (Beck and Demarest, 150). This makes sense, however, the reason focus falls on “glory” here is two fold: (1) because Scripture explicitly says God bestows glory and honor on people and (2) because glory here is used as a general category to sum up what can be communicated by God to humanity, i.e. God’s communicable attributes.

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

Defining God’s Image

A good blog post argues against a good opponent. In this case, culture at large opposes the present position—both Christian and non-Christian. The view espoused here is biblical, but not normally called Christian. The view espoused here is correct, but not commonly accepted. The point is not to argue against some obscure scholar, but to address a largely unaddressed issue in the Western world: that is, how the image of God informs our work, leisure and play.

The Image of God

One must define the image of God because people image God on earth. To do so, one must look to the Biblical data. Genesis 1:26–28 speaks directly about the image God. The ESV translates thus:

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.” So God created man in his own image, / in the image of God he created him; /male and female he created them. 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.”

Two problems emerge from this text. Defining the image of God is a problem because the text does not explain how the original couple were created in the image of God, but just that they were created in the image God. Also, the two words “image” and “likeness” need to be defined, especially with regard to just what their prepositions signify (i.e. “in” and “after,” respectively).

Today we will answer the first problem: how to define the image of God by looking at three basic views on God’s image in humanity?

Three Views on The Image of God

Three rational explanations on the image of God follow. The referential view claims people are divine-like. The worst expression of this position believes people are made in the physical image of God. The better expressions of this view see something in humanity that resembles God. Collins calls this the traditional view. This view suffers from being too ambiguous; but it has merit in that something does resemble God in humans.

The representational view moves from defining the image in terms of “is” to “does.” In other words, it speaks less about being God and more about acting like God. In Genesis 1:28, God commands a blessing upon humanity, providing precedent for this view: “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.” The terms “subdue” and “have dominion” over the earth signify a regal role people play in their environment.

The biggest problem with this position is that the bible never equates God’s image with the function of subduing and exercising dominion. God commands it, and it is in a context where the image of God receives focus. However, the text does not describe God’s image as such. The best one can say is that God’s image relates to humanity’s ability to subdue and have dominion over the earth, since no other creature has that ability. Yet this view fails to convince fully.

The relational view teaches communion between God, man and woman is the image of God. The image is relationships. Genesis 1:27 focuses on the creation of both man and woman in the image of God, giving credence to this view. However, this view fails to sate because the text does not explicitly state this connection is the image of God. However, the relational view makes a valid case that relationships make up the image of God.

All three views share truth, but not one view fully explains what the image of God is. When rightly understood, the image of God will greatly inform one’s understanding of life, work, leisure and play. One hint as to the true meaning of the “image of God” comes in the prepositions preceding the terms used (i.e. “in our image, after our likeness”).

Next week, we’ll take a look at how these two little prepositions “in” and “after” shape our views on God’s image. Until Then!

Defining work, leisure and play – Part 3

Definitions of work, leisure and play follow, since all three make up necessary components of life to make a complete person.

  • Work is necessary toil to live and support oneself, which includes working at a job. Work also images God and therefore makes a person complete.
  • Leisure is reflecting upon finished production, self, others and God to the end of self-enrichment. Leisure is not the absence of work nor is it mindless state. At its best, leisure is a process of self-enrichment that reflects on what has been done, searches the heart, plans for the future, and pursues betterment through learning, music and the arts.
  • Play is doing that which is morally beneficial in a relaxing and enjoyable way. It is enjoying what God enjoys and taking advantage of entertainment in a God-honoring way, because God cares how we play.

God cares about how people use all three. Sadly, leisure activities have become an embarrassment in the West because they are viewed as being “non-productive” and unhelpful. However, by devaluing leisure people lose their humanity, since when leisure is discounted, individuals stop imaging God.

The Big Idea: Work, leisure and play must be united in the life of a person[1] to fully image God, that is, to fully grow into the redeemed image of Christ. Humanity is morally accountable in how it does all three; so the workaholic who takes no leisure sins as much as the one who lives for leisure. Balance is the target. In a culture that overly values success and results, Christians must strive for excellence in leisure and play, because work is idolized too much.

Method: Definitions on the image of God and how that relates to humans will appear this Friday. Subsequent days will begin answering ‘what it means to image God in life?’ and ‘what it means to grow into the image of Christ?’ Finally, I hope to add a personal example of what this looks like in the life of a believer caps off the argument to bring the abstract into the concrete.

            [1] But this may not be possible in a sin cursed world (some people must work all day just to live!). However, the ideal remains what it is, even though God cursed creation.