The Image of God

Return to Index or go to  "Three Notes on Genesis 1" by Paul Humbert.)

Note: The study presented here was completed by 1964. 

The conclusions to be reached below are as follows:
        1) The image is man (male and female) as a visible form, nothing more and nothing less (P. Humbert).
            This is what it is in the Priestly narrative and this sense continues to be found in Rabbi Hillel.
        2) The significance of the image is two-fold:
                a) it signifies that man belongs to God (P. Humbert), and 
                b) it is a representative image, representing God's ownership and sovereignty over everything on which it shines (P. van Imschoot), i..e. wherever man goes as a peripatetic biped [unlike the merely static statues and stele of earthly rulers], the show belongs to God.
        3) Only after establishing the above, does God then confer the vice-regency on mankind.  It is additional to the image, not part of it, although generally associated with it. 
        4) Paul's use of  mankind as ultimately wholly conformed in Christ to the image is as the perfected sign of God's shalôm, his peace and good order (cf. Rom 8.18-30, where Paul basically equates 'glory', 'body', 'image' and 'sonship').

        Overview of the data
        Old Testament usage
        Intertestamental usage
            a. Sirach
            b. Wisdom
            c. Philo
        Rabbinic usage

An overview of the data
        That man has been created in the image of God is explicitly stated in the OT only in the Priestly narrative (Gen 1.26 f.; 5.1; 9.6) and echoed in Ps 8.5-8.  In the intertestamental literature it is found only in Wisdom 2.23 and Sirach 17.3, 4.  It further occurs in Philo (de Opificio Mundi 25, 69, 72) and the rabbinic literature (which is considered below).  The explicit use in the NT of εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ is limited to the Pauline corpus (Rom 8.29; 1 Cor 11.7; 2 Cor 3.18; also Col 3.10 and Eph 4.24.  Man as made καθὁμοίωσιν θεοῦ occurs in Jas 3.9, picking up the ὁμοίωσις  rather than the εἰκὼν of Gen 1.27 (LXX).  Heb 2.5 ff. applies Ps 8.4-6 to Christ.  The use of εἰκὼν in Revelation may well be related to the concept of the imago dei as set out below, and it lies behind the discussion of tribute centred on the coin struck in Caesar's image in Mk 12.16 f. // Matt 22.20 f.

The Image of God in the Old Testament
        Two studies by Paul Humbert (Études sur le récit du paradis et de la chute dans la Genèse [Neuchâtel, 1940, pp. 153 ff.,  and "Trois notes sur Genèse 1"in Interpretationes  ad Vetus Testamentum Pertinentes Sigmundo Mowinckel Septuagenario Missae edited by N. A. Dahl and A. S. Kapelrud [Olso: Forlaget Land og Kirche, 1955], pp. 83-96) have shown conclusively that in the OT tselem, צֶלֶם( 'image') invariably denotes a visible form , and hence there is no warrant for assuming that the Priestly writer meant anything other than this or anything beyond it.  (An English translation of the latter study is to be found at "Three Notes on Genesis 1" by Paul Humbert, where the second note deals with the entire OT use of tselem.)
        Humbert says that the purpose of Gen 1.26 f. then is simply to designate clearly that man is God's possession, that he belongs to God and owes him submission and obedience.  With this demand already established, man is then blessed and charged with the task of subduing all the earth, being given dominion over all fauna (his only possible rivals), and the use of all flora (Gen 1.28).  Thus the creation of man in God's image  does not include the giving of the dominium to man but is rather the precondition for that bestowal.
        However, Humbert is clearly wrong in concluding that the image means solely that man belongs to God.  P. van Imschoot states that in Hebrew 'image' designates the statue itself, the result of the manufacturing, and not the model, and therefore the Genesis texts do not favour the translation 'after' (d'après) for the particle ke.1  Taking this in conjunction with van Imschoot's observation that the preposition be in 1.26 appears to be the bet essentiae, signifying 'in the manner of',2 the  phrase כִּדְמּוּתֵנוּ בְּצַלְמֵנוּ (1.26) would indicate that man in his physical form is God's image placed in the creation., that is, a representative image.  When the imago dei is mentioned, it is almost always in association with man's dominion (under God) over the earth.  This is the case in Gen 1.26, 27 f.; Gen     5.1 f. echoes not only Gen 1.27 ('in the likeness of God') but also 1.28 ('he blessed them').  In the Noachic covenant the statement that man's murder shall be punished by man, 'for God made man in his own image' (Gen 9.6b, is bracketed by the repetition of the conferring of the dominium (9.1 f.), and the expansion of Gen 1.28, along with the partial reproduction of 1.238 again in 9.7.  Looking slightly ahead, the imago dei is implied in Ps 8.5 in connection, once more with the dominium (vv. 6-8).  It explicitly recurs with the same connection in Sirach 17.3, 4.  Only in Wisdom 2.23 does it occur without explicit mention of the dominium.  We thus reasonably conclude with von Rad3 that just as earthly monarchs placed statues of themselves in their domain to indicate their sovereignty over the land so man in created in God's image to be the symbol of God's sovereignty over the earth and its creatures.4
Confirmation for this may be indicated by the fact that in the Priestly document, apart from Gen 1.26 27 (bis); 5.3 and 9.6 where the concern is with the imago dei or its transmission, tselem occurs only in Num 33.52.  There we read that Yahweh commands Israel when they enter Canaan to 'destroy all their molten images' ... 'and you shall take possession of the lamd and settle in it' (v. 53), for it is to Yahweh and his people that the land belongs, not to those whose images were there before.  Are the Israelites, perhaps, viewed as the (unnamed) image in Canaan of Yahweh's rule there?  If this is the case, it then is similar to the shift from the mention of Caesar's image on the coin to the unexpressed idea that man exists in God's image (and hence belongs to him) in Mk 12.16 f. // Matt 22.20 f., with the emphasis placed upon ownership and obedience in each case. 
        Psalm 8.  For what P. van Imschoot5 has called the best commentary in Gen 1.26 f., let us look at Ps 8.3-8:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and eth stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou has made him little less than elohim,
and dost crown him with glory and honour.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

In verse 5a man has been made but little lower than elohim-beings, the plural sense corresponding to the LXX's reading of 'angels'.  A singular meaning, 'God', is unlikely since God himself is the one to whom the psalm is addressed.  Verse 6a not only aludes tyo the imago dei then, but it also suggests that the second person plurals in Gen .26 were considered to refer to a plural subject with a limiting sense, matching that which is also apparently implied in the paralleling of tselem ('image') with demûth ('likeness').  In verse 5b man is crowned with glory and honour.  This parallelism of the imago dei and glory is prominent in Paul's thought.

The image of God in intertestamental thought
        a.  Sirach. 
Sir. 17.2-4 speaks of the imago dei and the dominium, but we should consider this in the larger context of 17.1-14, all of which concerns the role of man, recording God's gifts to man and seeing man's function as threefold.
        In 17.1-4, 7 it states that God created man out of dust (v. 1a), clothed them with strength (LXX: ἰσχύς ) like unto himself (v. 3a), made them according to his own image (κατ εἰκόνα αὐτοῦ , v. 3b), put the fear of them upon all flesh (v. 4a), and caused them to have power (κατακυριεύειν over beasts and birds (v. 4b).  We thus far have the imago dei closely linked with the conferring of the dominium but not identified with it, just as in Gen 1.  If we follow W. O. E, Oesterley and G. H. Box6 in taking as the logical order verse 7 before verse 6 (the order of the Syriac as opposed to the two differing orders of the Greek and Latin versions), then it would appear that verse 7 ('With insight and understanding He filled their heart, and taught them good and evil') is concerned with God's enabling man to exercise the dominium properly.  This would correspond closely to Wisd. 9.1-3 where man is created (v. 2a) to have dominion (v. 2b) and rule the world in holiness and righteousness with upright judgement (v. 3).  See also 2 (Slavonic) Enoch7 30.12-15 in which the dominion and God's wisdom are conferred on man in v. 12.  Here in 2 Enoch 30 God appoints him the name Adam (vv. 13 ff.). and shows him the two ways of light and darkness, good and evil (v. 15), but to the different end 'that I should learn whether he has love towards me or hatred; (v. 15), not explicitly to the end of enabling him to rule righteously as in Wisd. 9.1-3 and apparently in Sir.17.7.
        In 17.6, 8--19 we begin a new subject in v. 6: man is called to behold, to glory in, and to declare God's wondrous works and to praise his holy name (vv. 8-10), and it is for this end that 'He created for them tongue, and eyes, and ears, And he gave them a heart to understand' (v. 6), that is, these faculties are connected neither with the dominium  nor with the imago dei, but rather with man's ability to respond to God.
        In the third section, vv. 11-14, the concern is with the covenant (v. 11a, following the Syriac with Oesterley and Box8), the law of life given to them for a heritage (v. 11), God's showing to them of his judgements (v. 12). his glorious majesty to their eyes (v. 13a), his glorious voice to their ear (v. 13b), his demand to 'beware of all unrighteousness' (v. 14a) and his commandment to each man concerning his neighbour (v. 14b).  
        Within 17.1-14 Sirach has moved from man's creation in the imago dei with the function of the dominium, to man as the one who is able to appreciate God's glory and to praise him for it, to man in the Covenant called to God's righteous ways.  This threefold calling relates man to the creation, to God, and to his fellow man, especially within the Covenant.
        b. Wisdom.  In the Book of Wisdom (which was written by a Hellenistic Jew probably of Alexandria and most likely between 100 and 50 BCE9), we find in 2.23 that 'God created man for incorruption, and made him an image of his own proper being'.  Here, under Greek influence, is our first Jewish occurrence of the imago dei that is not immediately followed by s reference to man's calling to exercise  he dominium.  The two halves of verse 23  and the content of the verses that follow (2.24-3.9) seem to indicate that the image marks man for incorruption (2.23a).  Since it is the righteous (3.1a), those whom God tests and finds worthy (3.5b), whose hope iof full of immortality (3.4b), it is reasonable to conclude that 2.24 means that the image is taken away from those who belong to the devil, by whose envy death has entered the world, since they experience death.10  This then is the first time that we have encountered an imago that can be lost through sin.  In the time of God's visitation (3.7, 9), ('they [i.e., the righteous ones] shall judge nations, and have dominion over peoples; and the Lord shall reign over them for evermore' (3.8).  However, this would appear to be Israel's rule over the nations, not man's dominion over the creation.  That the author of Wisdom nevertheless viewed man as created to have the dominium is made clear by Wisd. 9.1-3, as we have mentioned earlier.
        c. Philo.  To the extent that Philo (ca. 30 BCE-45 CE) connects the
εἰκὼν θεοῦ with man, it is the heavenly man who has no part in mortality or earthliness who is created as the εἰκὼν θεοῦ (a thought Philo bases on Gen 1.26 f. in de Opificio Mundi 60), while the earthly man is fashioned out of dust (Philo taking as his warrant Gen 2.7 in Leg. All. I, 31 ff.,11 so that in Philo there is nothing earthly and physical about the image itself, nor does it appear to be related to any idea of man as God's intended vice-regent.
        What Philo designates as being the
εἰκὼν θεοῦ are the heavenly σοφία (Leg. All. I, 43), the heavenly νοῦς (Leg. All. I, 33, 42), and the λόγος (or λόγοι ) (Conf. Ling. 97 and 147; Fug. 101; Som. I, 115 and 239, II, 45).  This image is the ἀρχέτυπος or ἀρχέτυπον μίμημα.  Thus with earthly man it is his soul, not his body, which is κατὰ τὸν ἀρχέτυπον τοῦ λόγου so that he is  εἰκὼν θεοῦ, but only at third hand (God, to Logos, to Ideal Man, to acrftual individual man12) as a reflection (, Plant. 18 f.; cf. Rer. Div. Her. 230 f.)13  Thus with Philo we are in the area of dualistic metaphysical speculation on man.14

The Image of God among he Rabbis
Among the Rabbis the image is not considered to have been lost because of Adam's fall (although an upright figure is among the six things that will be restored according to Gen. R. 12 on 2.4).  In view of the close linking of  'image' with 'glory' in Paul's thought ( as carefully set forth By D. S. Cairns, The Image of God in Man [London, 1953]), it is not without significance that in Gen. R.  11 on 2.1 it is stated that the radiance of God's kabôd ('glory') was taken from Adam after the fall;.  In such passages as b. Moed katan, 15b, the view is expressed that the specific sin of an individual or group could diminish or even efface the image.
        The following two passages indicate that the imago dei was thought of in physical terms and as a symbol of God's sovereignty over the creation.
        According to Lev. R. 34.3 on 25.3915, Hillel, who died ca. 10 BCE, said to his disciples that, since he was created in the divine image and likeness, the polishing
and washing of his body was a pious deed done before God, a deed akin to that done before kings by those who polish and wash their images which are set up in theatres and circuses.  Here we may note two things:  1) the image is still conceived of as an outward physical form as in the OT, and 2) Hillel compares it to the images that symbolize the rule of earthly kings, which corresponds to the representative signification of the image in the OT.
        In Deut. R. 4.4 we find16: 'R. Joshua b. Levi [in Strack's words,17 'one of the most eminent Amoraim of Palestine in the first half of the third century'] said: When a man goes on his road, a troop of angels proceed in front of him and proclaim: "Make way for the image of the Holy One, blessed be He."'  This sounds like a royal procession.  Clearly here to honour the image is to honour the Holy One, so that whether or not R. Joshua b. Levi conceived of the image as consisting of man's visible form, he certainly gives it a representative function: man is the representative  image of the Divine King, the symbol to others of God's sovereignty.
        There is a third passage concerning R. Acha, a Palestinian Amora of the fourth generation (and hence probably of the first half of the fourth century CE18), a passage ftrom which we can draw probable negative conclusions concerning the imago dei if not positive ones.  The passage is taken from Gen. R.  8.1119:

R. Tafdai in the name of R. Acha said: The upper beings [the angels] are created in the image and likeness of God, but they do not increase and multiply [there is no begetting and giving of birth among them].  The lower beings [the animals] increase and multiply, but they are not created in the image and likeness of God.  So God said, 'I will create man in the image and likeness of the angels, but he shall increase and multiply like the animals.'  And God said, 'If I were to create him entirely according to the nature pf the angels, he would live for ever, and never die; if I were to create him entirely according to the nature of the animals, he would die, and not live again; so behold I will create him with something of the nature of both; if he sins, he shall die, if he does not sin, he shall live.'

        It would be too much to say that this passage appears to indicate that the image and likeness is a visible entity, although it certainly does not exclude this possibility.  Speaking more positively, this passage would appear to make a differentiation between the 'image and likeness' on the one hand and the 'nature' of men and angels on the other.  The question of mortality/immortality appears to belong to the latter, not to the former, just as the ability to procreate like the animals is a separate faculty, not a part of the image and likeness.  Although the image and likeness of God in man is here only one at second hand, via the angels, on the whole it would seem that this passage moves along substantially different lines than those of Wisdom 2.23 f. discussed above.

P. van Imschoot, Theologie de l'Ancien Testamwent, Tome II (Tournai, Belgium, 1956), p. 8, n. 3.  He refers to H. van den Bussche, 'L'homme créé à l'image de Dieu (Gen., 1, 26.27)' in Collationes Gandavenses (1948), p. 189.
2 van Imschoot, op.cit, p. 8.  He refers to J. Hehn, 'Zum terminus "Bild Gottes"' in Festschrift f ür E. Sachau (Berlin, 1915), p. 45.
3 G. von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (SCM, London, 1861), p. 56; Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh and London, 19960), pp. 146 f. where von Rad refers to W. Caaspari, 'Imago Divina', in Festschrift für Reinhold Seeberg (Leipzig, 1929), p. 208.
4 'The image is, to the eyes of the ancients, more than a simple figure; it is the representative of the person which it reproduces; thus the king is "the image"", that is to say, the representative among men of the god Marduk' (van Imschoot, op.cit., p. 8, who refers to p. 48 of J. Hehn's article (see previous note).
5 Op. cit, p. 10.
6 The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament ed. by R. H. Charles (2 vols., Oxford, 1913), Vol. 1, p. 375.
7 2 Enoch was composed in Greek by an Egyptian Jew, probably of Alexandria, likely in the period 1-150 CE.  See N. Forbes and R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2, p. 249.
8 Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2, pp. 426, 449.
9 R. H. Pfeiffer, A History of New Testament Times (New York, 1949), pp. 326-8.
10 This is taken thusly by G. Kittel, art. εἰκὼν, TWNT.  This passage would appear to concur with the common rabbinic view that it is by the individual's sin, noit by Adam's tranmsgression as such, that the author of Wisdom views the image as being effaced.  Kittel (ibid., p. 392) however takes Wisd. 2.23 f. as referring to A dam's fall as such.
11 Ibid., p. 393.
12 This is the sequence as given by G. F. Moore, Judaism, Vol. I, p. 449, n. 1.
13 G. Kittel, loc. cit, pp. 392 f.
14 Ibid., p. 391, n. 74. 
15 The passage is given in C. G. Montefiore and H. Lowe, A Rabbinic Anthology (1938; reprinted Meridian Conn., 1962), Excerpt 1221, p. 455, and referred to by G. Kittel, art. εἰκὼν, TWNT ii, 392, and G. F. Moore, Judaism (Cambridge, Mass, 1946), Vol. 1, p. 447.
16 As given in Montefiore and Lowe, A Rabbinic Anthology, Excerpt 228, p. 86.
17 H. L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash5 (1931, reprinted KTAV, New York and Philadelphia, 1959), p. 120.
18 On the basis of the scattered dates of death of the Palestinian Amoraim in Strack, loc. cit, pp. 124-131, it would appear that the average death in the third generation was ca. 325 CE, in the fourth 350 CE approximately, and in the fifth ca. 375 CE.
19 As given in Montefiore and Lowe, A Rabbinic Anthology, Excerpt 227, p. 86.