The Full Wiki

Image of God: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Image of God (Hebrew: צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים‎; tzelem elohim, lit. "image of God", often appearing in Latin as Imago Dei) is a concept and theological doctrine that asserts that human beings are created in God's image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function.


Biblical description

The primary source and documentation for this concept of the essential nature of human beings is found in Genesis 1:26,27.

The term Imago Dei refers most fundamentally to two things: first, to God's own self-expression through humankind; and second, to God's love for humankind (John 3:16,17). To assert that humans are created in the image of God is to recognize the special qualities of human nature which allow God to be made manifest in humans. For humans to have a conscious recognition of having been made in the image of God means that they are aware of being that part of the creation through whom God's plans and purposes best can be expressed and actualized; humans, in this way, can interact creatively with the rest of creation. The moral implications of the doctrine of Imago Dei are apparent in the fact that, if humans are to love God, then humans must love other humans whom God has created (cf. John 13:35), as each is an expression of God. The human likeness to God can also be understood by contrasting it with that which does not image God, i.e., beings who, as far as we know, are without this spiritual self-awareness and the capacity for spiritual / moral reflection and growth. Humans differ from all other creatures because of the self-reflective, rational nature of their thought processes - their capacity for abstract, symbolic as well as concrete deliberation and decision-making. This capacity gives the human a centeredness and completeness which allows the possibility for self-actualization and participation in a sacred reality (cf. Acts 17:28). However, despite the fact that according to this concept the human is created in God's image, the Creator granted the first true humans a freedom to reject a relationship with the Creator that manifested itself in estrangement from God, as the Fall (Adam and Eve) exemplifies, thereby rejecting or repressing their spiritual and moral likeness to God. The ability and desire to love one's self and others, and therefore God, can become neglected and even opposed. The desire to repair the Imago Dei in one's life can be seen as a quest for a wholeness, or one's "essential" self, as described and exemplified in Christ's life and teachings. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus acted to repair the relationship with the Creator and freely offers the resulting reconciliation as a gift. [1]

Biblical Insights of Imago Dei

When speaking of the image of God one must include the likeness of God in order to get a better understanding and a distinction between the two. For the past 2,000 years, theologians have examined this difference in human nature. Origen viewed the image of God as something given at creation, while the likeness of God as something bestowed upon a person at a later time. The theologian Irenaeus made a distinction between God’s image and his likeness by pointing to Adam’s supernatural endowment bestowed upon him by the Spirit. As Irenaeus’ view progressed, what eventually arose was:[2]

The image was the human’s natural resemblance to God, the power of reason and will. The likeness was a donum superadditum—a divine gift added to basic human nature. This likeness consisted of the moral qualities of God, whereas the image involved the natural attributes of God. When Adam fell, he lost the likeness, but the image remained fully intact. Humanity as humanity was still complete, but the good and holy being was spoiled.[3]

The image of God and the likeness are similar, but at the same time they are different. The image is just that, mankind is made in the image of God, whereas the likeness is a spiritual attribute of the moral qualities of God.[4]

Man was created in both the image and likeness of God. As humans, we are in the image of God, but that does not necessarily mean that we are exact replicas of God. Being made in the image of God simply means that we resemble God and are similar to His image. In His likeness is a comparison to the likeness of God (moral attributes). Before the fall of man, the image of God and the likeness were intact and, so to speak, all was well.

After the fall of man, the image and likeness of God were not intact, in fact the image of God was impaired to a great extent. In Genesis 9:6, it says that “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” With the likeness of God gone, the image was impaired. As humans, we lost our moral attributes. God was our moral compass and we did not have that aspect of God in us after the fall. In essence, we were wandering about without a moral compass—we were lost.

Referring to the spiritual resemblance of man, the image and likeness of God are synonymous. However, now was modern theologians have further studied and pondered up on the image and likeness of God, they have come to realize that man’s complete being—body and soul—represent God. Medieval theologians, i.e. Origen and Irenaeus, made a distinction between the image and likeness of God. The former referred to as natural, innate resemblance to God and the latter referred to the moral attributes (God’s attributes) that were lost in the fall.[5]

Three ways of understanding Imago Dei

There are three common ways of understanding the manner in which humans exist in Imago Dei: Substantive, Relational and Functional.[6][7]



The substantive view holds to the idea that there is some substantial characteristic of the human race that is like God. Some may argue that we are a mirror image of God's essential nature. Other substantive views suggest a spiritual commonality with God, God being a spirit and not having a physical body. Throughout the ages there have been different interpretations of substantive likeness to God. Irenaeus put forward a distinctive difference between image and likeness. Humankind before the fall (the moral and spiritual failure of its original progenitors) was in the image of God through the ability to exercise free will and reason. And we were in the likeness of God through an original spiritual endowment. Medieval scholars suggested that this was the holiness (or "wholeness") of humankind which was lost after the fall, though free will and reason remained. Calvin and Luther agreed that something of the Imago Dei was lost at the fall but that fragments of it remained in some form or another.



This third view differs from the previous two in that it argues that the image of God imprinted on us resides in function rather than in form or relationship, this function being primarily our task of ruling over earth. Genesis 1:26 speaks of humankind being made in the image of God and given the function of naming and ruling over the fish of the sea and the animals on land, reflecting God’s rule over all the universe, ourselves included. This view sees this ruling function of dominion as best expressing the imago dei, or our likeness to God.


  1. ^ General Term: Imago Dei ("image of God")
  2. ^ Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 522.
  3. ^ Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 522.
  4. ^ Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 522.
  5. ^ Gerhard Wehemeier, "Deliverance and Blessing in the Old and New Testament," Indian Journal of Theology 20 (1971): 30-42.
  6. ^ Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1994), 498-510.
  7. ^ Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001), 172-175.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address