Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation because they alone were made in his image. God continues in verse 28 to say, “‘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.’” Humans are charged as God’s vassals on earth to steward and care for his good creation. Being made in God’s image grants a special dignity and sanctity to human life.
The question of what it means to be made in the image of God is one of much debate. Daniel Simango asserts that being made in the image of God (what he calls God-likeness) consists in a “moral likeness to God and a relationship between God and humankind like that between a parent and child.” He further argues that the idea of God-likeness, as seen in Genesis 1-11, is also seen in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Though man was made perfect in the image of God (imago Dei), mankind brought sin and corruption into the creation when they rebelled against God and followed the heeding of the Serpent rather than the command of God. However, the image of God was marred, but not erased from human beings. This can be seen in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” If humans were not still in the image of God, this command would make no sense.
There were severe consequences for Adam and Eve’s sin though: physical death (Gen. 3:19), conflicted relationships with other humans (even those who are closest; Gen. 3:12, 16), a hostile relationship with the rest of creation (Gen. 3:17-19) and most importantly, separation from God (spiritual death; Gen. 3:7-8). The first humans’ fellowship with God was broken, and their guilt and the consequences of their actions would be transferred to the whole human race that would follow them (Rom. 5:18-19).
So, all people would be marred versions of the imago Dei and spiritually separated from God. God, however, was not done with his highest creation. In Genesis 3:15, he offers a glimpse of hope that he would restore his broken image in humanity when he says, “‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’” So God would seek to undo the work of the Serpent, and he would do it through one of his image-bearers.
In Genesis 12:1-2, God makes a twofold promise to Abraham in which he covenants to bless Abraham with a land and a nation and he promises to make Abraham a blessing to all nations. This would be the beginning of God’s calling out and forming the nation of Israel who would be his covenant people and image-bearers to the world. In Exodus 4:22-23, God calls Israel his “firstborn son” and sonship implies image. Just as a human son bears the image of his father, so Israel is to bear the moral and relational image of their Father to the entire world. Simango goes on further to say, “The use of creation language with respect to the Israelites seems to suggest that the Israelites are God’s new creation.”
God was working to restore humanity’s broken relationship with him. One way in which he did this was through the giving of his law through Moses. God’s law is a true expression of his nature. This law would act as a plumb line by which the flawed image-bearers could begin to conform who they were morally and restore God’s marred image in them. A couple of illustrations from the Decalogue should be helpful here. The first commandment (Ex. 20:3; Deut.5:7) states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This first affects the relational aspect of the image of God because when the Israelites worshiped other gods, they rejected God as their Father. It also “entails a general moral likeness to God” because it “is inherently right to worship God and inherently wrong not to do so.”
The effect of the image of God on the law can also be seen in the ninth commandment, which requires, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16; also Deut. 5:20). Lying is the moral characteristic of the Tempter, not of God. To lie is to offend your neighbor, which is an offense against God’s child and therefore an offense against God. There is also a moral likeness to God in this commandment. Peter C. Craigie supports this when he writes:
A God of faithfulness, who did not deal deceitfully with his people, required of his people the same transparency and honesty in personal relationships.
While other commands of God could be cited, these examples provide some evidence that the law of God may have served as a means for Israel to more accurately represent the image of God in the world.
In Leviticus 19:2, the call to holiness “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” serves as the principles upon which all the Levitical codes were based. The idea of holiness means to be separate (from the world) and set apart (to God) — it can also mean “bearing an actual likeness to God.” “Every biblical statement about God carries with it an implied demand upon men to imitate Him in daily living.” Since God is holy, the Israelites were to be morally like God and distinct from the nations. While God’s image-bearers in Israel were still marred, they were moving closer to a fully restored image.
How badly the imago Dei was still damaged (even in God’s covenant people) can be seen in Numbers 14:1-4 as the people rebel and refuse to enter the Promised Land. Here, there are echoes of the sin of Adam and Eve. The first humans doubted God’s goodness and his intentions for them. So did the Israelites who believed God was actually trying to destroy them rather than redeem them. Moses recounts their words in Deuteronomy 1:27, “‘And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.’” Again, God is gracious to his people and does not destroy the nation, only the generation that rebelled. For 40 years, the nation wanders unable to enter the Promised Land. But God is not done as he continues to work to redeem his image in fallen man.
The book of Deuteronomy further reinforces the importance of the image of God in man in at least two ways. The first is the way in which the book recognizes the dignity and sanctity of every human life through its law codes. These “consistently minimize the distinctions of rank between members of the community.” Deuteronomy has the clearest concern in the law codes for the poor and disadvantaged,” and all of these codes were “based on the absolute respect for all its members, all equally enjoy the protection of the law of God.” All people were made in the image of God, and therefore all people were to be cared for and their lives protected. Another area where the imago Dei is seen is in the idea of dominion. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth in Genesis 1:26-28. In Deuteronomy, the law speaks of dominion in the Promised Land as blessing for keeping the law. They would have dominion over the land in two ways: 1) they were going to possess the land and 2) be successful in it (Deut. 4:1; 6:3; 11:8, 27). Also, “God’s blessing would extend to every sphere of the Israelite community. Their people, land and animals were going to be fertile (Deut. 28:3-6, 8, 11-14), they would have peace (Lev. 26:6-10), and God’s presence would be among them (Lev. 26:11-13).”
In conclusion, it can be seen that the image of God seen in Genesis is a major theological theme throughout the Pentateuch. Through the law, God seeks to remind his covenant people of who they are called to be. The problem, of course, is that no one could keep the law perfectly and thus would never be able to restore the image to its pre-fall condition. However, one man, Jesus Christ, was able to be God’s perfect image-bearer so that all who believe in him could one day be restored to the perfect and holy state for which God created humankind.
By Justin Nash
(Justin Nash serves as Director of Church Health & Communication for the Advent Christian General Conference)
 T. Desmond Alexander and David Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 165.
 Daniel Simango, “The Law and the Image of God” Old Testament Essays, vol. 26 (2013) (2), 445.
 Ibid., 446.
 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Sin Salvation. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2003), 146.
 Simango, 451.
 Ibid., 446.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994), 286.
 Simango, 461.
 Ibid., 465.
 Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1976), 163.
 Erickson, 968.
 Simango, 457.
 Ibid., 458.
 Alexander and Baker, 188.
 Ibid., 186.
 Ibid., 189.
 Simango, 467.