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Imago Dei And The Uniqueness of Man

A Biblical Study on the Image of God in Man

Philip P. Eapen

© Philip P Eapen, 2014; 2021
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1. The Special Creation of Human Beings in the Image and Likeness of God

1.1 Occurrence of the terms “Image” and “Likeness” in the Bible

1.2 The Meaning of “Image/Likeness” of God

1.2.1 Overview and Evaluation of Various Views

1.2.2 Human Beings: In God’s Likeness as “Embodied Spirits”

1.2.3 Karl Barth’s Relational Definition of the “Image”

2. Imago Dei and the Sexes

3. Imago Dei After the Fall





Is a man or a woman just a cog in the machinery of life on Earth—no more significant than a bug or a beetle in a complex food web? Does man’s classification of himself as homo sapien, “the wise one,” under a genus in the animal kingdom do justice to his true nature and potential? Is man just another animal, a “social animal?” What is man? Why must he be considered unique?” Everyone, especially theologians, philosophers and scientists, seeks an answer to these all-important questions at some stage of their life.

It is unfortunate that the current scientific discourse on human beings is limited to our biological and psychological aspects. No wonder we classify ourselves as members of the animal kingdom! Physical similarities between man and other creatures made the best of our thinkers blind to unsurpassable existential chasm between humans and other life forms. Surely, there is something unique about man that sets him apart from the rest of creatures. At least, to the best of my knowledge, only humans study about themselves and engage in heated debates about their origins and destiny. What makes us unique in comparison to the rest of creation?

In preparation for my research about the relevance of the creation mandate for human multiplication and dominion over nature, I found it vital to understand the Bible’s teaching about man. It is only proper and reasonable that our understanding about man’s origin and his unique niche in the created order be based on the Bible, which is God’s revelation and inspired Word. A Christian understanding of human nature must be founded on the Bible. The story of man, in the Bible, begins in the Garden of Eden. Before God created Adam, He declared that He would create man in His image and likeness. God did not say that about any other creature. Therefore, it is vital for us to study the special creation of Adam in the image and likeness of God. Is imago Dei, image of God, a factor that makes man unique?

A proper understanding of man’s nature is also essential for a healthy relationship between the sexes, both within and outside of marriage. We live in an age that is marked by controversies and confusion regarding the sexes—the human male and female. As a result, we see interesting scenarios in families, in churches, in the workplace, and on social media. Lack of proper biblical teaching and learning is at the root of many politically correct albeit misguided notions regarding the sexes and their roles within the family and in the Church.

I consciously avoid the word “gender” in this discussion because “gender” is a grammatical construct. Words in a language may be masculine, feminine or neuter. That is gender. Human sexual identity and sexual distinction between men and women are much more fundamental to human existence than grammatical gender. Therefore, male-female sex distinction among human beings should not be diluted by our poor choice of words; neither should it be confused with arbitrarily assigned gender of words in a language. In God’s creation, male-female sexual distinction is fundamental to human identity and existence.

1. The Special Creation of Human Beings in the Image and Likeness of God

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, states that God created man “in His own image” (tselem in Genesis 1:27) and in the “likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1).

“God created man (’adam in Hebrew) in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” (Genesis 5:1; Emphasis added)

There are other passages that mention the Hebrew word tselem.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image (tselem), according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image (tselem), and named him Seth. (Genesis 5:3)

[And God said to Noah] “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image (tselem) of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

My purpose in this study is to ascertain the meaning of the terms “image” and “likeness” of God, as they are used in relation to man’s creation, and thereby to understand their significance in determining the status and function of man in the created order.

The terms tselem, image, and demût, likeness, though apparently plain in their meanings, have fuelled centuries of theological debate. This debate is partly due to the etymological ambiguities that surround the term tselem. Curtis, an Old Testament scholar who has done extensive research in Genesis, claims that the etymology of the word tselem is “uncertain.”Edward M. Curtis, “Image of God (OT)” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992. Professor Wenham, a British Old Testament scholar, observes the “rarity” of the word tselem in the Bible and “the uncertainty of its etymology.”Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 1: Genesis 1-15, (CD-ROM) Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998.

Theologians have gathered clues from biblical passages and from Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) sources in order to understand the meanings of these terms. Yet, the debates have centred around the extent and locus of the “likeness” between God and man. Do human beings resemble God in their general outward appearance or is the “likeness” just about their inner attributes? Or, is there a comprehensive resemblance? Alternatively, do men “represent” their Maker on this planet more than they resemble him? Is the image about something “in” man or, are they created “as” the image of God? Did biblical writers borrow the concept of the “image” from neighbouring nations? Besides, questions regarding the effect of the human Fall on the “image” have also been discussed for centuries.

1.1 Occurrence of the terms “Image” and “Likeness” in the Bible

The terms “image” and “likeness” first appear in the Bible in the creation narrative, in the first chapter of Genesis. Barr, a former Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford, notes that the phrase “image of God” is found only in Genesis, in 1:26-27; 5:1; and 9:6.James Barr, “The Image of God in the Book of Genesis—A Study of Terminology,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 51 (1968-’69): 11. In the twenty sixth verse, the narrative of Genesis 1 takes a marked departure from the pattern preceding it and opens with God’s words, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness; …”

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 NASB)

A similar reference to the creation of mankind is made after the Fall and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and after the murder of Abel. The first verse in chapter five of Genesis claims that God made man in the “likeness of God.” This is soon followed by the account of the birth of Adam’s son Seth. Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image.” (Genesis 5:1)

The only other occurrence of the word tselem, in the Old Testament, in the context of the creation of man is in the ninth chapter of Genesis. After the Flood, God entered into a covenant with all creatures. Through a decree, he constituted a human proto-government whose mandate was to protect man’s life and to award capital punishment to any man or animal that had taken the life of a man.Philip P. Eapen, Christian Practices of Vegetarianism: A Theological Assessment [M.A. Diss., SAIACS, 2003], 15.

Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it. (Genesis 9:5-7)

God, thus, imparted special worth to man’s life. The basis of this special worth is that God made man “in the image of God.”

The word tselem appears in twelve other instances in the Old Testament. Gordon Wenham points out that there are seventeen occurrences of the word in Old Testament. Of these, the five in Genesis have already been noted.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 1998. Ten occurrences are references to physical objects, pictures or idols that resemble various things or people. For instance, 1 Samuel 6:5 refers to models of tumours made by Philistines; Ezekiel 16:17, to images of men; and Numbers, 33:15, to idols. In Psalm 39:6, the word is translated as “phantom”—“an outward shape without substance” and in Psalm 73:20 and Daniel 3:19, it indicates “an outward appearance indicative of inward state.”Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock [Leicester: IVP, 1996], 201. The term also appears in a couple of Deuterocanonical books—Sirach 17:3-4 and Wisdom 2:23.

The concept is expressed in the New Testament by the Greek word ἔικον from which we get the word ‘icon.’ Paul and James use the word in its anthropological sense in I Corinthians and James, referring to man’s creation in the image of God.

“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image [Gr. εικων] and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” (I Corinthians 11:7 Emphasis added.)

“With it [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness [Gr. ὁμοιωσις] of God.” (James 3:9)

In its soteriological sense (that is, in relation to our salvation), Paul says, a Christian, will bear the image of Jesus Christ in glory;I Corinthians 15:49 until then, Christians are to grow in their “new self” which is created in the image of God.

“… we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image [εικων] from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”II Corinthians 3:18

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image [εικων]of its creator.”Colossians 3:9-10

Another occurrence of the word εικων is in relation to the coin which Jesus used to illustrate his teaching about the payment of taxes to Roman Emperor.

“Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius.
And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness [εικων] and inscription is this?”
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”Matthew 22:19-21; Cf. Mark 12:15-17; Luke 20:22-25

When Jesus asked, “Whose likeness [εικων] and inscription is this?” He was obviously referring to Caesar’s εικων on the coin. However, He brought an interesting twist to the conversation. By saying, “[Give] to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus alluded to the special creation of man in the image and likeness of God. Jesus interpreted this image and likeness as a seal that indicated God’s legitimate ownership over man. This ownership is the basis of God’s rightful claim on every individual. Everyone who bears the image of God must submit to God’s ownership and lordship over his life.The concept of God’s ownership over humans might help us understand why the Apocalypse warned early Christians against the εικων of the “beast.” (Rev. 13:14, 15; 14:9,11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; and 20:4.)

Apart from references to man’s creation and to a Christian’s growth into the “image of Jesus Christ,” Jesus too is referred to as the “image of God.”

He [Jesus Christ] is the image [εικων] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.Colossians 1:15; Cf. II Corinthians 4:4

Ninan, in his unpublished PhD thesis on Pauline Christology, presented an argument to show that Christ being the “image of God” and man’s creation in the “image of God” belong entirely to different categories.Idicheria Ninan, “Jesus as the son of God: An examination of the background and meaning of ‘Son of God’ in Paul’s Christology with particular reference to Romans VIII.” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Coventry, 1994), 276. First, man was created in the “image of God.” Christ was not created; He was begotten. He is the image of God.“… the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 1 Cor. 4:4 NASB. Second, Christ is equal with God on account of His being in the morphos (form) of God;“… who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” Philippians 2:6 NASB. this cannot be said of man. Finally, Ninan argues that Christ’s being as God’s image should be understood in the context of Jewish sapiential (or wisdom) tradition. “Gen.1:26-28 is not the interpretative key to such a [wisdom] Christology,” says Ninan. This distinction between Sapiential and anthropological use of the phrase “image of God” escaped the attention of the author of the article “Jesus, Images of,” in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.Lelan Ryken et. al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Further detailed explorations into the Christological use of “image of God” in the New Testament is beyond the scope of this study.

Although Genesis 1:26-28 is not the “interpretative key” to understand wisdom Christology or the divinity of Jesus Christ, we shall soon see whether the incarnation of Christ as a man sheds any light on our understanding of Adam’s creation in the “image of God.”

Although imago Dei appears in just a few verses in the Bible, the doctrine is immensely important for understanding mankind in its relationship with the Creator and in relationship to one another. Charles Sherlock, in his book The Doctrine of Humanity, argues that the strategic appearance of imago Dei in “key positions” – that is, “at the high point of God’s creative activity, at the beginning of the new stage of human history after the tragic events of Eden, and in the midst of God’s new beginning with the human race after the judgement of the flood”Charles Sherlock, The Doctrine of Humanity, Contours of Christian Theology Series ed. Gerald Bray (Leicester: IVP, 1996), 31. – shows the importance of the doctrine. He states,

It undergirds all that is said about and disclosed about human nature from this point on in Israel’s history, and in the broader human canvas against which Israel’s story is told. Further, it is taken up in the New Testament, and deepened in the light of Christ, in and through whom human nature is oriented to future hope as well as past glory.Ibid.

Before examining the meaning of the terms translated as “image” and “likeness,” it is necessary to note that some commentators have, on the basis of a variant interpretation of the preposition כ (in) attached to tselem, claimed that Genesis 1:26 should be translated differently.Wildberger, Clines and Berger have attempted to prove this in Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, ed. E. Jenni and C. Westermann (Munich: Kaiser, 1971). Cited in Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). Referring to the use of the preposition in Exodus 6:3, they claim that כ means “in the capacity of.”“I appeared to Abraham … as [כ] God Almighty …” Accordingly, God created man not “in” or “like” the image of God but “as” the image of God or “to be” the image of God. This view is contested by Wenham and Barr. Wenham points out that the prepositions are interchanged when used with “image” and “likeness” in Genesis 5:3.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). Therefore, he supports the older translations that render כ as “in” or “like.” “According to our likeness,” Wenham opines, “appears to be an explanatory glossIn Biblical studies, a gloss or glossa is an annotation written on margins or within the text of Biblical manuscripts or printed editions of the scriptures. indicating the precise sense of ‘in our image.’”Ibid. Barr supports the translation of the preposition as “in” due to literary considerations.Barr, “Image of God in Book of Genesis,” 17. He notices that the use of this preposition as “as” is absent in the literary style of the priestly author of Genesis. He draws a parallel in Exodus 35:40 where the construction of the tabernacle is said to be done according to the design shown to Moses on the mountain. Besides, he says that the preposition when translated as “as” “would indicate a property of the subject, and not of the object, of the verb.”Ibid.

1.2 The Meaning of “Image/Likeness” of God

Although imago Dei is an important teaching in the Bible, the verses that mention the word tselem, image, are few and these do not explain the concept. Unlike tselem, the word for “likeness” is easily understood as standing for “to be like” or “resemblance.”Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998).

Probably the original readers understood the import of man’s creation in divine image; and the writers of these texts did not feel the necessity to explain how and to what extent God’s image was seen in man. Sherlock feels that our endeavours to define the “image of God” are “fraught with danger” due to the Bible’s aversion to idolatry and the representation of the Divine in any earthly form.Sherlock, Doctrine of Humanity, 32. Walter Brueggemann too claims that “the human person as image is an alternative to all other images of God” in the Jewish “aniconic tradition.” He states that this claim “has important positive force” in that “the human person most fully provides clues to the character of God as ‘person’ and ‘personal.’” It also has “negative, aniconic intention.”W. Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1977), 452.

Sherlock also feels that we should not attempt to discover or define “the image of God” because the Scriptures do not attempt to do so.Sherlock, Doctrine of Humanity, 33. Besides, a straight-jacketed definition of the “image of God” might truncate the concept; it also might amount to “controlling both ourselves and God.”Ibid. Therefore, Sherlock opines that “rather than asking, ‘What is the image of God?’ we are invited to explore the question, ‘What does it mean to be made in the image of God?’”Ibid.

However, an understanding of the meaning of the terms “image” and “likeness” is indispensable to an understanding of the implications of imago Dei. Such an understanding may probably be obtained without nailing down God into human casts, and by staying within the bounds of scriptural revelation. Therefore, I am for examining relevant biblical data in an attempt to understand the concept of imago Dei.

1.2.1 Overview and Evaluation of Various Views

Five views regarding the meaning of tselem found in Christian literature are summarised below:

  1. Traditionally, for several centuries, Christians understood the “image” and “likeness” to be mutually exclusive, separate entities.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). The former was understood as the set of natural human faculties while the latter, as the set of supernatural abilities. The two words “image” and “likeness” are used interchangeablyGenesis 5:3. in Genesis with respect to the accompanying prepositions. Therefore, this view is not tenable.
  2. A second view sees the image in the “mental and spiritual faculties”Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). that humans share with God. “Reason, personality, free-will, self-consciousness,… [and] intelligence”Ibid. are the qualities in view here. This view does not have any support from the relevant biblical texts and is highly subjective.
  3. The third view is that the “image” is all about physical resemblance. The third verse in chapter five of Genesis might promote this view.“…Adam … became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.” (Genesis 5:3 New Revised Standard Version). Scholars such as GunkelGunkel, H. Genesis 3rd ed. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck, 1910. Cited in Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). and von Rad believe that physical resemblance is a part, if not full, of the meaning of tselem. In von Rad’s words, “The marvel of man’s bodily appearance is not at all to be excepted from the realm of God’s image. This was the original notion, and we have no reason to suppose that it completely gave way, in P’s theological reflection, to a spiritualizing and intellectualizing tendency.”G. von Rad, Genesis A Commentary, The Old Testament Library Series. ed. G. E. Wright, J. Bright, J. Barr and P. Ackroys, trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), 56.
    However, this view is contested by those who believe that Deuteronomy 4:15-16 teaches about the “incorporeality and invisibility”Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). of God. Although humans have an erect disposition, they share common anatomical or physiological features with animals, they object. The “image” is something that is supposed to distinguish man from animals. Therefore, they consider it problematic to restrict the “image of God” to the human form.Ibid.
  4. The fourth view focuses on the function of man as God’s representatives on Earth. This view draws upon Egyptian and other ANE literature that portray a king as the “image of God.”von Rad, Genesis A Commentary, 58. Idols were also considered to be “images” of gods, and gods were believed to dwell in their idols. The texts in Genesis and Psalm 8 refer to the royal responsibilities of man and his mandate for dominion. Therefore, man may be considered as God’s representative who bears the divine presence on Earth.
  5. The fifth view associates the phrase “in our image” with the act of creation and not with man. Accordingly, the special act of creating man, different from the way God created all other things, has set man in a plane where a personal relationship with God is possible. The focus of this enquiry then moves from locating or defining the “image” in men to understanding the implications of a special act of creation for humans. The problem with this view is that there are passages in the BibleGenesis 5:3; Exodus 25:40. that associate the word “image” with the object of creation and not with the process of creation.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998).

Barr calls these traditional views as “referential” views because all these views assume that the phrase image of God refers to “some identifiable entity or relation which could be otherwise stated.”Barr, “The Image of God in Book of Genesis,” 12. This entity, according to various interpretations, vary from human reason at one extreme to the human physical appearance and posture on the other.Ibid. A detailed examination of some of these views is necessary before a conclusion is reached.

Man as a whole bears the image of God. Man was also created to be the image of God. The image of God is about God’s purpose and calling for man — to be His vice-regents on earth in order to represent Him before the rest of God’s creatures and to nurture the environment.

1.2.2 Human Beings: In God’s Likeness as “Embodied Spirits”

In Alec Motyer’s view, the words “image” and “likeness” in the creation account should be treated as synonyms.Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 68. The fact that these words are used interchangeably - in Genesis 1:26-27 and in Genesis 5:3 – should strengthen his point. Hess supports this view in the light of the discovery of a 9th century B.C.E. Assyrian-Aramaic inscription which uses both these words.R. S. Hess, “Adam,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, 2003. Besides, Hess states that the Akkadian translation of this inscription employs a single word to render both these words, thus, lending credence to the claim that the two Hebrew words tselem and demût refer to the same thing.

James Barr refuses to consider tselem and demût as synonymous. However, he considers tselem as more important of the two and argues that “demût is added in order to define and limit its meaning, by indicating that the sense intended for tselem must lie within that part of its range which overlaps with the range of demût.”Barr, “Image of God in Book of Genesis,” 24. The word order is reversed in chapter five because the writer of Genesis is “no longer talking about the image of God, but about the likeness and image of Adam in his son Seth.”Ibid., 25.

Either way, the meaning of demût should help us determine the meaning of tselem. The meaning of the word demût is clear enough. However, scholars may be reluctant to give in to this view because of the obvious “scandal”Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 68. involved in the plain sense of the word demût. Does God have a form and did he indeed create man in that form? What do we make of God’s statement in Numbers that He spoke face-to-face with Moses and that Moses beheld His form? “With him I speak face to face—clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the LORD.”Numbers 12:8a NRSV

Taken literally, as the author might have wanted his readers to, it means that God has a “form.” The testimony that Israel “saw no form”“So be very careful yourselves, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire …” Deuteronomy 4:15 NASB when God spoke to them at Horeb does not rule out the possibility of a “divine form.” However, David Wilkinson rejects the possibility of a physical resemblance on the basis of the warning given to Israel.David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation, The BST Bible Themes Series ed. Derek Tidball (Leicester: IVP, 2002), 35. God indeed forbids His people from making any visible representations of the Divine; this, Motyer claims, is not because such representations are “impossible but because they are impermissible.”Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 66.

I tend to agree with von Rad’s and Gunkel’s view that external form, or rather, the man’s body, is an essential part, if not the entirety, of Imago Dei. The external form is also a pointer to a unique internal dimension of man. These are explained below:

i. The erect disposition of a man is one of the most important distinctive features that sets men apart from animals, enabling them to be God’s vice regents, to express their individual personality and to engage in a uniquely personal nuptial relationship.

If we take the functional view of imago Dei seriously, then we must concede that man functions as the Creator’s representative to the animal world. Therefore, that aspect of man that is most visible to animals – the upright body – cannot be ignored. Most commentators, however, fight shy of any mention of the body, and limit the interpretation of imago Dei to what it might signify to humans, alone or in community, or in relation to the Creator. In fact, the erect disposition of humans gains added significance when one realises that it is one of the defining differences between animals and humans. Scientist Arthur C. Custance, in his Doorway Paper Series, described in detail the uniqueness of man at the physical level. It is beyond the scope of this project to describe his arguments in their entirety.Arthur C. Custance, Is Man An Animal? Doorway Paper 21 (1972) [book online]; available from; Internet; accessed on 11 Jan 2007.

Wenham, and other commentators like him, are wary of taking the discussion on imago Dei to the physical level because they fear that it is at the physical level that humans are most similar to animals! Custance, however, thinks that, “Man differs from animals in so many subtle ways - anatomically, physiologically, psychologically, mentally and spiritually - that it no longer is really justified to classify him in the animal kingdom at all.”Ibid. Contrary to Wenham’s opinion, I agree with Custance that, even at the physical level, man is a world apart from animals so much so that men cannot be referred to as “animals.” Wenham’s objection that external form cannot be a part of the “image” – based on shared anatomical and physiological features among humans and animals – is invalid because even at these levels of comparison human beings stand out as a “new order of life.”Ibid.

Before describing the uniqueness of the erect posture and other matters related to it, it must be observed that the uniqueness of man’s body does not rest on any one organ or feature. For, if we take any organ or feature in isolation and compare it with a corresponding feature in any animal, we may feel that man merely possesses an animal feature with an added finesse or ability.Ibid., Cf. Sean D. Pitman, “Early Man,” [article online]; available from; Internet; accessed on 11 January 2007. However, if we consider as a combination all the features that mark man apart then we can appreciate that fact that no single animal has all these features. The features that place humans a cut above animals include:Ashley Montagu, Introduction to Physical Anthropology, (Springfield: Thomas,1945), p. 43.

Of these, the most important distinctive physical feature, accompanied by other supporting features, is the erect posture. Realising the importance of the human erect posture, scientists who support the theory of organic evolution have spent a number of years trying to locate a “missing link” between primates and humans. None have been found yet.Richard Leakey, a fossil hunter, said, “If pressed about man’s ancestry, I would have to unequivocally say that all we have is a huge question mark. To date, there has been nothing found to truthfully purport as a transitional species to man, including Lucy, since 1470 was as old and probably older.” Richard E. Leakey, “Hominids in Africa,” American Scientist (March-April 1976) 174. Cf. Pitman, “Early Man,” http://www.detecting As Custance notes, to the dismay of evolutionary biologists, “a great deal is involved in sustained erect posture than merely a decision to stand up.”Custance, Is Man An Animal?

Human erect posture is the result of a complex set of body features that include the following:The details given were gleaned from Custance’s Is Man an Animal? Ibid.

Human posture reflects the state of mind. One can bow in worship; be cowed down by sorrow or pain; or, straighten up with joy and courage.

It can be seen from the above points how vital an erect posture is for human beings for the proper expression of their mind in work, worship, writing, speech, singing and the exercise of oversight. The uniqueness of man is not limited to the body; it is characterised by an active mind. This mind needs a suitable body for its expression. We cannot fulfil our calling as God’s representatives on Earth without these endowments.

As we will see later in this book, the imago Dei also is about God’s purpose for us to engage in a meaningful relationship with the Creator and with other people. Of all human relationships, the most primary and fundamental one is that which exists between a man and his wife. In the verse that describes human creation in the image of God, it is emphasised that God created them as male and female. (Genesis 1:27) Christopher West, while interpreting Pope John Paul’s theology of the body comments that “our sexuality reveals that we’re called to image God in a life-giving communion of love.”Christopher West, “Naked without shame: Karol Wojtyla’s Cure for Cancer,” [article online]; available from; Internet; accessed on 15 January 2007. In the Pope’s own words, the recognition of the “nuptial meaning of the body” – the desire to become one flesh – “is the fundamental element of human existence in the world.”Pope John Paul II, “The Human Person Becomes a Gift in the Freedomm of Love,” General Audience (16 January 1980) [article online]; available from audiences/catechesis_genesis/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_19800116_en.html; Internet; accessed on 15 January 2007. The bodies of the human male and female are fashioned to express this unique aspect in a loving personal communion during sexual intercourse. A human male and female can engage in the nuptial act facing each other. This too is a result of the design that contributes to an erect disposition of the human body.

Therefore, the human body’s design is an integral part of God’s special creation of humans in His image and likeness, to be His representatives on this planet and to express loving, intimate communion.

ii. A man’s body is unique in that it alone can house a “spirit,” bearing the likeness of God, with all dignity, and thus become a living soul. This made the incarnation of the invisible God possible in a man’s body.

Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, is central to the Christian faith. That the Divine took up human flesh and became a man is by itself an astounding fact. Custance is of the opinion that it was the uniqueness of man’s body that let God “enter physically within the framework of His own created order and become Man in a form appropriate to His deity and without doing violence to His own Person as Creator.”Custance, Is Man An Animal? Explaining how it was possible for God to take up human flesh, Custance says:

No animal form below man would have sufficed for such an extraordinary event as the Incarnation of God Himself. Only a special creature, special both as to his spirit and as to the body which housed that spirit, could appropriately serve such a plan. Thus, man stands midway between the angels which have no bodies and are not therefore redeemable by such a mode of redemption and the animal world which has no spirit capable of sin which would create a need for redemption.Ibid.

Man’s body, thus, was uniquely suitable even to make the invisible God visible to the world. The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ effectively highlights the sacramental nature of man’s body. This aspect of the body was highlighted by Pope John Paul II as he espoused his theology of the body:

[A man’s body is a sacrament – ] a sign that transmits effectively in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial. …
The sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted with man, as a body, by means of his visible masculinity and femininity. The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.Pope John Paul II, “Man Enters the World As a Subject of Truth and Love,” General Audience (20 February 1980 ) [article online]; available from; Internet; accessed on 15 January 2007.

If the ultimate purpose of the man’s body, as seen in Jesus, is to reveal the invisible God, then the Pope’s views can shed light on the meaning of God’s special creation of man in His image and likeness. And this is where we look beyond the body to understand the full meaning of imago Dei. The special design of a man’s body was not an end in itself; it has to serve a sacramental purpose—it has to fittingly house a spirit that bears likeness to God. Herein lies the vital difference between men and all the rest of creatures. God is spirit, said Jesus.John 4:24a RSV It is not surprising then that man’s likeness to God should centre on the human spirit. In redemption, a person who is redeemed by Christ puts on a “new nature,” in the spiritual dimension, a nature “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”Colossians 3:10 RSV However, the body is so designed as to reveal or make visible this spirit. The Bible’s emphasis too is on the resultant “living being,” a body animated by the spirit.Genesis 2:7. Therefore, it is proper to say that man bears the image of God.

The account of God’s special creation of man and woman in the second chapter of Genesis makes this clear. The creation of man was different from the creation of other living organisms. God formed man “of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.”Genesis 2:7 RSV. Emphasis added. God’s life-giving breath, breathed by God directly into a specially crafted earthen body, made all the difference. This is the key to understanding imago Dei in man, the ‘embodied sprit.’ Although Wenham believes that the “breath of life” is not what distinguishes humans from animals, he concedes that it was only man who received the breath directly from God.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998).

Christians who believe in organic evolution and claim that man’s body has an animal ancestry may have to revise their views in the light of this passage. British evangelical Christians Jeeves and Berry believe that humans evolved from apes. They think that our body’s origin is explained by organic evolution while our spiritual nature came from God. “Once we accept that our spiritual nature is not the same thing as our bodily envelope, our physical ancestry and genetic relationships fall into perspective,” they assure us.Malcolm A. Jeeves and R. J. Berry, Science, Life and Christian Belief, A Survey and Assessment, Leicester: Apollos, 1998. These British Christians obviously are pulled apart by their twin loyalties—as Christians, they think they should acknowledge God’s hand in man’s origin and as Englishmen, they love their fellow countryman Darwin! Evolutionist Richard Leakey, a fossil expert differs from the above view that man’s arrival was the result of a gradual, evolutionary process: “I would have to state that there is more evidence to suggest an abrupt arrival of man rather than a gradual process of evolving.”Richard E. Leakey, “Hominids in Africa,” American Scientist (March-April 1976) 174. Cf. Pitman, “Early Man,” http://www.detecting It isn’t surprising that evolutionists, Christian or otherwise, after having rejected God’s revelation in the Bible, are groping in the dark, and are divided among themselves regarding the origin of man.

Karl Barth’s observations that Adam was a replication of divine life, that humans are the only ones who share the divine life of God, is best understood in the light of the creation narrative in Genesis.Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Creation III.1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1950), 184. Adam was more than an organism; he was an embodied spirit, a unique person. In Rev. Therukattil’s words, “Human beings … are inextricably spirit in matter, bound by space and time.”George Therukattil, “The Eucharist: A powerful prophetic symbol and memorial,” [article online]; available from; Internet; accessed on 12 February 2007. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:6 declares that the spirit of a human returns to God at the time of death. Cf. Jesus’ dying statement: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 RSV).

Man’s unique body expresses and makes visible the invisible human spirit in a way no animal body can. Here lies the uniqueness of the creation of man and the mystery of the incarnation of God in the human flesh of Jesus Christ. No theory that seeks the origin of our body in the animal kingdom can do justice to the human body’s unique animation by and integration with a ‘God-like’ spirit that proceeds from God.

It was not just Adam who was endowed with God’s life-giving breath. Every human being is endowed with a spirit specially created by God.“The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4 RSV); “God, the LORD, … who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it.” (Isaiah 42:5 RSV); Zechariah 12:1. The author of Hebrews, in 12:9, refers to God as the “Father of [human] spirits.”Hebrews 12:9 RSV. Moses addressed the God of Israel as “the God of the spirits of all flesh.”Numbers 27:16 RSV. God is the Giver of life and He gives people their spirit with their first breathThe case for this convincingly argued by Arthur Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, The Doorway Papers Vol. V, [book online]; accessed on 15 January 2007; available from; Internet. and takes away their spirits when they breathe their last.The Bible portrays death as the departure of the spirit (breath/ruach) from man: “You turn man back into dust and say, “Return, O children of men.’” (Psalm 90:3 NASB); Job 34:14-15; “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7 RSV). Daniel spoke of God’s full control over every man’s life while addressing king Belshazzar: “But the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” Daniel 5:23b. Jesus cried out just before he died: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 RSV).

That the second Person of the Godhead too chose to incarnate in a body shows the distinctive feature of a man’s body—its ability to make visible the invisible God! At the same time, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ reveals how the human spirit is created in God’s likeness—for God the Spirit and the human spirit can be revealed in the same matrix.

There are a few necessary implications for this special creation of man. First, men and women are unique persons who are at once a part of creation but are capable of transcending the visible world around them. Animals and plants, on the other hand, are part of the created order but do not have the capacity to transcend it in any way. This implication is probably the most significant one in my study of the relationship between imago Dei and human dominion over nature as described in Genesis 1:26-28.

In Pope John Paul’s words:

Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within him the interior dimension of the gift. With it he brings into the world his particular likeness to God, with which he transcends and dominates also his “visibility” in the world, his corporality, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness.Pope John Paul II, “Man Enters the World As a Subject of Truth and Love,” General Audience (20 February 1980 ) [article online]; available from; Internet; accessed on 15 January 2007.

The first evidence of this transcendence is man’s appointment in the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) A garden is not a “natural” occurrence unlike a wilderness. A garden is the result of a gardener’s creative interference and intervention in the so-called “natural” world. The gardener chooses plants, their location, while he uproots or prunes some plants. By planting a garden, and by setting man as its gardener, God defined man’s niche in the biosphere and authorised him to meddle with plant life in a responsible and caring way.

Another evidence of human transcendence is God’s charge given to Adam to name certain animals.Genesis 2:19-20. The ability to name – to speak and to use language – is unique to human beings. Adam was wise enough to see that he did not belong to the animal kingdom; neither could he find a suitable companion from among them.Genesis 2:20. The naming ceremony continues to this day as biologists continue to discover, classify and name macro and micro-organisms. Ironically, modern scientists who deny the veracity of the Bible go to the extent of classifying themselves as animals, and, at the same time, naming themselves homo sapiens, “Man the wise”!Custance, Is Man An Animal?

The second implication of the special creation of man is that this “embodied-spirit” existence equips man to represent the Creator on this earth in a unique way. As mentioned earlier in this book, some scholars like von Rad have attempted to see God’s special creation of man in imago Dei exclusively along this functional line.von Rad, Genesis A Commentary, 58. In von Rad’s words:

Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth, in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth.Ibid.

This function as God’s image on earth is but one result of being an “embodied spirit” that shares the life of God and transcends the visible world. Notwithstanding, the function of man as visible God-like creatures on earth is important.

Although both men and women receive their life from God and have a common spiritual dimension, the expression of their lives, and therefore their roles, differ at the physical level. This is because of the fundamental sexual distinction that is stamped into our bodies down to the cellular and chromosomal level. Sexual differences at the bodily level are not mere superficial anatomical or morphological differences. The significance of sexual differences in functional aspects of being God’s image on earth is discussed in a subsequent section in this book.

Finally, being created with a spiritual dimension as persons, we are endowed with a capacity to commune with God and with one another. In the primary nuptial man-woman bond, we mirror God-human relationship. The relational aspect of the imago Dei has received wide attention from scholars and is discussed in the following section.

The human body is uniquely suited to Man’s high calling to be God’s vice-regent. Humans are “embodied spirits” who ought to bring God’s loving care to the rest of creation. The incarnation of the divine Word in a human body made the invisible God visible. and tangible on earth.

1.2.3 Karl Barth’s Relational Definition of the “Image”

Man as a whole bears God’s semblance in a fundamental and comprehensive way such that a “man would not be man if he were not the image of God.”Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Creation III.1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1950), 184. God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Knowing God’s nature, and how man, as a creature, shares the likeness of God in a unique way – as compared to the rest of creation – is therefore necessary to understand imago Dei. Barth has explored the meaning of imago Dei along these lines and his views are summarised below.

Man is the only being on Earth that shares the divine life of God, and that qualifies to be God’s true “counterpart,” God’s “real partner.”Ibid. The plural in “Let us make” indicates that “in God’s own being and sphere there is a counterpart: a genuine but harmonious self-encounter and self-discovery … an open confrontation and reciprocity.”Ibid. This kind of an “I – Thou” encounter in the Divine was replicated by the creation of human beings—so that the divine internal “self-encounter” is a pattern for encounter between God and humans. This “analogy of free differentiation and relation”Ibid. makes it possible for God to enter into a covenant relationship with humans. Thus, “man is the repetition of this divine form of life.”Ibid., 185.

The replication of the divine form of life is also seen in the kind of “I-Thou” relationship seen among human beings. The “original and most concrete form”Ibid., 186. of this is the differentiation and relationship seen between the first man and the first woman. The uniqueness about this human differentiation, according to Barth, is that this is the “only real differentiation and relationship”Ibid. among humans; no “groups and species”Ibid. of humans were created by God. This is in sharp contrast to what we find in the animal or plant world. This leads Barth to the next point.

God is One; He is solitary in that he alone is God; the divine plurality and self-encounter reflected in the creation fiat “Let us make” is found within the Godhead. Adam, among the rest of earthly creation, shared the solitariness of God because there was nothing in the organic or inorganic realms that could stand in an “I-Thou” confrontation with him. This unique “differentiation and relation” that links human beings together sets them apart from all other living beings on Earth. In this way, man qualifies for their divinely mandated task of exercising dominion over earthly creation.

Barth’s views are based on the assumption that the “us” in “Let us make” refers to the plurality that exists within the Godhead. There are scholars and commentators who differ from this view and believe that the plural pronoun “us” denotes the heavenly court. These include Jewish commentators and Christian scholars such as von Rad, Skinner and others.Philo, Skinner, von Rad, Zimmerli, Kline, Mettinger, Gispen and Day are among those who hold this view. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). This view might lead us to an unacceptable interpretation of the divine statement “Let us make man in our image.” Was mankind made in the image of God and the angels and whoever inhabits the heavenly court? Besides, nowhere does the Bible say that angels co-operated with God in the creation of man. The reluctance to accept such an inference might have driven some other scholars to suggest that the plural employed in the verse as the “plural of self-deliberation”Schmidt, Westermann, Steck, Gross and Dion followed Joüon in this interpretation. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). or the “plural of majesty.”Keil, Dillman and Driver are those who support this view. Joüon’s contention that the plural of majesty is not used with verbs led scholars to reject this view. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998).

Wenham supports the first view that the plural refers to God and the heavenly angelic hosts. He attempts to rule out all objections against it by pointing out that the plural pronoun “us” is accompanied by a singular verb “create.” Therefore, he contends that the angels did not participate in the creation of man. He affirms, “‘Let us create man’ should therefore be regarded as a divine announcement to the heavenly court, drawing the angelic host’s attention to the master stroke of creation, man.”Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). I might concede to this point. But still, what do we do with the plural “our” in “Let us make man in our image”? Wenham is silent about it.

These views have something in common. They all are careful in rejecting the hermeneutical possibility, in this verse, of a plurality within the Godhead. They interpret these plural expressions without offending the Jewish concept of monotheism as they understand it to be. They are keen to avoid the imposition of the Christian doctrine of Trinity on this verse. We may not be able to say that the writer of Genesis knew the Christian doctrine of Trinity. But we cannot conclusively state that such concepts were beyond the reach of Old Testament writers. In Hamilton’s words:

It is one thing to say that the author of Gen 1 was not schooled in the intricacies of Christian dogma. It is another thing to say he was theologically too primitive or naïve to handle such ideas as plurality within unity. What we often so blithely dismiss as ‘foreign to the thought of the OT’ may be nothing of the sort. True, the concept may not be etched on every page of Scripture, but hints and clues are dropped enticingly here and there, and such hints await their full understanding “at the correct time”Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapter 1-17, New International Commentary of the Old Testament, ed. R. K. Harrison and R. L. Hubbard, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 134. (Gal 4:4).

The reluctance of modern scholarship to acknowledge Jewish awareness of a plurality within Godhead is rightly condemned by Hamilton.

Genesis even mentions God and the Holy Spirit in its first chapter.The Holy Spirit was active in the process of creation as seen in Genesis 1:2. Arguments regarding the rendering of werûah ’êlõhîm as “Spirit of God” are mentioned below. (Scholars have debated the traditional rendering of werûah ’êlõhîm as “the Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2. Translators and commentators choose between “wind of God”; “spirit of God”; “Spirit of God”; and “mighty wind.” Wenham favours the phrase “wind of God” for werûah ’êlõhîm; however, he concedes that this is “a concrete and vivid image of the Spirit of God.”G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1 of Word Biblical Commentary, ed. D. A. Hubbard (Waco, Texas: Word, 1987), 16. G. J. Wenham clearly argues against the translation of the phrase werûah ’êlõhîm as “mighty wind” since such a rendering reduces the word ’êlõhîm ­– otherwise translated God in the rest of the chapter – to just a superlative adjective, contrary to the usual practice in Genesis 1. Hamilton offers a fine argument to support his usage of the phrase “Spirit of God.”Hamilton, Genesis, 111-115 passim. Hamilton rules out the possibility for the phrase “mighty wind” in Genesis 1:2. He describes and critiques Orlinsky’s (Jewish) argument for the usage of the phrase “wind of God.” [H. M. Orlinsky, “The Plain Meaning of Ruah in Gen. 1.2,” JQR 48 (1957/58) 174-82.] Based on the nature of the verbs that accompany rûah, Hamilton argues that “Spirit of God” is the best rendering for werûah ’êlõhîm. The argument is not described in detail here because such detailed examination of the history of interpretation is beyond the scope of this work. I, therefore, accept the translation of the phrase werûah ’êlõhîm as “Spirit of God.”) In God’s statement “Let us make,” He must have been addressing His Spirit who was His partner in creation. We arrive at the conclusion by eliminating other explanations for the plural forms “us” and “our” in this verse—such as that of ‘angelic hosts’ and the ‘plural of majesty.’ ClinesClines, Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968) 68-9. Cited in Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). and HaselAndrews University Seminary Studies 13 (1975) 65-6. Cited in Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). support this view. I am of the opinion that the writer of Genesis had the concept of divine plurality in his mind when he wrote the words, “Let us make man in our image.” This then paves the way for an affirmation of Barth’s view on imago Dei —mankind has been created in God’s image to share the unique life of God in their relationship with God and in their relationship with one another.

Claus Westermann shares Barth’s view regarding imago Dei.Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, trans. J.J. Scullion (London: SPCK, 1984), 158. David Wilkinson too stands with Westermann and buttresses the latter’s position:

The ‘image of God’ means that we are sufficiently like God that we can have an intimate relationship with him. This is often emphasized later in the Genesis account. God walks in the garden with Adam and Eve, and he speaks in a different way to them than to the rest of creation. He speaks personally, while they understand and respond. This is how the Bible understands the special nature of human beings. Not primarily that we are physically different from the rest of creation, though in many ways we are, but in the fact that he has given us an intimate relationship with himself.David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation, 36.

Westermann’s view, however, goes a little beyond this in that he understands “in our image” as a phrase that qualifies “Let us make” and not the object “man.”Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998). Wenham agrees with Westermann as long as the latter considers only passages that deal with creation—in all of these, “in our image” goes along with the action of creating man. However, the phrase “in our image” also appears apart from the act of creation in two passages and Claus Westermann’s explanation does not hold good in these.Genesis 5:3 (“When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.”) and Exodus 25:40 (“See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.”) Wenham, Genesis 1-15, [CD-ROM] (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1998).

Though some modern scholarsD. J. A. Clines, “On the Image of God in Man,” Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968): 101. Also, von Rad, Genesis A Commentary, 58. von Rad opts for a combination of functional and representational views. would emphasise the functional explanation of imago Dei, I think that the functional understanding of imago Dei – that man is God’s representative on Earth – and Barth’s relational view of humans described above can together give us a better understanding of the nature and status of mankind on God’s Earth. One need not reject one view and embrace the other as most scholars have done. These are not mutually exclusive definitions of the imago Dei in man; instead they are necessary corollaries of God’s creation of man in His image as “embodied spirits” that share his life-breath. God’s unique bestowal of His divine life to the crown of his creation, mankind, enables them to function as God’s representatives, to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the Earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”Genesis 1:26 NRSV.

Humans, as “embodied spirits,” transcend their environment. We can also engage in personal relationships with God and other humans, mirroring the divine community in the Godhead. In marriage, a “life-giving communion of love” portrays the covenant communion between God and His people.

2. Imago Dei and the Sexes

One of Apostle Paul’s statements, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, regarding the human male and female with respect to the imago Dei is vital to a clearer understanding of the “image of God.” Even as I mention the Apostle Paul, I am aware of the bad press he has received in recent years as a ‘misogynist.’ Even some evangelicals who swear by the divine inspiration and immutability of the Bible are uncomfortable with some of Paul’s teachings. However, the fact remains that Paul’s writings are part of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Apostle Peter placed Paul’s writings at par with “the rest of the Scriptures”—the venerated Hebrew Bible the early church possessed.II Peter 3:16. Peter moaned the fact that some “untaught and unstable” Christians end up distorting Paul’s epistles.

Having said that, let’s look at the relevant passage in I Corinthians.

2Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
3But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
7For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
11However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.I Corinthians 11:2-12.

First of all, Paul talks of certain “traditions” that he handed over to the Corinthian church. These traditions were not a part of the local Corinthian culture. If they were culturally local, why would the Corinthians need a reminder from Paul, a foreign ‘missionary,’ to uphold their own traditions? This tradition apparently was regarding the need for respecting sex-based distinctions in outward appearance and clothing, especially while praying or prophesying. Men were not to cover their heads while praying and prophesying; women were required to cover their hair. We will soon observe that this instruction is not merely grounded on sexual differences but on deeper anthropological and theological principles that arise from the special creation of man in the image of God and the subsequent creation of woman as the man’s helper.

Noted New Testament scholar Gordon Fee argues that the bottom line in I Corinthians 11:2-16 is about the maintenance of sex-based distinctions in general appearance and apparel.Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce and Gordon D. Fee. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 516. That means, men and women should dress differently enough to be recognized as male or female; Fee doesn’t think that a specific requirement regarding head coverings be enforced in today’s churches. If, according to Fee, this passage is just about general sex-based distinctions in clothes and appearances, why would Paul talk about a special distinction that should be maintained only during prayer and the exercise of the prophetic gift?

This is where we need to consider the apostle’s introductory statement in verse 3: “I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Here is a clear, albeit unpopular, teaching about a hierarchy, a chain of authority. That 1 Cor. 11:3 refers to a chain of authority (and not just “origin” or “source”) is clearly established by Schreiner.Thomas R. Schreiner, “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 127-30. This chain of authority extends all the way from the woman on earth to God in heaven, making these instructions regarding head coverings supra-cultural and, as a result, universally applicable. Anything that is based on a principle involving God and man is applicable to all cultures. Modern arguments to the contrary fly in the face of textual and contextual evidence.Modern commentators regard this passage as relating to an ancient cultural practice, namely, head coverings. Therefore, scholars with whom I interacted refused to consider any statement from this passage for serious doctrinal considerations. None of them, however, succeed in explaining why Corinthian Christians needed the exhortation of a foreign evangelist to keep a local cultural practice alive! Or, even why we should continue to practice water baptism, a practice that conveys almost no message to our times. The full exploration of this issue is beyond the scope of this project.

After mentioning the chain of authority, the apostle instructs men to uncover their heads and women to cover their heads while communicating with God (prayer) and on behalf of God (prophecy). Prayer and prophecy bring God directly into the picture. God is the Source of all authority and He respects any chain of authority He established. This is why, after the Fall, God questioned Adam before He confronted Adam’s wife Eve even though God knew it was Eve who had been deceived. The God of all authority wishes to see His people respect the chain of command He ordained—“Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Verses 4 and 5 state that every man who prays with his head covered disgraces his head (Christ); every woman who prays with her head uncovered disgraces her head (a man under whose authority she is). Judging by the context, the chain of authority stated explicitly in verse 3 must be taken into account to know why Christian men and women must follow these instructions while praying and prophesying.

2.1 Pauline Statement on Man and Woman

As a part of his argument, Paul says, “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”I Corinthians 11:7. NASB. Emphasis added. This verse is henceforth referred to as “the Pauline statement.” This latter half of verse 7 is what concerns this study. It does, at first reading, convey the impression that women are totally excluded from the image of God. Thus, voices of dissent may be heard from scholars and critics who consider the Pauline statement as opposed to their understanding of the creation story in Genesis.Genesis 1:26, 27. Scholars deal with this apparent “contradiction” in different ways, as described below.

Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, notes that according to the Genesis account man and woman together bear the image of God. He then explains how Paul’s statement – that apparently amounts to saying that women do not bear the image of God – does not contradict the Genesis accounts of creation.

… we must notice how that which the apostle says … is not contrary to that which is written in Genesis … For this [Genesis] text says that human nature itself, which is complete [only] in both sexes, was made in the image of God; and it does not separate the woman from the image of God which it signifies. … How then did the apostle tell us that the man is the image of God … but that the woman is not so…? Unless, forsooth, … that the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.Augustine, On the Trinity, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series I, Vol. 3, Christian Classical Ethereal Library [CD-ROM] (Illinois: Wheaton College, 1999), Book XII, Chapter 7.

Thus, in St. Augustine’s understanding of the Pauline statement, man is the image of God, independent of woman, just as Adam was the image of God before Eve was created. The woman, on the other hand, when considered separately, is not the “image of God,” but the “glory of man.” The woman is not alienated from the image of God as long as she is considered together with man, for whom she was created.

Llyod, however, argues that this is not what Augustine is saying here. According to Lloyd,

It would be inaccurate here to represent Augustine as claiming that it is only in so far as she is considered in relation to man, whose helpmate she is, that woman can be said to be “made in the God’s image,” whereas man is thus made in his own right. Augustine’s point is, rather, that it is only in so far as woman is considered in her “helpmate” role that she is not in God’s image.Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: Male and “Female” in Western Philosophy. London: Routledge, 1993. Book on-line. Available from Questia, Internet. Accessed 5 January 2006.

Lloyd is clearly attempting to save Augustine from some perceived embarrassment. Lloyd finds it difficult to accept the fact that Augustine is refusing to consider a woman as “image of God” except in conjunction with a man. So, Lloyd interprets Augustine as saying that a woman is not in the image of God only when she is considered in her role of “helpmate”—not when she is considered by herself in her other capacities!Ibid. Indeed, Lloyd misread Augustine. Augustine’s words – “but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet” – is qualified immediately by the clause, “which regards the woman herself alone.”Augustine, On the Trinity, Book XII, Chapter 7. The point is that when a woman is considered separately, that is, as “herself alone,” “she is not the image of God.”Ibid. Augustine is categorical; however, his point is lost on Lloyd.

I would summarise Augustine’s reading of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians as follows:

Man is the image and glory of God;
But a woman
[– considered independently – is not the image and glory of God.
] is the glory of man.

There are other scholars like Gordon Fee who solve this apparent “contradiction” between the Genesis account and the Pauline statement by reading Paul in a different way. In Fee’s reading, which is diametrically opposed to Augustine’s, Paul does not say that a woman is not in the image of God. In Fee’s words,

It is often pointed out that in Gen. 1 man and woman together are in God’s image and likeness, a point with which Paul certainly would not disagree—after all, he carefully avoids saying that the woman is man’s image.Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 515.

F. F. Bruce too claims that Paul is indeed implying that Eve too bears the image of God “by avoiding complete parallelism in the following statement, woman is the glory of man.”F. F. Bruce, The New Century Bible Commentary, I & II Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 105. Emphasis present in original text. In other words, Bruce highlights the fact that Paul dropped the word image while describing the woman. Paul doesn’t say “woman is the image and glory of man;” instead, Paul’s focus is on the word “glory.”Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 515.

Schreiner just states, “Paul is not denying that women are created in God’s image.”Schreiner, “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity,” 133. He does not argue the case but just assumes (by superimposing his own view on Paul) that “Paul was well aware that Genesis teaches that both men and women are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27).”Ibid. 133.

If we apply the claims of Fee, Schreiner and Bruce on the Pauline statement in verse 7, it should read as follows:

Man is the image and glory of God;
[woman is the image of God – arguing from absence of “image of man” – and]
woman is the glory of man.

It is obvious that their view reversed the meaning of the Pauline statement! A cursory examination of the resultant text given above reveals that the word “but” is rendered impotent. There must be something wrong with their hermeneutic that results in the awkward upsetting of a short compound sentence that is relatively direct and plain.

St. Augustine understood Paul as saying that woman, taken by herself, is not in the image of God.Augustine, On the Trinity, Book XII, Chapter 7. Even Leonard Swidler, a feminist critic, reads Paul the same way as Augustine did!Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Women (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979) Book on-line. Available from Questia, Internet. Accessed 5 January 2006. Augustine agreed with Paul; while Swidler refused to and fought back.According to Swidler, Paul got it all wrong when he said that man was the image of God while woman was the glory of man. Swidler is based on the word “Adam” in Hebrew. He says that this word – used to refer to Adam before the creation of Eve – is used in the generic sense. How it could be used in such a generic sense even before Eve was created is a pertinent question. Swidler says that Adam, the “creature” out of which Eve was taken, was “generic, undifferentiated” humanity. This is nothing short of claiming that Adam was not a male but a perfect hermaphrodite! There is no scriptural support for such a claim.

Image of God refers to ‘dominion,’ not to human nature. God created a King and a Queen—not two kings. St. Paul taught that Man is the image of God. Woman, by herself, is not the “image of God” but the “glory of man.” This isn’t a denial of her humanity. One doesn’t have to be the image of God (the ruler) to be human.

What prevents Fee, Bruce and Schreiner from seeing clearly what Paul says? Their evangelical commitments, probably, do not permit them to disagree with Paul, as Swidler did. Therefore they tamed Paul’s plain statement to make it palatable to Christians who are more concerned about political correctness than submitting to the authority of the Scriptures. Recognising what Paul said is vital—whether one agrees with him or not.

According to Fee, Genesis 1:27 teaches that “man and woman together are in God’s image and likeness.”Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 515. According to Schreiner Genesis teaches that both man and are made in the image of God. Schreiner, “Head Coverings,” 133. This is what Augustine too stated as he sought to harmonise Genesis and Paul.Augustine, On the Trinity, Book XII, Chapter 7. But must we arrive at a reconciliation on the basis of the absence of the word “image” in the verse in question? An argument from an absence cannot prove anything beyond that absence. What if the absence of the word image in “woman is the glory of man” is well explained by the preceding word “but”? The conjunction “but” (δέ)I Corinthians 11:7. places a contrast between the two phrases—“he [man] is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” What the word “but” proclaims is obvious: he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is not. She is the glory of man.

Instead of interpreting the Pauline statement in I Corinthians 11:7 to suit their understanding of Genesis accounts of human creation, as Fee, Schreiner, and Bruce did, Theodore of Mopsuestia sought to understand the Genesis accounts using this clear Pauline statement.Frederick G. McLeod, “Theodore of Mopsuestia Revisited,” Theological Studies 61 no. 3 (2000): 447. Database on-line. Available from Questia, Internet. Accessed 4 January 2006. McLeod sums up Theodore’s views in these words:

Like them [fellow Antiochenes], Theodore regarded God’s image as referring to the whole human being and not merely to the spiritual part of the human soul. He also agreed with them that it involved the authority to rule over the material universe. Diodore, Chrysostom, and Theodoret believed that the context surrounding Genesis 1:26-27 justifies this interpretation. … Then employing an Antiochene hermeneutical principle that one scriptural passage can illuminate another, they restricted the full power to rule to men qua males on the basis of their exegesis of Genesis 3:16 and 1Corinthians 11:7 where Paul asserts that the male is “the image and glory of God but woman is the glory of man.”Ibid.

In reality, is there is a need to reconcile Genesis 1:27 with I Corinthians 11:7? Do these passages contradict each other? Let’s find out.

2.2 Were Both Adam and Eve Created in Imago Dei?

There is no need to reconcile Genesis 1:27 with I Corinthians 11:7. Contrary to popular notions, Genesis 1:27 does not say that God created man and woman in the image of God!

It just says:

“God created man
              in His own image,
              in the image of God
He created him;

Male and female He created them.”

The important fact that God created man in His image is repeated—an example of classic Hebrew parallelism. This parallelism – the repetition of a statement to amplify and underscore a truth – stands on its own. The obvious parallelism should have been reason enough for translators to put a period at the end of that sentence. Instead, they chose to put a semicolon.

The statement on sexual differentiation – “male and female He created them” – is not a part of the preceding statement. It stands on its own. It offers a sneak preview into the detailed account in Genesis 2 that tells us how exactly God created Eve after the creation of Adam. Thus, Genesis 1:27 does not say that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.

Many Christians today will react with shock if someone told them that woman, by herself, is not the image of God. This is due to their preconceived mistaken notions about the meaning of “image of God.” While both men and women are fully human, while men and women are interdependent, how can we claim that man by himself is the image of God while woman by herself is not? It is possible to sustain that claim if the “image of God” is about being the royal viceroy of God, and not about being human or being rational or intelligent or about any other human faculty as some teach.There may be several theologians who have this view, especially in eastern Christianity, as Clendenin notes: “The image of God is the common property of all people, an inherent aspect of every person’s human nature by virtue of creation (Gen. 1:26-27). The image refers primarily to our rationality and capacity for free choice.” Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Perspective, A Western Perspective (Grand Rapids: Bakerbooks, 1994), 133. And such a claim is not contrary to the Genesis accounts of creation.

In the light of the second creation narrative in chapter two of Genesis, we know that God created a human male initially.Genesis 2:7, 18. This human male, Adam, was created in the image of God. That is, he was created to represent God as His vice-regent. Eve did not exist at that time, not even in Adam. (Paul’s claim that woman was “from man” should be understood figuratively;I Corinthians 11:8. for what was literally taken out of Adam was a bone, not a woman; and God fashioned a woman using that bone as the starting material.Genesis 2:22.) The human male was alone before the creation of Eve; and he, in his own right, was the image of God.

There are scholars and critics who say that the word “Adam” in this verse does not refer to the human male but that it is used in the generic sense. For example, Swidler argues along that line based on Luther’s German translation of the Old Testament.Swidler, Biblical Affirmations, 77. Swidler says that Luther used the word Mensch (a generic term for humanity) for ha adam “all the way to verse 23” of Genesis 2 before he used “mann” for male and “mannin” for female.Ibid. Based on this, he argues that the “Adam” who was created in God’s image was the “undifferentiated humanity”;Ibid. thus, he says, the Genesis affirmation regarding creation in the image of God is applicable to both man and woman collectively and separately. It is Swidler’s complaint that “Paul in 1 Cor 11:7-9 and the deutero-Pauline writer in 1 Tim 2:13 missed this careful, and important, distinction.”Ibid. Of course, Paul did not have the advantage that Swidler enjoyed—a German translation of the Bible at hand! However, I would prefer to read Paul without the help of Luther’s lenses.

The second half of Genesis 1:27 – “male and female He created them” – summarises the second narrative of creation found in the second chapter, and offers the reader a quick “preview” of it in the first chapter. God did not create Eve in order to be a second vice-regent on earth; God wanted her to be a suitable helper to the man.Genesis 2:18, 20.

Genesis 1:26-27 does not say that both Adam and Eve were created as Imago Dei. One was the Ruler; the other, the Helper. As Theodore of the Antiochene School rightly did, we too must interpret Genesis in the light of the New Testament instead of superimposing our views on Genesis.

In the light of this Genesis narrative, Paul concluded that the woman was created “for man’s sake.”I Corinthians 11:9b. NASB. The hierarchy found in Paul’s teachings is therefore perfectly understandable.I Corinthians 11:3.

This hierarchy is not dissolved as a result of one’s admission into the Church. Apostle Paul’s much-hated and debated instruction to Timothy regarding church-life makes this clear.

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.I Timothy 2:11-14. RSV.

The apostle anchors his injunction – “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men” – in the Genesis account of creation. Paul correctly gathered the implication of God’s decision to create Adam first in His image and then, Eve, as Adam’s helper. According to Ninan,

“In attempting to establish that the creational sex-stratification is unaltered by the Christ event Paul interprets Gen.1:27. Paul reads Gen.1:26-27 through the subsequent usages of צֶלֶם [tselem] and דְּמוּת [demuth] particularly in Gen. 5:1,3 where Eve is not mentioned, and also by referring to Ps. 8. Since Adam’s progeny is said to be in his image, (it is predicated especially to Seth and then implied of others Gen.5:1,3) that idea is superimposed on the creation of the woman.”Ninan, “Jesus as the son of God,” 227.

John Frame uses Galatians 3:28 to argue against a hierarchy in man-woman relationship although he holds a complementarian view.John M. Frame, “Men and Women in the Image of God,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 227. Frame probably does not realise that Paul wrote I Corinthians in order to correct misinterpretations of his earlier letter to the Galatians. Ninan, “Jesus as the son of God,” 227. Ninan thinks Frame probably did not realise that Paul wrote I Corinthians in order to correct misinterpretations of his earlier letter to the Galatians.Ninan, “Jesus as the son of God,” 227.

What does Galatians 3:28 state? Are Christians justified in using Galatians 3:28 to erase all sex-based distinctions within the Church? I notice that Galatians 3:28 is one of the most abused verses in the Bible. It is often quoted out-of-context and is therefore misunderstood. To avoid that error, I quote Galatians 3:24-29 here:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Emphasis mine)

Even a cursory reading of this passage will reveal that Paul is not talking about the abolition of sex-based distinctions in the Church. This passage is about salvation, about being justified in Christ. Both men and women, Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen participate equally in God’s salvation in Christ. The apostle Peter echoes this truth when he wrote about a wife being a “fellow heir of the grace of life” with her husband. (I Peter 3:7). Yes, in Christ, we are one; we are sons of God. However, when it comes to Christ in us, that is, regarding how Christ manifests Himself in us through ministry, sex-based distinctions remain. This is why Paul did not permit women to engage in a ministry that implied the exercise of authority over men.

Thousands of Christian women, who are gifted and active in Christian ministry, will readily disagree with this view. They would marshal a number of arguments, as Felicity Dale did, to show that “gender hierarchy” does not exist in God’s kingdom on earth.Felicity Dale, The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church (Louisville, KY: CreateSpace, 2014), passim. Dale’s “Black Swan Effect” doesn’t upset God’s truths established at the time of creation. The faulty assumption behind The Black Swan Effect is that the Scriptures may be interpreted in the light of empirical, experiential ‘evidence.’

The Pauline instruction in I Timothy 2:11 does not seek to drive half of God’s army into inactivity. Teaching in church is not the only ministry available for women. Women, are called to proclaim Christ. (For example, the Samaritan woman in John 4:29; and Mary Magdalene, the first witness of Christ’s resurrection, in John 20:17) Women are empowered to exercise spiritual gifts, even prophecy, in the Church (I Corinthians 11:5). Scholars who hold the complementarian view and those who hold the egalitarian view need to take note of this because many of them tend to believe otherwise.

The fact that men and women are interdependent sexual beings does not negate this hierarchySome, like Fee, are tempted to use the interdependence of man and woman (1 Cor. 11:11-12) to sabotage male headship (1 Cor. 11:3). Fee, Corinthians, 522-23. because it is based on God’s sovereign decision to create man and woman separately at different times and for distinct purposes.The Scriptures are very clear on this. As for the deliberate order of creation: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:18. NASB). As for the purposes, “for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” (1 Cor. 11:9. NASB) Thus, sexual differentiation is fundamental to human nature. There is no way that we can transcend our sexuality to see things in a perfectly “neutral” way. Hans Urs von Balthasar verbalises this notion in a beautiful way:

Up to its last cell, the male body is determined in a male way, the female body in a female way, and so, correspondingly, is the whole of empirical human experience and ego-consciousness. And this within a human nature that is identical in both, but which in no place reaches neutrally beyond sexual differences as, so to speak, a place of possible understanding. There is here no universal ante rem, as all theories of an asexual or bisexual (androgynous) primordial human would have it.Hans Urs von Balthasar, The von Balthasar Reader, trans. Robert J. Daly and Fred Lawrence, ed. Medard Kehl and Werner Loser (New York: Crossway, 1997), 72-73.

The fact remains that the human male and female together make up the whole; neither is complete without the other. Again in Balthasar’s prose:

The human being is, when creation is completed, a “dual unity,”; “two different but mutually inseparable realities of which one is the fullness of the other and both oriented to an unfathomable definitive unity”; “twofold, without multiplying the unity by two, simply two poles of one single reality, two different realizations of one single being, two entia in one single case, one existence in two lives, but in no sense two different fragments of one whole which, after the fact, must be put together again like a puzzle …” It is with such grouping formulations that one attempts, yet never successfully, to describe the mystery that man as human beside his counterpart, woman, has always been.Ibid.

This mysterious unity and individual existence as “poles” of a “whole” should not be used to ambush an equally mysterious hierarchy that God put in place by his original special creation of man and woman. Similarly, the teaching on authority and hierarchy must not be used to deny the level ground on which the sexes stand, sharing a common humanity, in mutual interdependence.The apostle Paul was careful to highlight the interdependence of the sexes, as seen in 1 Cor. 11:11-12.

The hierarchical relationship of the sexes as taught by the apostle Paul does not negate the basic “humanness” that is common to both man and woman. Therefore it cannot be argued that the God-ordained hierarchy denies equal personal worth to men and women. We should note that there is a definite distinction between the position of authority and personal worth/essence, as even seen within the Trinity. Berkhof’s words, in relation to the Godhead, is applicable here: “The only subordination of which we can speak, is a subordination in respect to order and relationship.”Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1958), 88.

Hurley argues against Paul, that is, against any differences between man and woman as far as “image of God” is concerned. He says that the narrative on the creation of humans in Genesis 1 uses adam in the collective sense.James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Leicester: IVP, 1981) 172. He also uses God’s command – “be fruitful and multiply”Genesis 1:28. – addressed to both man and woman to claim that man and woman share the “image of God” in equal measure. However, there is a problem here. Hurley would be forced to contradict Paul’s interpretation of the creation narratives.1 Cor. 11:7. Scholars like Hurley attempt to circumvent this problem by interpreting the “offending” Pauline statement in the light of his understanding of Genesis. An earlier book Genesis is thus used to interpret a later writing! Instead of reading Paul in the light of Genesis, it would be hermeneutically sound to read Genesis in the light of Paul, as Augustine and Thoedore of Mopsuestia did.

The command to multiply and fill the earth is indeed a part of divinely mandated dominion. The sexual nature of man and woman demands that they multiply sexually. That is, the command to multiply can be fulfilled only by the collective effort of a man and a woman. Therefore, this command was given to the first family and not to Adam when he was alone. This probably prompted Augustine to state that “the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God;”Augustine, On the Trinity, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series I, Vol. 3, Christian Classical Ethereal Library [CD-ROM] (Illinois: Wheaton College, 1999), Book XII, Chapter 7.

Therefore, the participation of women in the task of dominion through multiplication cannot prove that woman, taken alone, is the image of God. This argument can at the most prove that woman along with man, as a family, bears the image of God. Moreover, this interdependence in the matter of procreation does not erode the man’s status as God’s vice-regent, God’s image, even when considered alone. Augustine’s interpretation, thus, still holds good.

Frame argues that the word “man” in Genesis 1:27 should be a generic term including man and woman. This, he says, on the following grounds:

Any limitation of the image of God based on sexuality would also contradict the thrust of Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9: such limitation would imply that only males are protected against murder and slander because only they are in God’s image.Frame, “Men and Women in the Image of God,” 227.

A break-up of this argument would appear as follows:

Premise 1: Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 say that “man” is created in the “image of God.”
Premise 2: Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 condemn murder/slander committed against “man” who is in the “image of God.”
Premise 3: But murder and slander are sins irrespective of the sex of the victim.
Conclusion: Therefore, the word “man” in Genesis 9:6 should include both man and woman.

Although the premises are true by themselves, the conclusion defies logic! This is because, although all premises are true, premise 3 is irrelevant in the determination of the meaning of the word “man” in these passages. The meaning of the word “man” should be determined from the text seen in its proper context. There is a different way to frame Frame’s argument:

Premise 1: Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 say that “man” is created in the “image of God.”
Premise 2: Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 condemn murder/slander committed against “man” who is created in the image of God.
Premise 3: This would mean that murder/slander committed against women is not a sin.
Conclusion: Therefore, the word “man” in Genesis 1:27 should be read in a generic sense, including both man and woman.

This argument is not sound because premise 3 is not true. Even if the word “adam” referred only to men, one cannot prove (from an absence of reference to woman) that murder or slander committed against women are justifiable. Moreover, these are not the only verses in the Bible that express God’s condemnation of murder and slander. Therefore we need not go against the context of these passages to assign a generic sense to the word “man.” In the ninth chapter of Genesis God was addressing Noah and his sons.Genesis 9:1. It is not a wonder then that God decreed His protection for man’s life. This passage cannot be construed to mean that women are left out in the open without any divine protection. If man’s life is protected, then the life of his counterpart and helper, who shares his humanity and personal worth, should naturally enjoy similar protection. Similarly, we arrive at the necessary corollary of James’ statementJames 3:9. that condemns slander against men who are made in the “image of God.” If slander against men is a sin, then slander against woman, man’s counterpart and helper, too is sin. To arrive at this conclusion, one need not take the word “man” in Genesis 1:27 in a generic sense.

All humans are equal in Christ before God. But when Christ manifests Himself in us to the world, He respects the sexual differentiation that God had established at Creation. Woman are encouraged to pray, to prophesy, and to proclaim the Gospel to the world. Men are to hold offices of authority as “servant leaders.”

In addition, the eighth psalm refers to the creation of man and the dominion which God bestowed on him.Psalm 8:5-6. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews quotes this psalm and interprets it:

But one has testified somewhere, saying, “What is man, that you remember him? or the son of man, that you are concerned about him?
“You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and have appointed him over the works of your hands; You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.Hebrews 2:6-9.

It is only in Jesus that we will see the fullness of the dominion that was initially given to Man. Thus, men as bearers of the “image of God” are symbols of the Lord Jesus Christ in His royal role of dominion. This, in my view, explains why the Word of God, the divine Logos, became a human male in order to be our Saviour. This is also why the Messiah couldn’t have incarnated as a human female. God designed the human male – Adam – in the image of God, as God’s vice regent on earth, in such a way that the incarnation of the Divine Sovereign could happen in a man’s body without doing any violence to Jesus’ divinity and majesty. By design, the body of the human male undeniably reflects his leadership. Despite all our attempts to sanitise sex of all shades of dominion, the male still gives and the female receives in every life-generating sexual communion. A human male-female couple thus effectively symbolises the relationship between Christ and His Church. Man represents Christ and the woman, the Church.

Woman, according to Genesis, is man’s helper and counterpart and she is placed under the protective authority of man. She cannot, therefore, mirror Jesus Christ in His role as the Supreme Lord. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for a woman, considered separately from man, to be called the “image of God.” Woman shares the “image of God” only when she is considered along with Man, whose glory she is and for whose sake she was created, and with whom she shares the task of dominion.

The Christian teaching on male leadership in Church too is founded on imago Dei. Since a woman, the glory of man, does not represent the Lord Jesus in his role as Lord she must not be appointed to church leadership that involves exercise of authority over men. It is not a woman’s intellectual ability or spiritual accomplishments that are called into question here. It is her special creation for man – and as his helper – that makes her suitable to be a symbol of the Church rather than of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church.

The Christian teaching on male-headship in the family too is rooted in the special creation of Adam in the image of God.

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24; Cf. Colossians 3:18; I Peter 3:5-6)

Even though this teaching is crystal clear, modern Christians have found devious ways to neutralise it. Most preachers and teachers use Ephesians 5:21 to sabotage 5:22-24. The command “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ,” they reminds us, takes away the need for 5:22-24 cited above. A husband should be subject to his wife and a wife should be subject to her husband! I wonder why they do not extend that logic to Ephesians 6:1 and to 6:5. Children must obey their parents and parents must obey their children! Slaves must be obedient to the masters and masters must be obedient to their slaves! What will it take to make us understand that Ephesians 5:21 serves as a “subtitle” to the rest of Ephesians? Yes, we must be subject to one another. But how should this be practised in our day-to-day lives? That is answered in the passages that follow—wives must submit to their husbands in everything as to the Lord, children should obey their parents and slaves must obey their masters. Similarly, husbands are called to live by a higher standard. They must reflect the Lord Jesus’ unconditional and sacrificial love to their wives. (5:25-30)

It is impossible to uphold the biblical teaching on male headship in the family and the Church if both man and woman are considered independently as two vice-regents.Carson ably demonstrates the error of many preachers and commentators who question male headship in family and church. He does this through an exegetical study of relevant biblical passages. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 36. Similarly, if man and woman are considered as bearers of the “image of God,” both together and separately, there should not be any objection to the practice of using feminine nouns and pronouns to address God or to refer to God. Frame got it right when he says that the “overwhelming preponderance” of masculine imagery for God in the Bible, as compared to feminine imagery, is a deliberate attempt to project the Lordship of God.Frame, “Men and Women in the Image of God,” 229.

In conclusion, God initially created man (Adam) in His image, as a royal vice-regent to exercise wise dominion over other creatures. Later, God created woman (Eve) for the man’s sake, to be his suitable helper. Man bears the image of God, in its functional sense, in a special way that qualifies him for a leadership role and a position of authority. Woman, on the other hand, is man’s glory; she shares the image of God, and the resultant dominion, only in relation to man. The man, thus, is a shadow of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, who rules heaven and earth in all perfection. This hierarchical relationship between man and woman does not deny or oppose the fact that man and woman together make up humanity, and that they are equally valuable in the sight of God. Similarly, God offers the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ to all sinners – men and women – without differentiating between them.

3. Imago Dei After the Fall

There are a few biblical passages that tell us about how the imago Dei is retained even after the Fall of humanity into sin and its devastating effects. Primary among them is the affirmation of divine protection for human life, from possible homicidal attacks from fellow humans or animals, as seen in chapter nine of Genesis. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”Genesis 9: 6. It is interesting to note that this passage that commands humans to respect all life (by the exclusion of blood from diet) and that prohibits the extinguishing of human life by the pain of capital punishment is an inclusio framed by the divine command to “be fruitful,” to “multiply,” and to “populate the earth abundantly.” (Genesis 9:1, 7 NASB). God instituted capital punishment to punish murderers and to protect human life; murder was declared a crime because God made man in the image of God. “To touch the image of God is to touch God himself; to kill the image of God is to do violence to God himself.”Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, (Grand Rapids/Carlyle: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986), 16. Here, the imago Dei is not linked with either sin or redemption.Walter Brueggemann considers Genesis 5:1 along with 9:6 to make a similar affirmation. Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 452.

In the New Testament, James asserts this in a similar way. Speaking about the misuse of the tongue James points out the inconsistency involved in praising God and cursing men with the same tongue: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.”James 3:9-10a. In other words, James states that cursing men – who are made in the image of God – is equivalent to cursing God. In the plain sense, this passage too assumes that the Fall has not affected man’s status as the image of God.

Genesis records that Adam had a son, Seth, who was “in his own likeness, according to his own image.”Genesis 5:3 NASB. Perhaps, Paul was alluding to this passage when he wrote, “Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”I Corinthians 15:49 NASB. Seeing that this verse belongs to a passage that deals with human mortality and the Christian hope of resurrection, it may be understood that “Adam’s image” inherited by all humanity is mortality.Idicheria Ninan, “Jesus as the son of God,” 227-28. On the other hand, those who have set their hope in Christ will inherit His image, namely, immortality and glory.

Even as God affirms in His Word that man continue to bear His image, it has to be conceded that sin has left tell-tale signs of damage on human beings. Sin has affected the visible and invisible aspects of the human creature, corrupting them to the core. Human ability to express the results of imago Dei, for instance, through a meaningful relationship with the Creator and a loving relationship with fellow humans, was seriously affected. The Bible refers to this condition as a state of death and darkness.Genesis 2:17; John 5:24, Ephesians 2:1ff; 1 John 2:9. Hatred, fear, shame, bitterness, vengeance, unfaithfulness, treachery, greed, pride and every kind of evil filled the human heart. Instead of worshipping the Creator, people began to worship the created. Thin veneers of human culture have not been able to hide the depravity of human beings. Blind to their own uniqueness, humans search for kinship with animals and seek their ancestral roots in the animal kingdom!

Similarly, sin has affected our ability to exercise wise dominion over animals and other life forms. The nature of dominion that the Bible envisages is not dealt with in this book. However, it is necessary to mention here that fallen humans, despite their creation in the image of God and their high calling to exercise dominion on earth, exhibit weakness, folly and gross inability to fulfil their calling.

Human beings became mortals susceptible to fatigue, sickness, and injury.Genesis 3:19. The ordinary human being is defenceless against the might of the animal world and the fury of natural disasters. If God had not instilled a terror of man in every animalGenesis 9:2. and had not granted humans ingenuity to develop means of defence, we would not have survived.

Before the Fall, the man and his woman lived in harmony respecting each other’s stature and role. Adam was expected to lead from the front. Just as he submitted himself to God, Eve was to submit to Adam. However, in the events that led to their Fall, Adam allowed himself to be led by his woman who in turn was led by the serpent. The serpent succeeded in reversing the God-ordained order. God’s words to Adam after the Fall help us understand that Adam was not expected to be led by Eve, especially into sin.

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; …” (Genesis 3:17; Emphasis added.)

And to the woman, God said,

“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16 NET Bible)

These curses have plagued humanity after the Fall. The battle between the sexes is as old as humanity. Ever since the Fall, women in labor have suffered birth pangs. As certain as birth pangs was women’s desire to dominate men. Men’s reaction to this tendency in women has been in accordance with God’s curse—an oppressive patriarchy that actively subjugates women. Men and women are suffering the consequences of the Fall.

The remedy to this conflict lies in God’s remedy to sin, which is mankind’s primary predicament. Cosmetic changes that do not address the problem of sin will not provide a lasting solution. The answer does not lie in abolishing male headship in the family. Nor does it lie in replacing oppressive patriarchy with female headship. The creation of man in God’s image is so fundamental a reality that it has hard-wired man for the task of leadership. Sin wrecked havoc in the relationship between the sexes. Sin has to be dealt with. God’s grace through Jesus Christ is more than sufficient to overcome sin.


In this book, I have briefly examined the meaning of God’s special creation of man in His image and likeness. God created man in His image—to be His vice regent on planet Earth. Man, through his special creation as an “embodied spirit” was crafted for this unique role. Man is a ‘God-like’ spirit integrated into an earthen body that is capable of making this human spirit visible to the rest of creation. The unique human spirit that animates the human body enables people to transcend the world around them, thus equipping them to fulfil their role as God’s image—as vice regents of God, exercising dominion on behalf of God over all other creatures. The unique human form and body were also instrumental in making God’s incarnation in human flesh possible. This body can become a temple of God’s Spirit.

This ‘God-like’ human spirit can relate with God on a personal level and share in His divine life and divine community. Besides enjoying a loving communion with God, man is capable of and required to live in loving communion with fellow human beings. Men and women cannot have a similar personal relationship with other earthly creatures or things.

God’s breath or spirit in our specially formed body, sets us apart from all other creatures; but for this spirit, man would just be a “dominant animal.”Barr, “Image of God in the Book of Genesis,” 14.

We are thus not a part of the animal kingdom. We are unlike animals that lack God’s breath (spirit); we are also unlike angels who are spirits without bodies.

It’s the breath of God – not the “image of God” per se – that makes us uniquely human. The image of God is not about being human but about being God’s vice-regents. Adam was created in the image of God, as His vice-regent. Eve was not created to be a second vice-regent but to be Adam’s suitable helper. She was fashioned to bear Adam’s glory. Adam was King; Eve was his Queen. They both were equally human; but to Adam belonged the role of being God’s vice-regent.

The principle of male headship in the family and in the Church is based on Adam’s creation in the image of God. It places man in a leadership role in the exercise of this dominion; woman, man’s “suitable helper,” shares man’s dominion alongside him, vitally contributing to the task of dominion in many significant ways, not least through her role in human multiplication.

Man’s dominion, though often portrayed in a negative way, was primarily intended to be God’s vehicle to bring His loving care and wise management to His creation. God-given dominion, sadly, has been misused by fallen humanity to destroy or harm God’s creation. It’s abuse has also resulted in toxic masculinity to the detriment of women and children. The Fall of humanity into sin is real. The abuse of male headship is a result of the Fall. So are violent rebellions against male headship. The denial of male headship or a resignation from it is not a Christian answer to its abuse. A “sanctified” understanding of the image of God could be the first step towards repentance and reconciliation with fellow humans.

The functional view of imago Dei and the relational aspect of being created in the “image of God” are thus brought together as necessary corollaries of being created as embodied spirits.

End Notes

About the Author:

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realised that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip also teaches Christians in order to equip them for service.


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