The image and likeness of God in the New Testament

In terms of comparison to the NT it is sometimes useful to see how the LXX translates the Hebrew to Greek:

“LXX. The LXX generally translates ṣelem as eikṓn, though as eídōlon in Nu. 33:52, homoíōma in 1 S. 6:5, and as týpos in Am. 5:26.”[1]

“The LXX usually renders demuth by homoíōma, “likeness, form, appearance” (14 times), but we also find homoíōsis, “likeness, resemblance” (5 times), eikṓn, “image, likeness” (once, Gen. 5:1), idéa, “appearance, aspect, form” (once, Gen. 5:3), and hómoios, “like” (once, Isa. 13:4)”[2]

1    James 3:9 says we are in God’s image/demut

“With it [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image”  Jas3v9 NET

  1. ὁμοίωσις homoíōsis; gen. homoiṓseōs, fem. noun from homoióō (3666), to make like. Likeness, resemblance. The only instance in the NT of this is James 3:9 (in allusion to Gen. 1:26; Sept.: Ezek. 1:10; Dan. 10:16) where man is said to bear God’s likeness.[3]

In the LXX this Greek is used in the following instances – mainly for demut including its use in Gen1:26:

What are we to make of this?  Clearly humanity remains in the image and likeness of God.


2    The word Eikon in the NT…

The word Eikon, which usually corresponds to selem/image in the Old Testament has the following meaning:

  1. εἰκών eikṓn; gen. eikónos, fem. noun from eíkō (1503), to be like, resemble. A representation, an image, as of a man, made of gold, silver, or other material (Rom. 1:23); a monarch’s likeness impressed on a coin (Matt. 22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24); image, resemblance, likeness (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 11:7; 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4; Col. 1:15; 3:10; Heb. 10:1). Eikṓn sometimes may be used as syn. with homoíōma (3667), and both may refer to earthly copies and resemblances of the archetypal things in the heavens. However, there is a distinction in that eikṓn, image, always assumes a prototype, that which it not merely resembles but from which it is drawn (Rev. 13:14, 15; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4; Sept.: Deut. 4:16; 2 Kgs. 11:18; Is. 40:19, 20; Ezek. 23:14)[4]

Note this immediately is problematic (again) for those who wish to designate selem/image as meaning shape and demut/likeness as mental capacity.  7.2

The uses of the image of Cesar on the coins are readily understood, as is the reference in Romans 1:20 to image/idols.  There are also some uses which stretch to be more than just the physical resemblance.


3    We are called to bear (ultimately?) Christ’s image 1Cor15:49

1 Cor15:49 ESV “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

Christ is described as the image of God, eg in Col 1:15 ESV “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” and 2Cor 4:4 similarly describes Christ as “the image of God”.

In 1Cor15 Paul is primarily concerned with establishing the centrality of the resurrection and answering questions about it.  One of the questions was about the type of body which the resurrected (and accepted) saints would have.  It is not a complete explanation of the process as Paul doesn’t even mention the judgment seat.  In verse 35 onwards he focuses on the question of what body.  There are two body types outlined and contrasted in 1Cor15 a mortal one and an immortal one.

Paul states we bear the eikon/selem/image of Adam but will (or should if you accept the NET) bear the eikon/selem/image of Christ.  The image of Christ is something altogether different to anything which has been seen on the earth before in anyone else.  Christ now is a spiritual body – the right hand side of the table above.  God planned for His son to be amongst others who are conformed to Christ’s image Rom8:29.

Is Paul drawing a distinction between Adam pre and post fall?  Is he saying we need to bear the image of Christ rather than the fallen image of Adam?  Is it fair to say as LG Sargent did that the “shattered image must be restored[5]?

No.  As we have seen already man is still in image/selem and likeness/demut of God.  Paul draws no distinction between Adam pre and post fall, in fact he references Adam’s body in Gen2:7 in the list of characteristics of our body now.  Attempts to link the image of Adam to Gen 5 as a different image to Gen 1:26 fail on the witness of scripture and meaning of the actual words.

Adam was not made perfect, ie he was never (regardless of your opinion) the image of Christ if that is understood to be a spiritual mind and body.  We, like Adam, have the opportunity to obey and ultimately take on the image of Christ – a mind and body transformation to the perfect immortal body and mind.


4    We are developing the eikon now

The danger of illegitimate totality transfer notwithstanding, the same expression and idea of developing the image of Christ/God is used a few other times in the NT.

Paul speaking to the Athenians quoted Epimenides confirming we are all the offspring of God.  The desire and command of God is that we repent and respond to His call Acts 17:28-31.  Like the first son of God we are challenged to obey.

Paul talks about the need to “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator in Col 3:10.  This implies the image of God (at least in this context) is something which is developed over time – probably a different context to the use in 1Cor15 which appears at least to be referring to the bodily change in the faithful.

In a similar vein Paul says 2Cor 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  Ie In this context Paul is saying the image of Christ is being developed in us now.  Obviously this is about more than just the physical similarity.

Both these passages demonstrate trying to hold the word image/eikon to a narrow meaning connecting the physical and fixed constitution of humans isn’t an appropriate approach.


5    Wasn’t the Image/likeness lost or marred?

This is a very common Christian teaching

“Whatever else is going on in Genesis 3, there appears to be no evidence here of the image of God being damaged by the Fall. Much is said about people, including their capacities, functions, and relationships (which are all damaged). However, none of those things are identified here or elsewhere in the biblical writings as what constitutes the image. Some or all of them may well be attributes of humanity intended to flow from being in the image of God, according to Genesis 1 and beyond. Nevertheless, something that “being in the image” enables people to do or be is not the image itself.”[6]


6    Conclusion on image and likeness

 The meaning we extract from the text often reflects the expectations we bring to it in the first place.  Hence we can read in more than the simple message of the text.  As Curtis notes in the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary:

“Because of this ambiguity [in the meaning of the phrase], interpreters have had to look for clues in the context of these passages that might be decisive for determining the exact meaning of these descriptions of humanity. Unfortunately, commentators have not been able to agree on what the decisive clues are, and the interpretation of the image of God has often reflected the Zeitgeist and has followed whatever emphasis happened to be current in psychology, or philosophy, or sociology, or theology.” [7]

So what are we meant to conclude?  The humans (male and female) in some respect were made in the physical/spiritual shape of God.  After extensive consideration of the use of the word selem, which aligns with comments above, the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament makes the following conclusion about the expression (emphasis mine):

“A comparison of 1:22 with 1:28 reveals that the blessing over the waters and birds in v. 22 is introduced by the inf. lēʾmōr, which has become stereotyped as an adverb in the sense of “thus, as follows.” By contrast, v. 28 introduces the blessing over human beings with the full and immediate wayyōʾmer lāhem, “he spoke to them,” indicating that human beings are functioning as God’s partners in dialogue. “The presupposition for God addressing human beings in this way is that [they] are created as God’s counterpart, expressed in the assertion that they were created in the image of God.” This interpretation is also commensurate with 5:3, where Adam begets his son as his counterpart. “The relationship between God and human beings is continued in the relationship between father and son.” Finally, 9:6 discloses that human life is to be protected because human beings are God’s counterpart. Human beings as God’s dialogue partner are thus also the only creatures capable of responding to God. At the level of humanity in its entirety, 1:26–27 lays the foundation”[8]

While the Hebrew words don’t correspond to the meaning ascribed by Bro Thomas, the general concept ends up a similar place.

Gen 1 is the description of the creation of mankind in an ordered system prepared for man by God.  The record concludes in peace (in Gen 2:1-3).  There is no explicit discussion of morality, we just have man empowered with dominion from the Creator.  This is part of the approach which leads to the conclusion that what we are seeing is God installing mankind as His representative/image bearer/relationship holder on the earth, a view Westermann makes note of, observing it is consistent with the language of the day and therefore would likely be understand in this sort of way by the original audience.[9]

Hamilton develops this idea and takes it further pointing out the contrast to neighbouring culture where the king was in god’s image but the common people were not.  In contrast in the economy of God “all of mankind is royal. All of humanity is related to God, not just the king. Specifically, the Bible democratizes the royalistic and exclusivistic concepts of the nations that surrounded Israel”[10]

Put together with 1Cor15 and the picture becomes clearer again.  Humanity was created to image God, to display His character in the earth.  This was always His purpose and this hasn’t changed.  Gen 9 and James 3 both make clear that humans remain in the image and likeness of God.  Like Adam and Eve we consistently fail to achieve this potential God has given us.  Our Lord Jesus Christ did achieve this potential.  In him we have the perfect imager of God and through God’s grace we ultimately will be changed to a perfect representation of God as well.  Ie we will move beyond our created potential to fully reflect God’s glory.

The following prayer was written by Anselm in the late 11th century.  I like it…

“I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You. But this image is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew it and reform it. I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.”[11]



[1] Stendebach, F. J. (2003). צֶלֶם. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, & H.-J. Fabry (Eds.), D. W. Stott (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 12, p. 388). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[2] Preuss, H. D. (1978). דָּמָה. G. J. Botterweck & H. Ringgren (Eds.), J. T. Willis & G. W. Bromiley (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 3, p. 257). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[3] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[4] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[5] Sargent LG. “We shall be like him” The Christadelphian, Vol. 107(electronic ed.), page 29 (1970)

[6] Kilmer, John F. Humanity in God’s Image: Is the image really damaged?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (2010). Vol 53. Page13

[7] Curtis, E. M. (1992). Image of God (OT). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 3, pp. 389–391). New York: Doubleday.

[8] Stendebach, F. J. (2003). צֶלֶם. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, & H.-J. Fabry (Eds.), D. W. Stott (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 12, pp. 394–395). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[9] Westermann, C. (1994). A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11 (p. 151). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

[10] Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (p. 135). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[11] A selection from Chapter 1 of the Proslogion, by Anselm in the late 11th Century A.D. Translated by M.J. Charlesworth, Oxford University Press, 1965.


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