Genesis 1:26-2:25.
Created in the Image of God

American Journal of Biblical Theology,
Copyright © 2015, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

The narrative of the creation of man by God is probably one of the most accepted beliefs among those who identify with the Christian faith.  Though agreement about the literal means that God used in the process of man’s creation is not a test of faith, the simple thought that we are all created by God is.  To deny that we are a creation of God is to deny a fundamental teaching that we find in scripture.  To find any other process for man’s creation, one must use sources outside of the Word of God and give them a greater authority.

Consequently, the creation of man by God is not a controversial subject among adherents of the Christian faith.  However, there is often significant disagreement among Christian groups when it comes to the meaning and application of some of the details of the biblical narrative that describes the creation of man.  As we approach the words of the narrative, maintaining the biblical context as the sequence of events take place, and examine the language based upon both that context and what we know about ourselves and the world around us, we may find answers to questions that mankind has searched for, and is continuing to search for from many other sources.

Genesis 1:26.  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  

God has created the heavens and the earth, the seas and dry land, and the plants and animals that inhabit them both.  It is not until these are in place that the creation of man is initiated.  We will find in this narrative that virtually everything that God has put in place has been a preparation for the coming of man upon the earth. 

"God said..." Again, God spoke and it was done.  The word of the speaker represents his authority, and the Word of God represents the full authority of God.  Man was created by God simply by His authority to do so.  This scripture not only illustrates that He spoke creation into existence, but that He is the supreme authority over it by the virtue of that very act.

"Let us make man..." Again, we see the reference God makes to himself in the plural.  The name for God, when referring to His creative and sustaining acts is Elohim, a plural.  As was done in the first references to Him, the verb make that is modified is singular.  This is the first reference to man in the scripture and the word adam is used.  In Hebrew, the noun adam, means mankind, referring specifically to the human race.  The word intrinsically does not refer to a specific individual or gender of the human race.  The Hebrew language is extremely context-dependent with the same words used different ways depending upon that context. 

"In our image, after our likeness..." The narrative deviates from the pattern at this point when man is given something that no other object in the creation is given: the image of God, who is not physical, but eternal.  Consequently, this word, image is quite important, for it is the one characteristic of mankind that separates him from everything else on earth. 

The Hebrew word that is rendered image refers to something hewn or cut out to resemble something else in appearance, while likeness means something that is similar to something else in its character.  To be made in both the image and likeness of God, there must be an eternal component to the nature of man that has the visible appearance of the Creator, as well as having some form of His character.  There are several opinions concerning what it means to be made in the image of God, and as we explore these we can note that it is this character in man that separates him from every other creature, and does not share this with them.

Some feel that God has physical attributes after which we are fashioned since He is referred to in the biblical narrative as sitting down, walking, etc.  However, the scripture also refers to us being under His wings, and physical descriptions that  are non-human in nature.  This common literary device is referred to as "anthropomorphism," the assignment of human physical attributes to that which is not physical.  Since we are physically similar to other created animals, that which makes man unique is not physical.

Others feel this refers to man's ability to reason.  However, research has clearly shown a limited ability for animals to reason.[1]  Some believe that this refers to the ability for man to control the remainder of the creation event.  Fourth, some refer to this being the ability of man to have fellowship with God. 

If God is a spiritual being, how can we be made in his likeness when we are physical beings? God did not refer to any other part of creation as being made in His likeness.  If this were to refer to a physical likeness, many animals would have to be included.  Consequently, let us look at ways we are different from the rest of creation and maybe we can see the difference. 

We are not innocent.  We primarily act on learned decisions that are subject to our understanding of right and wrong, rather than natural instinct.  We make choices that are selections between good and evil. 

We have the ability to communicate with God.  He hears our prayers, and reveals His purpose and will to us through His Word and through the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit.

We are given dominion over His creation (verse 28).  The word that is rendered dominion refers to a benevolent dominance, a form of stewardship over something that belongs to someone else.  Just as He named the heavens and the earth, the seas and the land, demonstrating His authority over them to do so, man will be given the task of naming the plants and animals in the garden, again a reference to mankind’s authority over them.  This is not a physical dominance, as a quick immersion in a shark tank or a lion’s den might demonstrate.  It is more a responsibility over the plants and animals.  This is certainly a suitable argument for those people who have given their time and skills to the furtherance of environmental issues.

Genesis 1:27.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 

As has been the pattern of creation, after the word is spoken, the creating act is completed, and all is done as He said.  Man was created in the image that He commanded.  Also, they were created male and female. God created a form of duality in mankind that is not given to any other creature.  Made in the image and likeness of God, mankind is also made in the physical image and likeness of the remainder of the earthly creation.  Man’s physical body is mortal, and requires the biology of gender for the propagation of the species as do the rest of the animals.  Man is both eternal and temporal, spiritual and physical.

Genesis 1:28.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Though the word covenant is not used here, some refer to this passage as the Edenic Covenant.  As God previously did with his creatures in verse 22, He gave the command to man to be fruitful and increase in number.  With the population of the earth over seven billion and doubling every forty years, we apparently figured out how to follow that commandment.  The earth cannot sustain this rate of reproduction much longer.

God also gave to mankind the responsibility of a steward over the earth.  God does not give a command without providing the resources to follow it.  God has given to mankind the intelligence to make decisions concerning the welfare of the life on this earth and the ball of rock that it sits on.  He has also given to man the capacity to know Him and exercise the fruit of that relationship in the task of stewardship in a manner that is similar to God’s stewardship over us.  He cares for us, seeks for our best, meets our needs, protects us, teaches us, etc.  If we were to approach the task of managing the resources of this world with the same nature that God meets our needs, the world would be a far different place.

Genesis 1:29-31.  And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  30And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.  31And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.  And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Part of the stewardship of the earth includes authority over its plants.  As mortal, physical beings, like all other living creatures, God has created mankind with a need for food, and the ability to make use of it for physical sustenance.  It may be interesting to note that the passage refers to every plant on the face of the earth, and also states that it will be edible.  The narrative describes a world where there are no noxious or poisonous plants.  Man is free to pick and choose among all of the flora of this world, selecting that which he would prefer for food.  Man does not have far to look, nor does he have reason to fear in his quest for food.  This is quite a contrast to the relationship between plant life and mankind that exists today when most plants are inedible.  Some make significant note that it is not until after the great Noahic flood that meat is added to the vegetarian diet spelled out in this verse.

Note that the same diet is given to all of the varieties of fish, birds, and animals. This may illustrate for us of a creation that is without strife between the species.  There is no need for any creature to be in fear of any other, and there is a plentiful supply of green plant for food.  There is no need for man to fear any animal, nor is there a need for any animal to fear man.  This setting sets the context of the nature of this "Garden of Eden...."

As was the pattern of the other days of creation, when it was completed God refers to all of what He has created as being good.

Genesis 2:1.  Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 

The writer of the book of Genesis presents the creation of the universe by God, doing so in a reasonable chronological narrative.  Though there has always been a reasonable amount of conflict when compared with “modern” theories, the manner and sequence that the Bible presents is amazingly similar to the predominant astrophysical theories that include the big-bang, the accretion of the matter into stars and planets due to gravity, the cooling of the earth, the condensation and accumulation of its water and water vapor, and the appearance of life, first as plants, simple animals, complex animals, and finally humans.  The biblical narrative does not indicate the creation of any new species after the creation of man. 

The narrative easily embraces what we know about the formation of the planets and stars, and is clear evidence of its Holy-Spirit inspired content when we consider that nobody knew anything about the early formation of worlds until three thousand years after it was written.  Now that we have had a century of critical scientific observation, one can be amazed at how each of the events in the biblical creation narrative fit the sequence and context of most accepted scientific models.

Genesis 2:2-3.  And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.  3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. 

The writer of the narrative ends the work of creation with four lines of Hebrew poetry, and these verses can be read as poetry with two parallel statements in verse two and two parallel statements in verse three.  As poetry, the verses can form an exclamation of praise, acknowledging that the work is complete, and it is sanctified (set apart for God’s glory and purpose) by the LORD who created it.

The seventh day is markedly different from the first six.  The narrative presents the creation as a powerful and dynamic event that literally explodes with new content in each of the six days of the presentation.  The seventh day, which notably lacks the device “evening” and “morning,” is a period of calm following the end of the creative work.  The idea behind the Hebrew word that is rendered “rested,” carries far more meaning than simply sitting or lying down because of a need for rest brought on by fatigue.  God has no need of rest, as His power is infinite, and the work of creation took place simply as a product of His word, that represents His authority and His purpose.  The idea of this rest is that the work is complete:  there is nothing else left that is necessary to the completion of the task, so the task is ended. 

Furthermore, the LORD sanctified the day that followed the completion of the work.  This sanctification is a reminder that it is God who did the creating, this is God’s creation, making it holy.  The implication is that there is a period of time following the creation event that serves to put the creation into the context of God’s plan, focuses upon Him as its creator, and sets it apart for His glory.   

Without getting into a lengthy discussion on the Sabbath, we might simply note that as the seventh day is clearly a time of rest from work and a time for devotion to God and His purpose in it all.  Later, during the lifetime of Moses, following the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, the LORD would proscribe this pattern that defined a week as six days of work followed by one day when the work is set aside and the focus of God’s people turns towards Himself.  Consequently, all of Judeo-Christian cultures followed in the same manner, by dividing its work into seven-day sequences with one day set aside for rest.[2] 

The creation narrative ends at Chapter 2, verse three.  This has held some to argue that the chapter break would be better suited to follow this verse.  Note that chapter and verse designations were added to scripture in the thirteenth century by only a few individuals.[3]

Genesis 2:4-9.  These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.  6But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.  7And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  8And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Up to this point, the focus on the creation has been on God, and his authority over it.  By His word God dictated and established all that is.  Now the focus is turning onto Man and his relationship with God.  It is at this point that the name for God is presented as LORD, or YAHWEH, Jehovah, the covenant name of God, and that person of God who is the agent of creation, establishes the covenant with mankind, and provides for the redemption of man from his bent to sin. 

Since man is made in God's image, there will be a developing relationship between mankind and the LORD that is not experienced by any other creature on earth.  These verses provide a quick synopsis of the creation event, but describing that relationship aspect of the creation.  In these verses God has breathed into his created man the breath of life, and provided for him that garden which would provide for his complete sustenance.  Specially noted are the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  As God has provided for our physical needs, he has provided for our spiritual needs as well. 

A tree is known by its fruit, and the fruit of the tree of life is life itself.  The gift of life was given to man, and only the fruit of the second tree would inhibit its consumption.  The LORD also provided the tree of good and evil which, should we consume of its fruit, will cause us to be no longer innocent, and cause us to suffer the separation from God that such free choice will avail to us.  Because our receipt of eternal life is predicated on our faith in God, the second tree can work to turn our hearts away from Him.  We will find in the next few chapters the consequences of choosing the fruit of the second tree.

When God created this universe, he used the same substances for all objects, well known to all students of physics and chemistry.  From the basic atomic elements all matter was created.  What separates us from all other matter in the universe?  We share the same dust, but (1) God gave man both life, soul, and spirit.  It is the physical life that we share with plants, and it is the life and soul that we share with animals and other living creatures.  It is the Spirit that we share with God in eternity.  All else will be destroyed at the end of our physical life.  It is only the eternal Spirit that is in the image of God that will remain. 

Genesis 2:10-17.  And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 11The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. 13And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. 14And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. 15And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

There is a tremendous temptation to attempt to utilize these verses to locate the garden of Eden, and no little work has been done in the effort.  If we treat the names in these verses as a cartographic map we will find references that stretch from modern-day Iraq into northern Africa.  The center of the garden is at the source of a river that branches into four others.  Rather than get bogged down in an attempt to identify these ancient rivers, we may simply note that the presence of these rivers means.  In order to source a river, a continual supply of water is needed.  Ancient readers would recognize, particularly due to the arid climate in the middle-east, that at the center of the garden is a very significant spring that brings life-sustaining water in an amount that overflows into four significant rivers.  The idea is one of overabundance. 

Having created this garden with an abundance of water and an abundance of plant life, the LORD placed “the man”, the Adam, into it.  Note that not only did the LORD place Adam in the center of this bountiful place, He gave to Adam a purpose: to “dress it and keep it,” a command that is consistent with the task of stewardship that God has already assigned to mankind.  Though man would be later cast from the benefits of the Garden when he would trade his innocence for guilt, the LORD never absolved man of the stewardship of the land.  However, we will find that the task will become much more difficult when the benefits of the garden have been lost.

Genesis 2:16-17.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

I have often asked of a Bible study group, “When Adam and Eve were created were they righteous, or were they wicked?”  Of course, this question sounds like a binary argument where one of these must be the correct answer.  The correct answer, however, is that they were innocent.  Though they had a relationship with God that the animals could not, they still shared the innocence of the animals.  They were not ashamed of their nakedness, simply because there was nothing to be ashamed of.  They had no reason to consider a need for clothing any more than any other of the myriad of creatures the LORD created.

However, God created man with the ability to make moral choices.  Again, a tree is known for its fruit.  Adam (and Eve), man and woman, could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life.  Had they done so, they would have lived their life in innocence.  However, the LORD put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden also.  The fruit of this tree represents the ability for men to make moral choices.  God had no interest in creating a puppet people.  His purpose is that His people would come to Him in faith, in praise, and in thanksgiving. 

God presented a simple argument to mankind:  the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is extremely dangerous.  It represents the only poison in the garden.  Recall that all the vegetation was edible, and the animals did not feed on one another, so there was no strife between the animals and man.  This tree represented the only threat to man, and this threat is insidious because of one simple fact:  given the choice between good and evil, we will always partake in evil either in part or in whole.  By partaking in any portion of evil, we have rebelled against God, and find ourselves separated from Him.

The word that is used here for the consequence of eating from the tree is “death.”  Given this choice of good and evil, we will “surely die.”  We will later find, when Adam and Eve eat from this tree they do not drop onto the ground physically dead.  However, they do find themselves separated from God and the relationship that they had with him prior to their sin.  Sin separates people from God.  It is through the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil that sin is found.

Genesis 2:18-20.  And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.  19And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.  20And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. 

In these verses, the use of the Hebrew word, Adam, is translated "the man" from its context.  It refers to the male of the species, traditionally referring to a single man, Adam.  Part of the task of stewardship that LORD gave to Adam was to name the species.  This is a clear implication of the authority that God gave Adam over the creatures of this world. By naming the animals, Adam will be doing more than just giving them a name, but also declaring their nature, as an ancient name is given to declare the nature of the one named by the authority of the one who declares the name.  Note also, that since the animals were already created, he was observing both males and females of the species.  Each had others of their kind.  What lesson may we be seeing from this? Adam could see there were no other of his kind, since all that he could see before him was subject to him.  Something was missing.  God saw the need man had.

Genesis 2:21-25.  And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.  23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.  25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

The scripture describes the creation of woman by taking something out of man to do so.  As such she was not a second individual placed next to him in creation, but rather, a part of him.  The two, though facing each other as two human individuals were united in source and purpose.  This is very similar in context as the lesson of mutual submission taught in Ephesians 5:20-33.  As man was given dominion over the earth, note that he is not given dominion over the woman.  She is referred to as a "help meet."  This refers to one who works alongside, sharing a yoke that holds them together and allows each to contribute to the work and the direction it takes.  Consequently, the authority the man has over creation is shared by the woman, as she is part of him.  Their stewardship towards creation is mutual, as is their responsibility to another.  Again, note that the metaphor of woman taken from the rib of man refers to their close relationship, as being one body and is not a statement that man has dominion over the woman, that man lost anything for woman to be created, or that males have one less rib than females. 

Why did God create man? (1) He loves us.

Psalm 145:8-9,17. The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.  9The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.  17The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. 

(2) To provide redemption for us:

Romans 5:8-10. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  

(3) To give us purpose:

Ecclesiastes 12:13.  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 

Matt.  22:34-40.  But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.  35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  38This is the first and great commandment.  39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. 

What are some lessons we can glean from these verses?

·       All people are created in God's image and have an inherent dignity and worth.  There is nothing in all of God's creation as valuable as a single human, regardless of any classification we may place them into. 

·       Because we have been given responsibility of subduing and governing the world in which we live, we must exercise that responsibility. 

·       Because human beings are social creatures, they need the interaction that should occur between them and God as well as that between them and other people. 

·       God's ideal for the marriage relationship is that of a bonded man and woman united with Him becoming a new and holy entity.


[1] Our home was once blessed with a purebred black Labrador retriever given the name of Maggie.  When she was grown to adulthood we introduced her to our new second dog, Oliver, a tan boxer/retriever mix.  Each dog was given a rawhide bone to chew.  The older Maggie gobbled hers down while Oliver played with his.  Maggie then looked at Oliver’s bone with obvious desire.  Rather than approach Oliver, she walked upstairs to the kitchen and retrieved a toy rubber bone.  She carried the toy bone downstairs to Oliver and offered it to him.  When Oliver gladly took the toy and started gnawing on it, Maggie snatched the rawhide bone and proceeded to eat it in front of a very confused Oliver.  This behavioral sequence demonstrated by Maggie required multiple levels of reasoning.

[2] The early Christian church celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sunday, and since their fellowship was initially made up primarily of Messianic Jews, they still practiced much of the Saturday Sabbath tradition, particularly their participation in Temple activities.  By coming together as Christians on Sunday to celebrate the LORD, to encourage one another, and to bring praise and worship to the LORD, their workweek became five days.  It is this tradition that initiated and continues to be understood as a five-day workweek and a two-day weekend.

[3] The chapter divisions commonly used today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton put the modern chapter divisions into place in around A.D. 1227. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since the Wycliffe Bible, nearly all Bible translations have followed Langton's chapter divisions.  The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in A.D. 1448. Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses, in 1555. Stephanus essentially used Nathan's verse divisions for the Old Testament. Since that time, beginning with the Geneva Bible, the chapter and verse divisions employed by Stephanus have been accepted into nearly all the Bible versions.