What does it mean to be made in the image of God? You've probably been told that it means we have some of God's qualities and attributes. But if you recall what Genesis 1:26 says, you will notice that we are made in the image and likeness of God. What you've been told is God's image is actually the definition for God's likeness. You've also probably been told that because of the fall, the image of God was lost (or marred). And that because of Jesus, the image of God has been restored. The verse used to support the teaching that we lost the image of God at the fall is Genesis 5:1-3, where it once again says that man was made in the likeness of God. But that passage also says that Adam had a son in his own image and likeness. Of course, there are no other passages that support this doctrine, nor are there any passages that support the doctrine that the image of God was restored through the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus). Also, Genesis 1 states ten times that living things were made to reproduce after their kind! Genesis 5 makes it pretty clear that man is reproducing after his kind, just like all the other creatures. Yet you are told that the description of Adam having a son in his own image and likeness "proves" that the image of God was lost.
So if the image of God is conflated with the likeness of God, what does it really mean to be made in the image of God? The Hebrew word for "image" is "selem", which is invariably used to describe a physical object made to look like something else. The reason given for the exception when it comes to the image of God is that "God is a spirit" [John 4:24] and "spirits don't have flesh" [Luke 24:39]. Without going too far off topic, the Greek word translated as "spirit" is "pneuma", which literally means "wind". In Hebrew culture (which is the culture that wrote the Gospels), things are often described by their function. The function of wind is that it is not seen, but the effects of wind are seen. And a closer study of Scripture will reveal that there are different types of "spirits" (winds). Some types of "spirits" have physical form, others do not. Ironically, some of the same teachers that use this to say that the image of God cannot be literal will acknowledge elsewhere how broad the use of the word "spirit" is in the Bible. If you really want to be literal, then John 4:24 should be translated to "God is a wind". Have fun trying to explain that away!
Is there any other evidence in Scripture that the image of God should not be taken literally? No. With the exception of a couple of out-of-context verses, there is no verse in Scripture that, in context, states or implies that the image of God is anything but literal. Remember, the Bible says that we are made in both the image and likeness of God. The likeness of God means that we share some of God's qualities and attributes. The image of God means that we look like God. The two should not be conflated.
The Bible reiterates man being made in God's image in Genesis 9:6, where it is given as the reason murderers are to be put to death. When Paul was addressing the issue of head coverings, he used the fact that man is the image of God as the reason for saying that men should not wear them (1 Corinthians 11:7). There is no indication anywhere that this is anything but literal. A few other things to point out: in John 14:9, Jesus said "if you have seen me, you have seen the father". And in Colossians 1:15, Paul described Jesus as "the image of the invisible God". He also describes Jesus as the image of God in 2 Corinthians 4:4. God being described as a wind in John 4:24 has nothing to do with whether God has a physical form. And if God did not have a physical form, Jesus would not be able to say "if you have seen me, you have seen the father". And Paul would also not be able to describe Jesus as being the image of that which is invisible.
Let's reiterate what Genesis says about human beings:
26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. [Genesis 1:26-27; NKJV]
This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. [Genesis 5:1; NKJV]
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. [Genesis 2:25; NKJV]
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. [Genesis 1:31; NKJV]
Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. [Genesis 9:6; NKJV]
So the Bible says that human beings are made to look like God, and that this is very good. The Bible also says that human beings are made to share God's qualities and attributes, and that this too is very good. But the Church conflates the former with the latter, then outright denies the former; replacing it with heretical doctrines about "lust" and "modesty" based on what is clearly an unbiblical, heretical view of human beings. A view that, as some have pointed out, is directly responsible for the pornography industry! And a view that has to invent "commands of God" where there are none, under the pretense of avoiding sexual sin.
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