'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[b] the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' ( Genesis 1:26 )
In the past, we have heard many different explanations for what is meant by the phrase 'in His image'. You might hear, as is traditional, I believe, that the image of God in man is man's ability to reason, his sentience, in other words. You might hear that man's 'free-will' is the 'image of God' that he has been blessed with, or you might even hear, as I have reasoned in a past article, that the 'image of God' in which He created Adam, or man; was the ability to have dominion', and while I still believe that, I'm as sure that only covers part of it, though perhaps integrally related.
Covenant Creation ( AKA- CC ) is the concept that the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is about the creation of a covenant relationship with His people, rather than an account of the creation of the physical universe, as has been traditionally thought, and taught. I believe, as many others are starting to see, that this is fact, and not just some fanciful notion, or idea that someone concocted. One problem that some have found with this 'model' of creation is that some may take it to the wrong conclusion, that covenant creationists seem to be implying that God did not create the universe at all, but this is not at all what we are saying. We believe that, while Genesis 1-2 is not referring to the actual creation of the universe, that God did create the universe, and everything in it. The account in Genesis 1-2 refers to the covenant that God made with His creation when He deemed to make man 'in His image', or in other words, to form man as His image, to place His image in man.
Much is made of the last part of verse 6 of Genesis 9, wherein God told Noah and his sons that, 'Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.' This much, then, is clear; man is made 'in the image of God', but what exactly is this 'image', and how was it transferred, or imputed?
In the verse quoted at the beginning of this article; we see that God said 'Let Us make man in Our image'. It should be pretty clear that this is how man came to be 'made in the image of God', right, but is that all there is to it? That doesn't even begin to explain what this image involves. Does all man-kind bear this image, or do only certain men, those who have entered into covenant with their Creator bear His image? This is another important question that covenant creationists must deal with! If Adam was simply the first man with whom God covenanted, did those who existed before the image of God was formed in him not have the image of God? Do there still exist those today that are without the image of God, or did all men after Adam bear the image of God? A literal reading of Genesis 9:6 would seem to imply this, and rather strongly at that!
The idea of individuality, for instance, in reference to the resurrection of the body, has been very prevalent over the ages, but 'from the beginning, it was not so'!
'So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'
Repeating what was quoted at the beginning of this article; God made it abundantly clear that He was not speaking just of individual image-bearers, for the image-bearer that He 'formed' was made up ( corporately ) of both 'male and female': as Paul put it 'whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free'. The image of God in man, yes, was their ability to have dominion; yes, it was the sentience of man, and yes, it was even their 'free-will', the ability to reason, to make decisions, and to act on them, but more than all these, I believe, came the ability to have and maintain a right relationship with their Creator, to live covenantally!
Some will likely argue at this point, and they may have a valid argument, that what we call 'cavemen', or pre-Adamite humans, those who existed prior to Adam's story in the creation account, must have enjoyed a relationship of some sort with their Creator. Some might even point out that certain animals seem to have a sort of sentience about them.
Life is covenantal at its most basic. For certain things to exist, they must rely on certain other things to happen, or exist, in order to maintain a proper existence, if not directly, then indirectly. The extent and nature of that relationship, however, may go far in determining what sort of existence that creature enjoys.
Let's take the original inhabitants of the biblical land of Canaan, for instance. Much like another group of 'aborigines' that we could refer to, the Canaanites had a relationship with their Creator, whether they acknowledged it or not, and the extent to which they did not acknowledge, or even maintain that relationship, determined their judgment, which was to lose their land and lives, in most cases. When the children of Israel had become comfortable in the land they had 'inherited', they too, ran into much the same problem; they failed to maintain a proper relationship with the One who had brought them out of bondage and given them a land 'flowing with milk and honey', and got into many a 'sticky' situation, until they finally apostatized to the point that they too were removed from the land. Rather than worshiping the One, True God, their Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, the One who had brought them out of bondage, they became poly-theistic and began to worship and serve 'the creature rather than the Creator' ( Romans 1:25 ) and even 'the works of their own hands' ( Jeremiah 1:16 ). They had become 'like the other nations', in having a relationship with the created things that they could see, rather than putting their faith in the One that could not be seen, yet upheld them by their every breath!
Getting back to our subject, the main gist of this article; the image of God is the sentient ability, in other words, to recognize that relationship of the creature to the Creator, and to maintain that relationship to the point of eternal enjoyment of the blessings of the Covenant that He gave us. As in the examples that we read about above; when men, who are in relation, or covenant with their Creator, deny that relationship, or are ignorant of that relationship, rather than reaping the blessings of a right relationship, they are cursed for their idolatry.
Israel was given, through Adam, the privilege of bearing God's image to the 'world', which we have done, to varying degrees of success, but the children of Israel under the first covenant, because they failed ( except for the 'remnant' ) to acknowledge their Creator, and worship Him as they should, and instead worshiped and served His creation, they were removed from the Tree of Life and cast aside.
The question of whether there are still those who do not bear the image of God is really a moot one then, because, as we have seen, all men, by virtue of their creation, and whether they acknowledge it or not, bear that image of God. It IS, in that sense then, by virtue of human descent that men are bearers of the image of God, but from the beginning, as we have seen, it was by virtue of the creation of the covenant wherein God said, 'Let Us make man....'; it was through His promise, or Covenant, that God made man His image-bearer, in order to propagate the knowledge of Him, and right relationship with Him, throughout His creation.
Creation itself, is Covenant; nothing that exists could have come into being, and especially maintain that existence, without Covenant ( John 1:1-3 )! This is not only true of biological life, as we saw earlier, and can attest to every day, not least, by all the covenantal relationships that we see in the natural beauty around us; the most beautiful and intricate part of God's creation relies on a multitude of different factors working together, for its very existence; it is especially, and most importantly true of spiritual, or true life: unless we acknowledge the covenant that we are in with our Creator, by very virtue of our creation, our life, breath, fearfully and wonderfully made body, and act accordingly, keeping His Law, His Covenant, then, as the Scriptures say, we have no true life in us ( John 6:53 )!
A good friend of mine recently asked me the question, 'why, if God made His covenant with all of man-kind at the time of Adam's creation, why then did God bother making a special covenant with Israel?' ( that was the gist of it, anyway ) Well; although, in the sense that we have seen, all of man-kind was born into covenant with God, by virtue of their creation, but up until Adam was 'formed' ( 'in the image of God' ), they had not enjoyed a relationship with Him, but had led a very basic animal life. As He had not revealed Himself to them, and only revealed Himself to Adam and his progeny 'in the beginning'; all men had not been awakened to the knowledge of their covenant relationship with their Creator. As time wore on, and as Israel was 'formed' ( Isaiah 43:1-21 ), she was to spread that knowledge from the east to the west, from the north to the south, but she proved to not be ready for the task, and holding her own at times, but more often failing miserably, she was finally removed from the blessings that she had enjoyed as God's special creation, and God's True Son, the Israel of God, was revealed in the 'form' of Jesus the Messiah, or Christ!
'He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.' ( Colossians 1:15-17 )
In his letter to the Church in Colossae; Paul had much to say about the revelation of the True Image of God, the great Anti-type to which all those types shown under the first covenant had pointed. At the greatest and widest crux, then, the 'image of God' is Jesus the Christ, God who came down from His throne, and took upon Himself a human Body so that He could have a personal relationship with His people, His creation!
It is through this Image, that we His people are to shine His light into the darkest places, to spread the knowledge of Him throughout our 'world', 'as the waters cover the sea' ( Habakkuk 2:14, Isaiah 11:9 )! We have not been left alone; we have the Strength of His Presence, and until we realize the full extent of what that means, to be the Living Image of God, we will continue to slumber through our existence, not fully enjoying that Presence, or our work here on earth, which has been married to heaven!
In His Image,
Charles Haddon Shank