The first biblical passage that speaks of man practically shouts that he is created in the image of God. Evangelical scholarship on the image of God has mainly concentrated on the Genesis texts, which has often led to speculation about the ontological identity of the image. However, there is a much richer reading which does not care so much to ask, “What is the image of God?” but “What does it mean to carry the image of God?” This reading draws from the witness of both the Old and New Testaments, discovering that the restoration of the image becomes a central theme in the New Testament, taking on eschatological significance.
Genesis introduces the idea of the imago Dei in the creation narrative. The six days of creation culminate in the creation of man. While the plants, fish, birds and beasts are all created “according to their kinds” (1:12, 21, 24), man alone is created in the image of God. “Let us create man in (בְ) our image (צלם), after (כְ) our likeness (דמות)” (1:26, ESV).
צלם is normally used to denote a physical image, especially of gods (Amos 5:26) but is also used figuratively in two Psalms describing mere dreams or semblances (39:7; 73:20). דמות denotes a likeness or resemblance. Even though the Reformers and the majority of Medieval scholars held that ‘image’ and ‘likeness refer to separate features, it has become accepted almost without exception by modern commentators that the terms are interchangeable and used synonymously.
Syntactically the בְ preposition may interpreted as a בְ of essence or norm. If it is the former, it indicates that man is the image (cf. Exod 6:3), while the latter indicates that man is merely a copy of the “image.” The second preposition is a כְ of norm. In 5:3 the prepositions are used interchangeably with both צלם and דמות indicating that in this context they are synonymous. The principle is that the original man somehow reflected God.
The context does not concern itself with defining the nature of the image, but rather describes the natural role of the image, that is primacy over the earth. Middleton identifies four possible Ancient Near Eastern parallels to the image of God in man: 1) In the Gilgamesh Epic Enkidu is described as an image of Gilgamesh the king; 2) two poetic references in Egyptian literature describing the creation of man as the images of a god; 3) the practice of Egyptian and Mesopotamian kings placing statues of themselves throughout their kingdom; and 4) Egyptian and Mesopotamian references to kings as the image of gods. Curtis concludes, “It seems likely that the image of God idea was introduced into Israel through her contacts with Egypt… and used to express the apparently uniquely Israelite idea that all persons, not just the king occupy a prominent place in the created order.” This proposal is strengthened by the use of רדה, rendered ‘have dominion’ (ESV) which is a word with royal significance. In conclusion, Genesis presents mankind as the image...