Humans Are Made in God’s Image. What Does That Mean?

(Note:  This is a portion of an article on Image of God that is presented within The Biblical Story Course under ERA 1: Creation, lesson 2).
Statement of the Doctrine
Among all the creatures of the earth, only human beings are made in God’s own image and likeness. The Creator established a unique relationship with humanity, giving to humans a special moral status and vesting them with dignity and respect.
Biblical Support
The image of God (Latin: imago Dei) is one of the foundational concepts revealed in the opening chapter of the Bible. Establishing a unique relationship with humans, the triune God declared, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). In short, the Bible teaches that to be human is to image God and to image God is to be human.
The doctrine of the image of God plays an important role in the history of salvation. The author of Genesis teaches that Adam’s son, Seth, was an imager of God just as his father was (Genesis 5:1-3). Moreover, in the covenant God made with Noah and his children after the Flood, the image of God is provided as the reason human life is distinct from animal life (Genesis 9:6). Furthermore, the Apostle James says that because they are imagers of God, we should not curse other humans (James 3:9).
Historical Interpretation
Historically, there are several prominent interpretations of the imago Dei. First, the relational view highlights God’s closeness to human beings in personal relationship. Second, the structural view of the image of God points to certain qualities or abilities that distinguish humans from animals: rational capacity, volition, moral awareness, and consciousness, for instance. Finally, the functional view focuses on the functions humans are called to serve in God’s created order; namely, to be dominion stewards over the earth (Genesis 1:28).
There is truth in all of these options. The most important point to make, however, is that human beings, and only human beings, are imagers of God. This accords every human being special status in God’s eyes (see Psalms 8:1-9) and requires that they be treated with dignity and respect.
Human beings are, by nature, religious. They may even know that a powerful Deity exists (see Romans 1:19-20 and Acts 17:22-38). Yet, as Augustine famously said, “[O]ur heart is restless until it rests in you [God].” Furthermore, God loves human beings. He sent His own Son in human flesh to die for human beings. Finally, He is concerned for the ways humans treat one another. The doctrine of the sanctity of every human life and the notion of human dignity ground the Judeo-Christian conception of human rights and the protection of human life from conception until natural death.
Quick-Take Video on Image of God
Prof. C. Ben Mitchell (Union University, Jackson, TN) provides a brief teaching video on the Image of God and how it should impact our understanding of man’s role and value in the world.

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