Created in the Image of God — What Does it Mean?

Published April 13th, 2018 by Dirk Waren

The Bible says that human beings are “created in the likeness of God” or “created in God’s image.” What exactly does it mean to be created in the LORD’s likeness or image? While people are the only physical beings created in God’s image, is it possible that angels — decidedly spiritual beings — were also created in the Creator’s likeness? What does the Bible say on this intriguing topic?

Let’s start by looking at the very first reference to people being created in God’s image and likeness:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

       in the image of God he created them;

      male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

As you can see, the LORD — Father, Son & Holy Spirit — decided to make humankind in their image and likeness and then did so. The Hebrew word for ‘likeness’ is demuth (dem-OOTH), which means likeness or similitude—that is, something that resembles another; it’s something that is a, match or counterpart to another. As such, human beings resemble the Almighty; you could say that we’re God’s counterpart in the physical realm.

The Hebrew for ‘image’ is tselem (SEH-lem), which simply means image, representation, copy or duplicate. A scriptural example can be observed when the LORD instructed Moses to drive out the rejected inhabitants of the Promised Land and “destroy all their carved images (tselem) and their cast idols” (Numbers 33:52). The false Canaanite god Baal, for instance, was perceived as a man with the head and horns of a bull; and so the Canaanites’ carved images depicted this — the carving (idol) was a physical image of the mental concept.

So humankind — male and female — is the physical image of God. This shows that, while “God is spirit,” as Christ said (John 4:24), He’s not some amorphous cloud entity in the spiritual realm. The LORD has a shape, similar to people, with a head, torso, arms and legs. It has been argued that God has no physical body, which is obvious, but the Creator certainly has a spiritual form or “body.” For instance, the Bible says repeatedly that the LORD sits enthroned in Heaven (Psalm 47:8, 103:19 & Isaiah 40:22). Does this refer to a shapeless cloud being sitting on a throne in Heaven? No, the Creator has a central presence and spiritual form, similar to the body of human beings, who were created in God’s image and likeness.

Verse 26 (above) provides further insight on what it means to be created in God’s image and likeness: It means to possess authority of some sort, like humankind holds over the Earth and its creatures. This explains why people have zoos for animals and not vice versa.

Being created in God’s likeness further means to possess volition, which is the power to consciously choose. It also means to understand and distinguish good and evil. Thus we have a conscience — an inward moral compass — and only those who foolishly harden their hearts are bereft of this sense. Animals, by contrast, are instinctual and do not comprehend such concepts.

Being created in the LORD’s image also means having the ability to create in a sophisticated sense, like the Creator. Hence, human beings create cities, highways, languages, literature, art, music, movies, computer systems and so on. Animals, of course, lack such aptitude.

Were Angels also Created in God’s Image?

People are the only physical beings created in God’s image, but what about angels? Are they spiritual beings also created in God’s likeness? The Bible doesn’t expressly say it in these terms, but it could be argued that the Scriptures point to this conclusion. Consider the evidence:

  1. Angels are referred to as “the sons of God,” which is ben Elohim in the Hebrew. This can be observed in Job 38:7. The phrase is also used in Job 1:6 & 2:1 and Genesis 6:1-4, the latter of which refers to fallen angels. Needless to say, sons are created in the likeness of their father; they’re “chips off the old block.”
  2. When angels manifested physically they always appeared as people and not some other life form. While fallen angels have been known to possess animals on occasion (Genesis 3:1 & Matthew 8:31-32), not to mention people, when angels actually manifested physically without possessing someone or something they always appeared as human beings (Genesis 18:1-3,10,16-17,22-23).
  3. When the “sons of God”—fallen angels—manifested in the physical realm to copulate with women and produce offspring they obviously had to be men in form. To produce offspring you have to be the same basic species. For instance, a dog and a wolf can produce viable, fertile offspring, but two different species can’t, like a giraffe and a lion or a human being and any animal. Since the coupling of these “sons of God” with women produced the legendary Nephilim they had to be a compatible species (Genesis 6:1-4), otherwise there would’ve been no offspring.
  4. The devil & his angels understood morality and possessed volition to make a choice for evil. In other words, they weren’t instinctual like animals; they comprehended good and evil and made a conscious decision for the latter.
  5. Christ said redeemed people would become “like the angels” at the First Resurrection (Luke 20:34-36). He didn’t say we would become angels, just that we’d become “like the angels” in two senses: A. We will never marry and B. we will no longer be able to die; in short, we’ll attain intrinsic immortality at the bodily resurrection (2 Timothy 1:10). Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus linked humans to angels reveals a degree of commonality, the main difference being that angels are decidedly spiritual in nature whereas people are created specifically to function in the physical realm. Yet neither of these is absolute since angels have been known to physically manifest and redeemed humans are shown functioning in the spiritual realm separate from their physical bodies (Revelation 6:9-11 & 7:9-15).
  6. Descriptions of angels in Scripture show them having the basic appearance and anatomy of people—head, human-like faces, torso, arms & legs—with the exception of their having wings. True, Ezekiel described cherubs in two visions in terms of being covered with eyes and having four faces, including that of a man, but this is likely symbolic language, as detailed in here; the same goes for John’s descriptions of the living creatures in Revelation.
  7. Jesus is The Son of God and The Angel of the LORD whereas angels are referred to as sons of God and angels. Christ is Deity, of course—the Creator of all things, as detailed here — while angels are created beings created by the Creator, yet this terminology reveals some kind of affinity in likeness.

All this points to angels being created in the image of God, like human beings. However, I’m not going to give a definite “yes” because the Bible never technically describes angels as being created in God’s image and likeness, which it repeatedly does with humans (aside from Genesis 1:26-27, there’s also Genesis 5:1, 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7 and, arguably, Ephesians 4:24 & Colossians 3:10).

Besides, even if angels were created in the image of God they lack the privilege and position granted to people; that is, to be co-heirs with Christ, seated with Him at the right hand of the Father, as shown in these potent verses:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:17

To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Hebrews 1:13

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

Ephesians 2:6

Reflect on these things; it’s good stuff!

Conclusion: The idea that angels may be created in God’s image is certainly an interesting topic, but it’s not worth quarreling over.


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