Part Two: The Doctrine of Man In Relation To GodMan In His Original State

III. Man as the Image of God


According to Scripture man was created in the image of God, and is therefore God- related. Traces of this truth are found even in Gentile literature. Paul pointed out to the Athenians that some of their own poets have spoken of man as the offspring of God, Acts 17:28. The early Church Fathers were quite agreed that the image of God in man consisted primarily in man's rational and moral characteristics, and in his capacity for holiness; but some were inclined to include also bodily traits. Irenæus and Tertullian drew a distinction between the "image" and the "likeness" of God, finding the former in bodily traits, and the latter in the spiritual nature of man. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, however, rejected the idea of any bodily analogy, and held that the word "image" denoted the characteristics of man as man, and the word "likeness," qualities which are not essential to man, but may be cultivated or lost. This view is also found in Athanasius, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, and John of Damascus. According to Pelagius and his followers the image consisted merely in this, that man was endowed with reason, so that he could know God; with free will, so that he was able to choose and do the good; and with the necessary power to rule the lower creation. The distinction already made by some of the early Church Fathers between the image and the likeness of God, was continued by the Scholastics, though it was not always expressed in the same way. The former was conceived of as including the intellectual powers of reason and freedom, and the latter as consisting of original righteousness. To this was added another point of distinction, namely, that between the image of God as a natural gift to man, something belonging to the very nature of man as man, and the likeness of God, or original righteousness, as a supernatural gift, which served as a check on the lower nature of man. There was a difference of opinion as to whether man was endowed with this original righteousness at once at creation, or received it later on as a reward for a temporary obedience. It was this original righteousness that enabled man to merit eternal life. The Reformers rejected the distinction between the image and the likeness, and considered original righteousness as included in the image of God, and as belonging to the very nature of man in its original condition. There was a difference of opinion, however, between Luther and Calvin. The former did not seek the image of God in any of the natural endowments of man, such as his rational and moral powers, but exclusively in original righteousness, and therefore regarded it as entirely lost by sin. Calvin, on the other hand, expresses himself as follows, after stating that the image of God extends to everything in which the nature of man surpasses that of all other species of animals: "Accordingly, by this term ('image of God') is denoted the integrity with which Adam was endued when his intellect was clear, his affections subordinated to reason, all his senses duly regulated, and when he truly ascribed all his excellence to the admirable gifts of his Maker. And though the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and the heart, or in the soul and its powers, there was no part even of the body in which some rays of glory did not shine."Inst. I. 15:3. It included both natural endowments and those spiritual qualities designated as original righteousness, that is, true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. The whole image was vitiated by sin, but only those spiritual qualities were completely lost. The Socinians and some of the earlier Arminians taught that the image of God consisted only in man's dominion over the lower creation. Schleiermacher rejected the idea of an original state of integrity and of original righteousness as a necessary doctrine. Since, as he sees it, moral perfection or righteousness and holiness can only be the result of development, he regards it as a contradiction in terms to speak of man as being created in a state of righteousness and holiness. Hence the image of God in man can only be a certain receptivity for the divine, a capacity to answer to the divine ideal, and to grow into God-likeness. Such modern theologians as Martensen and Kaftan are quite in line with this idea.


Scriptural teachings respecting the image of God in man warrant the following statements:

1. The words "image" and "likeness" are used synonymously and interchangeably, and therefore do not refer to two different things. In Gen. 1:26 both words are used, but in the twenty-seventh verse only the first. This is evidently considered sufficient to express the whole idea. In Gen. 5:1 only the word "likeness" occurs, but in the third verse of that chapter both terms are again found. Gen. 9:6 contains only the word "image" as a complete expression of the idea. Turning to the New Testament, we find -"image" and "glory" used in I Cor. 11:7, "image" alone in Col. 3:10, and "likeness" only in Jas. 3:9. Evidently the two are used interchangeably in Scripture. This naturally implies that man was created also in the likeness of God, and that this likeness was not something with which he was endowed later on. The usual opinion is that the word "likeness" was added to "image" to express the idea that the image was most like, a perfect image. The idea is that by creation that which was archetypal in God became ectypal in man. God was the original of which man was made a copy. This means, of course, that man not only bears the image of God, but is His very image. This is clearly stated in I Cor. 11:7, but does not mean that he cannot also be said to bear the image of God, cf. I Cor. 15:49. Some have considered the change of prepositions in Gen. 1:27, " in our image, after our likeness," as significant. Böhl even based on it the idea that we are created in the image as a sphere, but this is entirely unwarranted. While the first meaning of the Hebrew preposition be (rendered "in" here) is undoubtedly "in," it can also have the same meaning as the preposition le (rendered "after"), and evidently has that meaning here. Notice that we are said to be renewed "after the image" of God in Col. 3:10; and also that the prepositions used in Gen. 1:26 are reversed in Gen. 5:3.

2. The image of God in which man was created certainly includes what is generally called "original righteousness," or more specifically, true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are told that God made man "very good," Gen. 1:31, and "upright," Eccl. 7:29. The New Testament indicates very specifically the nature of man's original condition where it speaks of man as being renewed in Christ, that is, as being brought back to a former condition. The condition to which he is restored in Christ is clearly not one of neutrality, neither good nor bad, in which the will is in a state of perfect equilibrium, but one of true knowledge, Col. 3:10, righteousness and holiness, Eph. 4:24. These three elements constitute the original righteousness, which was lost by sin, but is regained in Christ. It may be called the moral image of God, or the image of God in the more restricted sense of the word. Man's creation in this moral image implies that the original condition of man was one of positive holiness, and not a state of innocence or moral neutrality.

3. But the image of God is not to be restricted to the original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness which was lost by sin, but also includes elements which belong to the natural constitution of man. They are elements which belong to man as man, such as intellectual power, natural affections, and moral freedom. As created in the image of God man has a rational and moral nature, which he did not lose by sin and which he could not lose without ceasing to be man. This part of the image of God has indeed been vitiated by sin, but still remains in man even after his fall in sin. Notice that man even after the fall, irrespective of his spiritual condition, is still represented as the image of God, Gen. 9;6; I Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9. The crime of murder owes its enormity to the fact that it is an attack on the image of God. In view of these passages of Scripture it is unwarranted to say that man has completely lost the image of God.

4. Another element usually included in the image of God is that of spirituality. God is Spirit, and it is but natural to expect that this element of spirituality also finds expression in man as the image of God. And that this is so is already indicated in the narrative of man's creation. God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Gen. 2:7. The "breath of life" is the principle of his life, and the "living soul" is the very being of man. The soul is united with and adapted to a body, but can, if need be, also exist without the body. In view of this we can speak of man as a spiritual being, and as also in that respect the image of God. In this connection the question may be raised, whether the body of man also constitutes a part of the image. And it would seem that this question should be answered in the affirmative. The Bible says that man —— not merely the soul of man —— was created in the image of God, and man, the "living soul," is not complete without the body. Moreover, the Bible represents murder as the destruction of the body, Matt. 10:28, and also as the destruction of the image of God in man, Gen. 9:6. We need not look for the image in the material substance of the body; it is found rather in the body as the fit instrument for the self-expression of the soul. Even the body is destined to become in the end a spiritual body, that is, a body which is completely spirit-controlled, a perfect instrument of the soul.

5. Still another element of the image of God is immortality. The Bible says that God only hath immortality, I Tim. 6:16, and this would seem to exclude the idea of human immortality. But it is perfectly evident from Scripture that man is also immortal in some sense of the word. The meaning is that God alone hath immortality as an essential quality, has it in and of Himself, while man's immortality is an endowment, is derived from God. Man was created immortal, not merely in the sense that his soul was endowed with an endless existence, but also in the sense that he did not carry within himself the seeds of physical death, and in his original condition was not subject to the law of death. Death was threatened as a punishment for sin, Gen. 2:17, and that this included bodily or physical death is evident from Gen. 3:19. Paul tells us that sin brought death into the world, Rom. 5:12; I Cor. 15:20,21; and that death must be regarded as the wages of sin, Rom. 6:23.

6. There is considerable difference of opinion as to whether man's dominion over the lower creation also formed a part of the image of God. This is not surprising in view of the fact that Scripture does not express itself explicitly on this point. Some regard the dominion in question simply as an office conferred on man, and not as a part of the image. But notice that God mentions man's creation in the divine image and his dominion over the lower creation in a single breath, Gen. 1:26. It is indicative of the glory and honour with which man is crowned, Ps. 8:5,6.


According to Scripture the essence of man consists in this, that he is the image of God. As such he is distinguished from all other creatures and stands supreme as the head and crown of the entire creation. Scripture asserts that man was created in the image and after the likeness of God, Gen. 1:26,27; 9:6; Jas. 3:9, and speaks of man as being and as bearing the image of God, I Cor. 11:7; 15:49. The terms "image" and "likeness" have been distinguished in various ways. Some were of the opinion that "image" had reference to the body, and "likeness," to the soul. Augustine held that the former referred to the intellectual, and the latter, to the moral faculties of the soul. Bellarmin regarded "image" as a designation of the natural gifts of man, and "likeness" as a description of that which was supernaturally added to man. Still others asserted that "image" denoted the inborn, and "likeness," the acquired conformity to God. It is far more likely, however, as was pointed out in the preceding, that both words express the same idea, and that "likeness" is merely an epexegetical addition to designate the image as most like or very similar. The idea expressed by the two words is that of the very image of God. The doctrine of the image of God in man is of the greatest importance in theology, for that image is the expression of that which is most distinctive in man and in his relation to God. The fact that man is the image of God distinguishes him from the animal and from every other creature. As far as we can learn from Scripture even the angels do not share that honor with him, though it is sometimes represented as if they do. Calvin goes so far as to say that "it cannot be denied that the angels also were created in the likeness of God, since, as Christ declares (Matt. 22:30), our highest perfection will consist in being like them."Inst. I. 15.3. But in this statement the great Reformer does not have due regard for the point of comparison in the statement of Jesus. In many cases the assumption that the angels were also created in the image of God results from a conception of the image which limits it to our moral and intellectual qualities. But the image also includes the body of man and his dominion over the lower creation. The angels are never represented as lords of creation, but as ministering spirits sent out for the service of those that inherit salvation. The following are the most important conceptions of the image of God in man.

1. THE REFORMED CONCEPTION. The Reformed Churches, following in the footsteps of Calvin, have a far more comprehensive conception of the image of God than either the Lutherans or the Roman Catholics. But even they do not all agree as to its exact contents. Dabney, for instance, holds that it does not consist in anything absolutely essential to man's nature, for then the loss of it would have resulted in the destruction of man's nature; but merely in some accidens.Syst. and Pole,. Theol., p. 293. McPherson, on the other hand, asserts that it belongs to the essential nature of man, and says that "Protestant theology would have escaped much confusion and many needless and unconvincing doctrinal refinements, if it had not encumbered itself with the idea that it was bound to define sin as the loss of the image, or of something belonging to the image. If the image were lost man would cease to be man."Chr. Dogm., p. 203. These two, then, would seem to be hopelessly at variance. Other differences are also in evidence in Reformed theology. Some would limit the image to the moral qualities of righteousness and holiness with which man was created, while others would include the whole moral and rational nature of man, and still others would also add the body. Calvin says that the proper seat of the image of God is in the soul, though some rays of its glory also shine in the body. He finds that the image consisted especially in that original integrity of man's nature, lost by sin, which reveals itself in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. At the same time he adds further "that the image of God extends to everything in which the nature of man surpasses that of all other species of animals."Inst. I. 15.308. This broader conception of the image of God became the prevalent one in Reformed theology. Thus Witsius says: "The image of God consisted antecendenter, in man's spiritual and immortal nature; formaliter, in his holiness; consequenter, in his dominion."On the Covenants. 1. 2. 11. A very similar opinion is expressed by Turretin.Opera, De Creatione, Quaestio X.To sum up it may be said that the image consists: (a) In the soul or spirit of man, that is, in the qualities of simplicity, spirituality, invisibility, and immortality. (b) In the psychical powers or faculties of man as a rational and moral being, namely, the intellect and the will with their functions. (c) In the intellectual and moral integrity of man's nature, revealing itself in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. (d) In the body, not as a material substance, but as the fit organ of the soul, sharing its immortality; and as the instrument through which man can exercise dominion over the lower creation. (e) In man's dominion over the earth. In opposition to the Socinians, some Reformed scholars went too far in the opposite direction, when they regarded this dominion as something that did not belong to the image at all but was the result of a special disposal of God. In connection with the question, whether the image of God belongs to the very essence of man, Reformed theology does not hesitate to say that it constitutes the essence of man. It distinguishes, however, between those elements in the image of God which man cannot lose without ceasing to be man, consisting in the essential qualities and powers of the human soul; and those elements which man can lose and still remain man, namely, the good ethical qualities of the soul and its powers. The image of God in this restricted sense is identical with what is called original righteousness. It is the moral perfection of the image, which could be, and was, lost by sin.

2. THE LUTHERAN CONCEPTION. The prevailing Lutheran conception of the image of God differs materially from that of the Reformed. Luther himself sometimes spoke as if he had a broad conception of it, but in reality he had a restricted view of it.Koestlin, The Theology of Luther II, pp. 339-342. While there were during the seventeenth century, and there are even now, some Lutheran theologians who have a broader conception of the image of God, the great majority of them restrict it to the spiritual qualities with which man was originally endowed, that is, what is called original righteousness. In doing this they do not sufficiently recognize the essential nature of man as distinct from that of the angels on the one hand, and from that of the animals on the other hand. In the possession of this image men are like the angels, who also possess it; and in comparison with what the two have in common, their difference is of little importance. Man lost the image of God entirely through sin, and what now distinguishes him from the animals has very little religious or theological significance. The great difference between the two lay in the image of God, and this man has lost entirely. In view of this it is also natural that the Lutherans should adopt Traducianism, and thus teach that the soul of man originates like that of the animal, that is, by procreation. It also accounts for the fact that the Lutherans hardly recognize the moral unity of the human race, but emphasize strongly its physical unity and the exclusively physical propagation of sin. Barth comes closer to the Lutheran than to the Reformed position when he seeks the image of God in "a point of contact" between God and man, a certain conformity with God, and then says that this was not only ruined but even annihilated by sin.The Doctrine of the World of god, p. 273

3. THE ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW. Roman Catholics do not altogether agree in their conception of the image of God. We limit ourselves here to a statement of the prevailing view among them. They hold that God at creation endowed man with certain natural gifts, such as the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the body. Spirituality, freedom, and immortality, are natural endowments, and as such constitute the natural image of God. Moreover, God "attempered" (adjusted) the natural powers of man to one another, placing the lower in due subordination to the higher. The harmony thus established is called justitia —— natural righteousness. But even so there remained in man a natural tendency of the lower appetites and passions to rebel against the authority of the higher powers of reason and conscience. This tendency, called concupiscence, is not itself sin, but becomes sin when it is consented to by the will and passes into voluntary action. In order to enable man to hold his lower nature in check, God added to the dona naturalia certain dona supernaturalia. These included the donum superadditum of original righteousness (the supernatural likeness to God), which was added as a foreign gift to the original constitution of man, either immediately at the time of creation, or at some later point as a reward for the proper use of the natural powers. These supernatural gifts, including the donum superadditum of original righteousness, were lost by sin, but their loss did not disrupt the essential nature of man.

4. OTHER VIEWS OF THE IMAGE OF GOD. According to the Socinians and some of the earlier Arminians the image of God consists in man's dominion over the lower creation, and in this only. Anabaptists maintained that the first man, as a finite and earthly creature, was not yet the image of God, but could become this only by regeneration. Pelagians, most of the Arminians, and Rationalists all, with little variation, find the image of God only in the free personality of man, in his rational character, his ethico- religious disposition, and his destiny to live in communion with God.


There is a very close connection between the image of God and the original state of man, and therefore the two are generally considered together. Once again we shall have to distinguish between different historical views as to the original condition of man.

1. THE PROTESTANT VIEW. Protestants teach that man was created in a state of relative perfection, a state of righteousness and holiness. This does not mean that he had already reached the highest state of excellence of which he was susceptible. It is generally assumed that he was destined to reach a higher degree of perfection in the way of obedience. He was, something like a child, perfect in parts, but not yet in degree. His condition was a preliminary and temporary one, which would either lead on to greater perfection and glory or terminate in a fall. He was by nature endowed with that original righteousness which is the crowning glory of the image of God, and consequently lived in a state of positive holiness. The loss of that righteousness meant the loss of something that belonged to the very nature of man in its ideal state. Man could lose it and still remain man, but he could not lose it and remain man in the ideal sense of the word. In other words, its loss would really mean a deterioration and impairment of human nature. Moreover, man was created immortal. This applies not only to the soul, but to the whole person of man; and therefore does not merely mean that the soul was destined to have a continued existence. Neither does it mean that man was raised above the possibility of becoming a prey to death; this can only be affirmed of the angels and the saints in heaven. It does mean, however, that man, as he was created by God, did not bear within him the seeds of death and would not have died necessarily in virtue of the original constitution of his nature. Though the possibility of his becoming a victim of death was not excluded, he was not liable to death as long as he did not sin. It should be borne in mind that man's original immortality was not something purely negative and physical, but was something positive and spiritual as well. It meant life in communion with God and the enjoyment of the favor of the Most High. This is the fundamental conception of life in Scripture, just as death is primarily separation from God and subjection to His wrath. The loss of this spiritual life would spell death, and would also result in physical death.Cf. especially, Kennedy, St. Paul's Conceptions of the Last Things, Chap. III.

2. THE ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW. Roman Catholics naturally have a somewhat different view of the original condition of man. According to them original righteousness did not belong to the nature of man in its integrity, but was something supernaturally added. In virtue of his creation man was simply endowed with all the natural powers and faculties of human nature as such, and by the justitia naturalis these powers were nicely adjusted to each other. He was without sin and lived in a state of perfect innocency. In the very nature of things, however, there was a natural tendency of the lower appetites and passions to rebel against the higher powers of reason and conscience. This tendency, called concupiscence was not itself sin, but could easily become the occasion and fuel for sin. (But cf. Rom. 7:8; Col. 3:5; I Thess. 4:5, Auth. Ver.). Man, then, as he was originally constituted, was by nature without positive holiness, but also without sin, though burdened with a tendency which might easily result in sin. But now God added to the natural constitution of man the supernatural gift of original righteousness, by which he was enabled to keep the lower propensities and desires in due subjection. When man fell, he lost that original righteousness, but the original constitution of human nature remained intact. The natural man is now exactly where Adam was before he was endowed with original righteousness, though with a somewhat stronger bias towards evil.

3. RATIONALIZING VIEWS. Pelagians, Socinians, Arminians, Rationalists, and Evolutionists, all discount the idea of a primitive state of holiness altogether. The first four are agreed that man was created in a state of innocence, of moral and religious neutrality, but was endowed with a free will, so that he could turn in either direction. Evolutionists assert that man began his career in a state of barbarism, in which he was but slightly removed from the brute. Rationalists of all kinds believe that a concreated righteousness and holiness is a contradiction in terms. Man determines his character by his own free choice; and holiness can only result from a victorious struggle against evil. From the nature of the case, therefore, Adam could not have been created in a state of holiness. Moreover. Pelagians. Socinians, and Rationalists hold that man was created mortal. Death did not result from the entrance of sin into the world, but was simply the natural termination of human nature as it was constituted. Adam would have died in virtue of the original constitution of his nature.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: What is the precise distinction which Delitzsch makes between the soul and the spirit in man? How does Heard make use of the tripartite conception of man in the interpretation of original sin, conversion, and sanctification? What accounts for the fact that Lutherans are prevailingly Traducianists, and Reformed prevailingly Creationists? How about the objection that Creationism virtually destroys the unity of the human race? What objections are there against realism with its assumption of the numerical unity of human nature? What criticism would you offer on Dorner's view, that the theories of Pre-existentianism, Traducianism, and Creationism, are simply three different aspects of the whole truth respecting the origin of the soul? How do Roman Catholics generally distinguish between the "image" and the "likeness" of God? Do they believe that man lost his justitia or natural righteousness by the fall or not? How do those Lutherans who restrict the image of God to man's original righteousness explain Gen. 9:6 and Jas. 3:9?

LITERATURE. Bavinck, Geref. Dogm., II, pp. 566-635; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Creaturis C. pp. 3-131; Vos, Geref. Dogm. II, pp. 1-21; Hodge, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 42-116; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol., pp. 292-302; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. II, pp. 4-114; Litton, Introd. to Dogm. Theol., pp. 107-122; Dorner, Syst, of Chr. Doct. II, pp. 68-96; Schmidt, Doct. Theol. of the Ev. Luth. Church, pp. 225-238; Martensen, Chr. Dogm., pp. 136-148; Pieper, Chr. Dogm. I, pp. 617-630; Valentine, Chr. Theol. I, pp. 383-415; Pope, Chr. Theol. I, pp. 421-436; Raymond, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 7-49; Wilmers, Handbook of the Chr. Rel., pp. 219-233; Orr, God's Image in Man, pp. 3-193; A. Kuyper, Jr., Het Beeld Gods pp. 8-143; Talma, De Anthropologie van Calvijn, pp. 29-68; Heard, The Tri-partite Nature of Man; Dickson, St. Paul's Use of the Terms Flesh and Spirit, chaps. V-XI; Delitzsch, Syst. of Bibl. Psych., pp. 103-144; Laidlaw, The Bibl. Doct. of Man, pp. 49-108; H. W. Robinson, The Chr. Doct. of Man pp. 4-150.