The Holy Bible contains many truths which are not always readily comprehensible. One passage of Scripture that has been interpreted differently throughout history is Genesis 1:26-27:
“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 the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
What does it mean to be created in God’s image? The answer to this question will provide insight into how the human mind works and interacts with the human body, and will affect the Christian’s approach to numerous areas of life.
There are those who mistakenly assume that when God creates people in His image, it means that men and women resemble God in their physical bodies – their anatomical structure. But God is a Spirit, and, apart from the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, God does not possess corporeality. Thus the belief that God the Father resembles humans in that He has two eyes, two hands, etc. is erroneous. The scope of this essay does not allow for a thorough investigation of proofs of what exactly comprises man. Let it suffice to say that a man is a single, whole entity comprised of both a physical, material body, as well as an immaterial soul (The soul is also often referred to using the words mind, heart, and spirit). It is in this second part, this soul, that lies the difference between mankind and other living things; it is here one finds the image of God in which man was created.
First, the soul is everlasting and thus can never be destroyed. This is in contrast to the physical bodies of animals, and in man’s own body, which will eventually return to the dust from which it was formed. Man, however, is not only a physical being that can been seen and touched, but also a rational, spiritual being that will continue to exist for eternity. It is this rational, spiritual quality which proclaims God’s image in mankind, even in the unbeliever. Behavioral psychologists and evolutionists preach their doctrine of man existing as simply a random lump of matter which spontaneously became alive, and is merely responding to its surroundings. This so-called wisdom reduces men and women to the level of meaningless dust. It is a blatant denial of the image of God in which He created mankind.
Second, God has also bestowed upon mankind the attribute of personality. Pentecost clarifies this concept with his own definition of personality:
“When God made Adam in His likeness, God endowed Adam with the same component parts of personality which He himself possessed. When Adam was made in the likeness and image of God, he was given a mind so that he might know; he was given a heart so that he might love; he was given a will so that he might choose to obey God” (1).
While Pentecost’s specific views on the tri-componental makeup of personality may not be entirely accurate, this quote serves to illustrate very clearly the purpose of man’s personality – the possibility of fellowship with Almighty God. By giving men and women personality, and individual minds with which to think, learn, and know, God has imparted a unique gift to humanity among all His earthly creation.
While mankind may never fully understand the reasons behind some of God’s plans, it is possible for one to observe, at least in part, the reasons why God would create humans with the intellectual capacity to think, learn, and know. First, without the capacity of thought, there would be no way for humans to possess or express faith. Clark adeptly summarizes this simple truth:
“Faith is something internal, mental, intellectual; as Hebrews 11:3 says, ‘By faith we understand’ something about the creation of the world. Surely this is an intellectual act” (2).
In granting humans the ability of rational thought, God made it possible for mankind both to understand propositional statements and either assent to them or reject them. God’s gift does not end at this point, however. He has also created humanity with the capacity for logical deduction. If a man is given two propositional truths, e.g. ‘All trees are plants,’ and ‘All cedars are trees,’ he can use logic to deduce a third propositional statement: ‘All cedars are plants.’ The man has arrived at this logical conclusion through the use of his God-given capacity for logical thought, despite never having been presented with the actual statement, ‘All cedars are plants.’
God also created men and women with the capacity to learn. The concept of learning is very closely related to that of thinking, but the two are not identical. Learning concerns the ability to acquire and apply new knowledge, not merely the ability to possess a thought or idea. Yet the two concepts are not entirely separable. Learning is not simply behavioral conditioning, as some students of psychology would have others believe. Human beings are far more than Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the sound of a bell.
God intended humans to be learners from the very beginning. At the time of Adam’s creation, while God did create him with the capacity to possess knowledge, He did not grant him omniscience, or ultimate, complete knowledge. Instead, God chose to make Adam’s existence an ongoing learning process. Humanity may never know God’s reason for doing this, for, as it is written in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” This verse conveys that God fully intends for mankind to learn that which He has revealed, but that there are secret things that humans cannot possibly learn, simply because these things belong to Him.
God not only intends mankind to think and learn, but also, to know. Here a more specific definition of the word knowledge is needed. One possible definition is “a person’s range of information” (3). According to this commonly used definition, one needs only to be informed of something to know it. But in the realm of philosophical discourse, “knowledge” can take on a slightly different meaning. “Knowledge” can also be defined as follows: “true, justified belief,” or “certain understanding, as opposed to opinion” (4) This is the type of knowledge referenced when it is stated that God intends mankind to know. It is clearly not enough for us to possess true information, for anyone who reads the Bible becomes informed of its propositions. It is the assent to (belief in) the truths found in Scripture that constitutes knowledge, when the word (knowledge) is used in this sense. Human beings are not mindless machines, accepting and believing everything we are told, or informed of. What is faith, besides a true, justified belief, and certain understanding? Therefore, when the Scriptures teach in Galatians 3:24 that “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith,” it can also be interpreted as saying that Christians are justified through knowledge – true, justified belief, and certain understanding of the truths of Scripture.
The implications of the truths explored in this essay reach into many disciplines of life. One prominent example is the field of education. Modern educators use a variety of teaching techniques. Many of these approaches are based on the findings of ongoing psychological research and studies. While these discoveries can certainly prove useful, Christian educators should always endeavor to evaluate their teaching methods by the truths found in Scripture. If an educator, or any other person, desires to learn more about what it truly means to be humans, created in the image of God, their first and highest resource is God’s Word. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
(1) Pentecost, J. Dwight. Designed to Be Like Him: Understanding God’s Plan for Fellowship, Conduct, Conflict, and Maturity. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1966. (p.26)
(2) Clark, Gordon Haddon. Religion, Reason, and Revelation. 1961. Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1995. (p.100)
(3) Oxford Essential Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
(4) Oxford English Reference Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.