The Basics—Divine Image-Bearers

The Basics—Divine Image-Bearers

With the language of the eighth Psalm clearly in mind (“you have made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” v. 5), Reformed theologian Cornelius Van Til declared that as an image-bearer, Adam was created to be like God in every way in which a creature can be like God. These words sound rather shocking when we first hear them. But as Van Til goes on to point out, because Adam is a creature, he can never be more than a creature. He will never be divine. Christians cannot talk about the creation of humanity without first being clear about the fact that God is distinct from his creation, and he cannot be identified either with the world around us or its creatures.

The biblical account tells us that Adam was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), which indicates that Adam is neither divine, nor the product of some unspecified primordial process. Adam was created by a direct act of God in which Adam’s body was created by God from the dust of the earth, while his soul was created when God breathed life into the first human (Genesis 2:7). The divine image extends to Eve as well (Genesis 2:4-24). To be human then, is to be male or female and to bear God’s image in both body and soul, which exist as a unity of both spiritual (the soul) and material (the body) elements. To be a divine image bearer is to be an ectype (copy) of which God is archetype (original).

Because all men and women are divine image-bearers, we are truly like God, and we possess all of the so-called communicable attributes of God–albeit in creaturely form and measure. This is what constitutes us as “human” beings, distinct from and superior in intellectual, moral, and rational capabilities to the creatures who make up the animal kingdom. The creation of Adam and Eve marks the high point of the creation account (Genesis 1:28-31), as God pronounced the first man Adam to be “very good.”

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