Genesis 1:26 Commentary - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
"Us" is probably a plural of intensification (see my comment on Gen 1:1 above), though some regard it as a plural of self-deliberation (cf. Gen 11:7; Psa 2:3). [Note: E.g., Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11 : A Commentary, p. 145.] Others believe that God was addressing His heavenly court (cf. Isa 6:8). [Note: The NET Bible note on 1:26.] This word involves "in germ" the doctrine of the Trinity. However, we should not use it as a formal proof of the Trinity since this reference by itself does not prove that one God exists in three persons. [Note: See Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 112; Wenham, pp. 27-27; Oswald Allis, God Spake by Moses, p. 13.]
"Although the Christian Trinity cannot be derived solely from the use of the plural, a plurality within the unity of the Godhead may be derived from the passage." [Note: Mathews, p. 163.]
The theological controversy in Moses’ day was not between trinitarianism and unitarianism but between one self-existent, sovereign, good God and many limited, capricious, often wicked gods. [Note: Hamilton, p. 133.]
"First, God’s deliberation shows that he has decided to create man differently from any of the other creatures-in his image and likeness. God and man share a likeness that is not shared by other creatures. This apparently means that a relationship of close fellowship can exist between God and man that is unlike the relationship of God with the rest of his creation. What more important fact about God and man would be necessary if the covenant at Sinai were, in fact, to be a real relationship? Remove this and the covenant is unthinkable.
"Secondly, in Genesis 1, man, the image bearer, is the object of God’s blessing. According to the account of creation in Genesis 1, the chief purpose of God in creating man is to bless him. The impact of this point on the remainder of the Pentateuch and the author’s view of Sinai is clear: through Abraham, Israel and the covenant this blessing is to be restored to all mankind." [Note: Sailhamer, "Exegetical Notes . . .," p. 80.]
"Man" refers to mankind, not Adam individually (Gen 1:27). "Them" indicates this generic significance. God created (cf. Gen 1:1-2) mankind male and female; they did not evolve from a lower form of life (cf. Mat 19:4; Mar 10:6). Adam was not androgynous (i.e., two individuals joined physically like Siamese twins) or bisexual (i.e., one individual possessing both male and female sexual organs). There is no basis for these bizarre ideas in the text. God formed Eve from Adam’s rib, not from half of his body or from his genitals.
"The image is found in the type of relationship that was designed to exist between male and female human beings, a relationship where the characteristics of each sex are valued and used to form a oneness in their identity and purpose. When God created human beings as male and female he formed them to exhibit a oneness in their relationship that would resemble the relationship of God and his heavenly court.
"By ruling as one, male and female fulfill the purpose of God for which they were created. United as one humanity, male and female are one with God and his heavenly court. And it is this unity between male and female, and between humanity and God, that is destroyed in the Fall described in Genesis 3." [Note: Henry F. Lazenby, "The Image of God: Masculine, Feminine, or Neuter?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30:1 (March 1987):67, 66.]
As a husband and wife demonstrate oneness in their marriage they reflect the unity of the Godhead. Oneness involves being in agreement with God’s will and purposes. Oneness is essential for an orchestra, an athletic team, and a construction crew, as well as a family, to achieve a common purpose. Oneness in marriage is essential if husband and wife are to fulfill God’s purposes for humankind. (Generally speaking, women feel a marriage is working if they talk about it, but men feel it is working if they do not talk about it.)
God created man male and female as an expression of His own plurality: "Let us make man . . ." God’s plurality anticipated man’s plurality. The human relationship between man and woman thus reflects God’s own relationship with Himself. [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 38.]
"Image" and "likeness" are essentially synonymous terms. Both indicate personality, moral, and spiritual qualities that God and man share (i.e., self-consciousness, God-consciousness, freedom, responsibility, speech, moral discernment, etc.) These distinguish humans from the animals, which have no God-consciousness even though they have conscious life (cf. Gen 1:24). Some writers have called the image of God man’s "spiritual personality." [Note: E.g., Keil and Delitzsch, 1:63. See Wenham, pp. 27-28; Charles Feinberg, "The Image of God," Bibliotheca Sacra 129:515 (July-September 1972):235-246, esp. p. 237; Boice, 1:77-79; Mathews, pp. 164-72.] In another sense man is the image of God (e.g., he rules and creates [procreates] as God does, thus reflecting God). [Note: See James Jordan, "Rebellion, Tyranny, and Dominion in the Book of Genesis," Christianity and Civilization 3 (Summer 1983):38-80. See also Merrill, pp. 14-16.] The Fall obscured but did not obliterate the image of God in man. [Note: See John F. Kilner, "Humanity in God’s Image: Is the Image Really Damaged?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53:3 (September 2010):601-17.]
Does the image of God in man include his body?
"Most theologians have recognized that that [sic] we cannot interpret it [i.e., the phrase ’the image of God’] literally-that is, that man’s physical being is in the image of God. Such an interpretation should be rejected for at least four reasons. In the first place, we are told elsewhere that God is a spirit (Joh 4:24; Isa 31:3) and that he is ubiquitous (1Ki 8:27). In the second place, a literal interpretation would leave us with all sorts of bizarre questions. If man’s physical being is in the image of God we would immediately wonder what, if any organs, God possesses. Does he have sexual organs, and if so, which? Does he have the form of a man, or of a woman, or both? The very absurdity that God is a sexual being renders this interpretation highly unlikely. Thirdly, it seems unlikely that man’s dignity above the rest of the animals (Gen 9:5 f.; Jas 3:7-9) is due to his slight physiological differences from them. Is it credible that animals may be killed but that man may not be killed because his stature is slightly different? Finally, a literal interpretation seems not only contradictory to the rest of Scripture, and unlikely, but also inappropriate, Gardener aptly observed: ’But our anatomy and physiology is demanded by our terrestrial habitat, and quite inappropriate to the one who inhabits eternity.’ For these reasons, theologians have concluded that the statement in Gen 1:26-28 must be metaphorical of man’s spiritual or immaterial nature." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, "Reflections from the Old Testament on Abortion," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19:1 (Winter 1976):8. His quotation is from R. F. R. Gardener, Abortion: The Personal Dilemma. See also Waltke’s helpful discussion of image and likeness in Genesis, p. 65-66. For the view that the image of God includes the body, see Jonathan F. Henry, "Man in God’s Image: What Does it Mean?" Journal of Dispensational Theology 12:37 (December 2008):5-24.]
Gen 1:27 may be the first poem in the Bible. If so, the shift to poetry may emphasize human beings as God’s image bearers. There is some disagreement among Old Testament scholars regarding what distinguishes biblical poetry from biblical prose. [Note: See Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs, pp. 9-54, for a discussion of the subject.]
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Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas Constable. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Dr. Thomas Constable graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1960 and later graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dr. Constable is the founder of Dallas Seminary’s Field Education department (1970) and the Center for Biblical Studies (1973), both of which he directed for many years before assuming other responsibilities. Today Dr. Constable maintains an active academic, pulpit supply, and conference-speaking ministry around the world. He has ministered in nearly three dozen countries and written commentaries on every book of the Bible. Dr. Constable also founded Plano Bible Chapel, pastored it for twelve years, and has served as one of its elders for over thirty years.