In declaring what He was about to do regarding human beings, God used the word make – `asah in Hebrew – which is also found in verses 7, 16, 25, 31, and in chapter 2, verses 2 and 3 (where it is translated as done in the ESV). Here in verse 27 the Hebrew word for created is bara’, as it is in verses 1, 21, and at 2:4. Since nothing in this account is accidental, the threefold repetition of bara’ in our verse is significant. It confirms how momentous our creation is. Alternating created and image in the first two lines stresses that we must understand ourselves in terms of God. As Blocher said, who we are depends radically on who He is.
God’s image is not limited to a part of us. Everything about us images Him. As Kidner says,
The Bible makes man a unity: acting, thinking and feeling with his whole being. This living creature, then, and not some distillation from him, is an expression or transcription of the eternal, incorporeal creator in terms of temporal, bodily, creaturely existence – as one might attempt a transcription of, say, an epic into a sculpture, or a symphony into a sonnet.28
Understanding ourselves as God’s image, Kidner continues, “excludes the idea that our Maker is the ‘wholly Other’” and “requires us to take all human beings infinitely seriously (cf. Gn. 9:6; Jas. 3:9). And our Lord implies, further, that God’s stamp on us constitutes a declaration of ownership (Mt. 22:20, 21).”
But what does it mean to be made, as it is usually translated, in God’s image? Ordinarily, we take Y is made in the image of X to mean that X has a visible image and Y’s being made in the image of X means that Y is made to copy X’s visible image. Yet Moses reminded the Israelites that when God made covenant with them, they heard Him speak but saw no form: “there was only a voice” (Deut. 4:12; see vv. 9-20). So our being made in God’s image is not primarily a matter of our possessing some visible form but, rather, our imaging the sovereign Creator God in some other way.
In the ancient Near East kings erected images of themselves throughout their realms to assert their sovereignty where they weren’t physically present.29The incorporeal Creator has made us His earthly image so that we may assert His sovereignty, which we do by acting as kings and queens reigning for Him over the rest of the creation.30 In other words, God created us to be His image. He created us as – and not (as most translations have it) in – His earthly image. This is, in fact, how Paul understood our being God’s image when he said that “a man … is the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7).
Our role as God’s images is a structural feature of our place in creation and thus something we cannot lose, although we can obscure, mar, tarnish, or diminish it.31
How Are We Able to Fulfill Our Vocation?
Genesis 2:5, 7-8, 15 tell us how we became able to fulfill our vocation. “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up … then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed … to work it and keep it.”
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