The image of God is a topic in which there’s little biblically that we can know, but there seem to be no shortage of claims that state, whether past or present, that mankind has lost the image of God within sin. One of these comes from the famous preacher John Wesley, who states that man has lost the image of God quite a few times within his sermon “Awake Thou That Sleepest”:
The poor unawakened sinner, how much knowledge soever he may have as to other things, has no knowledge of himself: in this respect “he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know,” he knows not that he is a fallen spirit, whose only business in the present world, is to recover from his fall, to regain that image of God wherein he was created.
By one who sleeps, we are, therefore, to understand (and would to God we might all understand it!) a sinner satisfied in his sins; contented to remain in his fallen state, to live and die without the image of God; one who is ignorant both of his disease, and of the only remedy for it;
In what state is thy soul? Was God, while I am yet speaking, to require it of thee, art thou ready to meet death and judgement? Canst thou stand in his sight, who is of “purer eyes than to behold iniquity”? Art thou “meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light”? Hast thou “fought a good fight, and kept the faith”? Hast thou secured the one thing needful? Hast thou recovered the image of God, even righteousness and true holiness?
This may prove surprising to some, but Wesley has said as much in other sermons, too, such as “The Righteousness of Faith”:
What is the difference then between the “righteousness which is of the law,” and the “righteousness which is of faith? — between the first covenant, or the covenant of works, and the second, the covenant of grace? The essential, unchangeable difference is this: The one supposes him to whom it is given to be already holy and happy, created in the image and enjoying the favour of God; and prescribes the condition whereon he may continue therein, in love and joy, life and immortality: The other supposes him to whom it is given to be now unholy and unhappy, fallen short of the glorious image of God, having the wrath of God abiding on him, and hastening, through sin, whereby his soul is dead, to bodily death, and death everlasting; and to man in this state it prescribes the condition whereon he may regain the pearl he has lost, may recover the favour and image of God, may retrieve the life of God in his soul, and be restored to the knowledge and the love of God, which is the beginning of life eternal.
Now the best end which any creature can pursue is, happiness in God. And the best end a fallen creature can pursue is, the recovery of the favour and image of God. But the best, indeed the only, means under heaven given to a man, whereby he may regain the favour of God, which is better than life itself, or the image of God, which is the true life of the soul, is the submitting to the “righteousness which is of faith,” the believing in the only-be-gotten Son of God.
In his sermon “The Repentance of Believers,” Wesley said that at the moment of salvation, the sinner gains the image of God:
We allow, that at the very moment of justification, we are born again: In that instant we experience that inward change from “darkness into marvellous light;” from the image of the brute and the devil, into the image of God; from the earthly, sensual, devilish mind, to the mind which was in Christ Jesus.
Wesley said the same in his sermon “The Means of Grace”:
So little do they understand that great foundation of the whole Christian building, “By grace are ye saved;” Ye are saved from your sins, from the guilt and power thereof, ye are restored to the favour and image of God, not for any works, merits, or deservings of yours, but by the free grace, the mere mercy of God, through the merits of his well-beloved Son: Ye are thus saved, not by any power, wisdom, or strength, which is in you, or in any other creature; but merely through the grace or power of the Holy Ghost, which worketh all in all.”
Annihilationist theologian Edward Fudge says the same in his work titled The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition:
Many evangelical scholars now point out that while mankind is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), immortality is no more an essential quality of God than omnipotence or omniscience. They note that even if the image of God included immortality, that quality might have been lost with the fall, for Adam “begat a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3) (Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Kindle Edition, page 25).
J.O. Buswell notes in his Systematic Theology that the image of God is moral rather than a matter of the soul, but he then says that “man is created in the image of God and is destined to live forever, whereas the beasts are not created in the image of God, and there is no reason to suppose that they have any kind of immortality” (Buswell, Systematic Theology, page 242). Buswell distinguishes between the animals and humankind by the image of God, which the Lord only placed within man. The image of God separates mankind from the animal kingdom, but for other theologians to argue that it is lost because of the Fall is to eliminate the one major distinction between man and the animal kingdom, to take away man’s soul by which he is able to reason and use his rational faculties.
We’ve had great discussion concerning theologians and scholars who believe that the image of God has been lost in man, but the question boils down to this: what does the Bible say about the image of God? Have we lost the image of God? You’ll have to read below to find out.
A Biblical Theology of the Image of God: The Scriptures Speak
To find out if man has lost the image of God or not, one must turn to the Scriptures, the Word of God, to seek out the truth. We start from Genesis and work our way through the Old and New Testaments.
Image of God in Genesis
Man was created upright in the image and likeness of God, and believers read of this honor from the beginning of the creation account in Genesis:
26 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.”27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
God says “let Us,” which alerts the reader that God is in a plurality of persons (three according to the New Testament: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The Trinity agrees to make man in their image and likeness, so we see that God plans to create man special. Man will bear His image, unlike anything else on the earth. Man will be like God, and, as we see with Adam’s naming of the animals and working the field, man gets his abilities from God. Adam names the animals and works the fields, but no other creation on earth can do these things.
We can talk about God making man in His image and likeness, but alongside of making man in His image (which brings likeness), God gives man dominion over everything on the earth, makes him the “lord” of the earth so to speak. We see this is true when Adam sins in Genesis 3 and the Lord tells him,
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Man was given dominion over the earth after being made in the image of God, which shows us that the image of God entails the likeness of God. In the same way that God has dominion over His world, He gives man dominion over the earth: God is Lord (capital “L”), man is lord (lowercase “l”).
Genesis 9 is another place where we find discussion of the image of God with regard to mankind. After the Flood that wipes everything off the earth except for Noah, his sons, his daughters-in-law, and two of every kind of creature, the Lord “re-creates” humanity by starting anew with the gathering. The Lord blesses them and tells them “Be fruitful and multiply,” but He then gives Noah and his family some instructions:
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.
7 And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Bring forth abundantly in the earth
And multiply in it.”
8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: 9 “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that iswith you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:1-17)
In Genesis 9:5-6, the Lord says that every man that sheds man’s blood will be held accountable for it. In other words, homicide of human beings would not go unpunished. And then God said that those who kill will be killed themselves, “for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6).
The question to ask about Genesis 9:6 is, “If the image of God had dissolved or been lost, why is it that God mentions it with regard to His prohibition against human homicide?” We see here that in the plan of God, the image of God still existed post-Flood, that, contrary to John Wesley and other scholars, the image of God was not some ancient honor that had faded or evaporated over time.
Unlike Genesis 1, the Lord now gives rules against human homicide in Genesis 9, and says that the reason why human homicide is forbidden is because God made man in His image. Sure, the Lord mentioned making man in His image in Genesis 1:26ff, but it wasn’t used there as a reason to not take the life of another human being. And yet, when Cain murders his brother Abel in cold blood, and murder increases in humanity, God issues this reminder that He made man in His image. Why would God have issued this reminder if the honor of bearing God’s image was outdated and a past event that had no relevance now? Why would God mention the image of God if man no longer had it? And if man no longer had it, wouldn’t the murder prohibition have made little sense?
If the image of God remains post-Flood, then the image of God couldn’t have been lost in the Fall in Genesis 3.
Image of God vs. Image of Christ: the Romans 8 contribution
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
Romans 8:29 says that God has predestined believers, those “whom He foreknew” would believe, “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Now, it’s here in Romans 8 that we see “image of His Son” or “image of Christ” for the first time. Our study has been about the image of God within man, but we now read “image of Christ.” The new label has some wondering: is it new, or is it a new label for the “image of God” that has been present in Scripture?
I have a take on this: the image of Christ is something different and distinct from the image of God. Every man is born with the image of God on him or her (after all, the prohibition against human homicide is for every human because every man and woman bears the image of God), but not every human will be predestined to conform to the image of Christ. The image of God is an honor given at the creation of human life, while the image of Christ is the honor given to the new creation — that is, those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers are predestined, so only believers get the image of Christ; unbelievers only retain the image of God but will not possess the image of Christ.
The context of Romans 8 bears out the interpretation that the image of Christ is only for the saved. From the beginning of Romans 8, Paul writes to “those who are in Christ Jesus” (v.1), those who have “the Spirit of Christ” (v.9), and those who have Christ within (v.10). The Roman believers have received “the Spirit of adoption” that allows them to cry out to God, “Abba, Father” (v.15). Paul refers to them as “children of God” (v.16) and “joint heirs with Christ” (v.17). The Romans themselves have “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (v.23), and were “saved in this hope,” referring to their salvation (v.24). These phrases and descriptions are in place for children of God, those who believe on Jesus. Thus, the image of Jesus or the image of Christ is for believers who are “conformed to His image.” Through salvation, the Lord makes us more and more like Him.
With John Wesley’s claim that the image of God is lost in sin and recovered in salvation, I have to wonder if Wesley (and other theologians) have confused the image of Christ in the new creation (salvation) with the image of God in the old creation (God makes man). This would explain why many believe the “image” is lost when man falls in the Garden of Eden, and why it is that God has to come. And yet, it doesn’t fit. But, if we use the old creation/new creation divide as an underlying theme, the image of God as an old creation concept that applies to every human (and the new creation concept that applies to every believer, every human who believes in Jesus), we can make better sense of the evidence before us.
Image of God in 1 Corinthians
The image of God makes its next appearance in 1 Corinthians 11:
2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (1 Corinthians 11:2-7)
The man in 1 Corinthians 11:7 is described as “the image and glory of God,” a reference to how God made Adam and Eve in Genesis. The woman is described as “the glory of man,” but she, too, is made in His image, after His likeness, for God said in Genesis 1 to “make man in Our image, after Our likeness; let them have dominion.” The word “them” refers to male and female, which means that “them” is the “man” who would be made in the image of God (inclusive of women). Paul’s point is not to diminish women and their being made in the image of God, but rather to emphasize that they were designed by God for the man. As the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians says:
“Paul interprets Gen. 1:27, stating that God created man in his image, through the creation account in Gen. 2. He makes his points based on priority in creation: the man was created first (Gen. 2:7), then the woman “out of him” (Gen 2:21-23); the man was not created for the woman, but the woman was created for the man (Gen. 2:22). Since the woman was created later, out of the man (Gen. 2:21-23), Paul deduces that she is not the direct image of God. Schrage (1995: 509) suggests that a Jewish exegetical tradition, which interpreted adam in Gen. 1:27 as applying only to the man, may have influenced Paul. But Paul’s purpose is not to establish that man, not woman, is made in the image of God. The term “image” leads him to the term “glory” (Barrett 1968: 252), which then becomes the key term in 1 Cor. 11:7-9 and counterbalances the notion of “shame” in 11:4-6. “Glory” does not appear in the Genesis narrative, but image and glory are closely associated in Jewish exegesis (Hooker 1963-64a: 411; Jervell 1960: 100-114; see also Wire 1990: 120). Paul does not mention that the woman is also created in the image of God, because he wants to stress the point that she is the glory of man (Gundry Volf 1997: 156). She is to bring glory to the man because “she is the glory of man by creation.” Consequently, Paul stops short of proclaiming that the woman is the image of man and argues instead that she is the glory of the man. She completes the man as well as completes creation.” (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians; Kindle Edition, Location 12006-12029)
There’s another significance to 1 Corinthians 11, however: that is, the discussion of man not wearing head coverings because he is “the image of God and the glory of God” shows that the Corinthian church still deemed being made in the image of God a current, relevant point to use in church discussions. That alone tells us that the Corinthians didn’t believe the image of God was lost; otherwise, why would the Corinthian believers use the ancient “image of God” to appeal to a modern discussion in first-century Christianity?
The man, males, are referred to as having the image and glory of God in 1 Corinthians 11, but we arrive just a few chapters later to a discussion on the bodily resurrection of Christian believers:
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)
Paul discusses the different bodies that God gives, pointing to the fact that the human body is different from other bodies that God has made in creation. When he dives into discussion of the physical body, he says that first it is sown “natural,” then raised “spiritual,” a testimony to the transformation of the physical body into the spiritual, the immortal body that believers don’t have yet. And in 1 Corinthians 15:49, we see that there’s “the image of the man of dust” as opposed to “the image of the heavenly Man.”
Who is “the image of the man of dust”? The image of the man of dust is translated by the King James Version as the image of the earthy or the image of the earthly, while the image of the heavenly Man is the image of the heavenly. The “heavenly Man” could be a reference to Jesus, God’s Son, since verse 47 seems to suggest it:
47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47).
The first man was Adam, while the second Man is the Lord, so “we will bear the image of the heavenly Man” has warrant in meaning that we will bear the image of Christ. If so, the words “we will bear the image of the heavenly Man” in 1 Corinthians 15:49 refers to a future state, not the current state of believers on earth. Paul has already said in Romans 8 that believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Christ), but this process (predestined —> called —> justified —> glorified) is finished when we reach glory. It is a process that speaks to the future of believers, and we are all currently in the process of sanctification; glorification won’t take place in full until we go back to the dust, part ways from this life, and stand before God in eternity.
The end of all things will see the bodies of believers transformed from a corruptible and mortal body (flesh and blood) into an incorruptible and immortal body, one that is completely free from sin and isn’t subject to temptation as our current fleshly bodies are.
The image of God in 2 Corinthians
In 2 Corinthians, we discover that Christ is described as the image of God:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
The text here points to “Christ, who is the image of God” in verse 4. Yes, Christ is the very express image of God, as Hebrews also confirms, but this text only confirms that there are two things to which “the image of God” refers: 1) the honor God gives man when making him in His image, and 2) Jesus Christ Himself. Remember “the image of God” and “image of Christ” distinctions? Well, Christ does reflect the image of God, the image of God that is the new creation (and, as one who took on flesh, He reflected His Maker in His flesh as well). The image of God in mankind, though, exists, as we’ve seen through text after text. What is meant by Jesus as “the image of God” is that He is God’s Son, He is what God looks like, He is what and who God the Father is, for those who are wondering. He reflects His Father completely in His person.
Colossians has more to say about Jesus as the image of God. It is to this discussion in an enhanced form that we now turn.
The image of God in Colossians
13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood,the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:13-18)
Christ is described here in Colossians 1 as “the image of the invisible God,” and He is the one that shows us the invisible God. God the Father has never left the throne and shown Himself as He is fully to man, so Jesus is as close as it gets to seeing God face to face. “The firstborn over all creation” refers to Him being the first of the new creation. His taking on flesh, dying, and rising from the dead, show us humanity as God intended it to be: one who walks in righteousness and does not sin. When He arises from the dead with His glorified, resurrected body, we see that God intends humanity to rise from the dead, to put on immortality as Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15.
Then Paul mentions that He, Jesus, created all things, to remind us that, despite His humanness and coming to earth, He is the Creator of all that we see. Not only does He reflect the Father, not only is He the express image of the invisible God, but He is also the perfect image of humanity to behold as well. Even as a babe in a manger, He was the perfect expression of the divine and the ideal expression of the godly human being. He carries both natures in His body.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:1-11)
The new man is being renewed, daily transformed in knowledge of the truth according to the image of God who made him. Though his outward man, his body, is perishing (it’s physical and will go back to the dust), his inner man is being renewed daily according to the image of God. He is being renewed within day by day and is becoming more Christ-like than he’s ever been. This “renewed” state shows that believers haven’t yet reached glorification, but that the process has already started because of their faith in Christ and the daily sanctification taking place by way of the Holy Spirit who lives within believers from the moment they say “yes” to Jesus and make Him their Lord and Savior.
The image of God in James
It may be surprising, but the image of God is such a pervasive topic that it even has a discussion of some kind in James. Now, James is an epistle written to the Jews in the Diaspora by James, the half-brother of Jesus, and it was written earlier than all the Gospels and quite a few of the letters of Paul.
In James, we find an interesting discussion regarding the tongue and how the tongue is used to bless and curse mankind. James hints from his writing that he can’t believe humans use their tongue to curse those who are made in God’s image after His likeness:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
In verse 9, James says that we bless our God and Father, we give thanks to our Creator, but then we curse humans made in His likeness. The word “similitude” here is the Greek word ὁμοίωσις meaning “likeness.” While “likeness” and “image” aren’t the same words in the original Greek text (or in English either), they are connected in the same way that they’re connected in Genesis 1:26. One such theologian who makes the connection is Matthew Henry:
“We are taught to think of the use we make of our tongues in religion and in the service of God, and by such a consideration to keep it from cursing, censuring, and every thing that is evil on other occasions: Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be, v.9, 10. How absurd is it that those who use their tongues in prayer and praise should ever use them in cursing, slandering, and the like! If we bless God as our Father, it should teach us to speak well of, and kindly to, all who bear his image. That tongue which addresses with reverence the divine Being cannot, without the greatest inconsistency, turn upon fellow-creatures with reviling brawling language…and for men to reproach those who have not only the image of God in their natural faculties, but are renewed after the image of God by the grace of the gospel: this is a most shameful contradiction to all their pretensions of honouring the great Original.” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Book of James, Kindle Edition, Locations 977-1000).
Matthew Henry mentions “fellow creatures,” then refers to “those who have not only the image of God in their natural faculties” and “are renewed after the image of God by the grace of the gospel.” These references show us that all human beings bear the image of God in their rational faculties and natural being while only Christians are “renewed after the image of God by the grace of the gospel.” There is the image of God (natural) and the image of Christ (spiritual), and, though not all humans bear the image of Christ because not all are saved, every human bears the image of God. Matthew Henry’s distinction here is one we’ve seen in Scripture.
Dan McCartney in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James, says that “the word for ‘likeness’ (Greek homoiosis) is found only here in the NT and is rare even in the LXX, making the allusion to Gen. 1:26 almost certainly deliberate” (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James, Kindle Edition, Location 9058). In Genesis 1:26, “image” and “likeness” are linked, a sign that image and likeness are inextricably tied together in the human constitution (we can’t detach them, no matter how hard we try). To have the image of God is to be like God, and to be like God is to bear His image. The animal kingdom is not like God, as J.O. Buswell said in his Systematic Theology (earlier in this article), and thus, does not bear the image of God.
James Adamson writes in his commentary on James regarding the blessing of God and the cursing of men:
“To bless God is the sublimest function of the human tongue; thrice daily the devout Jew recited “the Eighteen Benedictions,” with their ending “Blessed art Thou, O God.” But the tongue of blessing can also curse — a reference perhaps to the practice of imprecation but more probably to disputes and slanders within the community (4:1ff., 11ff.). “It is man’s nearness (and even original likeness) to God, which makes the cursing of him a still greater offence to God who made him” (Milton, p. 132). We note that James, like Jesus, knows nothing of what is popularly thought of as the doctrine of “total depravity”: though impaired, the imago dei is not totally destroyed. Ethically this doctrine is crucial for both Jew and Christian. “Since men are formed in the divine semblance,” writes Cohen. “They must keep that knowledge always in mind in their relationship with one another.” Hence R. Akiba’s saying: “Whosoever sheddeth blood, they reckon it to him as if he diminished the likeness.” James is well aware of the moral and spiritual significance of this doctrine, especially as it touches man’s speech.” [James Adamson, New International Commentary on the New Testament: James, Kindle Edition, Location 1819]
Adamson’s commentary here adds other commentators who argue for the current existence of the image of God within all human beings, even unbelievers, and James’ words in James 3:9 only bear weight because all humans still bear the image of God. Contrary to John Wesley, the image hasn’t been destroyed. James’s reference to the likeness of God within all men (the word is plural and indefinite, not referring to believers as opposed to unbelievers, but to humanity as a whole). If the image of God had been destroyed in mankind, why would James allude to it here in the New Testament? Why would he refer to it here when writing to Jewish Christians scattered in the Diaspora?
Scot McKnight makes the same connection about the likeness of God in his commentary on James 3:9 when he says, “James begins with “with it” and assumes “with the tongue.” The same tongue brings forth two kinds of words: those that bless the Lord and Father and those that curse humans made in God’s image.” [Scot McKnight, New International Commentary on the New Testament: James (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011), Kindle Edition, Location 3385].
Scot McKnight presumes here that the word for “likeness” or “verisimilitude” is image and has the imago dei (Latin for “image of God”) in mind. McKnight also argues that James’s words about the contradictory nature of cursing humans who are made in God’s image means that perhaps some teachers were treating some humans as if they’d forgotten that all humans, no matter their aptitude or place in the church, are made in the image of God:
“James grounds his critique of the teachers’ misuse of language in the image of God in humans. Two things happen here: not only does James connect humans to God, who in 3:9a is to be blessed, but James elevates all humans to the condition of being made in God’s image — that is, they are God-like (and therefore indirectly “blessable”). Thus 2 Enoch 44:2: “And whoever insults a person’s face, insults the face of a king, and treats the face of the Lord with repugnance.” In saying “those who are made in the likeness of God,” James uses homoiosis, the Septuagint translation of Hebrew demut in Genesis 1:26. Though this term would take on special meaning among later theologians and is not the more common term used in Paul’s writings (eikon), what James has in mind human God-likeness, and hence all humans are to be treated with utter dignity and respect. The use then of this expression for humans, especially those in the messianic community, sheds light on what James means by the word “curse.” Does it not suggest that the God-likeness of some humans was being called into question by the language the teachers in the messianic community were using?” (Scot McKnight, NICNT: James, Kindle Edition, Location 3411-3427)
Perhaps it can be said that the teachers in the Christian Jewish communities addressed in the letter were forgetting that the image of God still existed in man in the first century — and they were denigrating students and fellow believers as though the image of God was a thing of the past, an outdated concept that no longer applied. James is writing to remind the believers that the image of God is still found within every man, especially believers, though not exclusively. Paul told the Galatians in Galatians 6:10 that, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The words “let us do good to all” are a reminder that every human is made in the image of God, not just some, and not just believers.
Robert Gundry says about cursing men made in the likeness of God that “That they bear his likeness exacerbates the evil of using our tongue to curse them. It comes close to cursing God himself” [Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on James (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle Edition, Location 526]. Stop and think about this for a moment: if humans are no longer made in the image of God because they lost the imago dei in the Fall, then what does it mean when James shames his readers for cursing other humans? In the absence of the image of God, what would it mean to be like God, exactly? And what would we make of the command to bless men rather than curse them while blessing God? The image of God, used to prevent humans from murdering other humans, is now used here to teach believers how to treat one another in their assemblies.
John Painter writes in his commentary on James that “In the creation story of Gen. 1, God says, “Let us make humans in our image [kat eikona] and in [our] likeness [kath’ homoiosin]” (Gen. 1:26 LXX). With the reproduction of this precise Greek idiom, there can be little doubt that James is drawing directly on this creation tradition to emphasize the anomaly of blessing God and cursing humans. The basis of this critique provides a motive for joining the two great commandments as we find them in the Jesus tradition (Mark 12:28-31; on this, see the discussion on James 2:8). Does this not mean that all humans, made in the likeness of God, are in some significant sense children of God and thus brothers and sisters? This is implicit in the anomaly of blessing God and cursing humans, who are made in the likeness of God” [Painter, John and David deSilva, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament: James and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), Kindle Edition, Location 3226].
Painter says something that we’ve not mentioned up until now: that is, that the two greatest commandments on which all the Law and Prophets hang are 1) love of God and 2) love of neighbor. And the truth that humanity is created in God’s likeness and bears the image of God is the link that binds both together: that is, if one loves the Lord, then one must love the human creation God has made.
Along the lines of the two great commandments, a lawyer asks Jesus about the nature of his neighbor in the Gospels:
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
The neighbor to which the Law refers is every human we see, any human who falls on hard times or in a hard situation (even alongside the road) and needs our help. In the case of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor was the man who was beaten and abandoned on the side of the road. The Samaritan didn’t know anything about the man left alongside the road, but he knew that the man was helpless and needed help. And that’s all he needed to know to see to it that the man received some care and attention. He took the man to an inn and paid for his treatment and care. That’s what the love of neighbor looks like; that’s what it means to value every human made in the image and likeness of God.
King David reflected on the glory and honor God gave man while reflecting on God’s handiwork in nature in Psalm 8:
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1-9)
David zooms in on God’s human creation in Psalm 8:4-8 by looking at all the grandeur of God’s natural phenomena and comparing it to man. When David looks at the large, massive size of God’s creations in the heavens and on earth, and he then looks at humanity, he then praises God for how God made man: “for You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.”
What does it mean for David to say that “You have crowned him with glory and honor”? It means that there was some honor to humanity in creation. We read that God gave man dominion over His work, putting mankind above all the animals and beasts of the field (Psalm 8:6-8). But there’s more to the God-given honor of man than just having dominion over the earth or naming the animals, as Adam did in the beginning (Genesis ). One of the additional honors was that man was made in the image of God, and the Triune God mentions making man in the image of God before giving “them” dominion over everything that creeps on the earth.
Paul sees Psalm 8 as Messianic in Hebrews 2:5-9, which makes sense when you consider that Jesus said everything written in specifically the Psalms about Him had been fulfilled:
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)
Jesus is the one who was “made a little lower than the angels” and crowned with glory and honor through the suffering of death to experience it for the benefit of all humanity. Since man was God’s crowning creation on earth, Anselm’s question Cur Deus Homo (Latin for “why did God become man”) is answered in God’s coming to earth and taking on flesh: God had to become man because it was man who threw himself and the entire creation into sin when he sinned:
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)
Since man brought sin into the world and set everything off course, it would take a human to come and set things right. This is why Adam is called “the first Adam” and Jesus “the last Adam.” When Adam sins, he does what many do today: he fell short of the glory of God, for which the image of God and Adam’s God-likeness (and our God-likeness) were designed.
Denying the image of God: Nebuchadnezzar, a case in point
4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace. 5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 6 Therefore I issued a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers came in, and I told them the dream; but they did not make known to me its interpretation. 8 But at last Daniel came before me (his name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god; in him is the Spirit of the Holy God), and I told the dream before him, saying: 9 “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.
10 “These were the visions of my head while on my bed:
I was looking, and behold,
A tree in the midst of the earth,
And its height was great.
11 The tree grew and became strong;
Its height reached to the heavens,
And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth.
12 Its leaves were lovely,
Its fruit abundant,
And in it was food for all.
The beasts of the field found shade under it,
The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches,
And all flesh was fed from it.
13 “I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14 He cried aloud and said thus:
‘Chop down the tree and cut off its branches,
Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit.
Let the beasts get out from under it,
And the birds from its branches.
15 Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth,
Bound with a band of iron and bronze,
In the tender grass of the field.
Let it be wet with the dew of heaven,
And let him graze with the beasts
On the grass of the earth.
16 Let his heart be changed from that of a man,
Let him be given the heart of a beast,
And let seven times pass over him.
17 ‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will,
And sets over it the lowest of men.’
18 “This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you.”
19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!
20 “The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth, 21 whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth.
23 “And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze in the tender grass of the field; let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him’; 24 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
26 “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
31 While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! 32 And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
33 That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
34 And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me.37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. (Daniel 4:4-37)
In Daniel 4, we read testimony from Nebuchadnezzar himself, the King of Babylon, who gives glory to himself. As a result, the Lord takes away his kingdom from him and makes him an animal who eats from the grass of the field. In other words, he is stripped of his humanity and honor and becomes an animal because he boasts that his power and genius have given him the kingdom — rather than acknowledge that God is the giver of all he has acquired politically.
31 While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! 32 And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
33 That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:31-33)
“A voice fell from heaven” refers to God Himself, and He tells Nebuchadnezzar, “they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.” His decision to boast about his own power results in the removal of everything that makes him human. He can’t even live in his palace anymore because the kingdom had been removed from him — so he had to make his living “with the beasts of the field,” outdoors where the animals reside in the wild. He ate grass like oxen (grass was his food), until God’s time for his punishment expired. When Nebuchadnezzar failed to honor God, God dishonored him by stripping him of everything surrounding the image of God: rationality/intellect, and the likeness of God. Instead of being like God and ruling the kingdom, God turned him into an animal who was devoid of the image of God, had no rational faculties, and could only eat grass like oxen in the field.
Nebuchadnezzar sinned by giving glory to and exalting himself, and he lost everything related to the image of God as a result for a time until God saw fit to restore his human faculties and God-likeness. By denying God, Nebuchadnezzar denied the God-likeness and the imago dei he had within himself. What this says to us who believe Scripture is that, when we deny God and God’s power, when we deny divine sovereignty, when we fail to acknowledge the Superior One, we become inferior as a result.
We’ve studied the image of God as a concept, taken a look at the sermons of John Wesley and the word of other theologians regarding the image of God, and then examined what Scripture says concerning it. What we’ve found in Scripture is that the image of God was given to man at the beginning of creation, and it was an honor for the Triune God to give it to man. It was a “crown” for God’s crowning creation.
Despite sin and death that entered the world because of Adam, the image of God has not been lost, and believers need not “recover” it when they come to faith; rather, in addition to the image of God, which both believers and unbelievers have, believers cloth themselves with the image of Christ (to which believers are predestined). There is a difference between the image of God and the image of Christ, and perhaps the distinction is what confused John Wesley in his presumption that man lost the imago dei when he sinned in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.
Some may wonder about the image of God and how it’s used in current discussion. One thing that theologians are still in debate about regarding the image of God is what part of man does the image of God affect, whether the image of God is strictly moral or is there more to the story. Some say that the image of God is moral, others say it’s tied to our God-likeness in our ability to reason, create, and build, but others argue that the image of God is something that can’t be removed or erased from man; it is irremovable, not something one can lose, and that it is the spiritual, undying part of man that remains even when we drop our mortal bodies. The image of God, for some, is tied to the soul, that immortal component to man that can never die and is never physical like the body.
When it comes to the image of God within man, there are all sorts of moral and spiritual implications for the image of God remaining within each human individual to this day. For one, we’ve seen that the image of God is what guarantees man’s dominion over the earth: the image of God in man is what makes man God’s representative on the earth. Without the image of God, man could do little more than the animal kingdom. Without the image of God, God’s prohibition against murder would mean very little. And murder doesn’t just constitute homicide, but also suicide (the murdering of oneself). Man cannot murder other humans because every human is made in the image and likeness of God. And if man cannot murder others, then he should not murder himself because he too, like all other humans, bears the image and likeness of God in himself.
When we reach the epistle of James to the scattered Jewish Christians, we read his warning against blessing God and then cursing what God has made. If God deserves honor (and He does), so does His creation. This means that we cannot denigrate those who bear “God-likeness” and then bless God without seeing the inconsistency in how we treat God versus how we treat “children of God” (this is a broad term here, used to refer to God’s human creation and not specifically believers, though believers are included in the term).
Returning to the immortal soul discussion from above, the image of God is what gives man an immortal component, advocates say, because God is immortal while man’s flesh is physical, earthly, and of the dust. In the current theological space, there is a debate in the church regarding whether or not man has an immortal soul and whether or not he or she lives on after mortal death. The traditional view of the immortality of the soul is still held to be true by a number of advocates, but there is a dissenting group arising within the church that claims that man is not born with a soul but receives a soul after coming to faith in Jesus and getting saved by the gospel. This view is called Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism, and it says that those who do not believe in Jesus do not have a soul and do not suffer conscious torment when they die; instead, they are simply “annihilated,” they cease to be and “poof” out of existence without a trace.
This is one of the major theological debates regarding the image of God in the twenty-first century, and it is a large one; for, depending on the answer the church defends, it will have major implications for the future. Of course, there’s not enough time to flesh out the entire debate here, but what should be noted are the things we’ve covered here about the image of God.
First, let’s keep in mind that God doesn’t want man to murder other humans because they’re made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). Before God issues this law, Cain is aware of this implicit law and expects to be killed after murdering his brother in cold blood (Genesis 4).
And yet, God’s moral laws against homicide (and suicide) are still binding and still remain. If God’s law against human murder (homicide) still stands, then the image of God still stands in man as a testimony to the honor God gave humanity in the beginning. For John Wesley and others to argue that the image of God is lost and “needs recovering” means that man no longer has anything to separate him from the animals.
Of course, Conditional Immortalists/Annihilationists will argue that the image of God is purely moral and doesn’t make the case for an immortal soul within even unbelievers because they know what it means: they know that, if the traditional view of the immortal soul (what Conditional Immortalists deem to be a Greek philosophical concept that has “imposed” itself upon Scripture and our understanding of philosophy) is real, and certain verses such as those below are real, then they can’t avoid the conscious, eternal torment of the Scriptures concerning the wicked and unbelieving:
9 Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)
7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. 9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:7-10)
Conditional Immortalists have tried to discredit the verses of Revelation and the teaching that bodily resurrection doesn’t mean that the soul of man isn’t eternal, etc., but they can’t seem to avoid the verses of Revelation; for, if Satan is a spirit being who will be punished along with the fallen angels for his rebellion against God, then what makes CIs believe that unbelieving humans won’t be tortured in the flames of Hell? If spiritual beings will be tormented day and night forever and ever, and Revelation mentions humans being thrown into the lake of fire, then humans will also be tormented day and night forever and ever. The logic is inescapable.
God made mankind, gave him honor and glory at the start of creation, and part of that honor involves an afterlife. After all, none of the animal kingdom has the promise of living forever, seeing that animals can’t make any decisions because they also lack rational faculties. Conditional Immortalists seem to think that, if the image of God is tied to heaven/hell/afterlife and an immortal soul, then God is cruel and provides an eternal “torture chamber” for the wicked. However, God is not unjust and cruel to punish those who hate Him and do not love/accept Him. As King of Kings and Lord of Lord, God will have vengeance on His enemies, and Hell is that vengeance He will have on the Devil, his angels, and his human enemies who didn’t accept Him and live for Him. Hell is, contrary to what Conditional Immortalists believe, the righteous, divine judgment that God has been patiently waiting to inflict on those who oppose Him. Hell was created for the Devil and his fallen angels, but God allows unbelieving humanity to go to Hell because of free will, the choice to love God or hate God.
The image of God is not just about rational faculties but about the eternal destiny of mankind. Since Hell wasn’t created for one person, God made every human for Heaven — and the image of God tells us that we’re not only like God in our ability to speak, create, and reason, but also in the fact that when we die, our souls live on with the Lord or in Hell with Satan. There’s more to the image of God than the earthly and the physical.