What We Believe (7): Man Created in God’s Image

This is the seventh in a series of articles on Reformed Doctrine, under the heading, What We Believe. The familiar question and answer method is being followed. In this article, Rev. Elco H. Oostendorp begins his treatment on “The Doctrine of Man.”

What is man that he should be loved and visited by thee?

This question of the psalmist in Psalm 8, as paraphrased in Psalter Hymnal number 13, stanza 4, pinpoints the area of our concern in the second main division, or locus, of theology, the doctrine of man in his relationship to God. This is also called Anthropology. In recent years there has been a great emphasis on the social sciences, psychology, sociology, and anthropology; and we have learned a lot about men and their behavior. But these sciences both as theoretical and practical must work with people as they are. Anthropology as a part of theology is based upon what the Bible tells us about mankind, and thus is concerned with what God has revealed about the origin, fall, and destiny of humanity. Although we can learn much from studying man as a part of general revelation, our source in these studies is God’s special revelation, the Bible as the Word of God.

How did the human race begin?

The Bible tells us that God created man on the sixth day of the creation week described in Genesis 1. The brief account of the creation of male and female in the image of God found in Genesis 1:26·31 is supplemented in more detail in the second chapter where we are told that God made man, Adam, out of the dust and later formed woman, Eve, from Adam ‘s rib. We accept this record as historical, as descriptive of the beginning of humanity. Adam and Eve were the first parents of all succeeding generations. There have been attempts to interpret the first three, or even the first eleven, chapters of Genesis, as being pre-historical and therefore to be understood as saga or myth. Some would compromise between an evolutionistic and a biblical explanation of man‘s origin. Although the confessions of our Reformed Churches were written before modern scientific studies raised a lot of questions along this line we do not believe that their position on the creation of man as described in the Bible needs to be abandoned or compromised.

Why is belief in the biblical account of creation basic to accepting the gospel of salvation in Christ?

Although the Bible makes surprisingly little reference to the creation and fall of mankind, as Dr. Herman Bavinck points out in his article on the fall in The International Bible Encyclopedia, it is clearly basic to the history of redemption. Creation established the relationship between God as sovereign and men as his servants and children. This is beautifully expressed in Revelation chapters 4 and 5, where John first sees God as the Creator, and then the Lamb as the Savior who ransomed the people of God by his blood. The basic importance of creation is that mankind is one in Adam, the father of all. So Paul in teaching the Gospel in his letter to the Romans draws a parallel between Adam and Christ (chapter 5:12–21) and in I Corinthians 15:22 he says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Contrary to those who would see in such statements a use of rabbinical methods no longer valid for us, we believe that these and other New Testament references indicate that the existence of Adam and Eve as our first parents, special creations of God, is basic to faith in the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ as our last Adam, God’s agent in fallen man’s new creation.

Was man created in a unique way?

Yes, in both Genesis 1 and 2 the creation of man is set apart from that of the animals and all other beings. The distinctive feature is that God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (vs. 26) and in verse 27 we read: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female he created them.” This was followed by the so-called ““ultural mandate”, the command to have dominion over all of creation, and to subdue it. In verse 26 this dominion is closely connected to the image of God. As made in the image of God, man can truly be said to be the crown of creation.

What is the image of God in which we were created?

Reformed theologians have usually distinguished between the image of God in the broader and narrower sense, or the image as belonging to man’s very essence or being, and in a spiritual or moral condition, which was lost when Adam became a sinner. In the former meaning of the term, it refers to the fact that men are persons, spirits, rational and moral and self-conscious. In this sense even fallen men are said to have been made in the image of God, and therefore human life is sacred (Genesis 9:6) and we are forbidden to curse men, “who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). In distinction from the teaching of those who would make the image of God something that the Creator added to human nature (Roman Catholic view), we believe it is of the very essence of man‘s being, and in that sense Adam is called the son of God (Luke 4:38). In the narrower sense the image of God is the true knowledge o[ God, righteousness, and holiness in which man was like God in his moral nature. This is mentioned in Heidelberg Catechism answer 6 and Confession of Faith Article XIV; also Canons of Dort III & IV, Article 1. Source texts for this description are especially Ephesians 4:24, “created after the like· ness of God in true righteousness and holiness”, and Colossians 3:10, “the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after. the image of its creator”. In this sense the image of God is lost, unless restored by the new birth. A comparison I have found helpful is that of a light bulb, which may be called an image of the sun as a source of light. A burned out, dead bulb is still a light bulb, but has lost its most important similarity to the sun in that it doesn’t shine. So men are still men, even though dead in sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1), but the light that is in them has become darkness (ct. Canons of Dort III & IV, Art. 4).

Do we believe in dichotomy or trichotomy in our view of man‘s nature?

These terms refer to the elements of human nature. Dichotomy is the view that man consists of two parts, body and soul or spirit; trichotomy understands soul and spirit to be two separate and distinct entities of man. Genesis 2:7 tells us that God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being (soul). In a short article such as this we cannot adduce proof for the fact that soul and spirit are not distinct “parts” of man, but two aspects of his spiritual being that continues to exist after death (cf. Heid. Cat. Answer 57). In recent years there has been reaction against speaking of man as consisting of two parts, and the emphasis is on the unity of human nature. We do need to be on guard against a pagan view of the body as in itself inferior and even sinful, a prison of the soul. The fact that Scripture teaches the resurrection of the body as the great hope of the Christian refutes such a view. When Paul refers to the “flesh” as being evil (e.g., Romans 8:7, 8) he does not mean the body, but fallen human nature. We are to render our bodies as sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1), and the apostle prays for the keeping of body as well as soul and spirit until the coming of Jesus Christ (I Thess. 5: 23). Our bodies also reflect the image of God, and therefore by saving grace they become temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (I Cor. 6:19, 20).