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Top Ten #1 // Absolutely every human being bears the image of God

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Top Ten Pro-life Passages # 1 // Genesis 1

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [Genesis 1:26-28 NIV]

In the first chapter of the Bible we read about God’s creation of humankind. This foundational statement of human nature is significant for its placement and the concluding summary that God, surveying what he had made, described it as “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Several libraries could be filled with the books on what exactly the image and likeness of God means! Several points stand out:

Human beings are different from the rest of the animal world.

No other creature is made in the image and likeness of God. Contrary to atheist philosophers like Peter Singer, people are qualitatively different from even higher mammals like chimpanzees. Human life is more valuable than non-human animal life, we are in fact only “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8). The Bible helps us understand that this difference is part of God’s creational intentions. Part of being made in the image of God entails responsible stewardship of the created order (see Genesis 1:26), but that is not the whole story.

All human beings are made in the image of God

The exact Hebrew phrase referring to the “likeness” or “image” (the words here are generally held to be equivalent) of God only appears in two other places in the Bible, but these references assure us that human nature as created in the image of God survives both the Fall (Genesis 5:1) and the Flood (Genesis 9:6). The New Testament encourages neighbourly behaviour on the basis that all people are made in God’s image (James 3:9). All people, in all places and at all times, young or old, male or female, and of whatever ethnicity, are made in the image of God.

The image of God is about human nature not “functionality”

This image of God is less about a status we achieve or behaviours we acquire, than about the essence of human nature. As Christopher Wright puts it: “[t]he image of God is not so much something we possess, as what we are. To be human is to be the image of God. It is not an extra feature added to our species; it is definitive of what it means to be human.”[1] Disastrous consequences have ensued whenever one group of people has tried to undermine the “imaged status” of another grouping (e.g., black Africans, Jews), who then come to be viewed as less than human and treated accordingly (the slave trade, the Holocaust). In the same way the attack on unborn life begins by undermining the humanity of the unborn child (“just tissue,” “a clump of cells,” etc.).

God made human beings to create other image-bearers

One of the reasons human beings exist as male and female is so that they can together (pro)create more image-bearers. This is stated explicitly in Genesis 1:28 (see above). The Bible gives a lot of attention not only to births, but also pregnancies, recognising that this is the point at which a new life comes into existence. The introduction to the first child Cain is typical: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.”” (Genesis 4:1). Moreover, Genesis 5:1–3, which begins a list of Seth’s descendants, uses the language of God’s original creation (“image” and “likeness”) to describe Adam fathering Seth. In a way that parallels Genesis 1:26–27, the child resembles the parent. Alongside family likeness, the continuing presence of God’s image (Genesis 9:6) makes it clear that Seth is created in God’s image too. The formation of every child, occurring in like manner to Seth’s conception (Gen 4:25; 5:3), invites us to see human procreation as enabling the transmission of the imago dei. Whenever a new human life is created he or she is made in the image of God. There is, according to Scripture, no other way in which a human life can exist!

Despite all this some Christians have been fooled into thinking that the baby in the womb is not yet a person, who does not reflect God’s image and likeness. As we will see in this series, denying the humanity of the unborn child is not only logically and scientifically problematic, it contradicts the rich theology of unborn life we find throughout the Bible. From conception a new human life exists, as precious as any other human being, and every bit an image-bearer as the rest of us. God speaks his “very good” over the child in the womb and expects us to honour this child as we would any other person. God regards any attack on the unborn child with the same seriousness as any attack on human life and dignity.

[1] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Leicester: IVP, 2004), 119.

Why were the twins fighting with each other in the womb?

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Wonderfully clear!

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