Discover more from Dominion Press
A Royal Calling
Taking a closer look at the terms "image" and "likeness"
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, so that they will have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26 LSB)
The concept of human identity is one that has undergone various changes throughout the centuries. In ancient Mesopotamia, for instance, it wasn’t uncommon to view human beings as mere slaves of the gods, helpful earth-dwelling creatures that could manage the menial work on behalf of the cosmic bigwigs. Aristotle later gave to the world the definition of the human being as a “rational animal.” But this, though slightly more dignifying, was equally insufficient in its own right as a full definition of the human person.
Contemporary reflections on the nature of human beings haven't improved much. Today they fluctuate somewhere between pond scum and silly putty. Human beings are thought to be both the distant cousins of the green stuff living on the inside of your son’s fish tank, and also the kind of creatures that can alter the fundamental structure of their being with some lip gloss and high heels.
Whatever we are, we are apparently quite malleable. But malleability seems to be the only constant.
A Royal Calling: Image and Likeness
In contrast to these warped and, frankly, degrading speculations, the Scriptures present us with a view of human beings that is not only true but exalted: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, so that they will have dominion…’” (Gen. 1:26 LSB).
The words “image” and “likeness” in this text convey two related but distinct ideas. “Image,” as the term was widely understood in the ancient Near East, refers to humanity’s status as a living symbol of God’s rule and authority on the earth.1 Like a statue representing a king’s claim to a certain territory, ’ādām (mankind) images God’s rule to the rest of creation. Hence the attention given in the following verses to the theme of dominion. Humans, as the divine image, rule on behalf of God.
However, if “image” speaks of humanity’s relationship to creation as kings or vicegerents, “likeness” highlights humanity’s relationship to God as sons. Just as Seth is later described as the “likeness” of Adam (Gen. 5:3), so ’ādām is here called the “likeness” of God, pointing to the close, covenantal relationship shared between God and human beings. Adam, in other words, is God’s son — a fact the New Testament confirms without a hint of ambiguity: “…the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Lk. 3:38).
Putting all of this together, we have a picture of human life and existence that unfolds along two fronts. With respect to creation, human beings are royal, kingly figures, ruling over creation according to the pattern of divine rule intrinsic to God Himself.2 With respect to God, they are sons, relating to Him in a covenant relationship of faithful love, obedience, and trust. Indeed, these two dimensions of human identity cannot be separated; both are necessary for the true fulfilment of ’ādām’s nature and purpose. As Gentry and Wellum express it in their work Kingdom through Covenant, “Kingship is effected through covenant relationship.”3
All of this, however, simply goes to show the wisdom of Calvin’s timeless words at the beginning of the Institutes:
“…we observe that no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord and then turns back to look upon himself.”4
Knowledge of human identity — our nature, telos, duties, and fallenness — is bound up with the knowledge of God. We cannot have one without the other.
The sole reason absolute cultural mayhem has broken loose in recent decades is precisely because we have rejected this truth. Stubbornly closing our hearts to the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus Christ, we have thrown away the only basis for maintaining a true understanding of ourselves. We have fallen into the old Gentile dilemma: being darkened in our understanding and alienated from the life of God, we have consigned ourselves to the cruel whims of sensual lust and impurity (Eph. 4:18–19).
There is hope for our nation, but it won’t be achieved by turning to the hollow, milksop conservatism currently limping its way through the House of Commons. The only hope for Canada — and the only hope there has ever been for fallen sinners — is repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
All other roads lead further into the dehumanizing chaos we are presently enveloped in. Only the narrow gate leads to the last Adam and true Son of God, whose cross and resurrection are not only the means of our forgiveness, but the instruments God has ordained for the restoration of our humanity:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Eph. 2:14–16)
Join the fringe.
For this and much of the following, I am dependant on the insights of Dr. Peter Gentry and Dr. Stephen Wellum in their ground-breaking work Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 216–253.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Robert White (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 2.