The Identity of Man
by William Kellogg
The Bible was given to us to teach us about God, ourselves, and the creation of which we are a part. If we would fulfill the purpose for which it was given, we must apply the principles that it teaches to every area of our lives. Genesis 1:26 is an important text because it is the first mention of man in the Bible, and teaches us primary truths about man.
Let us briefly set the historical and scriptural context of this important passage, so that we may better understand its teaching. The whole of Genesis 1 is a polemic or argument aimed against the idolatrous nature worship of the ancient near east. These people lived in constant fear of the many forces of creation, which they had personalized into deities. They spent much of their lives trying to placate these capricious gods of earth, water, wind and fire (cf. Rom. 1:18ff). Further they believed that the present ordered world was the result of a great battle among the gods. They believed that a great hero was victorious over the sea monster Leviathan, and thus released the creative forces which brought ordered nature out of chaotic matter. In this climate Gen. 1 was a shocking piece of literature. The ancient near eastern man expected to hear the narrative of a violent battle between the gods. What Scripture gives is a grand narrative of God simply speaking into existence all of creation (see Heb. 11:4). As the narrative develops, God speaks into existence every one of the objects of the idolator's worship (trees, animals, sun, moon, stars, and even "great sea monsters"). The greatest shock to the ancient near eastern man, though, comes with the creation of man. In v.26 we are told that God creates man in His own image as viceroy over the creation. Not only are all of the idols shown to be mere dumb creatures of God, but man is king over them.
In v.26 we are taken into the counsel of God: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,..." Man was not meant to live in fear of blind creation forces, but to rule over them. This passage gives us the basis of human dignity. Man is the image bearer of the Creator, made in His likeness. Though this image and likeness have been marred through Adamic sin, yet they are still man's dignity. In Genesis 9:6 God tells Noah that the murderer must be put to death, because in murdering he has violated the image of God. God's people must always oppose illegitimate killing on this ground. Murder, abortion, euthanasia are all blasphemy.
Beyond the dignity of man, Genesis 1:26 speaks to us of the nature of man. Man is an empire builder by creation. God made him to be king over the work of His fingers (Ps. S). God created man in His image and likeness "in order that" man might have dominion. The current translations in print today render the Hebrew conjunction waw as "and." However, the context demands and grammar allows that it be rendered as "in order that" (see Gesenius Hebrew Grammar Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, p.328, section 111-0). The image of God in man is noisome divine spark within man, nor is it that man is a trichotomist being (body, soul, spirit) reflecting the Trinity. The image of God in man is his regal character and drive, which mirrors the regency of the Creator.
Even after the fall man is an empire builder, whether in business, politics, the arts, the sciences, or the church. He is constantly trying to increase his sphere of influence. This is good because God made man in this way. It only becomes warped and perverted into lawless aggression through the fall.
Excerpted from an article in Chalcedon Report No.183. Nov., 1980, P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, CA 95251