Created in the Image of God

By: Diane Chandler
Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Between 1508-1512, Michelangelo painstakingly painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Papal Chapel within the Vatican, depicting nine particular biblical scenes from the book of Genesis. One of the most famous scenes, the creation of Adam, depicts God touching the finger of Adam and giving him life. In order for his visual imagination to inform the planning of the paintings, Michelangelo continually drank in the biblical texts.

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God (Latin, imago Dei)? Over the upcoming few weeks, I’ll address the dignity of the human person, created holistically in the imago Dei.

In Genesis 1-3, we observe the holistic formation of Adam and Eve as they were created in the image of God as integrated beings ~ complete with bodies, spirits, emotions, intelligence, relational capacity, vocational propensity for work, capability for physical health and wellness, and the ability to steward themselves, God’s creation, and God-given resources. God did not assemble humankind in piece-meal fashion, adding to their physical bodies the capacity for the spirit, emotions, relationships, intellect, and stewardship in increments. Rather, God holistically created humankind, infusing them with integrated capacity in unity and alignment.

First and foundationally, God created humankind with spiritual capacity, as evidenced in their fallen natures needing to be renewed (ultimately through Christ). Second, human emotion is also evident in the creation narrative, demonstrated when Adam and Eve felt completeness, pleasure, desire, fear, shame, and suspicion. Their emotions were real, raw, and observable. Third, the relational dimension of human formation is unmistakably apparent when God created humankind to be in intimate relationship with himself and fashioned Adam and Eve to be in relationship with one other. Fourth, intellectual formation is indicated in that God fashioned Adam and Eve with thinking, reasoning, and decision making abilities. For example, Adam named all of the animals (Gen 2:20), Adam and Eve made the decision to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:6-7), and both decided to hide in shame from God (Gen 3:7).

Fifth, we see how God fashioned Adam and Eve vocationally to tend the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15-16, 18). The boundary of their calling to work was the perimeter of the garden. Sixth, Adam and Eve had all necessary elements for physical health formation, as God abundantly provided everything they needed for wellness in the Garden (Gen 1:29-30). God gave them seed-bearing plants, fruit from trees, and all the other resources found in animals (Gen 1:29-30). Last, their economic and resource formation was likewise provided for in that they were to steward the land which offered provision for all of their needs (Gen 2:15).

God made man and woman as holistic and whole beings. As Emil Brunner writes, “Scripture’s emphasis on the whole man as the image of God has triumphed time and time again over all objections and opposing principles. Scripture never makes a distinction between man’s spiritual and bodily attributes in order to limit the image of God to the spiritual, as furnishing the only possible analogy between man and God”.[1] God’s creation of man and woman testified of God’s holistic nature being imprinted upon them.

How might our understanding of being created in the image of God impact how we live? View ourselves? How we relate to God and one another?  How we steward our resources (including our physical bodies, finances, and the environment)? How we stand up for the dignity of humanity?

[1] Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), p. 77.

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Diane Chandler
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12 Responses to “Created in the Image of God”

  1. Here is a great look at the Sistine Chapel:

  2. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

    William, this is a wonderful view of the Sistine Chapel. I don’t know if any one photograph would do it justice. Thaks for including this link.

  3. Hello Diane,

    Have you thought much about how image is limited? I mean the tree of life is accessible, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is off limits. Knowledge . . . of good and evil? Is this originally a realm that Creator had reserved for Himself? Having knowledge of good and evil usually encourages judgements about one thing or another. This knowledge seems to distract from love (see Boyd’s “Repenting of Religion”)

    The tragedy of the garden has placed us in the predicament of making many judgements. And I see us making judgements leading to many fears and anxieties in our present cultural difficulties.

    If we are the imago Dei, it is in our nature to create, but it seems that much creativity (intellectual, relational, economic) is lost to anxieties that are fueled by media. The relationality and formation of creation are then stunted in development. I’m not sure how the created order can respond to such developmental confusion? Do you see some sort of reset button?

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:


      You pose several comments and questions that are worthy of consideration. Many have considered what the imago Dei really refers to. Let me see if I might be able to respond.

      First, you ask if I think the image (the imago Dei) is limited. Actually, my view is quite the contrary. If God is infinite and eternal (which He is), and we are created in His image (and we are), then it seems that humanity is created with diversity, multi-dimensionality, and creativity that reflects the very nature of God. Interestingly, there is quite a diversity of opinion as to what it means to be created in the image of God, as expressed by philosophers, the church fathers, through to contemporary writers/scholars.

      G. C. Berkouwer in his book, Man: The Image of God, notes that although the Genesis narrative affirms a likeness between humans and God there is little explanation provided that describes exactly what that likeness is or consists of. David Cairns notes that for most of the Christian writers up to Aquinas the image of God was understood exclusively to mean man’s power of reason. Augustine defined the image as intellect, emotion, and will. And reformers such as John Calvin and Martin Luther viewed the image as original righteousness lost through sin but was restored in Christ.

      Regarding your theological questions about good and evil and God reserving knowledge of them for Himself as it pertains to love, Karl Barth offers another view of the imago Dei as relationality reflecting the Trinity. Further, God, our Creator, must have had knowledge of good and evil to be able to differentiate between them but clearly was not the source of evil. He is the source of everything good.

      Since the fall of humankind through sin, there is a need to distinguish between good and evil and receive the power of God to choose the good. I’m not sure if these judgments between good and evil are inherently a bad thing. They actually are part of the discernment process and a consequence of our fallen nature. If our minds our renewed through the Word of God, then the fears and anxieties of our present cultural milieu would be surrendered to faith in a God who loves us and promises to never leave us or forsake us. Not to say that this is escapism, but rather a promise by the Creator of the universe to us that He truly is our Father who invites us to participate in his eternal Kingdom through Christ.

      As for a “reset button,” I think you may be referring to a divine process that corrects the evil, renews the created order, and reestablishes the imago Dei. The Bible points to Christ’s work on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling the believer as the reset button for individual salvation and life abundant. As for a Kingdom “reset button,” Christ, who is the perfect imago Dei, will one day return, where we will see every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

      As for the media and its impact on the anxiety levels, I submit that the media plays an enormous role in what captures the culture’s attention ~ for better or for worse. However, I would not blame all of our individual and global anxiety on the media. There is much deeper and fundamental source of this existential anxiety. World events and conditions in themselves help spawn our anxiety levels and challenge us to be salt and light in a deeply distressed and fallen world. I’m mindful of the exhortation to work while it is yet day because night is coming when no one will be able to work.

  4. Joyce Ojiaku says:

    Shalom! Dr Chandler,

    Your blog has great nuggets; But, I’m captivated by your comment, “Rather, God holistically created humankind, infusing them with integrated capacity in unity and alignment.” May I share some insights?

    “Theology is imperfect thinking, philosophy infinite”, the Psalmist made us aware of a fool’s heart in (Psalm 14:1). The Bible says that, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” I call this infinite and true liberty. I am sure no one can argue on this? The same God reconciled humankind to Himself by the death of His Son. This is something no human mind can clarify. (2 Cor 5:19) However this is what the Bible says. If this cannot be understood, it can be believed. Faith in the Lamb of God is saving faith.

    God cannot be challenged or altered; He shapes the future and in Him, we are secured. He who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17) Therefore, in this infinity can the weak voices of our decree things and it comes pass. Creation is the autograph of the Almighty. He formed and throw all visible things for himself; sledge hammered them out on his anvil to fit himself. We are finitely little for these infinite splendors but God the Creator is too great for anything less. We should embrace the glory of the heavens which is the only reflection of God’s glory. (1 Cor 8:6)

    Thanks for the revelatory word and I pray for more download on you.

    Stay blessed~
    Joyce Ojiaku

  5. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:


    Thank you for your response. To summarize what you are saying, I think you are identifying the amazing splendor and majesty of God, as seen in His creation, including humankind. The glory of the heavens indeed reflect God’s glory. At the same time, I’m reminded that we (followers of Jesus) reflect the glory of God through our praise, worship, and godly character. Even our faces are to reflect God’s glory: “But now we all with unveiled face reflect the glory of God (2 Cor 3:18). No other creature is created in the image of God.

    Psalm 8:4 rhetorically asks, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (quoted by the writer of the book of Hebrews in 2:6). God made man. And Christ has restored us to the imago Dei, the image of God, through Christ. No other creature is created in the image of God.

    Jurgen Moltmann asserts that God allows himself to be represented on earth by his image and that humanity is his “indirect revelation” of his divine Being in earthly form” and “they [human beings] are the appearance of God’s splendour, and his glory on earth” (quoted from his book, God in Creation, pp. 219-220).

    What an awesome reality that God created humankind in his image and designed it so that we would reflect him. And since the brokenness of humanity at the fall and the reconciliation of humankind to God through the cross, the restoration of the image is only possible through Christ.

  6. Thank you for the reply Diane. I am still troubled slightly by your original post, and I’m not sure I know how to communicate my concerns. It does not help that I am quit inexperienced in these kinds of discussions (though I hope to improve) and slow to realize the specifics of my general intuitions . . . and I can just be wrong and need to learn – anyway here goes.

    The concept of “holistic formation” seems foreign to the text. Pastorally, I like the idea that we are created complete with bodies, spirits, emotions, intelligence relation capacity, etc.. I want the people I serve to understand that allegiance to our King is not something piece-meal but a surrender of our entirety. However, textually (rhetorically), I do not see the justification for adding the wider descriptors.

    The ambiguity of the original text allows freedom and mystery to flow from the text. While the wider descriptors may encourage segments of culture, they could also become a unnecessary legalistic weight for others. Brueggemann warns that, “Christian theology [tends] to leap toward an ontological claim . . . That is, systematic theology in its strong appeal to ontology tends to make a complete break between ontology and rhetoric, so that rhetoric itself in the end is of minimal importance for the theological claims being made.”* Theological systems may benefit from such moves, but I wonder at what cost to the text and wider implications living this side of the resurrection in renewal circles.

    I like your categories. They can be helpful, but your implicit ontological claim would be that Creator looks very much like a middle class American moving onward and upward. I pray I am not making mountains of molehills, but I have seen time and time again that teachers of renewal miss the radical redefinition of the Jewish expectation in the Christ event. We are happy to emphasize covenant benefits but not the kenotic condition. We are not equally ready to grasp the concept of what Michael Gorman calls the cruciform life: a life, the glory, that conforms to a crucified Lord. There is always hints of the imago Dei in the finite, but the transformation from glory to glory requires a cross.

    I pray I have not overstated.


    Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997) 18-19

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Gary, thank you for your input related to my presentation on holistic formation. I would agree with you when you state, “The ambiguity of the original text allows freedom and mystery to flow from the text.” The three passages in the book of Genesis (Gen. 1:26-28; 5:1-3; and 9:6) do not specify much about the image of God. The New Testament assists us in seeing that the image of God needs to be restored (i.e., moral/spiritual renewal of humanity in being conformed to the image of God (cf. Rom. 8:29: Eph. 1:4; 2 Cor. 3:18). In the N.T., we see that the image of God is not only personified in Christ but is only possible in Christ. For example, Colossians 2:3 speaks of the mystery of God being found in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Let me return to your concerns.

      With the spiritual dimension primary, I suggest that each of the other six dimensions is linked to the radical transformation of the human spirit through the atoning blood of Christ’s death and resurrection and that we are to cooperate with God to steward each of these seven dimensions. In other words, when we are redeemed in Christ, we do indeed become what you have noted in Michael J. Gorman’s book, and begin a process of “cruciformity,” which is defined by Gorman as “the ongoing pattern of living in Christ and of dying with him that produces a Christ-like (cruciform) person” (p. 49). Gorman rightly emphasizes that this cannot be attributed to human effort. The Holy Spirit’s power within the redeemed human person and the redeemed community make this possible.

      In offering these seven dimensions, I, in no way, prescribe some self-help formula that could approach legalism. My premise is that as redeemed persons created in the image of God, we are to steward all areas of life through cooperation with His Spirit within us and by His grace, in order to glorify Jesus. And we do this because we are created in the image of God and He desires that we reflect His glory in ever increasing ways (2 Cor. 3:18).

      Allow me to provide an illustration that may clarify my presentation.

      John Newton was a British slave trader when he was converted to Christ in 1748 after reading Thomas à Kempis’ work, The Imitation of Christ. Providentially that same night, a violent storm arose, threatening to sink the ship. He would later write about this dark period in his life prior to conversion, “My breast was filled with the most excruciating passions, eager desire, bitter rage, and black despair” (John Newton, The Life and Spirituality of John Newton, p. 31) While at the helm, Newton experienced a deep sense of conviction for his grievous wrongdoing and licentious lifestyle. After repenting for his sins and being very sick, he retired from the slave trade. His heart changed, and every area of his life was impacted. He simply could no longer engage in the same sinful relationships, vocationally remain a slave trader, remain a tangled mess of emotions, misuse his finances, and drink himself to death. Although his conversion to Christ was spiritual, all dimensions of his life were impacted, as he chose to surrender them to God. His spiritual life, emotions, relationships, vocational choices, physical well-being, and financial stewardship all changed in order to bring glory to God.

      While being converted to Christ and being transformed into his image is fundamentally spiritual, I am suggesting that when Christ redeems a man or woman all dimensions of life are to reflect his glory. My next blog this Wednesday will address how some throughout church history have viewed the imago Dei which I hope will further clarify my presentation.

      Gary, thank you for your engaging in this discussion, which I believe is so deeply pertinent for the church as well as the academy.

  7. Hello Diane,

    I look forward to reading your continuing presentation tomorrow. May I ask a few more questions?

    First, the hermeneutical move you are making seems slightly strained if the goal is to look at the meaning of the image of God in Genesis. Do we rightly interpret the text’s meaning (and I do think texts have meaning) through a New Covenant grid? Or do we expand the NT meaning of Christ being the image of God (Col 1.15), or is that a differentiation that needs to be made?

    Second, the seven dimensions you discuss lack movement, melody or color. Worship is a huge element of the renewal experience and three of the most common expressions in corporate gatherings (music, dance & art ) are missing. Howard Gardner, famous for his theory of multiple intelligences, recognizes categories for musical and kinesthetic abilities. Why do you not include these in a holistic description?

    Finally, I agree with you that we are to reflect His glory in ever increasing ways. What I am not sure is why do you use language that would seem to have that glory segmented in spiritual and carnal categories? Why the language, “fundamentally spiritual?” Is this because you think it important to import platonic categories or are you exploring language to use in the discussion?

    Thank you for letting us take part . . .


  8. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:


    You raise a few issues that I’d like to respond to and then follow up with a question to you.

    First related to interpretation, there is lack of agreement among Old Testament regarding the precise meaning of the imago Dei as presented in Gen. 1:26-28. However, I would agree with Stanley Grenz’s view that “the divine image ought not be viewed from too narrow a perspective” (The Social God and the Relational Self, p. 200). From my reading of many of the theologians who have studied the imago Dei theme (Berkouwer, Brunner, Cairns, Barth, and Moltmann), very few view the overall biblical theme of imago Dei without looking at the New Testament, or as Anthony Hoekema asserts Christ renewed the image that was lost during the fall through offering redemption to humankind as a new creation (Created in the Image of God, pp. 104-111). So I think I am in very good company in viewing the imago Dei theme throughout the totality of Scripture.

    Second, you suggest that the seven dimensions I propose “lack movement, melody, or color” and mention worship (including music, dance, and art) as an element of the renewal experience. Whereas I would agree that worship is essential in fostering and enhancing a growing relationship with God, I would view worship as coming under the dimension of spiritual formation. Keep in mind that the seven dimensions are broad descriptors and do not entail all of the possible nuances of each respective dimension. Howard Gardner’s presentation of the seven intelligences (i.e., spatial, linguistic, musical, etc.) capture the diversity of human intellectual abilities. I think the savant syndrome whereby an individual with low IQ intelligence is extraordinarily gifted related to music might support Gardner’s theory. Overall, I view Gardner’s presentation as having merit. In my schema, all of these intelligences would subsume under intellectual formation.

    Third, I’m not sure what you are referring to when you mention that I use the phrase “fundamentally spiritual.” What I do maintain is that for the redeemed person in Christ the spiritual formation dimension is the catalyzing centerpoint that impacts and informs the other six.

    As described in my most recent blog post of July 14th related to the historical/theological perspectives connected to the imago Dei, I have tied my proposed framework based on a biblical perspective to a historical/theological review of the imago Dei as offered by Christian theologians throughout Christian history (i.e., Aquinas, Augustine, the Reformation writers, up to contemporary writers). Hence, my hope in presenting this seven dimension paradigm is to describe the seven primary aspects of the human person in which God has entrusted us to steward that is anchored in this theological perspective.

    Perhaps you would like to propose dimensions of the human person that you see are not included in my proposed paradigm related to God’s creating humankind in His image. What would you suggest from a biblical and theological perspective are the dimensions of humankind having been created in the image of God?

  9. Jim Sharits says:

    I loved your article post. Fantastic.