The first chapter of Genesis is a literary phenomenon. Though written 3,500 years ago, it still is unblemished in its accuracy and sublimeness of presentation.
Some years back, one of the world’s foremost archaeologists declared that:
“modern cosmogonies show such a disconcerting tendency to be short-lived that it may be doubted whether science has yet caught up with the Biblical story” (Albright, 1948, 135).
The narrative begins with a fiat declaration of the origin of the entire universe.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
The material universe was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by the spoken word of God. The term bara’ is used only of God in the biblical record, and it lends itself to the sense of a “creation out of nothing” (Unger & White, 1980, 84).
“For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9).
“By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which appear” (Hebrews 11:3).
The sense is, “God summoned into existence what had no existence before” (Bruce, 1990, 279).
Earth is given special attention. Initially, it was without its current spherical form and was uninhabited. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep (i.e., an organizing process was begun), and God (elohim – a term hinting of power) spoke light into existence out of darkness (though this “light” was not the sun; cf. v. 14ff). The expression “God said” is found 10 times in this chapter.
On the second day an “expanse” was created to separate the waters above from those below (vv. 6-8). The next day earth’s waters were gathered together in one place, and dry land appeared. Too, God spoke and vegetation sprang up to bless the earth, the various forms being designed “after their kind” (vv. 9-13).
On day four heavenly luminaries were created to accommodate both daytime and nighttime (vv. 14-19). Day five saw the birth of various forms of marine life, then birds as well (vv. 20-23). Finally on day six, animals of various “kinds,” both wild and domestic, came forth to populate the planet (vv. 24-25). And “it was good” (v. 25b).
At this point no death or destruction had marred the pristine environment.
The pinnacle of the initial week was the unique commencement of humankind. Moses wrote:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness ... And God created man in his own image ... male and female created he them” (vv. 26-27).
There are three points we would like to develop from this text:
- the significance of the plural pronouns;
- the verbs used of the action;
- the implication of the “image and likeness” phrase.
The Pronouns: Us, Our
Plural pronouns are employed by God on several occasions in the Old Testament (cf. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:9). Various views are suggested to explain this phenomenon.
First, some allege that God was speaking to angels. This theory has no biblical support. Nowhere is it indicated that God and angels share the same nature, or that humans are in the image of angels (cf. “his” image v. 27).
Second, more commonly a number of modern scholars have advanced the theory that these plurals are the so-called “plurals of majesty,” a form allegedly used by ancient pagan kings.
In response one may ask: Why would the Lord pattern his declaration after pagan rulers—especially since there weren’t any at the time! Further, there is no example of this alleged figure elsewhere in Hebrew scripture (Leupold, 1942, 1.86-87; Aalders, 1981, 1.70).
The only view that fits all the facts is that the plural reflects an “adumbration” of the more comprehensive truth revealed in the New Testament, namely the plurality of the divine Persons possessing the nature of God.
Basil Atkinson of Cambridge stated:
“The verse is one of the most outstanding foreshadowings in the Old Testament of the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity. One Person of the Godhead is addressing another” (1957, 21).
This was the view among the patristic writers of the post-apostolic age, and virtually all of the conservative scholars of past generations. Like many other important issues, the “seed” form of the Old Testament comes into “full bloom” in the New Testament (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10; Hamilton, 1990, 134).
The Verbs: Create, Make, Form
There are three verbs used to depict the origin of man. The terms are “create” [‘bara – v. 27], “make” [’asa – v. 26], and “form” [yasar – 2:7].
There is a shade of difference between the terms, though occasionally they appear to be used interchangeably. Some suggest that ’bara signifies to “create,” yasar “to form,” and ’asa to “make” or “finish” (cf. Isaiah 45:18; Delitzsch, 1978, 7.227; Young, 1972, 3.146).
One thing is certain. Scripture does not endorse the notion that man is an accident upon the planet, as atheistic evolutionism alleges. No fewer than 14 times in the Old Testament God is designated as our “Maker” (Job 4:17, Psalm 95:6). Just as a potter forms a work of art from clay, so Jehovah “formed” the human body from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7).
David declared we have been “made,” and “fearfully and wonderfully” so (Psalm 100:3; 139:14). Isaiah marveled at the arrogance of anyone who would say of God, “he made me not” (29:16).
The human body is a marvelous “machine” of complementary systems, each one of which depends upon the others. It could never have developed according to the Darwinian incremental scheme (Jackson, 2000).
Of three events in this chapter Moses uses the term “created” [’bara]. Once when “matter” is spoken into existence (v. 1), another time when animal life is generated (v. 21), and finally of man and woman (v. 27). The use of “create” is most appropriate regarding the commencement of mankind, for this involves a unique specimen — unlike anything else.
For example, humans possess a “spirit” (James 2:26), or a “soul” (Matthew 10:28) — the terms being used interchangeably on occasion. Christ himself recognized the qualitative difference between an animal and a human when he reasoned (with a fortiori logic) that if it were lawful to retrieve a donkey or an ox from a well on the Sabbath, surely it was permissible to heal a human being on that holy day (Luke 14:1-6).
The Object of Creation: Image, Likeness
“Man” (the term is generic, inclusive of woman – v. 27b; Leupold, 1942, 94) is created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (see *Note). Most likely these two terms are examples of Hebrew parallelism, with no vivid distinction being made.
Observe that humanity is not broken down into “kinds” (the term used 10x in this chapter), as plants and animals are. The human family is “one” (Acts 17:26) — literally, “out of one male.”
The Bible separates humans from animals by a vast impassible gulf. Pity the deluded soul who attempts to make a “marriage” between Genesis and Darwinism. Moses does not define what he means by the “image” of God, but certain logical conclusions may be deduced from companion portions of divine revelation.
“Image” has no reference to a physical likeness, as Mormonism alleges (B. Young, 1853, 238). God is “spirit,” not physical (Hosea 11:9; John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Matthew 16:17). Instead, there are various traits that separate humanity from all other forms of biological life.
Let us briefly illustrate this principle.
Man’s reasoning capacity
Aristotle characterized man as a reasoning creature. Animals operate by instinct, and they react. People “think.” And just as there are laws that regulate all spheres of nature, e.g., astronomy, physics, biology, etc., so there are laws that regulate human thought.
God said to Israel: “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). In his teaching, Paul “reasoned” with those who would listen (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 24:25).
A part of the package bequeathed by the Creator is our ability to think critically—though many have not cultivated the latent skill. That is partially the explanation for the vast conglomerate of religious confusion that clutters world society (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33).
Our free will
Another aspect of being in God’s image is our volitional power, the ability to make choices, thus to honor the Lord with obedience instead of disobedience (Joshua 24:15).
Some atheists deny we possess “free will”; supposedly we are merely victims of the forces of nature. Hardcore Calvinists similarly contend “human free will is a myth” (Storms, 1984, 80-81). It is argued that the “image of God” was destroyed in man’s fall.
Such is easily refuted, however.
- Long after the fall, murder was condemned on the ground that human life is sacred because mankind is “in the image of God” (Genesis 9:6); * Free will repeatedly is both affirmed and implied in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 23:37; John 5:39-40; Revelation 22:17).
Our sense of morality and justice
Humans have an innate sense of morality, i.e., an awareness there is a difference between “right” and “wrong.” It is called “conscience.” People may not identify the distinctions correctly, but generally they are unwilling to affirm that “nothing is wrong.”
C.S. Lewis began his book, Mere Christianity, with what he called “The Law of Human Nature.” He contended that human speech is littered with daily phrases which appeal to a universal consciousness of moral principle. Statements like: “wait your turn,” “don’t pick on that poor soul,” or “you have more than enough; you should share,” reveal a moral sensitivity, a sense of “oughtness,” or else the opposite.
Paul appealed to this principle when he argued that even the ancient Gentiles, who had no written revelation from God, either were condemned or excused by a certain set of moral imperatives (Romans 2:14-15).
These three points are merely illustrative of others that could be mentioned. What an honor it is to know that we have the impress of the image of God within our minds, though many have attempted to erase all residue thereof by deliberate rebellion against their Creator. The noblest of earth, however, will “put on the new man, that after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:24).
[Note: Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7b does not conflict with Genesis 1:26-27. In the Corinthian letter he simply was emphasizing the historical facts of Genesis 2, namely that Adam was created directly from the dust of the ground, whereas woman came out of man. The order of creation is his point; not that different natures characterize the two genders (see Fee, 1987, 515).]