From Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief

In part 7, we will look at ourselves and the historical beginning of the great biblical story of redemption.[1]

Genesis 1 teaches that after God brought the world into existence from nothing (chapter 10), he populated the heavens and the earth in six days. On the first day, he made light and separated it from the darkness. On day 2, he made the sky and separated the waters above from those below. On the third day, he made plants. On the fourth day, he gathered the light into heavenly bodies: sun, moon, and stars. On day 5, he filled the waters with aquatic life and the stars with winged creatures. On the sixth day, he populated the land with “livestock and creeping things and beasts” (Gen. 1:24). All the creatures were to reproduce “according to their kinds” (vv. 21, 24, 25). And “God saw that it was good” (v. 25).

But then something even more remarkable happens:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

   in the image of God he created him;

   male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Gen. 1:26–31)

This passage emphasizes the uniqueness of man in many ways. The first is what John Murray called the “unique engagement of God’s counsel.”[2] Murray says:

The formula is not that of simple fiat as in the case of light (Gen. 1:3). Nor is it that of command in reference to existing entities—“let the earth bring forth tender herb” (Gen. 1:11); “let the waters swarm swarm[3] of living creature” (Gen. 1:20); “let the earth bring forth living creature” (Gen. 1:24). The terms “let us make”[4] indicate that there is unique engagement of divine thought and counsel, and bespeak the fact that something correspondingly unique is about to take place.[5]

The Image of God

The second indication of man’s uniqueness in the passage is that he is made, God says, “in our image, after our likeness.” The animals are made “according to their kinds,” that is, according to a pattern prescribed by God. But man is made after the pattern of God himself. Murray comments:

But the exemplar itself was not something willed to be; it is that which belongs to God himself intrinsically. Intelligent response to this datum of revelation is one of amazement, and we exclaim, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him!” (Ps. 8:4). Man’s origin is not only the unique subject of God’s counsel; man is from the outset the recipient of unique endowment and dignity.[6]

Theologians, however, have long puzzled over what exactly the image of God consists of. Some have referred it to man’s unique intellectual power, others to the soul as distinct from the body, others to man’s relationship to God. Karl Barth found a parallel between “image” and “male and female” and so argued that the image consists in sexual differentiation, and therefore, more broadly, social relationships. Others have thought the image consists in man’s dominion over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26, 28) because that is a mirror of God’s lordship. Still others, with NT justification, have identified the image with ethical qualities such as knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Some have sought a Christological interpretation of the image, since the NT presents Christ as the image in a preeminent sense (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) and the image in which we are to be renewed (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18).

There is truth in all these representations. But there are so many of them that it is important for us to try to understand the conceptual patterns that bring them together.

“In our image” and “after our likeness” are more or less synonymous, using the Hebrew terms tselem and demuth, respectively. The passage makes no reference to nuanced differences between these terms, but pairs them to magnify the greatness of this particular creative act.[7] The writer evidently expects readers to understand these concepts without definition. It is worth reminding ourselves that “images” were common in the ancient world. Images were simply statues or pictures, intended to represent someone, often a god or a king. In the second commandment, God forbids worship of images. Yet there is an image of the true God—ourselves.[8]

The Hebrew terms themselves refer to a similarity[9] between God and man, but the nature of that similarity must be obtained from other passages. So if we are to speak of this image as more than an isolated title, our theological task is to determine the most theologically significant similarities between God and man, similarities that lift man above the other creatures. Those similarities will explain the use of “image” in this passage by showing that man’s relationship to the rest of creation is analogous to God’s relationship to the whole creation. But of course, man’s relationship to the creation cannot be exactly the same as God’s, because man himself is only a creature. The analogy between God and ourselves will always have disanalogy with it. So we are looking for qualities in man that constitute finite replicas of God’s infinite qualities.

In Genesis 1:26, what immediately follows the references to image and likeness is God’s appointment to man to “have dominion over” the rest of creation. This is also God’s first command to men (v. 28) after he blesses them. This is surely an important datum for us to consider in interpreting the image language.

In this book, I have discussed the doctrine of God (part 3) as an exposition of God’s lordship. His nature and attributes are what qualify him to be Lord of everything he makes, and they are, indeed, what his lordship looks like from the vantage point of his covenant servants. What Genesis 1:26–28 says is that God has made man like himself to equip him for his task as lord, a lord subordinate to God’s ultimate lordship.

So the image of God consists of those qualities that equip man to be lord of the world, under God.[10] What can these qualities be, but analogies of God’s own lordship attributes? As we consider these, I will also draw parallels between the three lordship attributes and the three anointed offices of Scripture: king, prophet, and priest. God, particularly Christ the Anointed One, is the original bearer of these offices. Man bears analogous offices in relation to the lower creation, and as redemptive history progresses, God appoints some individuals to be kings, prophets, and priests over his people.

Control (Kingly Office)

In Genesis 1:26, the image of God equips man to exercise great power: “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” In verse 28, God says that to have dominion over the earth, man will have to “subdue” it (kabash, “make subservient”). This dominion extends to everything God made in the fourth through sixth days of creation. In verses 29–30, God gives his work of the third day, the plant kingdom, to be food for man. It is interesting that God does not place the work of the first day (light and darkness) and that of the second day (heaven and the waters) under man’s power. In Scripture, “light” is closely connected with God himself. He is light according to 1 John 1:5, and in him is no darkness at all. He alone is the One who brings light to the world—not only physical light, but also light as a figure of salvation:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6; cf. Eph. 5:8, 13–14; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 21:23–24; 22:5)

As a metaphor for salvation, light comes from God alone and therefore serves as an image of the gracious character of redemption.

As for the work of the second day, God also keeps that to himself. Heaven is his own dwelling place, the location of his archetypal tabernacle, “the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Heb. 8:2). And God also maintains control of the waters of the second day, both those under and those above the expanse of heaven (Gen. 1:7). When he brings judgment on the ancient human world, Scripture says, “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (7:11). Here God removes the separations between waters that he erected on the second day of creation. Human beings have no power to deter the waters or the judgment. As with the light, God is sovereign in his disposition of the waters. After the judgment of Genesis 7, God still retains the power of sending or withholding rain. In an agricultural society, rain is a continually pressing need. Man cannot produce it for himself. He must keep coming to God for it (1 Kings 8:35–36). When God sends rain, it is a blessing, a mercy (Lev. 26:4; Deut. 11:11; 28:12; 2 Sam. 23:4; Ps. 147:8). When God withholds it, it is a judgment (Deut. 11:17; 28:24; 1 Kings 17:1ff.).

So man’s dominion does not extend to the work of God’s first two creative days. But the fact that he subdues and rules the creations of the last four is immensely significant. Man is not omnipotent as God is (chapter 16), but he is able to accomplish amazing things by his physical strength, intellectual acuity, and linguistic ability (see next section), abilities that no animal can match.

Man’s responsibility to fill and subdue the earth is sometimes called the cultural mandate.[11] That language brings out the fact that man’s task is one of turning the earth into a habitat for man, one suited to the needs and purposes of man. This task involves not only the cultivation of crops for food, but also the arts, sciences, and literature, by which human life becomes more than mere subsistence. And at the deepest level, man’s labor has the goal of bringing praise and glory[12] to God. So he is to structure his life and culture according to God’s standards.

Theologians have asked whether the image of God pertains to man’s body or only to his soul. I will discuss the soul-body distinction at a later point. But it should already be evident that the image of God does pertain to the body. Man’s physical strength is a major aspect of his power to subdue the earth and take dominion of it. Some have objected that the human body cannot be God’s image because God is incorporeal. But God’s incorporeality does not mean that he can never take physical form, only that he is sovereign in his choice of whether or not to take a physical form; and if he chooses to take one, he is sovereign in choosing the form he takes (chapter 18).[13] He is superphysical—more than physical, not less. Further, whether or not he chooses to take a physical form, he is able to do everything that we can do with our bodies, and far more. Psalm 94:9 asks, “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?” Human beings hear with their physical ears and see with physical eyes. God, however, is master of the processes of hearing and seeing. He does without physical organs what we do with them, and far more.

So man serves as a king over God’s creation. But he is a king under God, responsible to worship and obey God, the King of kings.

Authority (Prophetic Office)

I mentioned above that man is to build his culture according to God’s standards. Thus, he brings God’s word, God’s language, to his fellow men and to the world.

In chapter 23, I argued that God’s language, his word, is one with himself, an attribute essential to his nature. God is a speaking God. In chapter 33, I referred to the work of the angels, bringing God’s word to human beings, and to the devils as those who distort and pervert God’s speech. Language is also fundamental to human nature in the image of God. In Genesis 1, man’s first experience is linguistic: hearing God’s words (Gen. 1:28–31). In Genesis 2:18–20, when God first gives Adam a specific task under the general mandate to take dominion of the earth, he gives him a linguistic task: that of naming the animals. This task is not simply attaching a sound to an object. It is rather the scientific task of understanding the nature of each animal, for the overall purpose is to determine whether any of these can be Adam’s “helper” (2:18). The “names” that Adam gave the animals, therefore, were a system of sounds declaring the nature of each creature.[14] Adam’s research determines that there is no helper for him in the animal kingdom, so God makes him a partner by special creation (2:21–25).

Emphasizing further the centrality of language in human life, James 3:1–12, building on many of the proverbs, tells us that if a man can control his tongue, he can control his whole body. In Genesis 11:1–9, God judges the builders of the Tower of Babel by confusing their language. He says:

Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. (Gen. 11:6)

Language is such a powerful capacity that a common language allows sin to run rampant. God determines that it must be checked. So sins of the tongue take prominence in biblical lists of sins, such as Romans 3:10–18. Scripture abounds in admonitions to speak for edification (Eph. 4:29), rather than speaking lies, blasphemies, and foolishness (1 Cor. 14:3, 12, 17, 26). Jesus says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37). Redemption is often presented as a cleansing of the lips (Isa. 6:5–7) or of language (Ps. 12; Zeph. 3:9–13). Pentecost partially reverses the curse of Babel, so that the message of grace can be heard in the languages of all people (Acts 2).

So Adam’s cultural task can be seen from a linguistic perspective: the work of developing a language analogous to the word of God himself, building throughout the world a culture in conformity with it. This is the root of the concept of prophecy that we looked at in chapter 24. As God first spoke words to him, Adam is to speak those and similar words to his family and to impose upon the earth cultural institutions that observe God’s standards and bring glory to him. To the extent he does that, he speaks with God’s authority.

What divine standards or norms were known to Adam before the fall? Of course, God told him to name the animals and to abstain from the forbidden fruit, but these commands were for a specific time and place. God also gave Adam and Eve broader ordinances, which rule human beings in all ages and places. Theologians have often called these creation ordinances: laws and institutions given to Adam and Eve before the fall, analogous to the laws of later covenants. John Murray lists among them “the procreation of offspring, the replenishing of the earth, subduing of the same, dominion over the creatures, labour, the weekly Sabbath, and marriage.”[15] I have advocated two additions to this list: worship and respect for human life,[16] making the point also that

the creation ordinances, like other biblical laws, have a threefold, indeed a triperspectival focus: on God (worship, Sabbath), on the natural world (replenishing, subduing, and dominating the earth), and on man himself (marriage, procreation, labor).[17]

According to the cultural mandate, man is to develop a culture through the whole earth that observes these creation ordinances, teaching them through his gift of speech, and through a life consistent with those words. Such speech is a necessary element of the “image of God.” It makes man to be like God in an important way, and it lifts man above the other creatures so that he may have dominion over them. His physical might gives him de facto rule over the world, but it is the divine speech that makes his rule de jure. Power is might and authority right. By setting forth and observing God’s norms, man shows himself to be the legitimate ruler of the world. His prophetic office and work legitimize his kingly office and work.

Presence (Priestly Office)

But Adam is not to be an absentee king. He is not only to subdue the earth and have dominion over it, but also to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; cf. 9:1). As God transcends the world by his control and authority, but becomes immanent in the world by his covenant presence, so Adam, God’s vassal king and prophet, is to fill the world over which he rules. Since he is not omnipresent as God is, he can fill it only by marrying and having children. So the cultural mandate is a historical, gradual process in which man progressively blesses every part of the earth with his presence.

Since he constructs his culture according to God’s words, he brings with him God’s goodness. So when we read of God’s restoring his image to fallen men in Christ, Scripture describes the image in ethical terms:

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:20–24)

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col. 3:9–10)

Man blesses every place to which he comes, appreciating and enhancing the good. To an extent, that means, as I said, man’s making the world a fit habitation for himself. But that does not mean exploiting the earth in a selfish way. God has made the world for his glory, but the glory of God is also what is best for the world itself. So man seeks to humanize his environment, but not in a way that trashes the beauty and integrity of the creation. Being made of dust, man has an affinity with the creation. Since he lives by the air, water, and fruit of the earth, he has an interest in rotating crops, resting the land, maintaining clean air and water.

And Adam is to do all of this to the glory of God, fulfilling God’s own purpose in creating the world. He is to pray and worship God in every place, consecrating his labors and seeking God’s continued blessing. So God called upon Adam not only to work, but also to rest in celebration of his own divine rest (Gen. 2:2–3; Ex. 20:11).

Such is Adam’s priestly work. The ministry of a priest is to pray for others and lead them in worship, and thereby to bring God’s blessing upon the people he serves. So Adam is a priest to his people, in whatever territory they are led to settle. His blessing upon them will also be a blessing upon the earth.

After the fall, to be sure, the priest must also make sacrifice for the sins of the people. But he is still the one through whom God draws near to his people. Jesus Christ, God’s Great High Priest, is the One who comes nearest, taking human nature upon himself, living our life, dying the death we deserve (Heb. 2:10–18; 7:1–10:18).

Man as God’s Son

Another pervasive biblical model of man’s relationship to God is that of sonship. In Luke’s genealogy, Adam is “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Scripture sometimes describes angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25[18]) and human kings (Gen. 6:2, 4)[19] as sons of God. Israel is God’s son (Deut. 1:31; 8:5; Hos. 1:10). Jesus is the eternal Son, the Son who succeeds to his Father’s throne (Matt. 14:33; 16:16; 27:54; and often elsewhere—see chapter 21). In and through Christ, believers are redeemed from sin to be sons of God (Rom. 8:14, 16, 19; Gal. 4:1–6; Phil. 2:15; Heb. 12:7; 1 John 3:1–2).

The content of sonship is very similar to that of image. The son resembles his father as the image resembles the thing it reflects. In the Hebrew idiom, to say that someone is “son of” something is to say that it has the same characteristics. In Mark 3:17, Jesus named his disciples James and John “Sons of Thunder,” indicating perhaps their loud and violent spirit. Barnabas (Acts 4:36) means “son of encouragement,” which suggests a nurturing, comforting character. So a son of God is someone who resembles God, who is like God. Of course, there are many ways of being like God. The similarity of angels to God,[20] though genuine, is not the same as the resemblance of human kings to him, or Israel, or NT saints, or Jesus.

We also saw that man’s status as the image of God gives to him an authority subordinate to God. Sonship, too, entails royal qualities. Like kings, the sons of God have power, authority, and presence within their domains. So God describes the church as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9, reflecting language used of Israel in Exodus 19:6).

In chapters 4–6, I summarized the biblical story as a story of God’s covenants (chapter 4), the kingdom of God (5), and the family of God (6). We have seen through the figures of image and son that God made man to be his covenant servant, his vassal king, and sons within his family. So the three biblical stories come together as the story of God’s dealings with man, the highest of his creatures.

Male and Female[21]

It is certainly significant that right after Scripture describes God as creating man in his image, it adds: “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). I don’t agree with Karl Barth’s view that our sexual differentiation is the meaning of “image,”[22] but certainly we should take some trouble to understand how sexual differentiation and image are related to each other.

In the previous section, I described the image under three perspectives, as control, authority, and presence, reflecting the lordship attributes of God. In none of these respects is there any difference between men and women. Both sexes image God’s control, for he charges men and women together to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28). Thus, they are both vassal kings under God, bearing his authority. They are both subject to God’s authoritative ordinances, both charged with building culture according to those ordinances. And filling the earth with children, bringing the presence of human beings throughout the world, is obviously a joint responsibility of the sexes.

In the fall, as we will see in more detail later, both the man and the woman disobey God, and God brings curses, mingled with blessing, upon them equally (Gen. 3:14–19). It is significant that the curse applies somewhat differently to the man and the woman. The woman will have pain in childbearing; the man will have pain and toil as he works the ground. But both are cursed and equally fallen. Although Scripture mentions that the woman was first deceived (1 Tim. 2:14), it never suggests that women are more or less sinful than men. Christ’s redemption, therefore, applies equally to both. Scripture never suggests that women are more or less sanctified than men by the grace of Christ.

Positively, Scripture teaches:

Both Men and Women Are Made in God’s Image

Genesis 1:27 makes this point quite explicitly, and 2:20 niv (“suitable helper”) and 2:23 (“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”) underscore the man and woman’s unity of nature in contrast (2:19–20) to the relationship between man and animals. See also 5:1–2. James Hurley points out that “man” in 1:26 and 27 is a collective noun (adam = “mankind”). The plural membership is indicated by the phrase “male and female” in verse 27, and then to both male and female is given the task appropriate to those created in the image of God (v. 28).[23] This is the uniform teaching of Scripture. Re-creation in the image of Christ applies equally to all believers without distinction (Col. 3:9–11); in fact, that renewal, that sonship (Gal. 3:26), is given to believers so indiscriminately that in this respect “there is no male and female” (v. 28).

Men and Women Are Equally in the Image of God

Nothing in Genesis would lead anyone to suppose otherwise. But some have come to another conclusion based on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7, “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” Why does Paul omit speaking of woman as “image of God,” after he has applied that title to man? One might even suppose that Paul is here denying that woman is the image of God and is attributing to her a lesser image, that of man.

I agree with C. K. Barrett that “in this context Paul values the term image only as leading to the term glory.”[24]The reference to “image” is incidental to Paul’s purpose, and therefore not applied to woman; but it notifies his readers of the OT basis for saying that man is the glory of God, “glory” and “image” being roughly, but not entirely, synonymous. Paul’s emphasis is on “glory,” which focuses on the honor that one person brings to another. Man, he says, was made to honor God. Of course, woman was also made to honor God; but in addition, she is made for a second purpose, namely, to honor man. God made her specifically to be a helper for Adam (Gen. 2:18, 20; cf. Prov. 12:4; Eph. 5:25–29).[25] Man honors and glorifies God by uncovering his head, for covering the head connoted subservience to another creature.[26] Such subservience to men is especially inappropriate for a male prophet, whose whole function is to speak for God. Woman, however, must not only honor God, but also honor man. Indeed, she honors God when she honors the specific task of “helper” for which God made her. Unlike the man, then, she honors God best by displaying her subordination to her fellow creature.

So Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:7, then, is not that woman does not image God; it is rather that in addition to imaging God, she is also made to honor man, and that her appearance must be appropriate to that latter function. Nor is there any need to speak of her imaging God in some lesser sense than does man.

Does her subordination itself detract from her capacity to image God? That is an important question for us to ask at this point. But the answer must surely be negative. Men, too, are always placed in relations of subordination to other people (Ex. 20:12; Rom. 13:1; Heb. 13:17),[27] but that fact does not prejudice their being the image of God.

Jesus himself became subordinate to his Father, even subordinate to human authority structures, in order to redeem us. Human authority, therefore, imaging Jesus, is to be a servant-authority (Matt. 20:20–28). A willingness to subordinate oneself to others for God’s sake is, indeed, itself a component of the image, not a compromise of it.[28]Even submission to unjust authority shows a special likeness to Christ (1 Peter 2:12, 19–25; 3:14–18).[29] It is often by submitting to others that we best display the ethical components of the divine image. How better to demonstrate God’s love, his long-suffering, his gentleness, his self-control, than by submitting to others?

Sexual Differentiation Itself Images God

As indicated earlier, I don’t agree with Karl Barth that sexual differentiation is the image of God. But I do believe that our sexual qualities, like all other human qualities, image God. The point is not that God is male, female, or both. To say that our eyes image God, remember, is not to say that God has eyes; it is rather to say that our eyes picture something divine. Similarly, our sexuality pictures God’s attributes and capacities:

1. Human sexuality mirrors God’s creativity. By sexual capacities, we bring forth sons and daughters; God does the same by other means (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14ff.; Gal. 4:4ff.; Heb. 2:10; 1 John 3:1f.).

2. Love between husband and wife pictures God’s love for his people (Ezek. 16; Hos. 1–3; Eph. 5:25–33), which begins with a love within the Trinity itself (John 17:26).

3. The covenant relationship between husband and wife (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14) pictures the covenant relation between God and man.

4. Scripture describes God both in male and in female terms, though the overwhelming preponderance of imagery is male. The reason, I think, is basically that Scripture wants us to think of God as Lord, and lordship, in Scripture, always connotes authority.[30] Since in the biblical view women are subject to male authority in the home and the church, as we will see, there is some awkwardness in speaking of God in female terms. Our need today, in my opinion, is for a far greater appreciation of the lordship of God and of Christ. Therefore, in my view, the movement to use unisex or female language in referring to God is fundamentally wrongheaded from a biblical perspective.

5. Nevertheless, the very submission of the woman also images God. God the Lord is not too proud to be our “helper.” Christ the Lord is not unwilling to be a servant. Godly women stand as models, often as rebukes, to all who would be leaders (Matt. 20:20–28).[31]

Men and Women Equally Represent God

I argued earlier that the primary meaning of image is resemblance rather than representation. But because of images’ resemblance, they often do represent the things or persons they resemble. The distinction is between structure and function, between nature and task.

King Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of himself to represent him. When people worshiped the image, they were thereby expressing loyalty to the king (Dan. 3:1–6). Images were understood this way in the ancient world. Clearly, a similar notion is expressed in Genesis 1:28, for there God gives Adam the task of filling and subduing the earth.

These tasks are similar to what God himself does in the world. God wants to be known as Lord, which I have expounded in terms of control, authority, and presence. In Genesis 1:28, God gives to Adam a “dominion,” a kind of lordship subordinate to God’s own. Man (generic!) is the vassal king of the universe. Subduing the earth is to extend human control over the world. It also involves authority: God gives Adam the right to name the animals, which is in the ancient world an exercise of authority (Gen. 2:19–20; cf. 2:23; 3:20). Mankind is also to “fill” the earth, that is, to make his presence felt everywhere.

That this dominion mandate continues after the fall is clear from Genesis 9:1–3. Yet sin greatly hinders the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the mandate, which was to fill the earth with, and put it under the control of, people who would glorify him. Thus, the NT puts emphasis on the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20), also a command about filling and subduing, but in this case by the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the sovereign authority of Jesus (v. 18), the people of God are to extend their control, authority, and presence throughout the earth. We are God’s “ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20 niv; cf. Phil. 2:14–15).[32]

Hence, we have the biblical doctrines of sonship, adoption, and inheritance (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14–17; Gal. 3:26–29; Heb. 2:10; 1 John 3:1–3). In these respects, man and woman share equally. Scripture makes no sexual distinction. Indeed, Galatians 3:26 (“in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith”) precedes by two verses the famous “there is no male and female.” And as we have seen, “male and female” are equally given the original dominion mandate (Gen. 1:27–28).

Does this fact conflict with the authority of men over women in the home and in the church? I think not. Authority and subordination are not, in the abstract, inconsistent with each other. Someone may have authority over one sphere but not over another; or he may be an authority in one respect, subordinate in another. Men individually rule in some areas, but must be subject to those in authority over them. Jesus himself is both Lord and servant.

So human authority itself is always a servant-authority, an authority with responsibility for those under authority (as in Matt. 20:25–28; John 13:12–17; Eph. 5:22–6:9). So when Scripture speaks of the primacy of man over woman, it often coordinates that teaching with reflections on the mutual dependence of the sexes (as in 1 Cor. 7:3; 11:11–12).

Women certainly share in the authority given to Adam. Together with men, they are made to rule the earth (Gen. 1:27–28; 1 Cor. 3:21).

Individually, they are given authority in various spheres: mothers over children (Ex. 20:12), older women training the younger (Titus 2:4). In some cases, women manage a family business (Prov. 31:10–31). Women exercise authority over everyone as prophets of God (Judg. 4:4; Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5, 10 [“symbol of authority”]). They are also under human authority, to be sure; but so are men.

Citing Matthew 8:9, Stephen B. Clark well observes that one’s own authority, far from conflicting with submission to higher authority, often finds its source in such submission.[33] The prophets had authority because they stood under God’s authoritative word. Kings, priests, and parents also have authority because God has ordained it. The apostles had authority because of their obedience to Jesus’ commission. Recall my earlier note to the effect that the head-covering of the woman (1 Cor. 11:10), a sign of submission, is also a sign of her own authority as a prophet.


Women and men equally image God, even in their sexual differences, even in their differences with regard to authority and submission. The reason is that the image of God embraces everything that is human. Both men and women, therefore, resemble God and are called to represent him throughout the creation, exercising control, authority, and presence in his name. This doctrine is not at all inconsistent with the subordination of women to men in the home and in the church. All human beings are under authority, both divine and human. Their submission to authority, as well as their authority itself, images God.

Body, Soul, and Spirit

Traditionally, theologians have discussed the relation between man’s body, soul, and spirit. “Dichotomists” have claimed that man consists of body and soul, “trichotomists” that he consists of body, soul, and spirit.

Scripture does not, however, address such questions, nor does it ever reflect specifically on the nature of spirit, soul, or body or the relations between them. Further, these are only three of the many terms that Scripture uses to refer to aspects of human nature. Vern Poythress says:

We find words like sarx (“flesh”), soma (“body”), psyche (“soul”), pneuma (“spirit”), nous (“mind”), kardia(“heart”), zoe (“life”), bios (“life”), suneidesis (“conscience”), sunesis (“understanding”), dianoia(“understanding”), splanchna (“bowels”), chros (“skin”), not to mention verbs describing various bodily and mental actions and states.[34]

He adds:

I have glossed each Greek word with a corresponding English word. But the correspondences are only approximate. A close examination shows that no one English word matches exactly the full range of meaning and connotative associations of a single Greek word. When we bring in classical Hebrew of the Old Testament, we deal with still a third language whose vocabulary has still different properties, matching neither Greek nor English exactly.[35]

So one might ask why theologians have been so preoccupied with three of these categories, spirit, soul, and body, and why they have tried to define them precisely granted the imprecise correlations between the English terms and those of the original languages.

A large part of the reason has been concerns about the intermediate state (what happens to us between our death and the final resurrection at Christ’s return). Scripture teaches that when a person dies, though he lies in the grave, either he is also experiencing blessing in fellowship “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) or he is “in torment” (Luke 16:23). Trying to understand this dual existence, many theologians have said that it is the “body” that lies in the grave, but the “soul” or “spirit” that has gone to heaven or hell. In other words, each of us consists of a material part and an immaterial part; and at death, the material part goes to the earth, but the immaterial part goes to the afterlife.

This traditional view correlates with some biblical data, but more should be said. These expressions should be traced back to Genesis 2:7:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Now, the “dust” describes the original state of our physical nature, our original “body.” God’s “breath” (neshamah) describes the process by which God turns the material being into a “living creature” (nephesh hayyah). Nephesh is often translated “soul,” but in Genesis 2:7 nephesh is not a component of man, but the whole person, the man himself constituted by the divine inbreathing. God’s inbreathing itself may be the root of the idea of a “spirit” in man, but (1) the usual word for spirit in Hebrew is ruach, not found in Genesis 2:7, and (2) the breath of Genesis 2:7 is divine breath, not human. The passage makes no mention of a human spirit corresponding to the divine inbreathing. So Genesis 2:7 does not list any elements of the human constitution. It merely says that God’s creative act turned dust into a living person.

Still, given the description of man’s creation in Genesis 2:7, it is not surprising that later texts should refer to man’s body, his soul (the life of the body), and his spirit (focusing on the divine origin of his animate life). And it is not surprising that in texts that speak of human death, the body is what is placed in the grave, and soul and spirit refer to man’s ongoing life:[36]

And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7)

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. (Heb. 12:22–23)

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. (Rev. 6:9; cf. 20:4)

These references may be correlated with passages such as Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30 that refer to dying as “yielding” or “giving up” one’s spirit. Note also Matthew 10:28:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The point here is not that a murderer can destroy one component of a person’s being, but not another part. Rather: a human murderer can put someone’s body in the grave, but cannot destroy him as a living person (a soul). But it is possible for someone to “lay down” or “save” his life/soul. Cf. Matt. 16:25; 20:28; Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; John 10:11–15; 12:25; Acts 15:26; 1 John 3:16.

But there are also passages in Scripture that refer to body, soul, and spirit, as continuing aspects of our earthly existence. For example, in Matthew 26:41, Jesus tells his disciples:

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

“Flesh” here is the body, undergoing weariness and moral weakness, susceptible to temptation. “Spirit” is our inclination, by grace, to obey God, no matter how weary and weak we may be. Elsewhere, “body,” “soul,” and “spirit” are brought together to comprehensively describe a person’s moral or spiritual character:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23; cf. 1 Cor. 7:34)

The idea here is not that these terms designate separate entities within us, so that, for example, the soul might be morally perfect while the spirit is still wicked, or that after we have perfected the soul we might then work on the body. Rather, in these passages Paul piles up terms to describe the character of the whole person.

So spirit, soul, and body should not be understood as metaphysical components of man, as distinct entities within us, battling for supremacy. Rather, each refers to the whole person from a particular perspective. What the body does is not distinct from, let alone in conflict with, what the soul and spirit do. When the disciples disobeyed Jesus and fell asleep as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:41, quoted above), it was not that their bodies sinned while their spirits remained pure. Rather, their spirits (i.e., the disciples themselves) sinned by failing to persevere through physical weakness. So each person fell asleep, and we can describe that action from physical, psychical, and spiritual perspectives.[37]

But if spirit, soul, and body are not separate metaphysical components of human nature, then how is it possible to say that a person’s spirit or soul is in heaven while his body is in the grave? To say that a person’s spirit or soul is in heaven is simply to say that he, the person, is there. And to say that his body is in the grave is to say that he, the person, is there.

It seems paradoxical to put it this way, but in Scripture it is not a material part of the person that lies in the grave; rather, it is the person. It is the person who returns to the dust (Gen. 3:19). While in the grave, Lazarus was Lazarus (John 11:43), Jesus was Jesus (Matt. 28:6). Jesus says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice” (John 5:28). So the bodies in the tombs are people, not former parts of people that have been discarded.[38] It is not, then, a material part of the person who goes to the tomb; it is the person.

Similarly, Scripture never says that immaterial parts of us (our souls or spirits) go to heaven or hell. Rather, we go there. The other Lazarus, the one of Luke 16, went to Abraham’s side, while the rich man who despised him in life went to Hades (v. 23). The rich man also “was buried” (v. 22). So the rich man had a dual existence. He was really in the tomb, and he was also, really, somewhere else, in torment. Lazarus also had a dual existence: he was in the grave, and he was with Abraham.

How can a person be two places at once? I don’t know. But that’s the way Scripture presents the matter. Of course, as I indicated earlier, Scripture typically uses soul and spirit to speak of people in their heavenly location and body (as Matt. 27:58–59) to designate the person in the grave. So there is nothing wrong with believers’ using the same language. But they should not forget that it is the person, not some part of the person, who is in heaven or hell, and it is the person who is in the grave.

In God’s time, however, this paradox will be removed. When Jesus returns, there will be a physical resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Paul says that then “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). (Notice: he does not say that their bodies will rise, but that they will rise.) So God will reconstitute the original unity of the person, the unity between the person in the grave and the person who is with Christ. Similarly, but of course differently, for the wicked.

The notion of soul and body as metaphysical components of human nature goes back to Greek philosophy. In Plato’s thought, the body is material and emotional, the soul intellectual and immaterial. Plato (and especially his successors, such as the Neoplatonists and Gnostics) associated unreason and evil with matter and so presented the body-soul dichotomy as a conflict within each of us. We fare better, he thought, when the immaterial/intellectual prevails over the material. Hence his view of the primacy of the intellect that I discussed in chapter 32. Descartes, in the seventeenth century, also saw the soul as purely immaterial and the body as purely material, and this dichotomy led to the mind-body problem in early modern thought: how can an immaterial mind affect a material body?[39]

Given this history, it is not surprising that Christian thinkers sometimes confused Plato’s and Descartes’ ideas with those of Scripture. But the Bible never says that the soul is entirely immaterial or that the body is purely material. Nor does it say that the soul must gain control of the body. Rather, in Scripture soul and body equally describe the whole person. Both, therefore, are equally fallen, both equally in need of redemption.

Dichotomy and Trichotomy

If we reject the idea that the terms spiritsoul, and body designate metaphysical components of the human person, then we can avoid taking sides on two theological controversies: dichotomy-trichotomy and creationism-traducianism. Let us consider these in order.

I referred very briefly to dichotomy and trichotomy at the beginning of the previous section. Dichotomists have claimed that man consists of body and soul, trichotomists that he consists of body, soul, and spirit. Trichotomists say that the body is our material existence, soul is our intellect, will, and emotions, and spirit is our God-consciousness. On the trichotomist view, the spirit is dead or dormant in the sinner. Redemption restores it to life and primacy over our other faculties.

There are passages in which such terms as spiritsoul, and body are set alongside one another (as Rom. 8:10; 1 Cor. 2:14–3:4; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12). But often the biblical writers multiply such terms so as to describe the completeness and fullness of human nature. These passages do not make precise distinctions between these terms—certainly not precise enough to define metaphysical components of human existence. Scripture typically uses “spirit” and “soul” interchangeably.[40]

More seriously, the trichotomist view that sin shuts down the spirit and that redemption reawakens it is without biblical basis. Further, it contradicts the biblical emphasis that the whole person is fallen into sin (e.g., Gen. 6:5) and needs the deliverance of Christ. Redemption is not a rearrangement of human faculties, putting one of them on top of the others. Plato imagined something like this, but it is not a biblical view. Rather, redemption turns the whole person, including all aspects of his personality, from hating God to loving him. Salvation, as Cornelius Van Til used to say, is ethical, not metaphysical.

Creationism and Traducianism

Similarly, we can deal with the traditional controversy over the “origin of the soul” rather quickly, since we have rejected the idea of soul as a self-contained metaphysical component of human nature. Wayne Grudem formulates the issue thus:

Creationism is the view that God creates a new soul for each person and sends it to the person’s body sometime between conception and birth. Traducianism, on the other hand, holds that the soul as well as the body of a child are inherited from the baby’s mother and father at the time of conception.[41]

Traducianism draws especially on the biblical texts that set forth the solidarity of the human race in Adam. Creationism emphasizes God’s action in the giving of children (Ps. 127:3), particularly his knitting a baby together in his mother’s womb (139:13). Cf. Isa. 42:5; Zech. 12:1; Heb. 12:9.

Now, in Scripture, the sovereignty of God generally works together with secondary causes within the creation. God makes the crops grow, but he usually accomplishes this through the hard work of the farmer. We will explore further the relation between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the following chapter. But as we bring together the various biblical texts on human conception and gestation, it is clear that both divine sovereignty and human/natural causes are at work. Like nearly every other event in the world (creation itself and redemptive grace are exceptions), human children are both a gift of God and the result of their parents’ actions.

As we have seen, the soul is not a separable part of a person. It is rather the person himself, seen from a particular aspect. So there is no particular period in time when the body exists without a soul, nor any point in time when a soul is added to a soulless body. The soul exists from conception, for it is an aspect of the total person, who exists from conception.[42]

The Creation of Adam and Eve

At the beginning of this chapter, I noted the strong emphasis of Genesis 1–2 on the distinctiveness of man over against the rest of creation. Man’s creation was the result of a “unique engagement of God’s counsel,”[43] and his nature, the image of God, was also unique among the creatures. That nature is correlative to man’s distinctive task, to fill and subdue the earth. Underscoring man’s uniqueness, too, was “God’s procedure in the formation of man.”[44]

In Genesis 2:7, we are told:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

The “dust” is inanimate matter from the earth. In this respect, man’s formation is similar to that of animals, for God also forms them from the ground, according to Genesis 2:19. But unlike the animals, the existence of man does not result from God’s commands to the earth itself, as in 1:24 (“Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds”). Adam becomes a living creature not by the earth’s bringing him forth, but by a second distinct act of God: God’s breathing into his nostrils the breath of life. No other creature is the result of this inbreathing.

The two events described in Genesis 2:7 are often called formation and impartation.

Scripture does not describe this inbreathing except by stating its result: by it, man became a living creature.[45] So the picture of this verse is not that God chose some creature already living—an animal—and made him man; rather, he chose dead matter and gave life to it, and by that life the dust became man, with all of man’s distinctiveness as God’s image. Genesis 2:7, taken literally, describes an event quite incompatible with the theory of evolution, even theistic evolution.

That is even more obviously the case in Genesis 2:21–22, which describes the creation of woman:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Again, this creation is a supernatural event, with no parallels in the animal kingdom. Indeed, it was the lack of any suitable helper for Adam in the animal kingdom that made the creation of woman necessary (Gen. 2:18–20).

So the biblical description of the creation of Adam and Eve reinforces the emphasis of Genesis 1–2 on the uniqueness of man as God’s image and vassal king.[46]

The Historicity of Adam and Eve

Scripture, in a number of ways, affirms the historicity of Adam and Eve, beyond asserting their existence in Genesis 1–5. Later references to them in Scripture always presuppose that they are historical figures. In 1 Chronicles 1:1, Adam is first in a genealogy leading to King David. In Luke 3:38, he is the last man in a backward genealogy leading from Jesus to God. If Adam were a legendary figure, it would have been inappropriate to include his name in a genealogy, counterproductive to the purpose of such a passage.

In Romans 5:14, Paul says that “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” This verse refutes the claim of Barth and others that Adam is “everyman,” that we all sin as he did. Paul says that not everyone sins as Adam did, that there was something unique about Adam’s sin.

In the context of this verse, Romans 5:12–21, Paul sets forth at length the unique significance of Adam’s sin, which I will explore in chapter 36. Paul’s main point is to draw a parallel[47] between the work of Adam, who plunged the race into sin, and Jesus, who redeemed us from the sin of Adam. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 he again mentions Adam as the one through whom we die, parallel to Christ, in whom we live. Both Adam and Christ, as we will see, acted as covenant heads of their people, so that their actions are imputed to their people. If the story of Adam is unbelievable, is not the story of Christ unbelievable for the same reasons? And if the sin of Adam never occurred, what can it mean to say as Paul does that Christ saved us from that particular sin and from its consequences?

In 1 Timothy 2:13–14, Paul gives directions concerning the relationships of men to women in the church, basing these instructions on the relations of Adam and Eve.[48] His argument is not that these relationships should reflect or imitate the relations of Adam and Eve. Such an argument would be compatible with a view that these are fictional characters, as someone might say, “Be courageous, like Frodo.” But Paul doesn’t tell the church to be like Adam and Eve, though he often urges believers to imitate God-given models. Nor does he tell them to be unlike Adam and Eve. Rather, he says that the church should impose certain restrictions on women because (gar) Adam was first formed and Eve was first deceived. The implication is that if the story of Genesis 1–3 is fictional, the reason for Paul’s command carries no weight.

Similarly, Jesus, in Matthew 19:4–6, replies to the Pharisees’ question about divorce by saying:

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

Here, Jesus says that man and wife are one flesh because God declared them to be so in Genesis 2:24. Husbands and wives today are one flesh because God declared them to be so in the time of Adam and Eve. This argument would have no force if the Genesis narrative were fictional.

Today the claims of evolutionary theory present a special challenge to the historicity of Adam. I addressed the subject of evolution briefly in chapter 10, and here as there I will protest my lack of expertise in any matter dealing with science. But we have seen in this chapter that a literal reading of Genesis 1–2 cannot be reconciled with an evolutionary account of man’s origin. And I have shown above that there are broader theological reasons for affirming the historical existence of Adam and Eve as our first parents, as opposed to evolutionary hypothesis.

Recently, however, there has emerged another level of conflict between evolution and the Genesis record, this time from the sequencing of the human genome. Richard Ostling summarizes the problem:

Over the past decade, researchers have attempted to use the genetic diversity within modern humans to estimate primordial population sizes. According to a consensus drawn from three independent avenues of research, [Dennis Venema] states, the history of human ancestry involved a population “bottleneck” around 150,000 years ago—and from this tiny group of hominids came everyone living today. But the size of the group was far larger than a lonely couple: it consisted of several thousand individuals at minimum, say the geneticists. Had humanity begun with only two individuals, without millions of years for development, says an ASA paper, it would have required God’s miraculous intervention to increase the genetic diversity to what is observable today. A BioLogos paper by Venema and Falk declares it more flatly: The human population, they say, “was definitely never as small as two . . . . Our species diverged as a population. The data are absolutely clear on that.”[49]

It’s discouraging to read comments such as this from professing Christians who don’t even consider the Word of God as part of the “data.” It is true, however, that when we encounter an apparent conflict between Scripture and a scientific consensus, we should reconsider our interpretation of Scripture as well as the meaning and truth of the scientific theory.

As to the interpretation of Scripture, we should consider the possibility that Adam and Eve, though historical figures, were not literally the first parents of all present-day human beings. C. John Collins considers the suggestion[50]that Adam and Eve may not have been the first human beings, but rather “king and queen” of a tribe. In this case, the passages referring to their special creation (Gen. 2:7, 21–22) would likely (though not necessarily) be intended figuratively, representing God’s investiture of this couple with special qualities (the image of God[51]) and a special vassal kingship, including the covenant headship of Adam over the existing human race. Covenant headship in Scripture does not necessarily presuppose biological parenthood: the relation of Christ to his people is adoptive. And such a hypothesis would more adequately explain some perplexing data of the Genesis history: (1) Cain’s fear in Genesis 4:14 that someone might kill him to avenge his murder of Abel; (2) Cain’s obtaining a wife in 4:17; (3) Cain’s founding a city in 4:17 and the rapid development of culture, agriculture, and technology thereafter. These data are not impossible to explain if we assume (as theologians have traditionally done) that Adam and Eve had many, many sons and daughters in addition to Cain, Abel, and Seth. But the supposition of a tribe or community contemporary with Adam and Eve makes the history somewhat easier to understand.

On such an interpretation we would also have to take figuratively the statement in Genesis 3:20 that Eve “was the mother of all living.” Of course, in Scripture, “father” and “mother” do not always refer to biological parentage.[52]Scripture sometimes refers to kings and other authority figures as fathers and mothers, and certainly adoptive parents have the right to these titles. So it is not inconceivable that Genesis 3:20 refers to Eve as the mother of the human nation, given that status and title by God’s covenant investiture.

But the development of such interpretative hypotheses is in its infancy, and certainly no such interpretation should be made normative in the church.

On the other hand, we must also consider the possibility that the scientific consensus in favor of an original human race of thousands is wrong. Science constantly changes, and there is no place for the cocksureness with which some have insisted on this consensus view. The genetic arguments, like all other scientific judgments about the past, are based on models, and the assumptions governing these models can be and are being questioned. It is interesting to note that the consensus among evolutionary scientists is that the numbers of original humans have actually decreased—from millions to thousands. And if it is true that 150,000 years ago[53] there were, say, 10,000 modern humans on the earth, that is a remarkable fact. Evolutionary scientists have generally thought that common characteristics imply common ancestry. Why should they not seek a genealogy of human characteristics earlier than the 10,000 that would account for the 10,000? If the 10,000 sprang out of nowhere, their genesis begins to sound much like special creation. But if their genesis had a backstory, a backstory presumably different from the usual process of genetic transmission, couldn’t that backstory lead to a single couple?

In any case, it does not seem to me that the hypothesis under consideration calls into question the special creation of Adam and Eve in God’s image, their distinctive lordship over creation, or the historicity of the fall.

Key Terms

  • Image
  • Likeness
  • Helper
  • Naming the animals
  • Creation ordinances
  • Cultural mandate
  • Son
  • Body
  • Soul
  • Spirit
  • Intermediate state
  • Mind-body problem
  • Dichotomy
  • Trichotomy
  • Creationism
  • Traducianism
  • Formation
  • Impartation

Study Questions

  1.  List some of the ways in which man is unique among all the creatures of God. How and why are these important?

  2.  “So the image of God consists of those qualities that equip man to be lord of the world, under God. What can these qualities be, but analogies of God’s own lordship attributes?” Explain; evaluate.

  3.  “So man’s dominion does not extend to the work of God’s first two creative days. But the fact that he subdues and rules the creations of the last four is immensely significant.” Explain; evaluate.

  4.  Explain Frame’s parallel between the offices of prophet, priest, and king and the three lordship attributes.

  5.  Discuss “the centrality of language in human life,” citing Scripture.

  6.  Discuss the power of human language according to Genesis 11:6 and James 3:1–12.

  7.  What does it mean to describe human beings as “sons” of God?

  8.  “Sexual differentiation itself images God.” Explain; evaluate.

  9.  Given the many terms in Scripture designating aspects of man, why has so much attention been given to bodysoul, and spirit?

10.  “It seems paradoxical to put it this way, but in Scripture it is not a material part of the person that lies in the grave; rather, it is the person.” Explain; evaluate.

11.  Discuss the biblical cases for dichotomy and trichotomy. What is your conclusion? Why?

12.  Same for creationism and traducianism.

13.  Frame says that Genesis 2:7 and 2:21–22 literally exclude theistic evolution. Explain why. How is it the case that “the biblical description of the creation of Adam and Eve reinforces the emphasis of Genesis 1–2 on the uniqueness of man as God’s image and vassal king”?

14.  Is it important to believe that Adam and Eve were historical persons? Cite some biblical considerations.

15.  Describe the problem for the historicity of the Genesis account recently raised by the sequencing of the human genome. Suggest a response to that problem.

Memory Verses

Gen. 1:26–27: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

   in the image of God he created him;

   male and female he created them.

Gen. 2:7: Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Matt. 12:36–37: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Eph. 4:20–24: But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Col. 3:9–10: Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Resources for Further Study

Collins, C. John. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.

Hurley, James B. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981.

Kline, Meredith G. Images of the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

Murray, John. MCW, 2:3–46.

Ostling, Richard. “The Search for the Historical Adam.” Christianity Today, June 26, 2011, 22–27.

Poythress, Vern S. “Adam vs. Claims from Genetics,” WTJ 75, 1 (2013): 65–82.

John M. Frame is the author of Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief.

John M. Frame (BD, Westminster Theological Seminary; AM, MPhil, Yale University; DD, Belhaven College) is J. D. Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. He is the author of many books, including the four-volume Theology of Lordship series, and previously taught theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) and at Westminster Seminary California.

[1] As I have generally done in the rest of this book, I will use the term man generically in my discussion, referring to both men and women. Similarly with generic pronouns hehis, and so on. I choose this terminology not intending at all to demean women, though some will take it that way given today’s politically correct usage. (See later in this chapter the subsection “Male and Female.”) To summarize my reasons: (1) This usage is acceptable grammatically in English and in the original languages of Scripture. (2) Alternative locutions, such as humankind and he/she, are awkward. (3) This usage reflects the biblical pattern in which men represent women in the family and in the church. (4) Genesis 5:2 tells us that when God created man “male and female,” he blessed them and “named them Man” (Adam). So at this point I am simply following God’s example.

[2] MCW, 2:4.

[3] Here the editor comments, “Here and elsewhere John Murray employed his own translation to bring out the precise force of the original.”

[4] On the use of plurals in God’s resolution here, see my brief comment in chapter 20. It more likely refers to the “heavenly council” than to the Trinity as such, but like other OT passages it presents God not as a solitary monad, but as a dynamic society. The OT presents these social pictures of God without explanation or embarrassment. That is relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity.

[5] MCW, 2:4.

[6] Ibid., 2:5.

[7] Although theologians have sometimes drawn distinctions between “image” and “likeness,” I believe that the terms both refer to the same thing: our resemblance to God. See MCW, 2:34, where Murray argues that the second term is “explanatory or definitive rather than supplementary” to the first.

[8] In DCL, 460–61, I argue that that the second commandment upholds the dignity of man as well as God, by making man God’s only true image.

[9] A number of writers have said that “image” denotes representation as well as resemblance. In idolatry, the image represents the god it images and the idolater worships it as a representation of his god. I do not disagree with this argument, but I believe that representation is based on resemblance. So resemblance is the main fact about images, and representation is based on that.

[10] In part 2, I discussed three perspectival ways of understanding the Bible’s story: God’s covenants, his kingdom, and his family. These suggest that man’s vassal lordship is at the same time a vassal kingship and a vassal fatherhood. In my discussion I will focus on man’s lordship. But of course, that discussion can be broadened to fit the other two models, and later in this chapter I will attempt to do that.

[11] For an extended discussion of this mandate and a comparison between it and the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20, see DCL, 307–11, and chapter 47 of the present volume. I disagree with the theory of Meredith Kline and others that the cultural mandate is canceled after the fall. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 156. I argue the point in my The Escondido Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media, 2011), 215–18.

[12] “Image” and “glory” are closely related, as in 1 Corinthians 11:7: “For a man ought not to cover his head [in praying or prophesying], since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” God’s glory (chapter 18) is the visible light shining from his presence. Human glory reflects that, images it. Our good works broadcast that glory to others (Matt. 5:16). So WSC 1 says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Cf. 1 Cor. 10:31: “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” See also DCL, chap. 17.

[13] Meredith G. Kline, in Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), argues that “image” is primarily a real physical resemblance. Addressing the question how man can have a physical resemblance to God, Kline argues that the “Spirit of God” who hovered over the waters in Genesis 1:2 was actually a theophany, the divine glory-cloud that I mentioned in chapter 18. I think myself that the Spirit mentioned in verse 2 is too distant to be the referent of “image” in 1:26–28. But it would not be unscriptural to say that our bodies bear a physical resemblance to God’s theophany, because of course they bear resemblance to the incarnate Christ. The human form is an accurate revelation of God, as accurate a picture as God can give us of himself using finite materials. For the perfect image of God, Christ, is a man.

I mention also that although Kline takes a different approach from mine in a number of ways, his conception of the aspects of the image is similar to mine. On verse 27, he distinguishes the “formal-physical” aspect, the “official-functional” aspect, and the “ethical dimension.” I would distinguish these as representing man’s control, authority, and presence, respectively, though Kline’s correlations with the anointed offices are a bit different from mine. I correlate authority with the prophetic office, while Kline correlates it with the kingly. But the nature of perspectives is such that they interpenetrate. I’m sure Kline would agree that a true king must have both physical power and legitimate authority, and the same is true of priests and prophets. The distinctions that both Kline and I make are distinctions of emphasis.

[14] Typically, names in Scripture are not mere sounds, selected for their attractiveness. Instead, a name is a meaningful sound, intended to say something about the person or object receiving it. Abram, for example, means “high father,” and his later name, Abraham, means “father of a multitude,” reflecting God’s covenant promise to him (Gen. 17:4–8).

[15] John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 27.

[16] DCL, 202–3.

[17] Ibid., 203.

[18] Or is this being a preincarnate manifestation of God’s eternal Son, Jesus?

[19] The phrase in this passage is often thought to denote angels, but I think Meredith Kline’s view that the phrase refers to human kings is more likely. See his “Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1–4,” WTJ 24, 2 (1962): 187–204.

[20] Scripture does not describe angels as the image of God, indicating some difference between the metaphor of image and that of sonship.

[21] Portions of this section are taken from my article “Men and Women in the Image of God,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 225–32. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, In DCL, chap. 33, I abridged the article and supplemented it with discussions of the roles of men and women in the family, church, and workplace.

[22] I argue against this view in the article “Men and Women” cited above.

[23] James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 172. He points out further that Genesis 1 is concerned about the creation of various types of reality, not with hierarchical differentiations within those types. Therefore, Genesis 1:27 grants the image to the whole human race, not to man as distinguished from woman.

[24] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 252.

[25] I agree with those who say that “helper” does not in itself connote any subordination. God is himself the helper of Israel (Ps. 30:10; etc.). It is, however, significant that Eve was made after Adam, for the specific purpose of helping him. That cannot be said of God’s relationship to Israel. That fact, I believe, lies behind Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 11:8–9 and 1 Timothy 2:13.

[26] Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), on 11:4. Also James B. Hurley, “Did Paul Require Veils or the Silence of Women?” WTJ 35, 2 (Winter 1973): 205.

[27] Even kings are usually answerable to someone, and even “absolute” monarchs get toppled if they do not succeed in pleasing other powerful members of society.

[28] Underscoring this point: the head-covering of the woman, by which she honors male authority, also establishes her as an honorable woman. Thus Paul is able to speak of that head-covering as a sign of (her own!) authority (1 Cor. 11:10). That head-covering gives her the moral authority to prophesy in God’s name. See Morris, First Corinthians, on v. 10.

[29] Noel Weeks chides the feminist movement for confusing worth with ruling power. See his The Sufficiency of Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988), 137. The reader might also usefully peruse Royce Gruenler’s The Trinity in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), in which he explores the relations of “mutual deference” within the Trinity. I don’t agree with some of his points, but there is much stimulus here. Cf. DG, 694–96.

[30] Scripture also, of course, emphasizes God’s masculinity over against the polytheism and degradation of pagan goddess-worship. For more considerations on this question, see DG, 378–86.

[31] For this reason I disagree with Hurley’s statement that according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, “the woman is not called to image God or Christ in the relation which she sustains to her husband.” Man and Woman, 173 (emphasis his). The imaging is not precise, but as we have seen, imaging never is. I think there are better ways to handle the problem of 1 Corinthians 11:7; see my earlier discussion.

[32] For a fuller account of these mandates, see chapter 47.

[33] Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980), 171.

[34] Vern S. Poythress, “Body and Soul: The Metaphysical Composition of the Human Individual” (unpublished notes), 2.

[35] Ibid., 2–3.

[36] But in Luke 24:39, the risen Jesus emphasizes to his disciples that he is not merely a spirit, as if he were a bodiless ghost. Rather, his resurrection is physical, the raising of his body as well as his spirit: “For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

[37] I’m not sure that it would be wise to line these three terms up with the general set of perspectival triangles employed in this book, especially since these are only three of a great number of terms that could be called aspects of human nature: consider those we cited in chapter 32, such as heartmindunderstanding, and will. If pressed, however, I would suggest that spirit is normative, referring to the God-ordained direction of human life; body is situational, focusing on our interactions with our environment; and soul is existential, the self as experiencing himself, the world, and God.

[38] John Murray said in his class lectures, “The corpse is the person as respects his body.” On that principle he urged us to treat the dead body with dignity and care.

[39] Descartes’ answer: the mind can after all affect the body, but just a tiny bit, in the pineal gland. But to admit that is to admit that the mind has just a little bit of physical power, which is inconsistent with Descartes’ fundamental principles. This inconsistency of Descartes has become a common philosophical joke. A Cartesian mind that can move the body just a little is like a woman who is “a little bit pregnant.”

[40] For a very thorough exegetical analysis, see GST, 472–82.

[41] Ibid., 484. As with the question of dichotomy and trichotomy, Grudem’s exegetical analysis is thorough and helpful.

[42] It is therefore wrongheaded to address the question of abortion by trying to figure out when the soul enters the body, as if it would then be permissible to abort the child during its time of soullessness. The child is a person from his conception. See my discussion of abortion in DCL, 717–32.

[43] MCW, 2:4.

[44] Ibid., 2:5.

[45] The kjv says “living soul.” But we saw earlier in this chapter that the word in Genesis 1:27 translated “soul” in the kjv is not a portion of man, but man himself as a living being.

[46] Murray mentions some other features of the early chapters of Genesis that corroborate the emphasis on man’s uniqueness: (1) the sacredness of human life (Gen. 4:10–15; 9:5–6), in contrast with the killing of animals for clothing and sacrifice (3:21; 4:4); (2) the commands and special probation given to Adam but not to any lesser creature (2:15–17); (3) the NT parallel between Adam, in whom we die, and Christ, in whom we are made alive (1 Cor. 15:45–47). No animal lives or dies on the basis of his covenant relationship to another being.

[47] Actually, he is mostly concerned with a nonparallel: what Christ did was far greater than what Adam did (Rom. 5:15–19).

[48] For my analysis of the application of this passage, see DCL, 635–47.

[49] Richard Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today, June 26, 2011, 22–27. This discussion was provoked by a series of articles in American Scientific Affiliation, Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 62, 3 (September 2010). See also Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, The Language of Science and Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011); C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011). Collins defends the historicity of Adam and Eve while trying to account for the genetic evidence. The other authors deny the traditional doctrine of Adam’s historical existence, believing that the authority of the Bible is only for “faith,” not for science. But see my discussion of the comprehensiveness and sufficiency of Scripture in chapter 26 of this volume. See also Vern S. Poythress, “Adam vs. Claims from Genetics,” WTJ 75, 1 (2013): 65–82.

[50] Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

[51] By solidarity with Adam, the image would be given to the rest of the existing human race, as Christian believers are renewed in the image of Christ.

[52] See DCL, 583–90.

[53] Of course, on a “young-earth” view, this estimate would be rejected at the outset, together with a wide range of other models and hypotheses used to reach such a number of years.