The Image of God

Being made in the image of God is a major factor distinguishing humanity from the animals and other physical entities. In Genesis 1:26–27, we read:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, 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.

According to verse 27, both Adam and the Woman (male and female) were created in the image of God. Since we are all descendants of our first parents, then we have been made in the image of God as well. Genesis 9:6 confirms that the image of God is passed on to Adam’s descendants.

What sets us apart from animals and plants is that we have a spiritual aspect. Plants have a “body” or at least a physical aspect but no soul. This is why creationists often point out that plants are not living in the biblical sense. Animals, on the other hand, were created with a body and a soul (Hebrew: nephesh) according to such passages as Genesis 1:24–25. Unlike animals, humanity has a spiritual aspect as well.1 Recall Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

Mankind has a unique spiritual aspect, and this spirit is uniquely made in the image of God.2 We should expect this image to have certain aspects of God’s characteristics since God is spirit (John 4:24). However, this does not mean that we have all of them, for we have but a taste of God’s attributes. This image was first placed into Adam when God breathed life into him.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

The Hebrew word for breath here is nashamah and is often translated as “breath” or “spirit.” Often Christians describe the image of God as superior intellectual ability, such as reason and abstract thought, worship of God, language and communication with God, ability to make decisions, creative expression, immortality, emotions such as love, sadness, anger, and so on. These attributes show how separate man is from beasts and other physical entities; however, angels, Satan, demons, and other heavenly host, have many of these same attributes.

Spiritual Beings . . . Image of God Too?

One may quickly dismiss such an intriguing question without much thought by claiming that the Bible doesn’t say angels were created with the “image of God.” However, a quick dismissal may be unwise. After all, the Scriptures do not say they weren’t created with the image of God either. The Bible doesn’t give us extensive background about angels since its focus is on mankind, but we can examine what it does tell us about angels in attempting to answer this question.

Consider a few of these characteristics and see how Scripture ascribes them to spiritual beings. While many examples can be found in Scripture, a couple should suffice for each.

Superior intellectual ability such as reason and abstract thought

When the serpent, which was influenced by Satan, deceived Eve in Genesis 3, there was considerable intellectual ability, even being termed “clever/cunning.” Satan, referring to Job in Job 1:9–11 and Job 2:4–5, used logic to say that Job would turn if he lost his possessions and became diseased. (Many people in such a situation probably would have turned from God, but God knew Job would not.)

Worship of God

Hebrews 1:6 points out that angels worship the Lord. We also see the heavenly host praising God in Luke 2:13–14.

Language and communication with God

Satan was able to converse with God in Job 1–2. Satan was also able to understand Christ (Mark 8:33). The legion of demons spoke with Christ (Mark 5:9). Angels often spoke to people, e.g. Mary, the mother of Christ, and John in Revelation.

Ability to make decisions

Satan and the demons obviously fell from grace when sinning against God.

Creative expression

The four living creatures (whom are among the heavenly host) in Revelation 5:8–10 played harps and sang a new song. With the extensive amount of praise and worship to God by the angels and heavenly host, we would expect them to create much music—even the morning stars (i.e. angels) sang for joy at the creation (Job 38:7).

Immortality

Like humans, eternal life will be the outcome of angels who did not fall and eternal punishment for Satan and his angels ( Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).

Emotions such as love, joy, desire, sadness, pride, and anger

Luke 15:10 indicates that angels are joyous when one person repents. The devil has great wrath in Revelation 12:12. The angels and the devil have desires ( 1 Peter 1:12; John 8:44).

Conclusion

Since the Bible doesn’t say whether spiritual beings are made in the image of God, we can only infer from Scripture. Of the many attributes Christians often cite as distinctions between mankind and animals as evidence man is made in the image of God, these same attributes are found in heavenly beings.

Put simply, in our fallen state, we may never fully grasp what encompasses being made “in the image of God.” God is infinite, and simply trying to comprehend God’s attributes can sometimes seem overwhelming.

But on the flip side, should it be a surprise that spiritual beings have attributes of their Creator who is spirit as well? We can be sure of what God’s Word teaches: humans are made in the image of God and are distinct from animals by having a spiritual aspect. I’m not aware of any major theological problems if one considers spiritual beings as being made in the image of God. Therefore, it may be wise to leave open the possibility that heavenly beings are made in the image of God.

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Footnotes

  1. We are not taking an official position on whether man is dichotomous (body and soul/spirit; where soul and spirit are merely interchangeable words of the same substance) or trichotomous (body, soul, and spirit; where each are truly separate and unique). This is a disputed issue among theologians and there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer to it. Personally, I would lean toward a view that incorporates both in a unique way. The spirit would be a modified aspect of the soul, like a flip side of the same coin. There is one coin but two unique sides to it. In other words, our soul is specially fashioned with a spiritual aspect, like duality. So soul and spirit could almost be used interchangeably (being two parts to the same “coin”), which we find in Scripture (Luke 1:36–47). Yet soul and spirit could be seen as unique (two sides of the “coin”), which we also find in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). Of course, a thorough treatment of this subject would require much more than this short footnote. Back
  2. In some cases in Scripture, spirit and soul are used almost interchangeably, but not always. This seems to indicate that the spiritual aspect may be a modified part of the soul, such as the flip side of coin; this is why human souls with a spiritual aspect (made in the image of God) are truly unique to the souls of animals (merely nephesh chayyah). Although this subject deserves a paper in its own right, it is not for the discussion here. Back