What Is The Image Of God?

Is this the image of God? God has emotions—mankind has emotions; God has intellect—mankind has intellect; God has a will—mankind has a will. That may be what you were taught, but here is a better option—God's image has something to do with maleness and femaleness. Genesis 1:26-27 are the first verses that use the "image of God."

Since God provided His Word to change our flawed thinking and renew our minds, your study of God’s Word helps clarify your thinking on specific issues in life that you face. And as you study further, you see that the truths support each other and are linked. Finally, after more study, you find the perfection of God. More things are connected than you ever thought!

Oswald Chambers provides an extremely simple method to experiencing the fruit of the Spirit in your life. He says – you do not reason your way through God’s Word; you obey each part you read, then God reveals more to you.

That becomes reality when you accept this critical truth: God is PERFECT. Starting there motivates you to trust all He has said in His Word.

Since God is PERFECT, all His Word works together, supporting and expanding our ability to see, appreciate, and worship Him. Dr. Marlin Howe magnified my belief in our PERFECT God when he showed from God’s Word how God’s image aligns with the designs of men and women.

Understanding the image of God demonstrates why men's and women’s designs are uniquely different. It provides insight into how marriage and relationships work best and how the designs fit together. Without the clarity of God’s image, you probably will not see how much of life, especially relationships, depends upon two essential components that can describe the image of God.

So why are men and women designed so differently? There is no need to speculate. God tells you in His word! You are created in His image, and He is reflected in your design.

Predominant View

Many teach about God’s Image using three words: emotions, intellect, and will. We have emotions – He has emotions. We have intellect – He has intellect. We can choose, have a will – He chooses, has a will.

While it is true – those are commonalities with our Creator – God’s Word does not call those three items His Image.

Below are some statements about the image of God:

Therefore, God has provided the soul of man with intellect, by which he might discern good from evil, just from unjust, and might know what to follow or to shun, reason going before with her lamp...To this he has joined will, to which choice belongs. – Calvin, John, translation of Henry Beveridge, Esq., Institutes of Christian Religion, 1581s

There is a long history of debate concerning the nature of the “image of God.” In what respect did God make man like Himself? Some have felt the key to likeness was an original holiness...So most commentators have agreed that the uniqueness of man is the key to understanding image. We know from the Bible that God has emotions, values, chooses, appreciates beauty, demonstrates creativity, makes distinctions between right and wrong, loves and even sacrifices Himself for the sake of others. We know from the Bible that God is a Person, with identity and individuality. – Richards, Lawrence O., The Teacher’s Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) 1987.)

Human life was created in (lit., “as,” meaning “in essence as”) the image of God (v. 27). This image was imparted only to humans (2:7). “Image” is used figuratively here, for God does not have a human form. Being in God’s image means that humans share, though imperfectly and finitely, in God’s nature, that is, in His communicable attributes (life, personality, truth, wisdom, love, holiness, justice), and so have the capacity for spiritual fellowship with Him. – Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985

These men are excellent theologians who likely have wrestled with this issue far more than I or Dr. Howe. What they say is true. What is also true, however, is that an even more transparent option is available and, if true, makes a massive difference in understanding relationships, marriages, and life.

Another Option

Look up the following Bible verses and study them.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in our image, in our likeness,” ...So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. – Genesis 1:26, 27

… for in the image of God He made man. – Genesis 9:6

… (we are) conformed to the image of His son… – Romans 8:29

… (man) reflects the image and glory of God… – 1 Corinthians 11:7

… we shall also bear the image of the heavenly – 1 Corinthians 15:49

… (we are) changed into the same image… – 2 Corinthians 3:18

... Christ, who is the image of God… – 1 Corinthians 4:4

… (Christ) is the image of the invisible God … – Colossians 1:15

Only the two Genesis scriptures are important for this discussion. Why? First the others do not speak about the image of God and the creation fo males and females.

Second, a rule of scriptural interpretation is the rule of first cause. It means the first time a word or phrase is used, that is most likely the meaning that God assigned to that word or phrase. With that in mind, Genesis 1:26-27 is the first-time God speaks about His image. And Genesis 1:27 is the only verse to provide more information where it says,

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. – Genesis 1:27

Two significant elements show up in the verse – 1) God created man (mankind) in His own image, and 2) male and female were created.

What if those two elements are related? For example, is the “image of God” linked to “male and female?” Please understand me – I am not implying that God is male and female! Is God telling us that He not only created mankind as male and female but somehow displays His Image in the distinct attributes of males and females?

A simple approach would be to examine the design, definition, and behaviors of males and females.

First, Genesis 2 gives words that describe the design and purpose of a “male” and “female.”

  • Adam – Genesis 2:5, 15 tells us God created Adam to till (work), tend (cultivate, maintain), and keep (watch over, observe, protect). A man is designed to work.
  • Eve – Genesis 2:18 states God created Eve to be a helper (aid, support), comparable (suitable, appropriate, belong, a fit), so man should not be alone (companion, relate). A woman is designed to relate.

Second, English dictionaries define males and females with lists of adjectives.

  • Male – masculine, manly, macho, virile, manlike; not – feminine, girlie, effeminate, womanish
  • Female – womanly, feminine, lady, effeminate (mostly as derogatory of men)

Finally, medical research provides adjectives and behaviors for the hormones in males and females.

  • Testosterone – brawn, strength, power, muscular, aggressive, assertive, separate, dominant, disconnected, alone
  • Estrogen-progesterone – emotional, moody, sensitive, approachable, attractive (physically and relationally)

So, summarizing the words from the Bible, dictionaries, and medical research, you could have the following:

  • Male – powerful, separate (supports the “work” design)
  • Female – relational, belong (supports the “relational” design)

Therefore, is it reasonable to describe the image of God as “powerful and relational” or “separate and belonging?”

I realize this is not in-depth research, but using those summary words to describe males and females seems rather obvious and intuitive. Even so, here is one last critical element. Christian scholars and theologians often use two words to describe God – transcendent and immanent.

Statements such as Ephesians 4:6, “One God . . . above all, and through all, and in all” indicate that God stands in a relationship of both transcendence and immanence to the created order. In that he is “above all” and “over all” (Romans 9:5), he is the transcendent God, and independent of his creation, self-existent and self-sufficient…on the other hand, in that he is “through all, and in all,” he is immanent in his creation (though distinct from it), and it is entirely dependent on his power for its continued existence. “In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). – The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.

Note transcendence says God is “above all” and “over all.” The definition of transcendent contains words like “apart from, surpassing, incomparable, and preeminent.”

On the other hand, immanence states God is “through all and in all,” and the definition includes “operating within, indwelling.”

There is a significant similarity between “separate and powerful” and the words associated with transcendence. The same is true for “belonging and relational” to immanence.

With all that in your mind, here is where we are. Maybe God displays His image in “male and female” and the broader sense of maleness and femaleness, like “powerful and relational” or “separate and belonging.”

God’s Attributes and His Image

Finally, consider how God describes Himself. While the following is not a complete list, it represents what the Bible states are the attributes of God. These words describe what He says that He is, His very essence. He is 100% of each of these, always:

Holy, Righteous, Saving, Love, Justice, Judging, Sovereign, Merciful, Gracious, Truth, Wisdom, Self-Existent, Infinite, Eternal, Independent, Compassionate, Relational, Immanent, Immutable, Transcendent, Gentle, Kind, All-Powerful (Omnipotent), All-Present (Omnipresent), All-Knowing (Omniscient)

Keeping it simple, place the above list of attributes into the two categories of maleness and femaleness or “Separate or Powerful” and “Belonging or Relational.” Here is how I arranged the words into the two categories.

The only word that does not easily fit into the categories is “love,” primarily because of God’s view of love. Love has a powerful and relational component, but I put it on the relational side since it is a critical relational element and more often viewed as primarily relational.

Tentative Conclusion: The Image of God

This is undoubtedly not in-depth research and does not need to be. God is not trying to hide things from us; He gladly reveals Himself and truth so that we can understand how He created us and life. Describing God’s image in the broader sense of maleness and femaleness is extremely reasonable, especially with words like separate and powerful or belonging and relational.

There are some profound implications if this theory is accurate. Most importantly, it clarifies the roles of men and women and the divine picture of marriage. Men and women in marriage represent the complete picture of the image of God, especially if each does the roles God ordained for them.

Before we go any further, I want to be precise. When I say God displays His image in maleness and femaleness, I am not speaking of the physical but the fundamental nature of each. Men primarily reflect God’s Separate and Powerful attributes, while women primarily reflect God’s Belonging and Relational attributes.

 If that is true, you should be able to find support in the Bible for that theory.


If this theory has merit, it will be supported by God’s Word. That is the only source to be trusted.

The following does not pretend to be a scholarly treatise on the image of God. While that would be great, it does not fit my desire, credentials, or strengths. On the other hand, if the image of God is best described through maleness and femaleness, Separate & Belonging, or Powerful & Relational, it should not be that difficult to find in God’s Word.

Consider the following examples to see if they represent the image of God as proposed. Some examples provide both elements and others just one.

Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, because of its simple, basic insight into what makes life good. The verse tells you to be separate (do justly) and belonging (love mercy and walk humbly) and that is what is good. A reasonable speculation is that it is good because it reflects God. So, God asks you to be Separate/Powerful (just) and Belonging/Relational (merciful).

Isaiah 57:15

For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

This verse is spectacular in the way it presents both elements. Even better, this verse is in the context of God telling the nation of Israel that He is willing to forgive and restore them.

Look at the first three lines. Each one is about the power of God or how He is different (separate) from us. He is High and Lofty, inhibiting eternity, Holy, and dwelling in a high and holy place. If you understand some of the reality of that portion of the verse, it initiates a worshipful and humble spirit, because this represents His majesty!

Look at line 3. God first states that He “…dwells in a high and holy place…” then continues to state He dwells with people also. He could have just continued to state how powerful He is and how angry He is with sin (which He has done prior to this verse), but here He wants you to know He is willing to forgive sin.

Equally important is the fact that God states that He dwells in more than one place. He inhabits eternity, dwelling in the high and holy place, but He also dwells with people who have a contrite and humble spirit willing to see their sin and repent of it – Separate/Powerful, yet Belonging/Relational.

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