The Image of God: Under-kings in Stewardship
The study of the image of God is essentially the study of Western understanding of humanity.55 In Gen 1:26–28 we find core theological values. Here, sexuality participates in a holistic anthropology. Unfortunately, texts like Gen 1:26 and 27 are typically read in isolation from their larger context, and even God’s dignifying speech. A *close reading reveals the literary contour of 1:26–28. God’s speech—both creative and appointing—actually encircles v. 27; the Creator’s “Let us” (v. 26, 1st person address) culminates with his priest-like blessing: “Be fruitful” (v. 28, 2nd person blessing). My following translation and semantic layout contextualizes the vital subjects of “humankind,” “image of God,” “rule,” and “male and female” in an interplay of divine speech (vv. 26, 28) and a narrator’s report (v. 27). Significantly, human sexuality is defined within community, granted a royal context, and tasked with an ethical mission.
Image of God (Gen 1:26–28):
Resemblance and Relationship in Literary Structure
Announcement: “Let us make humankind (’ādām) in our image … our likeness” (26a)
Purpose: “so that THEY may rule over (rādâ): fish, birds, creepers” (26b)
A So created (wybārā’) God the human being (hā’ādām) in his image (27a)
Report: B in the image of God he created him (27b)
B’ male (zākār) and female (nĕqēbâ) he created THEM (27c)
A’ Then blessed (wybārek) God THEM and God said to THEM (28aα)
Blessing1 (= endowment): “Be fruitful … multiply … fill … subdue it” (28aβ)
Blessing2 (= commission): “rule over (rādâ): fish, birds, creepers” (28b)
From the outset, the syntax underscores relationships in purpose. In *performative utterance, the more intimate “Let us make” now replaces the impersonal “Let there be” (cf. v. 14). The ruling community is specifically tasked—“so that they may rule over … fish, birds, creepers” (vv. 26b, 28b).56 “They” who are anticipated to “rule” (v. 26b, rādâ) are the same community (v. 28a, “them”) blessed with “rule” in the Creation Mandate (v. 28b, rādâ).57 The Mandate blessing ignites life, giving it direction, purpose, and ethical mission (Gen 2:15; Psalm 8).58 Human sexuality is presupposed within the relational and ethical dynamic of the Mandate.59
Notice that humankind was made in “dialogue” for dialogue—the man will only be heard when there is woman, a corresponding being to speak to (2:23).60 *Rhetorically, the “divine plural” (= “us”) from the heavenly stage initiates a mission that the “human plural” (= “them”) enacts on the earthly stage. Bracketing the entire unit, God’s speech is both informative (1:26) and empowering (1:28).
Highlighting the historical and cultural context, biblical theology sees God’s angelic court in the plural “us” (cf. 1 Kgs 22:19–22; Isah 6:8).61 Humankind is cast as the terrestrial counterpart to God’s heavenly entourage.62 God’s experience of community now spills over into a new arena, “deepening and broadening the community of relationships that already exists in the divine realm.”63
As the image of God, humankind both represents and resembles God.64 Rooted in the “stuff of earth” (2:7), humankind as the “image of God” has “a physical nature shared with the rest of the world and a unique form of liveliness that came from God.”65 In the theology of creation, the stone statues used by ancient Near Eastern kings are replaced by God’s living emblems. So Goldingay perceptively notes, if the “we” includes God’s heavenly entourage, it “would fit with the fact that God and God’s aids all have human form when they appear on earth” (e.g., Genesis 18–19).66 Further, the fact that: “You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps 8:5) coronates human under-kings (Pss 21:5; 45:3–4[4–5]) with the dignity of their Cosmic King (Pss 29:1–4; 96:6–7; 145:5). “Glory and honor” are distinguishing characteristics shared by God and his vice-regents,67 but a royalty that is now democratized to all of humankind, not one gender, one class of people, or ancient kings who thought they were demigods. “The first human beings are themselves royal figures, living in a royal garden and exercising royal authority there.”68