Image of God in Man: Are you any better than the animals?

Blasé Pascal once said:

What a chimera is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradictions, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, witless worm! Casket of truth, sewer of incertitude and error, glory and refuse of the universe.” (Pascal, The Pensées, frag. 246)

Such a view does give us, as fellows of mankind, reason to pause and indeed consider ourselves afresh. Pascal does echo similarities found in Scripture. The text of Scripture frequently describes man as a sinful creature in need of redemption. In fact, God has told us that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). God did not create man to be totally independent of Him. Man is indeed dependent upon God and that is a problem seen and resolved in the Genesis account. Honoring and recognizing the creator and subsequently surrendering self-will to Him is what has brought about divergent anthropological views. If man realizes there is a Creator then he should also realize that the Creator has a plan and desire for His creation.

Man was made in the image of God. When God created Adam, He created him in the likeness in which the Christ child would later come; it was the visible apparatus that God chose before the foundations of the world. The form in which Christ the Son of God would come predicated how God created Adam, the first human existence. Adam was also made in the image of God in an inward or spiritual sense, thereby causing us to express attributes that God possesses such as love, wisdom, intellect, and will.

Thomas Aquinas, an early Christian, scholar laid much ground work for future believers. He has much to say about the “image of God.” The words of Aquinas are profound. In fact, in his Summa Theologica he states:

Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways.

First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.

Second, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace.

Thirdly, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, "The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us" (Psalm 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of "creation," of "re-creation," and of "likeness." The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed

Man and animal are creations of God. Man however transcends the animal by being a creation with the image of God upon him/her. Man is different from the animals in many ways. In fact, the Garden of Eden and the environment for man was made especially for him to examine and learn from. Man is to have dominion. It is a God given command to conquer and rule the earth (See Genesis 1:28). The KJV uses the term "subdue" which implies a degree of sovereignty, control, and direction over nature. Man is not to merely relish and exhaust the creation but also to advance civilization and regulate natural forces.

Man is not divine, but certainly transcends other created things. For example, the Hebrew term selem (image) and demut (likeness) are basically synonymous. Early church fathers, like Iraenaeus, uniformly distinguished these terms but both terms point to spiritual qualities shared by God and man.

Man transcends all of creation by virtue of this quality. It is because of this that man is completely differentiated from all other created things. He is not an evolution of a lower species deriving from chance or random natural selection. Man alone has the capacity for self-consciousness, speech and the spark of morality. In spite of the fall of Adam and Eve man still has this quality in some sense. In this way man is “in the image of God” apart from regeneration. He is made more Christ-like in salvation by faith and is being spiritually transformed and rebirthed.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (KJV Romans 5:14). The HCSB says, “He is a prototype of the Coming One” (Rom. 5:14). When one feels mercy or love, he or she is utilizing divine characteristics of the very nature of which God consists. These attributes are given by God to man.


1. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas Second and Revised Edition, 1920 Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1093.htm

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Adversus Trinitas

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