And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
What does the word us mean in verse 26? In what sense are humans created in God’s image? What is the significance of the words male and female? How did God bless them? What does it mean to have dominion?
These verses tell part of God’s creative work on the sixth day. First He created land animals; then He created human beings. The words let us raise the question about the meaning of the word us. Some see it as the plural of majesty, but many see it as an early reference to the plurality of the Godhead. Although the doctrine of the Trinity was not formulated and articulated until the Christian era, Genesis 1:2 and 26 are compatible with the idea of the Trinity.
These verses may be an early hint of what was later revealed more fully. From the New Testament we know that the eternal Word of God also was involved in creation (John 1:1–3). And as we have seen, Genesis 1:2 refers to the creative work of the Spirit of God.
The second issue in these verses is the meaning of being created in God’s image. Much has been written and said about the meaning of this word in these verses. At least one thing it means is that humans were created with the capacity and need for a personal relationship with God. Another aspect of it is that we are not only to relate to God but also to reflect God.
The highest animals do not show any tendency to worship God, but we humans are truly living only when we relate to God and reflect Him in how we live. Only Jesus perfectly related to and reflected God. Thus He is called “the express image” of God (Heb. 1:3). When sin came into the world, the image of God in man was marred. God sent His Son to reveal Him and to enable believers to relate to and reflect God (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4). Our hearts are restless until we find rest in Him. Thus one clear purpose for human beings is to know God and to reflect His likeness.
Both male and female humans are created in God’s image. Verse 27 is one reason for seeing men and women as equally precious to God. This verse is compared with 2:21–23, which describes the creation of the woman. These accounts are not contradictory but complementary. Mathews explained it like this: “Genesis 2–3 explains the role differentiation suggested by this first reference to ‘male and female,’ while maintaining the equal humanity of each sex.… Both affirm that man and woman are equally human and share the same personal worth.”
Both passages show that humans are sexual beings. Genesis 2:24 is a key verse about marriage as a lifetime one-flesh union. Genesis 1:28 shows that this one-flesh relationship is intended to have children. One way God blessed them was to make them cocreators with Him of human life. They were told to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. Thus sex within marriage is one of God’s good gifts.
Another aspect of God’s purpose for us humans is to have dominion over the rest of God’s creation. God entrusted to the first couple the task of being managers or trustees of the rest of His creation. Some critics have charged that Christians have used this as an excuse for raping the world’s natural resources. These critics blame pollution on people who see Genesis 1:26–28 as a divine mandate for such irresponsible pillaging of the resources in nature. “The words subdue and have dominion could hardly have been intended to give man the license to exploit nature. Man was commanded to be the trustee, not the exploiter of God’s good earth. It is true that man was created above nature and that plants and animals were to be food for him. But the context of the entire creation passage and of the Bible as a whole emphasizes that man is supposed to be a responsible trustee under God over creation.”
Many people think science and religion are enemies. However, the order in creation and the command to be trustee provide the basis for science in the best sense of the term. One scientist said, “God commands man to ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion’ over the earth.… I feel that this is exactly what the scientist is trying to do.”
What are the lasting truths in Genesis 1:26–28?
You were created by God for relating to and reflecting Him.
2. Men and women are equal before God but have different roles.
3. Sex in marriage was part of God’s plan for humans.
4. Parents are co-creators of human life with God.
5. God made human beings trustees over the rest of creation.