Old Testament Survey - Lesson 3

Image of God

Explore the impactful concept of being made in the image of God, or "imago Dei," within both a modern and an ancient Near Eastern context. Gain insights into how humans mirror divine attributes such as rationality, spirituality, intellectual freedom, and relational capacities. The lesson describes ancient inscriptions and texts, like those of Hadad Yithi and Enuma Elish, highlighting how the phrase "image of God" historically suggested not only representation but also function. Contrasts are drawn between ancient views and the biblical interpretation where every human, not just the elite, embodies God's image, emphasizing equality and the inherent dignity of all humans. 

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Image of God

I. Understanding the Image of God

A. Modern Interpretations of Imageness

1. Rational and spiritual attributes

2. Intellectual freedom and relational abilities

3. Triunity of body, soul, and spirit

B. Ancient Near Eastern Context of Imageness

1. Image of Hadad Yithi and its inscriptions

2. Similarities to Biblical text in Genesis

II. Contrast of Biblical and Non-Biblical Views of Imageness

A. Enuma Elish and the Role of Humankind

1. Creation of primeval man for gods' leisure

B. Atrahasis and the Function of Humans

1. Human beings as grunt workers for the gods

C. King and Priest as Images of Gods

1. Ezra Haddon text and the notion of image

2. Kings and priests as divine representatives

D. Ordinary People and Slavery

1. Non-recognition of common people as godly images

III. Biblical Perspective on Human Imageness

A. Distinction of Human Species

1. Special creation and representation of God

2. Sanctity of life based on being God’s image

B. Democratization of Imageness

1. Universal application across human race

2. Retention of dignity post-Fall

C. Theological and Ethical Implications

1. Treatment of humans as treatment of God

2. Christian response to harming another human

IV. Implications for Christian Cosmology and Anthropology

A. Interpretation of Genesis 1

1. Rejection of extremes in interpretation

2. Exclusion of non-divine views of creation

3. Rejection of macroevolution and material pantheism

B. Views on Human Origins and Dignity

1. Special creation and distinction from other creatures

2. Equality and value of all humans

3. Distinction between genders and procreation as divine act

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Image of God
Lesson Transcript


The issue of what it means to be the image of God is so important that we really need to spend a little bit more time on what does the Bible mean by that expression, image of God, imago Dei. We'll begin this excursus by simply reflecting on the common modern understanding of imageness. Theologians today understand imageness in various ways.

We are images of God in that we are rational, we are spiritual, we have intellectual freedom, we have relational ability, we can relate to God and fellow humans, or even you see it in some places, we are a triunity, body, soul, and spirit like God is a trinity. That's how we often hear the conversation going. But to grasp this text, we need to interpret it in its ancient Near Eastern context.

So we'll talk about a little bit about ancient Near Eastern understanding of imageness. On the screen, I have an image of Hadad Yithi, an ancient governor in the province in Upper Mesopotamia, Hadad Yithi. The interesting thing about this image is on front and back, there were inscriptions.

The front is inscribed in Akkadian, and in the back, we have an Aramaic translation of that Akkadian text. The interesting thing is the two words we discover in Genesis 1:26, let us make man in our image and in our likeness. Those two words are found on this text from the 9th century BC in Aramaic.

Those two words are found here. So this is obviously an image of the and it is set up as an image to represent the ruler there. When you see that image, you get an idea of what the ruler was like, or he's doing something here for the ruler.

But let's contrast this, or let's contrast the biblical view of what imageness, being the image of God means in the Bible, as opposed to outside the Bible. Here's Enuma Elish, Dali's translation. Let Marduk, the god of Babylon, addresses the high god Ea.

Let me put blood together and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man. Man shall be his name.

Let me create a primeval man. The work of the gods shall be imposed on him, so they shall be at leisure. Let me change the ways of the gods miraculously, so they are gathered as one and yet divided in two.

Notice, we're making humankind to be the slaves of the gods, so the gods can just chill. They shall be at leisure, do whatever they want. Here's another one from Atrahasis.

Ea spoke to the gods, the womb goddess is present. Let her create a mortal man, so that he may bear the yoke, the work of Enlil, the let man bear the load of the gods. They are the grunt workers for the gods.

Here's an Ezra Haddon text, a couple of them. A free man is as the shadow of a god. The slave is as the shadow of a free man, but the king, he is like the very image, Mushulu, of God.

Or here's another one. The father of the king, my lord, was the very image, Salmu, same root as we have in the Bible, of Baal, that is Marduk, and the king, my lord, is likewise the very image of Baal. Or here's an exorcism text.

The exorcism is the exorcism of Marduk. The priest is the image of Marduk. Conclusion.

Humankind was created in ancient Near Eastern thinking to be the slaves of the gods. Humankind was stratified regarding images. Only special people are viewed as images of the gods, the kings, priests, and nobility, not the ordinary people.

They are slaves of the kings who are the images of the gods. In this world, an image, a tselem, always represents a concrete three-dimensional representation of something, an interpretation confirmed by the pairing of those two words, tselem and demuth, in Genesis 1.26, which are found on that hadad yithi inscription that we showed earlier. It is humankind's status as image that distinguishes this species from everything else that God has made.

We are not simply the highest of evolved creatures, specially created for this purpose, to stand in for God. The dignity involved in imageness extends to both man and woman. Adam equals male plus female, Genesis 1.27 and 5.1-2. We should interpret imageness primarily in functional terms.

To be the image of God is to be his deputy and representative, not representation. Adam is created to govern the world for God as God would were he personally present, Genesis 1.28, Psalm 8. Adam's status as image determines the special sanctity of life, Genesis 9.6. Whoever sheds human blood by a human shall his blood be shed for as the image of God he created him. This principle of life for human life is based on the sanctity of human life in particular.

Whoever kills another human being kills an image of God and, in effect, has declared to God and to the rest of the world, this person doesn't deserve to represent God. That is the height of hubris and arrogance. In Hebrew thought, the notion of imageness is democratized.

All members of the human race are images of God, all. While the fall affected men's and women's ability to function as the image, the dignity associated with this status is retained even after the entrance of sin. Psalm 8 celebrates our image status, Proverbs 14.31, 17.5, James 3. How can you curse men and bless God when human beings are created as images of God? It doesn't work.

We are still images of God. This special status of members of the human race as images of God provides the basis for a distinctly theological biblical ethic. What we do to one another, we do to God.

Jesus said, in as much as you've done it to the least of these my brothers, you've done it to me. Well, of course, Jesus is the incarnation of God, and these are images of that God. We'll conclude this discussion by considering some of the implications of Genesis 1 for a biblical cosmology, the view of the world.

A couple of principles here. One, both interpretive extremes, those that concentrate on the meaning of day and insist on a 24-hour period for yom, and those which treat this text as a mere myth whose basic worldview is borrowed from the pagans, they tend to overlook the authorial agenda. Both interpretive extremes tend to miss the point.

Two, views of universal origins that deny or diminish the role of God are excluded from a biblical worldview. This text affirms the direct hand of God in every phase of creation. Ancient pagans would have rejected any view of universal origins that leaves the evolution of matter to chance.

That's absurd. You didn't have to be an Israelite to recognize that. Three, views of universal origins that denigrate the dignity of humankind by reducing this species to mere animal, along with the rest, even the most highly evolved, are excluded.

Adam was created specially by God to function as his deputy and representative. Four, views of origins that diminish the order or blur the boundaries built into the universe are excluded. The definition of species becomes crucial, but dogs do not come from Tyrannosaurus Rex by this view.

Microevolution is clearly possible. You've got different kinds of dogs that look quite different, and you hardly call them by the same name, but they're all dogs. So there is microevolution in species, but macroevolution is a different issue.

This document suggests minimally that crawlies, birds, marine, and land animals have separate origins. Five, views of the universe that treat matter either as an extension of deity, pantheism, or as inherently evil, gnosticism, are excluded. God declared everything good, and what God calls good, we should call God.

That was a consideration of implications of Genesis 1 for a Christian cosmology. What about the implications of this text for a Christian anthropology? Views of human origins that diminish the direct involvement of God in the creation of Adam are excluded from a biblical anthropology. You get this especially in chapter 2, which functions as an expansion and exposition of Genesis 1, 26 to 28.

Two, views of human origins that diminish people's distinction from the rest of creation and human beings are excluded. Minimally, we should insist on the separate and special creation of Adam, male and female, the functional superiority of Adam over creation, not by virtue of brains or superior evolution, but by divine mandate, the unity of all humankind based on the origin and a single pair of parents. Third, views of human species that diminish the dignity of any member on any grounds are excluded.

This includes grounds of gender, race, intelligence, physical form, circumstances of conception. Every human being is equally an image of God, and its life is to be treasured, not just those whom we deem to be perfect specimens, at least to the eyes. Four, views of human species that blur the fundamental distinction between male and female are excluded.

This is a binary world. Adam consists of male and female. Five, views of human species that diminish the value of human procreation are excluded.

Do you know what it means to have children? It means that God involves us in the creation of images of himself. There is no higher privilege.