Dr. Nicholas J. Schaser, Professor of Hebrew Bible

Genesis 1:27-28 states that humans are created in God’s “image” (צלם, tselem), but what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Some have suggested that God’s image is reflected in humanity’s God-given intelligence and discernment. In his Guide for the Perplexed, the medieval rabbi and philosopher Moses Maimonides said that it was because “the divine intellect conjoined with man… that he is ‘in the image of God and his likeness,’ not that God, may he be exalted, has a body or possesses a shape” (1.1). While Maimonides defined “image” as abstract intellect, the ancient Israelites defined an “image” as the physical representation of the divine on earth.

The biblical writers used tselem to describe the statues or “idols” of their polytheistic neighbors. God tells the Israelites that when they enter Canaan they must “drive out all the inhabitants… and destroy all their molten images (tselem)” (Num 33:52). The other nations put these images into their temples so that worshipers could bow down to an earthly representation of the deity. In an Egyptian text called the Memphite Theology, the superior god, Ptah, builds idols for the other gods so they have “bodies” to inhabit in their temples: “[Ptah] established [the gods’] shrines, he made their bodies according to their wishes. Thus, the gods entered into their bodies of every wood, every stone, every clay” (AEL 1.59-60).

Likewise, when the God of Israel creates humans in the divine “image,” God places physical representatives into the Temple of the world. This explains the prohibition against making graven images (cf. Exod 20:4-5; Deut 5:8-9): humans themselves are already the images of God. As God’s image-bearers, we humans are not divine ourselves, but we are made according to the physical image—the structure, likeness, and shape—of God’s own body.



  1. Christians do not worship images or anything in the earth. We have the Holy Spirit to tell us that it is wrong--and truthfully, He makes it unappealing for those who are indwelt by Him. Not so the neo-pagans among the rock concert crowd. I have seen pictures of rock concert "festivals". The festival goers camp out for days and revel. It seems totally like idol worship--especially with their drunkenness, sexual romps and drug-taking. (Nothing new under the sun, paganism included taking lots of potions and elixirs and sex as part of the worship of idols.) Sad.
    • The Gospel of Philip "Some said, 'Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.' They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman? Mary is the virgin whom no power defiled. She is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles and the apostolic men. This virgin whom no power defiled but wishes the powers defile themselves. And the Lord would not have said "My Father who is in Heaven" (Mt 16:17), unless he had had another father, but he would have said simply "My father".

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  2. Given that humans come physically in all shapes(deformed to well formed) and sizes ( very tall to very short), sexually( minimally male and female) as well as intellectually (a spectrum from disabled, dumb to very bright) we then are committed to a confused, if not contradictory set of images of the deity
  3. Is your conclusion that when anyone from any colour/complexion, tribe, nation, "race" asks to "see" god you would recommend that they look in a normal mirror? Hence different images of god are compatible.
    • I don't think that to look into a mirror is to see God, per se. As I said in the post, humans are not divine or mini gods. However, when one looks in a mirror, he or she will (generally speaking) see a face with eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and the biblical writers note that God's face has each of these facets as well.

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  4. I have always heard that God gave us an eternal soul for immortality eying defined as being “made in His Image??? Even though we are given free will to choose where that eternity is spent?? Is there, in your opinion any validity to this???
  5. Respectfully, some reasons that persuade me not to name an image with a name of the Lord: 1) Ex. 20.5 implies that such images show "hate" for God, and are "iniquity" to be "visited" on future generations. 2) Ex. 32ff reveals that the golden calf was made to be an image of the Lord who saved them. Likewise, Jeroboam's golden calves. 3) Rom. 1:22-31 reveals what exchanging the glory of God for man-images does to society. It is the Word, not an image, that reveals God.
    • Man made in the "image" of God has nothing to do with physicality. With respect, when you say God "has" a body, that seems to me close to heresy. The "image" of God in man lies in different areas, where we show the stamp of the Creator. We have free will - as God does. We can create (indeed "pro"create) as God does. We are tripartite - body, soul and spirit - as God is. We needed to be made male and female to be able to "show" the image of God (remember Eve was taken as the "side" of
  6. Last week I spent over two hours talking with two Mormon missionaries. This discussion sounds like what they were preaching from the Book of Mormon. They would be extremely pleased with the subject of God having a physical body (other than Jesus'). Scripture also tells us that God has wings, but we don't.
    • Seren, I'm afraid I don't know enough about Mormonism to comment. On the "wings" issue, see my response to your follow-up comment.
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    • The Mormans are quite literal in their interpretation. They fail to see the anthropomorphisms that God used when he talked to the Israelites. With regard to wings, God is telling his chosen people that if they stay faithful he will protect them like a mother hen covers her chicks with her wings. God the Father can project any image or use earthly things to speak with his people. The visit of the three angels to Abraham at the trees of Mamre and the burning pillar of fire are examples.
  7. Greek thought describes objects in relation to its appearance. Hebrew thought describes objects in relation to its function. Notice the two different translations of the Hebrew word ayil in Psalms 29:9. The NASB and KJV translates it as "The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve" while the NIV translates it as "The voice of the LORD twists the oaks". The literal translation of this verse in Hebrew thought would be; "The voice of the LORD makes the strong leaders turn ". The Hebrew word for both of these objects is (ayil).
  8. I agree with you. Greek thought views the world through the mind (abstract thought). Ancient Hebrew thought views the world through the senses (concrete thought). Concrete thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard. In Psalms 103:8; “The LORD is slow to anger ". Anger, an abstract word, is actually the Hebrew word (aph) which literally means “nose”, a concrete word.If the translator literally translated the above passage “slow to nose”, the English reader would not understand.
    • In the same vein,isn't yad the word for hand.And to know is yadah.Could the concreteness of hebrew thought be more expressive?!!When Genesis says'Adam knew his wife, and she conceived...',he knew her by putting his hand on her!And it is fruit-bearing knowledge. On the other hand (excuse the pun),paradoxically abstract-knowledge-can-be-quite-dry-and-sterile.

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    • I agree that Ps 103:8 mentions G_d's nose, but there is no word for 'slow'.
      The Hebrew actually says that G_d has a long nose.

      Dr Eli has written several times on G_d's long nose and how this physical picture reflects the conceptual idea of slow to anger.
  9. Didn't Jesus say that God is spirit Jn4:24 and we must worship in spirit and truth? 1Cor13 lists those aspects of love and Gal 5 the gifts of the Spirit. When we are made in God's image does that not mean that we are to display God's character especially when we pray "make me more like Jesus'. I have never thought of the Almighty having any physical form until Jesus out on human flesh and dwelt among us. Needs pondering!
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