Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Creation of Man
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness …” Genesis 1:26NKJV
Question 17 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How did God create man?” It gives the answer, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.” Last week we saw how God created the angels; those mighty heavenly beings who serve Him perfectly. This week we examine God’s creation of man.
First, we see that God created man last of all the creatures. Everything else was preparatory – like a setting of the stage – for the capstone of God’s creative work: man. Second, Man was created male and female. The human race has two sexes. Each one is made differently, with different strengths and weaknesses, in order to jointly accomplish their purpose, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Any attempt by man to alter the two-sex reality instituted by God; by blurring or confusing of roles, by denying specific strengths and weaknesses, or by denigrating either sex; is a sin against God and an attack on our humanity.
The Catechism also affirms that God made man out of the dust of the ground. Though we are made in the very image and likeness of God (hence our great honor and dignity), we must remember that we are but dust (hence our lowliness and humility). The woman being made from Adam’s rib points to their sameness (“bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh,” Gen. 2:23), and locates the unity of the human race in its head – Adam. Additionally, the chief distinction between man and every other creature is that man alone is said to be made in the image and likeness of God. But what exactly is this image? We know that God does not have a body like men. He is Spirit (John 4:24). Therefore, the image of God is not to be located primarily in our physical-ness, but in our souls. Thus, John Calvin, “Though the divine glory is displayed in man’s outward appearance, it cannot be doubted that the proper seat of the image is in the soul,” (Institutes, 1.15.1). So how are we like God in our souls? In today’s question the Westminster divs note what theologians have since called the broad and narrow sense of the image of God.
Narrowly, man was made like God in knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). Adam (and Eve) was made without sin – knowing God, knowing himself, perfect in righteousness and holiness. Yet, the Biblical account shows us that man was “subject to fall,” for Adam transgressed the commandment and sinned against God and totally lost this narrow sense of the image of God. Unconverted man is no longer like God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Yet, at regeneration, God creates in us a new nature that is being renewed and conformed to the image of Christ in these three things (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 2:10; etc.).
However, though we lost the narrow sense of the image of God in the fall, it is very important for us to affirm (with the Catechism), that man did not entirely lose the image of God! If that were the case, then it would not be a sin to treat (unconverted) people the same as animals, for we would have lost all distinction from and dignity over the animals. A man who ceased to be the image of God in any sense would cease to be responsible before God as a moral agent, bound by the covenant of works, for God made the covenant of works with man, not with animals. Thus, theologians note that in addition to being in God’s image in a narrow sense, man was made by God in a broad sense. From the Catechism we can identify this broad sense of man being like God in his rationality (reason, intellect), his moral responsibility (conscience, will, affections), and in his self-consciousness or awareness. And although fallen man uses these natural gifts, not to serve God but to serve himself, yet he still retains them. Thus, in this sense, all men; Christian or nonchristian, male or female, black or white, young or old; whole or maimed, strong or weak, diseased or healthy, continue to bear God’s image. They are still responsible to Him for their actions, and will one day give an account as His image-bearers. But until then they are able (as God pleases) to be renewed by the Spirit of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ!