Early on the Church fathers believed the image/likeness of God in man consisted of man’s rational and moral characteristics. Others (Irenaeus and Tertullian) viewed the image and likeness of God in man as two separate things; image being man’s bodily nature and likeness being man’s spiritual nature. The Roman Catholic Church still to this day believes these to be two separate things; image being rationality, reason, and volition, while likeness being an original righteousness added to man at creation.
The Protestant view, the correct view, differs. We believe the two words image and likeness to be two words which refer to the same thing (the theological word for this is a ‘hendiadys’). So to say we were made in the image of God is to say we were made in the likeness of God, and visa versa. In this manner John Calvin said, ‘Accordingly by this term (the image of God) is denoted the integrity with which Adam was endued when his intellect was clear, his affections subordinated to reason, all his senses duly regulated, and when he truly ascribed all his excellence to the admirable gifts of his Maker. And though the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and the heart, or the soul and its powers, there was no part even of the body in which some rays of glory did not shine’ (Institutes, 1.15.3). See here that Calvin does not separate image and likeness but in talking of the image of God in man he speaks of both natural and spiritual characteristics of man.
So what does it mean, according to the Bible, to be made in the image of God?
Images were common in the ancient world the Old Testament was written in, and it was these varied images that represented someone like a god or a king. The 2nd commandment forbids the worship of images, yet see the beauty of man in that by making us, God made an image of Himself. At it’s most basic we must say this: to be made in the image/likeness of God is to be made to resemble God.
Therefore though God and man are different, we believe God and man are similar too.
We could say that what we see being taught in Genesis 1 is ‘man’s relationship to the rest of creation is similar to God’s relationship to the creation as a whole’ (John Frame). After Gen. 1:26-27 God gives man the Cultural Mandate in 1:28 which says, ‘And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”’ This means God has given man finite qualities that are replicas of God’s infinite qualities, and that God has made man like Himself to equip man for his task as a ‘lord’ who exercises dominion, while being a ‘lord’ who submits to God’s Lordship. This is to say that God made man to be lord of the world under Him.
In this role man must carry out, John Frame gives us a helpful pattern to think through. He says God’s three main Lordship qualities are: prophet, priest, and king, thus, we should see traces of each of these three in man because God made man like Him.
I want to take them in the order of King, prophet, and priest:
Man as king: the role of a king is a role of power. Man in the image of God has power, power that is God-given for us to have dominion over and subdue to earth, making it bear fruit for us. Everything God has made in the 4th – 6th days of creation man is to have dominion over, this is Genesis 1:28, the cultural mandate. See that the kingly task of man having dominion over the world is carried out when man takes creation and turns it into an environment suited to the needs and purposes of man. This not only involves growing crops for food, but also speaks of the arts, sciences, and literature. So see here an implication of such things: man is to be a culture builder according to God’s standards, and when we do so, we bring glory to God by living as lords under God, the Lord of Lords.
Man as prophet: the role of a prophet is a role of authority in language. Man in the image of God is a prophet in that God has given us language in order to exercise authority in the world. Man’s first experience with this was when they heard the authoritative prophetic voice of God commanding them in 1:28-31. Man’s second experience with this was when Adam used language authoritatively to name the animals in Genesis 2. Then the disastrous third experience was hearing the language of the serpent and believing his word over God’s. God then authoritatively used language to condemn the serpent, discipline Adam/Eve, and promise redemption. See the overall pattern here: as God first spoke words to man, man in turn is to speak similar words to his fellow man and by these words impose upon a rule, harmony, and order as he builds culture in the world, because insofar as man speaks according to God’s standards, man speaks with God’s authority.
Man as priest: the role of a priest is a role of mediation. Genesis 2:15 says God commanded Adam to do two things in the garden, ‘work it and keep it.’ Some have said Adam was merely a farmer of the world God had made. Yet, the only other place these two Hebrew words (work and keep) are used together again in Scripture is when Moses describes the priest’s duties within the tabernacle in Numbers 3:7-8, and 4:23-24, 26. As Adam was called to work and keep the garden, Moses calls the priests to work (or tend to) and keep the tabernacle. Conclusion? Adam was the first priest, in the first temple, whose duties were more priestly than agricultural. Which means Eden was not a farm, but was the first temple. So in our calling to build culture we must see our calling not as a secular one but as a spiritual one, where all of the culture we build relates to God. Partly this means that one of the most important institutions of culture is the local Church, where we ‘work and keep’ culture according to God’s standards, spreading His Word to nurture His people with the means God has intended for our nourishment.