Genesis 1-3 and the Image of God in Man


This research will begin by looking at the “image of God” in the makeup of man. There is a search for clarity on the meaning of “image” and “likeness” as it pertains to God’s image in man. It will be shown how the image of God in man has affected man’s being. It will proceed to show how the image of God in man was affected by the fall. Then there will be an investigation into the gender-specific consequences after the fall. The transmission of the image of God discussed. There is a discussion concerning the transformation of the believer into the image of Christ. There is a review of death, which came by sin. Understanding the image of God is critical to understanding the life of man and how he should respond to God. Without the basic understanding of the image of God, men worship self, money, and power. Worship should glorify God and is only possible through a proper understanding of the image of God in man.

The makeup of man

Man is the reflection of God’s image as God’s representative on earth. Genesis 1:26 says that God created man in His “image” and according to His “likeness.” Genesis 2:7 says that “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” God is neither formed nor created, yet by His own will and sovereign purpose He formed from the dust of the earth a material body “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” (lit. “lives”). No other creature is ever said to have this kind of life. Man, then, is a two-part being of material and immaterial elements. While the material is quite obvious, the issue is the immaterial part of man and all that it involves. The material is a vessel for the immaterial. Without the immaterial the material is lifeless. Without the material, the immaterial has no object to animate. It is a disembodied spirit.

One question arises concerning the similarities between or sameness of the words translated “image” and “likeness.” The Hebrew word translated “image” is צֶלֶם. It is used 15 times in the Old Testament and in 11 of those it is used as a physical representation of a god. The Hebrew word translated “likeness” is דְּמוּת. It is used 20 times in the Old Testament to show similarity by comparing one object with another. The words definitely have different meanings when considering the makeup of man, however, there is an overlap. Some say there are material similarities and likeness of being in the image of God. Consider for a moment John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” The syllogism is that since Jesus is the Creator, man was created by the foreknowledge of God in the image of Jesus. The material part of man was created to represent the image of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). Charles Ryrie supports a “combination view” by saying that “man’s body is included in the image of God.”[1] The conclusion that the material part of Adam was created in the image and likeness of Christ is a contradiction of Romans 8:3 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-46.[2]  The only way to truly answer the question for the material part of man is to say that God formed man from the dust of the ground into a body that suited His sovereign purpose and placed His image and likeness in that body.

While “image” has a material aspect, “likeness” has more to do with the immaterial than the material. While not related to the material part of man, man in his immaterial part is created in the likeness of God’s image.[3] To understand the immaterial part of man one needs to understand the attributes, or perfections, of God. Some of God’s attributes are incommunicable, they are His alone. Omniscience, Omnipotence, and eternality are three examples. Some of God’s communicable attributes are easily seen in the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal. 5:22-23a). While these are a part of the image of God in man, God alone has them to full perfection. The formation of Adam’s helper, Eve, gives insight into the transmission of the immaterial part of man. Gen. 2:21-22 shows that God took a rib from Adam and formed Eve from it. Eve has the same image of God as part of her being. God did not breathe the breath of life into Eve, so the image of God was transmitted through Adam’s rib to Eve.

Intellect is the ability to reason and process complex information, which is part of the image of God. However, “intellect” is not necessarily a biblical term. A better way to understand the intellectual image of God in man are terms such as wisdom, understanding, and discernment. Gen. 2:19 says that God brought every beast of the field and bird of the sky to Adam “to see what he would call them.” Not only was Adam able to communicate with God, but he was also able to process complex information concerning the distinction of species. Adam was also able to process the complex problem that none of the animals he had named were like himself so as to be a “helper suitable for him.” 

Volition is an act of the will defined as “the ability to will or choose a course of action or an end for which to strive.”[4] Morality is a bit more difficult to define. It would appear that God alone is absolute moral goodness in the nature of His being. Morality cannot be separated from conscience. God alone has a clear conscience because of His absolute moral goodness. He has never planned evil or wickedness. Ryrie says that “conscience is a witness within man that tells him he ought to do what he believes to be right and not to do what he believes to be wrong.”[5] Adam was created morally neutral or passive. When Adam sinned, his conscience convicted him as immoral. The Hebrew word זִמָּה “plan, devise, wickedness” best describes Adam’s actions. In Genesis 2:15 Adam is placed in the Garden “to work and keep it.” In vv16-17 the law was given concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is no reason to believe that Adam was anywhere else in the Garden except by the tree where the law was given. In v18 a helper is promised for Adam. In vv19-20 God brings all of the animals and birds to Adam to see what he would name them but a helper was not found for Adam. In v21 God puts Adam into a deep sleep and removes one of his ribs. In v22 God forms Eve from the rib taken from Adam and “brought her to the man.” Eve was at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because that is where Adam was. That is why Adam was “with her” in 3:6.  In all likelihood Adam was planning to eat from the tree since the command to not eat from it was given. Both are held morally accountable before God. Spirituality is also included in the immaterial part of man who possesses “the ability to commune with God and share in God’s very life.”[6]

The image of God after the fall

Adam received a command from God in Gen. 2:16-17 that he could eat fruit from any tree of the Garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve was formed in vv18, 21-22. The duration of time between the formation of Eve and the temptation of her by the serpent in chapter 3 is not revealed but as shown above, it was likely a very short period. Possibly only a few moments. Since it is shown that Adam was at the tree when Eve was formed; and God brought Eve to where Adam was; the temptation of Eve by the serpent was immediate. It is clear from the text that the serpent used its cunning to deceive Eve. In v3 Eve’s errant response to the serpent’s deceitful assertion reveals three primary issues. First, she was nonspecific about which tree was restricted. Second, she added the condition of touching it and deemphasized the result of death. Why she did this is not revealed. Some say that she must have forgotten the command but this is not likely. She must have gotten it from Adam.[7] Adam, who had direct revelation from God, ate in direct rebellion to God’s Word. After eating the fruit their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. Not only were they conscious of their nakedness and covered themselves, they knew they were guilty before God and hid from Him.

As a result of their sin, the serpent was cursed; the ground was cursed; Adam and Eve suffered consequences of a curse, though they were not directly cursed as the serpent was. This should not be understood as Adam and Eve not being cursed. They were under a curse because they did not obey the law that was in the Garden. Several passages illustrate that Adam and Eve retained the image of God. Genesis 5:1-2 reiterate man being created in the image of God. Then in v3 Adam’s son Seth is said to be in the image and likeness of Adam. The image itself is still present but is marred from what it originally was when Adam was created. What has changed is man’s relationship with God. Genesis 9:6 shows that God implements a death penalty on a man or beast that kills a man because of the sacred image of God in man. Paul, in Ro. 1:18-32, deals with man’s acts of suppressing the truth that man is made in the image of God through the worship of created things. The image of God is still present in man. The issue is how men use that image to either bring God glory or to deny God and glorify themselves.

There are four popular views for the effect of sin in the Garden on the image of God in man. Pelagianism teaches that man is born in the same neutral state as Adam when he was created and becomes a sinner by committing a sin. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that the image of God in man was affected by the fall but he is able to achieve positive moral conscience by righteous works.  Arminianism is similar to semi-Pelagianism. Calvinism teaches the total depravity of the image of God in man and man’s inability to achieve positive moral conscience by his own effort apart from God.

Under penalty of death, Adam was commanded to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s decision to eat from the tree reveals a pattern for sin. The pattern begins by rationalizing away God’s Word. Adam and Eve chose for themselves the definition of good and evil by experiencing evil. They chose to eat the fruit in spite of God’s command. While Eve was deceived, she was still guilty and was held responsible for her sin. Adam was not deceived. His sin was a total rebellion against God. The consequences of their disobedience were both immediate and far-reaching.

The penalty for their disobedience was death. First, they immediately died spiritually. Spiritual death is separation from life with God. They could no longer connect with God on a spiritual level. By design, man was created to be in spiritual fellowship with God. After their sin, they retained the desire for a spiritual connection but it is never directed towards God. One facet of that spiritual connection is worship. Since the fall man still desires to worship but God is never the object of worship. Usually, those in Adam will worship themselves. They put themselves in God’s place and suppress the truth of God. They also have a tendency to worship money, power, and other people and created things. Second, they eventually died physically. Both aspects of death passed to all men. Men are spiritually dead at conception and begin to die physically. There are also gender-specific consequences of original sin.

The consequences of sin for women

Genesis 3:16 is a pronouncement of a judgment on Eve that is passed on to all women. This judgment affects both the material and immaterial parts. The judgment on women has to do with childbearing and desire. Soon after conception, it is common for women to become ill every day. Sometimes all day. As the child grows in the womb it begins to move around and kick. Organs are compressed, especially the bladder, causing frequent urination. When it is time to deliver the baby there is incredible pain that comes in waves lasting on average eight hours. The actual delivery is compared to forcing a basketball through a straw.[8] 

The second part of the judgment, “…Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you,” is debated for meaning. Many believe that her “desire” for her husband is the desire to be with him and that he reciprocates her desire. Feminists use this view to show a desire for equality with men. This view breaks down when the greater context of Genesis 2:15-3:20 is considered. 

In Genesis 2:15 God places Adam in the Garden “to work and keep it.” In v16 God makes Adam the theocratic mediator of one law, you eat you die. In vv19-20 God brings the animals and birds to Adam to see what he would name them. In Scripture, naming something shows authority over the person or created thing. God named “the light Day, and the darkness He called Night,” Gen. 1:5; He named “the expanse Heaven,” Gen. 1:8; He named “the dry land Earth, and the gathered waters He called Seas,” Gen. 1:10; He created “man,” Gen. 1:26. This shows God’s sovereign reign over all creation. 

God delegated authority to the man as His ambassador, Gen. 1:26,28; Adam was given the authority to work and keep the Garden before Eve was formed Gen. 2:15; Adam was made the mediator of one law, Gen. 2:16-17; Adam named all the animals and birds, Gen. 2:19-20; Adam named the helper suitable to him “woman,” Gen. 2:23; To the woman given to him as a wife, Adam named Eve, Gen. 2:20. These verses reveal a definite order of hierarchy by God’s design. God reigns supreme over all creation; Adam, as the seminal head of the human race is given the authority to rule and have dominion; Adam’s wife Eve is to be his helper in glorifying God. This is the biblical pattern for marriage between one man and one woman. Paul twice in the New Testament reveals that God’s designed order is not changed, 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23.

Another view of Eve’s “desire” in 3:16 is that women will attempt to usurp the rule of men as designed by God. This would actually be a judgment on Adam, not on Eve. While it is true that there is a struggle for authority in the battle of the sexes, this struggle is a result of sin in the Adamic nature of both men and women. A third, and more likely, view of Eve’s “desire” is the desire for intimacy with her husband. The first part of 3:16 reveals that women will have increased pain in childbearing. That kind of pain could cause the woman to not desire relations with her husband, which would impact the mandate to populate the earth. God promises Eve that even though she has great pain in childbearing, the desire to be intimate with her husband will return.

Having previously established the hierarchical order of authority in Adam, the last part of Gen. 3:16 must be considered. The text says “And he will rule over you.” Virtually every English translation has this verse translated this way. There is no reason to believe that this is not the translation of the text based on so many translations that agree. The same Hebrew construction is used six other times in three Old Testament verses.[9] In every case it means one party or person ruling over the other as subject to the ruler. Even though Adam sinned as well, he retains his authoritative headship. This part of the verse is not part of the judgment. It has to do with the result of the judgment. The best this writer could find that seems to alleviate much of the confusion over this verse is the one provided by Irvin A. Busenitz in Grace Theological Journal. He translates 3:16b as, “yet you will still desire [as you did before the Fall, though now tainted by sin] your husband, and he will still rule [as he did before the Fall, though now tainted by sin] over you.”[10]

To be clear, misogynism is as much a sin as denying the plan and purpose of God. The “gender war” is a byproduct of the sinful nature of fallen men and women and is not a design of the Creator. Men and women should define their roles based on a biblical worldview. Unfortunately, there are men that overstate their authority. There are also women who deny God’s purpose in design.

The consequences of sin for men

Adam’s transgression was very different from Eve’s. While Eve was deceived and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam willingly and knowingly ate. He was not deceived as Eve was. When Genesis 3:17 says “because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree” does not mean that Adam ate because Eve told him to. In a paraphrase, it means that “You stood there and listened to that whole conversation between Eve and the serpent and never stood up for the truth that you knew, and then you also ate.” God’s judgment on Adam for his sin is that the ground is cursed, Gen. 3:17. God had miraculously planted the Garden in which they lived, Gen. 2:8. Adam was to “cultivate and keep” the Garden, Gen. 2:15. Adam was to be a farmer. As a result of Adam’s sin, the harvest of his effort is reduced. The ground will produce “thorns and thistles,” Gen. 3:18. It will take more effort but less production.

Transmission of the image of God

There are three theories that concern the propagation or transmission of the image of God. There is the “pre-existence of souls” theory. That God has a warehouse of souls stored somewhere and whenever He needs one He gets it from the warehouse. This theory is not anywhere taught in Scripture. The Creationist theory is that God creates a new soul the moment a child is born. While there are many that accept this theory it has two major flaws. The first flaw is that God ended His creative work at the end of the sixth day. If He is still creating souls, He has not rested from all His creative work, Gen. 2:2. The second flaw of this theory is that if God is creating a new soul for each birth, He is creating a fallen image of Himself. Something God cannot do. The third theory is that of Traducianism. This theory is that the image of God is transmitted at conception from the union of one man and one woman. This explains how “the seed of the woman” from Genesis 3:15 is protected from transmitting the Adamic nature to the Messiah and yet still pass on the image of God and human nature. Jesus Christ alone is both fully God and fully human at the same time. This is called the hypostatic union. As God, Jesus could not die. He took human form so that His body could die. 

Genesis 3:15 is called the “protoevangilium,” the first giving of the gospel. It illustrates an ongoing war between the serpent’s seed and the seed of the woman. There is a tendency toward the idea of an ongoing battle between good and evil. However, this is a form of dualism. While the “woman’s seed” is Christ, the serpent’s battle is to prevent Christ’s coming into the world. To do that, the serpent attacks the human race. Once Christ came into the world the serpent, who is Satan, orchestrated the death of Christ. However, death could not hold Him. Jesus paid the penalty of death for all men. Those who believe the gospel, which is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are made spiritually alive by regeneration of the Holy Spirit. The church, the body of Christ, are those in this special age who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Satan is not at war with the church. He joined the church. The war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman manifests itself as a false doctrine in the church.

Transformed into the image of Christ

With the image of God spoiled in man, the new birth becomes a necessity. John chapter 3 is a discussion that Jesus has with a man named Nicodemas. The Pharisees knew that Jesus came from God, Jn. 3:2. Jesus responds to Nicodemus that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is confused about the meaning of “born again,” 3:9.  Jesus reveals the ignorance of Nicodemas who should have understood as a teacher of Israel, 3:10. What Nicodemus should have understood is that the new birth is required because the first birth is into the condemnation of Adam the image of which is corrupt. 

Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, He promised to send “another Helper,” Jn. 14:16. That Helper is “the Holy Spirit,” 14:26. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son and is given the ministry of regeneration, Titus 3:5. This new ministry of the Holy Spirit began in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus is “the image and glory of God,” 1 Cor. 11:7. Believers are “to become conformed to the image of” Christ, Ro. 8:29. Believers are to “be transformed by the renewing” of the mind, Ro. 12:2; through “the washing of the water with the word,” Eph. 5:26. While believers are fully sanctified in Christ at the moment of belief, there is a process of experiential sanctification. Believers learn every day to be more like Christ. One day, all believers will be eternally sanctified.

Death, the last enemy

God told Adam that if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die. That death is absolute. It is the separation of the immaterial from the material part of man. It is also spiritual death, separation from the life of God. All men since Adam have been under the curse of death for sin. Men are restored to spiritual life with God through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ. The millennial reign of Christ will be a time when most of the curse is lifted. While there will be death for some, the norm will be supernatural life with God. Only believers will enter this blessed period when Christ reigns from Jerusalem on the throne of David. All of God’s enemies will be put to death. The last enemy put to be destroyed will be death itself, 1 Cor. 15:16. This will be the beginning of the eternal state when the image of God in man is fully restored.


Clearly, man is unique. He is distinct from all other created beings. Having been formed by God, in the likeness of His image, and the breath of lives given to him. While all created beings glorify God, man’s purpose is also unique. God gave man a body that suited His purpose on earth. That purpose was to be a ruler of the earth that brings glory to God. God gave man wisdom, understanding, and discernment, which God intended man to use in a way that glorifies God. God gave man free will, which was intended to serve God’s purposes on earth. God tested man with one law and man failed the test. While at first, it might appear that God’s purpose for creating man was spoiled, the fall was actually part of God’s plan. Not that God was the cause of the fall but to show that man would never choose God without God’s intervention.

The fall of man brought severe consequences to man and the image of God in him. Physical and spiritual death has passed to the human race in Adam. God gave man authority to rule. Since the fall he uses his authority either to dominate absolutely or is apathetic to it. The gender war is not a struggle for women to assume the authority of man but is a direct result of the sinful condition of man. While the image of God is still present in man, man is totally corrupt in his being. The only hope for man is regeneration by the Holy Spirit and being conformed to the image of Christ, which occurs at the moment of belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Death, both physical and spiritual, will eventually be defeated by Christ and believers will forever be in full fellowship with their creator.


Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. New Cambridge Bible commentary. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Bray, Gerald. “The Significance Of God’s Image In Man.” Tyndale Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1991).

Busenitz, Irvin A. “Woman’s Desire for Man: Genesis 3:16 Reconsidered.” Grace Theological Journal 7, no. 2 (1986).

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.

Cohen, Abraham, ed. The Soncino Chumash: The Five Books of Moses with Haphtaroth ; Hebrew Text and English Translation with an Exposition Based on the Classical Jewish Commentaries. 6. impr. Soncino Books of the Bible ed. : A. Cohen[…]. London: Soncino Press, 2001.

Collins, C. John. “Adam And Eve In The Old Testament.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15, no. 1 (2011).

Condren, Janson C. “Toward A Purge Of The Battle Of The Sexes And ‘Return’ For The Original Meaning Of Genesis 3:16b.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 60, no. 2 (2017).

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 9. print. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1992.

Gardoski, Kenneth M. “The Imago Dei Revisited.” Journal of Ministry and Theology 11, no. 2 (2007).

Guliuzza, Randy J. Made in His Image: Examining the Complexities of the Human Body. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 2009.

Hamp, Douglas. Corrupting the Image: Angels, Aliens, and the Antichrist Revealed. Place of publication not identified: Defender Publishing LLC, 2011.

Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament. The Penteteuch Vol. 1. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

Owens, John Joseph. Analytical Key to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1989.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Basic Theology: A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Chicago, Ill: Moody Press, 1999.

Stitzinger, Michael F. “Genesis 1-3 and the Male/Female Role Relationship.” Grace Theological Journal 2, no. 1 (1981).

Unger, Merrill Frederick. Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002.

Waltke, Bruce K., and Michael Patrick O’Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 1990.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary, eds. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1983.

  1. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill: Moody Press, 1999). p218-219

  2. Gerald Bray, “The Significance Of God’s Image In Man,” Tyndale Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1991). p213

  3. Kenneth M. Gardoski, “The Imago Dei Revisited,” Journal of Ministry and Theology 11, no. 2 (2007). p32.

  4. Gardoski, “The Imago Dei Revisited.” p. 19

  5. Ryrie, Basic Theology. P. 277

  6. Gardoski, “The Imago Dei Revisited.” p. 21

  7. This writer proposes a theory. Since Adam was standing at the tree when Eve arrived she reached out to take some fruit from it. Adam said, “don’t touch it.” Eve asked, “Why?” Adam said, “God said not to eat from it or I would die.” The serpent said to Eve…

  8. The pain is almost as bad as when a man has a cold.

  9. Deut. 15:6; Judges 8:23, 9:2

  10. Irvin A. Busenitz, “Woman’s Desire for Man: Genesis 3:16 Reconsidered,” Grace Theological Journal 7, no. 2 (1986). p212. Accessed July 19, 2020

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