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Theologians on the Image of God in Man


Martin Luther: "If these powers [memory, will, and mind] are the image of God, it will also follow that Satan was created according to the image of God, since he surely has these natural endowments, such as memory and a very superior intellect and a most determined will, to a far higher degree than we have them" (Commentary on Genesis, p. 61). 

Heinrich Bullinger: "This depravation of our nature is nothing else but the blotting out of God’s image in us. There was in our father Adam before his fall the very image and likeness of God; which image, as the apostle expoundeth it, was a conformity and participation of God’s wisdom, justice, holiness, truth, integrity, innocency, immortality, and eternal felicity. Therefore what else can the blotting or wiping out of this image be but original sin; that is, the hatred of God, the ignorance of God, foolishness, distrustfulness, desperation, self-love, unrighteousness, uncleanness, lying, hypocrisy, vanity ... ? This corrupt image and likeness is by propagation derived into us all, [for] ... ‘Adam begat a son in his own similitude and likeness’" (The Decades of Heinrich Bullinger, Third Decade, p. 394).

William Perkins: "The image of God is nothing else but a conformity of man unto God whereby man is holy as God is holy: for Paul saith, Put on the new man, which after God, that is in God’s image, is created in righteousness and holiness. Now I reason thus: Wherein the renewing of the image of God in man doth stand, therein was it at the first; but the renewing of God’s image in man doth stand in righteousness and holiness: therefore God’s image wherein man was created at the beginning, was a conformity to God in righteousness and holiness. Now whether God’s image doth further consist in the substance of man’s body and soul, or in the faculties of both, the Scriptures speak not" (Works, vol. 1, pp. 150-151).

Paul Bayne, the successor of William Perkins at the University of Cambridge: "The image of God is not to be conceived in bodily things, as the anthropomorphites imagined, nor yet standeth in the essence and faculties of the soul, as memory, reason, will, as Augustine took it, for wicked men have these; nor in dominion and rule, which made man as a little God amongst the creatures, for this is a consequence that followed on the image; but as Paul teacheth, it standeth in these divine qualities, which as certain signs and forms express the divine nature, most holy, most just, so far as the Creator can be figured forth in such a creature" (Comm. on Eph. 4:24).

Richard Sibbes: "Therefore, when you read of the image of God in the New Testament [this would include I Cor. 11:7 and James 3:9], it must be understood of the image of God in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Now this image consists in knowledge, in holiness and righteousness. If we compare Col. iii. [verse 10] with Eph. iv. [verse 24], this was perfect in Christ, who was the image of his Father, and we must be like Christ the second Adam in sanctification ... When God set his image on the first Adam, it was rased, and decayed and lost, by the malice of the devil ... For every man by nature carries the nature of the devil on him, till the image of God be stamped on, and the image of Satan rased out" (Works, vol. 4, pp. 260-261).

Joseph Caryl (1602-1673): "Sinful man is loathsome and abominable unto God. How much more abominable is man [cf. Job 15:16]. This is not to be understood of some particular man or of some sort of men who are more vile than others. But take the best of men, the most accomplished and complete in the whole course of nature, these are abominable. They are deprived of the image of God; they are stamped with the image of Satan. They are not only unable to do that which is good but they are totally averse from it, yea, enemies to it. Is not all this enough to render man abominable in the sight of God? And so abominable is man that he doth not only displease the eye of God but the very eyes of those who have received the grace of God. A godly man turns away from the wicked, as the wicked man does from the godly. 'An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked' (Prov. 29:27). The distaste is mutual; it is called enmity (Gen. 3:15), here abomination" (An Exposition on the Book of Job; spelling and punctuation modernized).

Thomas Vincent: "Q. 3. Wherein doth consist the image of God, which was put upon man in his first creation? A. 1. Negatively, the image of God doth not consist in any outward visible resemblance of his body to God, as if God had any bodily shape.  2. Positively, the image of God doth consist in the inward resemblance of his soul to God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. 'Renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him' (Col. 3:10). 'Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness' (Eph. 4:24). Q. 4. What is included in this image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, as man had it at first? A. The image of God in man at the first doth include the universal and perfect rectitude of the whole soul: knowledge in his understanding, righteousness in his will, holiness in his affections" (The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture, p. 48).

Ralph Venning (1621-1674): "Sin is contrary to the image of God, in which man was made. God made man in his own likeness, viz. in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4. 24). Now sin is clean contrary to this image, as much unlike it as deformity and ugliness is unlike handsomeness and beauty, as darkness is to light, as hell to heaven. Yes, and there is more too: sin is the Devil's image. When God made man, he made him in his own image; so when the Devil made man sin, he thereby made him his own image and likeness. In this sense I conceive the Devil meant that phrase, 'Ye shall be like gods,' Elohim (Genesis 3. 5). He did not say or mean that he should be like the Elohim, the Creators, as the word is in Job 35. 10 and Ecclesiastes 12. 1, the God who made them; but like Elohim, gods, viz. such as I and my angels are, who once knew good, but now know evil, both by doing it, and suffering the sad effects of it. The word Elohim is used not only of God and good angels, but of fallen angels or devils (1 Samuel 28. 13). And under the covert of this ambiguous word, he craftily abused our first parents; for he well knew that by sinning they could not become like Elohim, God above, but would become like Elohim, the gods below. And alas! are we not like Elohim-devils, knowing good by loss, and evil by its sad and dismal effects? Thus he that runs may read the picture, image, and likeness of the Devil in sin; sinners are as much like the Devil as anything. He that sinneth is of the Devil (1 John 3. 8), not only a servant but a child of the Devil: 'Ye are of your father the devil' said holy Jesus to the sinful Jews (John 8. 44). Never was child more like the father than a sinner is like the Devil; sin has the nature, the complexion, the air, the features, the very behaviour of the Devil" (The Sinfulness of Sin [Edinburgh: Banner, 1993], pp. 33-34).

George Smeaton: "The image of God, in which Adam was created, was replaced by the entire corruption of man's nature (John 3:6). His understanding had been furnished with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will had been upright; all his affections had been pure; and the whole man holy: but, revolting from God by the temptation of the devil, the opposite of all that image of God became his doleful heritage; and his posterity derive corruption from their progenitor, not by imitation, but by the propagation of a vicious nature, which is incapable of any saving good. It is prone to evil, and dead in sin. It is not denied that there still linger in man since the Fall some glimmerings of natural light, some knowledge of God and of the difference between good and evil, and some regard for virtue and good order in society. But it is all too evident that, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, men are neither able nor willing to return to God, or to reform their natural corruption" (The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pp. 17-18).

R. L. Dabney: "This image [of God] has been lost, in the fall, and regained, in redemption. Hence, it could not have consisted in anything absolutely essential to man’s essence, because the loss of such an attribute would have destroyed man’s nature. The likeness which was lost and restored must consist, then, in some accidens" (Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 293).

A. W. Pink: "Even among those preachers who desire to be regarded as orthodox, who do not deny the Fall as a historical fact, few among them perceive the dire effects and extent thereof. 'Bruised by the fall,' as one popular hymn puts it, states the truth far too mildly; yea, entirely misstates it. Through the breach of the first covenant all men have lost the image of God, and now bear the image of the Devil (John 8:44). The whole of their faculties are so depraved that they can neither think (2 Cor. 3:5), speak, nor do anything truly good and acceptable unto God. They are by birth, altogether unholy, unclean, loathsome and abominable in nature, heart, and life; and it is altogether beyond their power to change themselves" (The Doctrine of Sanctification [Choteau, MT: Gospel Missions, n.d.], p. 45).

Arthur Custance: "It is not, therefore, the possession of a faculty that constitutes in man the Imago Dei, but the possession of a relationship ... [when a man is] born again, something which sets him apart from all unredeemed men and makes him a member of what is, in fact, a new species, the blameless family of God. He becomes related as a son to the Father and knows it. He knows it because the new spirit born within him bears witness to this fact in a self-conscious way and because he is assured of it by the Holy Spirit of God, whereby he cries, "Father" (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)" (Man in Adam and in Christ, Part 3, chapter 1, p. 9).

Harry Fernhout: "The search to locate the image of God somewhere inside man can never become concretely meaningful. It can never give us comfort and encouragement because it is basically on the wrong track. The essence or heart of man cannot be found by looking inside him at some of his faculties. Rather the essence of man comes out in his way of relating to the bond with which God ties man to Himself, the "Love me and keep my commandments." When God’s Word tells us that we are His image-bearers, it wants us to know not that we have certain qualities or abilities which remain vague and difficult to relate to the bread and butter of daily living, but that we, in the very way we are put together, in our whole way of living and acting, must give a reflection of the king whom we serve" (Towards A Biblical View of Man: Some Readings, eds. Arnold H. De Graaf and James H. Olthuis [Toronto: AACS, 1978], p. 13).

Homer C. Hoeksema: "It is perhaps even well not to speak of the image of God in the '[f]ormal' and 'material' sense, though this distinction is much safer [than that of the image of God in the broader and narrower sense]. For after all, the 'image of God in the formal sense' is, strictly speaking, not the image of God in man, but his capacity to be an image bearer. And as such, he may bear either the image of God or the image of the devil. It is well, therefore, to limit ourselves to the language of our Canons and to include in the image of God only what this article [i.e. III/IV:1] included, namely, the excellent spiritual, ethical gift which man forfeited through his rebellion and fall" (The Voice of Our Fathers: An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht, pp. 433-434).

For quotes on the image of God in man in the Reformed Confessions, click here.