In order to spot the deception we first need to understand the original.is infinite
and of course there are things that we will never understand about Him. However, all that the Bible does reveal we ought to firmly apply to our general concept of who He is and how He is. Something that is fundamental to understanding God is His image. God tells us that He made man in His image and in His likeness in Genesis 1:26 – but just what does that mean?
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
How are we to understand image and likeness? Does image connotate something physical in the way God “looks” or is it merely His divine character? Is the likeness simply talking about His attributes? Is it possible that it could be referring to what God looks like? Generally speaking commentators assume the word image refers only to God’s attributes. Any time we have language in Scripture talking about God’s hands, head, feet or the like it is explained as anthropomorphic language (they are describing God in terms that we mortals can understand). Nevertheless, the Scriptures demonstrate that where there is some prophetic vision or description of God we are catching a glimpse of His image (what God looks like). [i] Having a good grasp of thewill aid us in figuring out what is in the believer’s future and also how the enemy has tried to destroy the image in us in the past and will deceive the world in the very near future.
According to Scripture, God is the eternal one and there is none like Him: “that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other,” (Deuteronomy 4:39). He is the one “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done,” (Isaiah 46:10). God states “I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God,” (Isaiah 44:6). God also declares “I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host,” (Isaiah 45:12). God exists in and of Himself, was never created and has no end. There is none like Him in heaven above, on the earth or below the earth.
The first Man (Adam) was created approximately six thousand years ago [ii] and every last human being on the planet is a descendant of Adam, hence we are all created beings. We will never become gods in that we can never through our efforts attain godhood. We are not evolving to a higher order or existence. Man will never be a god nor equal to the Almighty! The Bible is clear that Man fell from how he had been created. We were created in the image and likeness of God but at the fall, when sin and death entered into the world, the image of God in man was corrupted. The question before us, however, is just what exactly God meant when he said that He created us in His image and likeness.
There are several ways that we can ascertain the correct meaning of that phrase. First of all, we will examine the Hebrew words in every instance that they appear in the Bible to see how they are used in other contexts. In real estate the name of the game is location, location, location. In Bible studies it is context, context, context. A word’s context determines what a word means. We can also use comparative linguistics to see how other Semitic languages understood the same root in their languages. We can turn to the early translations such as the Greek Septuagint and Aramaic Targumim to glean how those words were translated.
We will then turn our attention to what God reveals about Himself in portions of Scripture. The Bible says that God is spirit. Clearly God is not flesh and blood (dependent on oxygen, food, water – not a carbon based life form) but does the fact that He is spirit mean that He does not have a body? Paul distinguishes amongst the different types of bodies in I Corinthians 15. We will also examine passages where a prophet, seer or disciple “sees” a vision of God in heaven or the like. How should these be interpreted in light of Paul’s discussion of heavenly bodies?
The next thing to look at is the seed of God. 1 John 3:9 says that we have the seed of God dwelling in us. The word, sperma [sperma σπερμα], is the same as is used to describe human and even animal seed which is used to propagate the race. Peter says that we have been redeemed with incorruptible seed. What does it mean that we have God’s seed (incorruptible)? How does that differ from the corruptible seed that we currently have? Could it be that this is why Jesus so emphatically said that we had to be born again? Paul says that we are a new creation, the old has passed away. Does the imparting of the Holy Spirit have anything to do with the fact that God breathed into man in the garden? Was that lost when man sinned?
The biblical evidence will demonstrate that image and likeness of God refer not only to God’s character and attributes but also to His form or shape, that is, what He generally “looks like” when perceived with the eye (or the mind’s eye). Furthermore, God’s seed, while not composed of proteins and amino acids in DNA strands, is what we receive in our new bodies. This was also the essence of what Adam was pre-fall. Adam was also clothed in light (as God is) before the fall – something that will be restored to us once in the heavenly / spiritual realm.
In God’s Image and Form
God states in Genesis 1:26-27 that He made Adam in his image. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ […] So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” (Genesis 1:26-27). This fact is reiterated “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man,” (Genesis 9:6). God is an infinite being and has many communicable and noncommunicable characteristics that are in view here. Certainly man is neither omnipotent nor omniscient like God. But he does share to a lesser extent God’s creativity, vision, passion, ability to love, mercy etc. – qualities that are part of his image and likeness. However, for our study, we will not focus on those aspects but specifically how both image and likeness are used in the Bible in relation to His form. Words and the combination of words are what make up the Bible and consequently, our theology is built upon the words that we find in Scripture. For this reason, tracing a word throughout Scripture is a very practical means of understanding its significance and just how we are to interpret it.
The word image (Hebrew tselem צֶ֥לֶם) is used 15 times [iii] in the Hebrew Bible. The basic meaning of the root means a “shadow” cf. Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon. [iv] Based on its usage we can confidently deduce the following definition: ’a living or non living representation of something else.’ In eleven of the fifteen verses image is used to refer to idols. Idols were the image (a physical representation) of a demon (or “men” in Ezekiel) as Paul tells us in I Corinthians. Paul states that idols were in fact demons: “that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons [v] and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons,”(1Corinthians 10:20).
The word tselem is used to describe these idols or images which were just representations of demons that were truly being worshiped. “destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places,” (Numbers 33:52). [vi] The verses from Ezekiel are especially telling since they demonstrate that the images were representations of men – a form we can certainly agree on: “As for the beauty of his ornaments, He set it in majesty; But they made from it the images of their abominations,” (Ezekiel 7:20); “
made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them,” (Ezekiel 16:17). Ezekiel 23:14 shows that an image is accurate in its representation of the real thing: “She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans”. Clearly an image is not the same as the real thing. An image can’t walk or talk in these cases, but they do faithfully depict how the men looked – in the same way in that the modern photo of a person isn’t the person but is an image of the person. Indeed, I have seen photos of people and know what they look like but perhaps knowing nothing about the person. Therefore, an image conveys only some information about a person and not all of the details.
The last verse which we need to discuss for our study to be complete is Genesis 5:3 which states that Seth was begotten to Adam in his image (tsalmo צַלְמֹ֑ו).
When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth, (Genesis 5:3).
This verse is an amazing illustration of how we are in the image of God. Just as our children act like us (likeness) they also look like us. When I see my children I see in their faces and bodies a combination of my wife and me. They very much look like us – they are in our image. My little son reminds me of when I was a child in that he acts like me – he is in my likeness! When God made man He fashioned Adam to both act like God and to look like God. Even though my children look like me and act like me, they are obviously separate and distinct beings. So too, God made Adam to act and look like God but Adam was not the same as God. Some people might argue that this lowers the majesty of God. I would argue that it rather demonstrates the level from which man has fallen. Furthermore, this does not make God in man’s image; it was man who was made in God’s image.
The word t’munah [תְּמוּנָה] means shape, image or form and is very much analogous to the word tselem which we have already examined. According to God Himself, Moses saw the Lord’s form (t’munat YHWH תְמֻנַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה).
I speak with him face to face [pe el pe אֶל־פֶּה פֶּה], Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD [t’munat YHWH תְמֻנַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה]. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:8).
Previously the Israelites were instructed to not make any t’munah of things in heaven or in earth:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image [pesel פֶּ֖סֶל] –any likeness [t’munah תְּמוּנָה] of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, (Exodus 20:4).
The same word t’munah is used for what Moses did see and also to describe what the Children of Israel did not see. They were not able to look upon the actual form of God as Moses had been able. Yet, this same word is used to describe “images” and likenesses of things – that is to say, what they looked like. Moses recounts to the people the fact that they did not see God’s form – even though he had. Therefore they should not make an image of God.
And the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form [t’munah תְּמוּנָה]; you only heard a voice. ;”Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form [t’munah תְּמוּנָה] when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image [pesel פֶּ֖סֶל] in the form [t’munah תְּמוּנָה] of any figure: the likeness of male or female, […] Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image [pesel פֶּ֖סֶל] in the form [t’munah תְּמוּנָה] of anything which the LORD your God has forbidden you. “When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the LORD your God to provoke Him to anger, (Deuteronomy 4:12, 15 16, 23, 25).
As testimony of what we have in store for us, the Psalmist tells us that we will be in God’st’munah (form) when we awake or when we are resurrected. “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness, [t’munatkhaתְּמוּנָתֶֽךָ],” (Psalms 17:15). Thus Moses saw God’s form and we shall awake in His likeness (form); t’munah (תְּמוּנָה) is a shape/form of any figure.
Ezekiel’s Vision of God
The prophet Ezekiel tells of a vision he had in chapter one of his book. He describes the visual aspects of a series of creatures which he saw that went wherever the Spirit went.
Now it came to […] that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness [d’mut דְמוּת] of four living creatures. And this was their appearance [mareihen מַרְאֵֽיהֶ֔ן]: they had the likeness [d’mut דְמוּת] of a man [adam אָדָ֖ם]. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning, (Ezekiel 1:1, 4-5, 10-14).
He then describes what he saw above the creatures: “The likeness [d’mut דְמוּת] of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads,” (Ezekiel 1:22). Having described in great detail the appearance or likeness of the creatures Ezekiel then shares that he saw YHWH above the expanse:
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness [k’mareh כְּמַרְאֵ֥ה] with the appearance of a man [adam אָדָ֛ם] high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking, (Ezek 1:26-28).
Verse 26 shows us that the one on the throne (whom we know clearly to be God or the Lord from verse 28) has the appearance of a human. The Hebrew text says “as the likeness of Adam” (k’mareh adam אָדָ֛ם כְּמַרְאֵ֥ה). In other words, God, the one sitting on the throne, looks like Adam. Ezekiel is not making God in man’s image; if we recall Genesis 1:26-27, it is man who was made in God’s image. Thus, Ezekiel tells us that God has the appearance like Adam which is really to say that man (Adam) has the appearance or image of God.
Ezekiel has another encounter with this person of fire in Ezekiel 8:2.
Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire [Septuagint reads “man” [vii] ] -from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. (Ezekiel 8:2)
We know that this also is God due to the fact that in the following verses “He” speaks in the first person and declares the He is the one who is being provoked and will also judge.
And He said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? […] then they have returned to provoke Me to anger. […] Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them,” (Ezekiel 8:17-18)
One like the Son of Man
This “man” of fire is the same as the one that we see revealed in the book of Revelation as the one who says that He “lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” He is also described as the “Son of Man” which is the Hebrew way to say “human”.
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool [like Daniel 7:9], as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death, (Revelation 1:12-18).
All of the evidence points out that man looks like God. Certainly God is infinitely far above His creation, but nevertheless, He has made us look like Him. One day we will be like Him (Psalm 17:15, 1 John 3:2 etc) in that we too will glow and have the fiery aspect as well.
A Spiritual Body
Nevertheless, how can this be when we are told so clearly in John 4 that God is spirit? How can God have a shape or form? We need to turn to I Corinthians 15 where Paul makes it clear that in the world to come we will not be bodiless but we will have a new kind of body. This body here, which Adam was originally made of, was made of dirt. That is to say, he was a carbon-based life form and literally had an earthly body. However, the heavenly body will be of a different nature and not limited like the carbon-based or dirt-based earthly one we have here and now. Paul responds to the question that was raised “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (I Corinthians 15:35) by giving an in depth exposé of the various types of bodies (humans, animals, birds, fish, and natural and spiritual) and what our new bodies will be like.
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory, (1Corinthians 15:35-41).
Paul makes a series of important revelations concerning how Jesus is and how we will be upon resurrection. He starts by saying that there are first of all different kinds of flesh; animal, fish, human and then he divides between heavenly and earthly.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body, (I Corinthians 15:42-44).
Paul is showing the parallels between the earthly body and the spiritual body. Just because our future body will not be made of dirt does not mean that it is not tangible. On the contrary, our future body will be tangible, touchable and permanent.
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven, (I Corinthians 15:45-49).
Here we learn that just as we were in Adam’s likeness (bodily) so too will we bear the image of Jesus (bodily).
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory,” (I Corinthians 15:42-54) [viii]
Paul’s bottom line is that spiritual doesn’t mean nebulous or bodiless. It simply means having a body but in the spiritual dimension (to be discussed in a later chapter). The resurrected body of Jesus seems to be the paradigm for what ours will be like. His resurrected body is a body that is not subject to sin, corruption, decomposition, decay or death. It can walk through walls and exist in the spiritual realm and yet enter into this one and eat and drink at will. If Jesus is the paradigm, then that means that we will have a similar if not exactly parallel body. Paul states that our new self is in God’s likeness: “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness,” (Ephesians 4:24).
Conformed to His Body
Paul is even more specific in the book of Philippians where he states that our bodies will be conformed to His body. Our existence in the world to come will not be a soul without a body, but we will have a body that is even more real and tangible than our current body. It just won’t be made of the dirt that we are made of now. We will be made of “spirit” and that will be like the Lord Jesus Himself!
Who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself, (Philippians 3:21).
John corroborates this in his first epistle when he states: “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” (1 John 3:2). What we learn is God is spirit and of course He is not earthly – He is not composed of dirt; His essence is spirit (and uncreated). However, that is not to say that he is bodiless; He has a spiritual body and made man after Himself. Our body is a reflection or shadow of what His is. The heavenly realm according to Scripture is the original and things here on this earth are more or less a copy. We read in Hebrews 8:5 concerning the priests,
Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain,” (Hebrews 8:5).
In fact, every place where God is seen in a vision in the Bible He has traits that we would associate with a body. In addition to the revealing text from Ezekiel 1, there are several other texts in which something of the form or shape of God is described.
Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank, (Exodus 24:9-11).
Here we have the same reference to the sapphire stone as we saw in Ezekiel 1:26. Here it appears that only His feet are visible, but that is significant. If we interpret this text straightforwardly, we must conclude that Moses and the elders actually saw God including His feet. Could it be that the text means just what it says? The Prophet Micaiah in 2 Chronicles 18:18 describes what he saw ” Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the hosts of heaven standing on His right hand and His left.” From this we learn that God sits. While we can surmise that God doesn’t need to sit due to fatigue like human kings, His body is seen in a sitting position upon His throne. This is also seen by both Isaiah and Daniel:
- I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple, (Isaiah 6:1).
- I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire, (Daniel 7:9).
Daniel sees even more than Isaiah. He notes that the Ancient of Days was seated and also that His garments were white as snow and the hair of His head was like pure wool. Not only is God sitting but He has hair upon His head. Often scholars have sought to explain these descriptions away by interpreting them figuratively or by claiming that the Biblical authors are using anthropomorphic language (see for example John Gill; Daniel 7:9). However, this inpterpretation breaks down under closer inspection. After all, we have seen that Ezekiel says that he saw the appearance like “Adam” seated on the throne. Certainly, God is far greater than we can understand, but His basic form or silhouette does not seem to be truly in question. He exists as a spiritual body. Can we completely understand that? No. But the general idea is simple enough to grasp. Apparently scholars are zealous to guard God’s character; they perhaps fear that if the language of God’s hands, feet, head and hair were taken too literally it might lead people to reduce God into man’s image. But as we have already explored, just the opposite is true; God has created Adam and humanity in His image and likeness (see appendix four concerning the triune nature of God and how He could be seen). We were created perfectly in God’s image and likeness (what He looks like and how he acts) but the fall of sin corrupted that image. When Adam and Eve listened to the cunning words of the serpent they died immediately and yet it took Adam 930 years to finally succumb to death – how can both be true? We will answer that in our next installment.