At the climax of the biblical creation narrative (Genesis 1:26-28) and throughout subsequent chapters (Genesis 5:1-2, 9:6) we are told that God made man “in his image, after his likeness.” But what does this mean? Does it refer to our ontology, or our function in relation to the rest of creation? To who we are or what we do? Is it speaking about our ability to reason? Our capacity for language? For loving relationship? For worship? Our ability to make moral choices? The fact that we have souls? Something about our physical composition? All of the above? Its obvious to see why these questions are so important – they go to the heart of what we are as human beings, and what our purpose is in this world. Yet theologians differ widely in interpreting the meaning of the imago dei.
While reading through Genesis last fall I stumbled across the most interesting and perplexing verse (in the midst of a genealogy!), and I have been thinking about it ever since:
“When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Genesis 5:3, italics mine).
I have never heard anyone relate this verse to the meaning of creation in God’s image. Nor can I find any discussion of it in any of the relevant books on my shelf (Hoekema, Sherlock, even Bavinck). I find this very surprising given:
(1) the importance and ambiguity of the meaning of the imago dei (think how much ink has been spilled on it);
(2) the closeness of this verse to other references to creation in God’s image in the Genesis 1-9 (especially when you read straight through from verse 1 to verse 3 in chapter 5);
(3) the verbal similarity of this verse to the other imago dei texts (using both the term “image” and the term “likeness,” terms not paired elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible).
It is possible to avoid of the conclusion (however much it appears to have been missed by various theologians) that a large part of the meaning of creation in God’s image is that human beings are, in some sense, God’s children? That there is some kind of parallel between Adam –> Seth, and God –> Adam?
“Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).
“We are his offspring” (Acts 17:28).
Whether or not this this is right, I submit that Genesis 5:3 is an important and very much neglected text in discussions about the meaning of creation in God’s image.