The Creation of Man | Genesis 1:26-2:3

As human beings, we are creatures of thoughts and questions, in constant search for meaning and purpose underlying our existence. Almost inevitably, these ponderings will lead to the nature of our species’ beginning. Were we created differently than all of the other creatures on earth, or were we merely the only animal to evolve a reasoning and intellectual brain? Questions of our beginning, like these, have lasting impacts on our present and our future. Fortunately, the holy Scriptures are not silent on this topic. Within these short eight verses, we will begin our look at the beginning of humanity and role to which God designated for us within His creation.

LET US MAKE MAN // VERSE 26

This verse is the beginning of the second act of creation on day six, and this creation is significantly different from all other creations discussed so far. The creation of humans is the capstone of the creation narrative. Throughout the days of creation, God sovereignly molded the heavens and the earth to make them capable of sustaining humans. There is evidence of this special distinction from the first word that God speaks, “Let us make…” Now, there is a plethora of thoughts to be give about these simple words, so I will strive to be concise. First, with all other creations, God said, “Let there be…” Light, air, land, and all living creatures were created through the mighty command of Elohim; however, the creation of humans seems to display a greater level of consideration. Obviously, it is important to understand that God is not human; therefore, He cannot be constrained to human qualities. Indeed, every time that we speak about God, we are speaking using anthropomorphic language, expressing an aspect of God’s nature in the only terms that we can understand: our own. Thus, we need not believe that God literally took more time considering and debating, or that He even did so at all, amongst Himself about whether or not to create humans. Instead, God is using our own concepts to give us the understanding that the creation of humanity is distinctly unique amongst the rest of creation. God deliberately decided to create humans different.

Nevertheless, since the words “let us make” seem to imply a sort of counsel taking place in heaven regarding the creation of mankind. Both Christianity and Judaism before it have sought to understand to whom the “us” is referencing. Many scholars have entertained the notion that God is referring to the angels around Him; however, given the remainder of Scripture, this seems to be a ridiculous thought. Why would the Almighty God consult created beings about the forming of the capstone of His creation? Others have argued that the plurality emphasizes the supremacy and totality of God in much the same manner of the name Elohim. Many Jewish scholars have leaned upon this interpretation. More likely, I believe, it is a subtle reference to the Trinity. Though a strong case cannot be built for the Trinity from this verse alone, the other sixty-five books give credit to this interpretation.

“In our image, after our likeness.”

If the uniqueness of mankind’s creation was not evident before, these coupling phrases should present more than enough proof. While all of creation was created by God, humanity holds the sole title of being made in the image of God, in His likeness. Recall our study of the first verse of Genesis, wherein we discussed the implications of God initiating the beginning of existence. We concluded that, since God alone stands outside of all created things, He is altogether different from anything that we could possibly comprehend. Because of God’s utter uniqueness as being the only non-created being, we are far closer to understanding every single aspect of the universe than we are to knowing a fraction about God. We then remarked upon the miracle of both the written and the embodied Word of God as God’s revelation such lowly creatures as us, and verse 26 only further enlarges this miraculous grace of God. God did not only choose to reveal Himself to humans, but He elected to imbue within us His very image. We, as humans, display aspects of God’s likeness, fractions of His character.

Throughout the years many have wrestled with the question of what exactly it means to bear the image of God. Does it mean that our physical features somewhat resemble what God looks like? Or does it mean that display the same types of emotions that God experiences? First, though many have traditionally viewed God as an old man upon a throne, the Bible is quite clear that God is not a man.[1] In fact, God does not even have a physical body; instead, He is spirit.[2] He is of an entirely different nature than us. This truth is what makes the incarnation so miraculous: God became flesh and dwelt among us![3] Therefore, I do not believe that this verse refers to our physical resemblance of God. Instead, it appears to refer to at least two aspects of human nature: the totality of the human consciousness and the complementarian relation of men and women, though we will discuss the latter within the context of verse 27. It is a secret to no one that we are different than animals, and most people attribute these differences to the complexities of the human consciousness. Animals, though they have cerebral systems, do not process the reality around them like we do. We are, at once, able to reason and feel. Logic and emotions both come from the same lump of neurons inside our skull. Animals simply do not have these defining characteristics as image bearers of God.

“let them have dominion”

Within the latter part of this verse, we behold another astounding characteristic of mankind: they are given dominion over all other creatures. This means that God granted to humanity the governing authority of upon the earth. Such a thought should have far reaching implications upon any who read it! Not only did God choose us to be the bearers of His image but He also imparted to us a level of authority with which to rule over His other creatures. This biblical view of humanity stands in stark contrast to the predominant view of today known as secular humanism. Secular humanism holds both a higher and lower view of humanity than the biblical thought. First, they hold a lower view of humanity because they argue that we are nothing more than highly evolved animals. The only special characteristic of humans is that time and chance favored our species. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, they also hold a higher view of humanity in that they elevate humanity to the status of practical deification. Since the human heart inherently longs for something greater beyond itself, the humanists answer that urge by elevating humanity’s superiority to a god-like status. Because humans are the highest of the evolved animals, then all meaning and purpose in life is found within the human race. The biblical account is almost exactly antithetical to this view. Yes, we are more than animals; we are image bearers of God. No, we are not gods ourselves; we simply bear some of the characteristics of the one true God.

IN HIS OWN IMAGE // VERSE 27

This verse is likely the first poem within the Bible, though there is some disagreement among scholars as to what exactly constitutes biblical poetry and biblical prose. The entirety of Genesis 1, for example, has highly poetic elements; however, it seems to me that this verse is deserving of being classified as poetry for its poetic symmetry and parallelism. If this is the case, then verse 27 probably serves as a sort of poetic emphasis to the image bearing nature of mankind. Within this verse, it is twice mentioned that humanity bears the image of God, and in all three lines, it is stated that God created humans. It almost seems as though God is anticipating the man’s desire to be like God, and so He is preemptively striking at its core by declaring that man is unique among creation but still a creation of God.

This is also the first mention of humanity being composed of male and female. Since many today read the Bible as emphasizing male chauvinism, it is important for us to realize that God created humanity to exist in two genders. God did not create man to fully embody humankind, while merely creating the woman to be his personal servant. No, God always meant for mankind to have both male and female. And though we will discuss the nature of males and females in more detail in Genesis 2, I will say that man existing in male and female is a reflection of the nature of God and perhaps is part of what is meant by being image-bearers. Notice this: God is triune, one God existing in three persons. Father, Son, and Spirit are all God, but each has a different and unique role and personhood. Thus, God is both plural and singular. In this verse, we find a similarity being made with mankind. First, the word man is used, along with the singular masculine “him”, but then male and female are used along with the plural “them”. Thus, male and female are both different and unique but also distinctly human. Each is human, but both are different. Michael Reeves argues that the humanity’s existence in male and female is the clearest picture the Bible gives for how we are to think of the Trinity.

There is something about the relationship and difference between the man and woman, Adam and Eve, that images the being of God—something we saw the apostle Paul pick up on in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Eve is a person quite distinct from Adam, and yet she has all her life and being from Adam. She comes from his side, is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and is one with him in the flesh (Gen 2:21-24). Far better than leaves, eggs, and liquids, that reflects the personal God, a Son who is distinct from his Father, and yet who is of the very being of the Father, and who is eternally one with him in Spirit. [4]

THE FIRST COMMISSION // VERSE 28

After God creates humans, male and female, He blesses them. Blessing is one of the predominant themes of Genesis. To be blessed of God is to have the favor, or grace, of God upon one’s life. Thus, God begins by humanities existence by blessing them, by giving to them unmerited grace and favor. But how does God display and distribute His blessing to them? He commissions them in a series of commands. Too often, we think of God’s commandments as being burdensome, but God intends for us to be blessed through them. And what a blessing this is! God gives the cultural mandate for humanity to be fruitful and multiply. This alone shoots down many of the Christians who find it uncomfortable or even sinful to speak about sex. There is often the tendency to refer to sex as a byproduct of the Fall; however, here humanity has yet to fall into sin and God is still commanding Adam and Eve to come together and enjoy the fruits of their union. God created sex to be good and unifying in marriage, but like other good gifts, it is now often distorted and maimed by the corroding effects of sin.

Also, we must note that God issued this command to produce offspring as a general command to humanity, not as an absolute command to each individual. In fact, Paul speaks to the Corinthians that he wished that all were single like him.[5] Though to be fair, singleness still does not excuse the Christian from this mandate; instead, Christ has given to us a new commission that greatly reflects this one. The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, gives a wonderful parallel to this first mandate to humanity; therefore, let us walk through the similarities. Here in Genesis, the man and woman are given four commands: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Likewise, Jesus gives His disciples four instructions: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Both sets of commands have the same goals. Both are meant to spread throughout the earth. Both are intended to multiply. Both are envisioned as being instruments in God’s continual shaping of earth. In both the creation of Genesis and the recreation that Jesus began, we must understand that God intentionally left His work unfinished. By the pure grace and blessing of God, He has chosen to use us to fulfill His plans. God did not need humans to subdue the earth and continue bringing it to order, but by grace, He allows us to be a part of His plans. Likewise, God does not need us to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus, but by grace, He lets us join in the spreading of His glory.

Finally, we notice that God gives humans dominion of all other creatures on earth; however, there is a very real sense in which this dominion has been marred by the Fall. We no longer have the dominion that we were meant to possess, and with our sinful nature, it is good that God has stripped us of such control. But where humanity could not hold onto the dominion given us by God, Jesus Christ is more than able. Thus, Jesus informs us in the Great Commission that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. Adam, and by consequence us, could not be faithful with the ruling of even the creatures on earth, but Jesus, the second Adam, has been deemed faithful to receive the authority over all of creation.

PLANT FOR FOOD // VERSES 29-30

Here God gives humans and the other animals the plants and vegetation for food. Once again, the emphasis is that God created the other creatures to be in service to humans. However, even though nature was created to serve man, this does not give us the right to abuse the other created works of God. We are meant to be faithful stewards over the creation that God has placed under our dominion. It is also interesting to note that there is no mention of the eating of meat. Thus, it would seem that humans and animals were originally herbivores. Though, before vegans and vegetarians begin to grab their battle gear, God will give, in Genesis 9, the animals to Noah for food, so there does exist a biblical foundation for why we are currently omnivores.

Man is the climax of creation, and instead of man providing the gods with food, God provided the plants as food for man (1:29).[6]

VERY GOOD // VERSE 31

After having declared His creation good six times thus far, God looked upon everything, including His newly created humans, and declared it all very good. With all of the evils around us every day, it is incredibly difficult for us to imagine the world as being very good, yet this was the original state of creation. God did not make a broken world; He made a beautiful world to reflect His beauty. Furthermore, the world inhabited by humans was considered good. Some of the eco-extremists believe that humanity is the bane of the earth, and to be fair, we have not been the most faithful stewards of God’s creation, especially for the last few centuries. Yet it has not always been so. God created humans as a part of His good creation. Despite all of the violence and injustice, the world was once very good.

THE SEVENTH DAY // VERSES 1-3

Since chapter and verse divisions were added into the Bible only a few hundred years ago, it is quite fine to disagree with them from time to time. These verses are, for me, one such occasion. The seventh day of creation discussed here brings about the closing of the days of creation; thus, it seems to belong better with chapter 1. It is here that we are told that after finishing the process of creation God used the seventh day to rest from His work. Obviously, from what we know of God through the remainder of Scripture, He was not exhausted after the six days of creating. Instead, we find another reason for His resting: to distinguish the seventh day from the other days. God blesses and makes this day holy. It is from this text that the doctrine of Sabbath originates.

Today it is difficult to find many believers who observe Sabbath, and since it is apparently not a direct sin to skip the Sabbath, some find it hard to create a case for observing it. However, it seems clear to me that God is our loving Father, who did not need to rest following creation but still did so to set a precedent for us. The doctrine of Sabbath, in particular, is formed by God completely for our good. It is His desire to give us respite from our labor.

Though the concept of Sabbath was not repeated as a commandment in the New Testament, we should not be excused from upholding it. Perhaps the main reason why Jesus seemed so defiant against the Sabbath was because the Pharisees were abusing it. God created the Sabbath to be a day of rest for His people, a day to stop their work and remember that He is God. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But the religious spurned this great truth, trying to make it a sin to even heal on the Sabbath. Yet in reality, the Sabbath is a gift from a loving Father to His children, so that we can pause from our daily work and reflect on everything that He has done for us.

So for the Christian that would like to start observing Sabbath but does not know how, let me offer some advice. First, God made the seventh day holy; He consecrated it for Himself. This means that God called the seventh day unique from all other days. The first six days are normal and common, but the seventh day is called holy, set apart exclusively for God. Thus, for the greatest rest, give your Sabbath over to God. Do not focus so much upon how you shouldn’t do any work, but focus upon how you might glorify God. Second, by Jewish tradition, Saturday is the Sabbath. Because of this, there are some groups of Christians that believe we should return to using Saturday for our church services and our Sabbath. However, the first Christians had a fairly good reason for completely shifting the central day of their worship to Sunday: the resurrection of Jesus. This is why we meet on Sunday, and why we might in general consider it our Sabbath. Nevertheless, Paul warns us in Romans 14 not to bicker about the importance of days or weeks; instead, we are meant to worship God. Thus, if Sunday or Saturday are not practical for you as a day of Sabbath rest, please choose another day of the week. The specific day is not nearly as important as actually setting apart a day to spend with God.

[1] Numbers 24:19

[2] John 4:24

[3] John 1:14

[4] Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity. p. 37

[5] 1 Corinthians 7:7

[6] Wenham, Gordan. Genesis 1-15. p. 49

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