For those in the ancient Near Eastern world, being made in “the image of God” (Gen 1:26, 27) carried great weight. For one to bear the image or likeness of the Divine would mean to have God’s essence, nature, and characteristics. There was no “one-for-one” correspondence: the image bearer was not God in flesh (cf. Gen 2:7; Is 31:3; John 4:24). However, humankind, in this case, bore the authority of Deity over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28; Heb 2:8), yet were still under His created authority (Is 57:16; Zech 12:1; Rom 1:25; 1 Tim 6:15-16), dependent (Job 12:10), belonging to God (cf. Matt 22:20-21).
In the same way, the king—if considered a god on earth such as Egyptian pharaohs—were vice-regents of the god they served. The human was thought to accomplish the deity’s work on earth (Gen 2:15-20; 9:1-3; cf. Matt 6:10). The Hebraic-Christian teaching on God’s image in humans can be summarized as people are a representation of God and God’s representative on earth (cf. Psalm 8:5-8).
To be created in the image of The Personal Eternal Triune Creator meant that humans were made with worth, value, and dignity. Resembling, being similar to God, means humans mirror God’s attributes metaphysically including intellect, will, relationship, emotion, etc. witnessed from Genesis two through Revelation. Being distinctive persons, humans have intrinsic value having been made by The Creator (Ps 139:14-16) and cannot be simply equated to an animal (Matt 10:28-31), a machine (Matt 16:26), or a consumer (Matt 6:20, 25; Luke 12:15).
Inalienable (that is something given from outside humanity, incapable of being taken away) human rights are predicated upon inherent human worth given by the transcendent source of The Personal Creator. Exodus 20-25 and Deuteronomy 19-25 give multiple commands for protection of both people and their property. So, oppression of the poor was a statement of belief about “their Maker” (Prov 14:31). Defenseless ones (Deut 24-25; Jas 1:27) and even those outside the believing community (Ex 23:9; Lev 18:26; Deut 10:19; Mal 3:5; Gal 3:29; 6:9-10) are the responsibility of caring, protecting believers. To gossip or slander another was an egregious attack on God—the offended party bearing His image (Jas 3:9). Protection of people is a central tenet for treatment of humanity, no matter their station, race, gender, age, or nationality (cf. Rom 2:11; 1 Tim 5:21; Jas 3:17).
Because of the example set by God toward all people (Acts 10:34-35), believers should give fair treatment to all people (Lev 19:36; Deut 16:18; Prov 1:3; 2:9; 9:9; 17:26), granting a level place where no advantage is given (the Hebraic definition of fairness). This justice is stimulated by “fearing” God, having a personal relationship with Him (2 Sam 23:3).
In the marketplace (Prov 16:11; Is 59:14),
the courtroom (Prov 17:15, 26; Amos 5:12),
leadership positions (Lev 19:15; Deut 1:17),
financial markets (Deut 16:18-20; 2 Chron 19:7; Prov 24:23; 28:21),
the workplace (Lev 19:13; Mal 3:5) and
The Church (Jas 2:1-13)
no favoritism should be shown. If people bear the mark of their Creator, helping others by whatever ethical means necessary should be the concern of every Christian.
Dr. Mark Eckel is Professor of Leadership, Education & Discipleship at Capital Bible Seminary, Washington, D.C. This statement was originally written for “School Wide Biblical Integration,” an ACSI enabler in 2002, having been used in various venues since.