Did Adam’s image replace the image of God in us after the fall?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

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Question: Adam & Eve were made in God's image. In Genesis 5:1, 3 the offspring of Adam (after his fall) were made in his image. Are we still made in the image of God or was something changed so that man is no longer in the image of God but is only an image of Adam?

Answer: You would think that to answer this question we would have to know what the image of God is. How else could we track change unless we knew the precise conditions of an element before and after the change? But I find that this is not true — and that’s a good thing. The Bible teases us with the concept of the image of God, but it doesn’t give us enough information to know what it is definitively… and this is the consensus even after thousands of years of scholarship!

This kind of “underdetermination” happens quite a bit in the Bible. When it does, we call on natural theology, philosophy, anthropology, history, etc. to discuss how a weakly defined concept fits into a robust Christian worldview. In this case, all we can do is discuss what the image of God might plausibly mean to people who hold an orthodox view of the core Christian doctrines. Let’s begin that process by examining the initial mention of the image of God in Scripture.

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27, NIV, emphases mine)

The first thing to note is that God made mankind in his image… not just Adam. To me, this is a strong enough statement to affirm that the image of God will remain with all people through the ages — no matter what occurs in the world — and with the saved and unsaved alike. But your question reminds us that after the fall, we read where Adam’s progeny was made in Adam’s image… and you were wondering if Adam’s image replaced God’s image in us.

“This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” (Genesis 5:1–3, NIV, emphases mine)

When I read this passage, I do not get the impression that we have lost the image of God. But rather, it reinforces that all humankind still has his image. The information that Adam had a son in his image (which I think we could agree is the natural order of things [Genesis 1:24]) does not even infer that humankind has swapped an ontological characteristic for an experiential one — a God-image for an Adam-image. So, where does that idea come from? From injecting the ideas of a modern and well-developed hamartiology (doctrine of sin) into this ancient passage… which neither the text nor the context warrants.

Don’t get me wrong. The fall of man was serious business... I mean.. it changed us! But it did not change the image-bearing characteristic that is at the core of our being. It destroyed our innocence — that’s for sure! But innocence is all about experience whereas the image of God is all about essence. Our experience changes under the paradigm of sin, but our ontology (that is, our essential self ) does not. We remain the epitome of God’s creation despite the scratches and dents caused by sin.

I realize that a lot of scholars do not agree with me… and I make no claims to be a scholar. But even at this point in the answer, I see the image of God as clearly belonging to the essence of our being, and as such, sin can only affect the packaging — not what’s inside! But I have more reasons to believe that is so, so let’s continue.

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Genesis 9:6, NIV, emphasis mine)

The verse above is the account of God blessing Noah — many years after Adam begat Seth. God — in his own voice, by the way, not merely the narrator’s — affirmed that going forward, people would still have his image. Since this is after Adam’s progeny were said to be made in Adam’s image, God’s going out of his way to remind us that we are made in his image seems enough to put the replacement theory to bed.

Let’s move on to the New Testament.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:9, NIV, emphasis mine)

James seems to agree with me. Here we are in the New Testament — (arguably) 4000 years after humanity was declared to be made in God’s image — and James’ opinion was that humankind still bore the image of God… despite the problems we have with sin that he also describes in his book. This too speaks against the replacement hypothesis.

Let me sum up my stand. Humanity — as a category of created beings (Genesis 1:26-27) — was given the image of God. This doesn’t feel like something we can lose. To me, the image of God feels as metaphysically substantive as the soul itself. We are at least body and soul — so our soulishness is a necessary part of what it means to be human.… and I see the image of God as a characteristic of our body/soul/spirit package... which means that it too is a necessary part of being human. So, what about sin?

When we sin, our labeling that says “Built in the image of God” does not change… because that part of our essence does not change. Sin merely adds another label to the product, and that label reads “This product needs further processing.”

The thing is, one label does not cancel the other. It adds information about what’s in the package. The fact that we are beings who were created in the image of God — and who also bear the image of Adam — violates no logic… especially when we consider our positional sanctification and the processes needed to complete our redemption. Today, we bear both images.

I recommend the article by Got Questions Ministries on this issue. Find it at this link:

https://www.gotquestions.org/image-of-God.html

I also recommend an article by Sam Storms on the Crosswalk.com website entitled “10 Things You Should Know about the Image of God.” This is a survey of the different things people have historically thought about the image of God — and it’s very telling. Find it at the following link.

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-image-of-god.html

I pray that all this helped. God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200504 After the fall, did Adam’s image replace the image of God in us?).

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