In Genesis 1 humans are made in God’s image. In the ancient near east (ANE) following the construction of a temple, a 7 day inauguration took place which culminated in the placement of an image of a god being placed (or resting) in the temple – this image demonstrated the god’s presence. This image would be worshipped as the God was present in and through the idol.
What is communicated in Genesis bears great connection to this information because the ancient Israelites shared the ANE thought world (though there are of course numerous differences for sure).
Genesis 1 outlines a 7 day creation process during which God ordered out of pre-existent, primordial matter a cosmic-temple; which culminated in images of God being placed in the world as God took up rest in his cosmic-temple.
With Genesis 1 specifically in mind, “[the image of God] refers to humans representing God in this world; humans as [images of God] are earth’s divine representatives.”
What is additionally striking is that when we say image we could also say idol; and when we say idol we could as easily say image. They are the same thing.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Exodus 20:4 NIV2011)
Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. (Exodus 20:4 CEB)
Scot McKnight puts it like this,
What is rarely observed is that the “idols” that God prohibits… are prohibited in part because God has made his own representative “idols.”
In the OT God has an issue with Israel’s idolatry because having called them out as idols (or images) of God they represent God in the world. Making idols to worship their God is to miss what they themselves are. To worship another god via its idol is to be deeply unfaithful to Israel’s God, who they represent.
Israel’s ANE worldview understood that humans were idols.
This is transformed and taken up in a new way in the NT. The broad conclusion for humanity generally and Israel specifically is that both have failed to be God’s imagers (or idols). What is especially fascinating is that Jesus is described as what? Well…
The Son is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (Hebrews 1:2)
They cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Jesus, the NT claims, has revealed to us the words, actions, behaviour and character of God in his life, death and resurrection. To a people lost to death, Jesus came to us imaging the very life and being of a God who enters death to lead us to life.
To this end, humans perhaps are no longer straightforwardly ‘images of God’ as the OT puts it. Jesus, the NT may be claiming, is the image of God and humans are extended the possibility of again taking up the role and responsibility that image entails only by relocating their identity and life in Christ.
God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28-29, CEB, emphasis mine)
The image of God marks out a persons responsibility to represent God. The Old and New Testaments explore the huge variety of ways humans – particularly and generally – have not done this. We don’t do a good job at imaging God; but Christ has, he has imaged God. And the NT tells us that we, in some unusual and vicarious sense, are made able to image God as we are ‘conformed’ into the image of Christ.
Humans, OT myth tells us, were made to be idols. The failure to do so was thoroughgoing but the good news is that humans may be idols of God once more, by becoming like and being found in Christ – humans receive the commission to be idols once more as they become idols of Jesus of Nazareth, the idol of God.