What does it mean that humans were created in "the image of God". Jon and Tim discuss this biblical theme and its implications for Jesus followers.
What does it mean that humans are created in the image of God? In this episode, the guys discuss the biblical theme of the image of God and its implications for Jesus followers. As humans, we bear the image of God, but what is the purpose of this for us––what is the purpose for God? Creating images of gods was a fairly familiar concept in the ancient world, but representing the image of God, not through a statue or idol but through your very being, has profound significance.
In the first part of the episode (01:31-13:58), the guys talk about Genesis 1. This passage tells us that humans were created in God’s image and then given the task to rule over creation. Compared to the Babylonian creation myth, the biblical story of creation gives a worldview and social order that is pretty unique.
In the second part of the episode (14:14-26:10), Tim and Jon talk about the purpose behind God creating humans in his image. After God creates Adam and Eve, he tasks them with subduing creation? What does this mean? How should we be “subduing” God’s creation?
In the final part of the episode (26:26-44:50), the guys talk about the ancient context of creating images of gods. What were images of gods in the ancient world? Statues or idols were viewed as a special connection to the god they represented. This is true of humans too. Humans are the realization of God’s presence––his temple on earth. God’s rule here on earth is not through elite kings, it is through humans multiplying, gardening, and making neighborhoods.
Video: This episode is designed to accompany our video called, "Image of God." You can view it on our youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbipxLDtY8c&t=2s
References: The Babylonian Creation Story (Enuma elish) from Grand Valley State University http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/Enuma_Elish.html
"The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" by Lynn White, Jr.
Scripture References: Genesis 1-2
Show Music: Defender Instrumental by Rosasharn Music; Blue Skies by Unwritten Stories; Flooded Meadows by Unwritten Stories
Podcast Date: February 18, 2016
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: This is the Bible project. I'm Jon Collins, and I'm going to be talking with Tim Mackie
about the image of God. This is the first of a three or four-part series on this theme
in the Bible, the image of God. This theme pops up in Genesis 1, first page of the
Bible. It's actually in the first poem in the Bible where God had just created mankind.
Then this poem begins, it says, So God created mankind in His own image. In the
image of God, He created them, male and female, he created them.
Tim and I are going to talk about what does that mean to be made in the image of
God. It's not what I expected. It's really changed my paradigms for how I read the
Scripture and how I think about myself, and why I'm on earth.
Oh, also you're going to hear my buddy, Brian Hall. He was in the studio with us as
we recorded this conversation. So you might hear him pipe up here and there. Brian
wrote the music that you're listening to right now. We made a YouTube video about
the image of God, it's on the YouTube channel come March 2016. But in the
meantime, enjoy image of God Part 1.
All right. Tim is drinking some coffee. You're going to hear that. In the studio,
audience is Brian Hall. My good friend, Brian. So feel free to chime in at any time.
Brain: All right.
Jon: We're going to talk about the image of God, which is going to be a new theme
video that we're going to do. We usually spend a couple of hours, Tim walks me
through his notes before we actually write the script. So let's do this.
Tim: Let us do it.
Jon: Image of God.
Tim: Image of God.
Jon: In other cultures, this phrase "image of God" was used for kings. And so a king
would be called the image of God. You'd find it on their statues or you'd find it
inscribed for them because they ruled on God's behalf over everyone else.
Tim: That's right. Yeah. Or in Egypt and Babylon, the kings were the embodiment of the
Tim: They were a god. They were deified. Human being worshiped...
Jon: Being the image of God actually meant just being god...?
Tim: In physical representation of the God. Yeah, that's why the Sphinx is protecting the
Jon: Why is the Sphinx protecting the pyramid?
Tim: Because Sphinx is what the cherubim do in the Bible. They are these animals like
semi-human creatures that protect the Divine Presence.
Jon: The Divine Presence being the king?
Tim: In the pyramids, you have three kings buried in the Sphinx, who were deified kings.
And so, you have the guardian being the Sphinx guarding them. So it's another one
of these things where Israel's picking... Israel's a part of a cultural environment, but
it's they innovate. There's something innovative that comes to us in the Hebrew
Bible that didn't appear anywhere else.
Jon: So they're looking around and they're seeing these neighboring cultures having
kings call themselves the image of God. And when they record their creation
account, they say, "All humans are the image of God?"
Tim: Yeah. That's how it would translate in terms of a cultural statement. Then, if you have
the theological conviction, which we do, that these human words are aware that God
speaks, that this is God revealing through these Israelite authors something new that
we need to hear, namely, there's much more than just kings are made in the image
of God but humans are.
The image of God is all wrapped up in what's happening in Genesis 1 and why the
humans are the pinnacle creation in the storyline of Genesis 1, and what humans do
on God's behalf.
Jon: So let's walk through that then. Let's talk about the creation story and how it all
builds up to God making humans and pronouncing them that they are in his image. I
want you to help me think through as an ancient Israelite how I would have heard it
in the context of what was going on, how the worldview back then.
With Genesis 1, God is creating. We're very familiar with this. "In the beginning, God
created the heavens and the earth, earth was formless and void." And so, He starts
just creating all of these things.
Tim: God is depicted as a royal figure. In the seven-day creation narrative, God's depicted
as having just this power and authority to speak and things happen like a king
would. Very similar. That's a significance to that story that I think ancient readers
would have tuned in to.
Jon: Ancient readers would have heard that and said, "This God's acting like a king."
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Genesis 1, God is speaking and things happen like kings do. And
then out of darkness and chaos—
Jon: Sorry. During this time, I'm a king of wherever, Babylonia or - what are some of the
Tim: The Ammonite or the Moabites.
Jon: Okay, I'm the king of the Moabites. I would say to my servants, "Hey, go and build
me this thing." And then it would happen. So my words have the power to create in
the sense that I have authority and I say, "Go build me that pyramid."
Tim: "Go build pyramid."
Jon: "Go build me that pyramid." And then the pyramid would be built.
Tim: Yeah. You speak and it's an order and it's followed and things happen.
Jon: So in the same way, God in the Bible speaks and says, "I want a son, I want the
earth," and it happens.
Tim: Yes, yeah. And creation obeys the commands.
Jon: That's cool. We know later biblical poets when they reflect on Genesis 1, they bring
all this out. Psalm 33, for example, talks about He commanded, it was created. The
word command is never found Genesis 1. But Psalm 33 uses language of
commanders and kings to describe God in Genesis 1.
So there's an ancient reader, the poet of Psalm 33. Go read Psalm 33, listener of the
podcast and you'll see ancient Israelite reflecting on Genesis 1 and seeing God
depicted as a commander in chief or a king. Interesting.
Tim: That's the depiction of God in Genesis 1: bringing order and beauty out of the chaos
and darkness. Then the pinnacle of it all is that God says, "Let us make humanity."
And Hebrew word for humanity is Adam, where we get our name, Adam. "So let us
make Adam." And then the line is "in our image and in our likeness, or according to
our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the
sky, the livestock, all the earth, every creeping thing that's on the earth." And those
are all things that were made in previous days.
Then there's a little poem. The first poem in the Bible is Genesis 1:27. There's a little
poem about the image of God. So God created humanity in His own image, in the
image of God, he, God created him, that is humanity. Male and female he created
them." God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful, increase number fill the
earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, birds in the sky, every living
creature that moves on the ground."
Jon: So I'm reading this creation account. I'm from that time. So it won't be surprising
that God is king and he's creating things his authority as a king. That wouldn't be
that surprising. But I would be blown away at the point that He creates humans and
says, "Okay, you're all in my image." For the narrative to say, "And then He made the
humans and He made the male and female and they rule and they represent me as a
Tim: Yeah, that's right. A contrast to this would be other ancient Near Eastern creation
accounts that depict the God ruling. The most famous one was dug up in ancient
Iraq like in the1860s, I think. It's called Enuma Elish. It's a tale about the Babylonian
gods and about how their god Marduk defeats the forces of chaos that's in the form
of this goddess called Tiamat, a big dragon.
He blows a huge wind that inflates Tiamat's throat. Have you ever been in one of
those super fans and you open your mouth and it makes your cheeks do that? Like a
really powerful fan, it's like that. He does that to her and then shoot the arrow down
Jon: So he opens it up kind of like with air pressure and then shoots?
Tim: Yeah, with air pressure. That really hurts Tiamat. And then he rips Tiamat in half.
Jon: Why didn't he just do that?
Tim: I know. And then he takes one half of her body and makes sky and the other half
and makes land. That's one of the Babylonian creation myth is that the world is born
out of a violent conflict between the gods. Then, later on, that story, the gods get
tired of making food for themselves. And so, they kill one of the gods and the
Pantheon, [unintelligible 00:10:44], and then they slit his throat and then pour his
blood out of his neck into the ground, and then mix the divine blood and the dirt to
make mad and they make humans who become slaves to the gods.
Jon: Out of blood and dirt?
Tim: Out of blood and dirt. So again, life is born out of violent conflict among the gods.
And then out of that Marduk establishes his kingdom. So these are stories that are
being told and passed on in the temples in Babylon. They're read at festivals; people
grow up with these tales.
And so, if you're a Babylonian farmer, you believe that the world is born out of
conflict and violence, and you believe that that king that you see every month or so
at the annual sacrifice or something, is the embodiment of Marduk. And Marduk has
legitimated this king as the image of God and as the ruler over me, so I better pay
Jon: And you exist to feed him?
Tim: You exist to feed him, to feed the gods.
Jon: The gods and the meditation of him, the king.
Tim: That's right. Yeah. So you can see how these myths... we just call them myths, but
these were these were stories that legitimate the power structures, the social
structures. So Genesis 1 really strikes a different chord in that kind of setting.
So you have a story about a God who doesn't have any rivals. He just speaks and
things are. There's no conflict with the darkness and chaos. There is darkness and
chaos in Genesis 1, but it's not threat to God.
Jon: I know. The spirit's hovering.
Tim: Yeah, God's just there in the midst of darkness and chaos, and then He just speaks
and makes it all beautiful. And then, He makes all humanity male and female as his
image. And all humanity has this royal dignified task to rule the world on God's
So you have to think, "Wow, what kind of social structure does that create?" The
vision of the universe in Genesis 1 is the vision of how Israel was to be ordered,
which was a very social egalitarianism society, not male, female. It was patriarch on
that sense. But economically is very egalitarian. Families owned land. I mean, there
were no kings in Israel for a long time. It was just tribes and a federation. Everybody
farmed and work the land.
Jon: There was a year of jubilee.
Tim: Year of Jubilee, debts forgiven all. It was a very no tribe owned land. It was better.
You could take the land of another.
Jon: It's kind of hippie.
Tim: But that's the Israel envisioning the laws in the Pentateuch. You can see how this
story is giving a view of the world and who God is and what kind of world I'm in and
what humans are. That is very different than the culture they came from an Egypt or
Jon: So why did God create all humans in His image?
Tim: So from the Genesis story, it's that the human task is to rule and have dominion and
to subdue. We should talk about those. Ruling is not a way that we really talk about
our day to day activities anymore.
Jon: I do. I rule every day.
Tim: Jon rules. I mean, there's the sense of like, "That rules. "You rule, man." But that's not
quite what we're talking about.
Jon: How's your day on ruling?
Tim: It's ruling.
Jon: That reminds me of the Adam Sandler movie "Billy Madison." Have you seen that?
Tim: I haven't.
Jon: You didn't watch Adam Sandler movies?
Tim: I was probably studying Hebrew.
Jon: Okay. This particular scene, Adam Sandler's character is in a cafeteria and this guy
walks up, and he throws a bunch of food on him, and he says, "O'Doyle rules." And
it's like, his whole family thing. They always say it. Here's a clip of Adam Sandler
interacting with O'Doyle.
[plays a clip]
Jon: I like how he says, "Nice meeting you." Because it's not nice meeting someone who
rules like that, right?
Tim: Right. The Bible's talking about something different. This is about humans. There's
something that humans do need to exercise power over. It's hard for us. We don't
really have these categories in our day to day life.
But again, this is something now humans are doing that is a reflection or an image
of what God has been doing. We'll talk about the word image a little bit later, but
what it at least means is that humans are now to do what God has been up to. And
what has God been up to? He's been making a world that He wants. And it's a world
that's not disordered or chaotic. It's a world that's reliable and ordered so that life
And humans are now being given an authority over dirt and birds and cows to make
things flourish even more.
Jon: That's the idea of ruling?
Tim: Yeah. Connected to that is this word "subdue." I mean, it just says, "To impose on it,
you're visioned for it." Again, the word impose is very negative in English. But this is
all in the context of gardening in agriculture.
Jon: So you subdue to a garden.
Tim: Yeah, that's good. Let's go with this metaphor. This is what the story is trying to say.
Jon: So I'm going to subdue my farm.
Tim: Yeah, a farm. A farm. I don't know. What would the patch of dirt do if you leave it
alone, and never bring your will?
Jon: It grows wild grass?
Tim: Yeah, yeah. To make a vegetable garden it takes an enormous amount of work and
energy planning, and you have to make that ground do something it wouldn't do by
itself. It takes cultivation. To the same degree, like cows and goats will reproduce,
but they can reproduce even more and for greater purposes than just to keep
themselves alive, but they can give milk and butter and all this. Well, not cows. Just
sheep – sheep for that. Goat hair. People make stuff out of goat hair.
Again, the point is, is that they are just leaving the world as it is, which is it'll just do
Jon: It's being passive.
Tim: It is just wild and raw. But then humans are to bring their will and intention to it to
make it a place where life can flourish even more.
Jon: Which takes imagination and creativity, and then muscle and will.
Jon: I mean, first, you have to go, "Okay, this is what it could be." Here's this plot of land
and I can imagine it actually being an orchard right. And then I've got to problem
solve and figure out how I'm going to create that orchard. So that takes some
Tim: This really could provide apples for 1,000 people instead of just my neighborhood.
So how do we do that?
Jon: Yeah, using your ingenuity. And then you have to then build it which is just your own
muscle and effort. And then you've got to take care of it. Is all that subduing?
Tim: In the context of Genesis 1, I think that's what these words—
Jon: It'd be easier just to go and take over someone else's orchard. Subdue it.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: I mean, when I think of the word subdue, I think of like go and use violence and
exert my authority over something.
Tim: Sure. And you know, actually, what's interesting, you do a word study on subdue,
and it is used for example, like when Joshua goes in, and they subdue the land from
the Canaanite, and so the Canaanites resist and attacked them, and they subdue
them. But again, the word doesn't inherently mean kill people—
Jon: Or take.
Tim: Or take. That's what it means if you're going into someone else's land and taking it
from them, then the word is going to take from that meaning.
Jon: If you're subduing something that someone else has, you're taking it. If you're
subduing something that doesn't exist yet, is it the same word you will use?
Tim: Well, if you're subduing a patch of dirt, you're making it do something that it
wouldn't do on its own.
Tim: Pyramids don't build themselves and apple orchards don't grow by themselves. They
take somebody imposing will. So humans are being given... it's not even permission.
They're being given this vocation to mediate God's rule. That God wants his world to
be a place where life flourishes, where life multiplies and that's going to require a lot
of subduing and harnessing all the potential and resources in the dirt and fish and
cows to make it work. And when humans do that they are said to be an image of the
God of Israel.
Jon: If you live during this time the world is actually kind of scary in some ways. Like to
go into a new place where there's lions and who knows what's going to get you?
You're going to have to subdue it. There's a sense of like we're going into the
unknown, the pioneers. I mean we don't still have that anymore except for like
maybe going into space.
Tim: Or going camping.
Jon: But to go into some new land that your tribe has never been into is going to feel
kind of like a battle and then you're going to subdue it. But then I guess what we
want to be careful of is it doesn't mean go and just exploit it.
Tim: That's right. And you're going to see in Israel story all kinds of ways that God limits
the degree to which Israel subdues its land. Like the laws about leaving whole
sections of your fields unharvested for the poor. Like the whole concept of crop
rotation and stuff like that, all that's in the laws for Israel.
This is a footnote to it, but there was a really influential ecologist in the 60s, Sidney
Wyatt, who wrote this essay saying that the whole environmental exploitation that's
one of the underbellies of Western development is all generated out of the story in
Genesis 1. He made that claim.
Jon: The reason why we reap the world was because of Genesis 1.
Tim: Because our culture is fueled by this biblical vision of ruling and subduing. Just on
purely historical terms, whether or not that's true, has been dismantled, it was
actually more the development of the enlightenment deist or non-theist worldview
that nature is this object to be mastered and overcome that has nothing to do with
But anyway, that's interesting. That's a cultural perception that's out there that
somehow Judaism, Christianity, or the Bible inherently creates this objectification of
Jon: On top of that verse is just the kind of the theological paradigm of this is going to
burn and we're all going to... the point is to go to heaven.
Tim: Yes. That's another layer on top of that.
Jon: Right. Which now we're on a big tangent. So that multiplies this idea of like, "Well,
this is just a tool. It's a tool. It's not going to last, let's use it for what it's worth and
get out of here."
Tim: Your instinct was right a few minutes ago, to go back to say, "We're talking
thousands of years ago, agricultural setting, this is more like the pioneer mindset
Jon: And it's hard for us to imagine what it was like when you could have been eaten by a
lion. That would happen. Like, if I found out a friend was eaten by a lion last week, I'd
be like, "That sucks for him." I won't be like, "What?"
Tim: I think I told you this when we went backpacking in August in Colorado. I couldn't
sleep one night, so I got up while it was still dark and hiked to the top of the tall
peak to watch the sunrise. And the only thing on my mind, I couldn't shake it, was
that there was a mountain lion that was going to eat me.
Jon: You were thinking about that?
Tim: For hours, yes. Because it was totally we are up there...
Jon: Are there mountain lion in Colorado?
Tim: There's a lot of mountain lions in Rocky Mountain National Park. And they live right
where treeline meets the rocks. And that's where we were. I loved it, but I hated it
because I was terrified. But I was like, "I never have this experience, where I'm in
really wild country and they're surely a mountain lion somewhere than 10 miles."
Jon: So imagine how to subdue that mountain.
Tim: I know it. I know it.
Jon: You were subduing that mountain sort of.
Tim: Yeah. So your point is, we've very seldom are in a situation anymore, Modern
Westerners were. You have that mindset.
Jon: I think subdue becomes the wrong word because there's not this sense of like, "Oh, I
need to go subdue my backyard." It'd like, no. There's nothing scary back there."
Tim: I don't know. That's how I feel.
Jon: Well, I guess it gets unruly and you have to manage it, but I'm not out there looking
out for rattlesnakes.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: That's why I'm just wondering if the word subdue has some aggressiveness to it.
Because during that time, there was some aggressiveness that was required of going
into new territory and cultivating it. Because there's going to be apes that could rip
your head of, there's going to be snakes that can swallow you, there's going to be
Tim: I mean, in the biblical stories, Israel's full of bears, and lions, but not anymore. But it
Jon: That was like a normal thing.
Tim: So we haven't even talked about the word "image."
Jon: But the idea of being the image is connected to ruling.
Tim: Maybe this is a good segue then. In this story, in Genesis 1 with that idea of God,
and what God does, and then humans now carry on what God has been doing, what
does it mean to call humans the image of God if they're going to be ruling and
subduing and bringing that out of creation? This is another area where the history of
where this idea went, it's very hard for us to separate how the ideas developed from
what it meant originally.
Jon: Well, I don't know how it developed so we're fine on that. I'll not going to be
Tim: Well, I'll just ask you. When you think of the image of God, what comes to your
mind? To say a human is made in the image of God, Jon and Brian, what comes to
Jon: Well, what comes to my mind is, this supernatural aspect of us where I know that I'm
biology, I've got flesh and blood and organs and stuff, but I also have consciousness
and I have morality and I have these things that are less tangible and if you dissect
me, you're not going to find it.
I guess I always thought that was in some way what image of God meant. That
sacredness. That there's a spirituality. I mean, it's fuzzy. I will say it's always been a
fuzzy phrase that you kind of just say to go, "Yeah, we're important and there's
something more to this than just being animals." I don't know. What do you what do
you think, Brian?
Brian: I just think of an intellect creative. I think a lot about. And to me there's a lot of
something very spiritual about our creative intellect even if it's not us doing
something related to the arts for example, even if we're subduing a field, there's this
quality to how we think and how we process that is to me sort of... Like a songwriter
never knows quite where a good song comes from. Like all that stuff is about the
mystery of God and God's personhood in us. That's maybe what I would say.
Tim: The common denominator, there's something about humans that seems to
transcend our just biology and molecules crashing together and instinct to
reproduce and hormones and so on. Throughout most of the history of Western
interpretation at least, that's been the idea. That we're talking about something
additional to humans that's not shared by other rabbits and elephants or dolphins.
Jon: Because that's what the narrative says right that all these animals were made,
humans were made but then they were given God's breath. Or is God's breath
separate from the image of God?
Tim: Well, God's breath is in Genesis 2.
Jon: But image of God is in Genesis 1?
Tim: Image of God is Genesis 1. So you're right. Image of God is something that sets
humans apart from the birds and fish.
Jon: This is important. Genesis 1 doesn't talk about God's breath?
Tim: Well, it does it the beginning, that God's breath, spirit is hovering in the darkness
Jon: But as far as animating the human.
Tim: That is part of how Genesis works as a book is you get the seven-day story in
chapter 1 through chapter 2, verse 4. And then chapter 2, verse 5 a second story
about the origins of the world and humans appears. And it has a different
chronology. It happens all in one day versus the seven days. It has a different order
of things being created. The animals come second in Genesis 2, but they come first
in Genesis 1.
Jon: Comes second after humans?
Tim: Yeah. Because the guy's alone and he's like, "Man, I wish I had somebody to hang
out with." So God make the animals. But in Genesis 1, God makes the animals first,
and then humans are the pinnacle.
Jon: Got it. So Genesis 1, in that account—
Tim: The image of God is how Genesis 1 reflects on the nature and purpose of humans.
Genesis 2 reflect the nature of humans as coming from the dirt, being made of dirt,
and then infused with divine breath.
Jon: So are we conflating those two things by saying the image of God is about creativity
and about spirituality, and that kind of stuff?
Tim: It's one of those things where I think I see how that happens. I think as a good
readers, you read the two story side by side and you go, "Oh, the image of God is
something that God have little extra infusion that makes humans different." I think
they're different. It's kind of like a diamond or something that has multiple facets. So
it's getting at the same reality at the center of the diamond, but there they are two
separate facets that are giving a different angle.
So the image of God is distinct in making one kind of statement about humans and
then the dirt and divine breath is making another kind of statement. But I think helps
to separate them because they're separate in the story.
Jon: And when you separate them, what happens?
Tim: Let's separate them. Let's just say, what is the word image? Just the Hebrew word
image. So if you go look around in the rest of the Hebrew Bible at that word, this is a
really interesting fact. It's number one references to idols, which Israel was
prohibited to ever make.
So you end up with this interesting kind of paradox at the beginning of the story of
the Bible, which is going to be about a God who tells people to never make images
of Him. But then page 1 begins the story with this God making an image of himself
and as humans. So that's interesting that you're not supposed to try an image this
God because images of this God already exist, namely you and the person sitting
next to you. So what does it mean then, that God has provided an image?
Jon: Oh, hold on. The justification usually for "don't make an image" is because that
would be blasphemy. Like you would create something that wasn't actually God.
Tim: Yeah. Or you're reducing the true reality and character of God by reducing him to a
golden cow or something.
Jon: So that's one reason. But then you're saying the other reason is because God already
made an image. So let's not confuse anything you can make with what God already
made, namely you.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. You and I, we're not God. And it's not even that we're like God, but
it's that you and I embody something about God here.
Jon: I guess that is another thing I always thought about when you see image of God is in
some way we're like God. In some way, God has characteristics that He's given
humans that He didn't give the rest of creation. You're saying that's not true?
Tim: No. Is it character traits or is it a task, namely to rule?
Jon: And you're saying it's a task?
Tim: In the poem in Genesis 1, God created them in His image, then He blessed them and
said, "Be fruitful, and multiply, subdue the earth, rule over it." So the story connects
the image explicitly with the job description of humans, which is to multiply and rule
In excited context, I think this is what's called the functional interpretation of the
image of God. A metaphysical interpretation of the image would be it's our
conscious rationality, ability to reason, spirituality, that kind of thing.
Jon: That's the metaphysical one?
Tim: Correct. That I think it's intuitive but it's actually hard to anchor in the story.
Jon: It's more closely related to the breath of God...
Tim: In Genesis 2. Genesis 1 seems to link the image with the role and job description
that He's given to humans uniquely. So He didn't ask cows to rule the world.
Jon: That was a good decision. Or maybe not. Maybe they would do a better job.
Tim: So there's that. Then that raises the question, what were these images? What were
idols in the ancient world and to Israel that God prohibited making them?
Jon: That's a good question.
Tim: Yeah. Didn't ancient Israel actually believe that the golden calf was God or did they
have something more sophisticated that we would think a distinction you could
easily make to be like, "Well, probably it represents a god?" Or there's some close
connection between that statue and some invisible God who makes thunder and
lightning who I can't see?
I mean, ancient people weren't stupid. Probably smarter than most of us because
they were pioneers. They could survive the mountain lion.
Jon: Yeah, there it was more editing of the gene pool back then. They probably were
Tim: That sounded so clinical. We're talking about idea that this statue, but is some... like,
you carry it on a pedestal and you put it in a shrine. So you treat it like very special
and holy and set apart, but it's viewed as having some special connection to the god
that it represents. That's why you can have multiple statues representing one God.
So this statue is some kind of physical embodied representation of the god and you
can put it somewhere, and it is now representing God's presence there.
And the closest Israel ever got to this was the Ark of the Covenant, which didn't have
an image, it had a place the cherubim which are the protectors of the Divine
Presence, and then just a blank space above it. But they still have this idea that the
temple was somehow a localized expression of God's glory and presence.
Jon: So without having an actual image, it's still had a representation of a place to realize
Tim: Yeah. There are all kinds of stuff going on like this in the ancient world. The most
famous one, just because they're so awesome is they are called the Lamassu statues.
You've surely seen them. They were found when they start digging up all these
ancient Babylonian cities in Iraq.
Jon: How do you spell it?
Tim: L-A-M-A-S-S-U. And it has the body of an ox, but then the head of a man and a
huge stately beard. So these were used in the Babylonian and Assyrian kingdoms.
Jon: And they have wings?
Tim: They have wings. So they are similar to the Sphinx and to the cherubim, they would
be at the entrances to the city or the entrances to the temple. And they are physical
representations of the God. And what's especially interesting about these is that that
Jon: The crown?
Tim: Yeah. It's an icon of the king. If you look at Assyrian statues of their kings, they have
precisely that head with like the square beard on it. So this is a cool example
because it's the king as a god with a physical image statue representing king and
deity and how those go together. And these would be placed at the entrances of
cities or temples. Or Egyptian kings, like when they conquered new territories, they
would put similar statues with their own cultural shaping at the entrance of...
For example, when Egypt ruled over Israel - there are a few times in Israel's history
where Egypt came through. Still today, people have dug up these Egyptian statues
of deified kings near the entrances of ancient Israelite cities.
Jon: I mean, just imagine walking past one of the things. They are so epic.
Tim: And what do statues do? Statues are these embodiments or representations of the
Divine. I see them all the time, every time I go to these big cities, and so on.
Jon: And they are holy. There's a holiness to them.
Tim: That's right. Yeah, yeah.
Jon: And a reverence for them.
Tim: That's right. Then you read a story like Genesis 1 that says, that's what humans are.
That it would be the effect to finish this one.
Jon: I think that's starting to land for me. I mean, I'm imagining walking by the temple
and there's this massive statue of this - What's this thing called?
Jon: The Lamassu. Like this beard the size of my chest, and like this big ox body and
these wings, it would just feel larger than life and epic. There would be this gravity to
that moment of walking by and being like, "Whoa, the embodiment of God's power
and spirit is here." And the sense of that, and reverence of that.
So I have that experience in my psyche and then I'm told this creation poem or this
creation account saying, "Yes, that's how God created you."
Tim: That means the layers of significance in Genesis 1 just start heaping on here about
God representing himself with these images. But far from the world of kings who
have money and slaves to build these images there you see, it's saying, humans,
getting married and building families and neighborhoods and having gardens and
orchards, that God's rule here on Earth. God rules the world, not through the elite
kings, but through humans multiplying, gardening, making neighborhoods.
Jon: Because you'd have these essentially peasants who are out working the land, having
families and then you would go to the temple and there would be the elites, and
they would be the one that's ruling.
Tim: Yes. That's where the Kings live, that's where the gods are located, their temples in
Jon: And you would go to sacrifice food there. And now this, this scripture is telling, "No,
actually that holy task that you thought you had go the temple for, that's what
you're doing every day with your family by having kids and by taking care of the
Tim: To feed people and to...it's awesome. Genesis 1 is radical. It's so hard for us to see it
Jon: That was part 1 of the conversation with Tim Mackie on the image of God. I
mentioned in our conversation that the word subdue doesn't feel like the right word
anymore. But in retrospect, I think it's actually a pretty great word. Because if you
think about it, life is tough. There are social and economic dangers around every
corner, we're constantly fighting to make it you know, to not feel isolated or afraid
And so I mean, it's comforting to know that God understands this, that to fulfill our
tasks as his image we're going to have to face and overcome a lot of challenges. In
the next episode, we're going to talk more about this task of being God's image and
compare it to what I've seen as a typical Western Christian narrative.
We have a video coming out on the image of God in March of 2016. It's going to be
really good. That'll be on our YouTube channel, youtube.com/thebibleproject.
You can also say hi to us at Facebook, facebook.com/jointhebibleproject. And we're
on twitter, @JoinBibleProj. Thanks for being a part of this with us.