Have you ever stopped to ponder the two accounts of God’s creation of mankind? They are quite different, so we ask, “Which one is correct?” Our logical mind must understand why there are two different versions of one event.
One possible solution is to conclude that there were two distinct traditions in ancient Israel that were both recorded in Scripture. However, that contradicts an inspired text authored by God. There is another solution that requires you to “think Hebrew, not Greek”. By looking at the two accounts as an emerging pattern, we can see how God is working with us in His grand plan to bring mankind into His holy presence.
Let us begin by looking at the first account of God’s creation of mankind.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Gen 1:27 (NASB)
We are drawn to the repetition of the word “create” (Hebrew בּרא bara), which was first used in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word expresses something new that had not existed before.
Our curiosity is then drawn to the key word “image”. How can mankind be in the image of God, who is righteous and pure and holy and without any imperfection or sin? The Hebrew word that has been translated “image” is צלם (tselem). Perhaps the best way to understand its meaning is to turn to the most advanced resource that is used by academics, which is the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon. In this carefully researched reference guide we learn that the word is often used for pagan idols that represent a pagan god. Certainly that is not the meaning in Genesis 1:27, so we turn next to another possible clue to what it means that God has created mankind in His own image.
Hebrew often uses two words that are synonyms but have a slight variation in meaning. Immediately preceding our verse about God creating mankind in His image we read, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Gen 1:26). Now we have two synonyms, so we can examine the Hebrew word that has been translated “likeness”, which is דְּמוּת (demut). Brown-Driver-Briggs advises us that the word is typically used in Scripture to mean similarity in external appearance. Well, that cannot refer to God because Scripture tells us that no man had seen God (the Father) at any time (Ex 33:20; John 1:18). However, Scripture makes known God’s essence, which is holy and Spirit (John 4:24).
I suggest that one way to perceive God’s creation of mankind in Genesis 1:27 is through the relationship that we have with God. We cannot come into His presence when we are in an unholy condition. If we do, we will die. Thus, in the beginning God’s created beings were “one with Him”. That is, they had the same holy essence as God with the ability to come into His presence. Of course, the fall of mankind in the story of Adam and Eve terminated that relationship, which brings us to the second account of God’s creation of mankind.
In Genes 2:7 we read that God formed man from the dust of the earth. How can He create mankind in His image and also form him from the dust of the earth. Let us begin by looking at the verse.
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Gen 2:7
We must begin with the key word “formed”. In the first account God “created”. Now He is “forming”. The Hebrew word translated “form” is יצר (yatsar), which means to shape like a potter shapes a clay vessel from a an ugly lump of wet clay. We are the lump of clay, and God is the potter who is shaping us into His image.
I suggest that we can only understand this concept through the Hebraic sense of time, which is not like the Greek sense of time that views points on a line. What has become our western perception is that events in the past are over and done with and can only be accessed through recent memory, written records or archaeological excavations. We can only perceive the future through imagination, which leaves the present as the only reality. Not so with the Hebraic sense of time that perceives God as the author of time and existing in all aspects of time. Thus, in the beginning God created us in His image, and that image is still inherent in us just waiting to be activated. In the future we will be in God’s image in righteousness so we will be able to come into His holy presence. But now we are in the process of moving toward that future reality, and that process is God’s forming us in His image.
What is the pattern? We have God’s righteousness in us, and we need to believe that in the very depth of our hearts. At some time in the future we will be righteous with an ability to live in the presence of God, and we must believe that with fervent expectation. Now we must eagerly desire to come closer and closer into the presence of God, which God has given us the ability to do through our faith in the Messiah and the gift of God’s essence (His Holy Spirit) that we have through our faith in Christ. We must live in the “now” with the heartfelt understanding of the past and the fervent expectation of the future.
May the eyes of your heart be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. Eph 1:18