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Genesis 1.26-28: The Uniqueness of Man

David Campbell
04 June 2024 20:00

The world of Genesis 1 is a world God finished by making man: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (vs.26-27).  And with that the work of creating was done.

It was now the sixth day of the creation week; the earth had produced “living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind” (v.24); everything else that God had planned to create had been created. Nothing remained to be made now but man.

When we ourselves are making something, it is not always the case that the last part to be made is the most important. So also when we are writing something. It is not always our final paragraph or final sentence that clinches the argument or carries the greatest weight. But with God in creation it was different. In creating man God didn’t just bring his work of creation to completion; he brought it to a climax. Human beings constitute the crown of God’s creative work. We are in fact the reason for everything else that preceded us. 

What I want to do in this brief article is point out the main lines of evidence for that. What gives us the right to think that we humans constitute the very centrepiece of God’s created world? We get our answer first of all,

A. By listening-in to God taking the decision to make us

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’” (v.26). This is different. Up till now we have simply had the decisions of God being implemented. There are no recorded deliberations. Just actions: “let there be light”; “let there be an expanse between the waters”; “let there be lights in the expanse of the sky”, and so on. We are not taken behind the scenes. We are not given glimpses of God formulating his plan. No! All the way through the creation week God is simply at work creating by the word of his power. 

When God comes to man, however, there is a pause. And before he proceeds to the making of us we are given the privilege of ‘listening-in’, as it were, to the decision itself being taken: “Let us make man in our image”; words that “indicate that there is a unique engagement of divine thought and counsel, and bespeak the fact that something correspondingly unique is about to take place” (John Murray).

Notice the word “us”: “Let us make man…”. To whom is God speaking? Genesis doesn’t answer. In the light of revelation that is given afterwards of a plurality in God, however, we need have no hesitation in saying that the “us” are the persons of the Trinity. This is the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – taking the decision to make human kind.

So there’s the first thing. We are looking at the evidence that in creating man God is bringing his work to a magnificent crescendo. And we find it in the unique privilege that is granted to us of listening-in to God taking the decision.

We find it secondly,

B. In the decision itself

In Ch.2 man is described as a “living being”: “And the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (v.7). In this respect man is not unique. We can say that because identical language is used of other creatures that God made. In Ch.1.24, for example, when God says, “Let the land produce living creatures”, the underlying Hebrew word is the same as in Ch.2.7 where it is used of man. In common with all the rest of the animals we are “living creatures”.

There are two things, however, that mark us out as qualitatively different from other creatures.

1.) In making man God made a God-like creature

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’” (v.26). And he did. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him” (v.27). In doing this God placed man in a category of his own. Of no other living creature is it said that God made it in his image. This is not to say that there are no similarities. In terms of anatomy and physiology we have many features in common with the members of the animal kingdom. That is why in heart surgery, for example, a valve from a pig can be used to replace a faulty human valve. There are many respects in which we are like the other creatures and they are like us.

Only of man, however, is it said that he is made in the image of God. When God made us, he fashioned us in certain important respects after himself. He gave us immortality, for example. He made us with the capacity for fellowship and communion with himself. He made us holy and righteous. These things both separately and together set us apart from all other living creatures.

Then there is a second thing that marks us out as qualitatively different:

2.) This God-like creature is given a God-like task

This brings us to the second part of v.26 where God says, “…let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”. Accordingly, when God made our first parents, he “blessed them and said to them, ‘…fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (v.28). For man the God-like creature God has a God-like task.

God is the Lord and as the Lord he rules. The sphere of his rule is the whole of creative reality. What he made he governs. And here now is man made in the divine image. What is he? A ruler too! To use the old terminology, man is God’s vice-regent. God himself is always supreme. It is he who always has the final authority. Under him, however, we also bear rule. And the sphere of our rule is the earth in its entirety. It is what David celebrates in Psalm 8: “You have given him dominion over the works of his hands; you have put all things under his feet” (v.6).

When we put all this together we see how man is not just the conclusion but the climax and crown of God’s creative work. Everything else is leading up to this: the creation of man. We see it when we listen-in to God taking the decision to make us. We see it when we look at the decision itself: a God-like creature with a God-like task. Man is more than just the final piece to be added. He represents the crowning glory of creation.


The importance of this – especially in today’s world – is immeasurable. What does evolution do? I’m thinking here about the evolution that has no place for God; that denies any kind of intelligent design; that says there is no Creator. What does that do? It robs us of our dignity. What are we, according to atheistic evolution? We are the result of an infinite series of random occurrences, a chance product, something that might conceivably never have been, intrinsically no different or more valuable than any other members of the animal kingdom. You see how that destroys our God-given dignity as creatures made in his likeness? How fatal it is to our position as God-like creatures with a God-like task? How it puts us on the same level as all the rest of the creatures?

It destroys, too, the notion of any ultimate ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ in life. In an article entitled, Life’s Great Riddle, and No Time to find its Meaning, British journalist Bernard Levin wrote: “To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die?...I have not managed to answer the question yet, and however many years I have before me they are certainly not as many as there are behind. There is an obvious danger in leaving it too late…Why do I have to know why I was born? Because of course, I am unable to believe that it was an accident; and if it wasn’t, it must have a meaning”.

If the evolutionary theory of our origin is correct, however, human existence is an accident. It is something that simply happened. As one writer has put it, “We are merely the product of matter plus time plus chance”. All search for ultimate meaning is fruitless. It is a waste of time. We are just an accident. And in the light of the immensity of the universe around us a very insignificant accident at that.

Over against that we assert on the authority of the word of God that we have a creator. He has made us in his own image. And he has made us for a purpose commensurate with that high honour. He has made us to rule over all of his creation. And beyond that, to know him, glorify him, and enjoy him forever.