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What the Bible says about Tselem
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 1:26-27

The word "image" is translated from the Hebrew tselem, and it means "shape, resemblance, figure, shadow." There is nothing abstract in it. This same word appears in Genesis 5:3: "And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image [tselem], and named him Seth."

Adam lived 130 years and begot a son in his likeness, after his shape, after his resemblance, after his figure, after his shadow. Absolutely no one argues anywhere about the meaning of "image" here. There is nothing abstract.

Even as the animals reproduced after their kind, so did Adam and Eve reproduce after their kind. What they reproduced was in the form and shape of Adam and Eve. It was in their image. Only when we apply this to God do people begin to question, all on the assumption that God really does not have any shape. They claim that a human-like appearance is something that He uses only when convenient. However, that is not what the Bible testifies.

If we desire to be accurate with the Scriptures, we must be consistent with the way the Bible's writers used these words. The same word is used of Adam and Eve as is used of God.

God uses this word in Exodus 20:4—right in the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image [tselem] . . .." This is the same word as in Genesis 1:26. Does anybody contend that these carved images do not look like eagles, dragons, snakes, or men or women? No, the image, the idol, looks like, resembles, the shape, the form, of what it is being copied from. We also find this word in Leviticus 26:1; Psalm 106:19; and Isaiah 40:18-20; 44:9-17.

The word tselem appears seventeen times in the Old Testament, and even the liberal Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, which goes to great lengths to avoid saying it, admits that concrete form and physical resemblance must be considered for Genesis 1:26-27: "Perhaps we may conclude that, while much of the thought that there is an external resemblance between God and man may be present, Ezekiel, who was a priest, has it" (vol. II, p. 684).

Scripture cannot be broken; it does not contradict itself. The editors of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible have to admit that tselem carries the meaning of concrete form and physical resemblance. Man looks like God. Continuing the quote: "However cautiously he states it, P [P stands for 'Priestly,' one of the four groups whom critical scholars believe edited the Bible] seems to have reached a measure of abstraction."

The editors of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible are sneaky. "Well, maybe there is a concrete resemblance, and we know that Ezekiel has it, yet the fellow who wrote Genesis 1, perhaps he reached a measure of abstraction." How hard they find it to give up their assumption!

The same internal consistency happens with the word "likeness," which translates the Hebrew word demooth, meaning, "model, shape, fasten, similitude, and bodily resemblance." Notice Genesis 5:1, 3:

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness [demooth] of God. . . . And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness [demooth], after his image, and named him Seth.

If demooth is used for God's creation of man in His image in Genesis 1:26, and then it appears in Genesis 5:1, 3, do we not have to apply the same discernment about what God intends? Demooth also appears in Isaiah 40:18; Ezekiel 1:5, 10, 13, 16, 22, 26, 28; 10:1, 22.

When we study the whole subject, we begin to understand why Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible had to write that Ezekiel showed man in physical resemblance to God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part One)


 




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