What is the difference between humans as "image of God" and Jesus as "image of God" ?

Humans are God's image:

Genesis 1:26-27

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Jesus is the image of God

Colossians 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature 2 Corinthians 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

  • I can give an answer from a Catholic viewpoint; but this may not be the same as an answer from other viewpoints (and I do not know enough to give an answer from those viewpoints). Shall I give my answer? Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


Answer from a specifically Catholic viewpoint:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has many references to humans as images of God, but only a few that I have found to Jesus as the image of God:

At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature.

(paragraph 479)

Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father. ...

For this reason the apostles confess Jesus to be the Word: ... as "the image of the invisible God"; as the "radiance of the glory of God and the very stamp of his nature."

(paragraphs 240–241)

In distinction from this, humans are images of God in the sense that God has created them to be like him in certain ways:

Of all visible creatures only man is "able to know and love his creator." He is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake," and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity.

(paragraph 356)

St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the meaning of "image" as it pertains to the Son of God in the Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 35, Article 2, and specifically discusses the difference between "image" as applied to humans and "image" applied to the Son.

To understand the structure of Aquinas' answer, understand that the Summa is not simply a book presenting Catholic Truth monolithically and without any discussion. Aquinas presents a question (usually a question that could be answered "Yes" or "No"), and comes up with reasons why it could be answered in one particular way (typically the "wrong" way from his viewpoint). These possible reasons are typically called "Objections". After he presents his answer, he must of course discuss why these objections are after all incorrect; and he does this in "replies to the objections".

Thus, in our particular case, Aquinas asks the question: "Whether the name of Image is proper to the Son?"; that is, "Should we be using this word to describe the Son of God in the first place?" One possible objection he comes up with, which applies to your question, is this:

Objection 3: Further, man is also called the image of God, according to 1 Cor. 11:7, "The man ought not to cover his head, for he is the image and the glory of God." Therefore Image is not proper to the Son.

Aquinas concludes that "Image" is in fact applicable to the Son,

because the Son proceeds as word, and it is essential to word to be like species with that whence it proceeds.

That is, since the Son is the Word of God, he must be the same sort of being and have the same sort of characteristics (species) as God—thus it's appropriate to call him the Image of God. In responding to the objection dealing with man as "image of God", Aquinas replies,

The image of a thing may be found in something in two ways. In one way it is found in something of the same specific nature; as the image of the king is found in his son. In another way it is found in something of a different nature, as the king's image on the coin. In the first sense the Son is the Image of the Father; in the second sense man is called the image of God.

That is, humans are said to be "the image of God" because they are like God in certain ways (knowledge, understanding, free will, etc.); but the Son is said to be "the image of God [the Father]" because he is God—and has all the characteristics of God.


It's a matter of degrees.

Think of the image of God in human beings (< L. Imago Dei, Hebrew: צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים; tzelem elohim, lit. "image of God") as being a finite representation of divinity. What is of infinite degree in God is finite in man (humankind).

In the so-called "personality-purpose approach" to the image of God in man, the three key attributes or aspects of God in man are

  • Intellect

  • Emotion

  • Will

The Human Side of Things


Intellect is the rational, logical, symbol-oriented (i.e., language-oriented), communicating aspects of God in us. I am not implying that the eternal God had a language before he began his creative work. Perhaps God communicated within the Godhead via pure thought, since God does not have the apparatus for speaking or signing ("God is spirit," John 4:24).

God does, however, communicate with his creatures through general revelation (see especially Psalms 8 and 19) and special revelation (Scripture, and other means, such as dreams, visions, speech via human personages, and more). We think of the latter as "silent" and the former and "audible" (or readable) through language. While there was tremendous variety in human language and communication systems both before and after--especially after--the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:7), what unites mankind is our need to communicate within ourselves intra-personally, and with other people (and animals, too) interpersonally, via verbal and nonverbal means (e.g., gestures and other means and cues, both silent and non-silent).

Silent cues could include miming with one's visible body parts, and non-silent cues such as singing, grunting, imitating animals, and even subtler cues which are communicated and interpreted with such rapidity that it is difficult to describe and quantify them with any degree of exactitude.

As a rhetorician I am bound to emphasize the communication aspect of intellect, but we must also consider man's inventive ability, organization ability, problem-solving ability, adapt-ability*, memor-ability* and so much more, all of which are made possible through symbolic thinking via language.


Emotion bespeaks feelings, of course, and in addition to the obvious ones such as love, hate, anger, rage, compassion, sadness, joy, passion, apathy, envy, jealousy, pride, regret, anticipation, bitterness, fear, happiness, contentment, anxiety, ad infinitum, there are also admixtures and varying intensities of feeling, some of which are difficult to articulate, let alone define.

Sometimes we are helped by thinking of emotions as inner states of mind which have at their extremes, pain and pleasure, or elation and misery. Often these two extremes spill over, or affect, other people both negatively and positively. A miserable and psychopathic reprobate may not think of himself as miserable, but he can surely inflict misery and pain on others! A person in the pit of depression can also be a "downer" to those around him or her.

On the other hand, elation in one person can have a spillover effect on other folks, too, as if there is a contagion effect associated with extreme joy, enthusiasm, laughter, and peak, positive, celebratory moments. What can make a friend, for example, rejoice along with another friend who is celebrating a peak moment in life can also make someone else envious, jealous, bitter, and resentful! More typical, however, are those less intense but equally good feelings which in a positive way can buoy us along in life, or in a negative way bog us down, if only temporarily.


Will, or volition, is the third aspect of Imago Dei in the human species. God has invested in the human species the ability to decide, to choose, to make decisions. We are, in a sense, free moral agents within the parameters God set for us. We cannot decide to violate the laws of gravity and physics with impunity, of course, but outside the natural laws, God gives us a great deal of latitude in what the Bible calls the law of "reaping and sowing."

Volition, of course, is potentially both a blessing and a curse. When we sow seeds of hatred, lust, anger, bitterness, or one or more of a host of bad seeds, we inevitably, sooner or later, reap what we've sown. That is the curse. The good news, in the words of the Christmas carol by Korbel and Watts, is that

He comes to make

His blessings known,

Far as the curse is found.

We, with God's enablement, can break the negative aspects of volition by surrendering and yielding our entire beings to God in a spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1 ff.). Instead of becoming robots thereby, we become all that God meant us to be before our fall into sin.

The Divine Side of Things

Within the Godhead, the elements of intellect, emotion, and will reside eternally and to an infinite degree. That is why I prefaced my answer to your question as I did (viz., "It's a matter of degrees").

Intellectually, God is omniscient and the possessor of infinite and perfect knowledge and wisdom. God does not learn. Whereas he creates out of his infinite fullness, we can only invent with the raw materials with which he has provided us. He observes with utter clarity. There are no secrets or hidden motives which he cannot understand fully, which is why, in part, he is the righteous judge of all humankind. In other words, God is light (1 John 1:5), and he dwells in unapproachable light. Nothing is hidden from the searching and penetrating light of his gaze.

Emotionally, God is characterized by supreme love ("God is love," 1 John 4:8 & 16), which is more than just a mere feeling, but it is also a behavior pattern which is expressed through sacrifice, selflessness, and unconditional positive regard for all people, even though they are helpless, ungodly sinners and act like his enemies (Romans 5:6-11).

Because he is a thrice-holy God, he also experiences anger, also referred to as "the wrath of God" (e.g., Romans 1:18). There is nothing capricious, vindictive, hateful, or random about God's wrath. While his patience with his fallen masterpieces (i.e., us!) when compared to our human patience is seemingly infinite, it does come to an end, and subsequently is expressed righteously, energized with both holiness and justice.

We could go on to talk about other emotions which Scripture reveals to us about God, such as his compassion and tenderness, his joy and delight, his gracious and generous spirit, his kindness and gentleness, and so much more. The key, of course, is that God's emotions are never out of control, nor are they expressed sinfully as they are in his image-bearers.

As to will and volition, God alone has a free will. In other words, God's will has no limits imposed on it, save the "limits" imposed by the perfections of his attributes. Every expression of his will, ultimately, conforms to the eternal plans and counsels of his will. Nothing and no one can thwart him in this regard, at least in the "big picture." Put differently, the devil and his minions and God's image bearers on earth can oppose and hinder God's plans and purposes up to a limit which is known only to God.

God's image bearers can experience a life full of blessing, fulfillment, and true significance when they align themselves and their wills with God's plans and purposes. By the same token, however, we succeed only in hurting ourselves and robbing ourselves of God's blessing when we choose to be autonomous and act like stupid sheep going their own way (Isaiah 53:6).


God's will is always good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2). We can prove this to be true by aligning ourselves with his will. The choice, however, is ours. To continue to conform to the world, or as J. B. Philips put it, to allow the world to squeeze us into its own mold, is to forfeit the transformation of our hearts and minds into that which is pleasing to God and beneficial to ourselves. Our prayer should always be,

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"

One day, that will become a reality in all its fullness.

*I realize these hyphenates are misspelled, but I think you know what I am after.


A professor of postgraduate studies at Wheaton explained the difference to me as follows. (This represents an Evangelical understanding.)

Mankind was made according to the image of God.

Jesus is the image of God.

  • See 1 Cor. 11:7: blueletterbible.org/…
    – user900
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 22:26
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 Yeah, though the English translation says "is" there, the Greek is more interesting, and (at first glance anyway) seems to confirm this answer.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 22:35
  • I think you may be right. ὑπάρχων seems to me to mean "originally existing [as] the image of God." So, it seems that Adam was originally in the image of God. Of course, after the sin, that image was stained or defiled, and Jesus became flesh to restore that image to its pristine state. That being said, I wouldn't rely on "is" versus "according to." It's more of a matter of "was (originally)" versus "is now."
    – user900
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 23:02
  • 1
    @H3br3wHamm3r81 I was referring to the other possible renditions of that Greek word. I think Paul's argument requires a present (not past) focus. Anyway, it was an interesting choice of verbiage, as Paul did not say "is" or "was".
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 23:12

Your consternation stems from two problems, first is the difficulty of translating the Bible into English, and the second is one is in Greek and the other is in Hebrew

Collossians:1:15, and Corinthians 4:4


εἰκών eikōn


From G1503; a likeness, that is, (literally) statue, profile, or (figuratively) representation, resemblance: - image.


εἴκω eikō


Apparently a primary verb (perhaps akin to G1502 through the idea of faintness as a copy); to resemble: - be like.


εἴκω eikō


Apparently a primary verb; properly to be weak, that is, yield: - give place.

The problem of translating the Greek word εἰκών to Hebrew is that it relates to so many Hebrew words

G1504 * εἰκών (eikōn)

eikon H1823 * דְּמוּת (dəmûṯ) demut

eikon H5566 * סֵמֶל סֶמֶל (sēmel semel) semel

eikon H6459 * פֶּסֶל (pesel) pesel

eikon H6754 * צֶלֶם (ṣelem) #tselem

eikon H8394 * תּוֹבֻנָה תְּבוּנָה תָּבוּן (tôḇunāh təḇûnāh tāḇûn) tevunah

In trying to understand Paul's use of the word, we must understand it to mean resemblance or representation. Paul was trying to tell the these believers that Jesus was an earthly representation which mirrored God. Let's take Colossians 1:15 and see where it leads us.

Col 1:15 through 17 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

If we break down what Paul is saying, and start with; image of the invisible God, what we see is that Paul is saying no one can see God because God is Spirit, but we can understand how God is because we have Christ as an example. then created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, and And He is before all things, we find that what Paul is saying is the same thing John said in John 1:1 through 4:

John 1:1 through 4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

And even though the Hebrew word דּמוּת used in Genesis 1:27 is one of the meanings of εἴκω it is more specific in its meaning.

Genesis 1:26 and 1:27 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.



BDB Definition:

1) likeness, similitude (noun feminine)

2) in the likeness of, like as (adverb)

Here the word is used in it's adverbial form and modifies the verb make, and since man and woman are quite different physically it is obvious that likeness is referring to something else, and that something else is the characteristics of God.

All definitions are from Brown Driver and Biggs, and all Scripture is from either the NKJV or the KJV.

Hope this helps

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