Iain Provan explains what the phrase meant for ancient people – and its implications for everyone.
Well, in the ancient world, generally speaking, the image of God refers mostly and directly to the embodiment of a particular divinity in a temple, in what we would refer to as a cult statue. So you have a physical representation of a particular god in a particular temple. And from their point of view that is not merely a statue, that is the actual embodiment of the divinity.
When Genesis says that every human being, male and female, is made in God’s image, obviously against that background, as I have just described, that is an extraordinarily radical thing to say. It’s perhaps the most radical thing that the biblical literature has to say, because it fundamentally puts every human being on the same level, so that whichever way you organise society the fundamental ethos is going to be egalitarian.