What Does "Imago Dei" Mean? The Image of God in the Bible

Imago Dei is the Latin translation of "Image of God" as found in Genesis in the creation story. Discover the meaning and significance that humans were created in the "image of God."
Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Does "Imago Dei" Mean? The Image of God in the Bible

The Image of God: “Imago Dei”

“Imago Dei” comes from the Latin version of the Bible, translated to English as “image of God.”

"Image of God" is defined as the metaphysical expression, associated uniquely to humans, which signifies the symbolical connection between God and humanity. The phrase has its origins in Genesis 1:27, wherein "God created man in his own image..." This biblical passage does not imply that God is in human form, but that humans are in the image of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual essence. Thus, humans reflect God's divine nature in their ability to achieve the unique characteristics with which they have been endowed. These unique qualities make humans different than all other creatures: rational understanding, creative liberty, the capacity for self-actualization, and the potential for self-transcendence.

Imago Dei Definition

This is a longer definition of “Imago Dei” as provided by pbs.org

The term imago Dei refers most fundamentally to two things: first, God's own self-actualization through humankind; and second, God's care for humankind. To say that humans are in the image of God is to recognize the special qualities of human nature which allow God to be made manifest in humans. In other words, for humans to have the conscious recognition of their being in the image of God means that they are the creature through whom God's plans and purposes can be made known and actualized; humans, in this way, can be seen as co-creators with God. The moral implications of the doctrine of imago Dei are apparent in the fact that if humans are to love God, then humans must love other humans, as each is an expression of God. The human's likeness to God can also be understood by contrasting it with that which does not image God, i.e., beings who, as far as we know, are without self-consciousness and the capacity for spiritual/ moral reflection and growth. Humans differ from all other creatures because of their rational structure - their capacity for deliberation and free decision-making. This freedom gives the human-centeredness and completeness which allows the possibility for self-actualization and participation in a sacred reality. However, the freedom which makes the human in God's image is the same freedom which manifests itself in estrangement from God, as the myth of the Fall (Adam and Eve) exemplifies. According to this myth, humans can, in their freedom, choose to deny or repress their spiritual and moral likeness to God. The ability and desire to love one's self and others, and therefore, God, can become neglected and even opposed. Striving to bring about the imago Dei in one's life can be seen as the quest for wholeness, or one's "essential" self, as pointed to in Christ's life and teachings.

Meaning and Significance

Imago Dei, or Image of God, means in likeness, or similarity, to God. Humans are created with unique abilities, absent in all other creatures of the earth, that mirror the divine nature of God.

The significance of humans being created “in the image of God” is our responsibility to recognize and understand rationality and ability to create abstract conceptions from the natural world. This gives us the capacity to create a glorious peaceful world or a fallen chaotic environment, depending upon our motives and understanding. Just as Satan fell from God, we are capable of falling from God and suffering the consequences. We must realize our dual potential (good vs evil) and act in accordance with God’s will and law to create prosperous and benevolent communities and nations.

Imago Dei (Image of God) in the Bible

  • Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

  • And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:10)

  • “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)

  • In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

  • He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia/Creation of Adam (Michelangelo) Detail


Originally published June 25, 2019.