In Genesis 1, which chronicles the creation of all things, man is described as having been made in God’s image. This phrase has been interpreted various ways, but the most interesting issue it raises is the contrast between man being the only creation with a connection to God himself and man still being firmly less ‘great’ than God.
Like many religious texts, the Old Testament text refrains from describing God in physical terms, out of deference to a deity’s superiority and/or supernatural qualities. In Genesis 1, this tradition is upheld, in the same way most of the Old Testament politely declines to describe God physically, when man is made in God’s image, or likeness, and not as a direct copy or a direct ‘im-personation’ like Jesus, where God takes on a material form. However, the fact that man has been made in God’s likeness does raise man above the creatures and the beasts, because he is closer to God by virtue of that similarity.
This seeming superiority which man holds over the animals, nevertheless shows “a line of distinction between God as creator and humankind as creature that is never effaced.” (Hamilton p24) God is, especially in these ancient texts, a supreme being, whose greatness is only imitated by man, being made in His likeness, but is not equaled. Hamilton poses an analysis which uses the words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ together to ascertain where humans might fall: “The function of ‘likeness’ would be to limit the meaning of ‘image’. Such qualification, it is suggested, helps to avoid the implication that human beings are a precise copy of God.” (p27). Clearly man is no equal for his God, but, just as clearly, man has been made in God’s own image, by God’s own hand.
Many passages in the Bible refer to how man should treat his fellow man, especially in the New Testament. Genesis 1 is, on the surface, silent on this topic. However, when one considers the honor man is given by being created in God’s likeness, by being created to top the natural hierarchy, extrapolations regarding neighborly relations come to light. Man is given a variety of duties or rights by God in Genesis as regards the care of and residence in His creation, and when these ‘custodial’ tasks are matched by the idea man was created by, and to be like, a benevolent God, it seems logical man should treat his neighbors as equals. That is, a hierarchy emerges wherein man is superior to various ‘beasts’ and natural features, which clearly places man on par with himself: all men are created equal, in a sense. All men are, ostensibly, created in God’s image and likeness, and while humankind is surely diverse in appearance, the suggestion I would make is that we are yet the same. All made in God’s likeness, all made by the same benevolent gift which gives man the privilege of dominion on earth. As such, it seems only right that all men should be treated equally – if we are truly made in God’s likeness, then we are the same on a very fundamental level.
I strongly suggest this book for Old Testament work: Victor Hamilton’s Handbook on the Pentateuch (2005)