Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky . . .”  Genesis 1:26 NASB

Image – Now we know that tselem (image) is associated culturally with the representation of the god in an idol.  Of course, idols are prohibited in Israel.  That means that the Man, who is the tselem of God, cannot be worshipped.  He is human insofar as he acts as God would act, but that does not make him a god.  It only makes him God’s representative.

Perhaps we can gain some additional insight by noticing the pictograph of tselemTselem is the letters Tsade-Lamed-Mem.  The pictograph is “Desire (need) – control (authority) – Chaos.”  Doesn’t this picture display exactly the action of God assigned to Man?  Man is given authority (and has the need) to control chaos.  Just as the Spirit hovered over the deep and brought order to existence, so Man is responsible as God’s representative to bring divine order to creation.  Tselem is a word about purpose, not about attributes.  Man is human when he exercises control as God would exercise control.  From a tribal perspective, to be human is to exercise the authority of God as His representative.  This imagery fits precisely the prime directive of Genesis: to be fruitful, to rule over and subdue.

This tribal identification language is erased when we shift the meaning of the word tselem from its Egyptian-Hebrew context to the Greek context of Christianity.  With Greek categories, “image” becomes a word about substance rather than purpose.  That’s because Greek metaphysics populates the world with things rather than actions.  In the Greek paradigm, the substance of being human is described with attributes that are attached to the thing that occupies time and space.  It is as if “human” is an outline of some entity present in the world which must then be filled with characteristics like reason, choice, conscience, gender, speech, etc.  Notice that in this Greek paradigm I can remove some of these attributes and still claim that the entity remains human.  For example, I can take away choice (by compelling you to act in a certain way) but that does not remove your status as human.  In the Greek world, you are still human because you have other attributes of humanity and you have the potential of choice.

But what happens to the idea of being human if I remove the purpose in the Hebrew paradigm?  To be human is to act purposefully as God would act.  If I remove this purpose, there is no human being left.  The action is the essence of being.  Just as I am not a “man” if I am not married, I am not a human being if I do not represent God’s purpose.  Purpose defines me, not characteristics.

The Genesis account as tribal identification tells me that if I am exercising control and authority over chaos as God’s representative I am human.  If I am not doing this, I am not human.  Now we see why God provides Torah.  Torah is instruction in how to fulfill my purpose.  Torah is not regulation or legislation.  Torah is the elaboration of what it means to exercise authority over chaos.  Following Torah is fulfilling my purpose.  Following Torah makes me human.

Those who adopt the Greek paradigm will object to this conclusion.  They will claim that even if I don’t obey the 613 Torah commandments, I am still a human being.  After all, I continue to look like a human being, to speak like a human being, to function like a human being.  But they have missed the point.  Appearing human is not grounds for claiming biblical humanity.  Biblical humanity defines the term as representing God’s power.  Appearances do not count!  In the African tribe, a 40 year old male might look like a man, but as long as he is not married, he is not a man.  In the Hebrew tribe, as long as I do not participate in God’s purpose for the world, I am not human.

It is my belief that many homo sapiens have been the victims of identity theft.  They have been robbed of their true purpose and been seduced by a Greek paradigm that portrays them as human when the biblical evidence says otherwise.  Consequently, they do not see the need for examining their very being in the world.  They do not see the place of Torah as human becoming.  They do not realize that they are not part of the tribe.  To put it in African terms, they think they are men because they have reached puberty.  But they are wrong, and being wrong about this will cost them dearly.

Topical Index:  human being, tselem, Torah, Genesis 1:26


  • Joe Gratn March 4, 2012 at 6:20 am

    “Just as I am not a “man” if I am not married, I am not a human being if I do not represent God’s purpose. Purpose defines me, not characteristics.”

    Wow…this strikes me as intellectualism gone to seed. How can a person be less than a human? If not human than what are they? The apostle Paul was not married…was he less than human? Was he not a man? In fact he encouraged those that are not married to remain unmarried.

    • Skip Moen March 4, 2012 at 6:29 am

      I think you missed the point entirely in your comment about married men. The reference is to the previous example of the African tribe where the word “man” means “married male.” In that tribe being a man means being married. In like manner, I am suggesting that the word adam in Hebrew takes on tribal meaning and cannot be understood outside of its paradigm. Why don’t you go back and read the previous entries on this verse before you draw the wrong conclusions. You might also recall previous discussion of the mistaken definition of ish as “man.” D. Stern clearly shows that the contextual definition is about relationship, not an individual entity which the West calls “man.” Read the whole argument before you comment.

  • Ian Hodge March 4, 2012 at 6:24 am

    “Torah is not regulation or legislation.”

    You might like to explain this a little more for some of us a slow learners. 🙂

    • Skip Moen March 4, 2012 at 6:37 am

      Certainly. If we think of adam as a tribal designation of what it means to be human (just as ish means “being in relationship” – see previous TW), then Torah can be viewed as God’s instructions for displaying His “image” (i.e. purpose) in the world. From this perspective, Torah is not simply a reduction to legislation and regulation but is really the elaboration of purpose. Torah is the explanation of what God means when He assigns representing to human being. In other words, how do I know what being human looks like from the perspective of the Abraham tribe (just as how do I know what being a “man” is in the African tribe)? I look for behaviors that are representative of God. And I find those in Torah.

      Of course, this means that Torah appears to be legislation and regulation from the outside, but on the inside of the paradigm it is much more. It is instruction in being human. Those who view it outside the tribe (paradigm) will see it as legislation, but they will miss the greater imagery.

  • Joe Gratn March 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

    OK…I see that you were referring to the African tribe definition…my bad. “Man is human when he exercises control as God would exercise control.” So what is man when he does not exercise control? There are those who choose not to exercise control and others who cannot exercise control which makes them less than human? Am I misinterpreting something here?

    • Skip Moen March 4, 2012 at 11:13 am

      When the biological homo sapiens does not exercise the same actions as YHWH, would the tribe call that being “human”? I don’t think so. Just as they would not call a 40 year old unmarried male a “man.” So, from the tribal point of view, there are lots of “others” in the world who are not human. This is especially true of those who have the capacity to exercise actions that reflect God but CHOOSE not to. They are certainly not what we would call “Christian.” We don’t have any problem saying that. So why do we call them human? Isn’t the definition of “human” also a function of the culture, just as “Christian” is? Our problem is that we want to define “Christian” inside the paradigm but we want to define “human” with another paradigm. \

      Now explain what you mean by “others who cannot exercise control?” Are there any homo sapiens who are completely UNABLE to act in any way that God acts?

  • Judi Baldwin March 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Professor Skip…Kudos for your series on Genesis (Identity Theft) It was informative, instructional and insightful. You’ve given us a much clearer picture of our “purpose” and how it’s so obvious from the very beginning (if we remove our Greek blinders.) You also discuss this in your book “Guardian Angels.”

    I’m continually amazed at how subtly the “Greek mindset” has influenced our thinking and how we interpret scripture.

    Thanks for helping us to look a little deeper to discover the real message that YHWH intended for us.

    • Skip Moen March 4, 2012 at 11:14 am

      I’m trying – and struggling along with all the rest to make sense of this.

  • David Salyer March 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Random thoughts:

    In the temptation of Christ, Yeshua said: “Man does not live by bread alone (biological necessity) but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4. That is truth from God’s evaluation – which is the only evaluation that matters. So, part of man’s ability to be human isn’t merely to exist biologically but rather to be connected to the source of what makes him man (human) and allows man to exist (God’s grace) as purposed by His Creator.

    Solomon in Ecclesiastes defines what it means to “exist” apart from “fearing God and obeying His commands.” Vanity, meaningless, empty existence…perhaps he is describing what it means to be temporal and biological without really existing as God intended for existence to be (human)?

    So a “person” can exist biologically but deny true life (being human as God intended) by believing that life itself can be lived independently of God (the lie fostered within the deception). The consequence is a “life” that ends up in a grave (death). So the lie is to be human apart from God’s instruction or purpose. The deception is to believe the lie as being life-affirming when it is actually death-resulting. And the consequence is to live as a walking dead “man” (non-human from God’s perspective). Any wonder that we need to be “born again?” (John 3) or born from above?

    • Skip Moen March 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      THANK YOU, DAVID. You got it, and your connections to other aspects of what it means to be human – and to be alive – from inside the paradigm are very helpful. Doesn’t Yeshua define life as “in me.” What makes us think that the meaning of the term “life” can be applied to anyone who is not in Him. I’ll tell you what – ignoring the paradigm that supplies the meaning. We read the text from our paradigm (worldview) and use our meanings to supply definitions to God’s words.

      • Ian Hodge March 4, 2012 at 11:37 pm

        Fascinating point. This also implies that since the Messiah declares he is the way, the truth and the life, those who are not in Him cannot know the way, the truth, or have life. Now what are we going to do with our epistemology and our apologetics?

        • Skip Moen March 5, 2012 at 6:34 am

          My first comment is that the cultural meaning of the terms that Yeshua uses is different than the cultural meaning of the terms Moses uses. Over the course of 1500 years, language changes. Yeshua’s cultural background includes concepts from the influence of Hellenism. We see this in the LXX for sure. And we notice that while the Tanakh says almost nothing about the after-life, heaven or hell, Yeshua adds quite a bit to those concepts. So, things progress. Things change. Each era must be examined. The Bible is not a uniform linguistic book. I don’t mean that there aren’t consistent themes. What I mean is that we must understand each author in his own context first.

          How we deal with the epistemological implications that you suggest becomes a really thorny problem. I don’t subscribe to the typical doctrine of the noetic effects of the Fall, but I see that the language doesn’t support an open epistemology either. Where do we go from here? Not sure.

        • Rodney March 5, 2012 at 9:06 am

          Ian, Yeshua’s statement about being “the way, the truth and the life” or, in another place, “the door” are loaded with idiomatic expressions that are completely lost in translation (not to mention the 2000 year and 20,000km gap between the speaking and the reading). Once again, we have the whole cultural paradigm issue affecting how we understand the text.

          • Skip Moen March 5, 2012 at 9:55 am

            Right, Rodney. Now elaborate.

          • Michael March 5, 2012 at 10:22 am

            “Yeshua’s statement about being “the way, the truth and the life” or, in another place, “the door””

            Hi Rodney,

            That’s a good point, Yeshua is a man like aDaM, but with more YH than aDaM

            So his purpose would seem to be one of providing the way out of chaos

            “The three building blocks of the picture are Daleth (door, pathway, enter), Mem (chaos, massive) and Taw (seal, sign, covenant). If the Vav is to act as part of the picture, it carries the imagery of a nail (to add, to secure, to conjoin). What picture can we paint with these elements?

            We can suggest the combination of a seal or covenant concerning a pathway through chaos. Perhaps the “likeness” of God is about His trustworthiness, His promise, His reliability in spite of the apparent disorder in the cosmos.”

          • Luzette March 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

            Hi Rodney
            Are you referring to Yeshua as the Threshold covenant? That being “saved” actually means or should mean to be part of and believing in the threshold covenant – with pesach the blood of the lamb on the door, as well as the boundary or threshold that was set by YHVH at Mount Sinai?
            Rico Cortes said that Yeshua did not just one day walked passed a door and thought it to be good idea to tell the world: Hey, I am the door…
            Dr Gerrit Nel referred to the 3 entrances in the Tabernacle as the way, the truth(Holy) and the life(the Especailly Holy place).

          • Ian Hodge March 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm

            Rodney, are you suggesting that the God whom we say we worship is incapable of making sure we’ve got the Scriptures and their meaning today? Not much point in reading them, if this is the case.

          • Rodney March 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm

            Luzette – yes. I think both Rico and Dr Nel are on the money. Yeshua was speaking in terms that his audience were very familiar with. The thing that would have caused them to do a “double-take” was when he applied those terms to himself, but they knew what the terms meant. We have attached an entirely different meaning, partly because we have been taught as Christians (and I’m speaking in generalities here) to consider the first 2/3rds of the book as “history” and see the “New Testament” as an entirely new contextual framework.

            Ian, you wrote:

            Rodney, are you suggesting that the God whom we say we worship is incapable of making sure we’ve got the Scriptures and their meaning today? Not much point in reading them, if this is the case.

            Of course that is not what I’m suggesting. What I am suggesting is that if we don’t begin reading in Genesis and get the whole context we will see Yeshua as beginning something entirely new, rather than as the culmination of “the faith that was previously delivered to the saints”. Yeshua is referring to the things that they already knew through their daily walk and practice and showing how those things pointed to himself. That was the bit that they were missing. How it related to him. We’re missing it too, but from the opposite side. We don’t tend to diligently study the things that came before, so we see Yeshua outside his proper context – the Torah and the prophets.

            As Luzette suggested, the “way, the truth and the life” and “the door” are references to the tabernacle/temple and the covenant with Abraham. Until I began to study Torah, I had no idea about the tabernacle and how it teaches us about ourselves and how God desires to dwell in us, nor about how it relates to Yeshua.

            Jhn 5:46-47 ESV – “[46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

            2Ti 3:14-17 ESV – “[14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

            The “sacred writings” of which Rabbi Sha’ul wrote to Timothy were not Matthew, Mark, Luke, John etc. The Torah, the Prophets and the Wisdom Literature are “able to make you wise for salvation through Yeshua”. They are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness”.

            We have to start at the beginning. 🙂

  • Luzette March 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I agree that Torah teaches us how to become human – every instruction teaches me how to feel, think,smell, touch and behave the way God wants me to. Even the picture of the Tabernacle is purpose made visible and Scripture like Deut 24/25 teach me to see a bit more the way God sees.
    ( man cannot live from bread alone=table of shewbread/..but by every word that proceed out of the mouth of God = tablets in the Ark)

    We respond to terrible inhuman behaviour just by less inhuman behaviour. Couldn’t that be why so little problems in society are getting fixed? The latest fashion in religious systems is now to work together – inter-dominational – on the same problem, with the same program but under a new name, mostly and sadly with the same old outcome.
    We need to know what His most basic instructions are and follow them, before we can exercise and represent His authority.

  • Gabe March 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    There is a difficult truth that comes from all this. I just doubt I can articulate all the necessary disclaimers necessary to state it.

    It re-frames the so-called slavery and genocide in the bible. Slavery is completely wrong,.. but what about when Israel chooses to be a slave of sin, and then God sends them into captivity. It would then be that through captivity they were meant to regain their humanity.

    In His mercy, He sent people and nations out of the fire and into the frying pan. In this case, the “fire” was the self-induced suffering that sin causes in oneself and others, and the “frying pan” was slavery, but slaver in an environment structured for less self-destructive behavior.

    Humanity, when driven completely by fallen instincts, has a greater capacity to cause pain and suffering than any other species. We can read about people and sometimes couples who have torture rooms set up in their basements. But what happens when whole societies become as sick and twisted? Can we see God’s mercy in their destruction? When people try to decide the worthiness of other people’s life, and take the place of God — we get the Holocaust and the Inquisitions, but can we allow that at some point in the past – God has made that decision?

  • Ian Hodge March 4, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Skip, without diminishing your point about purpose, the question arises whether the text excludes existence or incorporates it as well as purpose.

    • Skip Moen March 5, 2012 at 6:28 am

      Well, we are traveling together on this road. Hopefully I will learn a lot from you and others as we think about these possibilities.

  • Sheila March 22, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Have just discovered this… looking forward to following and learning…

    Found a little type in the last paragraph:

    It is my belief that many homo sapiens have been the victims of identify theft.

    Assuming it should be: victims of IDENTITY theft

    Spell check would be of no help here, and a t and an f are so similar…

    May the Lord bless ALL that you do!

    PS: I’m a “flutter-bye” lover also! Have you seen the poster where close-up shots of their wings have been assembled into the English alphabet and numbers?

    • Skip Moen March 22, 2012 at 10:15 am

      I have not seen that poster. Thanks for the correction.

  • Peter January 27, 2015 at 6:06 am

    For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

    • Skip Moen January 27, 2015 at 8:59 am

      I agree. Now tell me what that means–specifically. That’s the issue. Unless I have specifics, I will make up the rules as I go along. Do you suppose that’s what God had in mind–just make it up as we see if?

  • Gary Lee Corns December 26, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Just found this site while doing my early morning “pray, think, journal” devotions. I’m loving it. I came here searching the Hebrew word “image”. Your contribution to my understanding of “purpose” vs “attributes” has caused my heart to leap with joy. I took the liberty of applying this reasoning to what we often observe in the Christian world when defining a church. We see attributes; building style, stained glass, people assembling, Bibles etc. and we say “there is a church”. But, would we say as much if we followed the Hebrew paradigm of purpose? Sadly, the answer is too often “No”.

    Most of the churches I have attended exist for one purpose, a meeting place for people of like beliefs and little more. How different it might be if church were defined and as those who unite to fulfill the purposes of YHVH in guiding this part of His creation through the chaos of a fallen world!

    I’m curios if you ascribe (as I do) to the belief that our world (earth) is a post war re-creation? In other words, the war in the heavens between God and those who rebelled against Him had already occurred and thus the earth was restored from chaos (Genesis 1:1) and man was made as God’s agent to rule on His behalf.

    I’m thrilled to have discovered your work and relish the opportunity to continue gleaning wisdom from it! Thank you for your service to Him and His people.

    • Skip Moen December 26, 2015 at 8:46 am

      I’m not much for the “gap theory” view of Genesis 1:1-2. I think if you listen to my view of Genesis as tribal history you can see why. Glad to have you aboard. There is a lot to learn.

      • bp wade December 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

        I have listened to your lectures on Genesis and found them fascinating. And it’s ok if you don’t like the gap theory. No one can be right about everything!

      • Gary Lee Corns December 28, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        Can you point me to your best exegesis on the opening chapters of Genesis? Audio, video or written. Thanks again for your efforts to serve our father and his people.

        • Skip Moen December 29, 2015 at 6:24 am

          I like the combination of Victor Hamilton’s commentary on Genesis and Nahum Sarna’s commentary on the same. See my recommended reading list.

  • Gary Lee Corns December 29, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Thank you Skip.

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