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On Being Human: Some Biblical and Theological Reflections

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What does it mean to be human? This simple query touches the very core and purpose of our existence and is, thus, one of the most important questions we can ask. The answer, however, is complex and requires that we view the topic from a variety of angles, as we are doing in this issue of Dignitas. What follows are some reflections on how the Bible addresses this pressing question.[1] Specifically, we will consider our significance and identity in light of humanity’s creation in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26–27), terms that define humanity as God’s children whom he created to function as kings, priests, and prophets for the blessing of all creation. We will discover that although all people are made by God in his image and are thus of inestimable worth, the fullness of our humanity is realized in a familial relationship with God and his people. We are most fully human when we live in right relationship to God and work together to fulfill our role as channels of blessing to others.

Image, Likeness, and Sonship

The ancient Atrahasis Epic from mid-17th century B.C. Mesopotamia presents humanity as an afterthought. Exhausted and angered by the harsh labor assigned to them by the chief deities, the lowest caste of gods demanded relief. In response, the higher gods created humans to assume the arduous tasks of building cities, erecting temples, and digging canals. By contrast, in Genesis 1 humanity represents the peak of God’s creative activity. Humans are not defined first and foremost in terms of function but are identified, rather, as created in God’s image and likeness:

God said, “Let us create humanity[2] in our image (tselem), according to our likeness (demut). Let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over the beasts, and over all the earth, and over every creature that moves on the earth.”
So God created humanity[3] in his image (tselem).
In the image (tselem) of God he created it.[4]
Male and female he created them[5] (Gen 1:26–27).

What “image” and “likeness” mean is clarified by the only other Old Testament text in which they appear together:

This is the book of the generations of humanity.[6] On the day God created humanity, in the likeness (demut) of God he created it.[7] Male and female he created them. He blessed them and named them “humanity” on the day he created them. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness (demut), according to his image (tselem), and named him Seth” (Gen 5:1–3).

Genesis 5:1–3 demonstrates that image (tselem) and likeness (demut) are the language of sonship/daughtership. As Seth was made in the image and likeness of his father, Adam, humanity was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Luke 3:38). This suggests that image and likeness in Genesis 1 identify humans as members of God’s family and specifically as God’s children.[8]

“Image” (tselem), without “likeness” (demut), appears again in Genesis 9:6:

And for your lifeblood I demand an accounting. From every beast I require it. And from each human being I demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed,
because in the image of God he made humanity. (Gen 9:5–6)[9]

It is because God made humanity in his image that the murderer must pay with his own life. Behind this statement stands the role of the kinsman redeemer, the nearest male relative, who was responsible for avenging the life of a murdered family member.[10] In Genesis 9:6 God is humanity’s blood avenger and thus its nearest “kin.” Along with Genesis 5:1–3, Genesis 9:6 thus supports the idea that to be created in God’s image is an expression of kinship.

Other creation stories produced by ancient Israel’s neighbors likewise use the language of image and likeness to express sonship. The Babylonian creation account, Enuma Elish,[11] begins with the genealogy of the gods. Apsu and Tiamat produced Anshar and Kishar, who produced Anu, the “likeness” (mushshulu)[12] of his father. Anu then fathered Nudimmud, “his image” (tamshilu).[13] The birth narrative of the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I (late 13th century B.C.) describes him as both the “image” (tsalmu, the Akkadian cognate of Hebrew tselem in Genesis 1:26–27) and son of the god, Enlil.[14] Similarly, The Instructions for Merikare from Tenth Dynasty Egypt defines humanity as follows:

Well provided is humankind, the cattle of the god. It was for their sake he [the creator god] made heaven and earth and repelled the “greed” of the waters. And it was so that their nostrils might live [breath] that he made the winds. They are his images [snnw], which have come forth from his body, and he shines in heaven for their sake. It is for them that he made plants, cattle, birds, and fish [to] nourish them.[15]

The term translated “images” (snnw) can refer to statues,[16] but in this context it clearly denotes offspring as well. As in Genesis 1:26–27, the vocabulary of image and likeness in the context of creation defines the relationship between the child and his/her father/parent.

We have shown that within a creation context, image and likeness language refers to sonship, both in the early chapters of Genesis and among Israel’s ancient neighbors. It is significant that Genesis 1:26–27 employs these terms to describe the divine-human relationship. It suggests there is something fundamental about being human that is only fully realized in close relationship with God.

Image, Likeness, and Kingship

Image (tselem) and likeness (demut) in Genesis 1 also imply royal status. God commissioned humanity to rule over and subdue creation (Gen 1:26, 28). Male and female were to reign as God’s representatives and to bring creation under their benevolent control. The connection between images, ruling, and subduing is evident among Israel’s ancient neighbors as well. Kings erected statues of themselves in conquered territories to represent their presence, rule, and authority. Texts and inscriptions denote these statues as “images” using the same cognate term or synonymous terms to what we find in Genesis 1. In one example, an inscription on a royal statue describes it as the “image” and “likeness” of its royal referent, using the cognate terms in Aramaic and Akkadian to these same terms in Genesis 1.[17] In light of the shared terminology for images (Hebrew tselem and its cognates), the common cultural understanding of statues as representatives of their referent, and God’s commission for humanity to rule over creation and subdue the earth, we can conclude that Genesis 1 presents humanity not only as God’s “children” but also as his “living statuettes.” According to Genesis 1, being human includes exercising our function as God’s royal representatives and faithful stewards.

Image, Likeness, and Priesthood

Genesis 2 provides a complementary perspective on what it means to be human. The man is placed in the Garden of Eden to serve or cultivate (‘bd) it and care for/guard (šmr) it. The same verbal pair describes the responsibilities of Israel’s priests to serve (often translated “minister,” ‘bd) and guard (šmr) the tabernacle.[18] Thus, the use of these verbs in Genesis 2 implies that humanity’s original duties involved more than gardening. The man and the woman were to be caretakers, cultivators, and guardians of sacred space in service to and worship of the LORD. Hence, rather than speaking of Adam or the first human pair as priests, the ministering (‘bd) and guarding (šmr) functions later reserved for the Levities were originally human tasks (Exod 38:21; Num 1:48–53, 3:5–10, 31:30; Deut 10:8; 1 Chron 6:48). From the beginning it was humanity’s role to care for, cultivate, and protect God’s good creation, to worship and serve him, and to mediate his presence and blessing in the world. According to Genesis 2, we live out God’s creational intent for humanity through worship and service to God and by exercising our priestly functions in ways that care for and cultivate God’s good creation for the benefit of ourselves and others.

Israel as Image/(Firstborn) Son and Exemplar

Humanity rejected God’s lordship and failed in their royal and priestly roles (Gen 3:11–11:9). God responded with judgment but also with blessing (Gen 6:1–7, 11:8–9). Abraham and his descendants would form a new nation of royal representatives to worship, serve, mediate God’s presence, and make him known in the world (Gen 12:1–3). Although oppressed in Egypt, Israel was fruitful, increased greatly, multiplied, and filled the land (Exod 1:7), a description that intentionally echoes Genesis 1:28 and identifies God’s people as his new creation. Israel is not described as created in God’s “image” and “likeness.” Rather, they are identified as God’s son: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn, and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me’” (Exod 4:22–23a; cf. Deut 14:1; Jer 31:20; Hos 11:1–3). As with the original human pair, God first defines his people as his son/child. He then commissions them for royal and priestly service:

And now, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you will be to me a special treasure among all peoples, because all the earth is mine; and you yourselves will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod 19:5–6a, my emphasis).

God’s selection of Israel did not diminish the dignity and worth of non-Israelites, nor did Israel replace all of humanity as God’s image bearers. However, Israel did have a special role in God’s redemptive plan (Gen 12:3b; Exod 19:4–6). Like Adam and Eve, Israel was to display God’s character (Lev 20:26). This prophetic role included preaching a message of repentance and obedience and proclaiming God’s redeeming work, first to Israel but also to the nations (Jer 1:5). Israel would display that being fully human centered on an intimate father-son/parent-child relationship with God that would enable the nations to recognize their sonship and fulfil their royal, priestly, and prophetic functions.

This right relationship was to be manifest in Israel not only through observance of ritual and civil law but also by adhering to God’s moral and ethical requirements. Israel was to care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner (Deut 24:17–24), speak truthfully (Ps 58:3; Prov 12:19), conduct business honestly (Lev 19:35–36), promote justice, fairness, and righteousness (Lev 19:15; Isa 10:1; Hab 1:3; Prov 16:8), care for the land (Lev 25:1–7), love their neighbor as themselves (Lev 19:18), maintain sexual purity (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:22; Prov 5:3–5, 8–9, 6:32, 7:1–27), etc. as a means of displaying God’s character. God’s law was not oppressive. On the contrary, through obedience Israel would discover their true identity and fulfill their royal, priestly, and prophetic calling.[19]

However, Israel was an unfaithful son. Their idolatry, self-indulgence, dishonesty, abuse of the poor, injustice in the courts, unrighteousness, sexual immorality, etc. left them spiritually and theologically malformed and incapable of living out their calling as prophets, priests, and kings. Instead of being a channel of blessing and a light to the nations, Israel’s corporate life was a shocking display of human rebellion. Rather than leading the nations into the fullness of their humanity, as God intended, Israel displayed the consequences of persistent independence—degradation, destruction, and death. Old Testament Israel provides us with many examples of what it means to be “un-human”—autonomy from God, unfaithful representation of God, corrupt leadership, faithless stewardship, and the worship of idols.

The exile plunged surviving Israel into a political, economic, social, and theological crisis. A supernatural work of God would be required to restore Israel’s relationship to the LORD, and that is precisely what he promised. God would forgive their sin and cleanse them of it, inscribe his life-giving and humanizing law on their hearts, furnish them with his own spirit, and empower them to obey (Ezek 36:24–34; Jer 31). He would, in short, re-humanize them, enabling them to obey his original creational mandate. Only then would God’s children begin to embody their identity as “sons” and be capable of fulfilling their prophetic, priestly, and royal functions as a light to the nations (Isa 42:6–7; cf. Luke 2:29–32).

Jesus (Son, Prophet, Priest, King, Firstborn in the New Creation/New Human) and His Followers

God himself would generate this miraculous transformation in his people by becoming one of them. Jesus, God incarnate, was the second and greater Adam (1 Cor 15:45; cf. Rom 5:18–19), the obedient Son of God (Luke 3:22; Phil 2:5–8), the great high priest (Heb 4:14–16), the embodiment of God’s word, and thus prophecy incarnate (John 1:1–3, 14; Rev 19:13) and the king of all kings (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 1:5, 17:14, 19:16). His conception by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:31–35) marked the start of a new era. Jesus was the firstborn[20] in this new human race (Rom 8:29), and those who follow him must also be born again—not of flesh but by water[21] and, like Christ, of the Spirit (John 3:1–6). Men and women reborn by water and the Spirit join this new humanity, becoming younger siblings of Christ and adopted children of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:14–17; Gal 3:23–29, 4:1–7; Phil 2:15; 1 John 3:1–2, 10) with all the rights and privileges of a natural born son. (John 1:12; Rom 9:8; Gal 4:7).

Not only are Christ’s followers children of God, but they have inherited the royal and priestly offices that God assigned to humanity at creation (Gen 1:26–28, Gen 2:15) and later to Israel (Exod 19:5-6). Jesus’s atoning work and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit enable God’s children to fulfill their role as royal representatives (Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:22–32).[22] Paul reminds his readers of their regal status when he says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12a). He also mentions the future role of God’s people as rulers who, with Christ, will judge the world and the angels (Eph 2:6; 1 Cor 6:2–3). The martyred saints will also reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev 20:4–6).

Not only do God’s people function as kings, but John identifies them as “priests of God and of Christ” (Rev 4:6) and “a kingdom of priests” (Rev 1:6a). Together the twenty-four elders and the four supernatural creatures gathered around the Lamb in Rev 5 sing:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth
(Rev 5:9–10, ESV, my emphasis).

Peter also recognizes that the priestly office once held by Israel (Exod 19:5-6) now applies to all of God’s people. Quoting Exodus 19:5–6, he describes God’s children as “a holy priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5, ESV, my emphasis) and “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet 2:9a). Their purpose is, as it was at creation for humanity and later for Israel, to worship, serve, and mediate God’s blessings and presence to the nations.

God will also restore his people’s prophetic role. The Old Testament prophets were anointed by the Spirit. They spoke God’s truth boldly, urged Israel to repent and adhere to the covenant, and proclaimed the hopeful news of God’s mercy and redemption. God promised that in the new era he would extend the gift of his Spirit: “And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). Peter, quoting from Joel, declared this prophecy fulfilled in his day (Acts 2:17). In this new age all of God’s people carry the prophetic mantle. Our words and our lives are to be gospel-centered testimonies of repentance, forgiveness, restoration, righteousness, and holiness[23] as we “proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9b; cf. Rev 20:4–6).

Although our full capacity to carry out our royal, prophetic, and priestly functions awaits Christ’s return, we inherit these roles when we become followers of Jesus—when we are born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), becoming children of God through adoption as sons (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5) and thus members of this new human family. We begin to embody our royal, prophetic, and priestly functions in this life, and it is within this new family context that we discover “being human” is, ultimately, about being like Christ.

We are not Christ, but in very real and tangible ways we can and, in fact, were designed to be like him. Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry. He dined with sinners and outcasts. He spoke the truth and confronted evil. He came to serve, not to be served, and to sacrifice his very life in order to reconcile us to God the Father (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). His words and actions were life-affirming, restorative, humanizing, and dignifying. There are a myriad of ways we can imitate Christ by dying to self, laying down our lives for others, and by being “living sacrifices” unto the LORD. In doing so we discover the richness and depth of our humanity and live as God designed.

Non-Israelites, Non-Christians, and the Image of God

Beginning with the book of Exodus, the language of sonship is reserved for ethnic Israel and non-Israelites who converted to Yahwism.[24] That is, it designated those who were part of the covenant community. Israel was God’s “son,” and specifically his firstborn son (Exod 4:22).[25] God was Israel’s “father” (Isa 63:16, 64:8; Jer 3:19; Mal 2:10) and the nation of Israel was known as the ‘am YHWH, “the people of the LORD” (Num 11:29, 17:6; Judg 5:11, 13; 1 Sam 2:24; 2 Kgs 9:6, Zeph 2:10).

As noted above, God’s choice of Israel did not negate humanity’s creation in God’s image nor devalue the lives of non-Israelites. This is evident in God’s many laws commanding Israel to care for the foreigners in their midst by providing them with food and clothing (Lev 19:9–10; Deut 10:18–19) and treating them with justice and familial love (Exod 23:9; Lev 19:33–34; Deut 18:19; Jer 7:6–7, 22:3; Zech 7:10), just as God does (Ps 68:5, 146:9; Mal 3:5). Even more significant, however, is the fact that God’s choice of Israel was for the purpose of blessing the nations (Gen 12:3). Isaiah envisions the transformation of the nations as they gather at the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem to learn his ways (Isa 2:2–3). Using language previously reserved for Israel, Isaiah foresees Israel’s former arch enemies, Egypt and Assyria,[26] joining the family of God:

In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them. The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork,[27] and Israel my inheritance” (Isa 19:19–25, NIV, my emphasis).

The inclusion of Gentiles was always a part of God’s redemptive plan (Gen 12:3). Anyone who would join themselves to Yahweh was welcome into God’s family (Isa 56:6–7). Those who did not follow Yahweh were no less valuable, but they did not bear the title of “son.” This covenant designation initially applied to all humanity (Gen 1:26–27) was, starting with the book of Exodus, reserved for members of the Mosaic covenant community.

Similarly, in the New Testament the designation “sons/children of God” refers not to humanity as a whole, but specifically to Christ’s followers (Matt 5:9; John 1:10–12; Rom 8:12–17, 9:8; 2 Cor 6:14–18; Gal 3:26, 4:5; Eph 1:5; Phil 2:14–15; 1 John 3:1, 10), that is, members of the New Covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8, 13). God’s family is no longer defined primarily in ethnic terms, as it was in the old covenant era, but by allegiance to Jesus. However, as in the Old Testament, the use of kinship language to identify God’s people does not rescind Gen 1:26–27 nor diminish the innate value of any human life. This is abundantly clear in Jesus’s interactions with Gentiles (Matt 8:5–13, 15:21–28; John 4:1–42), his commands to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30–31), and in Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. The ultimate affirmation of human significance was provided by Jesus himself, who died not only for ethnic Israel but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1–2). There is no greater declaration of human worth than that God himself would die to save mankind.

Undeniably non-Christians regularly exhibit godlikeness. They do charitable work, love their neighbor, feed and clothe the poor, are generous with their resources, display mercy, act with integrity, bless others with the fruit of their work, etc. These acts of love are further evidence that all humanity is created in the image and likeness of God and designed to display his character. Sadly, and to the church’s shame, many professing Christians are lacking in these godly qualities, and at times non-Christians display even greater acts of love and self-sacrifice than their Christian neighbors. Despite the shortcomings of his followers, Jesus demonstrated in his own life that the fullness of our humanity can only be found in relationship with him. Ultimately, it is the primary relationship for which God created us and it is available to anyone who desires it.


The Bible affirms repeatedly that all human life is valuable, a claim grounded in humanity’s creation by God in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26–27, 9:6). Our survey of the biblical testimony reveals that being human is only fully realized in a familial relationship to God and his people, and that it includes exercising our God-given functions as his royal representatives, faithful stewards, caretakers and cultivators of creation, and loyal servants and worshippers whose allegiance is to Christ alone. Those who do not follow Christ are, nonetheless, created by God in his image and likeness and they are worthy of the greatest care, respect, dignity, love, blessing, expressions of mercy, etc. we can offer. In fact, that is our mission—to live out the fullness of our humanity for the sake of others. What does it mean to be human? Scripture answers this question by pointing to Christ, the second Adam who fulfilled God’s original creational intent for all humanity as obedient son, just king, faithful priest, and truthful prophet. Being fully human involves knowing Christ and partnering with him to confront evil and the corrosive effects of sin wherever they are found.


[1] For a fuller treatment see J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: the Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005); J. Gordon McConville, Being Human in God’s World: an Old Testament Theology of Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016); and my forthcoming book on idolatry with InterVarsity Press in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series.

[2]The Hebrew noun is adam. In this context, it refers to humanity as a whole, as indicated by the plural verb weyirdu (“let them rule”) and the reference to male and female in the following verse.

[3] Most English Bibles render the Hebrew ha-adam, as “the man.” This is certainly a possible translation. However, as in English, the Hebrew definite article (ha, “the”) can be used anaphorically in reference to a preceding word or phrase. In Genesis 1:27, ha (“the”) in ha-adam is likely an anaphoric use of the definite article, its antecedent being adam in vs. 26. Thus, “Let us make humanity (adam)” is fulfilled in vs. 27 by “So God created (the) humanity.” In English, however, “humanity” is a mass noun of which there is only one, by definition, so there is no need for the definite article. For clarity and to honor the original author’s intent, the best English equivalent of ha-adam in this context is mankind, humanity, or humankind, not “the man” nor “man.

[4] For the translation of the underlying Hebrew object pronoun ’oto as “it” rather than “him,” see Catherine McDowell, “In the Image of God He Created Them: How Genesis 1:26–27 Defines the Divine-Human Relationship and Why It Matters,” in The Image of God in an Image Driven Age: Explorations in Theological Anthropology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 29–46 (esp. 29–30 n.4). The Hebrew expresses that God created the category “human,” which consists of male and female. To conclude from Genesis 1:26–27 that God first created an androgynous human being from which he then made male and female is to misunderstand the poetic parallelism in vese 27 in which “it” is parallel to “humanity.” “Male and female he created them” in Genesis 1:27c is a repetition, expansion, and further explanation of “humanity” in verse 27a and “it” in verse 27b. They are co-terminus, not sequential. Genesis 1 describes God’s creation of species, i.e., sea creatures, birds, and land animals. Likewise, God created the category “human beings” which, like the other created beings, consists of two kinds: male and female.

[5] Genesis 1:27 is a line of poetry, so I have spaced it accordingly. Genesis 1:27a forms a chiasm with 1:27b, with “image” (tselem) at the center of the chiasm, highlighting its importance. “Male and female” in 1:27c further explains “humanity” (adam) in 1:27a and “it” (oto) in 1:27b. To conclude, as some have done, that God first created (an) androgynous being(s) after which he created male and female is to overlook or misunderstand the poetry. Unless noted otherwise, all translations from the Hebrew text are mine.

[6] Most English Bibles render adam here as “Adam” rather than “humanity.” Hebrew adam refers to both entities. Only context determines which meaning the author intends, and even then it is not always clear. Genesis 5:1–2 is a repetition of Genesis 1:27, and both texts refer to the creation of humanity, not only the man, as indicated by the fact that both male and female were created in God’s image, the qualifier, “male and female he created them” in 1:27 and 5:2, and the reference to “their name” in Genesis 5:2. Thus adam in Genesis 5:1 likely refers to humanity as a whole, as it does in Genesis 1:2. The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, supports this reading, as well (anthropon/ἀνθρώπων).

[7] On “it” see the comment on Genesis 1:26–27 in endnote 4.

[8] Cf. the language of sonship for followers of Christ in John 1:12; Rom 8:16, 9:8; 1 John 3:1.

[9] Genesis 9:6 is a line of poetry, so I have spaced it accordingly to preserve the chiasm.

[10] See Num 35:19, 21, 24, 27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9; and 2 Sam 14:11.

[11] The scholarly edition of Enuma Elish is Philippe Talon, The Standard Babylonian Creation Myth Enūma Eliš, (Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, University of Helsinki, 2005). For an English translation see Benjamin Foster, Before the Muses: an Anthology of Akkadian Literature (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

[12] Likeness, mirror, CAD M2; Tablet 1 Line 15.

[13] Likeness, effigy, replica, image, resemblance, counterpart, equivalent. See The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, vol. 18 (T) (Chicago, IL: Oriental Institute, 2006): 147–49.

[14] For a translation of this text see Peter Machinist, The Epic of Tukulti-Ninurta I: A Study in Middle Assyrian Literature (PhD Diss., Yale University, 1978), 180–208.

[15] Miriam Lichtheim, “The Instruction Addressed to King Merikare,” in Ancient Egyptian Literature: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, vol. 1 (Berkley: University of California Press, 1973, 2006), 97–109 (my emphasis).

[16] Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache, vol. 4. (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1926–61), 149; Ratmond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1962), 232. See also James K. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 and 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 15, no. 1 (1983): 47,

[17] Alan R. Millard and P. Bordreuil, “A Statue from Syria with Assyrian and Aramaic Inscriptions,” The Biblical Archaeologist 45, no. 3 (1982): 135–41,

[18] See Num 3:7–8, 8:26, 18:5–6.

[19] Similarly, through obedience that Jesus has made possible for us, we discover our true selves and function as we were designed. Even the master devil, Screwtape, was aware of this reality: “When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil (Coloradi: Samizdat University Press, 2016), 26 (my emphasis).

[20] “Firstborn” can be used figuratively. In Psalm 89:27 God says he will appoint David to be the firstborn, despite being Jesse’s youngest son. The parallelism in Psalm 89:27 pairs “firstborn” with “the highest of the kings of the earth.” Hence, being “made firstborn” refers to being exalted to the highest place of authority. This suits the context of Colossians 1:15, which speaks of Christ’s divinity (“the image” in verse 15) and as having supremacy over all things, including all thrones, powers, rulers, and authorities (Col 1:16, 18).

[21] In this context “water” likely refers to cleansing and purification. Cf. Ezekiel 36:25–27.

[22] Christ’s followers fulfil these roles imperfectly until his second coming.

[23] See also the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–24.

[24] Non-Israelite converts include Ruth the Moabite (Ruth 1:16), Rahab the Canaanite (Josh 2:11, Heb 11:31), Naaman the Syrian (2 Kgs 5:17), and the non-Israelites in the mixed multitude that left Egypt (Exod 12:38).

[25] “Firstborn” carries special privileges and responsibilities, but it also suggests there are additional children to come.

[26] In this context Egypt and Assyria may represent the nations as whole.

[27] Cf. Isaiah 29:23, where Israel is “my handiwork,” which is in parallel with Israel as God’s sons/children (banim).