b) Gen 5:3–5: Moses began Noah’s ancestral record by referring to Adam’s creation in the image of God (Gen 5:1–2). In accordance with the purpose of Ancient Near Eastern genealogies, this indicates that Noah also received that divine image and mandate to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26–28; Gen 9:1–3).[1]

The text states, “And it happened that Adam [lived] one hundred and thirty years. And he fathered [a son] in his likeness (demuth), according to his image (tselem), and he called his name Seth.”

Since Moses intertwined “likeness” and “image” both here and in Gen 1:26, where they occur in the opposite order, the two words are virtually identical in meaning.[2]

Some scholars use this verse to contend that the image of God consists of a bodily resemblance. Indeed, the most common meaning of “image” involves physical appearance.

Since the Old Testament stresses that God does not possess a body and remains invisible, this interpretation contains difficulties (Deut 4:15–16).[3]

On the other hand, the Lord does describes himself as having eyes and ears to communicate his awareness of the plight of the afflicted (Deut 11:11–12; Num 11:18).[4]

Seth was born in the image of the one created in the image of God. Understanding this phrase in its Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context enables us to grasp how the Lord views humanity.

In the ANE, the “image of God” applied to the king, primarily in terms of his function and his presence.[5]

Consequently, in recent years most scholars understand the “image of God” in Gen 1 and 5 in terms of exercising dominion over the world, ruling as God’s representatives on earth.[6]

According to an Akkadian proverb, “Man is the shadow of a god, a slave is the shadow of a man; but the king is like the (very) image of a god.”[7]

While in Egypt, the oppressors of Moses’s original readers taught them that they existed solely to work for the pharaoh. In contrast, Genesis uses royal language to describe all of humanity, from the greatest king to the lowliest slave.[8]

People living in the ANE believed that an image carried the essential nature of what it personified.

For example, an Egyptian stela in the British Museum states, “[Ptah, the Creator-god,] fashioned the gods…He installed the gods in their holy places, he made their offerings to flourish, he equipped their holy places. He made likenesses of their bodies to the satisfaction of their hearts. Then the gods entered into their bodies of every wood and every stone and every metal.”[9]

Consequently, people viewed worshiping an idol as equivalent to adoration of the god whom the idol portrayed. While it might not have looked exactly the same as the god, it could accomplish the deity’s work.[10]

Similarly, the Hebrew concept of “image” does not necessarily specify an exact physical likeness.[11]

Just as people believed an idol accomplished the work of a god, so God gave humanity the task of doing God’s will in his temple, the cosmos (Gen 1:28; Gen 2:1–3; Isa 66:1).[12]

In Mesopotamian thought, a son could bear the image of his father, but only a god could be created in the image of the gods.[13]

As a result, ancient rulers set up statues of themselves in distant parts of their realms to represent their authority.[14]

The Assyrian emperor Shalmaneser III recorded his victories on a black obelisk, noting that after defeating the people of Hattina and installing a new ruler, “I fashioned a heroic image of my royal personage; I had it set up in…his royal city, in the house of his gods.”[15]

This is why Nebuchadnezzar expressed such outrage when three Hebrew men refused to fall down in worship before the statue he erected (Dan 3:1, 8–15). They refused to recognize him as the incarnation of a god.[16]

A phenomenal example of this concept remains in Abu Simbel, Egypt. Ramesses II ordered this temple complex carved from a cliff side along his border with Nubia to assert his power. It depicts his claim of victory over the Hittites at Kadesh.

He set four images of gods, including Ramesses the Great himself, at the back of the largest temple. On his birthday and coronation day, which are conveniently six months apart, a ray of light shines to the back of the temple, illuminating three of the four idols. Only Ptah, the god of darkness, remains unlit.[17]

As a former member of the royal family (Exod 2:10), Moses knew the Egyptians believed that the sun god Ra once ruled on earth as the first king of their nation.[18]

Beginning with the Fifth Dynasty (2494–2345 BC), every pharaoh claimed linear descent from Ra. They each adopted the title “Son of Ra” to indicate that a mortal woman and the god himself produced them.[19]

“According to our likeness” more precisely defines what it means to be created “in the image of God” (Gen 1:26).[20]

Most scholars assert that this phrase affirms that some distinctions exist between the creator and humanity,[21] just as Seth could not have been completely identical to his father.[22]

The word “likeness” (demuth) occurs three times in Ezek 1:26 alone.[23] Notably, the prophet did not say that he saw a throne or a man,[24] but “something like” them.[25]

Thus, humanity bears great resemblance to God but is not divine,[26] even as Seth resembled his father but was not Adam.

The Babylonian Creation epic Enuma Elish says, “Anu begot in his image Nudimmud (Enki). This Nudimmud was of his fathers the master; of broad wisdom, understanding, mighty in strength, mightier by far than his grandfather.[27]

Although this god was born in the likeness of his father, they were not identical.

Moses concluded Adam’s biography by writing, “And it was that the days of Adam after his fathering of Seth [were] 800 years, and he fathered sons and daughters. And so it was that all of the days of Adam which he lived [were] 930 years. And he died.”

Here we finally see Adam’s physical death which resulted from the fall (Gen 2:16; Gen 3:1–6). The refrain “and he died” at the end of the description of even the oldest patriarch points to the universality of the penalty upon Adam (Gen 3:19; Rom 5:14).[28]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 5:3–5. How did people in the ANE view the image of a god? What are the implications of Seth having been born in the image of his father, the image of God, even after the fall? How do we see both the blessing and punishment by God in this text?





Go to the Son of Adam, the Son of God


[Related posts include Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); In the Likeness of God (Gen 5:1–2); Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); Stewards of the Earth (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); An Israelite View of Genesis 1; God Completes the Heavens and the Earth (Gen 2:1–2); Forbidden Fruit (Gen 2:16–17); A World-Altering Conversation (Gen 3:2–5); Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6); A Return to the Ground (Gen 3:19); The Son of Adam, the Son of God (Luke 3:23, 38); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 4: The Generations of Adam (Genesis 5:1–27)]


[1]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 106–7.

[2]H. D. Preuss, “דָּמָה” (demuth), TDOT, 3:257–60, 259.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 30.

[4] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 65.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 30.

[6] Ian Hart, “Genesis 1:1–2:3 as a Prologue to the Book of Genesis.” TynBul 46, no. 2 (November 1995): 315-36, 317–19, http://tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1995_46_2_06_Hart_Gen1Prologue.pdf.

[7]Robert F. Pfeiffer, trans., “Akkadian Proverbs and Counsels,” in ANET, 5.3, 426, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n451/mode/2up.

[8]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 135.

[9]James H. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), 46, https://archive.org/stream/developmentofrel00brea#page/46/mode/2up.

[10] Walton, Genesis, 130.

[11] Swanson, “צֶלֶם” (tselem), DBLSDH, 7512.

[12] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:31.

[13] Walton, Genesis, 130.

[14] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 67.

[15] K. C. Hanson, “The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III,” trans. Daniel David Luckenbill, 155, http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/obelisk.html.

[16] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 67.

[17] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur-H7dP8FNc&feature=player_embedded.

[18]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 37.

[19]James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt (5 Vols.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906), section 187, 2:75–6, https://archive.org/stream/ancientrecordse13breagoog#page/n110/mode/2up.

[20]. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 29.

[21] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 135–6.

[22] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 29–30.

[23] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “דָּמָה. ” (demuth), BDB, 198, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/198/mode/2up.

[24] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 136.

[25] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 29.

[26] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 66.

[27]E. A. Speiser, trans., “Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” in ANET, lines, 16–9, 61, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n85/mode/2up.

[28]Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 135.