*Caution* What you are about to read represents an extremely unpopular view that likely goes against whatever your pastors, professors, and most cherished spiritual voices have told you.
My earlier article asking, “Do Angels Have Bodies?”, has probably received more views than anything else I have written thus far. For whatever reason, the topic just seems to appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Obviously, I share this enthusiasm on the issue.
But the matter pointed me towards its logical connections. If the angels are heavenly beings that live in God’s presence, and they have bodies, what about God? Does God have a body, too?
On its face, this is an absurd question to ask. The reason is that God—as the Bible and Christianity proper both explain things—is not one person but three. God is “triune.” Hence, the term “Trinity.” This means that the question needs to be rephrased. Here is what we really need to ask: Do each the three members of the Godhead (or Trinity) have bodies?
Do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all three possess bodies or are they unembodied and immaterial? As odd (and unfortunate) as it is to say, a lot of professed Christians aren’t even aware that Jesus was raised with a transformed body and that he still possesses one. That’s right: Jesus rose from the dead with a different type of body and he returned to heaven in this resurrected state. I talk about this matter in this article, for those who are interested.
Here, I want to go beyond the biblical certainty that the Son of God has a body and ask about the other two members of the Trinity: the Father and the Spirit. I am abundantly aware that the consensus answer to this question—from scholars and lay people alike—is that neither the Father nor the Spirit are embodied. In fact, it goes completely without saying in many people’s minds. But I want to suggest that this may not be the case: that the standard narrative may not be the correct one.
In truth, a deep study of Scripture has led me to believe that all three members of the Trinity possess bodies.
Just hear me out . . .
I have many reasons I wish you to consider, so I am going to do something unusual (for me). I am going to make a numerical list of reasons, in order to prevent confusion. Further, I am doing this because I believe that each point can stand on its own. So, let’s get started.
Reason #1: Jesus at the right hand of the Father. The prophet Daniel spoke of the “son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” and being led into the presence of the Ancient of Days (7:13). Jesus spoke of himself in this way (Mk 14:62), and Acts depicts Jesus returning to the right hand of the Father after the Ascension (2:33). Before his death, Stephen saw Jesus standing “at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Here’s the point: this requires the Father to occupy a spatial location. Put another way, the Father exists in a specific place and is spatially extended. The Father lives in heaven, and the Son alongside Him at the “right hand.” This requires that both the Father and the Son have tangible form.
Reason #2: The Father “in heaven”: Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer with the words: “Our Father, who is in heaven . . .” Notice that Jesus did not say, “Our Father, who is on earth” or “who is everywhere.” Rather, he said that the Father is in heaven. The repeated references in the Bible to “God’s throne” (Heb. 12:2) also indicate that the Father is connected to a particular place: the throne! Like the previous point, this reveals that the Father has spatial location and would necessarily have some type of form. This means that God’s omnipresence is typically not explained properly. It is not about the Father literally existing in all things and in all places. That would be Thomistic . . . err I mean, pantheistic. Instead, it means that God has knowledge of all things and all places, and can affect them. Big difference. Again, the Father is in heaven and will one day live with us on the new earth.
[As an aside, this could well be soon. See my blogs here, here, and here for more about the end times]
Reason #3: Coming and going. I have one final point in this vein, and then I will move on. The Bible explains the existence of the Godhead in several ways, and one of them involves how the three divine persons come and go. The Son was sent by the Father to earth (Jn. 8:18), and then Jesus returned to the Father after accomplishing his mission (Jn. 16:28). Jesus and the Father send the Holy Spirit to believers (Jn. 14:15-16), and He can depart from the morally disobedient (1 Cor. 6:18-19). In order to come, go, return, or be sent, one must already exist elsewhere. The Son of God couldn’t “come” from heaven if He already existed on earth, and He can’t “return” at the Second Coming if He is already here. The very concept of being sent or returning implies, once again, spatial location and, hence, some type of form or tangibility.
Reason #4: Nothing to see here? The Gospel of John makes a particularly stunning statement in 6:46: “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (my emphasis). Let me get this straight: the Father can be seen? Like, He has form and substance? Yes, apparently so. If you disagree, take it up with the apostle John after the resurrection.
Reason #5: Moses saw God, too. Have you ever noticed the second half of Exodus 33? In no uncertain terms, it states that Moses saw God (presumably, the Father). However, it was in an incomplete way, which I think justifies John’s previous statement that “No one has seen the Father” except the Son. Step by step, Exodus reveals how this happened:
“The LORD continued, ‘There is a place near Me where you are to stand upon a rock, and when My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen’ (33:21-23).”
Here, we find God talking about “passing by” Moses, covering him with His “hand,” showing His “back,” and plainly stating that Moses cannot (nor can any mortal) see His “face.” This, and the entire chapter, reads as literally as possible. Even if you think this was the Son of God that Moses was seeing, it does you no good. This would simply verify that, prior to the Incarnation, the Son of God had—you guessed it—a body.
Reason #6: God in the Garden. Among the many things that Genesis reveals about our existence is that God once walked with human beings: “Now they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (3:8).
Sure, many people now take Genesis to be almost entirely figurative. That is, in the places where they want to (like the “days”).
The truth is that almost all theologians—from left to right, and everywhere in between—exercise subjectivity when it comes to Genesis. Ultimately, some may reject that God literally “walked” through the Garden of Eden, but they have no problem viewing other aspects of Genesis 1-3 as historical. God creating the “heavens and the earth” was a real event. Adam and Eve’s sin and the judgment it produced were real events. The effects of the Fall were real (and remain all around us today). But God physically strolling through the Garden? Hah, that’s a child’s tale! Clearly metaphorical!
Reason #7: The Image of God. Contrary to what is often taught, being made in the “image of God” unquestionably has a physical component. The very language and comparisons the Bible uses to describe this issue leaves absolutely no doubt, for those who are willing to allow Scripture to speak for itself. I have included a lengthy explanation in the appendix (below) proving this case. Please see the appendix, and I will now move on to the next points.
Reason #8: We’ve got “spirit!” By far the most common argument from Scripture suggesting that God (the Father) is incorporeal is John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That settles it: God is immaterial, unembodied, spaceless, and all the like!
But allow me to make things uncomfortable. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spends most of the chapter talking about the resurrection of Jesus and what it will mean for us. Specifically, he details that Jesus rose with a transformed body: a tangible, honest to goodness, body. The rest of the NT is consistent in this fact as well. Curiously, do you know what Paul calls this fully embodied Jesus? He calls him a “life-giving spirit” (15:45).
Yes, Paul called the risen and embodied Jesus a “spirit” (pneuma), which is the same term used for both the Holy Spirit and the “ministering spirits” (angels).
Furthermore, calling the third person of the Trinity the “Spirit” of God only makes sense if the Father and Son are embodied. Think about it. If “Spirit” equates to “unembodied being”—as most of us have been taught to believe—then it cannot also be that the Father and the Son are unembodied beings. We cannot have it both ways, as the distinction would make no sense.
In fact—and this is a very important point—all three persons of the Godhead are described as a “spirit” within the Bible! The Father here; the Son here; and obviously the Holy Spirit is throughout.
Furthermore, there is even reason to think that the Holy Spirit may have some kind of form. Remember, we just saw that the word “spirit” was used to talk about the risen Jesus. We also know that angels have bodies—as I prove here—and they are called “spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). Shockingly, the Holy Spirit even appears at Jesus’ baptism in bodily form. For sake of time, I refer you to my explanation of that event in this footnote. Admittedly, there is not as much to go on concerning the Holy Spirit (compared to the claim that the Father and the Son are embodied). However, these are valid reasons why we should be open to it.
Reason #9: What is “spirit”? The previous section reveals something astonishing: something that should cause us to rethink John 4:24. Scripture typically describes spirits not as beings without bodies but as beings of higher power, intelligence, and ability. That is exactly what John 4:24 was saying, I believe. God is the supreme being of power, intelligence, and ability, and we must worship Him as such. We must worship God with the utmost sincerity and intentionality. Or, as Jesus put it: “in spirit and in truth.”
Reason #10: The plain reading of Scripture. In his review of Paul Helm’s book, Eternal God, William Lane Craig—one of the most popular Christian thinkers of our time—explains how the Bible describes God:
“The biblical writers consistently speak of God as in time, but, Helm quite correctly points out, they with equal consistency speak of God as in space, too, and yet the vast majority of theologians and philosophers do not construe divine omnipresence as God’s being spatially extended, but consider Him as transcending space.”
Here, both Helm and Craig affirm something important: while they admit that the biblical authors describe God in certain ways, modern theologians often reject their thinking. That is, they reject the Bible in favor of their own philosophical understandings about God.
A being that occupies space (i.e. is “spatially extended”) necessarily has tangible form.When you boil it down, this means that the Bible describes God as being embodied while “the majority of theologians and philosophers” (including Craig and Helm) do not. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a problem.
Bonus Reason: Just being anthropomorphic. Like God’s “walk” through the Garden of Eden, all the places where Scripture describes God as having human-like traits or characteristics are labeled as “anthropomorphic.” When God is described as having hands, feet, or a body in general, we are told that we can never—ever, ever, ever—take these descriptions literally. Abraham imagined that God appeared with a body. So did Jacob. So did Moses. The same applies to those places where God appears to change His mind or when He is surprised by events that take place. I explain more about these aspects in this footnote.
Make no mistake about it: labeling such events as “anthropomorphic” is really done to persuade us that we aren’t seeing what we are plainly seeing. Even though the Bible clearly says X, we should listen to our trusted interpreters—who “know better”—and believe Y or Z.
I must confess that the tone of this article is a bit on the edgier side. The reason why is that I have repeatedly heard the “educated” people within the church declare—with absolute certainty and plenty of gusto—that “God is immaterial!” Unfortunately, I have discovered over time that far too many of the (almost) universally accepted “truths” of the Christian faith are not derived from Scripture; they are man’s “truths,” not God’s.
I just provided proof that some of our most esteemed theologians admit that they ignore the plain truth of Scripture, opting to force their own philosophical or theological worldviews into the Bible. I have documented many places where this occurs, and I take no pleasure whatsoever in pointing it out. Instead, I view this reality as a devastating development: as one of the many ways that Satan has infiltrated the church since its inception. What a wonderful deception, too; “Base your faith on the words of the biblical authors, but feel free to disregard their descriptions whenever you’d like.”
After all, why should people who profess that the Bible is the “word of God” trust its authors to accurately describe reality? A bit archaic, don’t you think?
But let’s bring this to a close before it requires a book cover! I have listed ten reasons (with a bonus reason) why we should really question the standard view that God is immaterial and unembodied. More than question it, I think the evidence against this view is rather overwhelming.
This essentially comes down to the same old issue that I always seem to run into, whether I am talking about the state of the dead, the nature of the heavenly bodies, the gift of tongues, and so many others. The question is, do you trust the Bible?
Do you actually believe in what the biblical authors revealed to us through divine inspiration?
The simple truth is that most professed Christians do not, and this is perhaps especially true of the church’s highest thinkers. They claim to trust in Scripture, only to proceed in thrusting their own thoughts and desires into its pages.
If you are allowing the biblical authors to explain reality to us, you would naturally conclude that the Father and the Son—before and after the Incarnation and Resurrection—have bodies of some type. They have heavenly bodies. I even suggested that it’s fair to inquire about the Spirit, also.
Trust your eyes. Trust what God has revealed to us through Scripture. If we are doing this, we may find that our beliefs look very little like those being thrust upon us.
For those interested in these types of discussions, I invite you to check out my book Spiritual Things: Exploring Our Relationship to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm. It is chock-full of information about the angelic form, what happens when we die, the spiritual forces of evil, and so much more. The appendix (below) includes a section of this book.
Appendix: What does it mean to be made in the Image of God?
Here is a full-length description of how the Bible answers this question. This is taken from my book, Spiritual Things, pages 42-44.
Welcome to Sunday school 101; human beings were made in the image of God. Obviously, this does not come as a surprise to anyone. The problem is that the vast majority of people who claim to believe this do not fully. Sure, we are somehow “like” God, but that statement comes with more than a few caveats. Every time this enigmatic statement has come up in my presence—whether that be at a church, a classroom, or elsewhere—I have heard the same general commentary on the issue. While most people do not tend to go into detail, there is almost always a local leader or theologian who is eager to clear it up for everyone. Typically, their explanations go something like this: “We are image-bearers, which means that we are in many respects like God. We are rational beings who think. We are personal agents. We love, and we have relationships. We experience a plethora of emotions and feelings. Yes, we are like God . . . but this has nothing to do with physical appearances.” Indeed—this has nothing to do with appearances. That is the standard narrative.
Though I probably do not need to provide many examples of this type of thinking, because most of us have heard something of the sort before, I want to provide a few to show my point. The first comes from the extremely prominent medieval Sephardic philosopher, Maimonides. In his third of the Thirteen Principles of Faith, he left no doubt about what Jewish followers should believe about God:
“I believe by complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is not a body, is not affected by physical matter, and nothing whatsoever can compare to Him [or be compared with Him].”
While this view was out of step with many of his contemporaries, Maimonides would have found himself in good company among most Christian thinkers of the time. Speaking of Christian thinkers, the respected Scottish theologian, James Orr, once summarized the way in which we bear God’s image as follows:
“It lies in the nature of the case that the ‘image’ does not consist in bodily form; it can only reside in spiritual qualities, in man’s mental and moral attributes as a self-conscious, rational, personal agent, capable of self-determination and obedience to moral law.”
Certainly, this assessment is quite true in many respects. It is well articulated and meaningful. Existing in God’s image does have much to do with “spiritual qualities,” mental and moral attributes, rationality, agency, self-determination, and obedience. I have no qualms with those descriptions, and I would doubt that most Christians do. Of course, there is still the matter of the first line of his statement.
I recently came across another, more contemporary, example while reading Dr. Glenn Sunshine’s book, The Image of God. At the onset of the book—before making the positive case—he discusses what being made in the image of God does not mean. As you can imagine, the issue of God’s corporeality is among the first on the list:
“The image of God is not found in human beings having a body like God’s . . . Scripture is clear that God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24) and the only body He has is Jesus’. This is why the second commandment bans the use of images in worship: by their very nature no image can convey the essence of an invisible, non-corporeal being. Images thus conceal more than they reveal and they encourage us to think of God as less than and other than what He has revealed Himself to be.”
Though I will discuss John 4:24 in due time, it is worth mentioning now that this text is nearly always used as the key piece of evidence that God is incorporeal. Sunshine’s appropriation of the second commandment is highly questionable, particularly because man was made in God’s image to begin with. If images “conceal more than they reveal”—and are, thus, a negative thing—why would God create other beings in His image? Setting that aside, this is a clear example where all tangible associations between God and man are dismissed at the onset of the conversation. There just isn’t a connection there; case closed.
We should find it curious that this issue is thought to be “settled” within the church. In reality, it never has been. David Clossen—writing on behalf of the ERLC of the Southern Baptist Convention—summarized this ambiguity clearly:
“Although ‘image of God’ has become ubiquitous in Christian literature and conversation in recent years, it has not been robustly defined. Perhaps this is due to the lack of agreement throughout church history on what exactly constitutes the image of God, which no doubt stems from the fact that Scripture declares but does not elaborate on the axiom in detail.”
As I will show, it is false that Scripture provides little detail on the matter. However, he is correct in saying that the “image of God” is not robustly defined and has not actually been agreed upon throughout church history. Biblical scholar, D.JA. Clines, put the issue this way:
“It appears that scholarship has reached something of an impasse over the problem of the image, in that different starting-points, all of which seem to be legitimate, lead to different conclusions. If one begins from the philological evidence, the image is defined in physical terms. If we begin from the incorporeality of God, the image cannot include the body of man. If we begin with the Hebrew conception of man’s nature as a unity, we cannot separate, in such a fundamental sentence about man, the spiritual part of man from the physical. If we begin with ‘male and female’ as a definitive explanation of the image, the image can only be understood in terms of personal relationships, and the image of God must be located in mankind (or married couples!) rather than the individual man.”
With this in mind, I have to wonder why people have tended to believe that “God’s image” should refer only to non-physical qualities. Who ever said that is the way we should view this whole issue? On whose authority does this belief rest? Is there a particular biblical text that demands this: some mandate that dictates our interpretation? I once simply assumed that there must be. I was taught that God has to be understood as an immaterial, unembodied being at both college and seminary, after all. I have read a lot of truly distinguished scholars who have said the same thing. This is why some have noted that Christian theologians have historically relied more on extra-biblical philosophical and theological sources than the biblical texts themselves. As I will suggest throughout the book, this has led to the denigration of the physical body and a more dualistic understanding of the image of God within mainstream Christian theology. As is often the case, my view shifted on this matter when I finally took the time to research it for myself. There are really a number of reasons why I feel that we should question the idea that bearing God’s image is an entirely immaterial issue. But first things first: what does the Bible actually say about this?
There are quite a number of terms that are associated—in some way, shape, or form—with the image discussion throughout the Bible. It only seems fitting that we should begin with the central term itself: the word “image.” The Hebrew term tselem is what we primarily translate as the word image, and it (or one of its variants) is used seventeen times throughout the Old Testament. Honest scholars have long pointed out that, as the biblical authors would have understood things, this term carried both a spiritual and a physical aspect to it. Most notably, tselem is used very early on in the book of Genesis, when it describes the creation of our world. It is here that we are first told about our true identity: where we are told that a being greater than ourselves made us. Perhaps more amazingly, we are also told that we somehow resemble this being; “God said, let us make man in our image . . .” (1:26a). Naturally, there is more to the statement, but we will get to that. Certainly, this is a major declaration. What should we make of this: being made in God’s image? To thoroughly answer that question, we need to investigate both where and how it is used elsewhere.
It may come as a surprise to some, as it first did to me, that the word tselem (image) is most often used to describe something that physically resembles something else. It is used to compare idols that have been fashioned in the image of some false deity (2 Ki. 11:18), like the well-known god Baal (2 Chr. 23:17). These were made to look exactly like how they perceived the gods to look. When the Philistines were considering returning the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, they wondered what kind of guilt offering they should return along with it. They found it fitting to send five gold tumors and five gold rats, since those plagues had struck them after taking the Ark (1 Sam. 6:4). Subsequently, they were told to make models (“images”) of the tumors and rats, in an effort to avoid being punished by Yahweh (6:5). The tumors should look like tumors, and the rats like rats. In a much more obvious way, the book of Ezekiel describes how God’s people saw pictures of the Chaldeans on a wall and began to lust after these images (23:14-16). The word “images” used in that reference pertained to exact replicas of living people; the pictures looked just like the Chaldean people. They were essentially portraits.
Clearly, tselem is used to describe several different relationships, but it is not the only term that is used to compare such things. The Hebrew demuth is what we typically translate as “likeness” within the Old Testament, where it is used twenty-five times. Generally, demuth translates as “likeness” or “similitude.” In my way of thinking, this term means “to very strongly resemble” someone or something. As with tselem, demuth is used primarily to make tangible comparisons. King Ahaz once had an altar built that bared the same likeness as one that was built by the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pilesar (2 Ki. 16:10-16). Ahaz, or his men, looked at the Assyrian altar and copied the blueprint. The Jewish people constructed items in the same likeness of cattle that served as temple furnishings (2 Chr. 4:3). The people looked at cattle and created precise models of them. These types of comparisons may have had something to do with the function of the objects being described, but there can be no doubt that the “likeness” described in these instances had something to do with literal appearances. They weren’t comparing statues to cattle because they grunted or chewed their cud; they compared the two because they looked the same.
The most significant way that demuth is used, however, is when it compares us with God. Genesis tells us on more than one occasion that we were made in the “likeness” of God. The first reference is in 1:26, which was previously quoted. The second reference is often overlooked, but it may be more significant than most of us realize. The early portion of Genesis 5 recounts God’s creative act of making Adam. First, it is restated that God created Adam in His own “likeness.” We all knew that much. However, the statement made just two verses later is literally mind-blowing. Genesis 5:3 records the following: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth (emphasis, mine).” Did you notice what just happened there? Seth is being compared to Adam with exactly the same descriptive language that is used to compare Adam with God. In other words, Adam was like God just as Seth was like Adam. The actual language of the Old Testament tells us that we are similar to God in the same ways that our children are similar to us. Our sons and daughters are born in our likeness, and we were made in God’s likeness.
The words “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demuth) appear to be words that comprehensively compare one thing with another. Though some thinkers have considered the two to be quite different in function, the most natural understanding of these terms is in a complementary way; both stress the similarities that certain beings or items share with others. Now, please don’t misunderstand me—I am not saying that either of these words discuss items or agents that are identical in all ways. We are not exactly like God in any way, shape, or form. We have not His power, His intelligence, His compassion, His creative ability, His wisdom, or anything else, in even close to equal measure. That being said, we should not underestimate the importance of these terms, either. Though neither one tells us that we are exactly like our Creator, both terms reveal that we are very, very muchlike Him. We have some measure of His power, His intelligence, His compassion, His creative ability, His wisdom, and a variety of other features. Perhaps we also possess some measure of God’s physical appearance.
This may well be true when we look at the Old Testament descriptions, but surely the New Testament defines our similarities with God differently. Those texts will urge us to view the “image” and the “likeness” exclusively in terms of immaterial attributes and characteristics, right? To provide an answer to that question, we will need to thoughtfully evaluate the Greek terms that parallel the Hebrew words we previously examined. As we saw with tselem and demuth, there are basically two Greek terms that are of primary interest to us here: eikṓn and homoióma.
Let’s take these terms in order, beginning with eikṓn. The word eikṓn is what we primarily translate as “image,” so it is essentially the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew tstelem. In all, either it or its variants are used twenty-three times throughout the New Testament. To me, it is not really the number of usages that is noteworthy; the ways in which the term is used is much more telling. For example, Jesus used the word eikṓn when he was asked whether he and his fellow Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The question was a reasonably loaded one, being that it had become the practice of Roman emperors in those days to demand worship as a deity. In some sense, it could be thought that paying money to Caesar was the same as paying him homage as a god. Famously, Jesus took the coin and, looking at the “image” of Caesar imprinted on it, told his questioners to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” Right away, we see the power of the term. The image on the coin was a replica of the emperor. The picture physically looked like Tiberius Caesar. In the same vein, the word eidolón—which is from the same root word as eikṓn—is used to discuss idols throughout the New Testament. It, too, is used to describe the items crafted to physically resemble the false gods of the Greco-Roman world.
The word eikṓn is also used in some of the most powerful statements about Jesus’ divinity in all the Bible. In Colossians 1:15, Paul told his fellow believers that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” Paul made a strikingly similar statement in 2 Corinthians 4:4, where he revealed that Jesus is the “image of God.” The idea that God is “invisible” will come up again later but consider what these statements mean about Jesus. When people saw Jesus, they saw the Father, who is otherwise unseen. Seeing Jesus—who was embodied in human flesh, and later embodied with the first of the resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:49)—was like seeing the Father. The Gospel of John records Jesus’ statement: “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say ‘show us the Father’?” (Jn. 14:9). Just before that, Jesus told the apostles that seeing him and seeing the Father were one and the same (Jn. 14:7).
I wonder: what should that tell us about the Father? An “image” is only an image if it references something else that could potentially be seen. You cannot have an image of something that has no appearance. This is precisely what caused the well-known Anglican archbishop, Richard Chenevix Trench, to say that the term eikṓn “assumes a prototype, of which it not merely resembles, but from which it is drawn.” As if that statement is not telling enough, the renowned biblical scholar, F.F. Bruce, recorded the following: “(eikṓn) then is more than a ‘shadow’; rather it is a replication.” You see, the term that was used to describe the ways in which we resemble our Creator was not supposed to subtly compare the “spiritual,” interior qualities we possess. Rather, it was meant to describe the fact that we are copies of the great, uncreated Prototype. It describes the fact that we are not merely shadows of God but are something closer to being replications of Him. The early Church Father, Irenaeus, displayed his agreement with this notion in his highly-influential work, Against Heresies:
“Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modelled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God.”
We are not God, nor are we exactly like Him. But—and this is an emphatic but—there is no denying that we strongly resemble our Creator. As Irenaeus alluded to, this resemblance even includes our physical existence.
What about the Hebrew term demuth—is there a Greek parallel for that as well? Yes, there is. This is where the previously mentioned word homoióma reenters the conversation. Like demuth, translators typically interpret homoióma as “likeness,” but it can also be viewed as “image” or “similitude.” The term is only used six times throughout the New Testament, which is less than one-fourth of the times its Hebrew equivalent is used in the Old Testament. Of those six occurrences, four are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans; clearly, it had special significance there. It is first used in 1:23, when the Gentiles are shamed for having traded the worship of Yahweh for the worship of images of other human beings (emperor worship comes to mind at that time) and even animals. 5:14 displays a more figurative usage of the term, as it describes those believers who had not sinned in the “likeness” (or, in the way) that Adam had. 6:5 seems to keep with a more symbolic interpretation in that it compares the way we will take on the “likeness” of both Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The final use of the term in Romans is found in 8:3. Here, we are told that Jesus was sent “in the likeness of human flesh.” This sounds identical to its usage in Philippians 2:7, where it is said that Jesus was made in the “likeness” of man. Finally, the book of Revelation uses the term homoióma just once, where it describes the physical appearance of the locusts in John’s vision (9:7). These six examples provide us with some very important information. The first thing it tells us is that the term homoióma—like the other terms we have looked at—can certainly work in a more figurative way. It can be used to compare the actions or characteristics of two things in ways that don’t necessarily have anything to do with appearances. However, it typically does not function in such a way. Instead, homoióma, and the other biblical words comparable to it, are most often used to describe the outer appearance of things.
The point of evaluating the previous terms that we translate as “image,” “likeness,” or in other ways, should be rather obvious by now. When the biblical authors made these associations, they typically intended us to take the terms at face-value; an image is really a tangible replica or a copy of something else, and a likeness includes a physical comparison between two things. I have just shown a plethora of places where these words are used throughout the Bible and, for the most part, they describe the physical form or appearance of the items they pertain to. With this demonstrated, there can be little doubt that many interpreters have attempted to “over-spiritualize” the idea of what it means to be made in both the image and the likeness of something else. In doing so, they have stripped away the most basic (and intended) meaning of these words. To many Christians, we only vaguely resemble—both in form and in function—the God that we are said to strongly resemble. As a result, we have lost a very important part of what it means to be made in God’s image, and according to His likeness.”
 Luke recorded that the Holy Spirit “descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove” (3:22, my emphasis). Nearly all interpreters acknowledge the peculiarity of this statement. The word used there for “bodily” (sómatikos) is used only twice in the entire NT, and never again by Luke. The only other usage is in 1 Timothy 4:8, which says that “. . . bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This is probably referencing an earlier verse (4:3), which reveals that false teachers were instructing believers not to marry and to abstain from certain foods. When you connect the dots, there is no denying that both uses of sómatikos are describing tangible bodies. This means that the Spirit’s appearance at Jesus’ baptism was corporeal. The text, then, is not telling us that the Spirit literally became a dove and descended upon Jesus. Rather, it is telling us that the Spirit descended in the manner that a dove would: hovering, then resting.
 Craig, William L. “A Review of Paul Helm’s Eternal God”. Reasonablefaith.org. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/divine-eternity/a-review-of-paul-helms-eternal-god/
 Dr. Bruce Ware, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides a perfect example of what I am talking about in this video. He admits that the Bible describes numerous occasions when God appears to “change His mind,” or do something other than He would have. But here is his specific reason why he doesn’t believe this should be taken literally: “He (God) doesn’t literally change His mind because of what that would mean, at that is He doesn’t know in advance something that’s going to take place, and so [sic] learn something and then changes His mind.” In other words, those instances in the Bible cannot be taken literally because Ware has an a priori understanding that God cannot change His mind or learn something. It’s a completely circular argument. Does the Bible describe places where God changes His mind? No, because God can’t change His mind.
 See “Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.”
 James Orr, “God, Image Of.”
 Glenn Sunshine, The Image of God, Loc. 104-116 (Kindle Version).
 ERLC stands for the “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.” See the article, “What does it mean to be made in God’s image.”
 D.J.A Clines, “Tyndale Bulletin 19” (53-103).
 A very useful source on this matter is Richard Middleton’s, The Liberating Image.
 Strong’s Concordance, “tselem.”
 For a good example, see John Day’s From Creation to Babel, page 14 in particular.
 Matthew 22:20, Mark 12:16, Luke 20:24.
 See Strong’s, 1504.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 5.6.1.