7. THE SIXTH DAY (1:24–31)
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild animal.” 1 And it was so.
25 God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of cattle, every kind of land reptile. God saw how beautiful it was.
26 And God said, “Let us make man in our image, as our likeness. Let them exercise dominion over fish of the sea, over birds of the sky, over the cattle, over all the earth, and over every reptile that crawls on the earth.”
27 God created man in his image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, saying to them: “Be abundantly fruitful, 2 fill the earth, and subdue it. Exercise dominion over fish of the sea, over birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 God also said, “Indeed, I have given to you as food every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree whose fruit bears seed.
30 To every wild animal of the earth, to every bird of the sky, to every living creature that crawls, (I give) every green plant as food.” And it was so.
31 God looked over everything he made, and indeed it was very beautiful. And there was evening and morning—the sixth day.
24–25 The development in creation is now from aquatic and aerial animals (fifth day) to terrestrial animals (sixth day). The corresponding day to day six (i.e., third day) saw the emergence of the dry land. Now the creatures who inhabit the dry land appear.
Three categories of land creatures are described in these two verses. By cattle is meant primarily large quadrupeds which are domesticated. reptiles (lit., “creeping [or crawling] thing”) designate the legless creatures such as lizards and snakes. The third category, every kind of wild animal, is simply the Hebrew word for “living thing.”
For some unknown reason the land animals are not the direct recipient of a divine blessing as are the aquatic creatures (v. 22). Perhaps the announcement of the divine blessing is reserved for the three most critical junctures in the narrative: the introductory statement (v. 1); the creation of organic life (v. 20); and the creation of human life (v. 26).
Like the plants, all living creatures—terrestrial, celestial, and aquatic—are created according to kind. They are created to be self-propagating. The Creator makes creators.
The order in which the land animals appear is different in the two verses. Thus, v. 24: cattle, reptiles, wild animals; v. 25: wild animals, cattle, reptiles. (This three-part division of the mammal world is condensed in v. 28 into one expression: “every living thing that moves on the earth.”) It is unlikely that the sequence of one of the two verses is earlier or more correct than the other. More than likely the summary heading in v. 24—nep̄eš ḥayyá—provides a reason in this verse for not starting with ḥayeṯô ʾereṣ.
26 This verse bristles with issues that have been the subjects of innumerable articles and monographs. The first area of debate is over the striking use of the first person plural pronouns: us … our. Needless to say, earlier Christian commentators were prone to see here a reference to the Trinity. But even if one grants that Moses was in some way responsible for Gen. 1, it is going too far to call Israel’s hero a trinitarian monotheist! Christian readers of the OT may indeed see a trinitarian context in Gen. 1.The question remains whether that was the author’s intention and understanding. The theological battle of Moses’ day was not trinitarianism versus unitarianism. The battle centered around the belief in one God who is himself uncreated, merciful, and sovereign versus the belief in multiple gods and demons who are capricious, unpredictable, and often immoral.
In order to understand the us of v. 26 historically and grammatically, scholars have suggested at least six possibilities for interpretation. 3 (1) A mythological interpretation understands the us to refer to other gods. Thus this text is a remnant of the earliest form of the story that somehow escaped the editor who removed from his borrowed tale any pagan elements that would be offensive and unacceptable to monotheists. 4
(2) In the biblical adaptation of the story the pantheon concept was replaced with the heavenly court concept. Thus, it is not to other gods, but to the angelic host, the “sons of God,” that God speaks. 5
(3) God speaks to something he has recently created and the most likely addressee would be the earth. Thus man owes his origin to both God and the ground. 6
(5) Other grammarians have interpreted the us to be a plural of deliberation. God speaks to himself. 8 This would be comparable to an individual who might say to himself: “Let’s see, should I walk to work tomorrow or take the bus?” Biblical uses of this plural of deliberation have been claimed and challenged for Cant. 1:9–11, “I … we,” and 2 Sam. 24:4, “us … me.”
(6) The best suggestion approaches the trinitarian understanding but employs less direct terminology. Thus Hasel calls the us of v. 26 a “plural of fullness,” and Clines is close to that with his phrase “duality within the Godhead.” 9 According to Clines, God here speaks to the Spirit, mentioned back in v. 2, who now becomes God’s partner in creation. It is one thing to say that the author of Gen. 1 was not schooled in the intricacies of Christian dogma. It is another thing to say he was theologically too primitive or naive to handle such ideas as plurality within unity. What we often so blithely dismiss as “foreign to the thought of the OT” may be nothing of the sort. True, the concept may not be etched on every page of Scripture, but hints and clues are dropped enticingly here and there, and such hints await their full understanding “at the correct time” (Gal. 4:4).
The shift from the consistent use of the verb in the jussive (e.g., “Let there be”) to a cohortative (“Let us make”) is enough to prepare the reader for something momentous on this sixth day. That momentous element is the creation of man in our image, as our likeness. This brings us to the second major issue in this verse: what meaning is conveyed by these two nouns, which occur in parallelism only in this verse, and what is their relationship to each other?
The basic phrase “the image of God” is found only four times in the OT: Gen. 1:26, 27 (twice); 9:6. Related to these passages is 5:3—Adam fathered a son “after his image.” The Hebrew word for “image” is ṣelem, which the LXX normally renders by eikṓn (icon).
Several times ṣelem describes an idolatrous image that is to be destroyed (Num. 33:52; 2 K. 11:18 par. 2 Chr. 23:17; Ezek. 7:20; 16:17; 23:14; Amos 5:26). But two texts in the Psalms seem to require a less concrete meaning for ṣelem. Thus in Ps. 39:7 (Eng. 6) ṣelem parallels heḇel, “vanity”: surely man “moves like a phantom [ṣelem]; the riches he piles up are no more than vapour [heḇel]” (NEB). In Ps. 73:20 ṣelem parallels “dream” (ḥalôm): “like a dream [ḥalôm] when a man rouses himself, O Lord, like images [ṣelem] in sleep which are dismissed on waking” (NEB). If ṣelem in these two texts is the same word used in Genesis and in the passages cited above, 10 then it may be used for purposes other than describing the physical imitation of something. Here image would be something conveying the idea of emptiness, unreality, unsubstantiality.
The only other occurrences of ṣelem in the OT are in 1 Sam. 6:5 (twice), 11. Here the Israelite priests instruct the Philistines, before they return the ark to the Israelites, to make “images” or “models” of the tumors and the mice that the Lord had sent upon them. Outside Genesis, then, this is the only passage where ṣelem designates the representation of something else, without also suggesting that such representation was taboo or illicit. 11
What, then, does Gen. 1 signify by designating man as one made in the image of God? We have had occasion to mention above several ways in which Gen. 1 narrates the Creation story in a way radically different from the creation accounts of neighboring cultures. Perhaps such polemicizing continues here.
It is well known that in both Egyptian and Mesopotamian society the king, or some high-ranking official, might be called “the image of God.” Such a designation, however, was not applied to the canal digger or to the mason who worked on a ziggurat. Gen. 1 may be using royal language to describe simply “man.” In God’s eyes all of mankind is royal. All of humanity is related to God, not just the king. Specifically, the Bible democratizes the royalistic and exclusivistic concepts of the nations that surrounded Israel.
We now need to ask the significance of the second phrase, as our likeness. 12 The prevailing opinion is that likeness is less important than image, hence its omission in the verse that follows. Man is created in the image of God, but to avoid the possibility that man be viewed as an exact image of God, the word likeness is appended. The physical nuance of the concrete term “image” is toned down by the more abstract term “likeness.” Some support for this interpretation is found in the extensive use of demûṯ (“likeness”) in Ezek. 1–10. Here the prophet never says that he saw God, but only the likeness of God or the likeness of something associated with God. Ezekiel’s own description of the theophany is decidedly reserved (see 1:5, 10, 13, 16, 22, 26, 28; 8:2; 10:21, 22). Thus Gen. 1:26 would be an instance of the writer leading with a major word—image—and following it with a minor word—likeness—just as he started with the major verb “create” and followed it with “make.”
Another approach reverses this understanding and suggests that likeness actually specifies and strengthens image. 13 This interpretation intensifies rather than diminishes the creature’s reflection of the Creator. It suggests that something about God may be known by studying his image, man. Of course, theologies whose distinguishing feature is the large and impenetrable gulf between an infinite God and a finite man will be unlikely to accept such a possibility. Such theologies stress the sinfulness of man (excluding any other emphases) to the degree that it is impossible to work from man to God as part of an educating process. 14
Some debate has emerged over the use of the preposition be attached to ṣelem (“image”) and ke attached to demûṯ (“likeness”), translated above as in and as respectively. In Gen. 1–9 twelve prepositional terms express a relationship of similarity between two entities. Six of these are with the preposition be and another six with ke. 15 Eight of these twelve instances involve either the noun image or the noun likeness. Thus be is prefixed to “image” in 1:26, 27 (twice); 9:6; and to “likeness” in 5:1, 3. ke is prefixed to “image” in 5:3 and to “likeness” in 1:26.
One might think that the choice of preposition is not significant, and that we have here simply a stylistic variant. Thus, compare Gen. 1:26, “Let us make man … as [ke] our likeness” with Gen. 5:1, “In [be] the likeness of God … he made him.” But Clines has argued at length for taking the be in beṣelem of 1:26 as a beth essentiae. So, the passage would read, “Let us make man as/in the capacity of/to be our image.” 16 The existence of the beth essentiae is well established in biblical Hebrew, Exod. 6:3 being the classic illustration, “I appeared as [be] El Shaddai.”
There are two arguments against this interpretation. First, in the Pentateuch the closest parallel to Gen. 1:26 in which something earthly is modeled after something nonearthly is Exod. 25:40, “And see that you make them according to [be] the pattern of them which you were shown in the mountain.” This parallel clearly bears the standard use of be, “in, according to, after.” Second, when the be is the beth essentiae it normally indicates a property of the subject of the verb, not the object of the verb. 17 Certainly 1:26 intends that ṣelem, “image,” is a property of ʾāḏām, “man,” which is the direct object of bārāʾ, “create.”
It is clear that v. 26 is not interested in defining what is the image of God in man. The verse simply states the fact, which is repeated in the following verse. 18 Nevertheless, innumerable definitions have been suggested: conscience, the soul, original righteousness, reason, the capacity for fellowship with God through prayer, posture, etc. Most of these definitions are based on subjective inferences rather than objective exegesis. Any approach that focuses on one aspect of man—be that physical, spiritual, or intellectual—to the neglect of the rest of man’s constituent features seems doomed to failure. Gen. 1:26 is simply saying that to be human is to bear the image of God. This understanding emphasizes man as a unity. No part of man, no function of man is subordinated to some other, higher part or activity.
Verse 26 has begun by stating man’s relationship to the Creator. It now progresses to spelling out man’s relationship to the rest of the created order. He is to exercise dominion (rāḏá) over all other living creatures. This verb appears twenty-two times in the Qal stem. The majority of these deal either with human relationships (Lev. 25:43, 46, 53—a master over a hired servant; 1 K. 5:30 [Eng. 16]; 9:23—an administrator over his employees; 1 K. 5:4 [Eng. 4:24]; Ps. 72:8; 110:2—a king over his subjects), the rule of one nation over another (Lev. 26:17; Num. 24:19; Neh. 9:28; Ps. 68:28 [Eng. 27]; Isa. 14:2, 6; Ezek. 29:15), or a shepherd’s supervision of his flock (Ezek. 34:4).
The last passage—Ezek. 34:4—shows that rāḏá could be connected with force and harshness. Such is not the normal nuance of the verb, however. Thus the three passages from Lev. 25 expressly say the master is not to rule over his servants with harshness. Solomon’s dominion (1 K. 5:4 [Eng. 4:24]) was a peaceful dominion. The reigning king of Ps. 72 is also the champion of the poor and the disadvantaged. What is expected of the king is responsible care over that which he rules. Thus, like “image,” exercise dominion reflects royal language. Man is created to rule. But this rule is to be compassionate and not exploitative. Even in the garden of Eden he who would be lord of all must be servant of all. 19
27 In this verse the direct discourse of v. 26 is replaced by narrated discourse. Thus in v. 26 we heard the voice of God, and in v. 27 we hear the voice of the narrator. The first part of the verse essentially reports the implementation of God’s words recorded in the previous verse. Note, however, that the narrator reports God making man in his image. Perhaps the use of the third person singular pronominal suffix is deliberate and undercuts the possibility of any misunderstanding of the “our” in v. 26. May this be the writer’s way of saying that when man was created in the image of ʾĕlōhîm, he meant “God” and not “divine council”? If the narrator had meant the latter, then we would expect, “so God created man in their image.”
Unlike God, man is characterized by sexual differentiation. Unlike animals, man is not broken down into species (i.e., “according to their kinds” or “all kinds of”), but rather is designated by sexuality: male and female he created them. Sexuality is applied to animal creatures, but not in the Creation story, only later in the Flood narrative (6:19).
The idea is not unknown in ancient literature that man was first created bisexual and only subsequently were the sexes differentiated. Such is clearly not the meaning here. Rather, the verse affirms that God created in his image a male ʾāḏām and a female ʾāḏām. Both share the image of God. Sexuality is not an accident of nature, nor is it simply a biological phenomenon. Instead it is a gift of God. While sexual identity and sexual function are foreign to God’s person, they are nevertheless a part of his will for his image bearers. 20
The placement of this phrase—male and female he created them—allows it to function as a bridge between the first part of v. 27 and the verses that immediately follow. As such, the phrase identifies who exactly bears the image of the divine. It also prepares the way for the blessing of fertility that follows. Here the emphasis is on the male and female as procreators, rather than their role of companions. 21
28 God gives two assignments to the male and the female: procreation and dominion. Like the animals over whom they rule (v. 22), at the moment of their creation God gives them the power to reproduce themselves. In view of the fact that, at least in Mesopotamia and maybe in Canaan, creation motifs were often employed in fertility rites, Gen. 1 may be saying that reproduction is a blessing and gift from God, and is in no way dependent upon subsequent rites or activities. 22
To the previously mentioned “exercise dominion” as one of God’s mandates to man (v. 26, repeated in v. 28) is added the word subdue. Man is to subdue the earth and to dominate the creatures of sky and land and water. Man’s divinely given commission to rule over all other living creatures is tempered, or better, brought into sharp relief, by the fact that such dominion does not allow him to kill these creatures or to use their flesh as food. Only much later (9:3, post-Flood) is domination extended to include consumption.
Of the two verbs rāḏá, “exercise dominion,” and kāḇaš, “subdue,” the latter connotes more force. Thus it refers to subjecting someone to slavery (2 Chr. 28:10; Neh. 5:5; Jer. 34:11, 16), to physical abuse and assault (Esth. 7:8), to treading (sins) under foot (Mic. 7:19 and Zech. 9:15, where it parallels “devour”), and to militarily subjecting the population of a city (Num. 32:22, 29; Josh. 18:1). All these references suggest violence or a display of force. For reasons already indicated, it appears unlikely that we need to transfer the nuance of force and dictatorship into the use of kāḇaš in Gen. 1:28. Probably what is designated here is settlement and agriculture; “subdue the land” in ch. 1 is a semantic parallel to “till and keep the land” in 2:5, 15.
We have had occasion to refer to the Mesopotamian Enuma elish. This story’s account of man’s creation provides another interesting counterpoint to the biblical story. In Enuma elish the earth is created from one-half of Tiamat’s corpse. All the deities who had sided with Tiamat against Marduk now receive as their sentence the opprobrious duty of maintaining the earth. Such manual labor is weary and beneath their dignity. In response to their pleas, and in return for building a house for him, Marduk proceeds to create man from the blood of a fallen god, Kingu:
Arteries I will knot
and bring bones into being.
I will create Lullu, “man” be his name
I will form Lullu, man
Let him be burdened with the toil of the gods,
that they may freely breathe—
They bound him (Kingu), held him before Ea
inflicted the penalty on him,
severed his arteries;
and from his blood he formed mankind
imposed toil on man, set the gods free. 23
Man is created as an afterthought, and when he is created he is predestined to be a servant of the gods. There is nothing of the regal and the noble about him such as we find in Gen. 1. Basically he is a substitute, one who is created from the blood of a rebellious deity. The anthropologies of Gen. 1 and Enuma elish could not be wider apart.
29–30 What God creates he preserves. What he brings into being he provides for. Man is to have as his food the seed and fruit of plants. Animals and birds are to have the leaves. (The latter point accords with the description of the eschatological age when “the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” Isa. 11:7; 65:25.) At no point is anything (human beings, animals, birds) allowed to take the life of another living being and consume it for food. The dominion assigned to the human couple over the animal world does not include the prerogative to butcher. Instead, humankind survives on a vegetarian diet. What is strange, and probably unexplainable (from a scientific position), is the fact that the animals too are not carnivores but also vegetarians. The text of Gen. 1 does not state whether human beings and animals had the wherewithal to take the life of another living being, or whether they possessed such strength but held it in check.
31 Two features distinguish this last verse of the chapter from the preceding verses. First, “beautiful” now becomes very beautiful. Second, the preceding five days are all referred to indeterminately—a second day, a third day, etc. But this day is called “the sixth day.” Both of these unique factors help to mark this sixth day as the acme of God’s creation thus far. Note also that the sixth day is treated much more extensively than the earlier days.
1 The -ô on ḥayeṯô-ʾereṣ looks strange in the light of the parallel phrase in v. 25, ḥayyaṯ hāʾāreṣ. This -ô is usually explained as a waw compaginis and is said to reflect the remains of early case endings, here an archaic nominative ending -u. Thus behind the MT stands an original Canaanite ḥayyatu ʾarṣi. See GKC, § 90o; Dahood, Psalms, 2:250. There are two other possible explanations of the waw. D. Robertson (“The morphemes -y[-ī] and -w[-ō] in Biblical Hebrew,” VT 19  211–23, esp. pp. 221–23) points to 12 instances of this particular waw in the OT, in 7 of which the waw is added to ḥyt: Gen. 1:24; Ps. 50:10; 79:2; 104:11, 20; Isa. 56:9; Zeph. 2:14. He suggests that the -o relates not to the function of the word to which it is affixed but to its form, in particular its bound (construct) state. The other explanation parses the -o as the prospective pronominal suffix anticipating ʾereṣ, as in Prov. 13:4, nap̱šô ʿāṣēl, “the soul of the sluggard.” See G. Rendsburg, “Late Biblical Hebrew and the Date of ‘P’,” JANES 12 (1980) 67 n. 10.
2 Perhaps it is better to take these two verbs here, and in v. 22, as illustrative of hendiadys in conjunctive sentences. Thus “be fruitful, multiply” means “be abundantly fruitful.”
5 Among the scholars who have written on the subject, this approach is probably the most widely held. M. Weinfeld (“God the Creator in Gen. 1 and in the Prophecy of Second Isaiah,” Tarbiz 37  105–32 [Hebrew]) so understands the pronoun and then assumes a rejection of this concept in Isa. 40:13–14 and 44:24. According to the prophet, God acted alone at creation and consulted nobody. For this reason and others, Weinfeld dates Gen. 1 prior to “Second” Isaiah. For him Gen. 1 is more primitive and mythical. If one follows the “council” understanding of “us,” it is not absolutely necessary to assume that the writer would convey the idea that the angels are man’s co-creators. We know that in this primeval context both cherubim (3:24) and sons of God (6:2) are present. May the writer simply want to say that these newly created creatures of earth are in some fashion like all the inhabitants of heaven? See P. D. Miller, Genesis 1–11: Studies in Structure and Theme, JSOTSup 8 (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1978), pp. 13–14.
7 P. Joüon (Grammaire de l’Hébreu biblique [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1947], §§ 136 d-e) observes the existence of the plural of majesty with nouns in Biblical Hebrew, but never with verbs or pronouns.
8 According to Dale Patrick, here we have “internal dialogue … a glimpse into the thinking of the actor behind the act” (The Rendering of God in the Old Testament, OBT 10 [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981], pp. 15–16). C. Westermann (Genesis, tr. J. J. Scullion, 3 vols. [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984–1986], 1:145) is one recent commentator who defends this theory.
10 J. Barr (“The Image of God in the Book of Genesis: A Study in Terminology,” BJRL 51  21) sees in the two instances of ṣelem in the Psalter not a word meaning “image” but a homonym meaning “darkness, obscurity.” In any case the word is not connected with idols or idolatry in the Psalms. Still, the pejorative overtones are not missing.
11 Barr (ibid., pp. 22–23) suggests that of all the Hebrew words associated in one way or another with the language of idolatry, the least offensive and the one with the least negative history is ṣelem, and thus the reason for its selection is Gen. 1. This view takes for granted, of course, that Gen. 1 is essentially a postexilic composition.
12 See my brief study of this word in TWOT, 1:191–92.
13 So Clines, TynBul 19 (1968) 91: “demûṯ specifies what kind of an image it is: it is a ‘likeness’-image, not simply an image; representational, not simply representative.”
15 See J. F. A. Sawyer, “The Meaning of beṣelem ʾĕlōhîm (‘In the Image of God’) in Genesis I-XI,” JTS 25 (1974) 421.
16 See Clines, TynBul 19 (1968) 75–80.
17 See Barr, BJRL 51 (1968) 17.
18 The NEB takes v. 26b as a definitional statement of the imago dei: “Let us make man in our image … to rule the fish in the sea.…” Thus the image of God has to do only with man’s domination of the world. See also N. Snaith, “The Image of God,” ExpTim 86 (1974) 24. It is more likely that the relationship of 1:26b to 1:26a is consequential rather than explicative: “with the result that he will.…”
19 Lynn White (“The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155 [March, 1967] 1203–7) places the blame for the current raping of our environment directly on Gen. 1, which he thought to teach both arrogance toward nature and that it is God’s will for man to exploit nature. Later readers of Scripture may have drawn such inferences from Gen. 1:26, but they did so by extravagances of interpretation. For some good exegetical studies in this area see, among others, J. Barr, “Man and Nature—The Ecological Controversy and the Old Testament,” BJRL 55 (1972) 9–32; J. Limburg, “What Does It Mean to ‘Have Dominion over the Earth’?” Dialog 10 (1971) 221–23; C. E. Armerding, “Biblical Perspectives on the Ecology Crisis,” JASA 25 (March, 1973) 4–9.
21 I am unable to follow P. Bird (“ ‘Male and Female He Created Them’: Gen. 1:27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation,” HTR 74  129–51) in her contention that “male and female” refers only to the issues of fertility and is in no way related by the author to the concept of imago dei. Note also that the delegation to male and female of authority and dominion over the natural world does not include similar dominion over other human creatures or even over each other (G. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1973], p. 211).
22 See P. Bird, HTR 74 (1981) 147.