22. The term: “in the likeness of”.
The verse of Genesis 1:26,27 states what God's purpose for the crown of His creation -Man- was, from the very beginning: "Let us make man, in Our image and in Our likeness..."
The verses we just mentioned, which relate "perfection" to "awareness", are also linked to one more, equally important matter: God's purpose for man.
However, when He did make man, He created him only "in the image", but not "in the likeness":"...and God created man, according to His image. According to the image of God did He make them..." [Genesis 1:27]
When we produce an image directly from the original, it is "an image of the original". However, if we produce an image by looking at an image of the original, then that second image is not "an image of the original"; it is "an image of its image" - in other words, it is "according to its image", or "in accordance with its image".
So, the question here is: Who is "the image of God", according to whose image we were made?
The Apostle Paul provides the answer, when he says of Jesus Christ:"...Who is the image of the invisible God..." [Colossians 1:15]
Man was therefore created as the "image" of Christ the human, or, "according to the image" of God.The fact that Jesus Christ's human nature had not yet been created poses no problem, given that Jesus Christ was "the Lamb that was slaughtered from the beginning of Time", within God's foreknowledge, as mentioned in Revelation 13:8.
So, why wasn't man created "according to the likeness" ALSO, and not just "according to the image"?
The majority of the Fathers, from the first centuries of the Church, interprets this passage of Genesis as follows:
«The term "according to the image" is one thing, and "according to the likeness" is another. God made man only "according to the image", and not "according to the likeness" also. "According to the image" is man's potential to become like God - in other words, "according to the likeness". Thus, the term "according to the likeness" relates to perfection, to theosis, which must be the objective of every human.» (Fr. John Romanides, "The Ancestral Sin", mainly on page 136, 1957 edition).
«Man is not "THE image of God"; he is "ACCORDING TO the image of God", which means he is "an image of the image", that is, an image of Christ, Who is in turn "THE image of the invisible God"». ("History and theology of sacred icons" by M.A. Siotos, pages 19-52. "Dogmatics" by P.N. Trembelas, Vol.A, pages 487-494. Fr. John Romanides, "The Ancestral Sin", page 136, 1957 edition).
During memorial services for the deceased, we say:
"In accordance with Your Image and Your likeness having originally fashioned man, You placed him in a Garden, to rule over Your creations..."
"The image am I of Your ineffable glory, albeit bearing (marred with) stains of trespasses.... lead me back to "the likeness of", to restore the ancient beauty..."
In these words, it is obvious that Adam already possessed the "likeness of", from the moment of his creation, since the above prayer asks for man's return to "the likeness of" - to "the ancient beauty".
But, the words of the memorial service also clearly distinguish between "the image of" and "the likeness of", when they say: "The image am I of Your ineffable glory, albeit bearing (marred with) stains of trespasses".
Thus, while acknowledging that we are "according to the image", we ask to become "according to the likeness" once again - which denotes that we used to possess it, but had lost it.
On this detail, Justin writes that «...being fashioned according to the image of God, man was fleshly». (Fr. John Romanides, "The Ancestral Sin", page 135, 1957 edition).
We therefore have here on the one hand the distinction between the two meanings, and on the other hand, that the meaning of "the likeness of" is not perfection (which Adam did not possess, so that he could lose it). (Fr. John Romanides, "The Ancestral Sin", page 141, 1957 edition).
So, what was the thing that Adam possessed, as "the likeness of" and "the ancient beauty".
It was obviously the state of sinlessness and innocence, not the state of perfection.
So it is now possible to understand why the Fathers use these interpretations, which we noticed at the beginning.
The two expressions: "according to the image" and "according to the likeness" - if they are indeed a Hebrew linguistic trait - still have a slightly different meaning between them. Besides, this is something that occurs with all identical words, since each word has its own particular nuance compared to the others.
In Adam's time, perfection did not exist. This can be seen in Genesis 1:31, where it says that Adam was created "very fine" (êáëüò ëßáí), not "perfect". (If he was indeed perfect, he would not have sinned).
But, because the objective of perfection involves purity and sinlessness, in a certain way it resembles the "likeness of" that Adam lost. The fact that all people have sinned by now, makes sinlessness from the start impossible for them. The only way therefore for man to return to "the likeness of" is the path towards perfection.
It should be stressed again, that everything in the Christian faith is a course, not a station. Thus, in Christ's time, the Christian faith was called "the way" (Acts 18:25 etc.). It is in a similar manner that repentance is a "way" and not necessarily an instantaneous event. So are enlightenment and theosis a "way". Thus likewise, Adam - albeit having received "the likeness of" from God - did not possess it in its complete, fulfilled form. He too was on the path towards theosis.
On this point, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos very aptly writes: «Man, who was fashioned "according to the image of God" was created for life "according to the likeness"» ("The revelation of God", p.59)
Fr. John Romanides also wrote in his book ("The Ancestral Sin", page 121, 1957 edition): «...whoever has the Spirit is a spiritual man - according to the Fathers and authors being examined: the man who was created "according to the image of" and "according to the likeness of" God».
With these in mind, it can be understood why Adam - albeit not perfect - was "according to the likeness of", and why the "likeness of" is now identified (and has been identified by the Fathers) with "perfection": it is because "perfection" is the only way to return to the ancient beauty.
The "image of" is the potential that man as a free and intelligent being possesses, to resemble God.
But the "likeness of" is the course/way to achieve that resemblance, which can be achieved only by a collaboration between man and the Holy Spirit.
Given that God is what He is BECAUSE HE WANTS TO, and not because He is compelled to, man must also WANT and strive - by using his freedom of "the image" - until he reaches perfection, that is, along his path towards resembling God. That is one characteristic that man alone - among Creation - possesses.
It was not possible for man to be created perfect, directly (that is, compulsorily). Satan had proposed the attaining of the "likeness of" God to man, by means of his independence and self-administration, without the collaboration of the Holy Spirit. But that was how man finally missed the mark (=sinned) of achieving the objective of perfection; so, instead of resembling God, he came to "resemble the perishable beasts". The objective of perfection is the objective of every Christian, as apparent in the following verses:"Be therefore perfect, just as your Father in the heavens is perfect...". [Matthew 5:48] "...having left the initial teaching of Christ, let us move towards perfection". [Hebrews 6:1] "...until all of us have reached the unity in faith and awareness of (full union with) the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." [Ephesians 4:13]
We need to clarify the following here: When the Holy Bible speaks of perfection, nowhere does it imply physical perfection. As we have seen, it means resemblance to God, and that has nothing to do with the body. That the body of the perfected ones acquires incorruptibility and immortality is just a natural consequence of perfection, and not perfection itself.
The fact that Jesus Christ had not yet been born as a human is not a problem. The beyond-Time God - being the Creator of Time - is fully familiar with the future.
All these are in full agreement with the passage of Ephesians 4:13 that we quoted earlier on. We need to aim towards the example that the Lord Jesus Christ left us, and that is what will lead us to "the likeness of" God, in other words, to the course of perfection.
But could perfection not be attainable, given that we are talking about the infinitely perfect God?
That is partially correct. To reach Him is definitely impossible; however, we shall be approaching Him, from now and throughout all eternity, becoming more and more like Him, as we can also note in the following verse:
"all with face unveiled, reflecting the glory of God in that very image, are transformed from glory to glory..." [2 Corinthians 3:18]
Perfection, therefore, is something relative and each one is on a course towards the likeness - either of God or towards His enemy, the Devil. One's free will is definitive when it comes to the point of progress that one has reached. Perfection is not a station. It is a continuous course!
A verse that indicates the relative meaning of the word "perfection" appears very early along, in the Holy Bible:"...Noah was a righteous man, perfect among his contemporaries. Noah walked with God". [Genesis 6:9] -
Noah is mentioned as perfect, in comparison to his contemporaries, because he "walked with God". He was on the course of perfection! He had exhausted all the means that he had available at the time, for his course towards perfection.
In reality however, the creation of man was completed much later. It was only with the birth/incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ that man (finally) appeared in a perfect state. Jesus Christ was the only man who was actually perfect. In His Person, mankind found its final fulfilment of God's original purpose for man: "...let us create man... according to our likeness..."
Jesus paved the way towards perfection and towards the others who were on the way to "the likeness of" ("...the people, who had become in the likeness of God..." [James 3:9]).
We will again quote some of the passages that confirm that Christians are on the course/way to perfection when they follow the only absolutely perfect One - Jesus Christ - Who is the model according to which they were created:
[Colossians 1:28] "...that we may present every man perfect..."
[Colossians 4:12]"...so that you may stand perfect..."
[James 1:4]"...so that you may be perfect and whole, lacking in nothing".
[Matthew 5:48]"...Be therefore perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect".
[Romans 8:29]"...those whom He foreknew, He also destined to be according to the image of His Son..."
[Hebrews 5:14]"...Solid food is for the perfected ones, who have exercised theirs sensors for discerning both good and evil. Which is why, by leaving behind the initial words of Christ, we strive towards perfection..."
The above passage also proves that man is not created perfect, but can become perfect through his efforts.
[Hebrews 6:1]"...we move towards perfection..."
"...until all of us have reached the unity in faith and awareness of (full union with) the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." [Ephesians 4:13]
Article published in English on: 21-7-2010.
Last update: 21-7-2010.