What does Genesis Say About Human Life versus Animal Life?

Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  

Believing in evolution without God rather than creation by God, animal rights activists and environmentalists fail to distinguish between human life and animal life. Conversely, the Bible clearly distinguishes between the two without dishonoring the animals which the man and woman were made with dominion over to steward.

In Genesis 1:26-28, we see the reason for human dignity is simply because we were made by God in His image. Additionally, we see that both men and women have equality and dignity because they are both created as image bearers of God. This image of God that humanity alone bears makes us distinct from and superior to the rest of creation, including animals.

Unlike animals, the opening chapters of Genesis reveal that men and women were created for four relationships. First, we were made to have a spiritual relationship with God. Second, we were made to have a psychological relationship with ourselves. Third, we were made to have social relationships with others. Fourth, we were made to have an environmental relationship with creation.

As a result of our sin, the image and likeness that we bear persists but is marred by sin (James 3:9). Subsequently, Genesis and the rest of history report the theological problems, psychological problems, social problems, and environmental problems that follow in our sinful wake.

Theologian Helmut Thielicke once said that history is in many ways like a good play. When going to a play, one generally asks certain questions such as who wrote the play, who is the hero, who is the villain, and what is the plot? Upon answering these questions, we are able to make sense of and enter into the story in a meaningful way. Likewise, each day, people are born onto the stage of history where they will say their lines and act out their part without any concept of who the Author of life is, what great cosmic struggle they find themselves in, who the Hero and Villain are, and how they relate to the plot of which they are a part. Apart from revelation from God to explain all of this, we are left utterly lost, confused, and open to wrong alternative explanations of everyone and everything, including ourselves.

As we read the Bible, starting in Genesis, we uncover the source of both our dignity and depravity. We were made in the dignified image of God. However, we have descended into the depraved pattern of Satan through the rebellion of sin. Therefore, we are simultaneously both great and greatly fallen, which is the perplexing dilemma of human nature. Those who do not read the Bible and take it to heart are prone to ignore the complex dilemma of our dignity and depravity by favoring one aspect of our nature at the expense of the other.

Genesis 1-2 clearly states that we were made between God and the animals as lower than God but higher than animals. Genesis also states that our position between these two is indeed closer to God than the animals because we bear His image and were handcrafted by Him. Yet, there is a propensity for those who do not heed the insights of Genesis to error in one of two ways. One, some wrongly elevate us to god-like greatness as is common in Eastern spirituality and the wrong notion that we are basically good with humanity continually evolving and improving. Two, others are prone to describe us as little more than yet another animal, incapable of self-control, beauty, truth, or goodness. An example would include the psychological pioneer Sigmund Freud, who reduced us essentially as slaves to our animalistic urges for such things as sex and food, which drive our actions. Genesis uniquely balances these tensions with the dignity of our creation, and depravity of sin. Only by God’s grace can we begin to overcome our depravity and increase our dignity as the Holy Spirit makes us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Look up Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:9-10, and 2 Corinthians 3:18. What can we learn about being God’s image bearers from these passages?

To help you study the book of Genesis with us, we have the first of three free e-book study guides here.

For a free PDF of Pastor Mark and Dr. Breshears’ Doctrine book, click here as chapter 4 specifically addresses the fact that man and woman were created in God’s image.

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