And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them (Gen. 1:25-27).
God said this, not man. Having spoken, He then created man. God’s actions followed His word and were in conformity to His word. But unlike His acts of creation on the previous five days, God did not speak man into existence. Man alone was the product of God’s direct interaction with the creation: formed of the dust, with a God-breathed soul (Gen. 2:7). Man is therefore special: made in God’s image, formed originally by God’s specific acts, not just His fiat word.
In what ways is man special? First, man is made in the image of God. He can therefore understand God’s words to him. These words are the words of a master over a servant, but also a father over a son. God gives commands to man, and man is expected by God to respond obediently. To be obedient, man must be able to understand and act accordingly. Man has been given an understanding of cause and effect: first with respect to the coherence of ideas (hearing); second, with respect to human action (doing). This derivative creaturely coherence rests on the absolute coherence of God’s word and the absolute conformity of the creation to God’s coherent word: God’s comprehensive decree. God is absolutely sovereign over the creation, including man. This gives order to the creation.
This leads us to point two: man is subordinately sovereign over the creation, under God. Man is under God in a hierarchy of authority: God > man > nature. This means that man is uniquely and directly responsible before God for his administration of nature. Man can understand God’s word, and he can act in terms of it. Both his understanding and his authority are re-creative, not originally creative. They are therefore inescapably ethical. Man is required to think God’s thought after Him.
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