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.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
-Genesis 1:26-31, KJV
As Dr Michael Heiser has written and said in his podcasts, the image of God is not something we have; it is something we are. Reading contextually, we can see that the image of God concerns our role as governors of the earth. Mankind, in Genesis 1, are created to extend God’s rule from heaven to earth. This is part of why Paul refers to Jesus Christ as the “second Adam” (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 45); he is drawing on the concept of the Messiah as God’s King, subduing the earth to the will of God, banishing chaos (think Tiamat / Leviathan) and establishing order. John the Revelator draws upon this idea in describing the new Eden, the “new heavens and new earth” (Rev 21:1). Unlike the former Eden, which was confined to one place on the globe, the new Eden will encompass all of God’s creation – hallelujah!
Jesus described to us God’s idea of kingship:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
-Matthew 20:25-28, KJV
Jesus is the Great King, but He had the love and humility to become a lowly human, to serve sinful humanity, dying on a Roman cross. This is what Christian kingship means: service to others, love and compassion for others, humility and longsuffering. God sees all these things, and He will reward them on His Day.
Turning to abortion, we can draw these two strands of thought together. An attack on a human is an attack on the image of God, because all humans are part of the image of God. The general rule is that such an attack is not a good thing – but just war forms an exception, because the intention of just war is to protect the image of God, not to harm it. Abortion is an attack on the image of God: the foetus is a human; it can only be a human, not some other species. The foetus does not need to earn the image of God and cannot forfeit it: it is in the image of God by virtue of being human, regardless of its ability to subdue the earth. Just war does not apply here: the child is not an aggressor. It has no mens rea; evil cannot be imputed to it, even if its birth poses a challenge to the health of the mother or her socio-economic standing. A child is as innocent as a human can be: what justification can there be for attacking it?
The “image of God” would have been understood in its original context as a reference to religious cult. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), a statue of a god represented its god in the temple and was a manifestation of the god’s presence. A ritual would be performed at the inauguration of the shrine in which the statue’s mouth would be “opened” so that the breath, or spirit, of the god could enter – i.e. the god inhabited the statue. Does this sound familiar?
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
-Genesis 2:7, KJV
After this point, an attack on the statue became an attack on the god itself. This is how we should view humans: not that we are God (which would be blasphemous), but that God intended us to be His presence on the earth, that God intended us to be like Him, to act as He would act, to think as He would think. Jesus models this for us:
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
-John 8:28, KJV
If we are to follow Jesus’ example, in particular His model of Adam’s kingship, we must serve others, and show them love, including those in the womb.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.