To understand the purpose of humans, we should first understand God’s intent for creating them in the first place. God’s creation story is littered with clues about his reasons for creating humans. God is good, and His creation is good. We cannot escape these twin truths when we approach the Scriptures with open eyes. So it is with His creation story.
In the creation story, we see that humans were created to know God, to bear His image, and to share in His kingdom work.
Before there was a universe, there existed the great I Am, who breathed into existence a world with hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars, along with matter, energy, gravity, and the fabric of space-time. “Everything under heaven belongs to God” (Job 41:11). We meet this God in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.
The Context: Ancient Near East
The biblical creation story is best read through the lens of the world of the Ancient Near East. Many people groups had creation stories, some of which resemble the creation story in Genesis (for example, the progression of Babylon’s national creation myth: the void, water, firmament, world, people).
Creation myths were well-known stories that the earliest readers of the Bible knew well and understood. Some of the more popular stories were the Gilgamesh Epic from Mesopotamian sources; the Atrahasis Epic from Sumerian-Babylonian mythology; and the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish–each of which contain some minor semblance of the Genesis creation story. There are other similar stories from Egypt, the Hittites, and more.
The Genesis creation story shares some details of other creation myths such as these, but the major differences in the Genesis creation story show why the God of the Bible is beyond compare. The God of the Bible is all-powerful, morally excellent, all-wise, and infinitely worthy of our worship. And His creation is a mirror of His excellence.
Likewise, the original purpose of humans was to bear his image and mirror his excellence.
“Jewish Scripture abounds in literary allusion and poetic usage which bear some relation, direct or indirect, to images and themes found among the people with which Israel was in contact.” The way in which God introduces himself in Genesis was memorable for telling and retelling. Remember, most people listened to stories. The Scriptures were heard as much as read, since few apart from priests and scribes could read and write. Genesis is not a science text—and should not be pressed to yield hidden scientific secrets. Rather, it is the story of a loving God who wants to know His children and wants His children to know Him.
When He created humankind, it was not for access to an inexhaustible source of labor like was common in competing creation myths. (The pagan gods made humans to be their slaves.) God created Adam and Eve, like a master potter, fashioning them from the earth.
While both Adam and Eve are individual characters within the Genesis creation story, they are also representative of much more. ’Adam is the Hebrew word for “humanity” and Eve is the Hebrew word for “life.” In the Hebrew Bible, there is a considerable link between the characters of Adam and Eve and the representation of all of humankind and life throughout Genesis 1-8. (Hebrew ’Adamah is earth, or dirt, a feminine noun. ’Adam would be the masculine form of the word dirt. Pretty humbling.)
The compassionate imprint of God onto humankind is what pagan hearers of Genesis 1-11 would have perceived as the most striking quality of the God of the Bible.
He loves humankind and has entrusted to them the responsibility of representing Him to the rest of His creation. We were made in the image of God. Image-bearers don’t merely resemble God. Discussions of God’s image tend to be dominated by talk of intelligence, morality, artistic ability, emotions, self-awareness, and so forth. Most importantly, being created in God’s image pertains to our relationship with God: both who we are and what He has entrusted us with.
As God’s image, or image-bearers, we occupy a position of tremendous honor and trust. When people see us, they are to see God. We are both His representatives (like ambassadors—2 Corinthians 5:20) and His lieutenants, carrying out His work–just as Christians, bearing the Spirit of Christ, are to be Christ to the world.
God set out to establish humankind as the rulers of the world. Their task was to share in the work of God’s kingdom in the garden (Genesis 2:15). Just as God created things that were inherently good, so his expectation was for his image-bearers to be good stewards of the land.
From the beginning, God bestowed the same honor and royalty to humans that we now think are fit for kings.
Humans inherited everything in creation, from the plants to the livestock (Genesis 1:29-30). As the humans worked the ground in the garden, enjoying the fruits of their labor, and enjoying all God had created, God simply desired a deep and trusting relationship with them. God wanted a relationship with His creation that embodied all his goodness in the form of a one-another bond.
God is three in one: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. God is a relationship. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In the same way, it is fitting to conclude that being made in God’s image assumes the embodiment of a loving relationship with God.
Humans were created to know God, to bear His image, and to share in His kingdom work.
God intended for humans to glorify Him with their lives, and to desire to know Him. As they bore His image and His likeness, God desired that they seek to know Him, and find out what pleases Him (Ephesians 5:10). His hope was for a relationship with Him as intimate and connected as His relationship in the Triune (John 17:22). His desire was that humankind bear His image so well that they strive to be completely perfect, as he is (Matthew 5:48).
His will for them was to represent Him to the world.
So, to summarize, God’s original purpose for humans was for them to know Him and love Him, bear his image to the world, and share in his kingdom work. Today, as we share in His kingdom work, His desire is that the world will come to know Him through us, just as we came to know Him through Christ.
 Conrad Hyers, “The Narrative Form of Genesis 1: Cosmogonic, Yes; Scientific, No,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36.4 (1984): 210a-b.
 Paul Copan and Douglas Jacoby. Origins: the Ancient Impact & Modern Implications of Genesis 1-11 (New York: Morgan James, 2019), 57. For a review of this book, click here.