The Trinitarian Claim
Trinitarians commonly claim that the words "us" and "our" refer to the three persons/hypostases of the doctrine of the Trinity. This claim if often confused with another claim - that the Hebrew "Elohim" is plural to refer to multiple persons.
The Claim vs. The Facts
When we look at an image and likeness of something, we know what that original something looks like because we see it's image. In this verse, Trinitarians don't even bother to ask themselves if the image in question is given. Usually, they resort to their imaginations.
But the image of "US" is given in this selfsame verse; the image of "US" is "THEM" - male and female.
The Problems with the Trinitarian Claim
1. Interpretation by Eisegesis
The Trinitarian interpretation is the product of the faulty practice of eisegesis. No evidence whatsoever can be provided to demonstrate the "us" of this verse is precisely three in number and no more or less. Neither is any evidence provided to demonstrate the "us" is to be identified as the three persons of Trinity doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity is simply imagined into the text and subsequently used used as a basis to try and justify the doctrine of the Trinity. As such, Trinitarians are engaging in a fallacious circular reasoning process.
2. The Interpretations of Trinitarian Scholars
Let the reader do his own research and see how reputable scholars interpret this passage. Trinitarian scholars generally do not accept this Trinitarian interpretation. For a number of sensible reasons, they do not believe this passage refers to the three persons of Trinity doctrine and have proposed a wide variety of interpretations which include, but are not limited to:
|Pluralis majestatis||Majestic "we" or royal "we"; plural of Majesty |
|Pluralis excellentiae||Hebraic pluralization to reflect excellence and/or fullness|
|God and His Wisdom||Plural of deliberation|
|God and His Angels||God and His royal court of angels|
|God and His Creation||Man is made by God and the materials of His creation |
|God and the Earth||Man, adam, is made from the dust of the adamah (ground: feminine). |
|Combination||Some combination of the above |
|Miscellaneous||Miscellaneous other interpretations |
Most Trinitarian scholars do not believe this verse is a reference to their own doctrine of the Trinity. This clearly shows how they know very well the Trinitarian claim is fallacious, there is no reason to necessarily draw such a conclusion, and that Trinitarian apologists and laypeople, are wishfully imagining their own doctrine of the Trinity into the text.
3. The Ancient Israelite Understanding
Trinitarians are also quite prepared to insist the doctrine of the Trinity was a "progessive revelation" which by implication means that the ancient Israelites were completely unaware their God was a three-person-being. However, this passage of the Scriptures was first provided for the ancient Israelities, not for 4th century Athanasians.
Let us also remember the context of this passage. It is an account of God's creation. It is not reasonable to conclude the Israelites of old were expected to actually understand this passage! Did Moses not understand these words? Should we not expect him to understand and comprehend these writings? And if we were to wishfully imagine that Moses was indeed aware these words referred to a three-person-God, he apparently forgot to tell anyone since the Trinity is something the ancient Israelites never believed, conceived, or perceived. These ancient Israelites had no concept of a three-person-God. But sober minded reason compels us to expect they would be able to understand the words provided to them quite apart from fourth century formulations of the Trinity. This is also one of the many reasons many Trinitarian scholars reject the interpretation of Trinitarian apologists who claim this verse refers to a three person being as described in the doctrine of the Trinity. What were the ancient Israelites expected to understand when they read this passage? Is it reasonable at all to suggest these words were written for generations and generations of Israelites who would live and die without any hope of understanding them? Is it honest or reasonable to anachronistically read later doctrines back into the text by an act of our own will and hope to have an interpretation of the text which is grounded in veracity?
Trinitarians also have a habit of presuming the Hebrew word Elohim is plural for the purpose of indicating multiple persons are being identified. As such, the question at hand becomes further confused by this mistaken assumption. We know that other plural words are used to refer to single persons in the Scripture. We also know that Elohim is used to refer to single personages such as a single pagan god. A review of Scripture also shows that Elohim was used to refer to the Father alone, a single person (compare Acts 3:22-25 to Deuteronomy 18:15-18; compare Hebrews 1:9 to Psalm 45:7; compare Hebrews 10:7 to Psalm 40:7-8). Indeed, Trinitarians themselves inconsistently claim Elohim is used to refer to one single person named Jesus (compare Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6) while at the same time claiming the word refers to multiple persons. It hardly makes any sense whatsoever to insist the reason Elohim is plural is to signify a plurality of persons when we also know Elohim is used in the Scriptures to refer to a single person.
Conversely, God Himself calls multiple human judges "Elohim". We would hardly supposed these judges are a single multi-personal being. And again, second century Jews translated the word Elohim as "angels," a translation ratified by the inspired Hebrews writer at Hebrews 2:7. We would not conclude angels are a single multi-personal being. These obvious facts are simply ignored by Trinitarians since they are not convenient to their claims and contradict their claims.
Elohim is a grammatically masculine plural Hebrew noun. Elohim is the Hebrew word which is normally translated as "God" in English Bibles when it is accompanied by a singular verb. The word Elohim appears to be the plural form of Eloah which is also used in the Scriptures. God is also called El, Elyon, or El Elyon in singular form. Scholars, Trinitarian or otherwise, do not agree upon the reason why Elohim appears in plural form and offer a range of proposed reasons. However, the Scriptural facts show us quite plainly that Elohim cannot possibly be plural for the purpose of signifying multiple personages.
5. Cohortative Mood aka "Common Sense"
Another error on the part of many Trinitarians is the confusion of equating Elohim with "us." There is nothing in the Hebrew grammar which indicates the "us" and "our" group are to be identified as Elohim. In other words, the Hebrew grammar is not identifying Elohim as "us" (or vice versa). Such a conclusion does cannot be extracted from the grammar but requires the faulty practice of eisegesis. It is not unusual in any language for one person to speak on behalf of a group. Moreover, the text actually reads, "Elohim He said, "Let us..." And while it says "HE said" in singular verb form, it also says "Let US make" in plural verb form. Note that it does not say, "THEY said, 'Let US make.'" In any language, this indicates that the speaker is including himself with other identities and speaking on behalf of the group in which he is including himself. In other words, with respect to the grammar itself, we can only say that Elohim is a singular "HE" who is speaking on behalf of the "us" group in which He is including Himself.
5. Adam is a Multi-personal Being too?
At this point, Trinitarians note that Elohim says that man will be created in "our" image and then we read that man was created in "his" image. However, Trinitarians simply assume here that one three-person-being refers to himself (or themselves) as "us" and then by the singular pronounoun "he", implying the possessive "our" refers to the same identity as the singular possessive "his." Put another way, Trinitarians imagine that the three persons ("us") are a singular "he," and strangely presume the verse haphazardly shifts between identifying God with the singular personal pronouns, "he/his/him," and plural personal pronouns, "we/our/us," even though this violates and ignores the commonly understood use and purposes of pronouns in human language.
The Trinitarian error here is further illustrating by observing how this passage also refers to man in both singular and plural terms. We read, "Let us make man in our image" and then "let them rule." We also read, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him" and we then read, "male and female He created them." Genesis 5:2 also explains how God called them "ADAM." Note also Genesis 3:22 where it says "the man has become like one of us" even though it necessarily pertains to both Adam and Eve. Trinitarians inconsistently conclude that this kind of plural language at Genesis 1:26 means Elohim is a single multi-personal being while denying that this same kind of plural language in reference to Adam would then mean Adam is also multi-personal being. If we used the same kind of reasoning process as Trinitarians use, we would need to necessarily conclude Adam is a multi-personal being, something which is obviously ridiculous.
6. The Hebrew Grammar
When the plural Hebrew word Elohim is used in Scripture to refer to multiple gods, a plural verb is associated with Elohim rather than a singular verb. This singularity or plurality of the verbs used with Elohim is how we know whether it refers to a singular God or to plural gods. When the one God of Israel is in view, singular verbs are associated with Elohim. While Elohim is a plural noun, all the verbs which accompany the word Elohim in Genesis 1:26-27 are singular, not plural. The only verb that is plural is "Let us make." But this does not itself indicate that Elohim is an "US." From the grammar alone, we can only conclude that Elohim is speaking on behalf of a group of identities.
One must also ask why plural and singular verbs are used in this verse. While it says "Let us make", plural, we also then read that "He" created, not "They" created. We must also keep in mind that "us" is simply a second person plural where "they" is a corresponding third person plural. If we were to understand that Elohim is a WE, then we should also expect the verse to then say, "THEY created in THEIR image" rather than "HE created in HIS image." But this is not what occurs. The identities "we" or "us" or the possessive "our" are necessarily a "they" and "them" or possessive "their." But we do not find that THEY created; we find HE created.
Elohim speaks with a plural verb, "Let us make" but the passage also refers to Elohim with a singular verb which literally says, "HE said, 'Let us make...'" This should immediately indicate to readers that one person, "HE" is speaking on behalf of a group, "US." Trinitarians suggest that the grammar here is because God is a singular multi-personal being and can therefore speak this way. However, such a claim is wildly tenuous since it reads Trinitarian doctrine back into an ancient text written for strictly monotheistic Israelites who had no concept of a three-person-God. It also conveniently ignores the fact that Adam is portrayed in both singular and plural terms in this passage yet no one presumes Adam is a multi-personal being. Such claims also suggest that Trinitarians would like to believe that you can never really tell just who is speaking - the Triune God as a singular "I," or any one of the three persons of the Triune God as a singular "I," or the Triune God as a plural "We," and so on. Moreover, if God is just one person, this would not be an unusual way to speak. For example, we might read, "The President said, 'Let us persevere.'" Nobody would conclude the President is a multi-personal being or that he speaks this way because he is both a singular and a multi-personal being. In other words, the only reason anyone would interpret this verse as Trinitarians do, is for the sake of their own Trinitarian tradition.
7. Jesus on Genesis 1:26
Let the reader honestly regard the comments of Jesus:
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Mark 10:6-9.
Shall we suppose Jesus was referring to a Triune God? Or shall we suppose he was referring to his God? Would any reasonable person honestly suppose Jesus really meant the following?
But from the beginning of creation, We made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore We have joined together, let no man separate."
Analysis of the Facts
An examination of the facts shows that Trinitarian interpreters are disregarding the contextual facts provided to them. The image of "US" is given to us in this very passage: "THEM". Male and female He created them. "Them" is the image of "Us."
1. They are "ADAM"
At Genesis 5:2, we are told that God called them "ADAM," both male and female.
In the day God created ADAM, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and called their name ADAM in the day they were created. (Genesis 5:1-2).
We find the very same thing at Genesis 1:26.
And Elohim said, "Let us make ADAM in our image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the beasts and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the earth." And Elohim created the ADAM in His own image, in the image of Elohim He created him, male and female He created them. And Elohim He blessed them and Elohim He said, "YOU (plural) be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over all life that moves upon the earth.... I give to YOU (plural)..."
When interpreting Genesis 1:26, it is important to recognize that ADAM is not just a "He" but also a "they" and "them." It is also important to recognize that no one then supposes ADAM is a multi-personal being.
2. Plural "US" & Plural "THEM"
Carefully observe that Genesis 1:26-27 does not just refer to "US" but also to "THEM." Now examine the "Us and Them" interplay in this passage.
And Elohim He said, "Let us make adam in our image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the beasts and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the earth." And Elohim He created the adam in His own image in the image of Elohim He created him male and female He created them. And Elohim He blessed them and Elohim He said, "You be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over all life that moves upon the earth.... I give to you..."
Trinitarians only seem to see a singular vs. plural interplay for Elohim yet they completely fail to see that their is a singular vs. plural interplay concerning ADAM. But Adam is not a multi-personal being. If we can speak of Adam in this manner, this fact tells us that Elohim is not a multi-personal being either.
3. Rhythmic Parallelism of Genesis 1:26
And God created ADAM in His own image,
in the the image of God He created him,
male and female He created them
Since we already know that ADAM is both singular and plural, we are compelled to conclude that the image and likeness of "Us" is "THEM," "male and female."
THEY were created in the image of US.
4. OUR image = THEM
Observe how the facts of this passage direct us to conclude that the image of "us" is "them."
|Singular||He created |
|created adam |
|Plural||Let us make |
|let them rule |
male and female
"Let us create.... in our image....
Let them rule... He created them.
The image of "US" in question is "THEM": "Male and Female"
5. The Image is a Copy which reflects the Original
The Image Reflects the Original
We know that we can look at the image of something to know what the original looks like. If we look at the picture on the jigsaw puzzle box, we know from this image what the original puzzle looks like. So instead of appealing to our imaginations concerning the identity of "us" at Genesis 1:26, let us look at the image of "us" to determine what the original "us" looks like.
The image and likeness of "us" is "them." The image and likeness of "us" is "male and female." So if we look at Adam and Eve as the image of God then we can figure out what the original is. Since "male and female" are the image and likeness of God, we can look at this reflection and understand what the US and OUR of Genesis 1:26 looks like. If the image of God is "male and female," then in some sense the US and OUR of Genesis 1:26, is MALE and FEMALE. And if that is so, we can look at Adam and Eve and understand that they are the image of "us" at Genesis 1:26.
How to Determine the Identity of "US" at Genesis 1:26
Take a careful look at the picture below of a bride and bride-groom. Notice how the image and likeness in the water is an image and likeness of the bride and bridegroom, "US." If we could only see this image in the water, we would also know what the genuine reality looks like. Let's call call the image of these two in the water, "Adam and Eve."
The Male-Female Image Reflects the Male-Female Original.
The upside-down image of this male and female in the water is an image of the original and genuine reality at the top of this picture. If for some reason, we could only see the image in the water, we would still know exactly what the original reality looks like. We really don't need to see the top half of the picture to know. And that is the situation we have at Genesis 1:26. We know what the image of "us" looks like. The image of "us" is plural "male and female." Therefore, we also know what the original looks like.
Since the facts of this passage direct us to conclude that "male and female" are the image and likeness of "us," we must then proceed to identify who "us" might be and how "us" is both male and female. Since God Himself is depicted as a "male" in Scripture, we need to look for a "female" counterpart. We need to find God's helper just as Eve was Adam's helper.
6. God & His Wisdom
Created in God's Wisdom
Genesis 1:26 is situated in the context of God's act of creation. The Bible tells us that all things were created in the Wisdom of God. This includes humanity. Humanity is the pinnacle of God's creation and God calls humanity to take dominion of all His creation which was created in His Wisdom.
"O LORD, how many are Your works! In Wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions" (Psalm 104:24).
"By Wisdom the LORD founded the earth, By understanding He established the heavens" (Prov 3:19).
"It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his Wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens" (Jeremiah 10:12).
Lady Wisdom was There When God created Man
In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as a female entity, commonly called "Lady Wisdom" by Bible commentators. In chapter 8 of Proverbs she, Wisdom, speaks concerning her role in creation:
Does not Wisdom call, Does not understanding raise her voice?.... she cries aloud, 'To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the sons of men'.... The Lord acquired (qanah) me in the beginning (re'shiyth), at the dawn of his work. I was poured out from eternity at the dawn of the earth. When there was no deep I was brought forth. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills was I brought forth. While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there....Then I was by Him... my delights with the sons of men." (Proverbs 8; cf. 1:20).
Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: Espousing the Perfect Bride
The Book of Proverbs is written to exhort readers to embrace Wisdom. Throughout the book, the Virtuous Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Folly the Adulteress. She, Wisdom, is to be courted and espoused by righteous men rather than the adulteress and her foolish ways. For this reason, the book of Proverbs ends with the picture of a perfect wife.
Compare the following carefully:
He who finds ME (Wisdom) finds life and obtains favor from the LORD. Proverbs 8:35.
He who finds A WIFE finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD. Proverbs 18:22
Notice the surrounding context of Proverbs 18:22. It has nothing to do with finding an actual wife.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit. He who finds a wife finds a good thing And obtains favor from the LORD. The poor man utters supplications, But the rich man answers roughly. Proverbs 18.
Also note this parallel:
For Wisdom is more precious than rubies and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. Proverbs 8:11.
Who can find a Virtuous Wife? For her worth is far above rubies. Proverbs 31:10
Wisdom as a Bride in Ancient Israel
The following writings also portray Wisdom as a female bride just as we find in the book of Proverbs. These ancient writings show us how ancient Israelites portrayed wisdom as one espouses a bride.
Wisdom of Solomon
Wisdom is my love and I sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my BRIDE, and I was a lover of her beauty. She glorifies her noble origin by living with God, the Lord of all, who loves her. She is privy to God's mysteries and a lover of his works. Wisdom of Solomon 8:2-4.
He who fears Yahweh, he who is practiced in the Law will come to Wisdom. Like a mother she will meet him, like a young BRIDE she will embrace him and nourish him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of learning to drink .Sirach 15:1-2.
The Bride-Price Language of Proverbs 8:22
In ancient times, the acquisition of a bride carried a price. In ancient Hebrew thought, the language of Proverbs 8:22, "Yahweh acquired me," is typical bride-price language. For example, this concept is reflected in the Bible where we read that Jesus bought the church, his bride, at a price. At Proverbs 8:22, where Wisdom helps God in creation, we are to understand that Wisdom was God's Amon and is portrayed as bride similar to Eve as Adam's helper and bride. The Hebrew word Amon is similar to the word Amen and seems to suggest God's Wisdom was like a confidante when He created. Or put more simply, God consulted His Wisdom when He created.
Genesis 1:26 is referring to creation. Proverbs 8:22ff. refers to how Wisdom was there at God's side when He created. We also read at Proverbs 8:31 that Wisdom's delight was the sons of men. Genesis 1:26 is about the creation of man. And at Proverbs 8:27, Wisdom declares she "was there" at His side when God created the heavens and earth.
These facts indicate that Wisdom was portrayed as a female bride by the ancient Israelites and bride-price language is used of Wisdom at Proverbs 8:22 with respect to God and His Wisdom. Wisdom was there as God's Amon when He created everything. Since the image in question is "male and female," these facts indicate that "us" at Genesis 1:26 is God and His Wisdom creating mankind, "them", "male and female" in the image of "us" where "us" is God and His Wisdom.
More Evidence: Wisdom of God, Eve, and the Garden of Eden
There is further evidence that "us" at Genesis 1:26 refers to God and His Wisdom. Observe how eating the fruit to gain wisdom focuses upon the female human: Eve. ADAM, male and female, were not to eat from the knowledge of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Eve was tempted and saw that the fruit was good to gain wisdom. And so she ate and gave to Adam and he also ate. And then we read that Yahweh God says, "the man has become as one of US." To eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and gain such Wisdom was to become "as one of us." Here we find another allusion to US and it is in the context of man becoming like US, or perhaps one OF US, by gaining wisdom, the knowledge of good and evil and in this way they became like God and His Wisdom, "according to our likeness." And so there is even more evidence that the "Us" of Genesis 1:26 is pointing to the Wisdom of God.
Again, take note how the eating of the fruit to gain Wisdom focuses upon Eve. If "male and female" man are the reflection and image of "Us" at Genesis 1:26, Adam would be the counterpart to God and Eve would be the counterpart to God's Wisdom. Wisdom is sourced in God just as Eve was sourced in the first man Adam. Eve was not created from nothing but was made out of Adam. Likewise, Wisdom finds its origin in God Himself. The parallels here are intended to show us that male and female humanity is the image of "US."
Elohim and the Manifold/Multifarious Wisdom of God
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies. (Ephesians 3:9-10).
The single person, God the Father, is called "Elohim" in the Scriptures. When we read the above quotation from the Apostle Paul, it becomes more clear why a plural noun would be used of a single person. The plurality in question is the manifold/multifarious Wisdom of God.
6. Determining Factors
- Trinitarians eisegetically read their doctrine into the text.
- Trinitarian scholars offer a wide variety of interpretations.
- An ancient Israelite wrote these words and ancient Israelites were expected to understand them.
- There is a singular versus plural interplay concerning Elohim/God.
- Adam is described in plural terms both here and in Genesis 5.
- There is also a singular versus plural interplay concerning Adam/Man.
- The plurality of Adam is given: "male and female."
- The image of "US" is "THEM": "male and female."
- The ancient Israelites perceived Wisdom like an espoused bride.
- The language of Proverbs 8:22, "the Lord acquired" me is typical bride-price language.
- Wisdom, personified as female, was there in the beginning when God created mankind.
- Wisdom was there in the beginning as Elohim's confirming assistant, God's Amon.
- Eve, who would be the corresponding image to female Wisdom, ate the fruit to gain Wisdom.
- When Eve at the fruit to gain Wisdom, we again find Elohim included within the US group saying, "man has become like one of US."
If US and OUR are understood as God and His Wisdom, we can see how it would have been easily understood by the ancient Israelites. And when we consider and appreciate all the evidence above, there is good reason to believe the text is about God and His Wisdom.
At Genesis 1:26, there is nothing at all which suggests we should believe the passage alludes to the Trinity. The notion of a Triune being must be imagined into the text to have it say something which it simply does not say. We do not even need to know what the passage does mean to illustrate there is no justification for the eisegetical interpretation of Trinitarian apologists. The Trinitarian interpretation is a total fabrication crafted to suit their fancies. There is also nothing unusual about God identifying with a group and speaking on behalf of that group. And although they may not harmonize or promote the Trinity, there are more plausible and reasonable interpretations of this passage which are much more harmonious with Scripture than imposing the extraneous concept of a Triune God into the words "us" and "our." And indeed, the facts demonstrate the words "US" and "OUR" are a reference to God and His Wisdom - Wisdom, God's Amon at the dawn of creation. And the point of Genesis 1:26 then, is that man was made in the image of male God the Father, and female Wisdom, since man, male and female was made "according to our image."
As a side note, I do not believe the above "Wisdom" interpretation excludes other interpretations such as, the pluralis majestatis, the pluralis excellentiae, or the "God and His angels" (heavenly court) interpretations, and perhaps others. I believe all of those interpretations are not mutually exclusive but complementary. In other words, each of them are different perspectives of the very same concept. I would also suggest that the interpretation described here is the basic framework upon which these other interpretations all fit together.
Yahweh acquired me at the beginning of His way... When He established the heavens, I was there... Then I was beside Him, His Amon, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world of His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men."
Created: July 23, 2014
Last Revision/Update: February 13, 2016