Many Trinitarians insist the words "us" and "our" are direct references to three specific persons, namely, the three persons/hypostases of the Trinity doctrine.
Examination of the Claim
1. Eisegetical Interpretation
The Trinitarian interpretation necessarily resorts to the 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 a Triune being. The doctrine of the Trinity is simply imposed upon the text as if it is already an accepted fact and then subsequently used as a basis to try and validate the doctrine of the Trinity: circular reasoning.
2. The Interpretations of Trinitarian Scholars
Trinitarian scholars have proposed a wide variety of interpretations of Genesis 1:26 including:
- Pluralis majestatis - the "Majestic We" or "Royal We" interpretation.
- Pluralis excellentiae - similar to but not exactly the same as pluralis majestatis
- God and the Angels - US is God as King of the Universe and His Royal court of the Angels
- God & His Wisdom - US is God deliberating with his Wisdom.
- God & His Creation - US is God and His Creation.
- God and the Earth - Man, adam, is made from the dust of the adamah (ground: feminine).
- Some combination or variation of the above.
- Miscellaneous Other interpretations.
The fact that many Trinitarian scholars do not believe this verse is a reference to their own doctrine of the Trinity clearly illustrates how they know very well that there is no reason to necessarily draw this conclusion and that Trinitarian apologists, and laypeople, are wishfully reading the doctrine of the Trinity into the text.
3. The Ancient Israelites
Since this Scripture was given for the ancient Israelities, it is reasonable to conclude they were expected to actually understand this passage. Indeed, Moses, an ancient Israelite himself, wrote these words. Should we not expect him to understand and comprehend what he wrote? And if we were to wishfully suppose that Moses was indeed aware that he was writing about a three-person-God, he apparently forgot to tell anyone since the Trinity is something the ancient Israelites never believed, conceived, or perceived. The ancient Israelites had on concept of a three-person-God. But we must expect that they would be able to understand these words 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? Not only so, Trinitarians are prepared to say the doctrine of the Trinity is a "progessive revelation." We simply cannot 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.
Elohim is the Hebrew word which is normally translated as "God" in English Bibles and it is the word which is used here at Genesis 1:26. Elohim is a grammatically masculine plural Hebrew noun. 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 and otherwise, do not agree upon the reason why Elohim appears in plural form and offer a range of proposed reasons.
Trinitarians often claim this word is plural to indicate the one God of Israel is a plural being, a multi-personal being. However, we do know this word was used to refer to single identities such as a pagan god. A cursory review of Scripture also shows that Elohim was also used to refer to the Father, a single person. If Elohim is used to refer to a single person, it hardly makes sense to insist the word is plural for the purpose of signifying plural persons.
5. 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. However, when the one God of Israel is in view, singular verbs are associated with Elohim. While Elohim is a plural noun, all the verbs attributed directly to Elohim in this passage 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 one identity in the US group and God is speaking on behalf of that group. One must also ask why there would be both plural and singular verbs used in this verse. While it says "Let us make", plural, we also then read that "He" created, not "They" created, singular. If we were to understand that Elohim was a WE (let us make - plural), then we would also expect the verse to then say "THEY created" rather than "HE created." But this is not what occurs. One must also keep in mind that "us" is simply the second person plural where "they" is the corresponding third person plural. Hence, from the perspective of Elohim, the identities "we" or "us" or the possessive "our" are necessarily a "they" and "them" or possessive "their."
Elohim speaks with a plural verb, "Let us make" but the passage also refers to Elohim with a singular verb, "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. Such claims also suggest that Trinitarians would like to believe that you can never really tell just who is speaking, the Triune God, or any one of the three persons of the Triune God, 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.'" The verb "said" would be clearly singular and the verb "persevere" be clearly plural. And nobody would conclude that 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 one would read the text as Trinitarians do, is for the sake of their own Trinitarian doctrine.
6. Cohortative Mood
There is nothing in the Hebrew grammar itself which indicates the "us" and "our" group are to be identified as Elohim alone. Such a conclusion cannot come from the grammar but only out of a wishful theological opinion and eisgetical thought process. The text actually reads, "Elohim He said, "Let us..." where a plural noun is used with a singular verb. 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 this group in which he includes himself. In other words, with respect to the grammar itself, we can say nothing more than that Elohim is a singular "He" and speaking on behalf of the "us" group in which He is including Himself.
However, at this point, the question of interpretation becomes theological because Elohim says that man will be created in "our" image and we also read immediately thereafter that man was created in "his" image. Trinitarians simply assume here that the one three person being refers to himself (or themselves) as "us" and then Moses subsequently refers to the same being as a "he", implying the possessive "our" and "his" respectively. Put another way, they implicitly presume God can be either identified at will as a "he" or an "us" and the distinction between these terms in this passage are irrelevant to a proper identification of Elohim. The "our" image of the three persons is assumed to be "his" image, the image of the one three person being.
Additionally, most Trinitarians rule out the "God and His Angels" interpretation due to the words "our image", rejecting any notion that man was created in the image of angels themselves, or that man could have been made in the image of God and His angels where it is understand God and His angels have a common image and likeness whether or not that image and likeness is defined, and God is speaking on behalf of the entire group. The notion that man was created in the image and likeness of God and his angels is rejected even though both God and angels are spirit and angels are appear as men, and are even called, "men" in the Scriptures, a fact which is generally ignored among Trinitarians.
Analysis of the Facts
1. The Problem with the "Elohim = Plural Persons" Claim
The claim that the Hebrew word Elohim means plural persons falls apart on several accounts. First, the Scriptures refer to singular pagan gods as "elohim." But even more telling is that the word Elohim is used to refer to the Father exclusively. God the Father is not a multi-personal being. Rather, he is a singular person. The following verses are quotations from the Old Testament which use the word Elohim to refer to an identity who cannot be anyone other than the Father only, that is, one person.
The Elohim who raised up the prophet Jesus and sent His servant Jesus is necessarily God the Father: One Person..
Moses said, "The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to Him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' God, having raised up His servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness." (Acts 3:22-25).
The LORD your God (Elohim) will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.... I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
This Old Testament quotation is very interesting. If we used the Trinitarian translation of Hebrews 1:8, it results in the Hebrew word Elohim first being used to refer to one person exclusively, the Son, and then immediately used again (twice) in the same breath to refer to another singular person exclusively, the Father.
But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond thy comrades. (Hebrews 1:8)
Your throne, O God (Elohim), is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God (Elohim), your God (Elohim), has anointed you With the oil of joy above your fellows. (Psalm 45:6-7).
In this verse, an Old Testament quotation has Jesus doing the will of his God, that is, his Elohim.
Then I said, 'Behold, I have come -- In the scroll of the book it is written of me -- To do Your will, O God.' (Hebrews 10:7).
Then I said, "Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God (Elohim). (Psalm 40:7-8).
The point here is to demonstrate that Elohim is most definitely not plural because it refers to plural persons as many Trinitarians like to claim. Elohim is clearly used in the above Old Testament verses to refer to a single person: God the Father. The claim that Elohim is plural because the word is intended to refer plural persons is therefore obviously wrong. And this claim also creates an insurmountable contradiction since this word is obviously used to refer to an identity who is not plural persons but who is rather singular, a single person.
2. Male and Female: Identifying the Image in Question
It seems to be further assumed by Trinitarians that the words "male and female He created them" do not qualify the preceding words "in our image and likneness" and these particular words are therefore irrelevant to the identification of the US/OUR group mentioned in this passage. The words "male and female" are essentially ignored or dismissed with respect to the identification of the image and likeness in question. Put another way, Trinitarians disregard any suggestion that the image and likeness in question is male and female. This is largely due to the fact that it does not make any sense in Trinitarian doctrine to suppose two persons of opposite genders (i.e. male and female), are a reflection (image and likeness) of the three persons of the Trinity especially when these three are regarded as the same gender (three He's). If indeed, the image and likeness in question is "male and female", Trinitarian doctrine is left speechless since this would imply two and not three identities and there is also no female aspect to the three person being of Trinitarian doctrine (while the Hebrew word ruach is grammatically feminine in gender, the Holy Spirit is also never considered to be a SHE in the doctrine of the Trinity).
3. The Singular versus Plural Interplay Concerning Both Elohim and Adam
A further critical issue concerns the interplay between singular and plural identities in this passage. While Trinitarians insist a singular vs. plural interplay exists in the words of this passage concerning Elohim, they seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that the same singular vs. plural interplay also exists in this passage with respect to man, "Let us create.... our image.... let THEM rule... and God created MAN... He created HIM... He created THEM. This singular versus plural interplay when man is in view suggests that if mankind is an image and likeness reflection of Elohim, then HE, singular man, reflects the HE of Elohim, and the THEM, man, reflects the US, and the image and likeness of Elohim, both in singularity and plurality, is reflected by man, male and female, both in singularlity and plurality. One would not, however, suppose that man is a multipersonal being. If indeed, this plurarity of man reflects the image and likeness of God, this verse tells us precisely how man is an image and likeness of God. Indeed, it also tells us that if man is not a multi-personal being then God isn't either since one is the image and likeness of the other.
Plural ADAM is "Male and Female"
It is further clarified for us that both the first man and woman were called "ADAM" by god. Plural Adam, they/them, is male and female. We must also not forget that Eve was created out of Adam and when they came together, "the two shall become ONE."
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).
And God 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 God created ADAM in His own image, in the image of God He created HIM, MALE and FEMALE He created them.
Singular ADAM vs. Plural ADAM
At Genesis 1:26-27, we find the ADAM is singular and plural, 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 need to appreciate the interplay between singular and plural concerning ADAM. God called THEM, both male and female, "ADAM." ADAM is not only a HE but a THEY, both male and female The same thing occurs in Genesis 1:26-27.
And God 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 God created ADAM in His own image, in the image of God He created HIM, male and female He created THEM. And God blessed THEM and God said, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue itand rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over all life that moves upon the earth.
4. 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
When we know that ADAM is both singular and plural, and we take a careful look at the verse above, we are strongly led to, believe that the image and likeness of US and OUR is "male and female."
5. The "Image and Likeness" is a Mirror Image Reflection of the Reality
We know that we can look at the image of something to know what the original looks like. If we look at the image and likeness here, it suggests that the original is "male and female" since Adam and Eve are that image, "Let US make man in our image" and "male and female He created THEM." So if we look at Adam and Eve as the image of God and a reflection of the original reality, we should be able to see figure out what the original male and female is. We do the same thing when we look at a picture on a jigsaw puzzle box. The picture on the box is the image and likeness of the puzzle itself; it reflects the puzzle itself and tells us what the puzzle is supposed to look like. In the same way, since man, both 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.
The Image Reflects the Reality
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 reflect the US and OUR of Genesis 1:26.
The Male-Female Image Reflects the Male-Female Reality.
THEY (Adam and His Bride) are an image of US (God and ?)
The Two Shall Become ONE
A Key Question: Does the "Image and Likeness" = "Male and Female"?
In order to find the right answer, we need to ask the right questions. God called both the male and female humans by the name "ADAM." So we must ask if the Bible suggests to us that ADAM, as male and female, are together "the image and likeness" in question? Can we look at the image reflection, Adam and Eve, to understand what the original looks like? If the image of God in question, then may we conclude the original "US" and "OUR" of this passage is male and female? Is Adam made male and female as the image of US and OUR (Let US make.... OUR image) because US and OUR are indeed male and female? Do the Scriptures tell us? We need to look.
God and His Wisdom: Male and Female
1. Created in God's Wisdom
All things were created in the Wisdom of God. We must keep in mind that this includes man who is the pinnacle of God's creation and who is to take dominion of all creation which was created in God's 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).
2. Wisdom was There When God created Man
In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as a female entity, commonly called "Lady Wisdom" among theologians. And in chapter 8 of Proverbs she speaks:
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).
3. Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs and the Perfect Wife
The Book of Proverbs is written to exhort reads to embrace Wisdom. Throughout the book, the Virtuous Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Folly the Adulteress. She is to be courted rather than the adulteress. And indeed, 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
4. The Bride-Price Language of Proverbs 8:22
In the Hebrew language, and in ancient Hebrew thought, the words stated in Proverbs 8:22, "The LORD acquired me," are bride-price language. This concept is reflected in the Bible where we read that Jesus bought his bride at a price. At Proverbs 8:22, where Wisdom aids God in creation, we are to understand that Wisdom is God`s bride just as Eve is Adam`s Helper and bride.
5. Wisdom as a Bride: How God's Wisdom was Perceived in the Ancient Jewish Mind
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 the LORD, 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.
6. Wisdom of God, Eve, and the Garden of Eden
Eve was not to eat from the knowledge of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But she 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 the LORD 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 is 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 so there is even more evidence that the US of Genesis 1:26 is a reference to God and His Wisdom.
It is also very interesting that the eating of the fruit to gain Wisdom focuses upon Eve. If "male and female" man are the reflection and image of US and OUR in Genesis 1:26, Eve would be the counterpart to Wisdom where Adam would be the counterpart to God the Father.
A further likelihood is that the creation of Eve in Genesis 2 likely parallels Creation as a reflection of God's Wisdom. It was not good that Adam was alone thus Eve. It was not good that God was alone thus Creation.
7. 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, is starts to become more clear why a plural noun would be used of a single person. The plurality in question is the manifold/multifarious Wisdom of God.
The Determining Factors
There are a number of clear facts concerning Genesis 1:26-27 which are determining factors in an appropriate intepretation of this passage.
- Trinitarians eisegetically read their doctrine into the text.
- Trinitarian scholars offer a wide variety of interpretations, including the God and his Wisdom interpretation.
- A non-Trinitarian ancient Israelite wrote this passage and the ancient Israelites were expected to understand it.
- There is a singular versus plural interplay concerning Elohim.
- Adam is described in plural terms both here and in Genesis 5.
- There is also a singular versus plural interplay concerning Adam.
- The plurality of Adam is "male and female."
- Wisdom, personified as female, was there in the beginning when God created mankind.
- 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 was there in the beginning as Elohim's confirming assistant.
- Eve, who would be the corresponding image of God's 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.
There is nothing here to support the doctrine of the Trinity. The notion of a Triune being must be imagined into the text to have the text say something it simply does not. 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. There is also nothing unusual about God identifying with a group and speaking on behalf of that group. 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 who was beside him at the dawn of creation.
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, His earth, And having my delight in the sons of men."
Last Update: November 24, 2013