Gen 1:26, "Us"
The helpful note in the NIV Study Bible (a Trinitarian Bible,
by the way!) on Gen 1:26 points out that God involved His angels in some way
with creation. Angels, when they appear, look like men (Gen 18:2). Both man and
angels bear a resemblance to God Himself.
"When angels appear in the OT they are frequently described as
men (Gen 18:2). And in fact the use of the singular verb in v 27 does in fact
suggest that God worked alone in the creation of mankind. 'Let us create man'
should therefore be regarded as a divine announcement to the heavenly court,
drawing the angelic host's attention to the master stroke of creation, man. As
Job 38:4,7 puts it: 'When I laid the foundation of the earth all the Sons of God
shouted for joy' (cp Luk 2:13,14)" (WBC).
"The OT can scarcely be used as authority for the existence of
distinctions within the Godhead. The use of 'us' by the divine speaker (Gen
1:26, 3:32, 11:7) is strange, but it is perhaps due to His consciousness of
being surrounded by other beings of a loftier order than men (Isa 6:8)" (AB
Davidson, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible 3:205).
"From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held
that the plural in Gen 1:26 is used because God is addressing his heavenly
court, ie, the angels (cf Isa 6:8). From the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin
Martyr, who saw the plural as a reference to Christ, Christians have
traditionally seen this verse as foreshadowing the Trinity. It is now
universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original
"The fanciful idea that Elohim referred to the Trinity of
persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars. It is either
what the grammarians call the plural of majesty, or it denotes the fullness of
divine strength, the sum of the powers displayed by God" (SBD).
"Early dogmaticians were of the opinion that so essential a
doctrine as that of the Trinity could not have been unknown to the men of the
OT... No modern theologian... can longer maintain such a view. Only an
inaccurate exegesis which overlooks the more immediate grounds of interpretation
can see references to the Trinity in the plural form of the divine name Elohim,
the use of the plural in Gen 1:26 or such liturgical phrases as three members of
the Aaronic blessing of Num 6:24-26 and the three 'holy's' of Isa 6:3"
(Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge 12:18).
"The plural form of the name of God, elohim, in the Hebrew
Scriptures has often been adduced as proof of the plurality of persons in the
Godhead... Such use of Scripture will not be likely to advance the interests of
truth, or be profitable for doctrine... The plural of elohim may just as well
designate a multiplicity of divine potentialities in the deity as three personal
distinctions, or it may be explained as the plural of majesty and excellency.
Such forms of expression are susceptible of too many explanations to be used as
valid proof texts of the Trinity" (M Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics
Whenever "elohim" refers to the one true God, it is always
accompanied by singular verbs, although the word "elohim" itse is plural.
Whenever "elohim" refers to more than one false god, it is accompanied by plural
verbs. This is significant. Grammatically, "elohim" refers to the one true God
only, although the word is plural. If the reason "elohim" is used of the true
God is to indicate He is more than one, plural verbs would have to be used.
For example, in the first verse of the Bible, the third person
masculine singular verb "bara" ("created") is used with "elohim". Since the verb
is singular, it is required that He who did the creating is singular. In this
case, the only option left to explain the plural form of "elohim" is that
"elohim" refers to the fullness and intensity of the attributes of God. [This
then may be an example of the rather common Hebrew phenomena: the plural of
majesty -- in this case "GODS" or "MIGHTY ONES", plural, would signify "The
Greatest of All (Gods, or Mighty Ones)!"]
In Exo 32:4, where "elohim" is used of a plurality of false
gods, the verb "brought... up out is third person common plural. The plural verb
demands that "elohim" be referring to more than one false god. Although in this
case only one golden calf was made, it was considered a representative of the
In Deu 4:28 a series of third person masculine plural verbs,
"see," "hear," "eat," and "smell," are used to describe the inabilities of false
gods ("elohim"). This demonstrates that if the intention of "elohim" is to
indicate more than one, plural verbs will be used. If the intention of "elohim"
is to indicate only one, singular verbs are used.
When the inspired Greek of the NT quotes from an OT reference
where "elohim" is used of the one true God, the Greek "theos" is singular (as in
Psa 45:6,7 and Heb 1:8,9). When the NT quotes an OT reference in which "elohim"
refers to people or false gods, the plural form of "theos" is used (as in Psa
82:6 and John 10:34-35; Exo 32:1 and Acts 7:40).
The Greek languages does not use plurals in the same way as
the Hebrew (that is, to indicate intensity, fullness, and plurality of
attributes). Since both the Hebrew and the Greek are inspired, if the point of
"elohim", when used of the true God, was to indicate God is more than one, the
Greek would use the plural form of the noun. The fact that the Greek uses the
singular "theos" where the Hebrew scriptures use the plural "elohim" of God
Himself, is more than sufficient to prove that He is One, not three.
In Psa 45:6, "elohim" is used of the Messiah alone. There is
only one Messiah, but the plural noun is used to indicate his immeasurable
majesty. (And of course, no Trinitarian would try to argue that the Messiah
himself is more than one person!)
In Gen 1:26, "elohim" (plural) said (third masculine
singular), "Let us make (first person common plural) man (noun masculine
singular) in our image ("image" is a masculine singular noun with a first person
common plural suffix), after our likeness ("likeness" is a feminine singular
noun with a first person common plural suffix)."
Grammatically, the words, "make," "us" and "our" in this verse
cannot refer to "elohim" alone, for the verb connected with "elohim" ("said") is
singular. If God had intended here to include only Himself in His address, He
would have used a singular verb and pronouns. If God actually consisted of more
than one person, we would expect to see the plural form of "make" and the plural
pronouns "us" and "our" -- but in this case, the verb "said" would be plural as
well (which it is not the case in Gen 1:26.)
Johannes Drusius (a 16th Century Protestant professor of
Oriental languages at Oxford University) recognized the weakness of the standard
Trinitarian argument from the Hebrew word elohim: "In 'Elohim created' it is
thought that a mystery is concealed and that a plurality of persons is implied.
For what reason? Because a plural noun is construed with a singular verb. This
is partly true and partly false as to the sense. For when 'elohim' is spoken of
one, its significance is singular, being used of the one God everywhere and of
an individual angel, calf, idol and man.
"And our opinion is demonstrated by other arguments. Both
Jerome and Procopius call it a noun of the common number, because it is used of
one God and of a plurality. But if this is true, and of this there cannot be any
doubt, the argument drawn from the number falls to the ground; for when employed
of an individual, what child would say that this noun has ever a plural
"Who would affirm that there are various cities of the names
of Athenoe, Theboe Salonoe, because these are each spoken of in the plural
number? Who would deny that there is one supreme heaven, which the apostle terms
the third and David the heaven of the heavens, because in Hebrew it is called
shamayim in the dual form, or as preferred by Jerome in the plural? Who would
infer that there are many darknesses because in Latin the corresponding word is
not employed in the singular number? (tenebrae).
"There is equally a mystery — but which no one
recognizes — in the plural baalim (lords). This word is sometimes used of
one lord and having a singular sense; as well as in adonim (lords) when said of
the One God.
"Because I have written that the noun 'elohim' does not from
its termination signify the Trinity, I am accused of being a Unitarian Arian,
when my adversaries should rather be called Sabellians (Modalists) since they
make the holy sprit the spirit of himself and say that Christ was self-begotten
and what is very absurd constitute a plurality in individual persons.
"For though they do not say so expressly, yet all of this
necessarily results from their opinion. So true it is that 'when fools fly from
one fault they run into the contrary.' And when unlearned men avoid errors they
fall into others."
Drusius' argument was later vindicated by another great
Orientalist --Wilhelm Gesenius:
"The language has entirely rejected the idea of numerical
plurality in 'elohim (whenever it denotes one God).... [This] is proved
especially by its being almost invariably joined with a singular attribute"
(such as a singular adjective or verb).
For more information on the subject, consult Gesenius' Hebrew
Grammar, pages 396-401, 1909 edition.
The Trinitarian interpretation, therefore, is totally
inconsistent. It requires us to accept that the word "us" denotes a plurality of
creators (whereas the Trinitarian dogma teaches that only one person -- Christ
-- was responsible for creation), and when we get to v 27 (where the Creator is
referred to in the singular form), this entire argument implodes in a puff of
This is a wantonly inconsistent hermeneutic. In order to be
consistent, v 27 would have to say, "So God created man in their own image. In
the image of God created they him; male and female created they them"
(corresponding to the "us" of v 26). This would confirm that more than one
person is referred to by the singular use of "God" in v 27. It would certainly
lend support to the Trinitarian reading. And yet, we find that in both cases,
singular pronouns are used.
- Trinitarians take the "God" of v 26 as a reference to one person of the
- Trinitarians take the "God" of v 27 as a reference to all three
persons of the Trinity.
Trinitarians cannot claim that the word "he" in v 27 is used
to denote the Godhead as a whole, without (a) running contrary to
Trinitarianism, and (b) contradicting their own argument from v 26.
As some Trinitarian exegetes have realized, the "plurality of
persons" argument simply does not do justice to the text:
"Early dogmaticians were of the opinion that so essential a
doctrine as that of the Trinity could not have been unknown to the men of the
OT. However, no modern theologian who clearly distinguishes between the degrees
of revelation in the Old and New Testaments can longer maintain such a view.
"Only an inaccurate exegesis which overlooks the more
immediate grounds of interpretation can see references to the Trinity in the
plural form of the divine name Elohim, the use of the plural in Gen 1:26, or
such liturgical phrases of three members as the Aaronic blessing of Num 6:24-26
and the Trisagion (qv) of Isa 6:3.
"On the other hand, the development of Christology and, later,
of the doctrine of the Trinity has undoubtedly been influenced by certain
passages of the OT" [The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
(1957), Vol 12, page 18].
The grammar of Gen 1:26 itself demonstrates that when God (the
singular "Elohim") spoke, He included someone else in His statement. But to whom
did He speak? The Jews believe that in Genesis 1:26 God addressed His angels
when He said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." It was not a
literal invitation, for only God Himself was responsible for the creation of man
-- but it was a reference to persons other than Himself.
Standard authorities -- yes, even Trinitarian authorities --
confirm the point. Thus:
This interpretation of Genesis 1:26 is (a) consistent with the
text in a way that the Trinitarian "plurality of God" interpretation is not, and
(b) compatible with both Jewish Unitarianism and modern Biblical Unitarianism.
It is the most reasonable interpretation, and it is the most logical
- "The OT can scarcely be used as authority for
the existence of distinctions within the Godhead. The use of 'us' by the divine
speaker (Gen 1:26; 3:32; 11:7) is strange, but it is perhaps due to His
consciousness of being surrounded by other beings of a loftier order than men
(Isa 6:8)" (Davidson, AB, Hastings Dictionary of the
- "I do not find the difficulties raised
against the view that God was consulting the angels compelling... When angels
appear in the OT they are frequently described as men (Gen 18:2). And in fact
the use of the singular verb in v 27 does in fact suggest that God worked alone
in the creation of mankind. 'Let us create man' should therefore be regarded as
a divine announcement to the heavenly court, drawing the angelic host's
attention to the master stroke of creation, man. As Job 38:4,7 puts it: 'When I
laid the foundation of the earth all the Sons of God shouted for joy' (cp Luk
2:13,14)" (Wenham, Gordon, Word Biblical Commentary on
A popular alternative to this view is the idea that God
referred to himself in the language of royalty (known as the pluralis
majestatis.) Writing in his Hebrew Grammar, Gesenius advances the following
"Greatness, especially in a metaphorical sense, as associated
with power and sovereignty, is plurally expressed. Hence, there are several
nouns which are used in the plural as well as the singular, to denote Lord or
God (Pluralis majestaticus vel excellentioe), eg Eloah. God is scarcely found in
the singular, except in poetry; in prose; commonly elohim; adon, lord, old form
of the plural adonai, the Lord, kat exochen (God), shaddai, the Almighty.
"Often the idea of greatness is no longer associated with the
form, the mind having accustomed itself to contemplate the powerful in general
as a plural. Another example of the plural majestatis is the use of we by Deity
in speaking of Himself (Gen 1:26; 11:7; Isa 6:8) and by kings. The German
language has it not only in this latter case, but in addressing a second person
by Ihr and Sie. This plural is also found in modern Arabic and
The problem for Trinitarians who take Gen 1:26 as a reference
to the alleged "plurality" of God, is that:
No Trinitarian has ever succeeded in explaining why God
attempted to "prove" His alleged "plurality" by referring to Himself in plural
form within the meager scope of a pitiful four verses, which, if taken as a
reference to plurality, flatly contradict the grammatical consistency that we
find elsewhere in the Bible. (David Burke)
- only four passages in the entire Bible can be
advanced in support of this argument (and in one of those, we are expressly told
that God is surrounded by His angels),
- if God had
intended to reveal Himself as a "plurality", it is peculiar that He didn't make
it clearer, and
- there is simply not enough
consistency in the argument itself, let alone the Biblical