By Ronald R. Day
Genesis 1:26 – God [ELOHIM] said [singular verb], “Let us make [plural] man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Our trinitarian neighbors see this scripture as a reference to their trinitarian dogma. It is claimed that ELOHIM, being plural in form, means that their idea of “Godhead” has three persons, and that the plurality of “let us” means that one person of God is speaking to another person of God, using the plural form “us”. Some modalists and oneness believers also cite this scripture as proof of an alleged “plurality” in their Godhead consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Obviously, God here is speaking to someone. Normally, if a person says to his friend, “Let us do this or that according to our plans,” we do not think that the person who is speaking is speaking to another person of himself. Likewise, in those instances where God says “let us”, “we”, etc., God is not speaking to another person of Himself, but he is speaking to someone else who is not Himself. Indeed, the default reasoning should be that Jehovah is speaking to someone else who is not Himself.
The truth is that the idea that God is here speaking to Himself (allegedly as two different persons of Himself) has to be imagined, assumed, added to, and read into what the scripture actually says, and such has to be assumed only to conform to preconceived doctrine, which also has to be imagined, assumed, added to, and read into, each and every scripture that is used to allegedly support the extra-Biblical doctrine.
The plurality of ELOHIM means “gods”, not “persons” or “attributes”; thus, to apply this word to the Creator in plural terms would mean that Jehovah is gods [plural], not persons in one God. Nevertheless, the word in its meaning contains the attribute of mightiness, but this is one attribute, not attributes (plural).
Nevertheless, the scriptures do not apply ELOHIM to Jehovah with plurality, anymore than Jehovah Himself applies ELOHIM to Moses with plurality. (Exodus 7:1) Indeed, if ELOHIM used of Jehovah means that Jehovah is more than one person, then to be consistent, the one making such a claim should also claim that God made Moses more than one person to Pharaoh. When Jesus quoted Exodus 6:3, as recorded in Matthew 22:32, Jesus did not use a plural form of the word THEOS; he uses the singular form.
In reality, like several other Hebrew words, the plural forms of EL can be used in singular contexts to denote what we in English might call the superior or superlative degree. Regarding this usage in Biblical Hebrew (as well as some other ancient languages), scholars often call this the “plural intensive” usage, where a plural form of a word is used in a singular context and thus the plural form is viewed as singular, but is intensified in meaning (similar to the English superior or superlative degree). In other words, the plural form of a word is treated as though it were singular, but only intensified in meaning. In English we do this by adding “er” or “est” to many words, such as high, higher, highest, or we might add “more” or “most” before words. (However, in English, especially in its archaic forms, the plural is often employed as a plural intensive when addressing majesty, a judge, etc., as in “your Majesty”, and “your Honour”, instead of “thy Majesty” or “thy honour.”) Therefore, in Exodus 7:1, Jehovah stated that He was making Moses, not persons, to Pharaoh, but rather one person of superior might (ELOHIM) to Pharaoh.
The point, however, is that ELOHIM is used of the one Jehovah, the “one God” who is the Creator of His people. Jehovah is not more than one Jehovah, nor more than one god, nor is he more than one person, or individual, nor does a Supreme Being consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “Hear, Israel: Jehovah is our God; Jehovah is one.” “Hasn’t one God created us?” — Deuteronomy 6:4; Malachi 2:10.
So who was Jehovah speaking to as recorded in Genesis 1:26? Although there are some hints in the Old Testament, we have to look to the New Testament for the answer to this. John 1:1,2 tells us that the one who became flesh was with God in the beginning that is spoken of there. That “beginning” is not the beginning of the entire universe, as many have assumed, but it is the “beginning” of the “world” (Greek, Kosmos) that God created through the one called “the Word.” (John 1:10) All in this world was made through the one called “the Word”. Not one thing (pertaining to the world that was made through the Word) was made without the Word. (John 1:3) This one titled “the Word” became flesh, and came into the world that was made through him, and that world did not recognize him. (John 1:1,2,10) Jesus identified himself as that one who was with the “only true God” before the world of mankind was made. (John 17:1,3,5) “God”, whom the Word was with, refers to the One whom Jesus addressed as “the only true God”, that is, his God and Father. Jesus was with the only true God, and thus John 1:3,10 is really speaking of Jesus as the one through whom “God” made the world of mankind. Therefore, by comparing spiritual revealing with spiritual revealing (1 Corinthians 2:10-12), we can see that the one whom “the only true God” was addressing in Genesis 1:27 is Jesus.
However, someone may object, doesn’t John 1:1 tell us that, not only was the Word with [or toward, in service of] God, but also that the Word was “God”? Doesn’t this prove the trinitarian idea that God is more than one person? No, it doesn’t! It should be obvious, by comparing John 1:1,2 and John 17:1-5, that Jesus was with, or in service of, the only true God. Would John then say that Jesus “was” the only true God whom he was with? John twice states that the Word was with God, thus giving emphasis to this thought. The thought of two persons as the only true God is not inherent in the words of John 1:1,2, but the idea has to be imagined, assumed, added to, and read into what John wrote. One has to imagine and assume that John, in referring to “God” whom the Word was with, does not mean the alleged triune “God”, but that it means the first person of the alleged trinity as the Father. We know it is true that “God” whom the Word was with, toward or in service of, is the God and Father of Jesus, because of Jesus’ words as recorded in John 17:1,3,5. However, the part about the Father being a person of a trinity has to be imagined, assumed, added to, and read into, what John wrote in John 1:1,2, and Jesus’ reference to the Father as the “only true God” in John 17:3 has to either be ignored, or in some manner be interpreted (again this is often done by imaginative assumptions being added to and read into what Jesus stated) in order make Jesus’ words still mean that Jesus is a person of the only true God. Likewise, the trinitarian has to imagine, assume, add to, and read into what John said that the Word is the alleged second person of the trinity.
So why would John say that the Word was “God”, if we are not to imagine and assume he is a person of the only true God? Is there not only one God? Can Jesus be “God” who is not the only true God? And wouldn’t this mean that there is more than one true God? The answer again lies in comparing spiritual revealing with spiritual revealing (1 Corinthians 2:10-12), not by imagining, adding, and reading into the scripture a lot of assumptions that would make Jesus a person of his God. What is the true scriptural answer to why John would refer to Jesus as God?
It is obvious that John is not referring to Jesus as “God” in the same manner in which he speaks of “God” whom Jesus was with. In other words, it should be obvious that Jesus is not “God” whom he was with, and as mentioned before, John emphasized this by repeating it again in John 1:2. If Jesus is “God” who he was with, or in service of, then Jesus is the Father, since Jesus says that he with his Father, but trinitarians deny that Jesus is the Father.
The Greek word for God is usually transliterated as THEOS, and forms of this word are used twice in John 1:1. Forms of THEOS, in the New Testament, are used to translate forms of the Hebrew word that is often transliterated as EL; it should be apparent that the Hebrew writers of the New Testament were using THEOS in the same manner, and with same meaning, as the Hebrew writers of the Old Testament. In the words recorded at John 10:34,35, was Jesus saying that all the sons of the Most High are persons of the Most High, that they are all the only true God?
Psalm 82:6 – Who Are the Gods?
What many do not realize is that there is a scriptural Hebraic tradition that allows the usage of the words for “God” in a more general sense of might, power, authority, etc. Most translations of the Bible into English as well as other languages recognize this usage. We can use the most popular English translation — the King James Version — to illustrate such usage. This can be demonstrated in such verses where the KJV renders the word for “God” (forms of EL and ELOHIM in the Hebrew) so as to denote strength, power, might, rulership, etc., such as in the following verses: Genesis 23:6 (mighty); Genesis 30:8 (great); Genesis 31:29 (power); Deuteronomy 28:32 (might); 1 Samuel 14:15 (great); Nehemiah 5:5 (power); Psalm 8:5 (angels); Psalm 36:6 (great); Psalm 82:1 (mighty); Proverbs 3:27 (power); Psalm 29:1 (mighty); Ezekiel 32:21 (strong); Jonah 3:3 (exceeding). If one were to substitute “false god” in many of these verses, we would have some absurd statements. This proves that these words are used in a sense other than the only true God, or as “false god.”
If such Hebraic usage is applied to Jesus (who was with the only true God — John 17:1,3) in John 1:1, we would have “the Word was mighty,” and all makes perfect sense without adding all of the imaginations and assumptions that would have to accompany viewing the scripture through the tint of the trinity doctrine, or the oneness doctrine. Jesus was indeed a mighty one with the only true MIGHT before the world of mankind was made. Thus, the scriptural conclusion is that it was this “mighty” one that the only true God addressed in Genesis 1:26, using the term “let us.”
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Early Church’s Understanding of Genesis 1:26 – This is evidently written by a trinitarian.
Originally published April 12, 2009; Updated and Republished November 25, 2014
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