Genesis 1:26

Genesis 1:26

Here I am going to respond to selections of Kel’s article.  The selections I have chosen are the ones I regard as embodying Kel’s main arguments; I have left out what I regard as repetitious or off the point.  If I have missed or misunderstood Kel’s arguments, anyone who reads this – including Kel – is welcome to bring that to my attention.

. . .

I do not use Genesis 1:26 and similar passages in the Old Testament as proof of the Trinity doctrine because of my own uncertainty on exactly what is intended by plural forms in ancient Hebrew, especially as it applies to God.  Why, for example, does God occasionally but very rarely refer to himself as “us” and “our” in the “Old Testament?  And why is “Elohim” a plural word yet clearly refers to only one God?  The immediate verses under consideration is Genesis 1:26-27.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – RSV

Why did God say “us” and “our” in this passage?

Explanations I do not find convincing

1 I don’t believe the “us” and “our” are examples of the so called “royal we” because I don’t believe there is any evidence this form of speech even existed in Scripture during the time Moses complied the book of Genesis.  I do not accept Ezra 4:18 as a clear example (where the king said, “The letter which you sent to us has been plainly read before me”) because the king may have been thinking of other members of the court even though the letter was addressed to him.  Besides, Ezra 4:18 was written long after Moses’ description of creation in Genesis.

2 I am not convinced the “us” and the “our” are examples of a “majestic plural” because as far as we know from the available evidence, the whole idea of a majestic plural might have been cooked up long after the Old Testament was written.  The majestic plural is itself an attempt to explain the very question we are examining.  Also, if this manner of speaking expresses majesty, why does God so rarely use it, when God of all beings is infinitely more majestic than anyone else?

3 I am not convinced that the “us” and the “our” denote God speaking to the angels, because angels cannot create anything and because the Bible specifies man was made in God’s image, not an angel’s image.  I have seen one attempt to argue that since the verse says “let us make man in our image” and not “let us create man in our image” that the angels would not have had to create anything in order to help God “make” man, and that since angels are moral agents like God, man was made in their image as well as God’s.

This is a fairly decent argument, since God often does use angels to accomplish his purposes.  It has at least three weaknesses, however; one is that the Scripture says “So God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27) where the word “bara” or “create” is used, and because it follows so closely upon verse 26 it appears to equate the making of verse 26 with creating.  Two is that neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture does it say or imply that angels helped God in any way to make man.  So this part of the argument rests completely on an assumption with no evidence.  The third weakness is that the Scripture never says that angels were created in God’s image, at least not in the same degree that man was, so that part of the argument must make another unproven assumption that they were so created.

4 I do not find the so called “plural of deliberation” convincing because no matter how momentous the making of man was, God doesn’t have to deliberate at all as he does not have to think discursively (from subject to subject in a process of time).  He knows all things intuitively.  Further, where else in the Bible is a “plural of deliberation” even found?

5 I find even less convincing the idea that God was speaking to the dust of the earth.  Certainly the dust cannot create or make anything, and although one of the ingredients God used to make man is dust, that simply means we are made of dust, not that we are made in the image of dust or are made by the dust.

But how about the idea that the “us” and the “our” refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit discussing the making of man?  Although I am one who believes that the Trinity has been revealed in the New Testament and that therefore Genesis 1:26-27 could be words exchanged between Persons within God, I repeat what I said before: I am not confident about the exact meaning of the plural form in ancient Hebrew and so I am not sure that the Trinity is directly referred to in this passage.  Because of this I will not attempt to analyze everything Kel has to say in this section but will instead give my general observations.

I will say for the record that I regard the apparent Divine plurals found in Genesis 1:26 as a hint of a mystery within God of which one explanation — perhaps the most probable —  could be a plurality of Divine persons.  However, I regard the Trinity as proven not by this passage but by later revelation found in the New Testament.

Kel’s Accusations against Trinitarians

Argument:

“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 . . .”

Response:

How does he know that?  Isn’t it possible, indeed likely, that those scholars aren’t positive about the nuances of meaning of plurals in ancient Hebrew, and so they have a variety of theories?  Isn’t it more likely that the multiplicity of theories concerning ancient Hebrew plurals is due to a lack of certainty among modern scholars than it is some kind of conspiracy to deceive?

Argument:

“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?”

Response:

In order to evaluate Kel’s claims here, it is important to see how ancient Jewish scholars translated the words of Genesis 1:26.  In the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament in which the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word for “God” (Elohim, אֱלֹהִ֔ים) though plural in Hebrew is translated as (Θεός) which is singular in Greek.  This continues to be true throughout the rest of the Old Testament.  This shows that the plural Elohim was known to convey a singular meaning despite its plural form.  However, the word for “let us make” (naaseh, נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה) which is plural, is translated as “let us make” (ποιήσωμεν) which is plural in the Greek as well.  This shows that for whatever reason the “us” in Genesis 1:26 was known to convey the plural meaning which comes across in our English translations today.

If those ancient Jewish scholars had known that a singular meaning was the intent, wouldn’t they have translated the words “us” and “our” as “me” and “my?”

To reinforce this point, let us look at the words of The Stone Edition Chumash, Artscroll Series, which reflects the views of more modern Jewish scholars and is also based upon the oral Torah:

“Targum Yonasan paraphrases: ‘And God said to the ministering angels who had been created on the second day of Creation of the world, Let us make Man.  When Moses wrote the Torah and came to this verse (let us make), which is in the plural and implies that there is more than one Creator, he said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You thus furnish a pretext for heretics to maintain that there is a plurality of divinities?’ ‘Write!’ God replied.  ‘Whoever wishes to err will err . . . Instead, let them learn from their Creator who created all, yet when He came to create Man He took counsel with the ministering angels’ (Midrash). Thus God taught that one should always consult others before embarking upon major new initiatives, and He was not deterred by the possibility that some might choose to find a sacrilegious implication in the verse.”

Evidently, they (both the traditional Jewish thinkers since the Septuagint and the more modern scholars who quoted from them) felt that there is a real plural in the text, not only in grammar but in meaning, which as anti-Trinitarians they feel needs some kind of explanation.

This tends to pour cold water on Kel’s belief that Trinitarians who claim these passages refer to the Trinity must be dishonest because they know that these verses aren’t actually referring to a plurality of persons within God.  Isn’t it much more likely that such Trinitarians actually believe they are right, and if they are not, that is due to an honest misunderstanding of the precise meaning of plurals in this ancient language?

Argument:

“Trinitarians also have a habit of presuming the Hebrew word Elohim is plural for the purpose of indicating multiple persons are being identified.”

Response:

As I do not believe “Elohim” conveys a plural meaning for reasons mentioned above, I will not deal with Kel’s arguments on this point.  I do think that the plural form of the word may be a hint about God embedded in the grammar of the Hebrew language – a hint that plurality and singularity are not to be as sharply distinguished as moderns are in the habit of doing.  But I make no claim to know exactly how the ancient Israelites understood it.

And having brought up that point, I do not think there is any reason to suppose that the first hearers of an ancient biblical text must necessarily have fully understood all the implications of that text.  Perhaps there were mysteries hinted at in the text that were not meant to be fully understood until later revelation came along.  If this is never the case, if the first hearers must always understand what they were hearing and seeing, then why did Jesus say things like  “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand,” and why did Jesus say  Jesus said “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” in John 5:46; and yet it was not obvious to the Jews who first heard and saw Moses words that Jesus said referred to himself, for Paul spoke of “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you . . .”

In short, Kel searches long and hard in this section for reasons why Trinitarian apologists are not telling us the truth about Genesis 1:26-27, but all he really manages to prove is that some Trinitarian scholars don’t agree with each other about these verses.

Argument:

One final point is that Kel makes the argument that since the image of God (who said “us” and “our”) is man who was made male and female (only two persons), that Trinitarians are mistaken in seeing “three” in this text; the example he gives to illustrate this is a water surface reflection of a male and a female, which are only two people.

Response:

To that I would answer that a reflection always reproduces the three dimensional original as a two dimensional image, yet it is still an image.  As such this illustration does nothing to advance Kel’s argument.

Argument:

“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.”

Response:

This is fascinating to me because it appears that Kel’s conclusion is exactly the opposite of what his evidence implies, since by saying that Adam is not just a he but also a they, is it not obvious that Adam (as man) is PRECISELY a multi-personal being?

Argument:

“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.”

Response:

It is not Trinitarians, but the text of Genesis itself, that makes these puzzling grammatical transitions between singular and plural; and that the Jewish Hebrew scholars who have analyzed this text over the millennia recognize this is illustrated by the evidence I presented above.  By the way, Trinitarians do not think that the three persons ”us” are a singular “he;” rather, they think that the three persons “us” can either speak in unison or else speak through the Divine person called “the Word” who is may be saying “I” for the Father or “I” for himself, not needing to reference any other Divine Person since all of them have one mind on every subject.

Conclusion

Although I regard Genesis 1:26 as not being a major Trinitarian proof text, the whole section is still interesting because it illustrates Kel’s extreme mistrust of Trinitarians, as do most of the other sections of his website.