The “US” Verses
Closely related to the discussion of the trinity in creation and the Hebrew word for God-Elohim, is the problem created by the mishandling of Genesis 1:26, and the related verses, Genesis 3:22, 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8.
Many see in these an implicit (some would say explicit) suggestion that God exists as more than one person. After all, what else could the plural verb “let us” and the plural noun “our” mean?
Is not the best explanation the fact that already in the very first chapter of the opening book of scripture, we have an indication of a plurality of persons in the Godhead? We are not told how many persons, and we have nothing approaching a complete or explicit doctrine of the trinity.
It does seem, however, to imply more than one person is involved. Or does it?
Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting in their work, “The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-inflicted Wound,” point out that“An occasionalgrammatical anomaly cannot possibly offset the evidence of thousands of occurrences in which the Divine Name and titles take singular verbs.” (Buzzard and Hunting. 1998. 23).
The singular El and Eloah (God), both affirm the oneness of God. It is amazing the tenacity of those who continue to advance, against the evidence of thousands of texts in which God is described by singular pronouns and verbs, the four “US” verses, as proof positive that God is triune.
Genesis 1:26 is perhaps the most familiar of these:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness…”
To assert this as conclusive of God’s plurality is precarious at best.
As in the case with Elohim, most modern scholars no longer take the phrase “Let us” to mean a plurality of persons in the trinity.
The same can be said of Genesis 3:22,“Behold, the man has become as one of us…,”
Genesis 11:7“…let us go down, and there confound their language.” and
Isaiah 6:8 “Whom shall I send and who will go for us”.Note carefully thecombination of singular and plural in the same sentence in the Isaiah passage.
This same combination also appears in the Genesis creation account. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image…,”
However, in Genesis 1:27 we find that “…God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him…”
The use of this so-called “Divine Plural” has puzzled scholars and students of scripture for thousands of years. It has been understood historically in several ways:
- God conversing with the angels (The historic Jewish viewpoint)
- God counseling with His own will (As also in Eph.
- A plural pronoun agreeing with and necessitated by the plural noun Elohim
- A majestic or literary plural
- A prophetic reference to the future manifestation of the Son of God
It is fanciful to imagine that this verse supports the idea that God was speaking to the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Where in scripture does the Lord ever speak to His own Spirit?
The text says nothing about an eternal son, the second member of a co-equal, co-eternal trinity.
The “Us” in the text gives no indication of two other equal partners in the Godhead. To claim otherwise is merely creative imagination or faulty exegesis.
If God is indeed a single “person” His use of the word “us” means that He is addressing someone other than Himself, someone other than God.
Even among Trinitarians, different authors take different sides on this issue. Some have suggested these are plurals of majesty, a form of speech a king would use in saying, for example, “We are not amused,” or “We are pleased to grant your request.”
In Old Testament Hebrew there are no other examples of a monarch using plural pronouns of himself in such a plural of majesty. This leads some to conclude that this suggestion has no evidence to support it.
It should be noted however, that both Alexander the Great (152 BC) and King Demetrius (145 BC) refer to themselves in this way in the Septuagint text of I Maccabees 10:19 and 11:31. Of course this is Greek, not Hebrew and written long after Genesis.
Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar rejects the Plural of Majesty as an incorrect explanation for these passages. It prefers, in the case of Genesis 1:26– “A plural of self-deliberation.” (Gesenius. 1910. 124.n2). (Compare this with Ephesians 1:11).
A search for a Jewish interpretation in the Babylonian Talmud, the Targumim and the Midrashim reveals only that the later rabbinic interpreters were unable to reach agreement on a satisfactory interpretation of the passage. The “Plural of Majesty” and “God speaking to angels” are the most commonly suggested interpretations.
Regarding the suggestion that God is here speaking to angels, Buzzard and Hunting agree saying, “It is most likely that the plural pronoun “we” contains a reference to God’s attendant council of angels, who themselves had been created in the image of God and had been witness to the creation of the universe.” (Buzzard and Hunting. 1998. 22).
Wayne Grudem disagrees claiming, “Angels did not participate in the creation of man, nor was man created in the image and likeness of angels, so this suggestion is not convincing.” (Grudem.1994.227).
Before we reject this idea out of hand, we should carefully consider the passages in I Kings 22:19-22 and II Chronicles 18:18-22.
1 Kings 22:19-22 King James Version (KJV)
19 And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the Lord: I saw the Lordsitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
20 And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
21 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him.
22 And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.
2 Chronicles 18:18-22 King James Version (KJV)
18 Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the Lord; I saw the Lordsitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.
19 And the Lord said, Who shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner.
20 Then there came out a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will entice him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith?
21 And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so.
22 Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee.
Regarding Genesis 1:26, Trinitarian commentator G. J. Wenham writes in The Word Biblical Commentary, “Christians have traditionally seen this verse as adumbrating the trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.” (Wordbook.1987.27).
The related entry in The NIV Study Bible reads: “God speaks as the creator-king announcing His crowning work to the members of His Heavenly court. (See Genesis 3:22, 11:7; Is 6:8; See also I Kings 22:19-23; Job 15:8; Jer 23:18),” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan; 1985).
A reasonable question to pose to Trinitarians who see God as a plurality: Why do they not put an “s” on the end of God?
In the English language, plurals are commonly noted by a final “s.” It is a standard and recognized format of the language, a universally accepted rule of grammar.
If the plural pronoun “us” in Genesis 1:26 refers to a plural Godhead, then the trinity ought regularly to be referred to as “they” and “them”.
Trinitarians are unhappy with this suggestion, showing that their notion of the Godhead in addition to being unbiblical, also defies the rules of language, as well as the laws of logic.
Prominent Trinitarian writers seem to have gone far beyond the evidence of scripture when asserting that the third person of the trinity was involved in conversation when God said, “Let us make man in our image.”
It seems imaginative at best, to say that God here spoke to the Holy Spirit. God never once speaks to His Spirit anywhere in scripture. To do so would make as much sense as you speaking to your own spirit–He would be talking to Himself.
I believe that it is quite reasonable therefore, to assume that this is yet another prophetic reference to the future manifestation of the Son of God. God made all things with Jesus in mind and thus for Him.
Significantly, in fulfilling this verse, God created Adam as one person, with one body, mind, personality, spirit and will. The Bible tells us in Romans 5:14 that Adam was made in the figure or likeness of Him that was to come, which is Jesus.
God in His omniscience and foreknowledge, foreseeing man’s sin and His own ultimate revelation in the flesh as man’s redeemer–looked at Christ as the blueprint for making Adam.
Therefore, Adam was made in the image and likeness of Christ–the Father God’s manifestation in the flesh. God knew when He created Adam that He would become flesh in order to redeem mankind.
We see in Revelation 13:8, Christ as the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. Although it was thousands of years until He actually hung on the cross at Calvary, in the mind of God He was already slain. In the very same way, when God made Adam, he was made in the image of Christ that existed in the mind of God; the image of God Himself.
–Larry L Yates, ThD, DMin