Genesis 1:26, Genesis 11:7 - Let Us Make Man

"Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness..." (Genesis 1:26 - NIV)

"Let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech." (Genesis 11:7 - KJV)

What Trinitarians Say

Trinitarians claim the plural used by God in this passage actually proves that there are multiple divine persons within God.

What We Say

Since the objects to whom God is speaking here are ambiguous, we must determine via scriptural context whether the Trinitarian perception (that God is speaking to other persons within himself), is really the most likely meaning, or if God is simply speaking to someone else.  Ultimately, this language most likely refers to a conversation between God and the angels of his heavenly court.

FURTHER Explanation

The Jews have always understood that the Genesis account presents one singular individual as the motivating force behind all of its creative activity.  

Charles Hunting and Anthony Buzzard write in their landmark book The Doctrine of the Trinity that:

We must respect the fact that the Jews’ familiarity with their own language had never led them to conclude that a plurality of persons in the Godhead was remotely hinted at in this creation chapter of Genesis.  In the event that we might feel the Jews missed something from their own Bible, we should note in the succeeding verses (vv.27-31) that the singular pronoun is always used with the word of God: “in His [not Their] own image, in the image of God He [not They] created them” (v.27).  One would be hard-pressed to conclude from this verse, where the personal pronoun describing God (His) is singular, that a plurality of beings was intended.  Note further: “Look, I [not We] have given you every plant yielding seed… for food…and God saw all that He [not They] had made, and it was very good” (vv.29-31)[1]

What then, of this particular phrase “Let us make man” in Genesis?  Despite the common Christian perception of an inner dialogue between multiple Persons of God, widely-respected Trinitarian Old Testament scholar and commentator Gordon Wenham offers some confidence on the matter:

“Christians have traditionally seen [Genesis 1:26] as adumbrating [foreshadowing] the Trinity.  It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.”[2] 

The most direct and comprehensive interpretation is that God is speaking, not to himself, but to his angels.  Wenham concludes:

“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 [cf. Luke 2:13-14]… And in fact the use of the singular verb “create” in 1:27 does, in fact, suggest that God worked alone in the creation of mankind…[3]

Though Wenham, being a Trinitarian, still believes that the New Testament demonstrates Christ as active in creation with the Father, he admits that “such insights were certainly beyond the horizon of the editor of Genesis.”[4]  As with the rest of the Old Testament, in regards to the doctrine of the Trinity, we find absolute silence.  We should not forget, as one Trinitarian encyclopedia reports, that “the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the OT.”[5]  That the Genesis writer neither intends to suggest Trinitarianism, but to simply present God as the sole Creator speaking to his holy ones is widely supported.  Even the staunchly Trinitarian NIV Study Bible contains this note:

“Us… Our… Our.” God speaks as the Creator-king, announcing His crowning work to the members of His heavenly court (see 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8; I Kings 22:19-23; Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18).[6]

We learn elsewhere from the biblical documents that the angels were indeed present and interacting with God during the creation of our world: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth… When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4a, 7).[7]  We see throughout the Bible that God both references himself and his angelic court in the plural and directly confers with his council over important matters:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted… Seraphim stood above Him... Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”  Then I said, “Here am I.  Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-2, 8 NASB)

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD.  I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.  The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’  And one said this while another said that.  Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’  The LORD said to him, ‘How?’  And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’  Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail.  Go and do so.’ (1 Kings 22:19-22 NASB)

That Genesis 1:26 has displayed God’s declaration, not to himself or another aspect of himself, but to his angelic retainers has also been the consistent understanding of Jewish scribes for thousands of years.  Philo, the Platonizing Alexandrian Jew living in the time of Christ, wrote in his commentary that in Genesis 1:26, “The Father of the Universe discourses to His own Hosts.”[9]  The Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan, an Aramaic translation thought to be from the fourth century explains, “And the Lord said to the angels who ministered before Him, who had been created in the second day of the creation of the world, Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness.”[10]  A more recent rabbinical commentary writes, “God took counsel with the ministering angels, and said unto them, Let us make.”[11]

Ultimately, we find only four occurrences in the biblical canon in which God says “us,” compared to the thousands of times he describes himself using “I,” “Me,” “My,” “Mine” and furthermore as “the only one.”  To us it seems, the interpretation that God is speaking to his angels is most probable.  Ultimately, we should not miss the NT opinion that the source of the Genesis creation is singular in number.  Jesus himself testified on how many the Creator is:

And he (Jesus) answered and said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female… ?” (Matt 19:4). 

Note that Jesus does not say “They” or “We” created them, nor does he say “I” created them for that matter.  It has been very popular to claim certain phrases from John and Paul state that Jesus was the source of the Genesis Creation.  But Jesus agrees with the Hebrew Scriptures that the Creator was none other than the God of the Jews, a singular personality whom he consistently identified as the Father: “My Father… of whom you say, ‘He is our God’… ” (John 8:54).  Never does Jesus testify of any personal involvement with the formation of the heavens and the earth.    

The Bible reader cannot afford to perpetuate the universal dismissal and discrediting of the Jew’s understanding of their own Scriptures, particularly the Genesis account, as many Christian forerunners have done.  That the God of the Jews, the Father of Jesus, is the sole Creator of all things should be clear:

“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone” (Isaiah 44:24 NASB).