Genesis 1:26—Why does the Bible use the plural “us” when God refers to Himself?
Problem: Orthodox Christian and Jewish scholars maintain that God is one. In fact, the historic confession of the faith of Israel is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4 which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One!” However, if God is one, why does this verse in Genesis use the word “Us”?
Solution: There have been several explanations offered throughout history. Some commentators have claimed that this is merely a case where God is addressing the angels. But this is unlikely since in verse 26 God says, “Let Us make man in Our image” while verse 27 makes it clear that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God” and not in the image of the angels.
Others have claimed that the plural pronoun refers to the Trinity. It is clear from the NT (e.g., John 1:1) that the Son was involved in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Also, Genesis 1:2 indicates that the Holy Spirit was equally involved in the creation process. However, students of Hebrew grammar point out that the plural pronoun “us” is simply required by the plural Hebrew noun elohim which is translated “God” (“Then God [elohim, plural] said, `Let Us [plural] make man in Our [plural] image’ ”). Consequently, they claim that this statement should not be used to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. Indeed, the Quran, which denies more than one person in God, uses “us” of God, demonstrating that the Near Eastern usage of “us” does not necessarily mean more than one person.
Still others have asserted that the plural is used as a figure of speech called a majestic plural. In this use, God is speaking to Himself in such a manner as to indicate that all of His majestic power and wisdom were involved in the creation of man. As has been noted, the plural pronoun “Us” corresponds to the plural Hebrew word elohim which is translated God. The fact that the name “God” is plural in Hebrew does not indicate that there is more than one God, or that this is actually a reference to God being a group of extraterrestrial astronauts. There are a great number of passages in the NT that refer to God with the singular Greek noun theos, which is also translated “God” (Mark 13:19; John 1:1; Eph. 3:9; etc.). The plural nature of the Hebrew word is designed to give a fuller, more majestic sense to God’s name. It should be noted, however, that the NT clearly teaches that God is a Trinity (Matt. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2) and, although the doctrine of the Trinity is not fully developed in the OT, it is foreshadowed by many passages (cf. Ps. 110:1; Isa. 63:7, 9–10; Prov. 30:4).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.