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What does it mean in Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image...? Why does it seem to sound plural?

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Closely related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/2180/208 –  Gone Quiet Sep 8 '13 at 1:55

5 Answers 5

It's plural grammatically, and one reasonable interpretation would be that it refers to multiple gods. The only reason we question whether the meaning is plural are the statements in later parts of the Bible regarding there existing only one god. But the early books of the Bible don't seem to share this view, and thus, don't require us to explain why one god is referred to as "gods."

In addition to these references to "us" in the creation and expulsion stories, Genesis uses "us" later on, when it's time to confound the languages of folks in Babel, at Genesis 11:7: "Let us go down, and there confound their language."

Exodus also acknowledges the existence of other gods, although they're now rivals rather than allies:

Exodus 12:12: "And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment."

Exodus 18:11: "Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods."

Exodus 20:3: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a reference to YHWH (under any name) as the only god in Genesis, or Exodus, or even Numbers, for that matter. The first reference I pick up in the text to him being the one and only god is in Deuteronomy 4:35: "Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him."

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"Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27)

When God says "Let Us make man in Our image", the next verse says that man is made in the image of God, thus the Us is God. But Us is a plural word, why not, "let me make man in my image?" The answer is because it is the Father or the Son speaking to each other. We know this because it is written...

God (the Father), who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Thus this world we live in was made through by the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit was also present (see Genesis 1:2).

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It sounds plural because grammatically, it is plural. Add the fact that the word used here for "God" is "Elohim" which is a plural form which might elsewhere be used to denote "gods." Some suggest that this is an example of the "plural of majesty" but that has no other biblical support. Others have suggested angels are involved, although there is no biblical support that angels took part in creating; that was all God. Wayne Grudem suggests that it is an indication of the Trinity.

I have been confused over this, especially when reading in conjunction with the next verse:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

So we see the word "Elohim" which would in other contexts be translated "gods", we have "us", and then we have "he" and "his".

This issue is not only in Genesis 1:26.

See Genesis 3:22,Behold, the man has become like one of US, knowing good and evil.

Genesis 11:7, Come, let US go down, and there confuse their language

and Isaiah 6:8, Whom shall I send and who will go for US? (Note the use of I and us in this verse).

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The often-asked question about the plurality of God is opposite to what the people in the time of Moses would have asked. The startling part to them was in His singularity. The ancient gods existed only because of their functions. The function was seen, and from this, the god was deduced. A god was regarded as plural - a god plus his function. (Rain was an entity as a part of the entity of the rain god.) The creative God, the God that maintains the universe is a plural, being God plus the plentitude of His might (and this accommodates Christ and the Holy Spirit) but God is different from all the other gods as He also has a being, a reality, outside of His function. This is what makes God unique.

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It could be a reference to Elohim, the plural form of El or Eloah, referenced in Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” An evangelical interpretation would be that the God has always existed as the Trinity, from the beginning as the Father, Son, and Spirit in a relationship with each other.

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