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Who is the plural referring to in Genesis 11:7 if it's GOD himself (or Yahweh) who has confused the language of people to stop the building of the Babel Tower?

Verse from the NIV Bible:

"Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

As you can see there is written "come, let US go down". ... Us who?

From the Hebrew Bible:

הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ

(häväh nër'däh w'näv'läh shäm s'fätäm ásher lo yish'm'û iysh s'fat rëëhû)

English:

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

  • 1
    I didn't check the Hebrew, but I'd suspect this to be an English language thing. It's uncommon to say 'let me ...' – Keelan Jun 30 '15 at 12:18
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    @FabrizioMazzoni The English usage is called "royal we" and it also occurs in literature in a variety of languages. I would add here that the name for G-d which is often used in the Torah is אֱלֹהִים, which is actually plural and literally means "G-ds". – Tim Biegeleisen Jun 30 '15 at 12:48
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    See also, Gen 1:26. (Oddly, I’m not finding a question about that one here.) @TimBiegeleisen But of course, elohim is usually used with singular verbs; this is different in that regard. (We do have approximately a zillion Q&As on the elohim / number issue.) – Susan Jun 30 '15 at 13:27
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    It appears that the Hebrew does say 'us' - plural, so it is not an translation issue. – Dick Harfield Jul 1 '15 at 3:12
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    @FabrizioMazzoni. I am not sure how good your English is. A native speaker might say "Let me have a drink" if he is talking to a bar tender. If he is talking to himself he would definitely say "Let's have a drink". – fdb Jul 2 '15 at 19:39
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As several of the comments have already noted, there are parallels for this in other languages, including English. When we talk (figuratively) to ourselves we do say things like “let’s go”, “allons-y”, “gehen wir”. The underlying idea is that when we talk to ourselves we are in effect splitting ourselves in half, with one of our two personae addressing the other. Genesis 11:7 uses verbs in the first person plural in the Hebrew original ( נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה ) and in all the ancient translations (καταβάντες συγχέωμεν, descendamus et confundamus etc.).

  • Why the belated down-vote? – fdb Dec 26 '16 at 12:19
  • That seems inconsistent. God speaks in the first person and now he is still only referring to Himself though it clearly says us? It doesn’t seem like God to be so sloppy, it has to be intentional – Nihil Sine Deo Jun 22 at 4:13
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Christian tradition simply regards the numerous use of plurals when referring to Gods as evidence of the Trinity. For example, "Elohim" (as God is often referred to) is plural, though Jewish tradition would disagree and point out that in Hebrew the verb or adjective actually tells the reader if a noun should be understood as singular or plural.

For example, in Deuteronomy 6:4, a very literal rough translation might be "Hear/Obey O Israel, the LORD your Gods are one." Christian tradition argues that the plural "Gods" here is evidence of the Trinity, while Jewish tradition would argue that "Echad" (One) indicates that would be improper. The Christian response to this is that Echad means "one" in the sense that a cluster of grapes are "one".

Therefore, to the Christian reader, the interpretation would be that this says "us" because it is the three members of the trinity who go down and confuse the language of the people of the tower or Babel.

  • The use of the title אלהינו ('elohiym) does not presuppose a multi faceted God. It is an expression of superiority and greatness when used in this case, in a case of singularity. It is only plural when used in a plural instance. It is not any sort of way indicate the Trinity. – seedy3 Nov 3 '15 at 22:11
  • I think I covered that. – James Shewey Nov 3 '15 at 22:17
  • I don't know how, but this next post ended up on the post below your's, and it clarified what I said to show it is being used in the singular. I'll repost it here: "Oh and to add, the use of the word :LORD' in your translation is in error, as the actual word translated as 'LORD' is YHVH, which does not mean lord, it is a proper name. So being it is a proper name the use of 'elohiym is in the single form, not plural." – seedy3 Nov 3 '15 at 23:00
  • @JamesShewey By context , the word "echad" as a predicate adjective in Deuteronomy 6:4 can be translated as "integral" (i.e., having integrity), according to An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, 1990 – Chin-Lee Chan Dec 9 '18 at 8:36
  • Is it three persons of the Godhead or is it God and the sons of God? Deu 32:8ESV, DSS,LXX says that God divided the nations among the gods/elohim. So who exactly are the “us”? – Nihil Sine Deo Jun 22 at 4:05
1

From Keil and Delitzsch's Commentary:(From here)

By the firm establishment of an ungodly unity, the wickedness and audacity of men would have led to fearful enterprises. But God determined, by confusing their language, to prevent the heightening of sin through ungodly association, and to frustrate their design. "Up" (הבה "go to," an ironical imitation of the same expression in Genesis 11:3 and Genesis 11:4), "We will go down, and there confound their language (on the plural, see Genesis 1:26; נבלה for נבלּה, Kal from בּלל, like יזמו in Genesis 1:6), that they may not understand one another's speech."

They further state:

When it is stated, first of all, that God resolved to destroy the unity of lips and words by a confusion of the lips, and then that He scattered the men abroad, this act of divine judgment cannot be understood in any other way, than that God deprived them of the ability to comprehend one another, and thus effected their dispersion.

The argument of the Personages of God is given a careful rendering in their Gen. 1:26 commentary: 3 arguments for the "Us" are given,

1) Pluralis Majestatis-the understanding that God is Trinitarian; this is the Early Church Father's understanding, which God reveals Himself through time as 3 Persons

2) An address by God Himself-the subject and object being identical

3) An address to spirits and angels who are present and stand in His council

The last argument founders,

upon this rock: either it assumes without sufficient scriptural authority, and in fact in opposition to such distinct passages as Genesis 2:7, Genesis 2:22; Isaiah 40:13 seq., Genesis 44:24, that the spirits took part in the creation of man; or it reduces the plural to an empty phrase, inasmuch as God is made to summon the angels to cooperate in the creation of man, and then, instead of employing them, is represented as carrying out the work alone. Moreover, this view is irreconcilable with the words "in our image, after our likeness;" since man was created in the image of God alone (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:1), and not in the image of either the angels, or God and the angels.(From here)

Furthermore,

just as little ground is there for regarding the plural here and in other passages (Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:7; Isaiah 6:8; Isaiah 41:22) as reflective, an appeal to self; since the singular is employed in such cases as these, even where God Himself is preparing for any particular work (cf. Genesis 2:18; Psalm 12:5; Isaiah 33:10)

The only conclusion is

No other explanation is left, therefore, than to regard it as pluralis majestatis, - an interpretation which comprehends in its deepest and most intensive form (God speaking of Himself and with Himself in the plural number, not reverentiae causa, but with reference to the fullness of the divine powers and essences which He possesses) the truth that lies at the foundation of the trinitarian view, viz., that the potencies concentrated in the absolute Divine Being are something more than powers and attributes of God; that they are hypostases, which in the further course of the revelation of God in His kingdom appeared with more and more distinctness as persons of the Divine Being.

Therefore "Us" in Gen. 11:7 must be correctly identified as God, being in 3 Persons, who in time will manifest these Personages to all creation.

  • 2
    I think that Old Testament studies have advanced a bit since 1861 (the date of Keil-Delitzsch) and I do not see the point of posting an “answer” which is merely a paste job of an old commentary. Serious Biblical scholars now do not use this sort of argument to “prove” that the Trinitarian dogma of the council of Nicaea can be projected back into the Old Testament. – fdb Jul 2 '15 at 18:12
  • @fdb The point being-the commentary I posted provides a serious exposition in answering the question; dealing with linguistic issues as well as dealing with the related arguments the OP presented. You can always post another answer. – Tau Jul 2 '15 at 19:19
  • Oh and to add, the use of the word :LORD' in your translation is in error, as the actual word translated as 'LORD' is YHVH, which does not mean lord, it is a proper name. So being it is a proper name the use of 'elohiym is in the single form, not plural. – seedy3 Nov 3 '15 at 22:14
  • I apologize this comment was not meant to be on this post, I dunno how it got here and not on the one above – seedy3 Nov 3 '15 at 22:58
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    The Qumran Scrolls? Really? I just found this on this stack hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/7862/… and also digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/… at least you admit the Masorites changed it, even if you claim that they “corrected” it they certainly edited one way or the other. I don’t share your view evidently and I’m not one to favor everything Heiser has to say either. I disagree on his interpretation of the elohim but still he makes some great points. Thank you for your comment. – Nihil Sine Deo Jun 23 at 16:49

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