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Elohim and ὁ θεὸς in Genesis 1
The creation account in Genesis begins with a plural word, elohim to identify God:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV)
בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

Elohim continues to be used throughout Genesis 1. Despite being the plural of the singular אֱלוֹהַּ, eloha, the earliest translation of Genesis considered elohim to be singular:

In the beginning God made the sky and the earth (LXX-Genesis 1:1 NETS)
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν

The LXX not only rendered elohim as singular, θεὸς, it includes the article. This translation philosophy is maintained throughout the creation account. It appears the article is added as a result of Jewish monotheism at the time of translation. Unlike Greek myths with multiple gods creating or ruling over different aspects of the natural world, θεὸς, makes the point there was one God who created all things.1

In addition to monotheism, treating elohim as singular, could be justified grammatically: the verbs describing God's work are singular. Without needing to explain the choice of elohim over eloha, the singular verb indicates a singular God who acts.

This line of reasoning fails at verse 26:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind according to our image and according to likeness, and let them rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and the cattle and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” (LXX-Genesis 1:26 NETS)

Let us make man... is plural and if grammar dictates, "Gods" is expected. However, θεὸς makes θεὸς definite. That is, among the "Gods" present, it was θεὸς who spoke. In this case the article is essential to preserve a monotheistic account. Regardless of who else should be included in "us" it was only ὁ θεὸς who spoke. Then by rendering every use of elohim with ὁ θεὸς, the LXX removed the possibility of understanding Let us make man... as polytheistic, regardless of the plural verb. Thus, ὁ θεὸς which was necessary to demonstrate monotheism in verse 26, dictated how elohim should be translated throughout the account.2

1 Corinthians 8:6
Genesis 1:26 cannot be considered narrowly as speaking only of creating man. It also includes a condition which will be present after creation: man will rule the fish, the birds, the cattle, and all things that move upon the earth.

Paul makes a statement attributing creation to God the Father:

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
ἀλλ᾽ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός δι᾽ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾽ αὐτοῦ

When considered from the perspective of human existence, Paul's statement has the same two-fold conditions described in Genesis 1:26. There is one God, the Father, maker of all things and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom all things exist after they were created.

This raises three questions:

  1. Is it sound exegesis to see 1 Corinthians 8:6 as based on Genesis 1:26?
  2. If so, does Paul's treatment have the effect of including the Lord Jesus Christ in the "us" of Genesis 1:26?
  3. If Paul has Genesis 1:26 in mind, then he changed ὁ θεὸς to εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ. Does this change indicate his understanding of elohim was not exactly the same as found in the LXX translation of Genesis 1?

1. If the Greek translator had varied the use of the article, the English would have to decide if the different uses were anaphoric, or in the case of Genesis 1:1, cataphoric, or if the Greek was to be taken as a different "God" for different aspects of the natural world.
2. The article could not be used as either anaphoric or cataphoric. In essence it means the and functions much like capitalization in translating to English.

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  • Maybe your question can not be answered without choosing a certain doctrine re: monotheism. It is a bit like the question that Jesus himself used to point out the exegetic problem of Pharisees in Mt 22:41-46. For Pharisees this was an unsolvable dilemma, because they were bound by the old testament to call God only the counter-party to that testament Ex 20:3. But If you look at the Psalms at a certain point David starts addressing the God Almighty (Ypsistos), I believe this is the key there.
    – grammaplow
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 22:20

5 Answers 5

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Many people make a mistake in looking at Genesis 1:26 to assume a plurality of "Gods." The first thing that is important to understand is the meaning of "elohim."

"Elohim"

Elohim is used in the Bible to refer to any being of elevated or supernatural status. It can refer to human judges, as in Exodus 22:8. It can refer to angels, as it does in Psalm 8:5 which is later quoted in the Greek of Hebrews 2:7 as "ἀγγέλους" (angels). So "elohim" does not necessitate a meaning or translation as "God."

Genesis 1:26 is further unique in being, as far as I am aware, the only instance in the Bible of having "elohim," when used with the true God, associated with a plural verb or adjective.

Grammatically speaking, it may be true that a more "singular" form of the word exists. But it is rare. Only once did Moses use it. In most cases, the "plural" form is all one sees. It is not actually "plural" when the verbs and adjectives for it are in singular form.

Hebrew has many words that appear as dualities or pluralities which are actually singular in usage. Throughout the Bible, for example, the Hebrew words for "faces", "heavens", "waters", etc. occur only in a plural form. There is no singular form of any of these Hebrew words. Unlike the word "eggs," which is only attested in plural in the Hebrew Bible but has a singular form in Hebrew, these words have no singular form at all in the language. Yet, when used with a singular verb or adjective, we know they are singular.

While "elohim" apparently has a singular form, its rarity in usage in the Bible calls its usage into question as potentially having a nuance that is not immediately apparent. It must not be assumed that had the writer wished to say God was singular, he would have used "eloha" in place of "elohim." The writer did, in fact, use singular verbs and adjectives when referencing the true God; and plural verbs and adjectives when referencing the plural gods of the polytheists. (NOTE: One of my Hebrew teachers suggests that "eloha/eloah" was actually a reference to a different god, as appears corroborated HERE.)

So why is the verb plural in Genesis 1:26?

It is a prophecy, and the prophecy applies to both the creation of man in God's image and the recreation of man in God's image after sin. During that recreation process, both God's Son, Jesus, and the angels of heaven (elohim) would be involved in bringing mankind back into a covenant relationship with the Father. This involves a plurality of "elohim," despite having only one "God" within that "elohim."

If the Hebrew "elohim" were at all unclear, the Greek "theos" for God, which is never plural when referencing the true God, should be plain--as 1 Corinthians 8:6 illustrates. In that verse, it is also clear that the Father is the only true God, eliminating suggestions that the Son or anyone else could be in that position. Jesus himself addressed the Father as "the only true God" (see John 17:1-3). Unless we have multiple Fathers (but the Greek is clearly singular), there cannot be a plurality of Gods.

Jesus was clear that his Father is our Father, and was both his God and our God.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17, KJV)

Regarding the Greek Article "ὁ" with "θεὸς"

The exact expression "ὁ θεὸς" occurs 189 times in the Greek New Testament. Of the 36 remaining occurrences of "θεὸς", most have the article "ὁ" separated from the noun by an intervening word such as "γὰρ" ("for": e.g. Matthew 15:4), "δὲ" ("but"/"and": e.g. Luke 16:15), "ἀληθινὸς" ("true": e.g. 1 John 5:4), or even several words such as "ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων" ("being over all": Romans 9:5). In 1 Corinthians 8:4, there is no article because it is expressly referencing "no (other) god"; and 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Ephesians 4:6 are addressing "εἷς θεὸς" (one God), which replaces the need for the article by the numerical specification. The occurrence in Hebrews 11:16 of "θεὸς" without the article immediately follows an occurrence of "θεὸς" preceded by the article--the repetition not apparently needing to repeat the article. In Revelation 21:7, the need for the article is replaced by the usage of a pronoun, i.e. "his (αὐτῷ) God". After examining every nominative usage of "θεὸς", I find only about four in the entire New Testament which truly lack the article, mostly in Paul's writings.

The usage of the Greek article would be natural for a Hebrew speaker where titles/names are considered definite (proper). The Hebrew word "elohim" (god/God) is not a name, and to refer to a specific one would require the article to make it definite. Greek article usage is more nuanced than Hebrew, and the article may not be strictly required--yet it is usually present for "θεὸς". This consistency would be both a function of grammar and a natural artifact of the Hebrew culture on the Greek writers.

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  • Thank you. My question is based on how the LXX translated the term. θεός not θεοί would make elohim singular; so why ὁ θεὸς and why consistently? As the most common use is anaphoric, one expects θεὸς followed by ὁ θεὸς. But θεὸς when translating a plural elohim could be misunderstood as simply one of the gods in the pantheon of gods something ὁ θεὸς throughout prevents. Moreover, is it realistic to base a meaning of ὁ θεὸς in Genesis 1:26 on what the rest of the Bible says? That approach makes sense later, but not for a Greek reading or hearing Genesis. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 16:01
  • I have updated my answer with an in-depth analysis of the Greek article, as it seems important to your question, along with a couple other minor updates.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 19:25
  • The issue is not how the article functions in general. It is how it is used in Genesis 1:26. The generalities regarding how to translate elohim do not apply in 1:26 where plural noun and plural verb are present. The bilingual interpreter (Hebrew-Greek) will recognize the singular θεὸς, without the article, inadequately conveys monotheism. Only by including the article does one address the potential ambiguity. From among the θεοί, it was θεὸς who spoke. Who is θεὸς? The God who created heven and earth (1:1) and everything described on day one, two, etc. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 22:31
  • One must consider this is the first time the account is presented in a different language and the audience will be polytheists who have been taught creation from the point of Greek mythology. The audience believes there are different gods creating and ruling different parts of the natural world. The translator who wants to convey monotheism, must show there was only one God who created and who rules. Let us create man... is an major obstacle to monotheism. It does not seem that way now because we have not been raised with Greek myths describing creation and the natural world. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 22:39
  • I humbly admit that the more I see of your comments, the less I feel I have understood the gist of your question. I have answered as I understood it, and I think, if I am not mistaken, the point surrounding the meaning and usage of "elohim" throughout the Old Testament may still be the best answer here, in which case Hebrews 2:7 becomes the more important. If you question the Hebrew article, it serves a purely grammatical purpose, not to be confused with its usage in English. The Hebrew article can determine, for example, if a noun is part of a nominal sentence or in genitive construct.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 0:39
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God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over..,

What then is the image that God is after? It is going to be after "Us ".

Man was created after the Uncreated created (Rev. 3:14) His perfect image in His Son, Who is the exact radiance of His glory And the exact (5481 xaraktḗr – an exact impression (likeness) which also reflects inner character. Hebrews 1:3

It is going to be according to "our likeness. His likeness also has do with rulership since That is the next verse describing their likeness.

God creates the man in His image; in the image of God He created him, a male and female He created them.

They were considered one since Eve came out of Adam and called him man.

Christ came out of God, (Jn 8:42), Eve comes out of Adam. God and Christ are one and Adam and Eve are one.

This image of Adam and Eve is made in the us image.

Christ is God's complement as God's perfect visible expression. Eve is Adams complement and his glory. The same image is also seen in Christ and His body, the ecclesia that came out of Him. Eph. 5:30-32

God is Spirit and Jesus is the visible form of God.

Man was made after this image in the form of a male and female. The general term that makes the two of them one is called man.

One of OP's question is; Is it sound exegesis to see 1 Corinthians 8:6 as based on Genesis 1:26?

Both scriptures speak of creation that had the "us" as Father and Son, The Lord Jesus Christ in conjunction with each other in every aspect of creation.

"yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)"

"God is the source and objective all; Christ is the channel of all. We are never said to come out of Christ, but out of God. Indeed Christ asserts that He Himself came out of God. (Jn. 8:42). Creation began in the Son of God and was carried out through Him". Concord literal commentary

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1 Cor 8:6 is, even by Paul's standards, very terse to the point of being almost cryptic. Here is my overly literal translation:

But for us: one God, the Father, of whom the all, and we for Him; And one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom the all, and we by Him.

Note the complete absence of verbs! Thus, all modern versions (without exception) interpretively pad this out by adding verbs and extra pronouns to help it make good English sense.

Whatever, we decide it means, this verse is actually making almost identical statements about God the Father and Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul appears to be making a very terse summary of the parallel nature of the work of both Jesus and the Father - God and Lord, creator, sustainer and object of our lives.

Connection to Gen 1:26

By contrast, Gen 1:26 is only discussing the creation of humankind and and their rule over the animals on the sixth day. It does not discuss the creation of "all things", nor God's sovereign Lordship, no God's sustaining power, etc.

That is, the only thing 1 Cor 8:6 and Gen 1:26 have in common is the creatorship of God (in a limited sense at that!). If one wishes to make a binitarian or trinitarian connection on the basis of "us" in Gen 1:26, and the Father and Jesus in 1 Cor 8:6, that is another matter, but it would be theological connection and not a linguistic or literary connection.

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  • In your translation, the Father is referenced with "of" and "for", which Christ is referenced twice with "by". Ignoring the 3-is-1 Trinity doctrine, would it be fair to say that these prepositions indicate that the Father is the reason and Christ is the means? Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 15:37
  • Are you considering Corinthians and Genesis properly? Obviously Corinthians speaks of all things and Genesis 1:26 only of man. But the point of Corinthians is man's position in the created world. As you translate, "but for us..." IOW, contrary to a Greek or Roman belief of creation by many different gods and man living in a world ruled by different gods and lords, Christians believe in creation by one God, the Father and live in a created world serving one Lord, Jesus Christ. And man's special status in the world was by determined elohom (Hebrew) or ὁ θεὸς (Greek) before being created. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 16:28
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    @RevelationLad - I fully agree. However, that is a theological point (with which I still agree) that cannot be deduced just from these texts. The point of the question is about the relationship, if any between these two texts and I cannot see much a linguistic connection.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 20:39
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    It actually does have a literary connection in the Hebrew if one doesn’t dismiss את as a mere object pointer. The את indicates the signature of the Word being present at Creation which is what John is speaking about in John 1:1-3 and the vav ואת telling us it’s the same Word involved for different aspects of Creation and not a different or a new את. This is not followed through in the LXX or any other translation of the Hebrew. And I say if we don’t dismiss it as merely a direct object pointer because it is used in cases where no object point is required and not used in places where it should Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 13:45
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    @NihilSineDeo - why not expand that into an answer?
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 20:43
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"does Paul's treatment have the effect of including the Lord Jesus Christ in the "us" of Genesis 1:26?"

There is no verse that specifically state who the “us” is referring to Genesis 1:26. There is also no verse that states the number of the “us” in Genesis 1:26 being two, five, or many.

The next verse, Genesis 1:27 show there is NO “us” doing the creating. Consider too that Jesus attributed this creation of man to his God, not to himself, as Mark 10:6 and Matthew 19:4 show.

Mark 10:6 ASV

But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them

Matthew 19:4 ASV

And he answered and said, Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,

There is no hint that the “us” represents a dialogue between multiple persons within the same God. The “us” in Genesis 1:26 could refer to any number greater than one. There is no evidence that this is an inward conversation within a multi-person God.

The "us" is Genesis 1:26 does not indicate CO-Creators as it does not imply that the heavenly beings God addresses actually participated in the creating work.

Assuming that the "us" in Genesis 1:26 is a multi-person GOD, “Let us” means that one person is speaking to someone else. “And God said, Let us…,” which means that all members of the multi-person God said something to someone else. Who is the multi-person God speaking to? Which person of this multi-person God can say, “there is no God beside me“? Isaiah 45:18

Isaiah 45:18 ASV

For thus saith Jehovah that created the heavens, the God that formed the earth and made it, that established it and created it not a waste, that formed it to be inhabited: I am Jehovah; and there is none else.

Is Jesus included in the "us" of Genesis 1:26? I will not explain what the Bible leaves unsaid.

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In the article Answering Mike Bird about the referent of "all things" in 1 Corinthians 8:6, Dr. Andrew Perriman argues that 1 Cor. 8:6's 'all' does not refer to a Genesis creation. Instead, if refers to the new Kingdom which comes through Christ.

He makes 3 major points in arguing for this.

1. 'Lord' is an eschatological designation.

As Perriman says,

"What is brought about uniquely through a lord who is Israel’s messiah (“one Lord Jesus Christ”) is a new political-religious reality for the age to come—beginning with wrath against the Jew, then wrath against the Greek."

As he continues,

"This is all very much to the point when we get to the Christ encomium in Colossians 1:15-20, where the “all things” created in Christ are not the stuff of the natural order—sea, sky, dry land, vegetation, living creatures—but manifestly political entities: “whether thrones or dominions or sovereignties or authorities” (1:16). My argument [...] is that the supreme vision of the Pauline mission was not new creation but the reconciliation of rule in heaven and rule on earth under Christ as king, seated at the right hand of the God of Israel—in the realistic sense that the peoples of the Greek-Roman world, of the Roman Empire, would bow the knee at the name of Jesus and confess him as Lord."

2. 'All things' are not always 'all things'.

This continues with some a point he made in 1. above, that 1:15-20 specifically references political entities (thrones, dominions, sovereignties, authorities). As Perriman continues,

"The focus on political realities in Colossians 1:16 obviously needs explaining, but the only other place in Paul where ta panta is found with a string of prepositional phrase is also better understood, I think, as a reference to a more recent state of affairs:

Because from him and through him and to him are all things (ta panta); to him the glory for the ages, amen. (Rom. 11:36)

This doxological statement comes at the end of an argument about the unbelief of the Jews, the inclusion of Gentiles, and the hope that God will have mercy on Israel. This whole story is a demonstration of the unfathomable wisdom and judgment of God. So when Paul says that ta panta are through him, etc., the reference is surely not to the original creation, which is nowhere in view in this passage, but to the recent sequence of events through which God will be glorified in the coming ages."

He similarly compares Ephesians 1:10 and 20-22.

3. The frame of reference for “all things” is established elsewhere in the letter.

In particular,

"[T]he foolish wisdom of God is bringing an old world — “things being” (ta onta) — to nothing and a new world into existence (1 Cor. 1:21-24, 28; 2:6; 7:31)."

He also then quotes 1 Cor. 3:21-23.

"for all things (panta) are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s."

In summary,

"my argument is that we have a “wisdom” christology elsewhere in the letter, oriented towards the “creation” of a new world, which adequately accounts for the intersection of cosmological and apocalyptic themes in 1 Corinthians 8:6. A whole new political-religious order is being created, figuratively speaking, through the one Lord Jesus Christ."

To answer the question, no. Although Paul's language to some extent echoes Genesis language, it is not about Genesis but about the coming to be of the Kingdom through the Christ.

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  • Outside 8:6 τὰ πάντα is used in 2:15, 12:6, 16:19, 15:27, 15:28. The sense is always "all." It is poor exegesis to attempt to refute the plain reading by using Colossians, Romans, or Ephesians. Claiming all things elsewhere is misleading where πάντα not τὰ πάντα is used. In other words, Paul makes a distinction in “things” across the different passages. Even without the different language, the context of 3:21-23, deals specifically with different things from different persons; despite the different actions and persons, those πάντα (again without the article) are in Christ. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 15:48
  • In the link Perriman says ...in any case it makes no sense to say that God originally created the universe through a “lord.” Lords are agents not of creation but of judgment and rule. This is a correct exegesis of Genesis 1:26 and is exactly the point of my question. Genesis 1:26 speaks of creation (i.e. God) and subsequent rule (i.e. Lord), not creation by lords. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 16:33
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    @RevelationLad Thanks for these comments - I don't quite follow the point you're making in your first comment. Ta panta in all those other instances is circumscribed - referring to a subset of 'all' in an unbracketed sense. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 17:17
  • My first point is straight forward. First, Perriman's use of Colossians, Romans, or Ephesians to justify how the Corinthians will understand τὰ πάντα is nonsense. That is eisegesis to support his (flawed) response to Bird. Secondly, in the letter Paul talks about some things and all things. For example, 3:21-32 is clearly about some things, yet Perriman claims this lays the foundation to understand 8:6. He ignores both the context and the language Paul uses. Some things are always written as πάντα; all things are always τὰ πάντα (cf. 2:15, 8:6, 12:6, 12:19, 15:27-28). Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 22:18
  • @RevelationLad YMMV. Almost no one speaks of 'all' in a truly unbracketed sense, and I don't think Paul is an exception. But we're not supposed to debate in the comments. christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7399/… Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 22:45

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