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Why do people say the us and our make Elohim plural when the verb in Genesis 1:26 is singular? From what's I understand the verb sets the meaning as singular or plural for a given noun in Hebrew, so that if the verb is singular the noun is also meant to be singular even if it has the 'im' attached, correct?

Gen 1:26 - Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.”

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Let me list the first few words in Gen 1:26 to show the situation:

  • וַיֹּ֣אמֶר = "and said" = verb singular 3rd person masculine
  • אֱלֹהִ֔ים = "God" = noun masculine plural
  • נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה = "let us make" = verb 1st person common plural
  • אָדָ֛ם = "man" = noun masculine singular
  • בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ = "in our image" = preposition; noun masculine singular; pronoun 1st person common plural
  • כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ = "in our likeness" = preposition; noun feminine singular construct; pronoun common plural

In this case, the first verb "said' is singular and that controls the translation of the plural "Elohim/God" as singular.

The other plural translations are due to the presence of plural pronouns.

Note that this is one of several occasions when God refers to Himself using a plural pronoun, see Gen 1:26, 3:23, 11:7, Isa 6:8. It is unusual - in most cases, God uses a singular pronoun.

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  • Is there anything significant about "make man(singular) … and let them(plural) …" that would relate to this singular/plural confusion? Jul 8, 2023 at 2:24
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    @RayButterworth - great and perceptive question. Properly, it should be its own question here. However, let me offer one brief comment - man(singular) … and let them(plural) is the simple difference between a singular collective and plural collective. "Man" might be better translated, "mankind" or in more modern terms, "human kind" which is a singular collective, which is composed a plurality of individuals.
    – Dottard
    Jul 8, 2023 at 4:05
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The Hebrew verb here indicates first-person common plural.

To see the general conjugation chart for this verb,[CLICK HERE], or for the specific chart with the form of the verb that occurs in Genesis 1:26 highlighted, [CLICK HERE].

On the chart for this verb, which means "to do, to make, to create", notice that "we did" would be "עָשִׂינוּ"; whereas "I did" would be "עָשִׂיתִי". The actual word used in the verse, which is the future tense form, is "נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה" -- as is highlighted in the chart at the second link provided above.

This apparent contradiction to all other places in scripture where the Hebrew verbs used with "elohim" when referencing the true God are found in singular construction can be explained in one of several ways.

Importantly, the word "elohim" does not mean "God" in Hebrew. It has a much broader meaning than this. It can mean God/god/gods (and usually does), but is not limited to only this. In Psalm 82:6, for example, the word applies to people.

I have said, Ye are gods [Hebrew: "elohim"]; and all of you are children of the most High. (Psalm 82:6, KJV)

Lest anyone think this to be a mistranslation, Jesus himself affirmed it, as is translated to "theos" (God) in Greek.

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods [Greek: "theoi" (plural of "theos")]? (John 10:34, KJV)

The word "elohim" is also used to reference judges in the Mosaic law.

For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges [Hebrew: "ha-elohim"]; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbor. (Exodus 22:9, KJV)

It is also noteworthy that in this verse in Exodus, the word "elohim" is prefaced by the definite article in Hebrew, like "the" in English. This is notable because in Hebrew a name is never prefixed by the definite article. Therefore, while many scholars (not all) attempt to claim that "elohim" is God's name, its grammatical usage does not agree with this conclusion. Here it is clearly used as a common noun, not a definite (proper) noun.

Returning to Genesis 1:26, the word "elohim" cannot reasonably be limited to God alone without violating other Hebrew passages. The question then becomes, "Whom is God including along with Himself?"

I would submit God is including the angels of heaven in His statement.

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels [Hebrew: "elohim"], and hast crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:5, KJV)

The heavenly angels have been very active in God's behalf toward restoring in man the image of God lost when Adam sinned. They are participating with God and with Christ in recreating man in God's image. This text is not merely to be seen as historical: note the future tense of the Hebrew verb--unlike the past tense used elsewhere throughout the creation account. This text is prophetic. And that is what makes this a special verse.

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    You state: "The word elohim cannot reasonably be limited to God alone without violating other Hebrew passages." So after initially reading the passage one must go back and retroactively reinterpret (based on later writings) what was clear and unambiguous when first read. Then one must add angels based on a Psalm of David (hundreds of years later) based on the assumption angels were created before man. Finally one must assume when David says חָסֵר he really means עָשָׂה. Not to mention when reading the Psalm one cannot take elohim to mean God or gods, which also makes sense. Jul 8, 2023 at 19:38
  • @RevelationLad You are exaggerating just a little, as you likely know. Moses, the very same author who wrote the book of Genesis, also used the word "elohim" to mean other things, including judges in Exodus. In Genesis 23:6, the word is even applied to Abraham. But of course, you knew that, right?
    – Biblasia
    Jul 8, 2023 at 20:16
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    I am simply pointing out the inconsistencies in your claim. You want to retroactively understand Genesis 1 based on what is conveyed later, including what David wrote. Do you really think someone reading the creation account is going to ignore what it says and think “I’ll defer understanding the plural elohim with the plural verbs until I can figure it out later?” And on their way to figuring it out, they will ignore el and eloah as if they had no bearing on understanding the plural noun? Jul 8, 2023 at 20:30
  • @RevelationLad You have the freedom to choose how you take elohim in the Psalms. You have the right to be wrong, if that's what you choose. Jesus understood David's use of elohim to apply to people (see John 10:34), and Paul understood David's use of the word to apply to angels (see Hebrews 2:7, 9). If you wish to say those applications cannot be correct, you would be contradicting Jesus and/or Paul, one of the Bible's inspired authors. But you could certainly do so--you have free choice.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 8, 2023 at 20:34
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    I’m not saying they are incorrect. I’m saying your analysis demands an anachronistic understanding of Genesis 1 for the original audience. It is farfetched to assert people needed to wait until David composed his Psalm before making sense of the plural verbs in the creation narrative. That option is available to those who came after but it means many generations died in ignorance waiting for David to compose a Psalm which told them the plain reading was not the correct one! I suppose we are all waiting to figure out how David’s חָסֵר really means עָשָׂה. Jul 9, 2023 at 0:12

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