And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (KJV)
Genesis 1:26 is used by many Trinitarians to say that God is a Trinity because of the words “let us.” Although this would be an acceptable way to understand God’s saying if the plurality of God or the Trinity was defined anywhere else in the scriptures, God is never called three or three in one, but is always defined as one (John 5:44, 17:3; Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:6). Thus we should seek to see if there is another explanation for God saying “let us” rather than concluding the opposite of what the scriptures explicitly teach. We should use the clear majority of scripture to interpret the minority of confusing passages.
Although there are at least six different interpretations for what God means here, the “let us” is most likely referring to God speaking to His divine council, which is His council of spirit beings that God works with in ruling and running His creation. God’s divine council is an important but not commonly understood part of Scripture, so it deserves some explanation.
Some of the biblical evidence for God having an inner council with whom He works is very clear. Psalm 89:7 mentions God’s divine council, and the word “council” is translated from the Hebrew word sōd (#05475 סוֹד), which refers to a “council, secret council, intimate council, circle of familiar friends, assembly,” and also sometimes to the results of the deliberation of a divine council. Other verses also mention the divine council (sōd) of God such as Jeremiah 23:18, 22, and Job 15:8. “Impressive evidence from the Old Testament and parallels from Mesopotamian and Canaanite mythology point to the idea of a heavenly court where plans are made and decisions rendered.” The divine council of God shows up with varying degrees of clarity in a number of verses in the Old Testament. While God supplies the power for what He does, He works in concert with His creation.
When it comes to Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image,” many Trinitarians believe that “God” worked together with the other “Persons” in the Trinity when He created things, and they point to Genesis 1:26 as a proof text for their argument. However, many scholars acknowledge that this interpretation is erroneous. Recently, Michael Heiser, a Trinitarian theologian, wrote: “technical research in Hebrew grammar and exegesis has shown that the Trinity is not a coherent explanation. …Seeing the Trinity in Gen 1:26 is reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament, something that isn’t a sound interpretive method….” (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 39).
Although some theologians think this use of “us” in Genesis 1:26 could be the plural of majesty (also called the plural of emphasis), where God uses the plural “us” to magnify Himself, that is not the case here. Hebrew scholars point out that there is no other example of a speaker using the plural while addressing himself as the one being spoken to. More to the point, however, is the work of recent Hebrew scholars showing that the plural of majesty applies to nouns but not verbs. “The plural of majesty does exist of nouns…but Gen. 1:26 is not about nouns—the issue is the verbal forms.” (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 39). In Genesis 1:26, the verb “make” in the phrase “Let us make” is plural, and so the “us” is not a plural of majesty; it is God speaking to others about making mankind.
The most common objection to the “us” in Genesis 1:26 referring to angels is that Scripture attests that God made mankind. But God could easily have headed up a council with whom He conferred, and afterward did the work they decided upon. Another objection to this view is that God goes on to say after “our image,” so one might question how angels are in the image of God. Since Adam in his pre-fallen state was without sin and in the image of God, it is perfectly reasonable to assume angels in God’s divine council, were also created in the image of God, and without sin. Therefore, it presents no problem to say that humans were created after the image of God (and subsequently angels).
Buzzard, p. 13
Farley, pp. 25-27
Hyndman, pp. 53 and 54
Morgridge, pp. 92-96
Snedeker, pp. 359-367