Occasionally our good Trinitarian friends point to Bible verses that seem to describe God with plural pronouns (verses like “let us make man in our image”). Then they use these plural pronouns to teach that God is more than one person. They believe these plural pronouns support the Trinity doctrine, which teaches that God is three distinct persons who are all capable of relating to each other.
But when we begin to look carefully at the way the Bible applies pronouns to God, we see that God is actually singular in his nature, not plural. Trinitarians teach that God is three persons; Oneness Christians, however, recognize that the Bible constantly refers to God as a singular person with singular pronouns.
Pronouns describe identity
When we talk about God and pronouns, we need to get one little detail out of the way first: God uses personal pronouns. God is not a thing; God is not an “it.” The Lord is not some impersonal spirit-force that can be described with impersonal pronouns. God is a person; God is a “he”—and this is how any discussion about God’s nature must begin. Pronouns are such little words, but they can have a big impact for our theology. When we do not properly understand God’s personal pronouns, we end up with huge misconceptions about who he is.
Personal pronouns must match the noun they describe in gender and number. Take the following sentence as an illustration: “Laura walked into the music store so she could buy a violin.” In this sentence she is a personal pronoun that points back to “Laura.” The pronoun isn’t he because Laura isn’t a man; and the pronoun isn’t they because Laura isn’t more than one person. Laura is one female person, so she is described with a singular feminine pronoun. Her pronouns match her identity.
The same goes for God; his pronouns match his identity. If we sit down and open the Bible to almost any page, we will see that God is constantly described as a single person with singular pronouns. God calls himself an “I,” not a “we.” People speak to God as a “thou,” not a “y’all.” When people describe God, they call him a “he,” not a they. When God inspired the Bible, he repeatedly describes himself as a singular person with singular pronouns.
How many do we have here?
Let me ask our good Trinitarian friends a question: if God is more than one person, which person of the Trinity is speaking in these verses?
I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know…that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else (Isa45:5-6).
The original Hebrew uses the first person pronoun אני; any standard Hebrew grammar will tell you that this word refers to a single person. Which person of the Trinity can say, “there is no God beside me“?? These verses, and countless others, describe God as a singular person; and this uni-personal description begins in the very first chapter of the Bible.
In the beginning God ברא/he created the heaven and the earth…And God יאמר/he said, Let there be light…And God ירא/he saw the light…and God יבדל/he divided the light from the darkness. And God יקרא/he called the light Day (from Gen1:1-5).
Repeatedly in Genesis 1 God uses singular masculine verbs to describe how he operates. All throughout scripture, God reveals himself as a “he,” not a “they.” He is one person.
What about Genesis 1:26?
Since he is a single person, God is always described—and always describes himself—with singular pronouns. That said, there are a couple verses that seem to describe God with plural pronouns; Genesis 1:26 is the most popular one that Trinitarians go to whenever they want to prove that God is a “we” instead of a “he.” So let us (pun intended) take a look at this verse in its context.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply….And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed
Plural pronouns like “us” and “our” definitely imply multiple persons, no doubt about it. But it doesn’t imply that God is multiple persons. Before we can understand the “let us” part, we have to understand the other verbs around it.
Notice all of the things God did in this passage: God “said,” “created,” “blessed,” and “said.” Every last one of these verbs in Hebrew is in a singular form: “he said,” “he created,” “he blessed.” In verse 29 he says, “I have given…”. In this passage, God is still describing himself as a singular person. If God were a Trinity, these verses would have plural verbs—“they said,” “they created,” “they blessed,” “we have given.”
“Let us” definitely implies multiple persons. But the context plainly shows that God is only one of those persons. When God says “Let us…” he is not talking to himself.
This is still how language works even today. I am only one person. If I told my buddy, “Hey, let’s [let us] go get some coffee,” I am one person and my buddy is another person. There are multiple persons in the conversation—but I am not multiple persons.
The context of Genesis 1 shows us that God is only one person; God is a “he.” In verse 26, he said to someone other than himself, “Let us make man…”. One individual spoke to another individual. “Let us” implies multiple individuals, and it implies that one individual is speaking to another individual. The singular pronouns and verbs in Genesis 1 make it perfectly clear that God is one individual person; and in verse 26 he spoke to someone else, and said, “Let us…”.
Even if God is a Trinity—he isn’t, but let’s assume for a second that he is—“Let us” means that one person is speaking to someone else. Genesis 1:26 says, “And God said, Let us…,” which means that all three members of the Trinity said something to someone else. Even if God is a Trinity…who was the Trinity talking to?
Who was God talking to when he said, “Let us make man in our image”?? To be honest, I’m not sure that I know. For me, the most convincing answer is the angels. They were present at creation of the world (Job 38:4,7), which means that they existed prior to creation. There are other places in scripture where God says, “us” when he means himself and the angels (Isaiah 6:1-4). And throughout history Jews have understood the “us” to refer to God’s angelic council. At the end of the day, we simply don’t know who God was talking to. The Bible doesn’t tell us. And it is always a bad idea to try to explain what the Bible leaves unsaid.
One thing we know for sure: the Bible in general and Genesis 1 in particular make it clear that God is only one person. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us” because one person (God) was speaking to another person (someone else).
10 thoughts on “Pronoun Problems: Genesis 1:26”
In the Hebrew text on Gen 1:26, there are no personal pronouns. They were added by the translators.
This isn’t entirely the case. In Hebrew (and many other inflected languages) the personal pronouns are contained in the suffix endings of the verbs in the passage. For example, the -t ending in the Latin word amat requires a third person pronoun. The same thing goes for the Hebrew text of Gen1:26. In fact, Hebrew does this sort of thing even more, because it uses these personal-pronoun-suffixes to nouns as well as verbs.
Gen1:26 does not say צלם (image), it says צלמינו (our image). Gen1:26 does not say דמות (likeness), it says דמותינו (our likeness). So, yes, there are personal pronouns in Genesis 1:26; the translators did not add them—they translated them.
See also Psalms 8. The Hebrew says man was created as lacking a little from God.
In one of my favorite movies, “Time Bandits”, Terry Gilliam’s script involves a group of dwarves to whom God, as the story goes, assigned the duty of creating the lesser components of our world like shrubbery. This is consistent with the common view that God created in concert with other supernatural beings.
“Time Bandit” is a great movie and shows Gilliam’s tremendous imagination. It is also …a comedy.
If God is speaking to OTHERS in Gen 1:26cf inviting, commanding or otherwise involving beings separate from Himself in the acts of creation, to whom then is God supposedly speaking? We must consider the act of creation in light of the broad context of the Bible where, A.) it never attributes creation to anyone BUT God and B.) repeatedly shows us examples of God saying that He ALONE is the creator?
For example, from the Old Testament:
1.) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. – Gen 1:1
2.) He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion. – Ish 54:5
3.) O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even THOU ALONE, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. – Ish 37:16
4.) Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens ALONE; that spreadeth abroad the earth BY MYSELF; – Ish 44:24
There are, of course, other examples. But these, being the Word of God, should bear sufficient authority to illustrate the point.
By contrast, any and all other deities are frequently contrasted with the One True God on the matter of creation. For example:
Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens. He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.- Jer 10:11-12
To comprehend, as much as possible, what the biblical says about anything, one must understand all that the Bible says about that thing. This demands a coherent, systematic theology. And a coherent systematic theology must harmonize ALL of those portions of scripture that clearly show a plurality of some kind involved in the unique and distinctively divine act of creation with the explicit claims by God Himself that he “alone” and “by myself” is the single actor in the creation.
Despite the clear monotheistic attribution of creation to the single God of Israel in the Old Testament, there actually are three and only three persons who are also identified as God (by name, title, attribute, action or honorifics) who are named as active in creation. These are those whom we call, the Father, the Son and the Spirit (of God).
Looking to the New Testament, we see that the Word of God explicitly attributes creation to the Word of God (Jn 1:1-3) who is identified in Jn 1:18 as Jesus Christ.
Paul, writing to the church of the Colossians, clearly attributes the act of the creation of all things to Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-17) and even also attributes to him the continuing sustainment of the created universe.
Heb 1:8-12cf makes essentially the same claim – attributing the act of creation to “the Son”.
And yet the Bible is clear and redundant in telling us that ONLY God is the creator.
So it appears that the increasingly normalized view that God, in Gen 1:26, is speaking to OTHERS (someone other than He Himself) and inviting or commanding them to be involved in the creation of mankind, the pinnacle of creation, (or anything else for that matter), cannot withstand the test of showing coherence or harmony with the rest of the revealed Word of God, which, with equal clarity attributes creation to the Son whom the text also explicitly identifies as “God” (again, by name, title, and attributions of the unique actions and attributes of the one and only God).
Hebrew grammar tells us the plural pronouns “us” and “our” are required by the plural Hebrew noun elohim translated “God” “Then God [elohim, plural] said, ‘Let Us [plural] make man in Our [plural] image, after Our [plural] likeness.”
This cannot be a prooftext for the Trinity.
Hebrew grammar not theology.
Even the LDS Book of Mormon depicts “God” as one person: Jesus. (See 2nd Nephi 11:7 & Ether 3:14.) However, the leaders of the LDS Church, since Brigham Young, have claimed that there is a “Godhead” in charge of the universe, and that this Godhead consists of 3 separate gods: Elohim, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. So, LDS leaders contradict their own main scriptural book! Also, the LDS book of “Abraham” depicts many gods, but the LDS book of Moses depicts one god. Obviously, this is another contradiction in their god doctrine. For further information, check out the book, “Line Upon Line”.
Just for clarification: I am not Mormon and I’m not trying to represent a Mormon Christology here. But thanks for the interesting comment!
God is defined as One divine Person, thousands of times.
Jesus was a Jew who confirmed the unitarian creed of Mark 12.
Jesus therefore cannot have thought that he was God!
No, there is no such “definition” anywhere in scripture. If there is only one Lord (Jesus) then, interpreting scripture are unitarians do, the “one Lord” in Mark 12 and Deuteronomy 6:4 is Jesus.
Jesus *is* the one Lord in Mark 12, given that Jesus is both God (Titus 2:13, John 1:1, 20:28, Romans 9:5, Heb 1:8) and Lord (in the sense “Jehovah”—Phil 2:11 with Isa 45:23, John 8:56 with Genesis 17:1 & Exodus 3:14, Hebrews 1:10-12 with Psalm 102:21-28).
That is the Christian teaching: that Jesus is the one God, come as man for the salvation of humanity.