We here discover, as elsewhere in the Bible, that God can refer
to himself both with plural pronouns, and also with the singular
pronoun, as befitting the triunity of God. Some people can deal with
the singular pronouns, where they occur, as for instance in verse
27, but cannot deal with the plural, as found in verse 26. An honest
reading of the Bible must take both into account.
Why the plural pronouns? Some have suggested the 'Royal We' or
the 'Editorial We.' But 'We' is not a pronoun used
consistently by God, although this usage is not totally isolated
either. God also says, with reference to the tower of Babel,
"Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not
understand one another’s speech." (Genesis 11:7).
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me."
Even in the New Testament 'we' can be used for God: "Jesus answered and said unto
him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will
love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."
(John 14:23). However, these 'we's' are isolated within a larger sea
of 'I's.' Why only here, if it is God's habit to use the 'Royal We?' Moreover, the
'Royal We' and 'Editorial We,' upon analysis, are not instances
where one single individual refers to himself as 'we.' The
speaker of the 'Editorial We' claims to serve as spokesman for others, and the
speaker of the 'Royal We' claims to embody the nation in his own
person. The movie 'Madness of King George' represents George
addressing himself as "England:" "Do it, England. Do it."
(Madness of King George,
script). What would the comparable plural referent be for God?
'Allah' in the Koran is a 'we,' but Mohammed ibn Abdallah was an
unthinking copycat who may well have borrowed this Biblical usage
without understanding it, just as he borrowed the Christian
folk-tale of the 'Seven Sleepers' without realizing its implication:
that trinitarians were monotheists upon whom God's pleasure rested.
Is God here addressing the angels, as some of the Rabbis
conjectured?: "In other passages our Sages expressed it more decidedly: 'God
does nothing without consulting the host above'. . ." (Moses Maimonides,
The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 185). This viewpoint has not even yet
been abandoned: "According to the first chapter of Genesis the whole work of
creation finds its culmination in man, whose making is introduced by a
solemn appeal of God to the hosts of heaven: 'Let us make man in our
image, after our likeness.'" (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 206).
But this cannot be. The angels are not addressed as
creaturely assistants in the work of creation, because there were no
angelic co-creators. God created alone: "Thus says the LORD, your
Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb; I am the LORD, who
makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone; who
spread abroad the earth by Myself. . ." (Isaiah 44:24). The angels
are spectators of creation, not participants:
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?.
. .When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
Was man made in the image of angels, or in the image of God? Eusebius
makes a valid point when he says, "And he at once shows that the Being
addressed is not an angel of God, so that it may not be thought that
this was said to angels, with the words: "And God made man, in the image
of God he made him." (Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea:
Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel) (Kindle Locations
3936-3938). Book V, Chapter 7.) Since the Bible itself identifies the 'image' in
which we are made as the image of God, not of the angels, the 'us'
addressed cannot be the angels.
Can it seriously be maintained that God needed angelic permission to proceed
with His work?:
"Rabbi Chanina says, 'It was not so! But when God was
about to create Adam, He consulted the ministering angels and said
unto them (Gen. i. 26), "Shall we make man in our image after
our likeness?' They replied, "For what good wilt thou create him?"
He responded, "That the righteous may rise out of him.". . .God
informed them only about the righteous, but He said nothing about
the wicked, otherwise the ministering angels would not have given
their consent that man should be created." (Bereshith Rabbah, chap.
8, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and
Kabbala, Kindle location 4028).
The Rabbis have neglected to explain what inconvenience would
have resulted from this creaturely failure to give consent. Is God
There is no more succinct definition of idolatry than worship of
the creature rather than the creator: ". . .who exchanged the truth
of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather
than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 1:25). But
mustn't we worship our Creator? The heavenly hosts did not create
us; they are our fellow-creatures. Who does not realize the futility of
worshipping the angels?: "Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God."
(Colossians 2:18-19). As it happens, the 'angelic
co-creators' theory is rebutted by the very next verse of the
passage in question: "So God created man in his own image, in the
image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
(Genesis 1:27). God, and God alone, created man; He neither wanted
nor needed assistance. Some Rabbis, dimly aware that there is a
problem, explain that God addressed verse 26 to the angels, but,
see, He didn't really mean it, He was just being polite:
"There is another possible reason for the use of the plural on the part of God, and that is to manifest His humility. God addresses Himself to the angels and says to them, “Let us make man in our image.” It is not that He invites their help, but as a matter of modesty and courtesy, God associates them with the creation of man."
(Jews for Judaism
The assertion that God did not really mean what He said in
Genesis, but was just being polite, is not an interpretation of the
Bible, but a concession that none can be offered.
TThose Rabbis who looked to the 'Torah' as the party
addressed were closer on the trail: "When the Holy One, blessed be
he, said to the Torah, 'Let us make man in our image after our
likeness,' the Torah answered, 'Master of all worlds, the world is thine, but the men thou desirest to create are "of few days and full
of trouble" and will fall into the power of sin. . ."'" (Solomon
Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 323). The 'Torah' is the
'Word.' In fact the two here spoken to are the Word and the Holy Spirit:
"If one asserts that the expressions, 'Our image' and 'Our likeness' used by Moses and the expressions, 'We made,' and 'We breathed,' used by Muhammad, do not refer to God but to the angels, how disgraceful it would be to believe that the image and the likeness of God and those of the angels, that is of the creator and the created, are one! How ishonourable it would be to affirm that God says, orders and does with the angels and His creatures! God orders and does like the Lord and the creator, and orders and does in a way that transcends that of all others; but the angels being creatures and servants, do not order with God, but are under the order of God; they do not create with God, but are very much created by God. The angels are what David said about them, 'Who maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flaming fire.' In this he shows that they are made and created.
"As to the Word and Spirit of God the prophet David says that they are not created and made, but creators and makers: 'By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made,' and not His Word alone; and 'the heavenly hosts were created by His Spirit' and not His Spirit alone; and, 'Because He said and they were made, and He commanded and they were created.' It is obvious that one who 'says,' 'says' and 'commands' by word, and that the word precedes the action, and the thought precedes the deed. Since God is one without any other before Him, with Him and after Him, and since all the above expressions which denote plurality cannot be ascribed to angels, and since the nature of God is absolutely free from all compositions—to whom could we ascribe then all such expressions? I believe,
O our victorious King, that they refer to the Word and the Spirit of God."
(Timothy I, Apology for Christianity, Dialogue with the Caliph).
Polytheists, of course, have their own explanation for the "we"
of Genesis 1:26, though the plain Bible teaching of monotheism
blocks their way: