Let Us Make Man

Let Us Make
In the Image

Let Us Make

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26).

The Bible teaches that man was made in the image of God: "Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Genesis 9:6). God's word records the conversation at the time:

  • “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
  • “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
  • (Genesis 1:26-27).

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." (Isaiah 6:8).

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?" (Job 38:4-7).

Was man made in the image of angels, or in the image of God? 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 not omnipotent?

Those 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 dsirest 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.'

Polytheists, of course, have their own explanation for the "we" of Genesis 1:26, though the plain Bible teaching of monotheism blocks their way:

So it is certain that there is only one God:

"Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. . .Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any." (Isaiah 44:6-8).

Polytheism, were it lawful, as it is not, not under any approved law-giver, not Moses nor Jesus,— would explain part of the picture, the occasional plural personal pronouns, like,

"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:. . ." (Genesis 3:22).

On no account would it explain the many unequivocal and unambiguous statements of monotheism in the Bible. The polytheistic explanation of these verses nevertheless has taken the academy by storm:

"As previously noted, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Friedrich Delitzsch commented that 'the priestly scholar who composed Gen. chap. i endeavored, of course, to remove all possible mythological features of this creation story.' Many scholars from various positions in biblical studies argue that the original mythic character of Genesis can still be seen in the 'cleansed' text. For example, it is often argued that the plurality of the name of God ('elohim) in Genesis 1 suggests an original polytheism that only later evolved into an ardent monotheism." (John D. Currid, Against the Gods, Kindle location 579).

How polytheism can ever 'evolve' into monotheism is far from obvious. Certainly monotheism is taught insistently and with blinding clarity in some portions of the Bible, such as the 40's chapters of Isaiah. Is this a book of single authorship,— the Holy Spirit,— or the product of multiple authors who disagree on basic points of theology? The atheist will reply, 'The Bible is a poorly edited book, incorporating some polytheism and some monotheism.' Obviously no Bible-believer can concur. How to resolve this controversy? Well, who, after all, did create the world? The gods?:


The Image

The one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created the world, and everything in it, including man; this is the "us" and the "our." The plural pronouns are appropriate, though not mandatory, because God is triune. There is one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Genesis 1:26-27, God the Father addresses God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, proposing the word of creation. This is accomplished just as proposed: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him. . ."

Man is made in the "image of God," as the Bible testifies. Who is the Image? Jesus Christ is the image:

"In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:4).

"Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:..." (Colossians 1:15).

"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;..." (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus Christ, who is the image of God the Father, is not Himself triune, no more than is the Father whose image He is. We, in turn, are made after the same image, in Christ. If you strike one coin in the image of another, a third coin made after the same image would not reflect two coins but one. It's the same image, declining in perfection and detail as the exemplar fades into the distance.


Gero Crucifix


The early church authors understood Genesis 1:26-27 in just this way: that God the Father was addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit, although in some cases these authors mention only the Son:

"And furthermore, my brothers: if the Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, 'Let us make according to our image and likeness,' how is it, then, that he submitted to suffer at the hands of mean? Learn!" (Epistle of Barnabas, 5.5)
"And the same sentiment was expressed, my friends, by the word of God [written] by Moses, when it indicated to us, with regard to Him whom it has pointed out, that God speaks in the creation of man with the very same design, in the following words: 'Let Us make man after our image and likeness...And God created man: after the image of God did He create him; male and female created He them.'...For I would not say that the dogma of that heresy which is said to be among you is true, or that the teachers of it can prove that [God] spoke to angels, or that the human frame was the workmanship of angels.  But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with Him; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God, who has also declared this same thing in the revelation made by Joshua the son of Nave (Nun)." (Justin Martyr, martyred 165 A.D., Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter LXII).
“Moreover, God is found, as if needing help, to say, 'Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.' But to no one else than to His own Word and wisdom did He say, 'Let Us make.'” (Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter 18).

  • “When the world was complete and its inhabitant was to be created, the words spoken concerning him were, "Let Us make man after Our image and likeness" [Genesis 1:26]. I ask you, Do you suppose that God spoke those words to Himself? Is it not obvious that He was addressing not Himself, but Another? If you reply that He was alone, then out of His own mouth He confutes you, for He says, Let Us make man after Our image and likeness. God has spoken to us through the Lawgiver in the way which is intelligible to us; that is, He makes us acquainted with His action by means of language, the faculty with which He has been pleased to endow us. There is, indeed, an indication of the Son of God, through Whom all things were made, in the words, And God said, Let there be a firmament, and in, And God made the firmament, which follows; but lest we should think these words of God were wasted and meaningless, supposing that He issued to Himself the command of creation, and Himself obeyed it, — for what notion could be further from the thought of a solitary God than that of giving a verbal order to Himself, when nothing was necessary except an exertion of His will? — He determined to give us a more perfect assurance that these words refer to Another beside Himself.

  • “When He said, Let Us make man after Our image and likeness, His indication of a Partner demolishes the theory of His isolation. For an isolated being cannot be partner to himself; and again, the words, Let Us make, are inconsistent with solitude, while Our cannot be used except to a companion. Both words, Us and Our are inconsistent with the notion of a solitary God speaking to Himself, and equally inconsistent with that of the address being made to a stranger who has nothing in common with the Speaker. If you interpret the passage to mean that He is isolated, I ask you whether you suppose that He was speaking with Himself? If you do not understand that He was speaking with Himself, how can you assume that He was isolated? If He were isolated, we should find Him described as isolated; if He had a companion, then as not isolated. I and Mine would describe the former state; the latter is indicated by Us and Our.

  • “Thus, when we read, Let Us make man after Our image and likeness, these two words Us and Our reveal that there is neither one isolated God, nor yet one God in two dissimilar Persons; and our confession must be framed in harmony with the second as well as with the first truth. For the words Our image — not Our images — prove that there is one nature possessed by Both.”
  • (Hillary, On the Trinity, Book IV, Sections 17-18).

"Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and molded by His hands, that is, by the Son and Holy Spirit, to whom also He said, 'Let Us make man.'" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Preface, 4).
"And this is He of whom the Scripture says, 'And God formed man, taking clay of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life.' It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands.  For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, 'Let Us make man after Our image and likeness;' He taking from Himself the substance of the creatures [formed], and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 20, 1.)

"He calls Him Wonderful Counsellor, meaning of the Father: whereby it is declared that the Father works all things together with Him; as is contained in the first book of Moses which is entitled Genesis: And God said, Let us make man after our image and likeness. For there is seen in this place the Father speaking to the Son, the Wonderful Counsellor of the Father." (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Section 55).
"Thus it was that the Father did say beforehand to the Son: 'Let us make man in our image and likeness.  And God made man,' -- that is, the creature which He fashioned -- 'to the image of God,' -- of Christ, of course, -- 'He made him.'" (Tertullian, The Resurrection of the Dead, 6:2, 361, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, William A. Jurgens, p. 149)

"If the number of the Trinity also offends you, as if it were not connected in the simple Unity, I ask you how it is possible for a Being who is merely and absolutely One and Singular, to speak in plural phrase, saying, "Let us make man in our own image, and after our own likeness;" whereas He ought to have said, "Let me make man in my own image, and after my own likeness," as being a unique and singular Being?" (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter XII).

Nor is the trinitarian understanding of Genesis 1:26-27 unique to the early church. At all ages Christians have understood this passage the same way:

  • “A plurality in the Deity may be proved from plural expressions used by God, when speaking of himself, respecting the works of creation, providence, and grace. At the creation of man he said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness", (Gen. 1:26) the pronouns "us" and "our", manifestly express a plurality of persons; these being personal plural characters; as image and likeness being in the singular number, secure the unity of the divine essence; and that there were more than one concerned in the creation of man, is clear from the plural expressions used of the divine Being, when he is spoken of as the Creator of men, (Job 35:10; Ps. 149:2; Eccl. 12:1; Isa. 54:5) in all which places, in the original text, it is my Makers, his Makers, thy Creators, thy Makers; for which no other reason can be given, than that more persons than one had an hand herein; as for the angels, they are creatures themselves, and not possessed of creative powers; nor were they concerned in the creation of man, nor was he made after their image and likeness; nor can it be reasonably thought, that God spoke to them, and held a consultation with them about it; for "with whom took he counsel?" (Isa. 40:14). Not with any of his creatures; no, not with the highest angel in heaven; they are not of his privy council.”
  • (John Gill, Body of Divinity, Book I, Chapter 27, Of A Plurality In The Godhead; Or, A Trinity Of Persons In The Unity Of The Divine Essence, 1b).

"In the beginning, God shaped man, and man was an image of both the Father and the Son. For God said: 'Let us make man to our image and likeness.'" (John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily IX, p. 239).

"Sometimes the meaning is altogether latent, as in Genesis: 'Let us make man after our image and likeness.' Both let us make and our is said in the plural, and ought not to be received except as of relatives. For it was not that gods might make, or make after the image and likeness of gods; but that the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit might make after the image of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, that man might subsist as the image of God." (Augustine, On the Trinity, Book VII, Chapter 6, Section 12).

"When God was about to mold him, he said: 'Let us make man in our image and likeness.' To whom did he say this? It is quite clear that he was speaking to his only-begotten." (John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily XI, p. 275).
"In the sacred scripture, however, the Son is found to have been distinct from the Father even before the Incarnation...We read, also, in Genesis (1:26): 'Let us make man to our image and likeness'; and in this the plurality and distinction of those who make man is expressly designated.  Yet Scripture teaches that man was made by God alone.  Thus, there was a plurality and distinction of God the Father and God the Son even before the Incarnation of Christ." (Thomas Aquinas, The Opinion of Sabellius on the Son of God, and its Refutation, Chapter 5:9 Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four).
"Secondly, I would remark upon this divine Word, "Let Us Make,"--that it appertains to the mystery and confirmation of our faith: by which, we believe that there is ONE GOD, from all eternity and THREE distinct Persons in ONE Divinity or divine Essence,-- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Jews, indeed, attempt, in various ways, to elude this passage...I would demand, secondly, what the creation of man had to do with angels or angels with it?...Wherefore, God speaks here of Makers or Creators. This expression therefore could not design, or imply, angels....Wherefore, most assuredly, the Holy Trinity is here intended of God...For all the THREE Persons here concur, and speak unitedly, when they say, 'Let Us make.'" (Martin Luther, The Creation: A Commentary on the First Five Chapters of the Book of Genesis, pp. 84-85).

Against this united testimony of the ancient and reformation church come the modern liberals, who assert that God cannot possibly have been addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit in His remarks, the trinity not yet having been invented: