Let Us Make Man

Let Us Make
In the Image
Theory of Evolution
Philo Judaeus

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).

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." (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? 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 not omnipotent?

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 website).

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:

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).

"With good reason then does Moses in his perfect wisdom, when commencing his account of the creation of the world, inspired by the same Spirit declare that in the beginning aforesaid 'God created the heaven and the earth'; and introduces God communing with Him, as with His own and first-born Word, upon the creation of man, in the passage where he writes: 'And God said, Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.'" (Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica (The Preparation of the Gospel) (Kindle Locations 5121-5124). Book VII, Chapter XII.)

"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:

Theory of Evolution

In the nineteenth century people became convinced there was such a thing as 'evolution.' They convinced themselves that the answer to all questions about how things came to be was an adverb, 'gradually.' The people who invented this idea became elated, believing that they themselves were the most highly evolved beings on the planet. It was tied up with ideas of progress. The one thing they were sure of is that progress had to come up to their own selves; thus far its waves may flow, and no further. So monotheism had to be imagined as the end point of a evolutionary development of which polytheism was the starting point. These people were, after all, monotheists! But this was an odd result; the same people who were so committed to the idea of progress also said that evolution worked from the simple to the more complex::

  • “It is settled beyond dispute that organic progress consists in a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. Now, we propose in the first place to show, that this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through successive differentiations, holds throughout. From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous, is that in which progress essentially consists."

  • Spencer, Herbert (2012-05-12). Essays: Scientific, Political, & Speculative, Vol. I (Kindle Locations 175-180).

Polytheism is not simpler than monotheism, it is more complex! Is any historical tendency visible, by which polytheism tends naturally to develop into monotheism? In some cases monotheism has overwhelmed polytheism by conquest or conversion. But is India 'evolving' toward monotheism? Who could think so? While some Hindus are monists, who consider all their many gods to be one, this is only in virtue of the fact that they consider all things,— you, me, the kitchen sink, the giraffe in the zoo,— to be one besides. Augustine, in his City of God, sympathized with Varro, whose self-assigned task was to bring a modicum of order into the proliferating chaos of the pagan Roman pantheon. As far as observation can disclose, polytheistic pantheons tend to become more cluttered and crowded with time, not simpler. These people did not 'find' their evolutionary progress in the world, they imposed it, as a bed of Procrustes, from without.

In spite of the lack of any empirical evidence that polytheism tends to evolve into monotheism, these people were convinced that it had to. And just as taxonomists studying the perplexing fossils of the Burgess shale forced them into an 'evolutionary' framework, according to which they had to be more 'primitive' forms of existing organisms, Bible scholars forced the Old Testament into an 'evolutionary' paradigm, by assigning dates according as their theory demanded. The organisms fossilized in the Burgess shale were not more primitive, just different. Anyone who had been classifying them on an empirical basis would have noticed they were not precursors, they just were what they were. Likewise, the Bible evidence is not that polytheism comes first, and then gradually over time it is displaced by the more developed idea, monotheism. Rather, monotheism was first, though polytheism followed very closely behind: the serpent suggested it to Eve in the garden, by promising she and Adam could be 'like gods,' plural. Polytheism has always followed monotheistic, faithful Israel as a dark shadow, accompanying the people on their pilgrimage. There has always been an 'other' Israel; the golden calf leaped out of the furnace as Moses came down from the mount. But the shadow did not travel by itself.

Now that the scholarly world has convinced itself that ancient Israel had to be polytheistic, where did that leave our old, familiar Bible intimations of the trinity, like Genesis 1:26? To the people who were affixed to the 'evolutionary' framework, invented and imposed from the outside, these old hints and outlines of the trinity had to be dropped. Two alternative remained: either they were meaningless, of no consequence, or they were polytheistic. At the outset, oddly enough, some of the people that were ordering all history into an evolutionary progression were trinitarians themselves and so, naturally, their wonderful selves had to come at the end of the process, not at the beginning. The trinity therefore had to be a New Testament doctrine. There was overall a trend toward Unitarianism, though, which considered itself very 'advanced.' The Bible story therefore had to be a 'Just-So' story of how the primitive Hebrews evolved over time from polytheism up to the crown of creation, the nineteenth century German professor. Idolatry, according to some observers, is all about self-love: "L'idolatrie, si nous l'entendons, prenoit sa naissance de ce profond attachment que nous avons a nous-mesmes." (Jacques Benigne Bossuet, Discours Sur L'Historie Universelle, Kindle location 3958). Dates were made up according to this artificial scheme; it all had to fit this rigid armature, imposed from the outside.

It's high time this error was given up.

Philo Judaeus

"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).

There is a version of religious history which everyone has likely encountered at one time or another, certainly everyone who has ever encountered Jewish counter-missionaries. It runs like this:

"The doctrine of the Trinity has no greater foe than the Hebrew Scriptures. It is on the strength of this sacred oracle that the Jew has preserved the concept of One, single, unique Creator God Who alone is worthy of worship. Missionaries undertake an daunting and unholy task as they scour the Jewish Scriptures in search of any text that can be construed as consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity.

"No prophet remained silent on the uncompromising radical monotheism demanded by the God of Israel. The Jewish people, therefore, to whom these sublime declarations about the nature of the Almighty were given, knew nothing about a trinity of persons in the godhead.

"Because the prophets relayed their divine message on the nature of God with such timeless, transparent, clarity, very few verses in Tanach could be summoned by the Church to corroborate their alien teachings on the doctrine of the Trinity. Understandably, though, the defenders of Christendom parade the few verses that they insist support the notion that there is a plurality in the godhead.

"One of the most popular verses used by missionaries as a proof text in support of the doctrine of the Trinity is Genesis 1:26. This verse appears frequently in missionary literature despite of the fact that this argument has been answered countless times throughout the centuries and numerous Christian scholars have long abandoned it."
(Rabbi Tovia Singer, Outreach Judaism)

What is this author's own understanding of the plural forms? It is the grotesque paganism of angelic co-creators: "If you search the Hebrew Bible you will find that when the Almighty speaks of “us” or “our,” He is addressing His ministering angels." (Tovia Singer, website cited). Really? So it is the angels who created us? How does this differ from what the people of pagan Greece and Rome already believed about the world and its maker[s]? They, too, thought that the world and its furnishings, including mankind, had been brought into being by a multiplicity of divine beings, themselves created. The idea that angels created the world is pure idolatry! Yet this author considers the pure paganism of creation of the world by the heavenly hosts to be preferable to the Trinity.

But let us consider the historical questions he raises. When the early church fathers understood Genesis 1:26 to refer to the Father, Son and Spirit, were they introducing any 'alien teaching' into the religion of Israel? Certainly they did so understand:

"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)
“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).
"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).
"For so did the Father previously say to the Son: “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” And God made man, that is to say, the creature which He molded and fashioned; after the image of God (in other words, of Christ) did He make him." (Tertullian, On The Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 6, p. 988, ECF_0_03).

So let us look behind them, and ask, who or what would a non-Christian first century Jew, like Philo Judaeus, have understood God the Father to be addressing in verse 26? The answer is complex and ambiguous:

  • “On this account, I imagine it is, that when Moses was speaking philosophically of the creation of the world, while he described everything else as having been created by God alone, he mentions man alone as having been made by him in conjunction with other assistants; for, says Moses, “God said, Let us make man in our Image.” The expression, “let us make,” indicating a plurality of makers. Here, therefore, the Father is conversing with his own powers, to whom he has assigned the task of making the mortal part of our soul, acting in imitation of his own skill while he was fashioning the rational part within us, thinking it right that the dominant part within the soul should be the work of the Ruler of all things, but that the part which is to be kept in subjection should be made by those who are subject to him. And he made us of the powers which were subordinate to him, not only for the reason which has been mentioned, but also because the soul of man alone was destined to receive notions of good and evil, and to choose one of the two, since it could not adopt both. Therefore, he thought it necessary to assign the origin of evil to other workmen than himself, — but to retain the generation of good for himself alone.

  • “On which account, after Moses had already put in God’s mouth this expression, “Let us make man,” as if speaking to several persons, as if he were speaking only of one, “God made man.””

  • (Philo Judaeus of Alexandria. Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 12778-12789). On Flight and Finding, Chapters XIII-XIV).)

From the place where we have planted our feet, paths diverge in all directions. Are "his own powers" facets of the being of the one true uncreated God? If so, we are on the express lane to Christian orthodoxy. Are they emanations unfolded from the self-existent source? If so, we are on our way to gnosticism. Are they created beings, identical to the hosts of created spirits who populate the heavens, who do God's bidding? If so, we land squarely in the Arian heresy. Philo understands that his interpretation, whichever way he takes it, involves a "plurality of makers," not hemming and hawing or thinking out loud; he has the courage to embrace the consequences of his own view. If created, then this "plurality of makers" are in fact the Rabbis' angelic co-creators, though it is idolatry to embrace them as such. Or do you acknowledge that the angels made you, but you do not worship them as your creator? Ingrate! They do know, don't they, that Jewish law does not permit them to worship the angelic hosts?

By "powers," Philo does not necessarily mean anything small; in his lexicon, 'Lord' and 'God' are 'powers' of the living God:

This idea of the 'powers' expands like an accordion under Philo's hands, starting at the very top:

"Akin to these powers is the creative power which is called God: for by means of this power the Father, who begot and created all things, did also disperse and arrange them; so that the expression, “I am thy God,” is equivalent to, “I am thy maker and creator;” and it is the greatest of all possible gifts to have him for one’s maker, who has also been the maker of the whole world." (Philo Judaeus, On the Change of Names, Chapter IV).

. . .but unfamiliar to modern usage, the concept also squeezes down very low, to the tiniest angel wheezing in a tinny voice in the great choir. The Rabbis, having excised the top range, are left with this bottom rung alone, and must there find their angelic co-creators, amongst unquestionably created beings. This is of course idolatry, which attributes to the creature what belongs only to the Creator: "

Where did Philo stand on the all-important issue of whether God's most ancient "powers" were created or uncreated? Squarely on the fence. "Uncreated," maybe:

"Do you think that you would be unable to look at the unmodified light of the sun? If you were to try to do so, your sight would be extinguished by the brilliancy of his rays, and be wholly blinded by a close approach to that luminary, before it could perceive anything, and yet the sun is only one of the works of God, a portion of the heaven, a fragment of compressed aether, but you are nevertheless able to gaze upon those uncreated powers which exist around Him, and emit the most dazzling light, without any veil or modification?" (On the Unchangeableness of God, XVII, 78).

Or maybe not; the Arians too found inspiration in his work. He even leaves room for gnosticism, in the passage quoted above, leaving open the possibility that only 'good' is to be laid at the feet of the highest God, subordinate beings have produced (and potentially botched) the other stuff. Sometimes he writes as if it he understood it is very important that the 'powers' be uncreated, sometimes he describes them as creatures. Philo himself did not trace out these different currents, which start as rivulets in his work, to their eventual flood-tide across the plain; that was left to later generations. He just tosses them out there. The Christian interpretation, of the Word and the Spirit as God's uncreated powers, to whom He spoke in Genesis 1:26, is no less ancient than any Rabbinic notion of angelic co-creators, and for good measure refreshingly free of idolatry.

This Jewish author is correct in pointing out that modern liberal interpreters do not read Genesis 1:26 as indicating the Christian Trinity. This is of course true. Since the trail-blazers for these people were unitarians,— they did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ,— the passage causes them the same embarrassment as it causes the Rabbis, and they dispose of it in similar fashion. Often today they are even more overtly polytheistic, talking about a 'council of the gods' and that kind of thing. If it should happen that persons who do not share their presuppositions are flim-flammed by the facade of scholarship, then shame on them.