21stcr.org Verses & Words Explained
(Also applies to Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7 & Isaiah 6:8)
Gen. 1:26 - Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground" (NIV).
A. What Genesis 1:26 is saying -
Genesis 1:26 brings us to the time in creation in which God proposes to make mankind. This is a momentous moment for us as human beings. We exist only because of him. By his choice he created us. Later the Apostle Paul will acknowledge that "we are his offspring" (Acts 17:28-29). We were created in his image – his likeness. This is not said of any other being he created on this earth.
One who creates has a purpose in mind for his creation. An essential purpose of God for humanity is made clear in this same verse: "Let them have dominion..." From the beginning, God intended human beings to be "managers" of his creation. The role given to us by our creator is to be good stewards of our world. Yet, there is another reason he created us. We learn in the second and third chapters of Genesis a most amazing truth: God created human beings so that he might have a unique relationship with us. We were made in "his image" so that we might be capable of fellowship with our creator.
B. What Genesis 1:26 is not saying -
Genesis 1:26 does not tell us who God is speaking to on this occasion. Some have insisted that this was a case of "God" talking to "God." That is to say that multiple "persons" of deity were engaged here. However, the verse does not say that. Only "one" in this verse is identified as being God. That one is the speaker: "God" said, let us make man. The same phrase "God said" is found in Genesis the first chapter seven times prior to verse 26. It is the same one speaking on all occasions:
God said – Let there be light (v. 3).
God said - Let there be a firmament (v. 6).
God said - Let the waters be gathered together (v. 9).
God said - Let the earth bring forth (v. 11).
God said - Let there be lights (v. 14).
God said - Let the waters bring forth (v. 20).
God said - Let the earth bring forth (v. 24).
In v. 26 he speaks to others. However, this verse does not say that he is speaking to other "persons" of deity. Nor does it say that he was speaking to a "preexisting" Son of God as some have thought.
Who was listening to God on this occasion?
The best in scholarship proposes that God is speaking as a king and sovereign to his heavenly court. He is addressing the creation which he had already made by that time. We know that he had already created amazing beings in heaven. Job tell us that when God created the earth: "the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy" (Job 38:4-7).
God is speaking to his creation in what is often called "Royal Plurals." This is the language of kings when addressing those in his court. He graciously includes his courtiers in addressing a matter which may be accomplished in fact by the sovereign himself. This is borne out in the context of what the writer says in the next verse:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (v. 27).*
Note that it is only the one who does the speaking in vs. 26 ("God said...") who does the actual creating. This is conclusively established in that in Isaiah "one" identifies himself as being the sole creator:
"I" am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself (Isa. 44:24).
Jesus excludes himself from having been involved in the creation. He gives the only statement in the Bible actually quoting from Genesis 1:27 and indicates:
"Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female" (Mat. 19:4).
* All emphatics in the quoted verses are those of the author.
Quotes of Interest
Dr. Charles Ryrie explains the plurals as plurals of majesty: "Gen. 1:26 us . . . our. Plurals of majesty" (Ryrie Study Bible, NIV, p.6).
"The explanation of the first person plural forms is probably that the Creator speaks as heaven's King accompanied by His heavenly hosts" (The New Bible Commentary, p. 82).
"It is possible that this plural form implies a discussion between God and his heavenly court... Alternatively, the plural expresses the majesty and fullness of God's being" (New Jerusalem Bible, p. 19).
"It is now universally admitted that the use of the plural in Gen. 1:26 did not mean to the author that [God was more than one Person.]" (The Word Bible Commentary)
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