Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
Then the Lord God said, “See, the humans have become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now they might reach out their hands and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever” . . . . (Genesis 3:22)
Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7)
And there’s one more, in the Prophets:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
Why the “us” in these verses?
Is this a leftover from the pagan polytheism out of which the Hebrew people originally came? Is it a surviving reference to multiple gods? So some have argued. But by the time the Hebrew Bible was put into its final form, its editors and authors were firmly monotheistic. They would not have allowed their most sacred text to espouse a belief in polytheism.
Is this a reference to a Trinity of Persons, as Nicene Christians strenuously argue? In a word: No. The idea of the Trinity of Persons did not exist when these passages were written. It didn’t come into being until the third and fourth centuries AD, hundreds or even thousands of years after these stories were originally composed. The writers of the Old and New Testament could not possibly have had a Trinity of Persons in mind in anything they wrote, because that idea hadn’t been developed yet.
Then why the “us”?
There are two basic explanations that can be supported from the text of the Bible itself:
- These are examples of a plural of majesty.
- These are references to God working in company with heavenly beings.
Let’s take a closer look.
These are poetic and metaphorical passages
First, notice where in the Bible these passages occur. Three of them are in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The fourth is in the Prophets.
Everywhere else in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, God is always referred to in the singular. This is in line with the emphatic statement in both Testaments:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29)
Are these four passages saying something different? Do they, unlike everywhere else in the Bible, say that God is more than one?
Not at all.
Rather, these four passages use poetic and metaphorical language. To be sure, as many have pointed out, they are not written in the structure and form of Hebrew poetry. They are prose poems written in a narrative style that mimics the style of historical narrative, but that is intended to convey deeper spiritual meanings.
The first eleven chapters of the Bible are commonly taken by traditional Christians to be the literal story of the origins of humanity. But these chapters are not like the chapters that come after them, from Genesis 12 onward. Starting in Genesis 12 (but introduced in the final verses of Genesis 11), there is an ordinary narrative storyline. It tells the story of the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and their descendants, and all their doings.
But these early chapters of Genesis are parables of Creation. They tell cryptic stories of ancient people who lived for hundreds of years. They tell of heavenly beings mating with human women and spawning giants who were the mythic heroes of old. They tell of a world-spanning flood, of a representative sample of humans and animals riding out the flood in a massive boat, of ancient curses on Israel’s future enemies, of towers built to reach the skies. They contain long genealogies in which each generation and name represents an entire nation, culture, or clan in the world of the early Hebrews.
These stories were never meant to be taken literally. They are poetic and metaphorical stories, in narrative form, of the early cultural and spiritual development of human beings. They speak of our relationship with God, and of our use and abuse of the free will that God gave us right from the beginning, as part and parcel of our humanity.
It is in these poetic and metaphorical chapters that God is referred to as “us.” And just to assure us of the metaphorical nature of that “us,” the only other place it is used is in the Prophets, which are also books full of poetry and metaphor.
Why is God never referred to using a plural pronoun anywhere else in the Bible? Why isn’t God referred to in the plural in the ordinary narrative parts of the Bible? If the Bible had meant to suggest to us that there are multiple gods, or that God has multiple “Persons,” this expression would be common throughout the Bible.
But it isn’t.
It occurs only in a few highly poetic and metaphorical passages. This should give pause to those who want to interpret that rare “us” as referring to polytheism, which the Jewish people increasingly rejected, or to multiple Persons in God, an idea that did not even exist until several centuries after the last books of the Bible were written.
However we might want to interpret the Bible many centuries later, the Bible writers had something in mind when they wrote these words, even if they were inspired by God. Any interpretation of these passages must start with an understanding of what they meant to their original writers and hearers.
And the style of the chapters of the Bible in which it occurs suggests that if we want to understand what that “us” means in these highly poetic and metaphorical passages, we must read it as a literary and poetic expression, not as a literal description of a supposedly plural God.
The plural of majesty
And indeed, this is how Jewish people, among whom the Hebrew Bible was written, read the “us” in Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7, and in Isaiah 6:8.
The Jewish religion is strictly monotheistic. Jews reject the Trinity of Persons as a departure from that strict monotheism. Based on their religion, they cannot possibly read that “us” as referring to multiple gods, or to a Trinity of Persons in God.
And without the later Christian doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, Jewish scholars and laypeople alike commonly read these passages as an example of a plural of majesty, which is another form of the “royal we.” Using a plural form of address was one way of giving great honor to God, and also to some powerful human figures such as kings.
Grammatically, in Hebrew this is the “plural of intensity,” indicating the greatness of the person or thing referred to. In fact, two of the most common Hebrew words used to refer to the Deity, אֱלֹהִים (‘ĕlōhîm), commonly translated “God,” and אֲדֹנָי (‘ăḏōnāy), commonly translated “Lord,” are plural in form, but always take a singular verb when they refer to God. These plurals do not mean there is more than one God. They indicate the greatness of God.
The plural of majesty was once common in many languages around the world. For example, in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, God is sometimes referred to as “we.” Muslims also read this as a plural of majesty. See:
If Allah is One, Then Why Does He Refer to Himself with the Plural Pronoun, “We”? by Hamza Karamali
Today, royalty referring to themselves as “we” has mostly died out in the various languages around the world. This is why present-day people commonly misunderstand this usage of “us” in several ancient and poetical passages in the Bible.
The plural of majesty is also used of humans in the Bible
A further indication that these plurals cannot possibly refer to multiple gods, or to a Trinity of Persons in God, is that the same type of plural expression is also used of important people in the Bible.
For example, the Hebrew word adonay, “Lord,” which is plural in form, is sometimes applied to human beings. For example:
So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:9)
Here the Hebrew word for “master,” referring to Abraham, is adonay.
The same is true of “master” in this passage, in which it refers to Potiphar, a high official of Egypt:
And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. (Genesis 39:20)
And just one more random example from later in the Bible narrative, in which “master” refers to a Levite, a member of the revered priestly tribe of Israel:
But his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will continue on to Gibeah.” (Judges 19:12)
Many more examples could be given in which the plural Hebrew word adonay, “lord,” is used in reference to important human beings. No one would read this as meaning that there is more than one Abraham or Potiphar or Levite in these stories. Still less would anyone read these as meaning that there is a trinity of persons in Abraham or Potiphar or the Levite. It makes no more sense to read adonay or elohim to mean multiple gods, or a Trinity of Persons in God, when these Hebrew words refer to God.
Now consider that there is at least one passage in the Bible in which an important person refers to himself in the plural, as “we”:
“That was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation.” (Daniel 2:36)
This is the prophet Daniel himself speaking, and it was Daniel who told the king his dream and its interpretation.
Does this mean we should think of Daniel as a trinity of persons? I don’t think so! But we’ll return to this passage later on.
There has been great debate about whether there is a “royal we” in biblical Hebrew. Putting all the linguistic technicalities aside, these few examples show that the Bible does indeed use plurals of majesty both for God and for important human beings. This does not mean there is more than one God, or that God is a Trinity of Persons, any more than when one of the early kings of England referred to himself as “we,” it meant that there was more than one of him, or that he was a trinity of persons.
The plural of majesty is the most natural way of reading “us” in Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7, and in Isaiah 6:8.
God and the heavenly beings
But there is another way of reading these instances of “us” that also has good support in the text of the Bible itself, without the need to read into it a doctrine didn’t exist until long after the last books of the Bible were written.
Put simply, God was including the heavenly beings in that “us.”
Today, these heavenly beings are commonly thought of as angels. But in ancient Hebrew cosmology they also included evil angels, which we would call evil spirits or Satan.
Right within the early mythical chapters of Genesis in which God uses the word “us,” these heavenly beings show up:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair, and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4)
Who were these “sons of God”? There has been great debate about this among both Jews and Christians. However, it is clear enough that these “sons of God” are not ordinary mortals. There are parallel myths in many ancient cultures that tell tales divine beings mating with human women and producing heroes of great size and strength. This ancient poetic and metaphorical story in the Bible draws on the same theme of heavenly beings mating with human women and siring “heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.”
The very stories in the early chapters of Genesis in which God occasionally speaks using a plural pronoun demonstrate a belief in “sons of God” who were heavenly beings living in the same realm as God, such that they were a higher order of beings than ordinary mortals who lived on the surface of the earth.
In human terms, God was seen as having a “royal court” of powerful heavenly or angelic beings, including oppositional figures later referred to in the Hebrew Bible as “Satan”—a Hebrew word meaning “accuser, adversary.” The Bible often presents God as acting through these angelic or satanic figures.
Abraham’s three visitors
One of the clearest and most evocative examples of this occurs in Genesis chapters 18 and 19, not much farther along in the Bible narrative than those early usages of “us” in those first mythical and poetic eleven chapters of Genesis.
In Genesis 18 and 19, Abraham receives three visitors who are variously referred to as “the Lord,” “angels” and “men.” Here is how this encounter begins:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground. (Genesis 18:1–2)
This encounter with the Lord is commonly read by Nicene Christians as a reference to the Trinity of Persons. Even Emanuel Swedenborg (whose commentary on the three “us” passages in Genesis we’ll get to below) saw this as a reference to the Trinity in God (see Arcana Coelestia #2149)—though he taught that it is not a Trinity of Persons, but of different parts or aspects of one God.
But consider this verse later in the same chapter:
So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. (Genesis 18:22)
Who were the men who turned from there and went toward Sodom? We are told at the beginning of the next chapter:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. (Genesis 19:1)
Notice that they are referred to here as “angels,” and that there are two of them, not three. The picture we get is that of the three men who originally visited Abraham at his tent, one of them remained with Abraham, still representing the Lord, while the other two, identified as angels, went to Sodom to visit Abraham’s nephew Lot there.
Are two of the three Persons of the Nicene Trinity actually angels? This must be our conclusion if we try to read the story of the Lord visiting Abraham in Genesis 19 as referring to a Trinity of Persons in God. But once again, the ancient Hebrews had no concept of a Trinity of Persons because that concept wasn’t developed until many centuries later.
If we avoid back-filling later ideas into the story, and read it within the context of the Bible itself, the simplest and most natural understanding of this story is that God works through angels.
In Genesis 18 and 19 the plural “they” is used to refer to the three men who are speaking for God and representing God. But it draws on the same idea in the minds of these stories’ ancient human writers as the plural “us” in Genesis 1, 3, and 11.
The story of God visiting Abraham, in which God first appears as three men, and then two of them are identified as angels, is one of the clearest examples of God working through angels to accomplish God’s purposes. All three of these men were angels whom God sent to speak for God and carry God’s messages to Abraham, Sarah, and Lot.
Abraham, Sarah, and Lot were far from the only people in the Bible to receive messages from God through angel messengers. The very word for “angel” in both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament means “messenger.” In the Bible, angels are heavenly beings who bear messages from God.
And they not only speak for God. In the Bible story they also act for God in both positive and negative ways.
The plague on the firstborn
The tenth and final plague on the Egyptians as narrated in Exodus 12 is the plague of the death of the firstborn of all the Egyptians:
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. (Exodus 12:13)
Here it is the Lord who strikes down the firstborn. But a few verses later, we read:
For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. (Exodus 12:23, italics added)
Who is this “destroyer”? Is it someone other than the Lord? When this story is poetically retold in Psalm 78, “the destroyer” is identified as “a company of destroying angels”:
He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels. He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague. He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham. (Psalm 78:49–51, italics added)
So who struck down all the firstborn in Egypt? Was it the Lord? Or was it a company of destroying angels? The biblical answer is that it was the Lord acting through a company of destroying angels.
Satan tests Job
Remember “the sons of God” in Genesis 6? They appear again in the ancient book of Job—and Satan is one of them:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?”
Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6–12)
Here we have a clear picture of the Hebrew conception of God holding court among his nobles: the “sons of God,” or heavenly beings. In setting up the story told in the rest of the book of Job, God allows one of these members of his royal court, Satan—“the adversary” or “the accuser”—to act as he sees fit to induce Job to curse God, only with certain limits imposed upon Satan by God. No, God did not command Satan to test Job. But God allowed Satan to test Job as part of God’s plan for Job’s life.
In the course of the story Satan proceeds to take away and destroy every good thing Job has, ultimately reducing Job himself to a miserable state of sickness and pain. Like the company of destroying angels that killed the firstborn of Egypt, Satan acts as a member of God’s celestial court to test Job almost to the point of death in order to determine just what Job is made of.
David is incited to take a census
That is not the only example in the Bible of God acting through Satan. We read in 2 Samuel 24:
Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1)
But when this story is retold in 1 Chronicles 21, in is Satan who did the inciting:
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)
Which is true? Was it God or Satan who incited David to take the census? Either the Bible contradicts itself or it was Satan acting on God’s behalf to incite David to take the census.
Jacob wrestles with God?
Many more examples come to mind of God acting through angels in the Bible story. Here is just one more:
Genesis 32:22–32 tells the story traditionally known as Jacob wrestling with God. But the one Jacob wrestles with is first identified as a man:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. (Genesis 32:24)
Yet a few verses later, the man he was wrestling with says to Jacob:
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28)
And only two verses later, in naming the place where this occurred “Peniel” (derived from two Hebrew words meaning “the face of God”), Jacob himself identifies the man as God:
“It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” (Genesis 32:30)
But wait! In Hosea 12, the man whom Jacob wrestled with is identified both as God and as an angel:
In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there— the Lord God Almighty, the Lord is his name! (Hosea 12:3–5)
Who was it that Jacob wrestled with? Was it a man? Was it an angel? Was it the Lord God Almighty? By now the answer should be clear: Jacob wrestled with an angel who was acting on behalf of God.
Example after example in the Bible could be given of God acting through angels, and even through evil spirits, to carry out God’s plans for human beings on earth.
Daniel refers to himself as “we.” Or does he?
Now let’s tie all of this back into the “us” of Genesis 1, 3, and 11.
Remember the verse from the book of Daniel quoted earlier?
“That was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation.” (Daniel 2:36)
Here Daniel refers to himself as “we,” just as God does in in the early chapters of Genesis.
Or does he?
A few verses earlier, Nebuchanezzar, king of Babylon, has called Daniel before him and asked him, “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” (Daniel 2:26). Daniel replies:
“No wise man, enchanter, magician, or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about. But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.” (Daniel 2:27–28)
And after Daniel has told Nebuchadnezzar his dream and its interpretation he says:
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” (Daniel 2:45)
In Daniel’s mind it was not he himself, but God who revealed the dream and its meaning to Nebuchadnezzar. Perhaps Daniel is not using the plural of majesty. Perhaps he is saying we, meaning God and I, will reveal the mystery to the king.
This is yet another point of support from the text of the Bible itself that when God speaks of “us” in those early chapters of Genesis, God is speaking of working through angels, or even through humans on earth, to achieve God’s purposes.
God acts through the agency of angels and humans
In explaining God’s use of “us” in Genesis 1, 3, and 11, there is no need to invoke later extrabiblical doctrines such as the Trinity of Persons. The Bible itself, in story after story, explains the meaning of God saying, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) and, “The humans have become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22) and, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language there” (Genesis 11:7), and also “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8).
In story after story, God does not act alone, but through the agency of angels, humans, and yes, even evil spirits. This was the idea in the mind of the ancient Hebrew writers when they wrote “us” in those passages. The Bible itself tells us all we need to know to understand God’s use of “us” in those early chapters of Genesis, and in Isaiah.
Swedenborg’s interpretation of Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7
As for the specific meaning, I’ll let Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) spell it out. Here is how he explains the “us” in each of the three verses from Genesis. (He does not provide an explanation of the “us” in Isaiah 6:8, but there is no reason to think he would interpret it any differently.)
Here is the relevant part of Swedenborg’s interpretation of the words, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness” in Genesis 1:26:
When we are regenerate, on the other hand, the angels are in charge, inspiring us with all kinds of goodness and truth and instilling a horror and fear of evil and falsity.
Angels do give us guidance, but they are mere helpers; the Lord alone governs us, through angels and spirits. Since angels have their assisting role, the words of this verse appear in the plural—“Let us make a human in our image.” But since only the Lord rules and manages us, the next verse uses the singular—“God created the human in his image.” The Lord states his role clearly in Isaiah:
This is what Jehovah has said, your Redeemer and the one who formed you from the womb: “I, Jehovah, make all things, stretching the heavens out on my own, spreading the earth out by myself.” (Isaiah 44:24)
The angels themselves confess that they have no power but act only at the Lord’s behest. (Secrets of Heaven #50:3)
You see, Swedenborg reads the Creation story, not as a literal story about the creation of the physical earth, but as a metaphorical story about the “regeneration,” or spiritual rebirth, of humans in the image and likeness of God. This is the same thing Paul was talking about when he wrote:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Just as God acts through angels, priests, and prophets throughout the Bible, so God acts through angels in bringing about our spiritual rebirth. The common objection among literalist Christians that God did not create the universe through angels holds no water as soon as we realize that the Creation stories of Genesis are not about the literal creation of the physical universe, but about God’s spiritual creation of people on earth as new creatures in Christ.
Here is Swedenborg’s interpretation of the words, “The humans have become like one of us” in Genesis 3:22:
The reason Jehovah God speaks at first in the singular and then in the plural is that Jehovah God means the Lord and at the same time heaven with its angels. . . .
Jehovah God means the Lord and at the same time heaven. It needs to be observed that the Word uses different names for the Lord, always for a hidden reason. At one time he is called simply Jehovah, at another Jehovah God, at another first Jehovah and then God, at another the Lord Jehovih, at another the God of Israel, and at another simply God. In Genesis 1, for instance, the only name used is God, and he speaks in the plural there as well—“let us make a human in our image.” Not until the next chapter, which treats of heavenly people, is he called Jehovah God.
He is called Jehovah because he alone is, he alone lives; the name comes from his beingness. He is called God because he is able to do anything; the name comes from his powerful ability. Evidence for this appears in the Word, in places where the two names are distinguished: Isaiah 49:4–5; 55:7; Psalms 18:2, 28, 30–31; 38:15.
For this reason, each angel or spirit who spoke to people on earth they called a god, if they considered that angel or spirit to be capable of accomplishing something. This can be seen in David:
God stood in the assembly of God; in the midst of the gods he will pass judgment. (Psalms 82:1)
In another place:
Who in the heights of the sky will compare with Jehovah, will be like Jehovah, among the children of gods? (Psalms 89:6)
Acclaim the God of the gods, acclaim the Lord of the lords! (Psalms 136:2–3)
Human beings are also called gods by virtue of their power, as in Psalms 82:6; John 10:34–35. Moses was called a “God to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:1). For the same reason, the [Hebrew] word for God, Elohim, is plural.
Angels have no power at all on their own, however (as they themselves confess), but only receive it from the Lord. Because of this, and since there is only one God, Jehovah God in the Word means the Lord alone. But when anything occurs through the ministry of angels, as in Genesis 1[:26], then the plural is used. (Secrets of Heaven #298, 300, links added)
There is more here than we can unpack in this article. For our current purposes, the main point is that when God uses “us” in these passages, it is referring to God and heaven with its angels. That’s because God acts through the angels of heaven to accomplish God’s purposes.
And yet, the angels’ power to act comes from God alone, so it really is God, and not the angels themselves, acting. That is why when an angel acts for God in the Bible, it is commonly described as God acting. Was Jacob wrestling with an angel, or with God? It was an angel, but it was really God wrestling with Jacob through the angel.
Finally, here is Swedenborg’s much briefer interpretation of the “us” in Genesis 11:7:
The meaning of come, let us go down, as the fact that a judgment therefore occurs is established by remarks above at verse 5 about the symbolism of going down [§1311]. The reason it says “let us go down” and “let us muddle their language” in the plural is that a judgment is being executed and spirits—evil spirits—are the agents. (Secrets of Heaven #1320, link added)
Here is an example of God working, not through angels, but through evil spirits—of which I gave two examples from the Bible earlier. This verse is part of the story of the Tower of Babel, in which God punishes the hubris of the people building a huge tower to make a name for themselves by confusing—or in this translation “muddling”—their languages so that they could not understand one another.
Even though it does appear from the literal meaning of the Bible as if God does evil things as well as good things, when evil and punishment are being visited upon people it is not God, but evil spirits who are doing the punishing and bringing the evil upon the people who are being punished. And yet, even though this is something God allows rather than does, these evil spirits are still acting on God’s behalf to accomplish God’s purposes, just as Satan acted on God’s behalf in the story of Job and in the story of David’s census of Israel.
But untangling that muddle will have to wait for another time.
No, “us” does not refer to the Trinity of Persons
When God uses “us” in Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7, and in Isaiah 6:8, the “us” does not refer to multiple gods, which the Jews had rejected by the time these stories took their final form. And it certainly does not refer to a Trinity of Persons in God. That idea would never have occurred to any of the Bible writers because it had not yet been invented in their day.
Of course, Nicene Christians will argue that even though the Bible writers didn’t know about the Trinity of Persons, God still placed that idea in the Bible to be discovered later. But if God really wanted us to “discover” that God is a Trinity of Persons, why didn’t God say so anywhere in the Bible? If this is such a vital, central Christian doctrine, why is it taught nowhere in the Bible? The answer is that the Trinity of Persons is not a biblical or Christian doctrine. See:
- What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?
- The Christian Church is Not Christian
If we pay attention to what the Bible itself says about how God acts, it becomes very clear that the “us” in those passages in Genesis and Isaiah refers to God acting through the agency of angels and spirits. There is no need for doctrines that human theologians and councils invented many centuries later.
The Bible itself gives us many, many examples of what the “us” in Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, and Isaiah 6:8 mean. The examples I have offered above are only a few of them. Read the Bible for yourself. You will see that God is constantly acting through angels, priests, and prophets.
I, for one, would much rather pay attention to what the Bible itself tells us about who God is and how God acts than pay attention to a confusing and self-contradictory dogma that some confused and unenlightened human beings made up centuries after the Bible was written.
In summary, based on the Bible itself, the “us” in these verses does not refer to the Trinity of Persons. It refers to the majesty of God, and it refers to God acting through God’s “royal court” of angels, priests, and prophets in accomplishing God’s saving and regenerating work among humans on earth.
For further reading:
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?
- What is the Biblical Basis for Humans becoming Angels after they Die?
- What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus
Would it be fair to say that God’s likeness is that of primitive man?
Not necessarily. But what do you mean by “primitive man”?
‘If this is such a vital, central Christian doctrine, why is it taught nowhere in the Bible? The answer is that the Trinity of Persons is not a biblical or Christian doctrine’
Not necessarily. The answer could be that there was a certain time set by God for revealing that doctrine and, thus, there was a long period of time – the old testament time – when it was not yet the time for revealing that. After all, Christ’s death and resurrection, which is also the central Christian doctrine, didn’t transpire right after the fall of men either.
Hi Castle of glass,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
However, this is comparing apples to oranges. The Trinity of Persons is a doctrine that is stated nowhere in the Bible—not even in the New Testament. Christ’s death and resurrection are events that are reported and clearly described in all four Gospels, and frequently referred to in the rest of the New Testament.
Also, the Trinity of Persons is believed by its adherents to represent God’s eternal state, both from eternity and to eternity. Yet there is no mention of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, when, according to that doctrine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should have been just as real and present as after the Incarnation. The Son and Holy Spirit are first mentioned in connection with the Father in the New Testament, at the time of the Incarnation.
Meanwhile, the Incarnation, including Christ’s death and resurrection, necessarily happened at a particular point in time and space. There are prophecies of these events in the Old Testament, but they could not be described as actual events until they happened. And that is precisely what we find in the Bible. The Incarnation, and Christ’s death and resurrection, are described in the New Testament, in books written not long after these events happened, which present them as prophesied events that have now taken place.
The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by contrast, though it is supposed to have existed from eternity, is never mentioned in the Old Testament. And even in the New Testament, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are never referred to as a “Trinity,” nor are they referred to as “Persons.” That doctrine did not have its beginnings until a century or more after the last books of the New Testament were written, and wasn’t adopted as church doctrine until three centuries after the life of Christ described in the Gospels.
In short, the contrast between the Trinity of Persons and Christ’s death and resurrection is stark. One is clearly described and referred to many times in the New Testament, shortly after the events occurred. The other, though it is supposed to have existed from eternity, is never mentioned or described anywhere in the Bible, and didn’t originate until centuries later when it was formulated by human theologians and councils.
Once again, if the Trinity of Persons is such an important, vital doctrine, a belief in which is necessary for our salvation as the Athanasian Creed states, it would have been presented clearly in the Word of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, since it was supposed to have existed from eternity. The fact that it is stated nowhere in the Bible demonstrates that it is not a biblical doctrine. And if it is not a biblical doctrine, then it is not a Christian doctrine—especially if it is claimed to be a central Christian doctrine.
Is God really so incompetent as not to teach the most important doctrine of the Christian Church in the book God has given as the source and basis for Christian faith and life? Did human theologians and councils have to fix God’s mistake by inventing this doctrine centuries later, and placing it as the central doctrine of the so-called Christian Church?