Dear Rabbi Singer,
A Messianic Jew is working overtime to try to convince me that I need JC. She recently showed me Genesis 1:26, “Let US make man in OUR image,” stating that JC was part of creation with God, plural Us and Our being the proof. Can you explain the plural in this verse to me? I want to have an intelligent answer. I am trying very hard to learn more of my Jewish religion, as I was raised in a non-religious home. The only Bible I own is the one she gave me and it is a King James.?
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. Let’s examine the creation of man as described in the Torah:
And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and they shall rule over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
With limited knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, missionaries submit the above verse as evidence that there was a plurality in the godhead that participated in creation of our first parent. What other explanation could adequately account for the Torah’s use of the plural pronouns such as “us” and “our” in this verse?
This argument, however, is deeply flawed, and, accordingly, a great number of Trinitarian theologians have long rejected the notion that Genesis 1:26 implies a plurality of persons in the godhead. Rather, Christian scholars overwhelmingly agree that the plural pronoun in this verse is a reference to God’s ministering angels who were created previously, and the Almighty spoke majestically in the plural, consulting His heavenly court. Let’s read the comments of a number of preeminent Trinitarian Bible scholars on this subject.
For example, the evangelical Christian author Gordon J. Wenham, who is no foe of the Trinity and authored a widely respected two-volume commentary on the Book of Genesis, writes on this verse,
Christians have traditionally seen [Genesis 1:26] as adumbrating [foreshadowing] the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author. ((Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis, Word Books, 1987, p. 27.))
If you had attended any one of my lectures you would know that the New International Version is hardly a Bible that can be construed as being friendly to Judaism. Yet, the NIV Study Bible also confirms in its commentary on Genesis 1:26,
Us… Our… Our. God speaks as the Creator-king, announcing His crowning work to the members of His heavenly court (see 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8; I Kings 22:19-23; Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18). ((NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985, p. 7.))
Charles Caldwell Ryrie, a highly regarded Dispensationalist professor of Biblical Studies at the Philadelphia College of Bible and author of the widely read Bible commentary, The Ryrie Study Bible, writes in his short and to-the-point annotation on Genesis 1:26,
Us…Our. Plurals of majesty. ((Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (Dallas Theological Seminary), Chicago: Moody Press, 1978, p. 9.))
The Liberty Annotated Study Bible, a Bible commentary published by the fundamentalist Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, similarly remarks on this verse,
The plural pronoun “Us” is most likely a majestic plural from the standpoint of Hebrew grammar and syntax. ((Jerry Falwell (Executive Editor), Liberty Annotated Study Bible, Lynchburg: Liberty University, 1988, p. 8.))
The exhaustive 10-volume commentary by Keil and Delitzsch is considered by many to be the most influential exposition on the “Old Testament” in evangelical circles. Yet in Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary on Genesis 1:26, we find,
The plural “We” was regarded by the fathers and earlier theologians almost unanimously as indicative of the Tr ini ty; modern commentators, on the contrary, regard it either as pluralis majestatis … No other explanation is left, therefore, than to regard it as pluralis majestatis… ((Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Peabody: Hendric., 1989, Vol. I, p. 62.))
The question that immediately comes to mind is: What would compel these conservative scholars – all of whom are devout Trinitarians – to categorically reject the notion that Genesis 1:26 supports the doctrine of Trinity? Why do they conclude that God is speaking in this famed verse in His majestic address to the angelic hosts of Heaven? Why are the commentaries of the above conservative Christian writers completely consistent with the age-old Jewish teaching on this verse?
The answer emerges from the Torah and its Prophets. If you search the Hebrew Bible you will find that when the Almighty speaks of “us” or “our,” He is addressing His ministering angels. In fact, only two chapters later, God continues to use the pronoun “us” as He speaks with His angels. At the end of the third chapter of Genesis the Almighty relates to His angels that Adam and his wife have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and must therefore be prevented from eating from the Tree of Life as well; for if man would gain access to the Tree of Life he will “become like one of us.” The Creator then instructs his burning angels, known as Cherubim, to stand at the entrance to the gate of the Garden of Eden, waving a flaming sword to prevent man from entering the Garden and eating from the Tree of Life. Let’s examine this famed text:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
This use of the majestic plural in Genesis 3:22-24 is what contributed the NIV Study Bible’s annotation on Genesis 1:26 (above). At the end of its comment on this verse, the NIV Study Bible provides a number of biblical sources from the Jewish Scriptures to support its position that:
“God speaks as the Creator-king, announcing His crowning work to the members of His heavenly court.” The verses cited are: Genesis 3:22, 11:7, Isaiah 6:8, I Kings 22:19-23, Job 15:8, and Jeremiah 23:18. These verses convey to the attentive Bible reader that the heavenly abode of the Creator is filled with the ministering angels who attend the Almighty and to whom He repeatedly refers when using the plural pronoun “Us.” ((A similar verse describing God as He converses with His ministering angels is found in the beginning of the sixth chapter of Isaiah, which reads:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew… Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
(Isaiah 6:1-8) ))
Again, the NIV Study Bible’s concession in its commentary on Genesis 1:26 is particularly significant because this work of the product of conservative, Trinitarian commentary on the Bible. Its contributing authors had no incentive to support the Jewish interpretation of this verse. Its annotation relies on the simple context and exegesis of this verse.
I will close this letter with one final note.
Outsiders often wonder what powerful force binds the Jewish people united in faith. This is not so odd a question when we consider the internal conflicts that has followed our people throughout our troubled history. Bear in mind, regardless of the turbulent quarrels that fester among us, the oneness of God remains the binding thread which unites the Jewish people in history and witness. The teachings of the Torah were designed to set forever in the national conscience of the Jewish people the idea that God is one alone. Accordingly, He is the only Savior worthy of our devotion and worship.
Rabbi Tovia Singer