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Genesis 1:26: Maker Of The Image Thereof

Updated: May 10, 2023

Introduction:


The aim of this article is to elucidate, with the aid of an historico-philological method of interpretation, the simple meaning of the Biblical text, and to arrive, as nearly as possible, at the sense that the words of the Torah were intended to have for the reader (s) at the time when they were composed. To the more careful Bible history buff, we know that there were various sagas in the ANE (ancient East), both among the Israelites and their contemporaries. Hence, it is not possible to comprehend the basis of the Tanakh in the first chapter without constant reference to the lore, along with the ideologies and traditions, of the neighboring peoples.[1]


An argument has been made and has been standing for over a millennia concerning the popular passage [Genesis 1:26] that the plural verb construction “נַֽעֲשֶׂה” (let us make) from the root עשׂה encompasses a plurality in the Creator.[2] Certainly this proposal is injecting later dogmatic ideas into an ancient text that had a natural reading to its original audience. This article will seek to prove that in its proper ancient Israelite context, the plural is most commonly understood as referring to YHWH and his heavenly assembly (see 1 Kings 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8). (The most notable members of this court are YHWH’s messengers or angels)…You may find in Gen 3:5 the serpent may refer to this group as (small g) gods or even divine beings. These divine subordinates who were likely the attending audience in the act of creation can be identified with many titles in the bible, i.e. Holy ones (Deut 33:2; Hos 12:1; Zech 14:5); spirits (1 Kgs 22:21-23; Ps 104:4); messengers/angels (Ps 91:11; 103:20); ministers (Ps 103:21; 104:4); servants (Job 4:18); those on high (Job 21:22); princes (Jos 5:14; Dan 10:13), to name a few.


Exposition, Grammar & Exegesis:


It should first be noted that when the actual creation takes place in verse 27, the word 'אֱלֹהִים' is used with the singular form of the verb 'יִּבְרָא', verifying that the creation was ultimately executed by only one person. If the creation had been carried out by more than one person, it would certainly have been described with the plural form of the verb. Elohim is the subject of the verb ויאמר “and he said”, which takes a singular noun as its subject.


Hebrew commentator Franz Julius Delitzsch insightfully affirms; [Gen 1:26. Let us make man in our image...such a plural cannot be shown in Holy Scripture where God is speaking of Himself. Where it seems to be found, we have to admit that God the Father is comprising Himself either with the Son and the Spirit or with the celestial spirits. Scripture itself confirms the latter, for from the beginning to end it testifies that God communicates to the spirits who surround Him what He purposes to do upon earth, 1 Kings xxii. 19-22; Job i; Dan. vii. 10; Luke ii 9 sqq.; Rev iv. sq., with Ps. lxxxix. 8 and Dan. iv. 14... [p. 98] It is in this communicative sense that na’aseh ["let us"] is intended. Just as Jahveh comprises Himself with the true Israel, Isa. xli. 21 sq., so does He with the seraphim, Isa. vi. 8, and here, as also iii. 22 and xi. 7 with the heavenly spirits in general.... [p. 98] Elohim no more concedes thereby a share in the creation itself to the Bene Ha Elohim than He does in sending (Isa. vi. 8); but He does give them an interest therein as to their knowledge and will. The communicative speaker ever remains, in relation to those whom he thus comprises with Himself, the Higher.[3]


On the plurals as correlating to the members of the divine council, Wenham notes, “From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held that the plural is used because God is addressing his heavenly court, i.e., the angels (cf. Isa 6:8). Among recent commentators, Skinner, von Rad, Zimmerli, Kline, Mettinger, Gispen, and Day prefer this explanation”[4]


Professor Umberto Cassuto in his Commentary On The Book Of Genesis suggest: "The best explanation, although rejected by the majority of contemporary commentators, is that we have here the plural of exhortation. When a person exhorts himself to do a given task he uses the plural: ‘Let us go!’ ‘Let us rise up!’ ‘Let us sit!’ and the like. Thus we find in ii Sam. xxiv 14: LET US FALL [ nippela] into the hand of the Lord ... but into the hand of man LET ME not FALL [ ‘eppola]’;[5]


Bruce Waltke (an Old Testament professor) attest in a footnote in his commentary on Genesis:

“The main argument against this interpretation is that angels are not involved in creation (see Cassuto, From Adam, 55). However, God’s address of the heavenly court does not mean that they participate in the act of creation. For instance, in Isa. 6:8 when God says, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” God is the primary actor, but he is acting in concert with a heavenly dimension.”[6]



John H. Walton’s commentary "Genesis" asserts “The other position informed by cultural background, the heavenly court option, is much more defensible in that the concept of a heavenly court can be shown to be current not only in the ancient worldview, but also in the biblical text.¹⁷ Thus, the belief in such a heavenly court does not need to be imported from the general culture (though the evidence for it is extensive and clear);¹⁸ one needs only read the Bible. In the ancient Near East the heavenly court was a divine assembly made up of the chief gods of the pantheon. It was this group that made decisions and decreed destinies. In the Old Testament, the heavenly court is made up of angels, or more specifically, the “sons of God.” All that remains is to consider whether the details of the context are in accord with what we know of God and his heavenly court.[7]

[...]”


He then says “Some have objected that it denigrates God to suggest that he consults with angels about such matters (Isa. 40:14). They point out, in addition, that it is contrary to biblical teaching to think of the angels being involved in creation or of people being in the image of angels. Careful reading, however, demonstrates that these objections cannot be sustained. (1) We must distinguish between consulting and discussing. God has no need to either consult or discuss with anyone (as Isa. 40:14 affirms). (2) It is his prerogative, however, to discuss anything he wants with whomever he chooses (Gen. 18:17–19). Such inclusion of the heavenly court in discussion does not in any sense necessitate that angels must then have been used as agents of creation. In Isaiah 6:8 the council’s decision is carried out by Yahweh alone. (3) Finally, the idea that the image should be referred to as “our” image does not imply that humans are created in the image of angels; it is possible, though not necessary, that angels also share the divine image in their nature. The image of God differentiates people from animals, not from angels”…




An ANE Outlook: It is better to see it as that there was a shared theological milieu in the ANE of which Israelites were a part of , i.e. Akkadian, Egyptians, etc. Two points (1) I seriously doubt Moses was trying to hint at "the Trinity" here, but a more likely option at face value is that he was indicating that the plurality of humanity and his angelic envoy that is firmly rooted in the nature of the one God in some sense. (2) We need to distinguish between etymology and meaning in context. The Divine counsel/semi-polytheism or monolatry probably does lie in the background of the term, but probably was not completely influencing Moses' theology or meaning. Rather the author was imposing a polemical mockery against those ideologies.


The “US”


The expression “Let us make” (na’aseh) does not prove anything outside of a Unitarian understanding, since unitarian beings like you and I can likewise say, “Let us make”—and nobody would say that we are butchering grammar. Furthermore, If Moses aspired to prove Elohim's ontological plurality, then he could have penned, "וַיֹּאמרים אֱלֹהִים נַֽעֲשים אָדָם" or "Vayomrim Elohim na'asim adam" as more emphatically expressed which is, in all counts reasonable and proper Hebrew grammar for a plurality with Elohim, but unfortunately, he didn't. Instead, he penned Elohim in the Hebrew language in the singular form which both the verb and adjective reflect. See other Plural for singular subjects; i.e. Gen. 42:30 employs a construct plural אִתָּנוּ (adonį) for Joseph, who is absolutely one person.[8]


A case for a council of subordinate spirits


This view that God is addressing his heavenly council proves to be far superior and more convincing than any other alternative views. 1) it reconciles the grammatical mismatch we have with the singular verb followed by a string of plurals 2) It has apparent internal evidence that a court of divine celestial entities that sat around the throne of YHWH in heaven (see Job 1:6-7, Job 38:6-8, 1 kings 22:19, Isaiah 6:2) was present and cheering during what seems to be an allusion to the singing of the stars to its creator in the beginning. Consider the clear allusions to the creation-story that are related to our text in Job 37:4–7:


“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God

shouted for joy?”


In Psalm 89 we read:


Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Yahveh,

Your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones


For who in the skies can be compared to Yahveh?

Who among the sons of God is like Yahveh,

A God greatly feared in the secret council of the holy ones


Great and awesome above all that are around him? (vv. 5-7)


There is a clear indication here of a tradition concerning the creation of the earth on a bright morning, whilst the stars and God’s angels sang a paean. That is the very reason they were created by God.


The anti-angelic arguments are a non-sequitur at best. This view in no way implies a household of heavenly subordinate beings actively participating in creation, thus the image is not like the angels, but rather they were consulted with before God commenced his great work alone while the angels offering praise as spectators. Though to some degree, I suspect that Angels are themselves created before humanity and possess the same image as the creator (Nehemiah 9:6). We know that it's also the form shared by angels or subordinate spirits because when they appear they look just like men (Genesis 18). Despite to the contrary of Trinitarian apologist, seeing a lone creator or an anaphoric image possessor is in no way neglected in this view. That is, that one person or entity is still responsible for the act of creating, and the image that humans derive from belongs to this same entity.


Is this theory Polytheism?


There's no plausible reason to classify the Divine counsel view as polytheism, where all divine beings are equal. Some use the term summo-deism. Though in other religions that carried baggage not meant by the Divine counsel worldview. Some use heno-theism, but then again, that falls short. The idea of a Supreme Deity over minor deities is relatively new to us modern westerners. Summo-deism or Monolatrism seems to do the most justice though. Secondly, we can conclude that being in the image of God, according to the ANE has to do with ruling. When a full scope of second temple proto-Judaism is considered, angels, seraphim, archangels, and Cherubims all play a part in the ruling of the heavens. II Enoch interestingly mentions that the angels govern the stars and are rulers of the stellar orders.[9] Thus can be paralleled to the image of God. In retrospect, the heavenly host view is no more polytheistic than the Trinitarian view.


The unique semantic range of נַעֲשֶׂה


Does na’aseh (נַעֲשֶׂה) elsewhere also suggest active participation by others in group? Of course, it's plausible. Nevertheless, the idea of multiple creators in the original creation event is immediately canceled out by the absence of a pluralized verb פעל, that in most cases denotes more than one person involved in a single action. However, even if the implications are to be transferred to Gen. 1:26, this in no way weakens the conclusion of the divine assembly theory. For the angelic spirits’ role (participation) were evident by their reverence. They were periphrastically participating through worship and praise. E.g. In Ancient Greek games individuals cheered for their respected heros, thus not hands-on actively participating but rather lightly participating in the event (s) by celebration.[10] Interestingly, the active verb ποιήσωμεν that the LXX uses suggest that the speaker was doing the action.


Furthermore, to assume that the use of נַעֲשֶׂה [na’aseh] correlates to the same casual meaning elsewhere restricts it's flexible semantic field. Yes, identical verbs are present but the context is entirely incompatible. Obviously verse 27 will always come in a package with the profound declaration in vs 26. For the antecedent to the singular "his"& “he" in 27 is clearly the one speaking in verse 26.


This assumption can also be a polemic against the Trinitarianism position, that Jesus himself was included in the “Us” as co-creators in Gen. 1:26…For example, in every case, the one named πρωτότοκον/ בְּכוֹר ("firstborn") was a member of a group, whether explicitly mentioned or implied, in the varied contexts. See LXX Gen 4:4, Ex. 22:29, Deut. 21:17, & 1 Chr. 5:1… Consequently, a preeminent person or animal was nonetheless born with, in, or a part of that group, with no implications of existing outside of that group before, hence Jesus was still a part of creation and not the creator when the same adjective was applied to him in the GNT [Col.1:15]…[11]



Problems with an internal Trinity conversation


One of the central issues with the Trinitarian view is that it seems to be antithetical to the many verses that appear to give credit to a lone creator with strict exclusionary declarations like “I by myself” or “I alone”. Regardless, to posit a group of 3 equally divine consubstantial persons fulfills the text's natural meaning has no real support in the literature. Since plurality is never limited to just 3. Notwithstanding the ambiguous passages that are usually appealed to by Christian apologists that seems to the contrary. A clear picture reminds us that the creation of man was not the first act of creation, thus was introduced as a new idea in the narrative. To have God bringing forth a fresh idea to individuals who are already Omni-everything seems preposterous. The announcement to now begin human creation would seem redundant as the other “2(?)” coequal “beings/persons” would be privy to the next move. The enunciation makes much more sense if the other members were subordinates. We can determine the announcement to be a fresh idea by the grammar construct. That the "Let us" is a direct translation of the cohortative נעשה, the imperfect of עשה. The prefixed nun (נ) attached to the word נעשה is the preformative for the first-person common plural in the Qal imperfect. Normally, it means "we will make" or "we will do." However, in this case, it is used in a cohortative sense, making it a first-person jussive in the plural. It means "let us make”, in a indirect command connotation, harping on something in a future event. We can compare Joshua 22:26, which declares Joshua ordering (Let us now prepare- נעשה) the Reubenites and Gadites to build a new altar to YHWH. Likewise, the altar that was to be built was introduced as a fresh idea.[12]


Fun fact: The The Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel agrees with the Divine Council theory. It reads:


Genesis 1:26 “And the Lord said to the angels who ministered before Him, who had been created in the second day of the creation of the world, Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness;”[13]


Conclusion:


The “US” - Ultimately, the surrounding text immediately clears up any ambiguity with the grammatical mismatches of a plural verb followed by singulars. It points to a singular entity commencing the act of creation of man. Plus the structure of the phrase is likely a shared motif in a ANE milieu of a divine assembly concept.


A cohortative semantic -(נַעֲשֶׂה) suggest that the text has one supreme being introducing a fresh idea to subordinates during creation who had no knowledge of the upcoming event. The author uses the jussive Cohortative to emphasize God indirectly commanding his court's attention while self exhorting himself with his miraculous announcement before his creation as he is about to perform a new act that the audience is apparently oblivious to. Again, if there are any signs of ambiguity with the plural usages with respect to who did the creating, verse 27 certainly clears this up with the string of singular verbs and pronouns attached. The multiplicity in the one God view doesn't work from a grammatical and a contextual standpoint. [14]


In our image- is in addition to be likely a reference to the connection that humans along with the heavenly host has with YHWH. Ultimately, God has peculiarities that he shares with both groups that emulate him in some sense. Susan Brayford posits in her exhaustive LXX Genesis commentary that "Despite the ambiguity associated with the nature of άνθρωπον, its function is clear. God declares that it is to rule over the animate beings that God previously had made. As such, LXX-G parallels the ruling role that humans are to have over the animate beings brought forth from the waters and the earth with the same role assigned to the greater and lesser luminaries that came into being from the heaven (vv. 14–16)."[15]


Man is created in God's likeness, there is no reason to think that the Seraphim and other spirit beings who are also in God's family are not likewise. The notion that his Angelic court are made in his image likewise should not be taken of the table. For the literature hints that when they appear they are said to be in the form of a man [Genesis 18:1-8; Genesis 18:22; Genesis 19:1-3, Luke 24:4, Acts 1:9-11, John 20:11-14, Hebrews 13:2]. [16]


God before the creation of Adam, pronounced to his heavenly court of subordinate beings, who we should and can assume were also likely present and made in God's image that he was going to do something else miraculous. There's no reason to assume that just because something is mentioned, it automatically correlates to equal active participation or a solicitation for help. This is ultimately my conclusion. Keeping in full compliance with one image, one creator. The image in the grand scheme of things belongs to God alone. Not the Angels in conjunction with God. My thesis furthermore seeks to prove that it's fair to assume that angels had an image proprietor themselves upon creation. They often appeared to man as men, and they were likely created by God before man. I contend that to not be in the image of God, is to not be in allegiance with God. His heavenly court is from what I understand is faithfully obedient and glorifies God as we do. They were likely made in God's image as well.[17]


This would also beg the question, was this not something that Jesus in Matthew 19:4 wanted his audience to know? That he himself was the creator (or one of) and responsible for the sexual distinction between man, male and female. Instead he seems to credit creation to another “He” (ὁ ποιήσας).


Ironically enough, Jewish scholar Paul B. Sumner who is often cited as a hostile witness in Trinitarian apologetics who seek to prove a "Jewish Trinity” leans towards this view in his paper "The Heavenly Council in the Hebrew Bible and NT” says in a footnote;


“The council concept throws light on what I call the “Genesis Plurals.” These are the

three passages in which God refers to “us” and “our.” “Let us make

adam in our image” (Gen 1:26); “Behold, the adam has become like one of us" (Gen 3:22); “Come, let us go down” (Gen 11:7). 9 From the very start of the canon, we encounter allusions to God and his council. Just whom the council consists of isn’t stated. We have to determine that from other texts.”[18]


A general Genesis 1:26 parsing


Bereshiyth/Genesis 1:26


וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂעַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃


1:First word: וַיֹּאמֶר-Wayyomer

Verb: Waw conversive Qal 3rd masculine singular imperfect from the root אמר (The waw-consecutive or vav-consecutive is a grammatical construction in Classical Hebrew. It involves prefixing a verb form with the letter waw in order to change its tense or aspect). Plainly called a narrative past tense.

Rendering: and he/it said

2:Elohim /אלהים - masculine plural noun (but acts as a single unit)

Means consortium, Or Gods

Root;Consortium/pantheon of divine beings.


3: נַעֲשֶׂה /Na'aseh-a verbal prefix (The verbal prefix is נ), The root of this verb is עשה-


1st person common plural verbal prefix


3:Subject-mankind/אדמה adamah (the feminine)


4:Fifth word: בְּצַלְמֵנוּ-The ב is the prepositional prefix "in", but In what?

Answer; צלם/ tzelem (image). Not to be confused with the word תמונה /temunah. בְּצַלְמֵנוּ is properly rendered In our resemblance, In our likeness, something cut out, painted, image, likeness, resemblance"

So far; "Now God to his (the) divine pantheon said: "We will make mankind in our resemblance......"


כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ 6-The כ kaf is a prepositional prefix, Pre. כ-Fem. Singular noun with 1st person common singular pronominal suffix" (*1st person common plural (we)

5: Now we have; Now God, (the) divine pantheon said: "We will make mankind in our resemblance according to our identity......."


וְיִרְדּוּ7:

w'yiredu-this is a simple conjunction 'and......' The י is the 3rd person verbal prefix: rendered:He/it will

(Note: verbal prefixes make the verb imperfect (future tense) also keep in mind: third person plural is 'they')


We see the Covenant God of Israel along with the divine pantheon consulting each other and planning the creation of mankind, likely headed by this same Covenant God (the Father). Thus, this doesn’t contradict that he (The Father) alone created in his image. There is nothing in the Hebrew grammar that indicates the "us" and "our" group are to be identified as a poly-personal god. In other words, the Hebrew grammar is not identifying God as "us" (or vice versa). YHWH and his heavenly entourage as concept and image were woven deeply into Israel’s theological tapestry.




 

References:


[1] See The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis by John H. Walton. Copyright © 200…


[2] For a common dogmatic Trinitarian view see Scott R. Swain’s article https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/trinity-genesis-1/


[3] A New Commentary on Genesis, Vol.1 by Franz Julius Delitzsch, pg. 98. Delitzsch also notes on pg. 99 "It is in accordance with this that we must understand that; in our Image and our likeness"; as including the angels. According to Scripture, the angels form together with God one family, and man, being made in God s image, is for this very reason made also in the image of angels βράχωνύ τι παρ αγγελους according to Ps. viii. 6, LXX.),


[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 [vol. 1; Word Biblical Commentary, 1998], 27


[5] Commentary On The Book Of Genesis, pg. 77 by Dr. Umberto Cassuto


[6] Bruce Waltke Commentary on Genesis


[7] "Genesis Commentary" by John H. Walton pg.195


[8] The man, the lord (אֲדֹנֵי) of the land, spake roughly with us, and took us for spies of the country.-Gen 42:30: A Hebrew Noun, common masculine plural construct is applied to a single person.


[9] II Enoch 4-"About the angels who govern the stars.”


[10] J. Swaddling, The Ancient Olympic Games, 3rd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 2004) for an exhaustive analysis.


[11] *See Iapologist’ blog on Colossians 1:https://www.ogio.online/post/colossians-1-15-16-a-new-regime


[12] Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice: -Joshua 22:26 (also see Genesis 35:3)



[14] See i Kings xxii 19; Isa. vi 2–8; Job i-ii.


[15] Septuagint Commentary Series by Susan Brayford; edited by Stanley E. Porter, Richard S. Hess, andJohn Jarick, pg. 222. BRILL LEIDEN • BOSTON 2007


[16] See Driver S. R. The Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew and Some Other Syntactical, Michigan 1874 – 1998.Or Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. Ed. & enlarged by E. Kautzsch, New York, 1910. https://www.eva.mpg.de/lingua/conference/07-CaucasusConference/pdf/final%20abstracts%20english/Gadil


[17] Also see Rashi’s commentary on Gen. 1:26, Sanhedrin 38b.14



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