Let Us Make Man In Our Image
Trinitarian speech in Genesis 1:26
In Genesis 1, God is Creator and Speaker. He makes and declares, and he makes by declaring. The language in 1:26 is familiar to Bible readers: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Who is the “us” and the “our”?
One answer that’s been offered is that God is speaking to his heavenly court, which would consist of angels. Even though the biblical author did not mention angels in Genesis 1, this view assumes that he has created the angels before speaking the words of 1:26.
The problem with incorporating angels into the “us” and the “our” is the clarification in 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” No angelic reference. God makes male and female in his own image.
Genesis 1:26 is an example of divine self-reference, not an example of addressing the heavenly court. God is talking about himself with the “us” and the “our.” Nowhere are we told that angels are made in God’s image, nor does any passage teach that we are made in the image of angels. God makes mankind in his image and gives them the breath of life (2:7, 21–22; 5:1–2). Furthermore, only God is the creator. Whoever is meant by “us” is also the subject of “make man,” and making man is not something angels do.
In Genesis 1:26, God is the speaker of the words, the maker of male and female, and the referent of the “us” and “our.”
Now, to the next question. What sort of being is the God of Genesis 1? When we bring the full canonical witness to bear on that question, we learn that God has forever existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is triune. So is it reasonable to see a trinitarian meaning in the “us” and “our”?
I say yes. The meaning of Genesis 1:26 is not limited to what the initial readers of Genesis would have known or understood. The progressive revelation and canonical context of Scripture is a reliable and trustworthy guide for studying earlier biblical texts. And you can’t get earlier than Genesis 1.
The apostle John evoked the beginning of Genesis when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1–3). The apostle is teaching us about creation, about Genesis 1. We learn that, in beginning, the Son of God preceded all things and by him all things were made.
But God is not only Father and Son. The living God exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the second verse of the Bible, the text says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). The Spirit of God. Here in Genesis 1 is God working by his Spirit. And with John’s help, we learn that nothing was made—including male and female—that wasn’t made through the Son.
Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about God, so the progressive revelation of Scripture gives us greater light to see what’s come before. When God said “Let us make man in our image” in Genesis 1:26, we can see that the “us” and “our” refers to the triune God from whom and for whom all things exist.
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