“Then Elohim said, 'Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness. Let them rule the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the domestic animals all over the earth, and all the animals that crawl on the earth.'”
—Genesis 1:26, Names of God
How many times have we read and overlooked this verse in Scripture? Various people have offered ideas to the meaning of this verse. Explanations varies from God talking to cherubims and seraphims to even aliens. But these explanations falls short upon closer analysis. It is common among the anti-Trinitarian sects to argue that God was conversing with angels and justify this by quoting Genesis 3:24. However, this would mean that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God, along with the angels. This poses a contradiction because we read, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, RSVCE). Some even argue that this was a form of "Royal We" (Pluralis Maiestatis), an argument we will examine later. Genesis 1:26 is a clear revelation of God being a Trinity. It shows us that each person of the Trinity was present during creation and created the world.
We sometimes overlook this fact of Faith. Every Sunday during the Mass we recite the Nicene Creed. In the Creed we profess,
“Patrem omnipoténtem, Factórem cæli et terræ, Visibílium ómnium et invisibílium. Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum… Per quem ómnia facta sunt… Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem…" (the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ… through him all things were made… I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…)
Amidst the monotonous recitation and overlapping voices, have we stopped and meditated on this truth of the faith? The key to understanding the reason and meaning of Genesis 1:26 is simplified for us in the Creed. Each person of the Trinity participated in mainly every aspect of human existence: Creation, Sanctification, and Salvation. We are the work of the Trinity and this is the truth of our faith.
Reading the first three verses of Genesis we already see the revelation of this great mystery of our faith.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light”
—Genesis 1:1-3, RSVCE
We see how the Trinity created the world. The world was created by the Father, through His Word, and given life by the Spirit. That is exactly what the creed proclaims. How can this be if it says "God created…" and this is singular, an anti-Trinitarian may argue. We must understand that Genesis was not written in English, in fact the author did not even know English existed. In the original Hebrew, the word used here for "God" is "Elohim" (אֱלֹהִים). The suffix "-im" implies in Hebrew that it is plural, such as "shamayim" (שמים) which means "heavens." It has been translated as a singular because the verbs and adjective around it are singular. "Elohim" is a plural of the word "Eloah" (אֱל֫וֹהַּ). Elohim was translated a singular 2,373 times, while as a plural 206 times. In the NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, the word origin for "Elohim" is plural of Eloah. And in the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Unbridged, Electronic Database, “plural in number” and “noun masculine plural.” Now in the Orthodox Jewish Bible we read Genesis 1:1 as,
“In the beginning Elohim created hashomayim (the heavens, Himel) and haaretz (the earth)."
—Bereshis (Genesis) 1:1, Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
Here we see that the author used "Elohim," rather than any other names. However it has been translated in the English plural form of "god." This we can read in Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 13:2,
“Thou shalt have no elohim acherim (other) in My presence."
—Shemot (Exodus) 20:3, Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
"And the ot (sign) or the mofet (wonder) come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee, saying, Let us go after elohim acherim (other), which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;"
—Devarim (Deuteronomy) 13:2, Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
The usage of the word Elohim doesn't imply that there are more than one God, but that God is a plurality (three person). It is in the light of this that God uses "us" in Genesis 1:26 because each person of the Trinity were active during creation.
“ET IN UNUM DOMINUM JESUM CHRISTUM… PER QUEM OMNIA FACTA SUNT”
Jesus was a participant in the act of Creation. It was through the Word, which is Christ, that the world came into being. In Genesis God created the world through His Word. Nothing created then went or was created outside of Christ. Even in the Old Testament testifies to this,
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.”
—Psalm 33:6, RSVCE
Who is this "word of the Lord"? In John's Gospel we are given the identity of God's Word. We read,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
—John 1:1,14 (RSVCE)
The New Testament testifies to Christ's participation in creation. John emphasizes Christ's eternal existence with the Father by stating again that the Word was with God (John 1:1-2). We read that it was “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made… and the world was made through him” (John 1:3, 10 [RSVCE]). This is true from reading Genesis, the world was created through His Word, outside of which nothing came into being. We read again and again that there is “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:6, cf. Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3). The person that was sent into the world was no other the creator, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world ” (Hebrews 1:2, RSVCE).
"ET IN SPIRITUM SANCTUM, DOMINUM, ET VIVIFICANTEM"
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is without form, He comes to under different symbols and called by many names. He is refered to as the "Paraclete/Advocate", "Spirit", "Breath", "Wind", "Holy Spirit", Gift, etc. He is not a something, but a someone. He is mentioned in Genesis as “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” (1:2). The very meaning of "Spirit" is life, that is what the Holy Spirit gives. We read this in the Psalm 104: 29-30,
“When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed;
when thou takest away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created;
and thou renewest the face of the ground.”
It is the Spirit that gives life to the world. It was God's Breath that enabled humanity to have life, “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7, RSVCE). It is the Holy Spirit that gives us new life in Baptism, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5, cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6). It is right to call the Holy Spirit "The Lord and Giver of Life", for we receive life from Him.
“The spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
—Job 33:4, RSVCE
THE "ROYAL WE" ARGUMENT
The argument of the Royal We or also called Majestic Plural is a comment argument and defense among Anti-Trinitarian circles, such as the Iglesia ni Cristo. They argue that Genesis 1:26 is written in plural form to show God's majesty and it is an example of a royal "we". In this case they argue that various heads of states such as the monarch and the pope uses royal we as to show authority and majesty. However, this idea falls short in politics. The head of states, wether religious or political, are the embodiment of what they govern. They represent the state. No better example than this is in Thomas Hobbes book "Leviathan." Even in the frontispiece we see why monarchs uses the plural we. We see that the monarch embodies each and every individual in his domain, that each of them creates the monarch. He argues that humanity without a leader has "no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Leviathan XIII.9). He continues to argue that a social contract is created in order to avoid such savagery, a social contract or covenant to “keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants.” This then shows that the monarchs are given the contract that "authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner" to the monarch. The monarch then here encompasses the nation's aspiration and ideals. Another example of this is in the absolute monarch Louis XVI of France. One of his famous quotes is "L'etat, c'est moi" translated to as "The state is me." Here we see that the king is the state, he is what represents the state. When we think of a country, we should think of the king of that country. That is why monarchs are fond of using the majestic "we" because they believe that when he speaks, he speaks on the behalf of the people. Now, does the majestic "we" support the interpretation given by anti-Trinitarians on Genesis 1:26? No, because God doesn't represent a nation, He did not assume the office of this nation as from a contract. We must remember that the kings of Israel was appointed because they needed a visible leader that showed a united Israel (1 Samuel 8). The king of Israel was to "govern us and go out before us and fight our battle" (1 Samuel 8:20), he was appointed by a contract with His people. God was not appointed by the people to be god. God then did not speak there in behalf of the angels nor was conversing with them because we were not created in the image and likeness of angels, but in God's (Genesis 1:27). We cannot use arguments referring to monarchy because these monarchs were given authority by men. God was not proclaimed king because He was put in that authority by His creation.