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Genesis 1:26

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#1 Fortigurn



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Posted 14 May 2004 - 02:38 AM

In Genesis 1:26, we have God addressing His heavenly court, the angels. Not only the grammatical construction of the words in Genesis 1:26-7 prove this, but also various co-texts.

Commence quote - adapted by another from the Journal of Hebraic Renewal:

But by no means is YHWH ever referred to by plural forms.  In fact, whenever the people of God speak of Him in the Hebrew Bible using a pronoun, they ALWAYS employ the singular form.  Whether it is the third person (He, Him, His) or the second person (You, Your, Thou, Thy) this is the case.  The people of God understood their God to be a single Individual. {6}

Nor is He only referred to in the plural when “God” is the translated word.  Two forms referred to above, El and Eloah used in the Tanakh to refer to the true God, are both singular in form. {7}  When an Aramaic word for God, Elah, is used, it too appears to be always in its singular form when referring to the true God. {8}

The form of the verb used in Hebrew when Elohim the true God is the subject is also instructive.  It is virtually always singular in form throughout the Tanakh.  In Genesis 1, for example - where the reader is first introduced to Elohim the Creator - the Hebrew verb form is always in the third masculine singular whenever {9} we read that “Elohim created” or “Elohim said” or “Elohim made”, etc. {10}

Finally, the Septuagint (known as “LXX”), the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (probably translated in the third and second century B.C.E.) ALWAYS translated the Hebrew word for God in the singular (Gr. theos).  The LXX version of the Old Testament is often cited in the New Testament instead of the Hebrew. {11}

{6} Two rather emphatic examples: 1 Kings 18:39 and 2 Sam. 7:28.  The relevant part of the former reads, “YHWH, He is God [Elohim]; YHWH, He is God.”  The key portion of the latter reads, very literally, “Lord {adonay} YHWH, You {sing}, He, {is} the God {Elohim}.”

{7} God is translated from El in the following passages: Gen. 17:1, Ex. 34:6, Josh. 3:10, Isa. 5:16 and Ps. 29:3.  From Eloah: Deut. 32:15, Neh. 9:17, Job 4:9 (used more often than Elohim in Job) and Ps. 114:7.

{8} E.g., Dan. 2:28, Ezra 5:2.

{9} Gen. 1:26 says, “Let us make...” where God is perhaps either referring to Himself in the plural (possibly another form of plural of majesty), or is condescending to His heavenly host (i.e., someone besides Elohim, reflecting the normal concept of any first person plural), bringing them into the creative act.  “Make,” of course, is plural in its Hebrew form. 
In the next verse, where Elohim actually performs the action, the verb for “made” is back to its singular form.

{10} The Hebrew word order may be relevant here as well.  In Hebrew prose, the usual word order is that the verb precedes the noun.  In Gen. 1:1, therefore, before the Hebrew reader even gets to the word Elohim, he or she reads “bara” (“created”), the third person masculine singular form, immediately telling him or her that the acting subject is singular in reality.

{11} See Heb. 1:6 for example, where a version of the LXX of Deut. 32:43 is quoted.  The passage is quite different from the Hebrew text we now have and use.

End quote. Full text of this adapted article may be found here.

Commence quote from The Original Bible Project, Dr James Tabor:

"GENESIS (Bereshit)1

Chapter 1 {1} In the beginning2 when ELOHIM3 created4 the heavens and the earth-(2}and the earth was5 desolate and waste;6 and darkness was over the facepl of the deep waters,7 and the Spirit of ELOHIM8 was hovering9 over the facepl of the waters-{3}then ELOHIM said, "Let there be light": and there was light. {4} And ELOHIM saw the light, that it was good:10 and ELOHIM separated between the light and between the darkness. {5} And ELOHIM called the light day, and the darkness he called night. And there was evening and there was morning, day one.11

Footnotes -
3 The most common word for God in the Hebrew Bible is 'elohim (used over 2000 times), which is the masculine plural form of 'el, meaning "a mighty one." It can refer to YHVH, the one true God, to the gods or idols of the Gentiles, to angelic beings, or even to human judges and rulers (see Gen 3:5; 6:2; 35:1; Exo 12:12; Psa 82:1,6; 97:7,9; Gen 23:6; Exo 22:8-9 for illustrations). When used to refer to the one God of Israel, ELOHIM, though plural, normally takes a singular verb and singular prepositions.

verse 26 -
{26} And ELOHIM said, "Let us25 make man ('adam)26 in our image, according to our likeness,27 and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the flying thing of the heavens, and over the animals , and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the earth."

Footnotes -
25 The verb is plural, for other examples of the same see Gen 3:5,22; 11:7."

End quote. You can find the OBP here.

The fact that in Genesis 1:27 the verb is singular and the preposition is singular demonstrates that this is the use of Elohim which is used to refer to God alone, a singular person..

The fact that in Genesis 1:26 the word 'us' is associated with 'elohim' demonstrates that God is encompassing in His address others than Himself.

That is exactly what the NET Bible footnotes say as well.

As I have said, the use of the words 'us' and 'our' here relate to God encompassing the angels in His announcement of His work of creation (though only in a passive sense).

This is exactly what AB Davidson says (A.B. Davidson, "God," Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Volume II, page 205, multivolume edition, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1905), what Dr James Tabor says (James Tabor's 'Original Bible Project', here), what the NET Bible footnotes say (you can find the NET Bible here), and the article from the Journal of Hebraic Renewal (adapted here).

We turn now to the NET Bible (you can find it here), and read this from their footnote on Genesis 1:26:

The plural form of the verb has been the subject of much discussion through the years, and not surprisingly several suggestions have been put forward. Many Christian theologians interpret it as an early hint of plurality within the Godhead, but this view imposes later trinitarian concepts on the ancient text. Some have suggested the plural verb indicates majesty, but the plural of majesty is not used with verbs. C. Westermann (Genesis, 1:145) argues for a plural of “deliberation” here, but his proposed examples of this use (2 Sam 24:14; Isa 6:8) do not actually support his theory. In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isa 6:8 the Lord speaks on behalf of his heavenly court.

In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8). (The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels. In Gen 3:5 the serpent may refer to this group as “gods/divine beings.”

See the note on the word “evil” in 3:5.) If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of mankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way.

Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.

At this point we turn to the NET's note on Psalm 8:5:

Psalm 8:
8:5 and make them almost like the heavenly beings?"

16tn Heb “and you make him lack a little from {the} gods {or “God”}.” The Piel form of rsj, “to decrease, to be devoid,” is used only here and in Eccl 4:8, where it means “to deprive, to cause to be lacking.” The prefixed verbal form with vav consecutive either carries on the characteristic nuance of the imperfect in v. 5b or indicates a consequence (“so that you make him…”) of the preceding statement (see GKC §111.m). Some prefer to make this an independent clause and translate it as a new sentence, “You made him….” In this case the statement might refer specifically to the creation of the first human couple, Adam and Eve (cf. Gen 1:26-27).

The psalmist does appear to allude to Gen 1:26-27, where mankind is created in the image of God and his angelic assembly (note “let us make man in our image” in Gen 1:26).

However, the psalmist’s statement need not be limited in its focus to that historical event, for all mankind shares the image imparted to the first human couple. Consequently the psalmist can speak in general terms of the exalted nature of mankind.

The referent of <yhla (elohim, “God” or “the heavenly beings”) is unclear. Some understand this as a reference to God alone, but the allusion to Gen 1:26-27 suggests a broader referent, including God and the other heavenly beings (known in other texts as “angels”). The term <yhla (elohim) is also used in this way in Gen 3:5, where the serpent says to the woman, “you will be like the heavenly beings who know good and evil.” (Note Gen 3:22, where God says, “the man has become like one of us.”) Also <yhla (elohim) may refer to the members of the heavenly assembly in Ps 82:1, 6. The LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the OT) reads “angels” in Ps 8:5 (this is the source of the quotation of Ps 8:5 in Heb 2:7).

Again, the NET Bible interprets the phrase 'Let us make man in our image as referring to both God and His angelic assembly.

God is including the angels when he speaks of 'us' and 'our'. But as the note in Genesis 1 pointed out, the angels are not active participants, rather, as the NET Bible says:

God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of mankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27).

That is the explanation for the use of the words 'us' and 'our'.

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