The Precious “Us”
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. – Genesis 1:26-31
“We are not amused.” So says the Queen, using the plural of majesty, or the royal we. In the public situations in which it is used, the monarch or other dignitary is typically speaking not only in their own personal capacity but also in an official capacity as leader of a nation or institution. In the grammar of several languages, plural forms tend to be perceived as deferential and more polite than singular forms (Thanks, Wikipedia!).
“Let us make man in our image…” says God. Some have suggested that in this instance God is using the plural of majesty. That may be the case. God is majestic, and it would be appropriate for him to express his majestic holiness by use of this grammatical device.
There are at least five suggestions as to why God speaks in this manner here.
- The revelation of himself as Triune; speaking within his three-in-one nature about his work of creation
- God speaking about his work with the angels in attendance and assistance
- God and creation itself working out this marvelous design
- God’s revelation of his majesty by use of the grammatical construction known as the plural of majesty
- A polytheistic view of God as though God is working with other gods to create the world and everything in it
We reject the final idea out of hand. Scripture is clear: there is one and only one God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4). There is no biblical evidence that the angels or of creation itself participated in creating. That leaves us with either the plural of majesty or God speaking within his three-in-one being – a self-reflecting conversation about this dramatic work.
Opera ad extra indivisa sunt. That’s Latin for “works [of the Triune God] outside of his being are indivisible.” In other words, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as One created the world. If you want a deeper consideration of this, you might check out this website.
There are many ways to conjecture about these issues – including how God relates within his being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three persons. Perhaps this is a peek into that mysterious reality. We can even diagram the Bible’s teachings about Triune God. (Thanks to Pastor Brian Chilton for this diagram.)
But make no mistake. The diagram is not God. It really doesn’t do justice to the sublime nature of God’s being. I find it quite plausible that God is speaking within his being as he says, “Let us make man in our image…” And I know that the teaching of the Triune nature of God is vital to true faith. But in the end, two truths sustain me:
If I could understand and explain the Trinity, you and I would have a puny and paltry god. If God could fit inside my head, and if I could understand his being, he would be in my image – not the other way around.
As I’ve said before, “We know precious little about god but the little we know is precious.”
I am thankful to God for creating me and all people in his image. It is a tragic truth that we have tarnished and besmirched that image. But the God who created us has also come to our rescue. He has saved us through the death of his Son. He has given us the Holy Spirit, and invites to to pray to him as “Our Father.” For all that I shall thank, praise, serve, and obey him.
“This is most certainly true.”