Why is the plural used for God in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22?
In Genesis 1:26 we read, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'" (emphasis added). Genesis 3:22 adds, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil" (emphasis added). Why does God refer to Himself as "us"?
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It is clear that the plural is not a reference to there being multiple gods. The Bible presents God as one God. The first verse of Scripture notes, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). The Law of Moses removes any doubt, stating, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The Ten Commandments also begin with the command, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2-3).
God referring to Himself in plural form could be a reference to God being Triune—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other places in the Bible later refer to God in this way, such as Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." First Corinthians 12:4-6 adds, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone." Second Corinthians 13:14 concludes with a reference to all three persons of the Triune Godhead: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." On one occasion, all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in the same context: "And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" (Matthew 3:16-17).
There is also a grammatical reason that could most naturally explain God's reference to Himself as "us". In Hebrew, there is a feature called the plural of majesty. The plural of majesty was used when a ruler or king spoke of himself in the plural form in reference to his greatness. Instead of speaking of "my rule," a king might speak of "our rule" over the land, even if he was speaking only of himself. Many Hebrew scholars believe this is the most appropriate understanding of these verses. God, in His greatness, referred to Himself as "us" as other rulers did during that time. Only later does the Bible more explicitly reveal God as Father, Son, and Spirit.
One other clear use of the plural of majesty can also be found in the Old Testament. In Genesis 11:7 God says, "Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." This is clearly a reference to God speaking without anyone else in the audience. Therefore, in Genesis God is either speaking to Himself in the context of the Trinity or speaking of His greatness using the plural of majesty in reference to His greatness.
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