Genesis 1: 26 – The One God and the Many Angels

 

Don Sena

 

The more avidly one defends the notion of a plural Godhead, the more eagerly, it seems, he will cite Gen 1: 26 "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ....'" The connectedness of Gen 1: 26 and Gen 1: 27 is unmistakable; yet, the sudden transition from the plural to the singular pronoun and possessive adjective is rarely ever noted: "So, God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." The need to reassess the traditional explanation of the plural references "us" and "our" in Gen 1: 26 should be readily apparent; the inconsistency it implies in so narrow a context is simply unacceptable.

An assumption common in the old WCG (Worldwide Church of God) was that the image of God could be compared to human perceptions of form or shape. This concept (along with size) defines the boundaries of the space occupied by a physical mass and applies well to the earthly matter of which humans themselves are composed. The result was an anthropomorphic deity which, ironically, was actually a god that the old hierarchy had cast in the image of man. This assumption precluded any thoughtful inquiry into what God's image truly was -- and is: 

"Stop lying to one another. What you have done is to put aside your old self with its past deeds and to put on a new man, one who grows in knowledge as he is formed anew in the image of his Creator" (Col 3: 9, 10). 

"You must put on that new man created in God's image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth" (Eph 4: 24). 

"Those whom he foreknew he predestined to show the image of his Son, that the Son might be the first-born of many brothers" (Rom 8: 29). 

"Rather, become holy yourselves in every respect of your conduct, after the likeness of the Holy One who called you" (I Pt 3: 15). 

“All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory, with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3: 18). 

(Of the text quoted above, it is only Col 3: 10 and Rom 8: 29 which contain an explicit noun reference in the Greek to "image" or "likeness"; the noun, in each case, is ei'kon). 

The image of God can now be understood for what the Scriptures would have long had us believe it to be: a template of God's mind, character and sense of purpose -- that Scripturally credible human potential which develops with the diligent use of God's Spirit (Phil 2: 12; II Pt 3: 18; I Jn 4: 17).  To be "formed anew in the image of [the] Creator," then, is to be transformed into a specific instance of that image (or template). No one, certainly, ever quite succeeded in bearing a fully developed image of the living God (Jn 10: 30) as did Christ. 

While Christ is properly understood as the standard by which all human behavior may be evaluated (I Jn 2: 6; 4: 17), he had been (temporarily, as a human being) "made a little lower than the angels" (Heb 2: 9). Because he was very much in the image of God (if anyone ever was), the angels themselves must also have been made in God's image -- well before, of course, the creation of the human race.  (Angels are even capable of appearing in human form, as in Heb 13: 2). 

To understand Gen 1: 26 in a manner consistent with the entire rest of Scripture -- Gen 1: 27 and I Tim 2: 5, for instance -- is to refute the very loosely made assumption that verse 26 describes a conversation among two or more God-beings. It was the truly singular Creator God, addressing the angels whom he had previously created in his own image, who proposed the creation of a race of fleshly beings in the image they commonly shared. It is he -- singular -- who created, as verse 27 plainly states. (Note, also, that God is referenced as "he" throughout the rest of Gen 1, as well). 

This race of fleshly beings – man – would quite naturally “have dominion over the fish …, birds …, cattle and all the wild animals and … creatures … “ (Gen 1: 26). Because it was man who had been created in the image of God, and not the various other creatures, dominion over the rest was invested in man. 

Consider, also, that both members of a presumed two-person Godhead would have required worship and recognition; both would necessarily have demanded the unwavering allegiance of their subjects, the ancient Israelites. Yet, the text of the first and second commandments reveals a God asserting himself with pronouns "I" and "me": "I, YAHWEH, am your God ... you shall not have other gods besides me ... for I -- YAHWEH, your God -- am a jealous God, inflicting ... on the children of those who hate me" (Ex 20: 2, 3, 5). 

Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures are the Israelites apprised of a plural-person Godhead, just as God was never explained in such terms to the Christians of the First Century. Neither, then, should the Sabbatarian Christians of today entertain the notion of a complex of persons in lieu of a true singularity, God’s true nature.   Of God, there is no further decomposition, there are no constituent parts. It was only a motive of ecclesiastical pragmatism that would eventually lead to a redefinition of God as a "family of persons.”

On a Sabbath afternoon, either in late 1999 or early 2000, several historical notes on the development of trinitarian teaching were distributed at a service of the United Church of God (AIA) on the east side of the Phoenix, AZ, area. Reference was made both to these "Trinity Quotes" and to Gen 1: 26 to show that God is neither just one nor as Many as three persons. Whoever compiled the Quotes ever so slightly outdid himself, for among them was one that contained just a bit more information than was probably intended. From 'Sex and Sex Worship' by Dr. O. A. Wall:

"The Egyptians worshipped quite a number of deities in sets of three, some male only, others in sets of Father, mother and child. Up to the Second Century, Christianity was a monotheistic religion, like that of the Jews; but, at the time mentioned, the Bishop of Alexandria introduced first the worship of the Father and Son, then of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost -- or, the Trinity -- to facilitate proselytism among the Egyptians; and, by the end of the Fifth Century, the theory of a triune God was accepted also by the other churches outside Egypt. 

"The Bible does not contain the word 'Trinity,' but the early Christians commenced at an early period to philosophize about it; and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost were accepted as members of this triad. The idea of God the Father was the old Biblical God of the Jews; in the year 325, the Council of Nice affirmed the divinity of Jesus as Christ, and, in the year 381, the Council of Constantinople added the doctrine of the divinity of the Holy Ghost. From this [sequence of pronouncements], the theory of the Trinity was deduced, which is that these three are not separate, but together constitute only one God -- or Unity. The Trinity in Unity was declared to be an article of faith by the Church. One sect of Christians, however, maintained for some time a belief in Tritheism, or in Three Gods, separate from one another, like an Egyptian triad."

It should be noted from the Quote above (somewhat abbreviated) that it was the Bishop of Alexandria (Athanasius ?) who first proposed the Binity and, somewhat later, the more familiar triangular godhead known as the Trinity. The distinction in persons between Christ and his Father is fairly obvious (Jn 17), so that the Bishop needed only to declare the Son also to be God in order to establish a two-person godhead. The Bishop was finally able to create the trinity by his personification of the Holy Spirit as a "Holy Ghost"; this new definition of God as a trinity was then complete. It should also be noted from the Quote that the actions of the Councils of Nicea (Christ as God) and Constantinople (the Holy Spirit now a "Holy Ghost" as God) were particularly significant in formalizing this new definition. 

However, this neo-Christian concept of a plural Godhead is starkly belied by writings of the prophet Isaiah and the apostles Paul and James, who mutually corroborate the inherent oneness of God.  Under direct, divine inspiration, they show that God is, and always will be, but one being only : Is 43:10 (last part), 46:9; 1 Tim 2: 5 and Jas 2: 19. 

The only intelligent beings in existence at the time of the very early Genesis account were God and the angels. The use of the first-person plural imperative (or, exhortation) by God is, then, necessarily directed toward the angelic host, as can also be seen in the Tower-of-Babel incident of Gen 11.  “Then YAHWEH said: … ‘Let us then go down and there confuse their language, so that one will not understand what another says’” (vv 6, 7).  Here, it was the angels who dispersed themselves among the builders and, through their full angelic power to influence a man’s psyche, corrupted the language they originally had in common. 

There is no reason to doubt that an angel loyal to God’s purposes can act on a human in this fashion.  Consider the much more limited ability of an angel of Satan to influence a person.  The angels who rebelled along with Satan have since been held in a condition of restraint (Gk. tartaros as in 2 Pt 2: 5 and Jude 6). Yet, they are still somewhat capable of exerting a certain pull on our psyches. All the more so, then, are the angels loyal to God capable of exerting their own pulls. They do so, however, only at God’s command, as they did at the famous Tower, and they are capable of using the full scope of their angelic might to achieve God’s purpose. 

The only understanding consistent with context and companion Scriptures of Gen 1: 26 is that God is exhorting his own angels to action. Accordingly, they went to work in fashioning the prototype of all humanity in the person of Adam, and then of Eve, The discussion of Gen 11 here supplies a parallel instance of a first-person plural exhortation (or command) of the form “Let us do… ” – directed, of course, to the angels. 

The facile reading of Gen 1: 26 as a conversation between (or among) two (or more) God-beings is terribly sophomoric and indicative of a bible literacy retarded by a pre-existing and prevailing mental filter  that obscures true comprehension of revealed truth.  Unfettered by theological orthodoxy and ancient dogmas, one is free to get at God’s truth as God’s truth truly is.