What is the meaning in Genesis 1:26 where God says, “Let us make man in our image”? My NIV study notes that “us” refers to members of His heavenly court? I was always led to believe it referred to the Trinity.  Thank you


Commentators give three possible interpretations of the words “us” and “ours” in this passage.
First, as you note, is that they propose that God is speaking to some sort of heavenly council, which would include perhaps something like the archangels or other unnamed heavenly beings.  Exactly who would be in this heavenly council is a matter of speculation. The “us” would be God and those in attendance on him.  The idea of a heavenly council is not a crazy thing.  Revelation chapter 4 Job chapter 1 and other passages make this interpretation reasonable.
Second, some commentators conclude that the word “us” and “our” is evidence of what is called the “royal we.”  It is was common in ancient times, and even if fairly recent times for kings and rulers to refer to themselves individually as “we.”  A king will say that “we” decide such and such, when the king actually means “I” decide.  This would be a single God referring to himself with plural pronouns. There is plenty of evidence for this in ancient times. This is a possible meaning of Genesis 1:26.
A third suggested interpretation is that the “we” and “our” in Genesis 1:26 are the three persons in the godhead/trinity. In this case, God is speaking to himself, which may seem odd, but Jesus does pray to the Father in the Bible, which is an example of God “speaking to himself.” This explanation is also reasonable from a biblical perspective.  In that case, Genesis 1:26 would be evidence in the Old Testament for what we call the trinity.
Of the three, the least likely is the third.  The great majority of commentators will agree with this conclusion, which, of course, does not prove anything, but they ought to be listened to.  Ancient Hebrews would probably not have even dreamed of this interpretation, and the Jews were the original recipients of Genesis.  I am well aware that Christians have often used Genesis 1:26 as “proof” of the trinity.  In my opinion, this is not wise, as it is somewhat unlikely that the passage is a reflection of trinity and, besides, for those who do not already believe that Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, they are not likely to be convinced by this example.  In fact, they might even be made more skeptical by Christians using this as a proof-text, when they know how weak evidence jt is for trinity.  So, if you privately prefer the third option, that is fine, but I would not bring it up in attempts to convince skeptics of the triune nature of God.
As I implied, both the first and the second option are more likely true than the trinitarian interpretation. So, which is correct?  Is God using the royal we, or is he speaking to the heavenly council?  The NIV study Bible is only mentioning one of these options.  My answer is this: I do not know, but I definitely would not use Genesis 1:26 to convince people of the trinity.  There are passages in the Old Testament which do point to the Son being God, such as Psalm 110:1, Isaiah 9:6, Zechariah 11:12-13 (note the use of “me”), but I do not use Genesis 1:26 for this purpose.
John Oakes

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