Who is God talking to in Genesis 1:26?
That is an interesting question. There are two aspects to this question.
The first question is what is the implication of the use of the first
person, plural (us, our) in this passage? The second question is who is
the audience of the statement?
Let me first say that we should recognize that this is a piece
of literature from a people of Near Eastern origin. We should not impose
on the writer a “Western” mindset. What would seem the normal implication
of a statement for a 21st century American or European is not necessarily
applicable to a writer from a very different culture. Having said that,
one common interpretation of the “us” and “our” in Genesis 1:26 is that
the godhead/trinity is talking to themselves. From Genesis 1:2 we find
that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
Many scholars interpret this passage to imply it is speaking of the Holy
Spirit. Therefore, one possible answer to the first question above is
that “us” in this passage is a reference to the triune nature of God.
Another possibility is that the “us” includes the heavenly host of angels.
It is common usage when a single person does something, but a number are
included in the situation (even though they did not do it) to say “we.”
For example, when a local football team is successful, we often say “we”
won, even though “we” does not include the speaker. When a single member
of a family does something it is very common to say “we” did it. One
might say “we” bought a car when in fact, only one of us actually bought
the car. So even though it is God who did the creating in Genesis 1:26,
he may include the angels who were with him when this happened in the
statement by saying “us.” It is my opinion that the first interpretation
is probably the correct one. God is using the plural because, in a sense,
God is plural. I will assume that you are aware of the idea of the
trinity (although the word trinity does not appear in the Bible).
The second question is who is God talking to in the passage?
Who is the implied audience? I would say that this requires a bit more
speculation. Perhaps God is speaking to himself. Be aware that no matter
how you interpret this passage, it implies anthropomorphism. The word
anthropomorphism means the giving of a human trait to something which is
not human. For example, the Bible refers to God?s hand, his voice, and so
forth. God is clearly a spiritual being. He is not physical, and he does
not have hands and feet as do human beings. It is a common figure of
speech to impart human characteristics to God when speaking of him.
Therefore, when the Genesis writer has God speaking, this in and of itself
may be an anthropomorphism. How can we describe God thinking to himself
in human terms? Almost certainly he does not “talk” to himself in some
sort of human language. Perhaps God is talking to himself in Genesis
1:26, or perhaps God is talking to an audience of spiritual beings such as
angels. It will be hard to prove which is the correct view. Remember
that this is Hebrew literature. The Hebrew style of expression is less
literal in general and more emotional and metaphorical that in modern
Western culture. We should be careful not to take the literary form of
Genesis chapter one too literally. The question of audience may be a moot
point if the entire idea of speaking in this passage is metaphorical.
In conclusion, I believe the “we” in this passage is the
godhead, but it may include other spiritual beings. One cannot say for
sure who the implied audience of these statements. Given that the
statement may be anthropomorphized and metaphorical, there may be no
reason to seek an audience for the statement.