Saturday, May 25, 2013

Repost of Genesis 1:26 and How Many Speakers

This post constitutes a repeat of material that has been submitted before. But just how many speakers are there in Genesis 1:26-27? On a related point, what is the significance of Elohim?

"We have . . . suggested that the plural name for God, Elohim, denotes God's unlimited greatness and supremacy. To conclude plurality of Persons from the name itself is dubious. However, when God speaks of Himself with plural pronouns (Gen. 1:26, 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8) and plural verbs . . . it does seem to indicate distinctions of Persons, though only plurality, not specifically Trinity" (Charles Ryrie, Basic
, 51).

Dr. Alan Hauser expands on the argument set forth by Ryrie. He does not think that the use of the plural form for "God" in Genesis 1:26 necessarily proves that Genesis affirms God's triunity. One reason that Hauser arrives at this conclusion has to do with the Hebrew word Elohim. Granted, Elohim is a plural noun as are the pronouns "us" and "our." But these words, while they might seem to indicate plurality, do not perforce indicate triunity. We must also remember that in Hebrew it is common for the grammatically plural noun to cause verbs to be plural (Cf. Genesis 20:13, 35:7). E.A Speiser therefore renders Genesis 1:26 as follows: "The God said, 'I will make man in my image, after my likeness.'" His translation suggests only one person is speaking.

Commenting on Deuteronomy 6:4 and its use of Elohim, Baptist seminarian president John. D.W. Watts says that the term Elohim conveys "to the Semitic ear the idea of the total sum of divine attributes and powers . . . 'One Lord' conveys the essential idea. He is unique, different, exclusive. He is not many, but one . . . Yahweh [YHWH] is a single unified person. In no sense is he to be understood as represented in diverse forms and appearances in different places as Baal and other nature deities were" (The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2:214).

There is also another probable explanation for Genesis 1:26 and its use of "us" or "our" for God. The Hebraic expert Wilhelm Gesenius described the Hebrew word translated "us" as a "plural of self-deliberation." Both Gesenius and C. Westermann have upheld this view and classed Isaiah 6:8 in the same category as Genesis 1:26. In other words, what Gesenius says is that God could have been talking or 'deliberating' with Himself at
Genesis 1:26. While this is a grammatical possibility, I personally concur with the view that the Father was addressing His Son at Genesis 1:26 when God uttered the words "us" and "our." The New Testament would also seem to support such a conclusion (Col. 1:15-17).

At any rate, if God spoke to His Son, we would only have two persons in dialogue, not three. The view that God was 'self-deliberating,' however, cannot be easily discounted and may even be less problematic.

I will close with a quote from Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament:

The creation of man does not take place through a word addressed by God to the earth, but as the result of the divine decree, "We will make man in Our image, after our likeness," which proclaims at the very outset the distinction and pre-eminence of man above all the other creatures of the earth. The plural "We" was regarded by the fathers and earlier theologians almost unanimously as indicative of the Trinity: modern commentators, on the contrary, regard it either as pluralis majestatis; or as an address by God to Himself, the subject and object being identical; or as communicative, an address to the spirits or angels who stand around the Deity and constitute His council. The last is Philo's explanation: διαλέγεται ὁ τῶν ὁ͂λων πατὴρ ταῖς ἑαυτο͂υ δυνάεσιν (δυνάμεις equals angels). But although such passages as 1 Kings 22:19., Psalm 89:8, and Daniel 10, show that God, as King and Judge of the world, is surrounded by heavenly hosts, who stand around His throne and execute His commands, the last interpretation founders upon this rock: either it assumes without sufficient scriptural authority, and in fact in opposition to such distinct passages as Genesis 2:7, Genesis 2:22; Isaiah 40:13 seq., Genesis 44:24, that the spirits took part in the creation of man; or it reduces the plural to an empty phrase, inasmuch as God is made to summon the angels to cooperate in the creation of man, and then, instead of employing them, is represented as carrying out the work alone. Moreover, this view is irreconcilable with the words "in our image, after our likeness;" since man was created in the image of God alone (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:1), and not in the image of either the angels, or God and the angels. A likeness to the angels cannot be inferred from Hebrews 2:7, or from Luke 20:36. Just as little ground is there for regarding the plural here and in other passages (Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:7; Isaiah 6:8; Isaiah 41:22) as reflective, an appeal to self; since the singular is employed in such cases as these, even where God Himself is preparing for any particular work (cf. Genesis 2:18; Psalm 12:5; Isaiah 33:10). No other explanation is left, therefore, than to regard it as pluralis majestatis, - an interpretation which comprehends in its deepest and most intensive form (God speaking of Himself and with Himself in the plural number, not reverentiae causa, but with reference to the fullness of the divine powers and essences which He possesses) the truth that lies at the foundation of the trinitarian view, viz., that the potencies concentrated in the absolute Divine Being are something more than powers and attributes of God; that they are hypostases, which in the further course of the revelation of God in His kingdom appeared with more and more distinctness as persons of the Divine Being. On the words "in our image, after our likeness" modern commentators have correctly observed, that there is no foundation for the distinction drawn by the Greek, and after them by many of the Latin Fathers, between εἰκών (imago) and ὁμοίωσις (similitudo), the former of which they supposed to represent the physical aspect of the likeness to God, the latter the ethical; but that, on the contrary, the older Lutheran theologians were correct in stating that the two words are synonymous, and are merely combined to add intensity to the thought: "an image which is like Us" (Luther); since it is no more possible to discover a sharp or well-defined distinction in the ordinary use of the words between צלם and דּמוּת, than between בּ and כּ. צלם, from צל, lit., a shadow, hence sketch, outline, differs no more from דּמוּת, likeness, portrait, copy, than the German words Umriss or Abriss (outline or sketch) from Bild or Abbild (likeness, copy). בּ and כּ are also equally interchangeable, as we may see from a comparison of this verse with Genesis 5:1 and Genesis 5:3. (Compare also Leviticus 6:4 with Leviticus 27:12, and for the use of בּ to denote a norm, or sample, Exodus 25:40; Exodus 30:32, Exodus 30:37, etc.) There is more difficulty in deciding in what the likeness to God consisted. Certainly not in the bodily form, the upright position, or commanding aspect of the man, since God has no bodily form, and the man's body was formed from the dust of the ground; nor in the dominion of man over nature, for this is unquestionably ascribed to man simply as the consequence or effluence of his likeness to God. Man is the image of God by virtue of his spiritual nature. of the breath of God by which the being, formed from the dust of the earth, became a living soul.

The quote from K-D is primarily informational. I do not agree with their triune suggestions for the text.

1 comment:

Duncan said...


I am afraid that the kind of exegesis above misses the point of the text.

It if fairly simple who the US actually is but if we do not accept a difference between Hebrew & Greek thought this will not be perceived & the resultant conclusions will certainly be over-complicated.

There are many phrases and implications in the Hebrew text that our modern western mind find difficult to accept (they ussually get smoothed over in translation) & to me it demonstrates why an LXX translation & Greek thinkers of late second temple period using alien philosophical method completely miss the basic points within the text.