Genesis 1:26 and the Hebrew Noun ‘Elohim’

Genesis 1:26 and the Hebrew Noun ‘Elohim’

¿Is it really “uni-plural”?

Gen 1:26       And God said, Let us make man in our image after our likeness

Gen 1:27       So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him …

Gen 1:29       And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb…

Trinitarians and others claim that the Hebrew noun ‘Elohim’, rendered ‘God’ (Strong’s #430) in the first clause of Genesis 1:26, denotes more than one God Person (typically thought of or explained as “3 in 1” or “2 in 1” as in “one” family).  In support they point to the second clause of verse 26, “Let us make man in our image”, being plural.  It is true that in both English and Hebrew this second clause contains the plural subject ‘us’ and that this governs the plural verb ‘make’- But these are not governed by ‘Elohim’ (God) of the first clause.  What is not realized, or otherwise mentioned in this issue is that in the first clause, “And God said”, ‘Elohim’ governs the singular Hebrew verb ‘’amer’ (Strong’s # 559), which is rendered ‘said’ in English.  So linguistically there is no basis for claiming that ‘Elohim’ denotes, represents, or contains more than one God Person (entity).

It is also claimed that the Hebrew ‘Elohim’ is a uniplural or collective noun and that such nouns (e.g. the English noun ‘crowd’) often govern singular verbs.  This claim contradicts leading Hebrew grammars, which claim that throughout the OT and when referring to the true God, the Hebrew noun ‘Elohim’ behaves as a singular noun, and governs only singular verbs, singular adjectives and singular pronouns.  And only when ‘elohim’ refers to a number of pagan gods or humans (e.g. judges), that it behaves as a plural noun; and then governs plural verbs, plural adjectives and plural pronouns.  So grammatically ‘Elohim’ is never a collective (uniplural) noun.  That in reference to the true God, the noun ‘Elohim’ is singular, is well illustrated in Genesis 1:29, where this noun governs the singular pronoun ‘I’.

Here follows a selection of Hebrew grammars from which these claims may be further verified: Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch, 2nd English edition by A.E. Cowley, paragraph 124 (g); Weingreen’s Hebrew Grammar under ‘God’ in its English-Hebrew vocabulary; C.L Seow’s A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew, 1992 printing, the vocabulary on page 19; James D Martin’s Davidson’s Introductory Grammar, 27th edition, 1995 reprint, page 52.

So grammatically, too, there is no justification for claiming that in Genesis 1:26 ‘God’ (Elohim) denotes more than one God Person.  Indeed throughout the OT ‘Elohim’ always denotes just one God Person.  Let’s now examine the claim that in Genesis 1:26 ‘Elohim’ denotes more than one God Person from a biblical basis.

From the Hebrew for verse 27 it may be seen that the Hebrew noun ‘Elohim’ (God) again governs a singular Hebrew verb (‘created’).  But even more importantly, that ‘Elohim’ also governs the Hebrew singular pronouns ‘His‘ (that is God’s) and ‘He‘ (God).  Note that verse 27 does not say that ‘they‘ created Adam in ‘their‘ image, but that ‘He’ created Adam in His image!  So verse 27 declares that one God created Adam and that He did so in His image.  Not two or more Gods but only one God created Adam.

Verse 27, through the two singular clauses, “So God created man in His own image” and “in the image of God created He him”, twice states that one God created Adam.  From Genesis 41:32 it may be inferred that this repetition emphasizes certainty. 

That only one God Person spoke in verse 26 and created Adam in verse 27, is further confirmed by verse 29.  In verse 29 ‘God’ (Elohim) uses the first person singular personal pronoun “I”, in the phrase, “And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb…’ “.  Had two or more God Persons created Adam, they might have said: “We have given you every herb…”.  Ignoring the necessities of language rules of grammar some still say that this “God” is a family of two and that as such only “one” of the two Gods actually did the hands on creating, but at the bequest of the other- of the two Gods. Therefore, it is reasoned, the use of a singular pronoun simply reflects the overall view that there is still only “one” God, but with two distinct entities within the one. The tragedy of this is the denial of the proper use of the language- and specifically here in Genesis, along with the assumption that everything else in scripture that does not lend itself to this premise must somehow bend and be forced into compliance with this premise. There is no grammatical basis that can be produced to support this premise, which nevertheless seems to flourish in the minds of the adherents to this tenet of which I was once one, too. Without scriptural basis, other than- that is the way it must be for this premise to exist, the very premise is left to be nothing more than conjecture. If the premise is true, then the “proof” must come from elsewhere, as nothing in Genesis can provide this “proof.”  Equivocation may be the most culpable in the creation of this tenet, and yet be the least recognized as such.

It has now been established through the rules of language that just one God Person spoke in Gen 1:26, and that this one God Person created Adam in His own image in verse 27 and that this one God Person then spoke to Adam using the singular pronoun “I” in verse 29. So,

Why does it say, “us” and “our”? 

The Cohortative Mood of Genesis 1:26.

From Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar § 75 l, and from Owens’ Analytical Key to the Old Testament, with James D. Martin’s Davidson’s Introductory Hebrew Grammar page 76, it may be seen that the Genesis 1:26 verbal phrase, “Let us make” is, in both Hebrew and English, the Cohortative or Voluntative mood.  This mood appears not understood by commentators to Genesis 1:26; and readers unfamiliar with the grammatical concept of the Cohortative Mood, are referred to the explanation given at the end of this paper. (Could this be due to preconceived notions in the minds of both the translators commentators, and the affected readers?)

Suffice to say that the Cohortative mood is a verbal mood for expressing a command from the 1st person (the speaker) to the 1st person singular or plural.  It is a mood related to the Imperative mood, which is the more common command mood for expressing commands from the 1st person to the 2nd person singular or plural – as in Sit down!, or Present arms!.

In the Cohortative mood found in Genesis 1:26, the singular speaker, God, addresses Himself jointly with those present at the time.  Therefore in Genesis 1:26 God, and those present with Him, jointly make up the plurality expressed by the pronoun ‘us’ in, “Let us make”.

In particular the plurality of ‘us’ may not be taken to infer plurality to the speaker God, or even to those God spoke to.

  It has now been shown in different ways that linguistically there is no justification for inferring from “And God said, Let us make…”, that the plurality of ‘us’ extends back to God.  Rather the Cohortative mood demands that God, as the speaker issuing a command, is singular!  This is also attested to by the singular Hebrew verb for ‘said’ (And God said) and the singular pronouns and singular verbs in subsequent verses, which refer back to God of Genesis 1:26.

 This should help clarify past confusion resulting from ungrammatical and unbiblical claims that the Hebrew ‘Elohim’ (Strong #430 God) of Genesis 1:26 is a uniplural or is a collective noun or in some other way points to there existing or not existing more than one God Person.  In truth nothing may be concluded from Genesis 1:26 regarding the number of God Persons!

End note # – Explanation of Cohortative Verb Mood

The reader needs to be first familiar with the grammatical terms: 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person.  The 1st person refers to the speaker(s) (I, we).  The 2nd person refers to the person(s) spoken to (you singular, you plural) by the 1st person.  And the 3rd person refers to the person(s) spoken about (he, she, it, and they) by the 1st person to the 2nd person.  As an example:  I (1st person) tell you (2nd person.) that he (3rd person) is tall.

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd person may be singular (I, you, he) or plural (we, you, they).  The 1st person can only speak to the 2nd person.  In particular the 1st person can not speak to the 3rd person: but can only speak about the 3rd person to the 2nd person.  This last point is important for understanding the Jussive command mood.  The 1st person can speak to the 1st person singular, namely, when he speaks to himself.  But when the 1st person speaks to the 1st person plural, he addresses himself and the one(s) with him.  This last point is important for understanding the Cohortative mood.

There are three verbal moods for expressing commands or strongly held wishes or intentions.  The Imperative mood is the most commonly-used of the three command moods.  All three command moods are used by the 1st person (speaker); but he may address them: (a) to the 1st person by using the Cohortative mood; or (b) to the 2nd person by using the Imperative mood; and (c) to the 3rd person(s) by using the Jussive mood.

The Imperative mood is usually used by a superior to an subordinate; as in: Stand!, and Present arms!  In the Jussive mood the 1st person gives a command for the 3rd person to the 2nd person; as in: Don’t let him go!, and Make him stay!  Note that grammatically it is impossible for the 1st person to address directly the 3rd person; because the 3rd person is the one spoken about to the 2nd person.

In the Cohortative mood the 1st person commands the 1st person singular or plural.  When the 1st person commands the 1st person singular, the command is to self, as in I shall guard.  But when the 1st person commands the 1st person plural, the commands (1) himself and (2) the one(s) with him, as in Let us make…. .  For this last case note in particular that the subject is singular.  That is the plurality of the ones commanded (us) does not transfer backwards to the subject.  This point is generally overlooked by commentators to Genesis 1:26, “Ánd God (singular) said, Let us (plural) make man in our image…”

Note that the English Jussive and Cohortative moods require auxiliary verbs (e.g. shall, make and let).  Also that in neither the Imperative, nor the Jussive mood, nor the Cohortative mood a subject (speaker) is expressed.  So these commands are usually brief, as in:  Sit!, Don’t let him go!, and Let us make.   The Subject is simply understood. 

For further study into this far too often misunderstood subject please see:

Note: The author of these articles listed below is an American now living in Israel. He is fluent in English, Modern Hebrew, and Biblical Hebrew. He is a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar and Semitic language expert.

Elohim: Plural or Singular? Part 1

Elohim: Plural or Singular  Part 2

Elohim: Plurality and “Attraction” Part 3