The Old Testament
Genesis 1:1, 26 and Elohim
The Bible begins by saying, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. … And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:1; 26).
Some people suppose that we can find the Trinity doctrine in these texts. They make this claim because the Hebrew word elohim, that was translated “God,” is plural, and they believe the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 help to support the Trinity doctrine as well.
The Hebrew word elohim is plural, but it never indicates plurality when referring to the true God. Every time elohim is used referring to the true God it has a singular meaning. Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon calls it “the plural of majesty” and the Brown-Driver’s Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon says that when it refers to the true God it is “plural intensive” with a “singular meaning.”
Furthermore, the word elohim is used in the Bible in places where it could not possibly be referring to a plural being. For example, God said to Moses, “See, I have made thee a god [elohim] to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” (Exodus 7:1) Was God saying that He was going to turn Moses into a trinity? Obviously not! God would not have us believe that Moses is a plural being even though He used the plural word elohim to describe him. For other examples read Exodus 4:16; 1 Samuel 5:7; 1 Kings 11:5, 33; 18:27, etc.
As indisputable evidence that elohim has a singular meaning when referring to the true God, please consider this: whenever New Testament writers quoted from the Old Testament they used the singular Greek word theos to denote the true God as a translation of the word elohim. This is also true of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, which was translated around 200 years before Christ came to earth. This proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that elohim has a singular meaning when referring to the true God. Keep in mind that all of these translators and authors were very familiar with the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. If elohim really indicated a plurality in the true God, then the New Testament writers and the Septuagint translators would have used the plural form of theos (θεοι, θεοις or θεους) when speaking of God. Instead, they used the singular every time, even though they used the plural form often in the Old Testament and eight times in the New Testament when referring to men or false gods. (You can read these for yourself in John 10:34, & 35; Acts 7:40; 14:11; & 19:26; 1 Corinthians 8:5; and Galatians 4:8.) This demonstrates that the New Testament writers and the translators of the Septuagint did not recognize a plural meaning in the word elohim when referring to the true God. It is careless for any theologian today to think they know more about an ancient Hebrew word than the ancient Hebrews themselves who lived at the time the Bible was written and was first translated into another language.
Regarding the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26, the pronouns are plural in the original Hebrew, forcing it to be translated, “God said, let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness.” Those who claim this verse teaches a trinity point out that elohim is plural and the pronouns are plural, therefore there must be a plurality in God. If we are to accept this explanation we would have to translate it, “GODS said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” This translation would do injustice to the true meaning of elohim, and it would have two or more Gods speaking in unison, saying, “Let us make man in our image.” Is that what God is trying to tell us? Did several Gods create man, or was there just one?
Those who promote the idea that Gods said, “Let us make man,” run into a big problem in the next verse, because all of a sudden the pronouns switch to singular, both in Hebrew and in English, while the plural elohim is still used. Why was there a change? The next verse says, “So God [elohim] made man in HIS own image, in the image of God [elohim] created HE him.” If we are expected to believe that Gods are speaking in verse 26, to be consistent we must believe that Gods are being referred to in verse 27, but instead of plural pronouns the Bible changed to singular pronouns as if only one person was referred to.
Now, there is a very simple explanation for this. The use of plural pronouns after a singular noun does not indicate that the singular noun should really be plural. For example, let’s suppose the president said to the attorney general, “Let us make a law.” This would not indicate that there are two presidents just because he used a plural pronoun. The plural applies to the two who will be involved in making the law rather than to the president. In like manner, the “us” and “our” in Genesis 1:26 applies to the Two who were involved in the creation of the world rather than to the one who was speaking.
The Bible says “God… created all things by Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 3:9) It is obvious that the God in this verse is someone other than Jesus Christ. And according to Hebrews 1:2, God, the Father, created all things by His Son.
Now, we can know for sure who is speaking in Genesis 1:26, and to whom He is speaking. God, the Father, said to His Son, “let us make man in our image.” Remember, Christ is “the express image” of the Father, so anyone created in the Father’s image is automatically created in His Son’s image. The pronouns switched to singular in verse 27 to give proper credit to the one who created all things. Consistently, in every place that anyone is given credit for creating the world, it is the Father who created everything, but He did this creating by or through Jesus Christ. (Read Hebrews 1:1, 2; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:15, 16; John 1:1-3; Revelation 4:9-11).
The New Testament used the Greek word theos, in the singular form, to refer to the God of heaven over one thousand times. In each case this singular word refers to one person, and one person only. Also, every time Jesus referred to God, He used singular pronouns, which were translated, He, Him, His, Thy, Thine, and Thee. Every time Jesus included Himself along with God, He used plural pronouns, we, us, and our (John 14:23; 17:11, 21; etc.).
The use of plural pronouns in connection with God is very rare in the Bible. The Hebrew word elohim is used 2,606 times in the Old Testament, most of which refer to the true God. Out of all these cases there are only four places where plural pronouns are used in connection with the true God. They are: Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8. An examination of each of these verses in context reveals that none of them require a plural meaning in God Himself. All can be understood in a sense that a single Person (Elohim) was speaking to His divine Son.
So, to the best of my knowledge, God never referred to Himself using plural pronouns, or nouns with a literal plural meaning. Many theologians have come to the same conclusion. Here are a few comments on this point.
“The fanciful idea that Elohim referred to the Trinity of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars. It is either what the grammarians call the plural of majesty, or it denotes the fullness of divine strength, the sum of the powers displayed by God” (William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Peloubet, MacDonald Pub. Co., 1948, p. 220).
“Elohim must rather be explained as an intensive plural, denoting greatness and majesty” (The American Journal of Semitic Language and Literature, 1905, Vol. XXI, p. 208).
“It is exegesis of a mischievous if pious sort that would find the doctrine of the Trinity in the plural form elohim [God]” (“God,” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics).
“Early dogmaticians were of the opinion that so essential a doctrine as that of the Trinity could not have been unknown to the men of the Old Testament… No modern theologian… can longer maintain such a view. Only an inaccurate exegesis which overlooks the more immediate grounds of interpretation can see references to the Trinity in the plural form of the divine name Elohim, the use of the plural in Genesis 1:26 or such liturgical phrases as three members of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 and the Trisagion of Isaiah 6:3” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 12, p. 18).
The plural pronouns and the word elohim fall far short of even hinting at the idea that God is a trinity. The only way you could find a trinity in those texts is if you have the preconceived idea of a trinity before reading them, and this is a faulty method of arriving at truth.