In his passionate 2013 book, Fully Alive, page 35, Larry Crabb makes a highly significant point. He notes how, when God created us in Genesis 1:26, The Creator said, “Let us make man in our image.” As Dr. Crabb points out, “it is only when God made male and female human beings that he introduced Himself as persons-in-community.” In other words, the first time that the Trinity is explicitly indicated is in the creation of gender.
I have read and heard several different explanations for that “Let us..” phrase.
Some would dissuade us from considering it a Trinitarian reference. Instead, they teach, the phrase is a vestige of the ancient polytheism that pre-dated monotheism and from which the latter eventually freed itself. This “Let us” is just a bit of undigested myth that the compiler has carelessly let fall from the table of his program to introduce belief in a single god. But adopting this viewpoint requires believing in a “rise-of-monotheism-out-of-polytheism” theory of pre-history, which the archeological evidence does not require us to believe. And I don’t. There are indications that a belief in one supreme God, be He An or Anu or El, could well have always been there along with a belief in many, for as long as people have believed anything.
Others instead hear “Let us…” as something like a royal we. You know, like how a king talks, saying “We are hungry now for some pheasant stew with truffles” or “Let us retire to the croquet course to have our afternoon refreshment,” when he is really just talking about himself.
This could be, but where else does God speak that way in the Book? This plural construction does not appear in other places that God speaks of Himself, or refers to Himself doing something, such as in Genesis 2:18, 3:11, 3:15, 3:16, etc. For those who parse JEPD sources, Eloheem does not even speak that way in very the same chapter, a few verses after, in Genesis 1:29, 1:30. You don’t even hear “Let us” in other places when God is explicitly taking counsel with Himself: Genesis 18:17.
No, we can say more than Dr. Crabb does. Not only is it the first, it is almost the only place God so speaks, using “Let us…” Only two other places in the Bible find God so speaking. Here’s the thing: those times seem to be for the same reason, when the plurality of this Image-bearing creation goes wrong: Genesis 3:22 and Genesis 11:7.
Genesis 11:1-9, for example, is a story about community, really a story about anti-community, the famous Tower of Babel. There slimy pride and ambition brought people together instead of self-giving love in order to glorify God. In response, God confused and dispersed the people, taking a drastic measure to thwart the anti-relationship principles upon which the people were building civilization. The Babelites are the ones who first say “Let us…” (3X!) in the story. Vv3-4: “Let us build a tower…and let us make a name for ourselves…” God then matches their false community with His true community in v7: “Let us go down and there confuse their language…” Once again, in a story about what makes for God-reflecting community, the plurality of God is revealed in His speech about His personshood.
That is why I believe that these “Let us”’s are indeed Trinitarian inspirations. They occur at crucial moments in humanity’s history of relationships.
As I sometimes note, there is a lot God could have put in those first two chapters, to tell us how the world was at the beginning, in the garden, when the wind was fresh and our slate was clean. There are many things it would be helpful to know about the pure foundation of life on earth, like a more explicit statement about the role technology should play in our lives, or what kind of government is best for people trying to live civilized lives together. No such luck. We get two chapters, apparently about only the most important things that we must know about ourselves.
And do you know what takes up the most space of those two chapters? It is, frankly, the story of the creation of gender. And that creation is uniquely introduced with a reference to the plurality of God Themself.
Good thoughts, Sam. I have not heard this interesting perspective before on the possible reasons for God’s use of self-reflective plural language. In light of our culture’s push to erase the binary foundation of gender, this is something to think about further.