Readers Choice Nominees 2023

The Trinity in Genesis 1 (and Why it Matters)

Post Icon

In Genesis 1:26-27 God says, “’Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Who or what does the “us” refer to in this passage? The Trinity? The angelic council? God via a plural of majesty?

Who Makes Man?

First, notice the activity taking place in these verses: making. Making in Genesis 1 and 2 is something God does. God is the “Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them” (Psalm 146:6). He does not collaborate with angels or other deities in creation (Isaiah 40:14). He is the only true and living God, and the only creator of the universe. Angels are never credited with creating mankind; nor are humans ever said to be made in the image of angels. But Jesus is credited with creating mankind. As the apostle John makes clear, the pre-incarnate Christ is the one through whom “all things were made” (John 1:3, emphasis added). Jesus was not only in the beginning with God but was God (John 1:1). Additionally, we have confirmation that the New Testament authors connected the image and likeness of God in Genesis with the image and likeness of the Son: “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28, emphasis added); “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, emphasis added).

What about the Spirit? Like the Father and the Son, creative activity is attributed to the Spirit. For instance, in Job, we read, “The Spirit of God has made me” (Job 33:4, emphasis added).[1] And Psalm 104:30 says, “When you send your Spirit, they are created” (Cf. Psalm 33:6). The Spirit is not absent in the creation narrative either. In fact, as Sinclair Ferguson points out:

  • While generally unnoticed in the exposition of Genesis 1, it can be argued that recognizing the presence of the divine Spirit in Genesis 1:2 would provide the ‘missing link’ in the interpretation of the ‘Let us make …’ in Genesis 1:26–27. The Spirit of God would then be the only possible referent of this address within the structure of the account itself.“[2]

The only personal beings attributed with involvement in the work of creation are the Persons of the Trinity, and strikingly all three Persons are said to be responsible for creation.

It is not surprising, therefore, that all three Persons of the Trinity are present at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11), an event that echoes Genesis 1 and signifies new creation and the beginning of a new humanity. As Tim Keller writes: “There are three parties active in the creation of the world: God, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word, through which he creates. The same three parties are present at Jesus’s baptism: the Father, who is the voice; the Son, who is the Word; and the Spirit fluttering like a dove. Mark is deliberately pointing us back to the creation.”[3] The parallels between creation and new creation are intentional and illuminate for us who Mark thought the parties involved in Genesis 1 were.

The divine author of Genesis intended to plant a reference to the Trinity, at least in seed form, in Genesis 1:26.

Plural of Majesty or Persons?

Some have contended that the “us” is a plural of majesty. Unfortunately, this view lacks textual warrant. As Wayne Grudem writes: “In Old Testament Hebrew, there are no other examples of a monarch using plural verbs or plural pronouns of himself…so this suggestion has no evidence to support it.”[4] Furthermore, as Calvin argues, using a plural of majesty to explain the text is anachronistic, as this “style of speaking…had [not yet] prevailed in the world.”[5] A plural of majesty doesn’t fit the text, but a plural of divine Persons does. As St. Augustine writes: “It would certainly not be correct to say “our,” because the number is plural, if man were made in the image of one person, whether Father, Son or Holy Spirit. But because he is made in the image of the Trinity, consequently it was said, “in our image.”[6]

Humanity being made in the image of a tri-personal God best explains why the image of God consists of two complementary but different persons. Adam and Eve are a plurality of persons that make up the image of God, like the Father, Son, and Spirit are a plurality of Persons that are God. Adam and Eve also share the same nature—in the sense that they are both human. We can infer, therefore, that the “us,” in whose image they are made, share a nature with one another as well. The only candidates for those who share the divine nature with the Father, are the Son and the Spirit. The subtle hint in the text is that the reason it’s not good for man to be alone is because God is not alone (Genesis 2:18). The image must be a union of loving human persons because God is a union of loving divine Persons.

Canonical Perspective

A canonical reading[7] of Genesis can only lead to one conclusion: the divine author of Genesis intended to plant a reference to the Trinity, at least in seed form, in Genesis 1:26. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and we can see now that the “us” perfectly fits a Trinitarian reading of Genesis 1:26. This Trinitarian conclusion has apologetic as well as exegetical value. In particular, this conclusion strengthens the case against those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims.


Never miss an episode, article, or study.

Sign up for the CFC newsletter now!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

[1] This is not a controversial part of the speech.

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit: Contours of Christian Theology  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 20.

[3] Tim Keller, Kings Cross (New York: Dutton, 2011), 3.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 227.

[5] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis 1:26.

[6] St. Augustine, On The Trinity, Book XII.

[7] Tom Schreiner writes: “Recent developments in hermeneutics…have rightly corrected an overemphasis on authorial intent. Interpreters of sacred Scripture must also consider the canonical shape of the Scriptures as a whole, which is to say that we must also take into account the divine author of Scripture.”

  • Readers Choice Nominees 2023
  • theology
Jonathan Darville

Jono Darville is a former Global Master Trainer with The Center for Leadership Studies and Co-Leader of the New York branch of Models for Christ (an international non-profit bringing the gospel to the fashion industry). Due to a decade-plus long battle with chronic illness, Jono almost lost his life in 2017. After spending a number of years bed-bound, God graciously intervened in 2020, using UNC Hospital to restore Jono’s health. Jono is now finishing an M.A. in the Philosophy of Religion at SEBTS, while serving as a Ruling Elder and Youth Director at Peace Church in Cary, NC. He and his wife, Jillian, have one son, Jono Jr.

More to Explore

Never miss an episode, article, or study.

Sign up for the Christ and Culture newsletter now!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.