Genesis 1 details the creation account of the all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign God. When God reaches His crowning creative act—the formation of human life—His wording changes from the impersonal “let there be” to the deliberate and intimate expression, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God’s plan for humans included giving them responsibilities on the earth: “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26, ESV).
Human beings—both men and women—are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1–3; 9:6; James 3:9). “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us,” says Genesis 1:26 in the NLT. We did not evolve from other lower forms of life. We were created directly by God to represent Him on the earth and have dominion over every other creation in His name (Genesis 1:26–28).
Having God’s image means we are fashioned to resemble and represent God on the earth. Some Christians like to say we are “imagers of God.” Our likeness with God is not a physical resemblance. Instead, God’s likeness denotes our capacity to rule over creation and be in relationship with God and other humans and to exercise reason, intelligence, speech, moral consciousness, creativity, rationality, and choice. Since the beginning of time, God has desired to bless us and enjoy close fellowship with us, and for this reason He made us like Himself.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the preeminent and perfect image of God: “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3, NLT; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). To see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). To know Christ is to know God. Jesus Christ shows us what God meant when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image.”
The original Hebrew word for “God” in Genesis 1 is the plural masculine noun Elohim. God, our Creator, chose to introduce Himself to us with a plural title. In Genesis 1:26—the first time in the Bible that God speaks about Himself—He uses the plural pronouns Us and Our. This passage is not the only instance in which God refers to Himself in plural terms (see Genesis 3:22; 11:7; and Isaiah 6:8). We find the plural Elohim more than 2,550 times in the Bible.
We know from Scripture that there is only one God, there is no other God, and He is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 45:5, 6, 18; Mark 12:32; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5). So how can we understand the plurality of His name Elohim together with His statement, “Let Us make man in Our image?”
Bible scholars present several possible explanations:
Some believe that in Genesis 1:26 God refers to Himself and includes the heavenly assembly of angels, as in Job 1:6; 1 Kings 22:19–20; and Psalm 89:5. However, this theory falls apart because nowhere in Scripture does God say that the angels are made in His image or likeness. Another hypothesis suggests that the plural form is used to convey dignity and splendor, a language device called “plural of majesty.” Others chalk up the plural language to a technique known as “plural of deliberation,” used when a speaker consults with himself as the Lord does in Isaiah 6:8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’”
The conviction of the early church fathers was that Elohim’s statement, “Let Us make man in Our image,” communicates a complex and unified expression of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is One in three Persons: God the Father; God the Son, Jesus Christ our Savior; and God the Holy Spirit. Here in Genesis 1:26, the “Us” and “Our” indicate God the Father speaking in the fullness of His divine creative power to the Son and the Holy Spirit. A similar conversation among the Godhead is seen in Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’”
Only humans are uniquely created in the image and likeness of God, distinguishing them from all other earthly beings. We were made like Him so that we could be in relationship with Him—the one and only triune God.