Why does Genesis 1:26 say “let us make man”?
The Hebrew term used for God, Elohim, can be singular or plural. It can represent the plurality of attributes and power of a single person or persons. This is known as the majestic plural. It is a common grammatical styling of ancient cultures. For example, in Exodus 7:1 God refers to Moses as an elohim to pharaoh. Obviously, there was just one Moses. This would be similar to the word “you” in the English language. It can be interpreted as singular or plural. The meaning is determined by the context. Genesis 1:26 emphasizes the greatness of God (let us) as He creates man. Verse 27 then explains that God made man in His (singular) own image.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
While most Hebrew scholars believe that Genesis 1:26 is an example of the aforementioned plural of majesty, there are several other possibilities. One other commonly held position is that the Lord was talking to the angels since other passages reference their presence at creation.
Whatever the case, it is important to recognize that the text makes no mention of the existence of a divine trinity. While this passage taken alone doesn't shut the door on the existence of a trinity, it certainly can't be considered a proof text for the trinity. There is no description of co-equal persons that comprise one God. The concept is completely foreign to the Old Testament. If God’s intention was to highlight His existence in multiple persons, why didn’t He consistently refer to Himself using plural pronouns? Overwhelmingly, God is referred to as “He” and never as “they”. Why did He so emphatically declare Himself to be one without EVER explaining that He meant that He was one as three eternal persons?
Remember that any meaning that is implied in a text will not violate information that is explicitly stated in the text. What does the Old Testament clearly declare about the Lord our Creator?
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
Isaiah 43:11, 15
I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour… I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King.
For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.
Further notes: In the Hebrew language, plurals are used not only to show number (more than one) but also to strengthen the idea of the word. For example, Qadosh (singular) is translated as “holy”. Qedoshim (plural) is translated as “most holy”.
Examples of plural words used to demonstrate the greatness of majesty of a single object:
1. “Abraham his master” Gen. 24:9 (Hebrew – masters)
2. “The king of Egypt” Gen. 40:1 (Hebrew – kings)
3. “The presence of Isaac” Gen. 27:30 (Hebrew – presences)
Some instances of the plural of majesty are clearly evident in the KJV when the translators were very literal (word for word) in their translation.
1. Speaking of the golden calf (singular): “These be thy gods” Exodus 32:4
2. The Philistines speaking of Jehovah: “These are the gods that smote the Egyptians” 1 Samuel 4:8
There is even an example of an earthly ruler using a plural pronoun to refer to himself. Ezra 4 tells about a letter that was written to King Artaxerxes. The king accentuating His power as the sole authority referred to himself as "us".
The letter which ye sent unto us
The plural of majesty is so widely held as the correct grammatical understanding of Genesis 1:26 that even Trinitarian scholars agree. My Thomas Nelson (Trinitarian publishing company) Reference Bible includes this note for Genesis 1:26: "The plural of majesty as in Ezra 4:18."