What does this mean in the Old Testament: Genesis 3 Verse 22.

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.

How through the fall from the Garden does it say that they become one of us? What is meant by "us"?

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    Hi and welcome to our community. I've put your question on hold for a few minutes as right now it does not meet this site's quality or scope guidelines. If you've got a few moments please edit your title to be more descriptive of the question, and perhaps give some kind of framework for how to interpret the passage you've noted (do you want the trinitarian view? the unitarian view? do you want the a specific denomination's perspective?). If you want a context nuetral academic interpretation of the verse that is off topic here, but is on topic at our sister site Biblical Hermeneutics – wax eagle Dec 12 '13 at 13:28
  • Still too broad after DJ's edit. This needs to be asked from a specific perspective because there are many opinions on what this means. – 3961 Dec 12 '13 at 20:16
  • @fredsbend I think I'm going to disagree here and suggest that this is only too broad because we know what a can of worms this can be. Even as an intermediate level question this is still asking about one word so only a true expert would even know how to narrow it down. I propose at this point the onus should be on expert answerers to provide an overview answer of how this word issue fits into the tapestry. If anybody wants to take issue with my mod override here I'm happy to revert and take this to meta. How does that scan? – Caleb Dec 13 '13 at 12:00
  • @Caleb I'm fine with it. We'll see what happens here on the question. – 3961 Dec 13 '13 at 17:32
  • Heh, noone even touched yet on the subject of ancient jews beliving in several gods (and references to council of gods, and commandments to not put other gods before YHWH, and several other interesting stuff...), can of worms indeed. – speeder Dec 13 '13 at 19:58

God is speaking about himself and his "master worker" Jesus. Proverbs 8:30 refers to Jesus as a "master worker" and Colossians 1:16 indicates that God used Jesus as a worker while creating all of creation (including man). This is in much the same way that an architect or engineer could be called the "creator" and his laborers could be called "master workers".

He also could have been speaking to the angels. We know they existed before man was created because Job 38:4, 7 shows that they shouted in applause when the earth was created.

Now remember that Genesis 3:22 doesn't say that the man has become one of us; it says has "become as one of us". This means that they made themselves like God.

Look at this explanation for more info: http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2003766


Not a reference to a Trinity of Persons

Among Trinitarian Christians, the standard explanation of God referring to himself as "us" in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 3:22 is that it refers to the Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

However, this explanation is anachronistic.

The doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God did not emerge and become codified into doctrine until several centuries after Christ. These early stories in Genesis come from many centuries before Christ. They were composed in Hebrew and Jewish culture, which did not have a concept of a Trinity of Persons in God. Therefore the Trinity could not possibly be what the text meant in the minds of its original human authors and readers.

(I'm not denying that the Bible is the Word of God. I'm simply saying that it was written in particular cultures, by the hand of various human beings in those cultures. Therefore its original meaning must be evaluated based on the meaning that the text would hold in those cultures.)

The Hebrew word elohim

The use of "us" to refer to God must be explained in connection with the Hebrew word elohim, commonly translated as "God." This word is plural in form. It usually takes singular verbs, pronouns, and so on. But occasionally, as in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22, it takes plural verbs and pronouns.

Here are some explanations of the meaning of the plural that are more supportable based on the original Hebrew language and culture in which the Old Testament was composed:

A relic of polytheism?

It's quite possible that the plural elohim referring to God in the Hebrew of the Old Testament is a relic of polytheism.

Judaism is a monotheistic religion. However, it emerged from a polytheistic culture, and many relics of that polytheistic origin and culture are found throughout the Old Testament. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:17 (and in several other passages) the Lord, God of Israel is called "the God of gods." The word for both "God" and "gods" in these passages is elohim.

However, Judaism, a monotheistic religion, would never have allowed its sacred text to imply that there really was more than one God. So even if the word elohim might have been a relic of polytheism, in reference to God it was not seen as implying that there was more than one god, or (to use the aforementioned anachronistic concept) that there were multiple persons, or personalities, of God.

Plural of majesty

The simplest and most basic explanation the plural form of the Hebrew word for God (elohim), and the occasional use of the plural pronoun "us" in reference to God, is that it is a plural of majesty, otherwise known as "the royal we."

If a king says, "We do hereby decree . . ." no one thinks he is referring to multiple "persons" of himself. It is simply a common way for very powerful people to refer to themselves in a way that sounds more royal and powerful than "I." The royal we has been used in many different cultures over many centuries.

This is a standard response of Jewish scholars to the question of what elohim, and the occasional use of "us" in connection with it, mean in the Hebrew Bible.

Elohim as angels

The Hebrew word elohim is used with many different meanings, not just the meaning of "God." The Gesenius Hebrew lexicon lists nearly a dozen different meanings of the word in various forms.

One of those meanings is "kings." Another is "angels." In other words, elohim, which is related to the Hebrew word el, whose primary meaning is "mighty, powerful," can also refer to powerful beings other than God, such as angels and kings.

The most often quoted example of this meaning is Psalm 8:6, which is translated in the King James Version as:

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

But here it is in the NRSV:

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

Why the difference?

Because the original Hebrew word translated "angels" in the KJV and "God" in the NRSV is elohim. The KJV and other traditional translations use "angels" there based on the quote of it in Hebrews 2:7 as:

You have made them for a little while lower than the angels

The Greek word here is definitely "angels," not "God." That's because the author of the Hebrews was quoting from it the early Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which uses the Greek word for "angels" in translating Psalm 8:6.

Some other examples in the Hebrew Bible where elohim most likely means "angels" or "powerful ones" rather than God are Psalm 82:1, 97:7, 138:1. It is commonly translated "gods" in these passages, but more likely it was originally meant as a poetic way of referring to powerful beings such as angels.

This meaning of elohim as angels is why some commentators think of the "us" in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22 as meaning that God is referring to the "angels who do his bidding" (see Psalm 103:20).

In other words, in saying "us" in these two passages, God may be referring himself together with his "agents," the angels, who carry out his commands relating to humans on earth.

  • Hey Lee I was just about to ask this same question but did a search and found this old closed one do you think it could be reopened as an overview question? – Kris Mar 6 '16 at 16:01
  • @Kris I doubt this question could be made into an overview question because it already has upvoted answers that don't provide an overview. If this one isn't giving you the answers you wanted, you could try asking a new overview question, perhaps with a reference to this one, and see if it flies. – Lee Woofenden Mar 6 '16 at 16:13
  • Is it the swedenborgian position that trinity doctrine is unscriptural? – Kris Mar 6 '16 at 20:47
  • @Kris Yes. See my answer to the question, "What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?" An edited version is also posted on my blog here. – Lee Woofenden Mar 6 '16 at 21:43

Not only does God refer to Himself with the plural pronoun in Genesis 3, but He also does so in Genesis 1:

Then 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 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

The first two verses of Genesis 1 are instructive here:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 ESV

The Hebrew word that is translated "God" is actually a noun in plural form--Elohim. The Bible emphatically asserts that God is, in fact, one. There is one God and no other.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God... Isaiah 45:5 ESV

So, we have a plural form of a noun that refers to a single entity--that is, God Himself. Genesis 1 identifies God and the Spirit of God in the first couple verses. As God's revelation of Himself progresses, we learn more about His nature. In the Old Testament, we see in Daniel one like "a son of man" approaching the Ancient of Days, a rock cut out of the mountain but not with human hands, a fourth person in the fiery furnace and other such things.

The first chapter of John is perhaps one of the clearest expressions of this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2 ESV

Genesis told us that God and the Spirit of God were in the beginning. John tells us the Jesus Himself--the Word made flesh (v. 14) was also in the beginning as was also God.

Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity is what explains this. God was referring to Himself. The Father, Son and Spirit were all active in creation.


Keel and Uehlinger say in Gods, Goddesses and Images of God in Ancient Israel, page 2 (translated from German by Thomas H. Trapp), that recent Old Testament research, at least so far as this is carried out by German-speaking scholars interested in religio-historical questions, generally assumes that the religion of pre-Exilic Israel and Judah is to be characterised as thoroughly polytheistic. This is a view now shared by many scholars outside Germany.

In Genesis 3:22, when God says "now the man is become like one of us," after Adam had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God was not equating the angels with himself, so in using the plural he could only have been referring to other gods of early Israel. In later centuries, Judaism would become thoroughly monotheistic, but this passage is a relic of the earlier times.

The ancients divided the entire world into that which was good and that which was evil, so to have knowledge of good and evil was to know everything, just as the gods did. Adam had become like the gods, except that he was still mortal.

So that Adam would not now eat of the Tree of Life which God had also planted in the Garden of Eden, and thus become immortal like the gods, God sent Adam and Eve from the Garden and placed cherubim and a flaming sword to keep (block) the path to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24). The understanding that Genesis 3:22 refers to the early Israelite pantheon is thus reinforced by a reading of Genesis 3:24.

Here God was referring to the gods of pre-Exilic Israel.

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