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Genesis 1:26-30

Context

1:26 Then God said, “Let us make 1 

humankind 2  in our image, after our likeness, 3  so they may rule 4  over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, 5  and over all the creatures that move 6  on the earth.”

1:27 God created humankind 7  in his own image,

in the image of God he created them, 8 

male and female he created them. 9 

1:28 God blessed 10  them and said 11  to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! 12  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” 13  1:29 Then God said, “I now 14  give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 15  1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give 16  every green plant for food.” It was so.

1 sn The plural form of the verb has been the subject of much discussion through the years, and not surprisingly several suggestions have been put forward. Many Christian theologians interpret it as an early hint of plurality within the Godhead, but this view imposes later trinitarian concepts on the ancient text. Some have suggested the plural verb indicates majesty, but the plural of majesty is not used with verbs. C. Westermann (Genesis, 1:145) argues for a plural of “deliberation” here, but his proposed examples of this use (2 Sam 24:14; Isa 6:8) do not actually support his theory. In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isa 6:8 the Lord speaks on behalf of his heavenly court. In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8). (The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels. In Gen 3:5 the serpent may refer to this group as “gods/divine beings.” See the note on the word “evil” in 3:5.) If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way. Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.

2 tn The Hebrew word is אָדָם (’adam), which can sometimes refer to man, as opposed to woman. The term refers here to humankind, comprised of male and female. The singular is clearly collective (see the plural verb, “[that] they may rule” in v. 26b) and the referent is defined specifically as “male and female” in v. 27. Usage elsewhere in Gen 1-11 supports this as well. In 5:2 we read: “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and called their name ‘humankind’ (אָדָם).” The noun also refers to humankind in 6:1, 5-7 and in 9:5-6.

3 tn The two prepositions translated “in” and “according to” have overlapping fields of meaning and in this context seem to be virtually equivalent. In 5:3 they are reversed with the two words. The word צֶלֶם (tselem, “image”) is used frequently of statues, models, and images – replicas (see D. J. A. Clines, “The Etymology of Hebrew selem,” JNSL 3 [1974]: 19-25). The word דְּמוּת (dÿmut, “likeness”) is an abstract noun; its verbal root means “to be like; to resemble.” In the Book of Genesis the two terms describe human beings who in some way reflect the form and the function of the creator. The form is more likely stressing the spiritual rather than the physical. The “image of God” would be the God-given mental and spiritual capacities that enable people to relate to God and to serve him by ruling over the created order as his earthly vice-regents.

sn In our image, after our likeness. Similar language is used in the instructions for building the tabernacle. Moses was told to make it “according to the pattern” he was shown on the mount (Exod 25:9, 10). Was he shown a form, a replica, of the spiritual sanctuary in the heavenly places? In any case, what was produced on earth functioned as the heavenly sanctuary does, but with limitations.

4 tn Following the cohortative (“let us make”), the prefixed verb form with vav (ו) conjunctive indicates purpose/result (see Gen 19:20; 34:23; 2 Sam 3:21). God’s purpose in giving humankind his image is that they might rule the created order on behalf of the heavenly king and his royal court. So the divine image, however it is defined, gives humankind the capacity and/or authority to rule over creation.

5 tc The MT reads “earth”; the Syriac reads “wild animals” (cf. NRSV).

6 tn Heb “creep” (also in v. 28).

7 tn The Hebrew text has the article prefixed to the noun (הָאָדָם, haadam). The article does not distinguish man from woman here (“the man” as opposed to “the woman”), but rather indicates previous reference (see v. 26, where the noun appears without the article). It has the same function as English “the aforementioned.”

8 tn The third person suffix on the particle אֵת (’et) is singular here, but collective.

9 sn The distinction of “humankind” as “male” and “female” is another point of separation in God’s creation. There is no possibility that the verse is teaching that humans were first androgynous (having both male and female physical characteristics) and afterward were separated. The mention of male and female prepares for the blessing to follow.

10 tn As in v. 22 the verb “bless” here means “to endow with the capacity to reproduce and be fruitful,” as the following context indicates. As in v. 22, the statement directly precedes the command “be fruitful and multiply.” The verb carries this same nuance in Gen 17:16 (where God’s blessing of Sarai imparts to her the capacity to bear a child); Gen 48:16 (where God’s blessing of Joseph’s sons is closely associated with their having numerous descendants); and Deut 7:13 (where God’s blessing is associated with fertility in general, including numerous descendants). See also Gen 49:25 (where Jacob uses the noun derivative in referring to “blessings of the breast and womb,” an obvious reference to fertility) and Gen 27:27 (where the verb is used of a field to which God has given the capacity to produce vegetation).

11 tn Heb “and God said.” For stylistic reasons “God” has not been repeated here in the translation.

12 tn Elsewhere the Hebrew verb translated “subdue” means “to enslave” (2 Chr 28:10; Neh 5:5; Jer 34:11, 16), “to conquer,” (Num 32:22, 29; Josh 18:1; 2 Sam 8:11; 1 Chr 22:18; Zech 9:13; and probably Mic 7:19), and “to assault sexually” (Esth 7:8). None of these nuances adequately meets the demands of this context, for humankind is not viewed as having an adversarial relationship with the world. The general meaning of the verb appears to be “to bring under one’s control for one’s advantage.” In Gen 1:28 one might paraphrase it as follows: “harness its potential and use its resources for your benefit.” In an ancient Israelite context this would suggest cultivating its fields, mining its mineral riches, using its trees for construction, and domesticating its animals.

13 sn The several imperatives addressed to both males and females together (plural imperative forms) actually form two commands: reproduce and rule. God’s word is not merely a form of blessing, but is now addressed to them personally; this is a distinct emphasis with the creation of human beings. But with the blessing comes the ability to be fruitful and to rule. In procreation they will share in the divine work of creating human life and passing on the divine image (see 5:1-3); in ruling they will serve as God’s vice-regents on earth. They together, the human race collectively, have the responsibility of seeing to the welfare of that which is put under them and the privilege of using it for their benefit.

14 tn The text uses הִנֵּה (hinneh), often archaically translated “behold.” It is often used to express the dramatic present, the immediacy of an event – “Look, this is what I am doing!”

15 sn G. J. Wenham (Genesis [WBC], 1:34) points out that there is nothing in the passage that prohibits the man and the woman from eating meat. He suggests that eating meat came after the fall. Gen 9:3 may then ratify the postfall practice of eating meat rather than inaugurate the practice, as is often understood.

16 tn The phrase “I give” is not in the Hebrew text but has been supplied in the translation for clarification.



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