“Let us.” This “let us” is God speaking to His divine council, which is His council of spirit beings that God works with in ruling and running His creation. God’s divine council is an important but not commonly understood part of Scripture, so it deserves some explanation.
God is love. That simple statement explains why God created the universe as He did, and populated it with both spirit beings and human beings. God also gave those beings free will so that He could interact with them and they could serve Him and interact with Him because they chose to out of love. When God created the universe, and later when He created mankind and then the Church, He enlisted the help of His created beings to help Him govern creation. God does not rule over His created beings as a tyrant, making every decision by Himself and commanding his creation to carry out His wishes. Rather, God works with them and allows them to help Him govern His universe. There is evidence for this throughout the Bible.
For example, when God created the angels and other spirit beings, He created different categories and hierarchies among them so that there would be order as He worked with His creation. We see this in a number of different ways and places in Scripture. For example, when God created the angels, He created them with different abilities and in different positions. He made some of them to be “archangels” (archangelos; #743 ἀρχάγγελος) a word built from the Greek prefix archi (chief; highest; first) and the word angelos (messenger; “angel”). “Archangel” means “chief angel” or “ruling angel,” and the Christian world would have a much better grasp of the authority structures of the spirit world if the Greek word archangelos had been translated as “ruling angel” instead of transliterated as “archangel.”
The angelic world has a hierarchy, with some angels ruling over others. The ruling-angel Michael is specifically called one of the “chief princes” (or “primary rulers”) in Daniel 10:13. Similarly, Revelation 10:1 and 18:21 mention “strong” angels who are more powerful than others. Not only do the angels differ in authority and power, there are also more kinds of spirit beings than just angels, such as cherubim and seraphim.
We also see different ranks of spirit beings in verses like Ephesians 6:12, which says that Christians wrestle against “rulers” (archē), “authorities” (exousia) and “world-rulers” (kosmokratōr) who are spiritual forces of evil. These are not just different words to describe the same spirit beings; these constitute different ranks of authority and power in the spirit world. Similarly, Colossians 1:16 mentions “thrones” (thronos), lordships (kuriotēs), rulers (archē), and “authorities” (exousia), and these are different positions in the kingdom of God and the Church.
God rules over all the spirit beings of various ranks and powers, and they are called “gods.” Indeed, there are many “gods” (1 Cor. 8:5). That is why God is called the “Most High” God (Gen. 14:18)—because He is far greater than all the other gods. In fact, God is called the “Most High” God more than 50 times in the Old Testament, and nine times in the New Testament.
When God created mankind, He continued to allow the beings He had created to be rulers under Him. He gave Adam and Eve rulership over the animals (Gen. 1:28) and the responsibility of managing the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Later, as the human population on earth increased, God commanded that rulers and judges be appointed to help Him rule (Exod. 18:21-23; Deut. 16:18). Even in the future Messianic Kingdom God will have “under-rulers” who will help Him and the Lord Jesus to rule (Isa. 1:26; Jer. 3:15; 23:4; Ezek. 44:24; Matt. 19:28; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 2:26). Of course, the greatest example of God allowing one of His beings to rule was when He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18), and set him at His own right hand, “far above every ruler, and authority, and power, and lordship, and every name that is named…and he [God] put all things in subjection under his [Jesus’] feet” (Eph. 1:21-22). God made His Son Jesus ruler of His creation (Rev. 3:14).
When the Christian Church started, God continued His pattern of enlisting the aid of His creation to rule, and so He, via the Lord Jesus Christ, set up ministries to rule and equip the Church. Christ gave the equipping ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to help Him administer the Church and “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-13 NIV84). This is why Paul speaks of the authority he has from the Lord as an apostle, which is the same authority that other called leaders have from the Lord (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10; Titus 2:15; 3 John 1:9).
Besides the fact that God ruling the spiritual world through a council of spirit beings just as He rules earth via earthly rulers and the Church through appointed ministers, there is good biblical evidence, and some extra-biblical evidence, that God has a ruling council of spirit beings with whom He consults. Of course, God would not need to have a divine council, He is certainly capable of doing things on His own; but having such a council is in harmony with His loving nature and His desire to work together with His creation.
When it comes to extra-biblical evidence that God has a ruling council of spirit beings with whom He consults, many cultures have recognized that there is some kind of divine council or “council among the gods.” The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, notes: “The concept of a divine assembly (or council) is attested in the archaic Sumerian, Akkadian, Old Babylonian, Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Israelite, Celtic, Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman and Nordic pantheons” (“Divine Council” (accessed 3-31-15; wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Council).
The testimony of these cultures is important, because ancient myths often have a kernel of truth in them. Especially when they agree with the Bible on basic facts, such as in the ancient accounts of the Flood, these myths add credence to what the Bible says, and show that God was at work in those ancient cultures, revealing Himself and His truth to them and demonstrating His love for all mankind.
Some of the biblical evidence for God having an inner council with whom He works is very clear. Psalm 89:7 mentions God’s divine council, and the word “council” is translated from the Hebrew word sōd (#05475 סוֹד), which refers to a “council, secret council, intimate council, circle of familiar friends, assembly,” and also sometimes to the results of the deliberation of a divine council. Other verses mention the divine council (sōd) of God. See commentary on Jeremiah 23:18, 22 and Job 15:8. The divine council of God shows up with varying degrees of clarity in a number of verses in the Old Testament. While God supplies the power for what He does, He works in concert with His creation.
When it comes to Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image,” many Trinitarians believe that “God” worked together with the other “Persons” in the Trinity when He created things, and they point to Genesis 1:26 as a proof text for their argument. However, many scholars acknowledge that this interpretation is erroneous. Recently, Michael Heiser, a Trinitarian theologian, wrote: “technical research in Hebrew grammar and exegesis has shown that the Trinity is not a coherent explanation. …Seeing the Trinity in Gen 1:26 is reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament, something that isn’t a sound interpretive method….” (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm; Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2015, p. 39).
Although some theologians think this use of “us” in Genesis 1:26 could be the plural of majesty (also called the plural of emphasis), where God uses the plural “us” to magnify Himself, that is not the case here. Hebrew scholars point out that there is no other example of a speaker using the plural while addressing himself as the one being spoken to. More to the point, however, is the work of recent Hebrew scholars showing that the plural of majesty applies to nouns but not verbs. “The plural of majesty does exist of nouns…but Gen. 1:26 is not about nouns—the issue is the verbal forms.” (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 39). In Genesis 1:26, the verb “make” in the phrase “Let us make” is plural, and so the “us” is not a plural of majesty; it is God speaking to others about making mankind.
The most common objection to the “us” in Genesis 1:26 referring to angels is that Scripture attests that God made mankind. But God could easily have headed up a council with whom He conferred, and afterward did the work they decided upon. In fact, it is likely that in God’s divine council, as with many councils and corporate boards, the members do not initiate or act as much as they support and give input, and also learn what is being done and why. This certainly seems to be the conclusion we draw from Daniel 4, where “the decree of the watchers” is also called “the decree of the Most High” (Dan. 4:17, 24. See commentary on Dan. 4:17).
The New Testament also shows us that God works with leaders to rule His creation. We have already seen that He gave “all authority” to Jesus Christ, and works through him to appoint and direct the leaders who run the Christian Church. Although the New Testament does not have verses that are as clear as the Old Testament verses on the divine spirit council of God, there are New Testament references that infer it exists. The New Testament continues the use of the term “Most High” or “Most High God” when referring to the true God (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17; Heb. 7:1), indicating that the New Testament writers acknowledged that there are other “gods” besides Him. Although it has been assumed by many Christians that the other “gods” are demons, there is no reason to assume that all of them must be, especially in light of the Old Testament references to a divine council of gods.
There is a lot of evidence that God works with an inner council of spirit beings in order to rule His creation. However, although there is ample scriptural support for God’s divine council, there is not an overemphasis on it in the Bible. An overemphasis on God’s divine council would detract from the honor due God. God is still the Creator, the Most High, and the One who should get glory from both spirit and human beings.
The information on God’s divine inner council is scattered throughout the Bible. For example, there are several more verses besides Genesis 1:26 in which God uses “us” or says “let us.” These include Genesis 3:22; 11:7; and Isaiah 6:8. Daniel 4 shows God working with a council of “watchers” [See commentary on Daniel 4:17]. Daniel 7:10 and 7:26 show God working with a panel of spirit judges to judge the Antichrist, and it is likely that those judges are the same as the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4 and the judges in Revelation 20:4 [see commentaries on Daniel 7:10; Revelation 4:4 and Revelation 20:4. For more on the divine council, see commentaries on Job 15:8; Psalm 89:7 and Jeremiah 23:18]. In addition to meeting with His inner divine council, God also sometimes meets with larger general assemblies of spirit beings. For more information on those assemblies, see commentary on Job 1:6].
“make mankind in our image.” See commentary on Genesis 1:27.
“have dominion.” See commentary on Genesis 1:28.
A great biblical truth, but one not well-known by the Church, is that God has an inner divine council of spirit beings with whom He works to administer the universe. There is good biblical evidence for this, and it also makes perfect sense when we think of the way God works with His creation: when God created mankind, He gave them dominion over the animals; when our numbers increased, He asked us to appoint rulers and judges who would administer a godly society; and when He raised Jesus from the dead, He gave him all authority and made him ruler of His creation, just to give a few examples. Similarly, before mankind existed, God had a council of ruling spirits to help Him administer His creation. In this teaching, John Schoenheit goes over many of the verses of Scripture that reveal this divine council, and shows that they have been active in the past in helping God, and will continue in that role in the future as well.