Some Reflections on Genesis 1
I have discussed with him in the past his belief that there is an “astonishing coherence” in the Bible, which I cannot find. This leads him to believe that it is the Word of God, a conclusion I find impossible to accept. The question therefore arises, is the coherence he sees really there, or is it wishful thinking?
Here is one of his offerings of evidence to substantiate his beliefs. Referring to Genesis 1.26, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”, he says “God is referring to himself in the plural here… I see this as consistent with the Holy Trinity, and another example of the astonishing coherence of the Bible”.
Here he is aligning himself with those “many writers (who) think that the Old Testament does drop heavy hints about it — for example when it uses a plural Hebrew noun to refer to God”. The same source points out, however, that “for obvious reasons the Trinity is not referred to in the Old Testament”¹.
The “obvious reasons” that this author is referring to are presumably that it is highly unlikely that the author of Genesis, whoever that was, had ever heard of the idea of the Trinity. How could he, since it was a doctrine formulated by the Catholic Church several hundred years later? As one online source says: “The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church Councils (Western and Eastern churches) brought the Trinity doctrine into Christianity… The theologians that wrote the Catholic Encyclopedia admit that there is no Old Testament indication of a triune God, and very little in the New Testament that can be construed that way. They also admit that it was a product of tradition that evolved over four centuries… In this case tradition is almost the whole criteria for this dogma, aside from a few scriptures that are wrenched out of context and misinterpreted, trying to give the idea legitimacy”². I submit that the last sentence describes what Knott is doing, in order to help him arrive at his belief in the coherence of the Bible.
It is not just the use of ‘our’ that suggests that God in Genesis 1 is plural, for the actual word used for God, Elohim, is also plural. This is actually more suggestive of some form of polytheism than it is of the Holy Trinity, as spelled out by one online source which, having accepted that the etymology of Elohim is “somewhat obscure”, suggests a possible interpretation that they are “intermediaries or emissaries of God. The Vev represents the link the Elohim represent between God and man, heaven and earth. The Elohim also enable the spiritual to be made actual in the physical world — they are also the connection between the physical and the spiritual”³. This is a far more likely interpretation, in the context of who wrote Genesis and when, than Knott’s suggestion of the Holy Trinity.
On that theme, it is widely noted and reported that Elohim is a plural word, but less often, although I have read several times, that the verb following it is singular. A more accurate translation might therefore be: “the Ultimate Source in its plural form created…”. This has definite polytheistic suggestions.
Some time ago, and unfortunately I no longer have the text so am writing from memory, I read the foreword to an edition of the Bible — I think it was the Good News version — where the translators said that they were aware that Elohim is a plural word but that, because Christianity is a monotheistic tradition, they chose to translate it as ‘God’. I’m sure they meant well, but what we have here are Christian (I assume) scholars deliberately mistranslating the Hebrew text in order to help Christians feel comfortable and unchallenged.
So here is a question for Knott to contemplate: if the Bible is the Word of God, as he believes it is, is the original Hebrew text that Word, or is it the text after it has been deliberately mistranslated? Another interesting question is, how many other similar examples are there that we don’t know about? And why should Christians be encouraged to feel comfortable? It would be better, given their beliefs, that they should be made to feel uncomfortable. Some of them might eventually be persuaded to change their theology.
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