Divine Plurals


Partners to Hashem?

In three places in Sefer Bereshit, Hashem refers to himself in the plural. The most well known of these is Bereshit 1:26, when Hashem announces the creation of man, saying:


וַיֹּאמֶר אֱ-לֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכׇל הָאָרֶץ... 

In the story of the Tower of Bavel, Hashem similarly introduces His actions with a proclamation which is formulated in the plural:


הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ. 

Finally, in Bereshit 3:22, after Adam and his wife eat from the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem expresses concern that they have "become like us" in knowing good and evil.


וַיֹּאמֶר י"י אֱ-לֹהִים הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ לָדַעַת טוֹב וָרָע וְעַתָּה פֶּן יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים וְאָכַל וָחַי לְעֹלָם.

How are we to understand the plural forms?  Do they intimate that Hashem has some heavenly partners with whom He consults and who participated with Him in creating man and dispersing the people?   If so, who are these beings and why does Hashem need their aid?  If not, why use misleading language, especially if it hints to multiplicity on high?

Philosophical and Polemical Issues

These verses touch on several polemical and  philosophical issues as well:

  • Combating Christian claims – Hashem's use of the plural form to refer to Himself was understood by early Christian theologians to refer to the Trinity.1 This, of course, prompted Jewish commentators to provide alternative readings.
  • "בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ" – This phrase in the Creation account would appear to suggest that Hashem has some physical form or body.  As many exegetes find the concept of an anthropomorphic God an anathema, they question how else one can read the verse.  The plural formulation is a tempting way to deflect the physical from Hashem to another being.
  • Partnership in creation – For most people, the likeliest candidates for partnership with Hashem would seem to be the angels.  Yet, angels are not mentioned anywhere in the Creation account and it is not even clear when they first come into being.  Moreover, many exegetes are reluctant to detract from Hashem's uniqueness by attributing creative powers to any other being.