Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

Did God Have a Heavenly Court?

Posted by foryourfaith on December 29, 2009

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The climax of Genesis 1 and the heart of its mystery comes in the description of the creation of adam, the Hebrew term meaning “human being” or “humanity.”  God had said, “Let there be light.”  But now, God does not say, “Let there be man.”  Instead he says, “Let us make man (adam) in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).  Every other act of creation had been a singular act – a word spoken and carried out.  Now it would appear that God is surrounded be others like himself.

This passage has long been a puzzle for interpreters of the Bible.  The ancient Jewish philosopher Philo admitted that only God knows the reason for it, but argued that it reflected the mixed character of humanity, combining both good and evil.  Early Christian interpreters thought of it as a reference to the presence of Christ at creation.

The image of God surrounded by a heavenly council is not uncommon in the Old Testament.  The book of Job mentions the “sons of God” (Elohim) presenting themselves before Yahweh (Job 1:6).  Isaiah saw a vision of God surrounded by his seraphim.  “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:1-8).  The prophet Micaiah saw “the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left” (1 Kings 22:19).  Modern ideas about these beings – angels, seraphim, and the host of heaven – are clouded by the elaboration of later ideas.  However, the Bible itself does not go into detail about them.

It may be that Genesis 1 refers to “our image” and “our likeness” in order to suggest a link between humanity and the whole realm of the divine.  In a similar way Psalm 8 says that Yahweh made the human “little less than” Elohim, a word which interpreters have taken to mean either God himself or the angels.

The “image” and “likeness” of God is not precisely defined.  The Book of Genesis does not, unlike many later interpreters, links the words only to human intelligence or moral capacity.  Rather, Genesis links it to human dominion over the nonhuman world and responsibility for it.  Genesis evokes a vision in which the human being is the instrument and representative of God’s creative and caring rule over the world.

The moment of human creation is given dramatic emphasis by repetition.  “God created adam in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”  The word “create,” which had not been used since the opening phrase of Genesis, is used three times.  The human being is created in a web of relationships – related to God and the world, as expressed by the double emphasis on the “image” of God, and related to one other (this is expressed in part by the differences between male and female).

By evoking this vision at the climax of creation, Genesis touches the mystery at who and why we are.  It sets humanity on a quest for a responsible life, which is the very image of God’s creative rule.

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