In the Garden of Eden, the serpent told Eve that if she and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, they would be “as gods” (Gen. 3:5 KJV). Then in Genesis 3:22 God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us” (NASB). Does “gods” and “us” imply the existence of more than one God?
Not at all. The usual Hebrew term for “God” is ʾelōhím, which is the plural of ʾelôah. It is occasionally used as a true plural, referring to the imaginary gods of the heathen. But usually it refers to the one true God, and the plural ending is known to Hebrew grammarians as the “plural of majesty.” Like ʾadōním (“lords” or “Lord”) and beʿālím (plural of baʿal, “lord,” “master,” “owner,” “husband”), ʾelōhím also may be used to give a heightened impressiveness of majesty to God. As such, this plural is modified by adjectives in the singular and takes a singular verb.
In the case of the serpent, serving as Satan’s mouthpiece, his previous uses of ʾelōhím (3:1,5a) are unquestionably intended as a designation of the one true God; hence, it is altogether likely that it should be so used here. Therefore, the proper rendering of 3:5b should be (as ASV, NASB, NIV, and even the Luther Bible): “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” The last phrase acts as a qualifier; that is, “you will be like God in that you will have personal knowledge of the moral law, with the distinction that it draws between good and evil.” No longer would they remain in a state of innocency, but they would have a (guilty) personal experience of evil and would be to that extent closer to God and His angels in the matter of full moral awareness.
Who, then, constitutes the “us” referred to in v.22? Conceivably the three persons of the Trinity might be involved here (as in Gen. 1:26), but more likely “us” refers to the angels surrounding God’s throne in heaven (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; Isa. 6:1–3, etc.). There are a few passages in the Old Testament where the angels are referred to as benê ʾelōhîm (“sons of God,” e.g., Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:6; cf. benê ʾēlîm—a shortened form of ʾelōhîm, Ps. 29:1; 89:6). In some cases, just as benê Yiśrāʾēl (“sons of Israel”) is shortened to Yiśrāʾēl alone (referring to the nation of Israel rather than to Jacob), so also benê ʾelōhîm (“sons of God” in the sense of angels) is shortened to ʾelōhîm, as in Psalm 97:7.
It was certainly true of the angels of heaven that they too had acquired a knowledge of good and evil. Before the dawn of human history, there was apparently a revolt against God under the leadership of Satan or “Lucifer” (see Isa. 14:12–15, where Satan is addressed as the patron of the king of Babylon). This is probably alluded to in 2 Peter 2:4: “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” Therefore, those angels who remained true to the Lord were members of His heavenly court, having passed the tests of faithfulness and obedience in the face of temptation.
Archer, G. L. (1982). New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Originally published: Encyclopedia of Bible difficulties. 1982. Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (74). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.