Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Here God uses the plural – “let us” – but as Rashi points out, the Bible follows it up with “and God made…”. Meaning that God, and God alone, singular, is responsible for Creation.
So why the plural? There are a few different views. Rashi and Ibn Ezra (below) believe he was addressing the angels, and many Christians have here seen evidence of the Trinity. However, a simpler response which is also more in line with the tone of Genesis 1 solves this issue.
As I pointed out in the commentary on verses 2, 7, and 21 a lot of Genesis 1 contains subtle rebuttals to Israel’s polytheistic neighbors. Here God refers to himself the way a king deity refers to the pantheon, because God, and God alone, IS the pantheon.
Read more on this view here.
Targum Onkelos: And the Lord said, Let us make Man in Our image, as Our likeness; and shall have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every reptile which moveth upon the earth.
Rashi: Let us make man: From here we learn the humility of the Holy One, blessed be He. Since man was created in the likeness of the angels, and they would envy him, He consulted them. And when He judges kings, He consults with His Heavenly household, for so we find regarding Ahab, that Micah said to him, (I Kings 22:19): “I saw the Lord seated on His throne, and all the host of heaven were standing by Him, on His right and on His left.” Now do “left” or “right” apply to Him ?! But rather, [the passage means that] these [angels] were standing on the right to defend, and these [angels] were standing on the left to prosecute. Likewise, (Dan. 4:14): “By the decree of the destructive angels is the matter, and by the word of the holy ones is the edict.” Here too, He took counsel with His heavenly household. He said to them, “Among the heavenly beings, there are some in My likeness. If there are none in My likeness among the earthly beings, there will be envy among the creatures of the Creation. ” – [from Tanchuma, Shemoth 18; Gen. Rabbah 8:11, 14:13]
Let us make man: Even though they [the angels] did not assist Him in His creation, and there is an opportunity for the heretics to rebel (to misconstrue the plural as a basis for their heresies), Scripture did not hesitate to teach proper conduct and the trait of humility, that a great person should consult with and receive permission from a smaller one. Had it been written: “I shall make man,” we would not have learned that He was speaking with His tribunal, but to Himself. And the refutation to the heretics is written alongside it [i. e., in the following verse:]“And God created (וַיִּבְרָא) ,” and it does not say,“and they created וַיִּבְרְאוּ.” – [from Gen. Rabbah 8:9]
in our image: in our form.
after our likeness: to understand and to discern.
and they shall rule over the fish: Heb. וְיִרְדּוּ This expression contains both the meaning of ruling and the meaning of subservience. If he merits, he rules over the beasts and over the cattle. If he does not merit, he becomes subservient to them, and the beast rules over him. — [from Gen. Rabbah 8:12]
Rambam: To show the importance of humanity, God thoughtfully willed that God and the earth, with its power to generate beings which have souls which move continuously, should cause humanity to pass from potentiality into existence. Humanity would be like the earth in its corporeal manifestation and in its having a soul which allows movement, and it would be like God in form, that is, in the capacity for thought, wisdom, and action. Human beings will have complete control over the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the herbivorous and carnivorous animals, the earth itself, and over all things which travel over the earth.
Ibn Ezra: God effortlessly said in the presence of the angels: “The earth and the water have brought forth all that which is in their inherent power to create. Now, let us make humankind in our image after our likeness; that is, with a soul that is eternal, that is incorporeal, and that fills the body just as My Being is eternal, incorporeal, and fills the universe for I, the Creator, am Creator of all; indeed I am all. Humanity will have dominion over the fish in the sea, over the birds in the sky, over the domesticated animals, over all the earth, and over every small animal that goes upon the earth.”