The use of the plural “We” by God in the Quran
A. Muhammad

FIRST
: The use of the singular

1-
God speaks in the singular mode “I” or “He” to assert His absolute Oneness. The use of the singular is evident in such verses where the stress is on worshipping God alone and thus the emphasis on the Oneness of God is paramount. The following are examples:

-
“God bears witness that there is no god but He3:18

-
I am God, there is no god but Me, therefore you shall worship Me and observe the Salat to commemorate Me.” 20:14

-
“This is Me, God, Lord of the worlds.” 28:30

Such verses relate directly to the Oneness of God, as a result we will not find any verses which speak of the Oneness of God or of worshipping God alone that employ the plural WE.

2-
We also note that verses which speak of God’s attributes and God’s beautiful names are always phrased in the singular. These attributes and names belong exclusively to God and thus the singular is always employed:

-
“Inform My servants that I am the Ghafoor (Forgiver), the Raheem (Merciful).” 15:49

-
“God will suffice you against them; He is the Samee (Hearer), the Aleem (Knowledgeable).” 2:137

-
He is Qahir (Supreme) over His servants. He is the Hakeem (Wise), the Khabeer (All-Aware).” 6:18

-
“To God belongs the kingship of the heavens and the earth, and what is in them; He is Qadeer (Capable) of all things.” 5:120

-
“This is a proclamation for the people, and with which they are warned, and for them to know that He is but Wahid (One) god, and for those who possess intelligence to take heed.” 14:52

SECOND
: The use of the plural

In contrast, we find Quranic verses where God uses the plural (We) and (Us) to refer to Himself. This use of the plural is employed to express specific purposes.

1-
One of the names of God used in the Quran is the name Al-Wasei which translates to The Vast or the Immense (see 2:247, 2:261, 24:32). As a result, the plural is used to portray the grandeur and vastness of God.

- The subject in 51:47 is the creation of the universe. We read that God has created it with might and also that despite its enormous size God is expanding it continuously:

We have constructed the universe with might and We are expanding it” 51:47

The plurality here is not one of multiple gods but of the vastness of God and of God’s creation. This is in line with God’s name Al-Wasei.

2-
The plural is also used in the Quran in a Royal sense, that is, to denote majesty.

-
We have sent messengers before you to their people. They came to them with clear proofs. Subsequently, We inflicted retribution on those who committed crimes and it was incumbent on Us to grant victory to the believers.” 30:47

In 30:47 we read of three acts executed by God:

a- Messengers sent by God to guide the people.
b- The punishment God inflicts on the criminals.
c- The victory granted by God to the believers.

The three acts mentioned are not acts which take place between two equals, but they are all acts that are executed by a Supreme God to His servants. The plural here denotes the Royal and Majestic nature of these acts.
This is not any different from the use of the plural when a King issues a decree. This would be worded as: “We have decreed .. ”.
The plural in this case, as is the case in the Quran, denotes majesty.

- In 11:94 we witness the use of the plural to denote Majesty once again when the subject is a divine decree issued by God:

“When
Our command was issued, We saved Shu`aib and those who believed with him by mercy from Us.” 11:94

A command issued by God is a majestic command, thus the word ‘We’ is once again appropriate to denote majesty.
The use of the plural is employed in the same manner in 11:40, 11:58 and 11:66.

- In
16:40 we witness the use of the plural to denote God’s supreme majestic power and authority whenever God wishes for anything to come into existence:

Our word to anything when We will it, is to say to it, “Be” and it is.” 16:40

THIRD
: The mismatch between God’s greatness and the limitations of a human language

The following glorious Quranic words speak of God’s greatness and how it can never be comprehended by the human being:

"They can never fathom the greatness of God."
39: 67

It is not possible for our limited brains to comprehend God's Greatness. All we are able to do is to contemplate and marvel at His immense creation. By so doing, we get a mere glimpse of His greatness.
The greatness of God is of such immense incomprehensible proportions that it even poses problems to the language which we speak. Our language is limited by a finite vocabulary which can convey a limited amount of recognised meanings which we are familiar with.

In concept, it is not possible to have words in any language which are able to describe matters that are beyond the understanding of the human reader of the language in the first place. It follows that there can never be any words in any language spoken by humans that are able to accurately or adequately refer to God. The inefficiency of the human language is also a reason behind the allegorical descriptions of Heaven and Hell in the Quran. There are simply no words accurate enough to describe what Heaven and Hell are really like, hence the use of allegory. Please see: Descriptions of Heaven and Hell.

The singular “He” may adequately convey the fact that God is One. However, the singular represents that which is finite and thus is inappropriate to refer to God.

The plural “We” may offset the limitations of the singular “He” but is also problematic since the word “We” could be interpreted as a multiplicity of single entities rather than the infinite attribute.

Basically, any human language is limited between the “he” and the “We” for the speaker in the first person, but does not have a word to be used in the first person if infinity is the speaker (so to speak)!

As a result, we find God alternating between the two words (He and We) perhaps to give us the message that neither is accurately representative since God is far greater than to be represented by the words of any language.
This alternation between two alternatives (He and We), when neither is accurately representative, is not any different from the manner in which God employs the present tense, the past tense and the future tense to assert the fact that God is not restricted nor is subject to the dimension of ‘Time’ as we humans are.

As an example, God speaks in the Quran in the past tense about various events which are future events from our point of view such as the end of the world or events on the Day of Judgement. The following are some examples of Quranic verses which speak about various events on the Day of Judgement:

"The sky was opened and became gateways"
78:19
"And the mountains were moved and became mirages" 78:20

From our point of view, these events never happened yet and so we would speak about such events in the future tense. Not so for God! God is not subject to the concept of 'Time', which is no more than one of His creations. God is making this truth known to us through the deliberate use of the past tense in such verses.

It is worth mentioning that a number of translators of the Quran used the future tense when translating such verses as 78:19-20. This is incorrect for two reasons:
1- By changing the tense from the past tense of the Quranic words to the future tense in the translation they are indirectly implying that God made grammatical mistakes!
2- By changing the tense, they failed to understand the reason behind God's deliberate use of the past tense and thus, they have deprived the reader of the message God gives us in these verses.