Elohim

A former student raised this question:

I found out that in Genesis 1:1 the word for God Elohim in Hebrew is God-plural. Which sounds almost like In the beginning Gods created the Heavens and Earth . . . . Was Elohim as God-plural used because there were no other Hebrew words translated as God or was it used because God was talking to Jesus and the Holy Spirit?

My answer, edited lightly:

Elohim belongs to a class of Hebrew words that appear plural in form but singular in meaning. Others include behemoth (“animals”) referring to the sea monster, and bethulim (“virgins”) referring to a girl’s state of virginity. Elohim means “gods” when referring to pagan deities, and “God” when referring to the God of Israel.

We know this because Elohim takes singular verbs when referring to the God of Israel. For example, in Genesis 1:1 it says, “In the beginning Elohim he-created the heavens and the earth.” If the writer had intended to refer to a group of gods, he would have used the plural verb: “In the beginning Elohim they-created . . . .”

We do a similar thing in English. “Headquarters” is grammatically plural but used with singular verbs, as in, “Headquarters wants a report” (example from Wikipedia, “Elohim”). Grammarians call this kind of usage plural of majesty, plural of extension, or other names.

The name Elohim by itself doesn’t convey a plural idea of God, but Genesis 1:26 might, when God says, “Let us make man in our own image.” In Old Testament theology this usage calls to mind the divine council (see Job 1), and to New Testament people it calls to mind the Trinity.

I think you’re right that we can’t “wrap our minds around the Trinity.” C. S. Lewis tried in his essay “Beyond Personality.”

Another useful title: Mark Smith’s The Early History of God.

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One Response to “Elohim”

  1. Michael Goltry Says:

    Well put. I know that those who have “moved past Christianity” because of their own “enlightenment” or “revelation” often use the plural/singular issue as one of their reasons. Many also use it to justify their thought that we were created by aliens.

    Anyway, thanks for providing a concise and to-the-point explanation for that issue.

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