Monday, September 5, 2016

Hebraic Usage of the Titles for "God"

The argument is often forwarded by trinitarians and some others is that since there is only one true God, and since Jesus is also called "God", that Jesus must be that one true God, or else be a false god. However, the historical/cultural context of the Hebrew words for "God" indicate a secondary legitimate usage of the word, other than meaning the Supreme Being or false god. Indeed, a study of the words involved indicate that the Hebrew words for "god", when applied to any other than Jehovah, can take on a more general meaning of might, strength, power. This we will proceed to show in this study.
The Greek word, theos, is used to describe Satan, "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), the saints, "gods, sons of the Most High" (John 10:34, 35, from Ps. 82:6, RSV), idols, or fabricated "gods who will go before us" (Acts 7:40), and heathen gods, "the gods have come down to us in human form!" (Acts 14:11, 12). Hence, THEOS itself is general in its application in Scripture, and the fact that it is occasionally used of Jesus should not be taken as proof that he was God Almighty. Such usage alone is not conclusive to warrant such a distinction.

But more importantly is how the Hebrews used the words from which theos is translated. Being Hebrews, the New Testament writers would be well aware of this heritage. We need to keep in mind that the Bible writers were not Greeks, but Hebrews. Having been inspired and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, (John 16:4-13; Galatians 1:12; Ephesian 3:5; 2 Timothy 2:2) their ideas and mode of thinking were based on the Hebrew Scriptures (Isaiah 8:20), not the Greek, Roman or Latin philosophies or mythologies. Thus it should be imperative that we see how the Hebrews used the Hebrew words for "god", and see if such could be applicable to NT usage concerning Jesus.

Let us start by referring to the incident where the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy because, as they stated, being a man, he made himself "God". (John 10:33) The claim is false (even from the viewpoint of many trinitarians, this claim must be false, since most trinitarians claim that as a man, Jesus was not by "nature" God, but human), and Jesus denied that he was God by stating over and over that he was sent by the only true God, could do nothing of his own self, everything he had was given to him by God, etc. (Matthew 23:39; Mark 11:9,10; Luke 13:35; John 3:2,17; 5:19,22,23,27-30,43; 6:57; 7:16,28; 8:26,28,38; 10:25; 12:49,50; 14:10; 15:15; 17:8,26) In the immediate response to the accusation made by the Jewish leaders, Jesus responded: "Isn't it written in your law, 'I said, you are gods?' If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture can't be broken), Do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You blaspheme,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God?' " (John 10:34-36) Again, instead of claiming to be God Almighty, Jesus clarified that rather than being God Almighty, he was sent by God, his Father, Jehovah, and that he was the Son of God -- not God Almighty Himself.
But the point we want from the above is Jesus' usage of the word theoi -- gods, which he applies to the "sons of God" -- men -- not God Almighty. John quotes Jesus in Greek as saying theoi -- the plural of theos. However, Jesus is quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament) from Psalm 82:6, which, of course, was written in Hebrew, not Greek. What is the word that is used originally? It is the Hebrew elohim. Jesus says that these "sons of God" are gods to whom the Word of God came. Whoever these might be, it provides a basis for examining the Hebraic usage of the word "god" as applied to others than Jehovah.

See also:
Who Are the Gods of Psalm 82:6?

Therefore, what we need to know is how the Hebrew word el, and its variations of elohim and eloah, are used in the Bible, and if these words have any application to the usages of theos as applied to Jesus, such as in John 1:1; John 20:28 and, as some claim, Hebrews 1:8. What we find is that the Bible uses these Hebrew words in many different ways, in application to men, angels, and even inanimate objects. When considering the Hebrew word *EL*, that this word is used to mean other than God Almighty or a false god may be readily seen by anyone who will carefully note the following texts from the King James Version, in which English translations of the Hebrew word El are in denoted by *..*: "It is in the *power* of my hand." (Genesis 31:29) "There shall be no *might* in thine hand." (Deuteronomy 28:32) "Neither is it in our *power*." (Nehemiah 5:5) "Like the *great* mountains." (Psalm 36:6) "In the *power* of thine hand to do it." (Proverbs 3:27) "Pray unto *a god* [mighty one] that cannot save." (Isaiah 45:20) "Who among the sons of the *mighty*." (Psalm 89:6) "God standeth in the congregation of the *mighty*." (Psalm 82:1) "Who is like unto thee, O Lord [Jehovah] among the *Gods* [mighty ones or ruling ones]?" (Exodus 15:11) "Give unto the Lord [Jehovah] of ye *mighty*." (Psalm 29:1) "The *mighty* God even the Lord [Jehovah]." (Psalm 50:1) "The *strong* among the mighty shall speak" (Ezekiel 32:21).

Therefore, we should be to able to readily see that the word EL, when used of another than Jehovah, takes on the general meaning of "strength", "might" or power.
Consequently, the word "God" is applicable to any powerful being, but it applies only to Jehovah as the exclusive source of all power - the Almighty Jehovah, and is thus used in relative terms of others.

We should note that it is stated that Jehovah is the Supreme "El" and rules over all other ones called "el" - powerful ones. And it should also be noted that Jehovah is the name applied to the Supreme Being - our Father, and him whom Jesus called Father and God. -- John 17:1,3: 20:17; Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:43-45; 26:64; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:34; 7:55: Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:13; 10:12,13; 1 Peter 3:22.
Many like to read the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 as saying that the Messiah shall be called the "Mighty God [EL]". And so he is, for to him the Father, the only true Supreme Being (John 17:1,3), has given all power in earth and heaven. (Matthew 28:18, and 11:27) "He is Lord of all" - next to the Father for "The head of Christ is God," (1 Corinthians 11:3) and "it is evident that he [God] is excepted who subjected all things to him [Jesus]." (1 Corinthians 15:27) They are one in mind, purpose, etc., because Jesus willingly submitted his own will to that of the Father (John 5:30) just as we also must submit our own will, mind, spirit to that of the Father if we would be made heirs and sons of God.

ELOHIM is the plural of ELOAH. Like EL, its usage is not confined to that of the Almighty. We have already seen that it is applied to the "sons of god" -- men -- in Psalm 82:6,7. Additionally, we find that Moses is spoken of as *elohim* to Pharoah (Exodus 7:1) and also to Aaron (Exodus 4:16). One author claims, "Angels are never referred to as “God”. Yet, this is misleading, since we find that in the Bible that the angels are also called elohim: Psalm 8:5 (compare Hebrews 2:7,9; also Psalm 50:1 and 96:4 could be speaking of angels as elohim). Additionally, the judges of Israel are referred to as *ha elohim* (as a body): Exodus 21:6; 22:8,9,28 (See Acts 23:5). The wicked spirit that impersonated Samuel is called elohim. (1 Samuel 28:13) Thus seen, anyone who has been given special power by Jehovah can legitimately be referred to as a god. Even the wicked spirits are legitimately called by this title, since they do receive their power from the only ultimate Supreme Power, Jehovah, although they misuse the power that Jehovah has given to them.

Below are some scriptures in which Jehovah the [All-Mighty] El/Elohim is contrasted with other elohim [Mighty Ones]
  • Psalm 86:6-8--"Hear, Jehovah, my prayer....
    There is no one like you among the gods [elohim]."
  • Psalm 95:3--"For Jehovah is a great God [el], A great King above all gods. [elohim -- mighty ones]."
  • Psalm 50:1--"The Mighty One [el], God, [elohim; literally, God of gods -- el elohim --
    the mighty of the mighty], Jehovah, speaks." Young's Literal reads on this: "The God [el] of gods [elohim] -- Jehovah -- hath spoken."
  • Exodus 15:11--"Who is like you, Jehovah, among the gods [el--mighty ones]?"
  • Psalm 96:4--"For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised! He is to be feared above all gods. [elohim--mighty
These instances suffice as samples: others may be found by those who desire and seek them.
All one need to do to verify the above is to look into the Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance, under Hebrew words #430 and #410, as well as #433.

In view of the above, we can say that there is much in the way of Hebraic cultural heritage that supports the idea that one can be scripturally be called or have the title of "God" in a sense other than that of Supreme Being, or the Supreme Power. But to understand this, one must realize that the words for "God" take on a more general meaning of might, power, strength, as can be seen by the King James (as well as other translations) that give the Hebrew words for God the meaning of might, mighty, strong, etc. Only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus is God in the absolute sense of Power -- the Supreme Being. (John 17:1,3) Jesus claimed to be the Son of the Supreme Being, he never claimed to be the Supreme Being of whom he was the Son.

The above information concerning the usage of the Hebrew titles for "God" is confirmed by many reference sources. Easton's Dictionary states concerning the word God, "It is the rendering (1) of the Hebrew 'El , from a word meaning to be strong; (2) of 'Eloah_, plural _'Elohim . The singular form, Eloah , is used only in poetry." According to Smith's Dictionary, "Elohim is the plural of Eloah (in Arabic Allah ); it is often used in the short form EL (a word signifying strength , as in EL-SHADDAI, God Almighty, the name by which God was specially known to the patriarchs. (Genesis 17:1; 28:3; Exodus 6:3) The etymology is uncertain, but it is generally agreed that the primary idea is that of strength, power of effect , and that it properly describes God in that character in which he is exhibited to all men in his works, as the creator, sustainer and supreme governor of the world." The word EL is Hebrew #410 in Strong's Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, which defines it as: "short. from 352; strength; as adj. mighty; espec. the Almighty (but used also of any deity)." Crosswalk's Online Hebrew Lexicon defines it similarly: "shortened from 0352 TWOT - 93a n m ; AV - God 213, god 16, power 4, mighty 5, goodly 1, great 1, idols 1, Immanuel + 06005 2, might 1, strong 1; 245; 1) god, god-like one, mighty one; 1a) mighty men, men of rank, mighty heroes; 1b) angels; 1c) god, false god, (demons, imaginations); 1d) God, the one true God, Jehovah; 2) mighty things in nature; 3) strength, power". From these sources, and others, we thus determine that the Hebrew word EL signifies strong or powerful.

Even after being presented with all of the above information, some continue to present to us the idea that either Jesus has to be the one true God, or else he is a false god. Carrying this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, Moses must be either the one and only true God or a false god, since he was made ELOHIM to Pharaoh. (Exodus 7:1) The judges of Israel must be either the one and only true a true God or a else be false gods, since they were ELOHIM. (Exodus 21:6; 22:8,9,28 [See Acts 23:5]) The angels must be the only true God or else they are false gods, since they are ELOHIM. (Psalm 8:5 {compare Hebrews 2:9; also Psalm 50:1 and 96:4 could be speaking of angels as elohim) The sons of God to whom the Logos came must be the only true God or they are false gods, since they are called EL, ELOHIM and THEOI. (Psalm 82:1,6,7; John 10:34,35) The *EL*of Laban's hand must either be the only true God, or else be a false god. (Genesis 31:29) The EL of the hand of Israel must the only true God, or else be a false god. (Deuteronomy The EL of your hand must be the only true God or else the EL of you hand must be a false god. (Proverbs 3:27) The EL of Ezekiel 32:21 -- the mighty rulers in the nations spoken of in context -- must all be the only true God or else false gods.

Yes, we must recognize a secondary meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words used when applied to others than Jehovah, or else the above scriptures would not make sense. Jesus was not his God whom he was with in the beginning, thus theos applied to him in John 1:1 and elsewhere should be viewed in the secondary meaning or general or special might. Yes, "In the beginning was the LOGOS, and the LOGOS was with God, and the Logos was mighty."

Jesus is not his God whom he was with, the only true God who sent him. -- John 17:1,3,5.

We present below some quotes from various scholarly authorities, most of whom appear to be trinitarian, concerning the Hebraic usage of the word "God". We do not necessarily agree with every conclusion presented, but these scholars do confirm that the Hebrews did at times use the Hebrew words for God in a sense other than "Supreme Being" or "false gods".
The New Bible Dictionary, second ed., Tyndale House, 1982, is highly regarded by trinitarian scholars. "This work is destined to become a standard that will be turned to often by students and ministers alike." - Christianity Today. "... the most up-to-date work of its kind now available. I am finding it a handbook of immense value in my own Bible study and teaching." - F. F. Bruce, Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, University of Manchester.
I. In the Old Testament a. Individuals of the class 'god' [angels]
'Son' (Heb. ben, Aram. bar) is commonly used in Semitic languages to denote membership of a class, as 'son of Israel' for 'Israelite', 'son of might' for 'valorous'. 'Son of God' in Heb. means 'god' or 'god- like' rather than 'son of (the) God (Yahweh)'. In Jb. 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps 29:1; 89:6, the 'sons of God' form Yahweh's heavenly train or subordinates, though LXX Job calls them angeloi [angels] of God .... Similarly the 'son of the gods' in Dn. 3:25 is called the 'angel of the Jews' God' in 3:28....
b. Men who by divine appointment exercise God's prerogative for judgment In Ex. 21:6; 22:8-9, 28, 'God' (Heb. elohim) may stand for 'judges' ..., his deputies, exercising power of life and death (cf. 2 Ch 19:6), as may be the case in Ps. 82:6. - p. 1133.
Lk 6:35, 'you will be sons of the Most High', means little more than 'you will be like God'. 'Son of...' is an idiom for 'having the characteristics of' or 'doing the work of' .... Ps. 82:6 discussed by Jesus in Jn. 10:34-36, may be an OT example of this sense, judges being men who exercise God's power of life and death. - p. 1134.

In the language of the OT ... rulers and judges, as deputies of the heavenly King, could "be given the honorific title 'god' ... or be called 'son of God'." -
-- NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1985. Footnote for Ps. 82:1.

In this psalm, which praises the [Israelite] king ..., it is not unthinkable that he was called 'god' as a title of honor (cf. Isa. 9:6).
-- NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1985. Footnote for Psalm 45:6.

The reason why judges are called 'gods' in Ps. 82 is that they have the office of administering God's judgment as 'sons of the Most High'. In context of the Ps. the men in question have failed to do this.... On the other hand, Jesus fulfilled the role of a true judge as a 'god' and 'son of the Most High'.
-- The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology,
Zondervan, 1986. Vol. 3, p. 187.

The word [theos, 'god' or 'God'] is used of Divinely appointed judges in Israel, as representing God in His authority, John 10:34.
-- W. E. Vine. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, page 491.

65. GOD - is used of any one (professedly) MIGHTY, whether truly so or not, and is applied not only to the true God, but to false gods, magistrates, judges, angels, prophets, etc., e.g. - Exod. 7:1; 15:11; 21:6; 22:8, 9;...Ps. 8:5; 45:6; 82:1, 6; 97:7, 9...John 1:1; 10:33, 34, 35; 20:28....
-- Young's Analytical Concordance of the Bible,
Eerdmans, 1978 Reprint,
"Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation".

430. [elohim]. el-o-heem'; plural of 433; gods in the ordinary sense; but spec. used (in the plur. thus, esp. with the art.) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative: - angels, ... x (very) great, judges, x mighty.
-- p. 12, "Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary."
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible,
Abingdon, 1974 printing.

Elohim: "a. rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power.... b. divine ones, superhuman beings including God and angels.... c. angels Ps. 97:7 ..."
-- The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon,
1979, Hendrickson, p. 43:

The angels: in Hebrew, elohim, which is the ordinary word for 'God' or 'the gods'; hence the ancient versions generally understood the term as referring to heavenly spirits [angels].
-- New American Bible, St. Joseph ed., 1970, footnote for Ps. 8:6

It was quite possible in Jewish and Christian monotheism to speak of divine beings that existed alongside and under God but were not identical with him. Phil 2:6-10 proves that. In that passage Paul depicts just such a divine being, who later became man in Jesus Christ.
-- Ernst Haenchen. John 1, translated by R. W. Funk,
1984, pp. 109, 110, Fortress Press.)

In this literature, the supremacy of the Most High God is never questioned, but there is considerable room for lesser beings who may be called 'gods,' theoi or elim. Moreover, both the authors of the apocalyptic literature [which includes the scriptural writings of the books of Daniel and Revelation] and Philo single out one pre-eminent divine or angelic being under God - a super-angel - called by various names in the apocalyptic texts and identified as the Logos ['the Word'] by Philo.
-- p. 93, Aspects of Monotheism - How God is One,
Biblical Archaeological Society, 1997.

We therefore have overwhelming evidence that EL, ELOHIM and THEOS, when applied to others than Jehovah or a false god, does carry a meaning different from the common usage of "God", that is, Supreme Being.

In view of this Hebraic background, Paul S. L. Johnson suggested in his book, CREATION (page 39), that theos applied to the Logos is "a mighty one." The footnote for John 1:1 of the Revised Version Improved and Corrected suggests: "Or, the Word was with the Mighty, and mighty was the Word!" The author of the Unitarian section under John 1:1 in the book, *The Great Debate Regading The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit*, states:
Since the word "theos" in the phrase "the Word was God [theos]" is not preceded by the article "ho" (the God), as are the other two uses of theos in verses 1 and 2, it can be understood as an adjective rather than a noun; "the word was mighty". Theos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word "elohim" which can mean "mighty" as in Gen 30:8 and 1 Sam 14:15.
Thus seen, in respects to Hebraic usage of the words for "God", there are four basic usages:
(1) The MIGHTY ONE, the only one who is MIGHTY of himself (not receiving His might from anyone else), which corresponds to our common usage of "God" as meaning "the Supreme Being", the "Almighty" Jehovah. Only He is the source of all (1 Corinthians 8:6).
(2) False gods -- so-called gods who by nature have no might at all to do anything (Deuteronomy 4:28; Daniel 5:23; Isaiah 45:20; Galatians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 8:5).
(3) Mighty ones who are such because the only true Supreme Being has given them special power or authority, either directly or by allowance, such as Moses to Pharoah (Exodus 7:1), the sons of the Most High (Psalm 82:1,6; John 10:34-36), and the angels (Psalm 8:5; compare Hebrews 2:7), and others (1 Samuel 28:13; Ezekiel 32:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4), including Jesus (John 1:1, possibly also in Psalm 45:6; John 20:28 and Hebrews 1:8).
(4) General might, power, great, etc. -- Genesis 31:29; Deuteronomy 28:32; Nehemiah 5:5; Psalm 36:6; 82:1; Proverbs 3:27; John 1:1.

Related Studies

While we believe the following provides a lot of good information, we do not necessarily agree with all details presented.

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