Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Elohim - Does This Word Indicate a Plurality of Persons in a Godhead?

A common argument used by trinitarians and some others is that the forms of the word often transliterated *elohim* (or elohiym), forms often translated into English as "God", is plural, and thus, it is claimed that this signifies that God is some kind of plurality. Some trinitarians claim that *ELOHIM* is plural referring to the alleged “three persons” of God.
The truth is that the Hebrew Scriptures do often use the plural word Elohim (as well as some other plural nouns, such as *chayim*, literally plural, meaning “lives”, but used singularly: life; Genesis 27:46; Job 10:12) in singular settings, usually with the singular article or singular verbs, etc. This has been called the “plural intensive” — where the plural is used in a singular context to denote the superlative degree or superiority. It has nothing to do with the trinity doctrine.
We should note that Moses is also called elohim. (Exodus 4:16; 7:1) The scriptures concerning Moses indicate that elohim, although plural, is applied to the singular person, Moses (who is a type of Jesus — Deuteronomy 18:18,19; Acts 3:19-23). Moses is not more than one person, so why the plural usage here? It is plural used in a singular setting to denote the superlative (plural intensive), that is, to denote the supremacy of the power given to Moses by Yahweh over the power of Pharaoh and the gods of Pharaoh.
Another scripture to note is Genesis 1:2, where ELOHIM is used in the phrase usually translated as "spirit of God". It should be evident that ELOHIM in Genesis 1:2 refers to only one person, and that the "spirit" belongs to that one person. The word "spirit" is obviously referring to God's Holy Spirit, but if God's spirit is a person being designated in the plurality of ELOHIM, we have something of a contradition in the expression "spirit of God".
Many believe that Elohim in Psalm 45:6 is also applied to Jesus as an individual being, again to show the supreme power of Jesus in his kingdom as given to him by the Elohim over Jesus: Yahweh. (Psalm 45:6,7; See also Hebrews 1:8,9) The very fact that this power over his fellows is given to Jesus by Yahweh’s anointing shows that Jesus is not equal to Yahweh. Additionally, if elohim means more than one person in one godhead, then in Psalm 45:6,7 we would have one “godhead of persons” anointing another “godhead of persons”.
We should also note that elohim in the plural means “gods” — not persons. Thus the argument that its plural usage means a trinity would tend to mean that there are three gods, not three persons.
There was only one golden calf called Elohim. (Genesis 32:4) This provides another example of the usage of “elohim” as a plural intensive.
In Judges 16:23 when reference is made to the false god Dagon, a form of the title ‘elohim’ is used; the accompanying verb is singular, showing that reference is to just the one god.
At Genesis 42:30, Joseph is spoken of as the “lord” (’adhoneh’, the plural intensive of excellence) of Egypt.
Eloah (the singular for Elohim) is used for God in verses such as Nehemiah 9:17. El is also used for God in many places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Genesis 14:18. If Elohim means three persons, then El would mean one person. If “Elohim” is a plural word referring to three persons, then “El” must refer to only one of those three persons. This would mean a trinitarian would have a massive job in explaining which instances of “El” in the scriptures referred to which Triune Person in Elohim.
Mark 12:29, where a reply of Jesus is reproduced in which he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, the Greek singular ho Theos’ is used. If a plurality of persons were meant, then we would think that the inspired NT writers would have translated the intensive ‘elohim’ as plural in Greek also. It is not.
Below we present some quotes from various scholars concerning the usage of Elohim as a plural intensive, or as some prefer, “plural of majesty” (a pluralis excellentice) or “plentitude of might”. We do not necessarily agree with all conclusions reached by the authors.
430 ‘elohiym el-o-heem’ - plural of 433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative:–angels, X exceeding, God (gods)(-dess, -ly), X (very) great, judges, X mighty. — A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible, With Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version, by James Strong, S.T.D., LL. D.
“Elohim is a plural form which is often used in Hebrew to denote plentitude of might” (Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs).
“The form of the word, Elohim, is plural. The Hebrews pluralized nouns to express greatness or majesty” (Flanders, Cresson; Introduction to the Bible).
“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 plural form of Elohim has given rise to much discussion. The fanciful idea that it referred to the trinity of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars. It is either what grammarians call the plural of majesty, or it denotes the fullness of divine strength, the sum of the powers displayed by God. Jehovah denotes specifically the one true God, whose people the Jews were, and who made them the guardians of his truth.” — Smith’s Bible Dictionary
“‘Elohim: this mac. Hebr. noun is pl. in form but it has both sing. and pl. uses. In a pl. sense it refers to rulers or judges with divine connections (Ex. 21:60; pagan gods (Ex.18:11; Ps. 86:8); and probably angels (Ps. 8:5; 97;7). In both of the passages where ‘angels’ is the apparent meaning it is so translated in the Sept. On the former see Hebrews 2:7. In the sing. sense it is used of a god or a goddess (1 Sam. 5:7; 2 Kgs. 18:34); a man in a position like a god (Ex. 7:1); God (Deut. 7:9; Ezra 1:3; Is. 45:18 and many other OT passages). With the latter meaning it occurs with several modifiers such as righteous (Ps. 7:90), living (1 Sam. 17:26), holy (Josh. 24:19), and true (2 Chr. 15:3). It usually takes a sing. verb so no implication of any plurality in the divine nature can be inferred from the fact the word is plural.” — *Lexical Aids to the Old Testament*, as appears in the Appendix of Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, Executive Editor, Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., page 1598
God created. The Hebrew noun Elohim is plural but the verb is singular, a normal usage in the OT when reference is to the one true God. This use of the plural expresses intensification rather than number and has been called the plural of majesty, or of potentiality. — New International Version Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985, p. 6.
This word [elohim], which is generally viewed as the plural of eloah [Strong's #433], is found far more frequently in Scripture than either el or eloah for the true God. The plural ending is usually described as a plural of majesty and not intended as a true plural when used of God. This is seen in the fact that the noun elohim is consistently used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular. — Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Volume 1 (edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Chicago: Moody Press, 1980, page 44):
Elohim is the common name for God. It is a plural form, but “The usage of the language gives no support to the supposition that we have in the plural form Elohim, applied to the God of Israel, the remains of an early polytheism, or at least a combination with the higher spiritual beings” (Kautzsch). Grammarians call it a plural of majesty or rank, or of abstraction, or of magnitude (Gesenius, Grammatik, 27th ed., nn. 124 g, 132 h). The Ethiopic plural amlak has become a proper name of God. Hoffmann has pointed out an analogous plural elim in the Phoenician inscriptions (Ueber einige phon. Inschr., 1889, p. 17 sqq.), and Barton has shown that in the tablets from El-Amarna the plural form ilani replaces the singular more than forty times (Proceedings of the American Oriental Society, 21-23 April, 1892, pp. cxcvi-cxcix)…. If we have recourse to the use of the word Elohim in the study of its meaning, we find that in its proper sense it denotes either the true God or false gods, and metaphorically it is applied to judges, angels, and kings; and even accompanies other nouns, giving them a superlative meaning. — New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, “Elohim”
It (Elohim,) is derived from an Arabic word, which signifies to reverence, to honor, to worship. Hence, it comes to pass that it is frequently applied to kings, magistrates, judges, and others to whom reverence is shown, and who are regarded as the representatives of the Deity upon earth. Psalm 82:6. Exo.. 7:1…The plural of this word, Elohim, though it denotes but one subject, is appropriately used to designate Jehovah by way of eminence. In fact, many theologians have thought they perceived an allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity, though they have no sufficient ground for supposing that this doctrine was known at so early a period. And without resorting to this supposition, the application of this plural name to a singular subject may be explained from an idiom of the ancient oriental and some other languages, by which anything great or eminent was expressed in the plural number, (pluralis dignitatis, or majestaticus.) Accordingly, Eloha, (the singular,) augustus, [majestic,] may be considered as the positive degree, of which Elohim, (the plural,) augustissimus, [most majestic,] is the superlative. — Knapp’s Theology, page 93
There are two theories as to why the word [elohim] is plural: In one view, predominant among anthropomorphic monotheists, the word is plural becaue of the common Hebrew practice of expressing extension, magnitude and dignity by pluralizing the form of words. In another view, more common among secular historians and polytheists, is that the word’s plurality is reflective of early Hebrew polytheism. — “Elohim”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
We include some online links for further reading. We do not necessarily agree with all conclusions given by the authors.
“Translating Elohim”, L.M. Barrre, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible Angelfire.com/ca2/AncientIsrael.
Related Studies
ELOHIM - Singular or Plural?
Below are links to some studies online regarding the Hebrew word ELOHIM. We do not necessarily agree with all the conclusion or viewpoints presented.
Nehemiah Gordon (Jewish Karaite)
Daniel Segraves  (Oneness)
Robert Savin: (Oneness)
Does the phrase, "Let us make man in our image," indicate plurality of persons involved in creation?
Jason Dulle
Plural Pronouns Used for God

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