Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Elohim: a multiplicity or singularity

Compiled by Xavier

Elohim: “the God of Israel in the Old Testament...the term Elohim—though sometimes used for other deities, such as the Moabite god Chemosh, the Sidonian goddess Astarte, and also for other majestic beings such as angels, kings, judges (the Old Testament shofeṭim), and the Messiah—is usually employed in the Old Testament for the one and only God of Israel, whose personal name was revealed to Moses as YHWH, or Yahweh. When referring to Yahweh, elohim very often is accompanied by the article ha-, to mean, in combination, “the God,” and sometimes with a further identification Elohim ḥayyim, meaning “the living God.”

“Though Elohim is plural in form, it is understood in the singular sense. Thus, in Genesis the words, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth,” Elohim is monotheistic in connotation, though its grammatical structure seems polytheistic. The Israelites probably borrowed the Canaanite plural noun Elohim and made it singular in meaning in their cultic practices and theological reflections." [Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2008 edition]
“A masculine plural noun meaning God, gods, judges, angels; occurring more than 2,600 times in the Old Testament, this word commonly designates the one true God (Gen 1:1) and is often paired with God's unique name YHWH (Gen 2:4; Psa 100:3)...In fewer instances, this word refers to foreign gods, such as Dagon (1Sa 5:7) or Baal (1Ki 18:24). It also might refer to judges (Exo 22:8-9 [7-8]) or angels as gods (Psa 97:7). Although the form of this word is plural, it is frequently used as if it were singular-that is, with a singular verb (Gen 1:1-31; Exo 2:24)." [Complete Wordstudy Dictionary]
The doctrine of the Trinity [God is 3 Persons in 1 Being] teaches that:

1) Elohim is plural in meaning [“compound one”; “collective noun”]

2) It means the Family of God.

3) It means one member of that family, the one who became Jesus.

If Elohim is plural in meaning then it should always be translated Gods/gods. In this case it would refer to two or more Gods/gods. A word cannot mean both God and Family. This would be to assign two completely different meanings to the same word. If the Bible wanted to speak of the Family of God it could do this quite easily, as for example in the “family of David,” “family of Egypt.” There is a perfectly good Hebrew word for family, but the Creator is nowhere said to be a 'Family of Persons'. A number of more serious problems arise on these premises: If Elohim is plural and thus means Gods/gods then what is the significance of the singular verb that follows it? (i.e., “he [not they] created”) Biblicists would have to make such allowances and translate such passages as Gen 1.1 as: “In the beginning Gods/gods, he created” or “Gods/gods was the creator.”

Some may argue that Elohim is a collective noun, like team, family, committee. But in that case it is not plural — i.e., teams, families or committees. A collective noun denotes a collection of persons, places or things regarded as one (flock, forest, crowd, committee, jury, class, herd, covey, legislature, battalion, squad, and squadron). The objects collected into one term have some characteristics in common, enabling us to regard them as a group. The word “audience” or “congregation” enables us to gather individuals into a single unit. But the fact needs to be stated clearly: Elohim is never in the Bible a collective noun — NEVER! It is not a “group” word when used of the One God. It does not function like the word family. No lexicon lists it as a collective noun.

Elohim when referring to the One God comes to us in the inspired Greek of the NT (some 1320 times) as theos (singular). This proves of course that the translations are all correct when they say: “In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth.” Thousands of singular personal pronouns standing for Elohim, and His other names, can only affirm, massively, the fact that God is a Single Personal Being.

Lexical Facts about Elohim:
Elohim, in fact, is singular in meaning when referred to the One God. This is shown by the singular verbs which normally follow and by thousands of singular personal pronouns:
  • Elohim has a plural meaning when it refers to pagan “gods.”
  • Elohim has a singular meaning when designating a single pagan god, Milchom, Astarte, etc.
  • Elohim, El, Eloah, and YHWH are identical in meaning and singular in meaning when referring to the one true God. They are replaced by singular personal pronouns.
This information can be inspected in the Hebrew text, in translations and in all the standard Hebrew Lexicons (Brown, Driver and Briggs; Kohler Baumgartner; Jenni and Westermann, etc.

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