Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Elohim: Singular or Plural?
We ask our Trinitarian friends to stop using Elohim to support their doctrine. This argument is not compelling and it is not being used by the top Trinitarian scholars anymore.
by Sean Finnegan
Frequently the word Elohim (the Hebrew word for God) is used to assert that God is plural. Naturally, this occurs because the word Elohim is plural in form. In Hebrew the "-im" ending indicates a plural like the "-s" ending in English. However, language is a tricky thing. Sometimes one will come across a word that ends in an "s" but is not plural (like "news"). The same occurs in Hebrew. Even so, rather than make the case myself (since my understanding of Hebrew is very limited), I have found a number of excellent Bible dictionary entries that make the point very well. Please note that most of these entries were written by people who believe in the Trinity, but even so, they DO NOT use the plural form of the word Elohim to make their case.
"Elohim, though plural in form, is seldom used in the OT as such (i.e. gods). Even a single heathen god can be designated with the plural Elohim (e.g. Jdg.11:24;1 Ki.11:5; 2 Ki.1:2). In Israel the plural is understood as the PLURAL OF FULLNESS; God is the God who really, and in the fullest sense of the word, is God" (J. Schneider, 'God, Gods, Emmanuel' in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Vol. 2, ed. Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,197b), p. 67).
Right, so if YEHOVAH is a plurality then so is Dagon, Chemosh, and Baal since the word Elohim is applied to them as well. So, either all of the gods of antiquity mentioned in the Bible are plural or we have to make an exception for Elohim by saying it is "the plural of fullness" rather than a numerical plural.
"Elohim, the ordinary Hebrew name for God, a plural word of doubtful origin and meaning. It is used as an ordinary plural, of heathen gods, or of supernatural beings (1 S 28.13), or even of earthly judges (Ps 82.1, 6, cf. Jn 10.34); but when used of the One God, it takes a singular verb. As so used, it has been thought to be a relic of pre-historic polytheism, but more probably it is a 'PLURAL OF MAJESTY,' such as is common in Hebrew, or else it denotes the fullness of God" (A. J. Maclean, 'God' in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible (one volume edition), ed. by James Hastings, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001), p. 299).
If we concluded that Elohim is in fact a numerical plural, then we would have to translate it as "Gods." This would lend to polytheism not trinitarianism.
"The first word for God in the OT is Elohim. It is also the most general and least specific in significance. Thus it would correspond to Theos in Greek and to God or Deity in English. Unlike Jehovah, explained below, Elohim can be used for pagan gods (Gen. 31:30; Ex. 12:12).
"Since it is so used and since it is a plural noun, some critics have seen in it an indication of an original polytheism. This theory is not well founded because the singular form Eloah, is poetic and rare. In prose the plural has to be used, whether polytheistically or monotheistically, because there is no other suitable word. Therefore, its use cannot prove an underlying polytheism in biblical religion.
"On the other hand, some Christians have explained the plural as an anticipation of the Trinity. But again, without a commonly used singular no one in OT times could have developed Trinitarian ideas from the word alone. The plural would suggest polytheism more readily than trinitarianism were it not for hints other than the word itself being used with a singular verb. This is not to say that material in the OT cannot hint at some distinctions within the Godhead
"The plural form is better understood as indicating a PLENITUDE OF POWER. Though the etymology is obscure, the word may have come from a root meaning strong" (Gordon H. Clark, 'God' in Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Harrison, Bromiley, and Henry, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000), pp. 238-239).
Did you see that? This is an evangelical dictionary and it says, "no one in OT times could have developed Trinitarian ideas from the word alone." Of course they back pedal a bit to say that the OT does "hint at some distinctions within the Godhead," but apparently these hints are limited to other things apart from the word Elohim.
"Though a plural form, Elohim can be treated as a singular, in which case it means the one supreme deity, and in English versions is rendered 'God.' Like its English equivalent, it is, grammatically considered, a common noun, and conveys the notion of all that belongs to the concept of deity, in contrast with man (Nu. 23:19) and other created beings" (F. F. Bruce, 'God, Names of' in The New Bible Dictionary, ed. by J. D. Douglas and N. Hillyer, (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 429).
The word Elohim when referring to a single God is always translated as a singular in all Bible translations. When Elohim refers to a group of gods it is translated into English as "gods." In other words, the way one determines how to translate Elohim depends on context and the verb. (In Hebrew the verb contains information about whether it is singular or plural). So, in conclusion, we ask our Trinitarian friends to stop using Elohim to support their doctrine. This argument is not compelling and it is not being used by the top Trinitarian scholars anymore.
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