Elohim -- Word Study
What does ‘elohim’ mean according to the Word of God? Many people believe it tells us God is a Trinity. Is this what the first verse of the Bible is saying?
In Hebrew there are plural words (more than two) and dual words (only two).
Most of the dual words in Hebrew are obvious, for instance, your hands, you only have two. The Hebrew word is ‘yadayim’, which shows that it means two. The word ‘yad’ means hand and the ‘ayim’ tells you there are two hands. Your feet, your eyes, your ears are all dual. Or it can mean double when referring to one person. An example is the name Ephraim. It is from the word ‘ephrat’ which means fruitful. But the name is Ephrayim, therefore it is a dual name, and means ‘double fruitfulness’. (Read Genesis 48:8-14 and you will know why)
But there are dual words that are not obvious, such as ‘mayim’, meaning water, ’shamayim’, meaning sky, and Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to mention just three. (These are only examples; Hebrew always has irregularities)
‘Elohim’ is a plural noun, but it is also used in the singular. Because of the way it is spelt in English, we have often spoken of the ‘im’ as evidence that it is plural, however the Hebrew is ‘elohiym’. It is not just ‘im’ as we spell in English, nor is it ‘ayim’ as in the dual word, but is ‘iym’. The placement of the Hebrew vowels makes the difference between ‘iym’ and ‘ayim’; the consonants are the same. (Please note, this is the masculine ending only, we will not refer to female plural words and endings, but just look at elohim)
You will see in this Word study that ‘elohiym’ does not only refer to YHVH, the God of the universe, but also to a single heathen god, such as Dagon the fish god, or a goddess, such as Ashteroth.
Thus, it is a plural word that can refer to one God, whether the true God or a heathen one. It can also refer to heathen gods plural. It can also refer to the princes, judges and leaders of Israel. It can also be translated as ‘angels’ as in Psalm 8:5. The Masoretic Bible also translates it angels. Paul quotes the text in Hebrews 2:7, and used the word ‘angels’.
Obviously we need to be very careful when speaking of the word ‘elohiym’.
How can we tell if the word is singular or plural when it is not obvious, such as in Genesis 1:1?
Hebrew has a rule – when the verb in the sentence in singular, ‘elohiym’ is singular. If the verb is plural, ‘elohiym’ is plural.
In Genesis 1:1, the verb is ‘bara’, meaning ‘to create’ and translated as ‘created’ in the KJV. It is a single verb.
A Jewish lady said in response to the question as to whether ‘elohiym’ was to be read as singular or plural, replied, ‘Of course its singular, there is only one God’. She spoke theologically, but grammatically she based it on the word ‘bara’, although she did not mention this fact.
Therefore ‘elohiym’ in the first verse of the Bible is a plural noun that is read as a singular name of one divine Person, God. Some have ignorantly translated the verse ‘In the beginning Gods created the heaven and the earth’. This is totally wrong.
Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God (elohiym) created the heaven and the earth.”
This verse is an introduction to the subject of creation, and the book of Genesis. Its words are all-inclusive, but not detailed. Nothing can be proved from this verse except its obvious meaning. The following verses in Genesis outline the details of God’s creation, and we need to read the New Testament to identify Genesis 1:26 ‘Let us make…’
MEANING OF ELOHIYM
The word means: ‘God, gods, goddess, angels, judges, great, mighty, very great, exceeding great’. (Strong’s Concordance – 430)
The fact that the plural ‘elohiym’ is used for the true God does not mean He is a plural Being. This meaning is not in the Hebrew. Others have likened it to the custom of royalty speaking of themselves as ‘us’ and ‘our’, rather than ‘I’ or ‘my’, what they call the ‘plural of majesty’. Or even the pope in ‘magisterium’, as he also uses the plural! We need to be careful not to add Western thoughts into the Hebrew, as there is a vast different way of thinking.
However, the word ‘elohiym’ for God or god, denotes greatness and authority. Of course when it refers to the God of the universe, His power is absolute. Angels have power, but less than God. The gods of the heathen are only great in the eyes of the people. When calling the leaders of Israel ‘elohiym’, they have authority in the nation.
All are ‘great’ in their sphere or office.
The word ‘elohiym’ can denote ‘an object of worship’, whether the true God or gods of the heathen. Even though the gods of the heathen are not really gods (Jeremiah 16:20), they are believed by those who worship them.
At times ‘elohiym’ denotes an experience or an event that is extremely great.
(Please note in the following examples, the word ‘elohiym’ may be in a different form in the Hebrew Bible, but always from the same root. Strong’s does not show the grammatical forms, but only the root word. I have not checked all in the Hebrew as this would be too time consuming, and would not achieve anything as it is out of the scope of this study)
TEXTS USING ELOHIYM AS ‘GOD’
Exodus 4:16. “Moses, thou shalt be to Pharoah instead of God (elohiym)”.
Exodus 7:1. “Moses, see, I have made thee a god (elohiym) to Pharaoh.”
These two verses are very important in the study of ‘elohiym’, especially the second one. Both times ‘elohiym’ must be singular as Moses was only one individual, To Pharaoh he was as God or a god.
The Jewish Masoretic Bible translates both these verses from the Hebrew “in God’s stead”, obviously preferred above Moses being made ‘a god’ to Pharaoh. However, both translations are correct, and Pharaoh finally realised that the word of Moses was the word of God.
Judges 16:23. “… to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god (elohiym)…”
Other verses are as follows: Genesis 33:11. 41:51. Exodus 13:17. 20:2.5. Leviticus 25:17. Numbers 10:9. Deuteronomy 18:14. Psalm 51:17. 75:1. Zechariah 8:8. (Just a sample of hundreds)
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED ‘GODS’
Genesis 3:5. “Satan said, ‘Ye shall be as gods (elohiym)’, knowing good and evil.”
The Jewish Masoretic Bible translates this “as God”(singular) Who is right? The word ‘hayah’, meaning ‘shall be’ is singular, therefore, ’elohiym’ should be God and not gods.
Genesis 35:2. “… put away strange gods (elohiym)”.
Exodus 12:12. “…. against all gods (elohiym) of Egypt”.
Exodus 20:3. “Thou shalt have no other gods (elohiym) before me….”
Exodus 23:24. “… not bow down to their gods (elohiym), nor serve them….”
Exodus 32:4. “These be thy gods (elohiym) O Israel….”
Exodus 32:1.31. “…. Up make us gods (elohiym)… the people have made gods (elohiym) of gold…”
These last texts are interesting. The Masoretic Bible translates both texts in the singular, “This is thy god (singular), O Israel and “…make us a god (singular)”. (All the Hebrew translation use god in the singular, and they have grammatical reasons for doing so. The word ‘to make’ is ‘asah’, similar to ‘bara’ and used interchangeably with it, is singular)
Exodus 34:14.15. “… thou shalt worship no other god (el), for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (el). Lest thou go a-whoring after their gods (elohiym), and do sacrifice unto their gods (elohiym)….”
Exodus 34:17. “Thou shalt made thee no molten gods (elohiym)….”
Deut 10:17. “The Lord your God (elohiym) is God (elohiym) of gods (elohiym), and lord of Lords, a great God (el), a mighty, and a terrible, which rewardeth not persons, nor taketh a reward.”
This is an interesting text in the way it uses the word ‘elohiym’ for the true God as well as false gods in the one verse.
The Masoretic Bible translates it, “For the Lord your God, He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the awful, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.” Deut 10:17.
Both meanings are the same, however, the use of the word ‘the’ is preferable. The word ‘a’ is not denigrating the great and mighty God, but ‘the’ makes it more emphatic.
Psalm 136:2. “O give thanks unto the God (elohiym) of gods (elohiym)”.
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED AS ‘GODDESS’
1 Kings 11:5.33. “…Ashtoreth, goddess (elohiym) of the Zidonians.”
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED AS ‘JUDGES’
Exodus 21:6. “…his master shall bring them to the judges (elohiym)….”
In this particular case, the judges held an important position in Israel, as they spoke on behalf of God. They were not an object of worship, but certainly men to be respected as holding a very high office and responsibility on behalf of God.
It is interesting that the Masoretic Bible says, “his master shall bring him to God….”, however, there is a little ‘a’ next to “God” and the margin says, “That is, the judges”.
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED ‘GODLY’
Malachi 2:15. “… he might seek a godly (elohiym) seed.”
The Masoretic Bible says, “… a seed given of God”, which is the meaning of the word in this verse.
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED AS ‘GREAT’
Genesis 30:8. (Rachel said) “… with great (elohiym) wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister….”
From this text we can understand the heaviness of Rachel’s heart that she could not conceive. Her sister Leah brought forth children, but Rachel could not. In her experience, her mental wrestlings were immense. The Jewish Bible translates ‘elohiym’ as “mighty”.
1 Samuel 14:15. “… the earth quaked, so it was a very great (elohiym) trembling.”
In order that the translators of the King James might make clear how large a trembling the earthquake was, they translated ‘elohiym’ as two words “very great”. The Masoretic Bible concludes the verse with, “so it grew into a terror from God.”
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED AS ‘MIGHTY’
Genesis 23:6. (Abraham) “…. Thou art a mighty (elohiym) prince among us.”
Abraham was regarded by the Canaanites as being a mighty prince, even though he had no claim to their land. He just wandered back and forth, using their soil and grass for his many flocks, cattle and produce. This shows the respect they had for him. The Jewish text is the same.
ELOHIYM TRANSLATED AS ‘ANGELS’
Psalm 8:5. (What is man)… “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels (elohiym) and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”
This seems an unusual translation of the text, but the Masoretic Bible is the same. The verse is quoted in Hebrews 2:7, and ‘angels’ is used again, however, this time the Greek word ‘aggelos’ (Strongs 32) is used, which is the common word for ‘angel’ in the New Testament.
Ellen White also uses the word ‘angels’, for she says, Adam and Eve were created “but ‘little lower than the angels’ (Hebrews 2:7), that they might not only discern the wonders of the visible universe, but comprehend moral responsibilities and obligations.” Education p20.
Man was made in the “image of God”, but in his capabilities, far lower than His Creator and originally a little lower than the angels.
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According to the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, “The divine name Elohim is used exclusively in Genesis 1. The divine name used in Genesis 2:4-25 is Yahweh (YHVH)…. he is called Yahweh Elohim, not dropping the name used in Genesis 1, but adding another divine name. Thus Elohim is now specified in more detail as Yahweh Elohim.
The difference between these two names is the difference between the generic and the personal. Elohim, or its more common Near Eastern form El, was used in all Semitic language societies of the Fertile Crescent. Thus the name Elohim would have been understood in all these societies. On the other hand, each of these societies had its own personal and individual gods: Marduk in Babylon, Ashur in Assyria, Milcom among the Ammonites, Chemosh in Moab, and Qaus in Edom. Yahweh was the specific and personal name used for the true God of the Israelites; no other god in the ancient world used that name.
Genesis 1 would, therefore, have been understood by the inhabitants of the ancient world as a general statement on Creation using the general name for God that they all knew. Genesis 2, on the other hand, is a specific statement about the creation of man and woman, connected only with Yahweh, the true God of Israel.
The general God who set up the cosmos in Genesis 1 is, in actuality, the personal God that is specified by this complementary use in chapter 2.
The writer moves from the general to the specific identification of God because of the objects described as created in the second account: man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were personal human beings and responded to their Creator God in a way that no other part of His creation could, directly to the personal God who created them. It was altogether fitting and appropriate, therefore, to identify that God in a personal and intimate way because of the personal nature of His creation….” Seventh-day Adventist Commentary Series Vol 12 p426.427. Subject Creation. No.2.
God had told Moses that the name YHVH (popularly pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah, and shown as LORD in the King James) had not been known prior to it being given to him (Exodus 6:3), and we might wonder why it is used in the book of Genesis. We must remember it was Moses who, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the book of Genesis. The quoted suggestion is certainly possible.
As we look at the verses in this study, we can see that ‘elohiym’ always relates to something seen by human beings as majestic, mighty, exceeding great, far beyond the normal experience of life.
No one can take Genesis 1:1 alone and prove it to be a Trinity. All it says is that the great and mighty God created the heavens and the earth. In Genesis 1:26, we can see that God was speaking to someone, but at this point we do not know who He was. We need not speculate as Hebrews 1:1.2 makes it clear. The Spirit of Prophecy states it specifically below.
“Satan was once an honored angel in heaven, next to Christ. His countenance, like those of the other angels, was mild and expressive of happiness. His forehead was high and broad, showing great intelligence. His form was perfect; his bearing noble and majestic. But when God said to His Son, "Let us make man in our image," Satan was jealous of Jesus. He wished to be consulted concerning the formation of man, and because he was not, he was filled with envy, jealousy, and hatred. He desired to receive the highest honors in heaven next to God.” Early Writings p145.
"After the earth was created, and the beasts upon it, the Father and Son carried out their purpose, which was designed before the fall of Satan, to make man in their own image. They had wrought together in the creation of the earth and every living thing upon it. And now God said to His Son, "Let us make man in our image." Lift Him Up p47.
Let us praise God for the enlightenment God has given us as a people.