ELOHIM IS NOT NECESSARILY PLURAL IN NUMBER
BY EUSEBIO A. TANICALA, PhD
Many Bible readers use the term Elohim to argue that the word proves the plurality of persons in the Holy Trinity. I have also heard some Bible College teachers doing the same. I believe that the argument that Elohim necessarily proves the plurality of persons in the Godhead is weak. My reasons are the following:
Reason #1. Elohim Is Applied to the True God and False Gods that Are Objects of Worship
The term Elohim is a generic name like the word Lord. When the word applies to the true God of the Judeo-Christian deity, the English translators agreed to make the first letter capital G. However, when it refers to tribal deities, the letter g is lower case. Also, the English translators agreed to make the form singular when Elohim applies to the Judea-Christian deity, but plural form when several tribal deities are meant in the text because our Judeo-Christian theology especially Deut. 6:4 insists on monotheism.
Elohim, if refers to a tribal deity, is rendered god (small g) in the singular form it there is only one deity meant. These rules are not found in the Bible but were translators’ and grammarians’ rules.
Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, page 412, says that the word Elohim is translated “God, gods, and objects of worship” in the King James Version. That deity could be the true God, an imagined deity, the moon, the sun, a deity represented by a wooden image, stone image or a sculpted image. Even tribal deities that are not believed composed of two or more personalities are called Elohim.
In Hebrew the singular form El (Mighty one) or Elah, or Eloah, if it refers to the Hebrew deity, it is translated God (capital G).
Since the term Elohim is applied to deities whether or not there is a perceived multiplicity of persona in that deity, it is not safe to conclude that the im ending refers a plural number.
Reason #2. Elohim Is also Applied to Kings, Judges, Leaders
In Psalms 82:1 the reading is Elohim. Literally it reads, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the Elohim.” The second Elohim is translated “gods” in small letter g both in the KJV and NKJV. Psalms 82:6 reads, “I said, ‘You are Elohim, and all of you are children of the Most High.” (KJV & NKJV)
The congregation referred to in verse 1 may refer to angels, Hebrew council of elders/leaders making sound judgments. It is safely speculated that even a single person who is a King, or a Judge or a high Leader is addressed Elohim without the idea of plurality of personality. Which is why even King David who is the type of the Messiah is Elohim in Psalm 45 and this is quoted in Hebrews 1:8.
Reason #3. Psalm 45:6-7, Two Elohim Mentioned in One Verse
“Your throne, O God (Elohim), is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God (Elohim), your God (Elohim), anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions.” (NKJV- Elohim is inserted by the writer)
The first Elohim is in the second person sometimes called nominative of address. On the other hand, the second (2x mentioned) is in the third person. Anti-typically, Psalm 45:6 should refer to King David. Since verse 5 is quoted in Hebrews 1:8 with Christ, the Son of God, as the anti-type or fulfillment, this first Elohim should refer to Christ prophetically and anti-typically. Now we ask, “Was King David a multiplicity of persons when this verse applied to him typically?” No, not a multiplicity of persons. “Was Christ a multiplicity of persons when this verse applied to him anti-typically?” No, not a multiplicity of deity personalities.
If it is insisted that the plural ending of Elohim demands a plurality (at least 2) of persons, it would mean that Psalm 454:6-7 would produce at least four (4) persons in the Godhead. But since four persons is unacceptable, it is only logical that plurality of persons in the Elohim be discarded.
Hinihiling ko sa mga teachers sa ating Bible Colleges na iwasan nang ituro na ang Elohim is a conclusive proof on the multiplicity of persons. Pati na ang mga matatandang preachers na nagsasabi na alam nilang lahat ng pasikut-sikot ng Biblia.
Reason #4. A Sidonian Goddess is Elohim
1 Kings 11:5, “For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess (Elohim) of the Sidonians…” and v. 33 reads, “because they have forsaken Me and worshipped the goddess (Elohim) of the Sidonians…” (NKJV, Elohim supplied by the writer) There’s no literature known that teaches a plurality of persons in this goddess (Elohim) of the Sidonians yet Elohim is her assigned name.
Reason #5. False Gods Are Called Elohim
We read this in 1 Kings 11:33, “because they have forsaken Me and worshipped…Chemosh the god (Elohim) of the Moabites, and Milcom the god (Elohim) of the people of Ammon…”
Judges 8:33 reads, “Baal-berrith their god (Elohim);” Judges 16:23, 24, “Dagon their god (Elohim);” 2 Kings 1:2, 16, “Inquire of Baalzebub the god (Elohim) of Ekron;” 2Kings 19:37, “…as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god (Elohim).” (NKJV, Elohim supplied)
Reason #6. Moses was an Elohim to Aaron & Pharoah
Exodus 7:1 reads, “And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘See I have made thee a god (Elohim) to Pharoah…” (KJV, Elohim supplied by the writer). In referring to Aaron who served as Moses’ spokesman in Exodus 4:16 we read, “So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God (Elohim).” (NKJV, Elohim supplied)
In the case of Moses, his being called Elohim in his relationship with Aaron and of Pharoah should refer to his authority and power over both persons. There’s no idea about the plurality of persons in the persona of Moses.
Reason #7. The God (Elohim) Prepared for by John the Baptist Is Elohim
Isaiah 40:3 reads, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD (Yahweh); make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Elohim).’” When this prophecy was fulfilled as cited in Matt. 3:3; Mk 1:3; Luke 3:4-6 & John 1:23, it was Jesus Christ. So we argue that Jesus is called Yahweh and he is also called Elohim. But we don’t teach that Jesus has a plurality of persons.
The conclusion that this writer would like to impress upon the brethren is that the term Elohim should refer to dignity, authority, power, honor, respect. Not plurality of persons.
There are nouns and pronouns that are plural in form but not necessarily in number.
First, the noun “News.” It is plural in form because of the “s” ending but it could be either plural or singular. Every grammarian knows this.
Second, in Filipino and also among the Ilocanos, the pronoun “kayo” or “dakayo” is plural in form so it could refer to a plurality of the persons of the antecedents. But the plural form of the pronouns could be used to refer to a single person if the person addressed is one highly regarded by the speaker. Elderly honorable persons, a town Mayor, and other higher officials in government are addressed with the plural form of the pronoun. So the plural form suggests the idea of honor, dignity, authority, and power of a person.
Comments and observations are welcomed.