We see the word Elohim in the very first verse of scripture:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth
The Hebrew word for God, Elohim is the plural form of Eloah and it is used in the Old Testament more than any other word for God. The plural ending –im has caused many to conclude that God is a plurality of persons, or even multiple deities (polytheism – belief in more than one God). In this study we will look at the word Elohim and see how it is used in scripture and see why it is plural.
How does the Hebrew language use plural words?
In the Hebrew language, there are many words that are plural but have a singular connotation. Here are a few examples (Graves, p. 28).
- Mayim – water
- Shamayim – heaven
- Panim – face
- Sarim – court official
- Milium – consecration
- Megurim – dwelling place
- Bethulim – virginity
- Tamim – honest, perfect
- Rachamim – compassion
- Tzaharaim – noon
- Orim – light, brightness
- Urim – enlightenment
- Mitsrayim – Egypt
- Yerushalayim – Jerusalem
- Bechurim – the age of youth
- Biuthim – terror, anguish
- Hathulim – mockery, derision
- Chanutim – the act of embalming
- Machelluyim – sickness
- Merukim – anointing, cleansing
- Tsammim – snare, perdition
- Shekulim – childlessness
- Shimurim – observance, celebration
- Teunim – toil, labor
- Shenhabim – ivory
- Geulim – release, redemption
- Chaim – life, refreshment
- Kippurim – expiation, atonement
All of these words have a singular meaning even though the word itself is plural. This is what is known as an intensive plural noun (Graves, p. 29). They have the plural ending even though they are singular.
Brown, Driver, and Briggs’ Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament explains that the plural form Elohim is plural intensive with singular force (Graves, p. 29).
Smith’s Bible Dictionary calls the plural ending a plural of majesty (Graves, p. 29). Smith further explains Elohim as the fullness of Divine strength, the sum of powers displayed by God (Graves, p. 29).
Jewish scholars see Elohim as a plural form used to denote plentitude of might (Graves, p. 29).
The plural word is used to show greatness, majesty, and multiple attributes of God (Bernard, p. 46).
Flanders and Cresson explain that plural usage in Hebrew has a function other than indicating plurality. They explain that the Hebrews used the plural form to indicate greatness or majesty (Bernard, p. 146).
The scriptures also use the word Elohim in reference to false gods, spirit beings, and rulers.
Judges 8:33 And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.
Judges 11:24 Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.
Judges 16:23 Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
1 Samuel 28:13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
2 Kings 1:2-3 2 And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease. 3 But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say unto them, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?
2 Kings 19:37 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
Psalm 82:1-8 <A Psalm of Asaph.> God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. 2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. 3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. 4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. 5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. 6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. 7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
When the scriptures show us a manifestation of God we always see God in singular.
Genesis 32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
The golden calf made by Aaron was called elohim and it was clearly one single calf.
Exodus 32:1 And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
Exodus 32:4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Exodus 32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Exodus 32:19-20 19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. 20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
Exodus 32:23-24 23 For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. 24 And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.
Jesus is also called Elohim.
Psalm 45:6 Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
Note: this verse is quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews 1:8, where Theos is used for God. Theos is singular. If God had meant to suggest a plurality of persons within the godhead by using a plural word in the Old Testament, He would have used a plural word in the New Testament. He would have used Theoi instead of Theos.
Hebrews 1:8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
Zechariah 12:8-10 8 In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. 9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
Zechariah 14:5 And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
The root word of Elohim is El, which signifies strength, power, and might (Graves, p. 29). This is signified in the term ‘Mighty God’ (Graves, p. 29).
The plurality of Elohim shows the power and might of God. It does not intend to describe multiple personalities within God, or multiple Gods. We’ve seen in these scriptures that Elohim referred to God, false gods, and Jesus. If God had meant for us to understand a plurality of persons in the Godhead, or even more than one God, He would have shown us in the context. There is no doubt that the false gods called Elohim were singular beings. There is no doubt that Jesus is a singular being. There is no doubt that God is singular in His nature. The context shows God speaking in singular. Many times God uses singular pronouns to describe Himself.
Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Isaiah 43:10-11 10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.
Isaiah 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
Isaiah 44:8 8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
Isaiah 44:24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
Isaiah 45:21-22 21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
Isaiah 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
If God had intended for the word Elohim to describe a plurality other than His attributes and power, the context would have shown us this plurality. Instead we see from scripture that God is so mighty, so powerful, and so majestic, that a language that uses plural words to describe these attributes in plural must also use a plural word to describe the most powerful being that the universe will ever know. Elohim is plural because God is Almighty.
Bernard, David K. (1983) Oneness of God, The.
Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press
Graves, R. Brent (2000). The God of two Testaments
Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press
David K. Bernard The Oneness of God
Robert Brent Graves The God of Two Testaments