Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) is the Old Testament Hebrew word that is most frequently translated “God.” Elohim is plural in form, for it has the plural suffix im. Plural nouns normally signify multiple instances of that noun, which is also true of elohim. The Bible applies elohim more than 400 times to pagan gods. In such instances it is translated as “gods” and is associated with plural verbs and plural adjectives. For example, “My people have forgotten Me, They burn incense to worthless gods.”
Some Trinitarians argue that the Old Testament writers used elohim because they thought of God as a multi-personal Being. The purpose of this article is to show that this is not true.
Plural of Majesty
Firstly, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says about elohim:
“The plural ending is usually described as a plural of majesty and not intended as a true plural when used of God. This is seen in the fact that the noun ’elohim is consistently used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular.”
An example of this is Genesis 1:26: “God (elohim) said, “Let Us make man in Our image.” Here plural pronouns are used but the verb “said” is in singular, which implies that “God” is a single Person. This further implies that the “Us” and “Our” include persons other than “God.” In the New Testament, God made the world through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). “God” therefore refers to the Father, and the “Us” in Genesis 1:26 may include the Son.
An example where elohim is used for a human being as a plural of majesty is Exodus 7:1, where “the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made you a god [elohim] to Pharaoh.” Here, God told Moses that He was going to make Moses appear great in the eyes of Pharaoh, as we see in Exodus 11:3:
“The man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.
IT WAS GENERAL PRACTICE AMONGST THE HEBREW PEOPLE TO PLURALIZE NOUNS WHEN THEY DESIRED TO EXPRESS GREATNESS OR MAJESTY. It is then not a numerical plural. For example, adonim is the plural form of adon, which means “lord” or “master.” In spite of its plural form, it frequently refers to a single person in an exalted position, for example to Abraham (Genesis 24:9, 10, 51). Another example is Adonay, which is also a plural form of adon, and which always refers to God. Still other examples are Baalim and Behemoth. The Old Testament also sometimes refer to God as “the Holy Ones,” but used with singular verbs.
The distinguishing maxim in Judaism was and still is:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4)
This slogan stood in opposition to the polytheism of the day. The Hebrew mind had a firm understanding that there is only one God. The pervasive monotheism of the Old Testament denies any idea that the authors of the Old Testament used elohim because they thought of God as existing in multiple Persons.
The New Testament was written in Greek. In Greek, the word for “god” is theos. The plural form of theos is theoi, which is used to refer to multiple “gods,” for example, “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying ‘The gods (theoi) have become like men and have come down to us.’” (Acts 14:11).
Although theos has a plural form, the New Testament always uses the the singular form for God.
This is also true when the New Testament quotes passages from the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament writers always translated the Hebrew word elohim with the singular noun theos, for example in Mark 12:29. If elohim really indicated that the one true god consists in multiple Persons, then the New Testament writers would have also used the plural form of theos.
The Septuagint is the ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. When used for the God of Israel, the Septuagint also always translates elohim with the singular theos.
On the basis of this ample evidence, dictionaries define elohim as a plural of majesty.
“Elohim is a plural form which is often used in Hebrew to denote plentitude of might.” — (Hertz, The Pentateuch & Haftorahs)
“The form of the word, elohim, is plural. The Hebrews pluralized nouns to express greatness or majesty.” — (Flanders, Cresson; Introduction to the Bible)
“The Hebrew noun elohim is plural, but the VERB is singular, a normal usage in the OT when reference is to the one true God. this use of the plural expresses intensification rather than number and has been called the plural of majesty.” — (New International Version Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985, p. 6)
“The plural form of elohim has given rise to much discussion. The fanciful idea that it referred to the Trinity of Persons in the godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars.” — (Smith’s Bible Dictionary)
Despite this strong evidence, some still attempt to show that elohim “allows for” a plurality of divine Persons within God. To support this claim, they point to a few exceptions where the Old Testament uses plural verbs, pronouns, adjectives, participles etc. with elohim. But a handful of exceptions can never negate the evidence from more than 2500 instances where the Old Testament uses elohim for God with singular verbs. It is much more probable that the few plural verbs, etc. are part of the Jewish practice of using plurals to express greatness.
What is His son’s name?
AnsweringIslam uses Proverbs 30 to support its claim that God is a Trinity:
“The words of Agur son of Jakeh. … I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One (qadoshim – the NRSV renders this as “holy ones”). Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name?” (Proverbs 30:1-4)
Since Agur speaks of “the holy ones,” of God’s incomprehensible acts and of “his son’s name,” AnsweringIslam concludes:
That “the holy ones” refer to the Father and the Son;
That “his son” refers to the pre-incarnate Jesus;
That they are equal;
That both incomprehensible;
That this text established the deity of the Son of God; and
That God has a multi-personal nature.
However, the Old Testament does not contain the concept that God has a Son, as we know Him from the New Testament. To find evidence of the existence of the Son in a few isolated and ambiguous verses is wishful thinking. AnsweringIslam’s conclusion is therefore astounding. To base all these conclusions on such an ambiguous passage is to hang a mountain on a camel’s hair. “His son” is possibly just a metaphor to emphasise that, for Agur, as well as for us, God is utterly incomprehensible.
For a further discussion, see End Times Prophecy.