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In the Beginning, “God(s)” Created the Heavens and the Earth - Gen. 1:1

By: David Deschesne

Most Christians who hold to the monotheistic view of one singular God in existence do not realize that the original Hebrew texts of their Bible use the plural form of God to indicate the Creator.

In Hebrew, the generic אל, el, is de-fined as “strength,” “mighty,” “power,” and “strong.” It is used to denote any powerful god in general.1

The expanded אלה, elah, is used specifically to name God and is used in that way almost extensively in the Book of Ezra.2

In the English language, the letter ‘s’ is placed on the end of a word to denote a plural form. Hebrew uses the suffix ים, ‘im, in the same way. By adding the im onto elah, you create the word, אלהים, elohim, which is the plural of god, meaning “gods.”

“Beginning with the first sentence of Genesis, it is apparent that the existence of God is taken for granted. Nowhere is it doubted or argued; neither, however, is the existence of other gods questioned. In this respect, Genesis is radically different from the other books of the Torah and from the Prophets.”3

“Elohim is the generic term for divinity most frequently used in the Bible. It is used as a plural noun for gods of other nations and as a singular noun when applied to Israel’s God.”4

“This word, which is generally viewed as the plural of eloha is found for more frequently in scripture than either ’el or ’eloah for the true God. The plural ending is usually described as a plural 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.”5

The plural Elohim is used extensively and primarily throughout the Old Testament to denote “God”. However, at times, יהוה, yahweh - “the Lord” - is either used as a modifier as in אלהים יהוה, Yahweh Elohim—“The LORD God” - or by itself for “God.” The first time Yahweh Elohim is used in the Bible is at Genesis 2:4, which some believe to be the original start of the Book of Genesis. The Bible is believed to have been written in sections at different time periods and can be divided into four primary source works known classically by the symbols J, E, D, and P. The works that are known as J and E have been regarded as the earliest, written in the late tenth to eighth century B.C. “In the case of J, it is easy to enough to know where it begins. It begins in Gen. 2:4 with an account of the creation.”6

Rather than the plural Elohim, the Book of Ezekiel primarily uses Yahweh to denote God. The Book of Ezra primarily uses the singular Elha along with the modifier, Yahweh. However, the plural form, Elohim, is used over 2500 times for God in the rest of the OT. Interestingly, The Book of Daniel extensively uses the singular Elah in the original Hebrew, when discussing generic “gods” in the plural.

“A remarkable peculiarity distinguishes [Elohim]; for it is a plural noun accompanied by a singular verb, which is the construction maintained throughout the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, though it is also found in various passages associated with plural adjuncts, and in such a connection it irresistibly suggests the idea of more objects than one. This interchange of singular and plural forms, as well as the frequent combination of both in the same sentence, constitutes a peculiar idiom unparalleled in any other language, and it demands particular attention from the occurrence of the term in the latter state in the first verse of the Bible...Elohim, therefore in preference to all other names of the Divine Being, must have been dictated by some special reason of great utility and importance.”7

 

Notes:

1. Strong’s #408

2. Strong’s #426

3. The Torah; A Modern Commentary, ©1981 Union of American Hebrew Congregations, W. Gunther Plaut, ed., p. 21

4. op. cit. p. 31

5. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ©1980 The Moody Bible Institute, Vol. 1, p. 44

6. The Hidden Book in the Bible, ©1998 Richard Friedman, pp. 9-10

7. A Commentary; Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, ©1945 WM B. EERDMANS Publ. Co. Vol. I, p. 1