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Does Elohim Provide Evidence For God’s Uni-Plurality? Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Elohim is the most commonly used word for God in the Hebrew Bible, more so than any other term with the exception of the Tetragrammaton or divine name, which in Hebrew is represented by the letters yod he waw he, i.e. YHWH (commonly rendered as Yahweh). Elohim appears approximately 2570 times in the OT writings:

“The term occurs in the general sense of deity some 2570 times in Scripture. Yet as Pope has indicated, it is difficult to detect any discrepancy in use between the forms ’el, ’eloah, and ’elohim in Scripture (Marvin H. Pope, El in Ugaritic Texts, p. 10).” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke [Moody Press, Chicago 1980], Volume 1, p. 44; bold emphasis ours)

It is plural in form, having the plural masculine suffix im.

In this series of articles we will seek to demonstrate that one of the primary reasons the inspired writers employed this word is because it was revealed to them that God exists as a multi-personal Being. We shall establish that the Biblical writers were clearly aware that Yahweh wasn’t/isn’t a single divine Person. Rather, the data will reveal that God’s inspired spokespersons knew and spoke of there being more than one eternal Person within the one true Godhead.   

We will show that Elohim, at times, also functions as an intensive plural or plural of intensification, denoting that Yahweh (and him alone, we might add) possesses all the fullness of Deity, being perfect and infinite in all of his attributes and characteristics.

In other words, our aim will be to prove that the term Elohim points to the infinite and incomprehensible essence of God, as well as to his multi-personal nature. As the following Evangelical sources explain:

“… This word, which is generally viewed as the plural of ’eloah, is found far more frequently in Scripture than either ’el or ’eloah for the true God. 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.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Volume 1, p. 44; bold emphasis ours)


’Elohim is a plural form which is used more than twenty-five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible. It is a general term for God and can also be used to apply to false gods as well as to judges and kings. ’Elohim is usually translated ‘God’ in our English translation…The word ’Elohim is plural… The fact that the Hebrew writers did not regard ’Elohim as a true plural is seen by the fact that they consistently used the term with singular verb forms, adjectives, and pronouns.

“William F. Albright has pointed out that in the Canaanite world there was an increasing tendency to employ the plural form with Canaanite deities, as in the title Ashtarot used of Astarte. This was an attempt to emphasize the ‘totality of manifestations of deity’ or to magnify one of their gods by addressing him as the ‘totality of gods.’ While this cultural background may shed some light on the use of the plural, a better reason is found in the Bible itself. The word ’Elohim can speak of the unity of the one majestic God and also allow for a plurality of divine persons within the Trinity (Is. 48:16; Matt. 28:19). While we recognize that the ‘plural of majesty’ allows for the Trinity rather than explicitly stating this doctrine, its use in the Old Testament anticipates the existence of the triune God.” (Understanding Christian Theology, gen. eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck [Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN 2003], 4. Designations of Deity, pp. 159-160; bold emphasis ours)

This same book goes on to say that,

“Many Christian theologians and commentators have seen evidence for God’s Triunity in the plural word for God, ’Elohim. While the plural form of ’El (‘god’) allows for and is consistent with the later revelation of the Triunity, it does not demand this interpretation. It is possible to understand the plural form ’Elohim as a plural of majesty that emphasizes the fullness of God’s character and attributes. Our Jewish friends, for example, recognize the plural form but don’t accept the Trinity doctrine. And yet the plural form allows for the Triunity, which is more explicitly stated in later revelation.” (Ibid, 10. The Triunity of God, p. 203; bold emphasis ours)

We completely agree that the word ‘Elohim’, in and of itself, cannot establish that God is a Triune Being, since the term cannot tell us how many divine Persons there are, whether two, three, four or more. It can, however, point to the fact that the one true God eternally exists as more than one divine Person:

“… No theologian today would prooftext the doctrine of the Trinity by citing Old Testament passages dealing with three of this and three of that, as did the early apologists. Yet the church has always believed that the God who reveals himself in Christ is the God who revealed himself to Israel. The Bible may be in two parts, but it does not reveal two Gods. Hence, there must be data in the Old Testament concerning God that are at least amenable to the Christian understanding of God.

“Given this assumption, theologians have noted, for example, that the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is a plural form. This form is, in view of the pervasive monotheism of the Old Testament, a striking stylistic usage, to say the least. When it occurs in the first creation narrative together with the use of plural pronouns – ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion’ (Gn. 1:26 NRSV) – surely it is an intimation that God is not a solitary monad, especially since the creature, who is like him, is a fellowship of male and female.” (P.K. Jewett, God, Creation, and Revelation: A Neo-Evangelical Theology [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 1991] Unit Three. Who God Is: The Divine Nature, IV. God Is a Trinity of Holy Love, C. The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine, p. 269; bold emphasis ours)


“Albright has suggested that the use of this majestic plural comes from the tendency in the ancient near east toward a universalism: ‘We find in Canaanite an increasing tendency to employ the plural Ashtorot “Astartes”, and Anatot “Anaths”, in the clear sense of totality of manifestations of a deity’ (William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2d ed., p. 213). But a better reason can be seen in Scripture itself where, in the very first chapter of Gen, the necessity of a term conveying both the unity of the one God and yet allowing for a plurality of persons is found (Gen 1:2, 26). This is further borne out by the fact that the form ’elohim occurs only in Hebrew and in no other Semitic language, not even in Biblical Aramaic.” (Gustav F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 88).

Another plural noun regularly used for God is Adonay. Like Elohim, it too is used to denote the fact that God is infinite in his being, as well as pointing to his multi-personal nature:

“In about three hundred passages ’adon appears in a special plural form with a first-person singular suffix (’adonay). In this form, found in the Psalms, Lamentations, and the Prophets, the term always refers to God. The plural form ’adonay is the plural of majesty, which we also observed in the designation ’Elohim (‘God’). It highlights the greatness of God as manifested by His many attributes and allows for the later development of the doctrine of the Trinity.” (Understanding Christian Theology, p. 161; bold emphasis ours)

With that said, we are now ready to move on to an examination of the evidence itself.