Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does Elohim Provide Evidence For God’s Uni-Plurality? Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off.

Elohim Used With Plural Pronouns, Verbs, Participles, Adjectives Etc.

As we noted in the previous part of our discussion, while the use of the plural Elohim doesn’t prove the Trinity, it opens the door wide open for God existing as a plurality of divine Persons.

This fact becomes clearer when we take into consideration that the Hebrew Scriptures often employ plural pronouns, verbs, adjectives, participles etc., in order to describe the one true God.

In fact, oftentimes critics will argue that Elohim does not indicate that God is multi-personal since it is normally accompanied by singular verbs, adjectives, participles etc. It is further stated that Elohim is accompanied by plural verbs etc., when it is applied to gods.

This significant admission implies that if we find examples where plural verbs, adjectives etc., are employed for Elohim when it is referring to the true God then this would strongly establish that God is multi-personal in nature.

To put this another way, if Elohim does point to God’s multi-personality or uni-plurality, then we would expect to find places where plural nouns, verbs, adjectives, participles etc, are used with it.

As Christian author Dr. Robert A. Morey helps explain:

“If the authors of Scripture believed there was only one God, how could they express this idea in the Hebrew language? The only way, in terms of Hebrew grammar, was to use singular nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs in reference to God. Thus, they would refer to God as ‘He,’ ‘Him,’ and ‘His’ and describes God as saying, ‘I,’ ‘Myself,’ and ‘Me.’ Both Unitarians and Trinitarians would expect to find the authors of Scripture using such words in reference to God.

“But, if they also believed that God was multi-personal, the only way this idea could be indicated in the Hebrew was to use plural nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. They would also refer to God as ‘They,’ ‘Them,’ and ‘Theirs,’ and describe God as saying, ‘We,’ ‘Us,’ and ‘Ours.’…

“While both Trinitarians and Unitarians expect to find singular words applied to God, because they both believe there is only one God numerically speaking, only Trinitarians expect to find the plural words used of God as well. We have yet to see a Unitarian book in which God is referred to as ‘They’ or ‘Them.’ But this is the standard practice in Trinitarian books…

“But when it comes to plural nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, this not something which a Unitarian would expect to be applied to God in the Bible. We have yet to hear a Unitarian refer to God as ‘Them.’ But this would be exactly what a Trinitarian would expect to find in the Bible.

If God is multi-personal, then, we would expect to find God saying, ‘We,’ ‘Us,’ or ‘Our’ as well as ‘I,’ ‘Myself’, or ‘Me’ because God is One and Three at the same time. The doctrine of the Trinity requires the plural as well as the singular while Unitarianism only requires the singular.” (Morey, The Trinity: Evidence & Issues [Christian Scholars Press, Las Vegas, NV], Part II: The Old Testament Evidence, Chapter Seven. A Multi-Personal God, pp. 90-91; bold emphasis ours)

“Did the authors of the Bible use plural words for God? Yes, they did. The plural form of El is Elohim, which is the most frequently used word for ‘God’ in the Bible (i.e., Gen. 1:1).

“The word Elohim is translated as ‘gods’ over four hundred times in the Bible. That it is a true plural is seen from the fact that it has plural verbs and plural adjectives modifying it…” (Ibid., p. 91; bold emphasis ours)

Unfortunately for unitarians, this is precisely what we find the inspired authors of the Hebrew Bible doing, namely, describing Yahweh with plural nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and so on.

It is to these examples that we now turn our attention.

First Example

“And when God (Elohim) caused me to wander (hit‘u) from my father's house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.’” Genesis 20:13

The verb hit‘u, translated “cause to wander”, is the plural of ta`ah. The text can therefore be translated as, “When Gods (Elohim), they caused me to wander from my father’s house.”

Second Example

“and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God (Elohim) had revealed himself (niglu) to him when he fled from his brother.” Genesis 35:7

The verb that modifies the noun God (Elohim) is niglu (revealed), which is plural for galah. Thus, the verse literally reads, “Gods, They revealed themselves to him.”

Third Example

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near (Elohim qarobim) to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” Deuteronomy 4:7

The adjective qarobim is the plural form of qarob. The verse can thus be translated as, “gods who are so near.” The text is likening Yahweh to gods who are close enough to their people to save and protect them. The passage is basically saying that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites have been privileged to have their Gods nearby to answer them anytime they call on them.

Fourth Example

“For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God (Elohim chayyim) speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived?” Deuteronomy 5:26

“But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God (Elohim chayyim), the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.” Jeremiah 10:10 – cf. 23:36; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36

The Hebrew literally reads, “Gods who are living,” since the chayyim is plural and literally means lives. Now there is a singular form for the Hebrew word “living”, one which is used in the same way as that of the above passages:

“‘It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God (Elohim chay), and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.’… And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: ‘LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God (Elohim chay). It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.’” 2 Kings 19:4, 15-19 – cf. Isaiah 37:4, 17

We, therefore, have the inspired authors using both the singular and plural forms to describe the true God as the Living One, or the One who lives forever. This is precisely what a Trinitarian expects to find, but which shouldn’t be the case if the unitarian position is true. After all, the use of the singular chay would denote the fact that Yahweh is a singular Being, whereas the plural use, chayyim, would further affirm that this same God is also multi-personal in nature.

Fifth Example

“But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God (Elohim Qadoshim hu). He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions (lapish'akem) or your sins.’” Joshua 24:19

The word translated as “Holy” is the plural adjective qadoshim (“Holy Ones”). The passage can therefore be rendered as, “Gods, the Holy Ones is he.” On the other hand, the hu (“is He”) is in the singular, and the words that follow are also singular in form. This again is what we would expect if Trinitarianism is true, since the use of singular and plural adjectives, verbs etc., simply affirm that God is singular in his Being, but multi-Personal in nature.

There is further evidence that the plural here is meant to denote the fact that Yahweh is a multi-personal Being. According to the following passage, Yahweh deploys a specific Messenger who is able to forgive transgressions and happens to embody the very essence of God:

“See, I am sending an Angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion (lapish'akem), since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My Angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.” Exodus 23:20-24

Here, God warns the Israelites not to rebel against his Angel lest he chooses not to pardon their rebellion, clearly implying that this Messenger has the authority to forgive sins committed against God.

Moreover, to bear God’s name is to bear his divine characteristics and authority. Therefore, since this Angel possesses the divine name within himself this explains why he is able to forgive sins, which is an exclusively divine function according to the Hebrew Bible (cf. Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9; Micah 7:18-19).

Unfortunately for the Israelites, they did not heed Yahweh’s warning not to anger the Angel, resulting in the Angel punishing them for their rebellion:

“The Angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, “I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.” Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, “I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.”’ When the Angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.” Judges 2:1-5

Amazingly, the Angel ascribes to himself an astonishing number of divine functions which the Old Testament attributes to Yahweh, i.e., he was the One who swore to the fathers, he brought out the Israelites from Egypt and into the Promised Land, it is his covenant which the Israelites broke etc.

Nor is this only place where we see the Angel forgiving someone’s sins:

“Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the Angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said,Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’” Zechariah 3:3-4

The fact that the Angel embodies God’s very own essence and performs the unique divine functions which are ascribed to Yahweh alone simply provides further attestation that the reason why the inspired authors used the plural for God, such as qadoshim, is because they were aware that the one true God is a multi-Personal Being.

Here is another text which uses qadoshim:

“The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle. The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One (qadoshim). 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? Surely you know! Proverbs 30:1-4

Notice how the NRSV rendered the plural:

“I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.”

Agur speaks of how terribly ignorant he is of the Holy Ones, and then goes on to mention the incomprehensible acts of God and his Son. This basically confirms that qadoshim here is a numerical plural since Agur clearly refers to two distinct entities, namely, God and his Son who shares in his Father’s sovereignty and incomprehensibility.

Dr. Robert Morey helps bring out the implications that this passage has in providing OT evidence for the multi-personal nature of God:

First of all, it is clear that God is described not only as the Sovereign of the universe, but also as having a Son. This is so clear that no commentator, Jew or Christian, Trinitarian or Unitarian, denies this to be the case. Where they disagree is the identity of the “Son” of God.

Second, the Son is clearly a Person and not just a metaphor or an impersonal force or power.

Third, the parallelism in the Hebrew text reveals that what is true of the Father is equally true of His Son. Agur first asks… “What His name [i.e., the Father’s]?” Then he asks … “And what is the name of His Son?”

Notice that Agur asks the same question twice … “What is the name of? …” To lead his reader to the right answer, Agur then issues a rhetorical question… “Surely you know, don’t you?” The obvious answer is, “No, I do not comprehend the nature of the Father or His Son.”

The Father and the Son are both described as incomprehensible in their natures because in Hebrew idiom, to know the name of someone is to know their nature. But Agur declares that we cannot know the divine, inscrutable name of God or His Son. Thus, the deity of the Son of God is established in this text. He is just as incomprehensible as His divine Father.

Fourth, the Hebrew parallelism in the text also refutes the attempt to understand the Son as the nation of Israel or one of its earthly kings, which are never said to be incomprehensible. To deny the deity of the Son, in this text, would require one to deny the deity of the Father.

Fifth, Agur could not have uttered these words unless he understood the multi-personal nature of God. R. Payne Smith comments on this verse:

The concluding clauses of this energetic passage are rationally and easily interpreted, if we admit that the ancient Jews had some obscure ideas of plurality in the divine nature.

Keil agrees that this is the underlying assumption of Agur:

But he would not have ventured this question if he had not supposed that God was not a monas [unity] who was without manifoldness in Himself. (Morey, The Trinity: Evidence & Issues, Part II: The Old Testament Evidence, Chapter Eleven. God the Son, pp. 175-176; bold emphasis ours)

According to the NT, the Son to which Agur refers is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

The inspired Christian Scriptures proclaim that Christ is the Son whom the Father (along with his Holy Spirit) alone truly knows since he is every bit as incomprehensible as the Father is, thereby requiring an infinite mind to comprehend him:

“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal Him. Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’” Matthew 11:25-30 – Luke 10:22

Christ is also the Son who ascends and descends in order to carry out his Father’s will:

No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.” John 3:13-18

Thus, the NT fully unveils what the OT hints at, namely, that there is a divine Son within the Godhead who is coequal with the Father:

But how does the mystery increase! What is his name, if thou canst tell? And who can tell? “No one knoweth the Son, but the Father.” Yet there is a Son in the Eternal Godhead–a Son not begotten in time, but from eternity–his name therefore–not as some would have it–a component part of his humiliation–but the manifestation of his Godhead–co-existent with his Father in the same ineffable nature–yet personally distinct. What is his name? and what his Son's name? Sovereignty—Omnipresence—Omnipotence is his. He too controls the winds and waters, and establishes the earth, as one, who is in the visible “form of God, and thinketh it not robbery to be equal with God.”

What is his name? The word even of the secret name is easily spelt. But the mystery is hid. We must not search too curiously; lest we “intrude into those things which we have not seen, vainly puffed up by our fleshly mind.” Many, however, think it easy to understand this name. They think far more of their wisdom than Agur did, and are at no loss at all to explain what they conceive in their proud ignorance they conceive to be the full meaning of the inscrutable subject. But the genuine disciple acknowledges the nature of the Son to be alike incomprehensible with that of the Father–a mystery to be adored–not understood. (Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs, pp. 502-503; bold emphasis ours)

12. ‘We have a full and clear testimony of the distinction of persons, and that the Son is equal to the Father, and of the same substance with him.’ Lavater. See Scott in loco. Mr. Holden considers this interpretation to be ‘natural and unforced, and very suitable to the context.’ (Ibid, p. 502; bold emphasis ours)

In light of the foregoing, there can be absolutely no doubt that the plural use of qadosh in Joshua 23:19 and Proverbs 30:3 is meant to convey the fact of Yahweh being multi-personal in nature.

Sixth Example

“Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went (halachu Elohim) to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?” 2 Samuel 7:22-23

The words, “God went,” are in the plural and literally reads, “Gods, they went to redeem.”

Seventh Example

“Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God (Elohim) who judges (shophetim) on earth.’” Psalm 58:11

David uses the plural shophetim, which if we were to translate it literally would say, “Gods, They judge the earth.”

Eighth Example

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master (adonim), where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’” Malachi 1:6

Adonim is the plural form of adon, and again hints at God being multi-personal. That adonim is intended to reveal God’s uni-plurality can be easily seen from what the prophet goes on to say a little later:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord (ha adon) whom you seek will suddenly come to HIS temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:1

Malachi refers to Yahweh of hosts sending a messenger to prepare for the coming of the Lord to his own temple, whom Malachi also identifies as the Messenger or Angel of the covenant. The phrase ha adon is always employed for Yahweh God, and never applied to anyone else (cf. Exodus 23:17; 34:23; Isaiah 1:24; 3:1; 10:16, 33; 19:4; Micah 4:13), which means that the Lord whom Malachi says is coming must be Yahweh God as well. This further explains why the temple is said to belong to the Lord who is the Angel of the covenant, even though Scripture says that the temple was built as a house for Yahweh to dwell in (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:1; 2 Chronicles 6:1-2).

This shows that Malachi was fully aware that both Yahweh and the Angel of the covenant were/are God, which in turn explains his use of the plural adonim.

In other words, the reason why the prophet used the plural form of adon is because God had revealed to him that there is more than one divine Person within the Godhead.

And according to the NT, the messenger whom Yahweh sent was John the Baptist, and the Lord whom he was sent ahead of was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ!

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight! John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John wore a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. He was preaching: ‘Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1:1-8

“This is the one it is written about: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You; he will prepare Your way before You.’ I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:10-11

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about: “After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.” I didn’t know Him, but I came baptizing with water so He might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Him. I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on—He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God!’” John 1:29-34

Hence, the inspired Christian Scriptures identify the Father as the Yahweh of hosts who sent the messenger to prepare the way for him, and Jesus Christ as the Lord and the Angel of covenant who was to come to his temple.

Suffice it to say these examples of the plural troubled the rabbis, who tried to explain them away:


Tanhuma Kadoshim 4 (Buber, 37a) 2

Another interpretation: Say to the whole congregation of the Children of Israel “You shall be holy for I am Holy”. (Lev. 19:2) The Holy One Blessed Be He told them “Be holy for I am Holy in every matter. Look at what is written: ‘For God is Holy (pl.)’” (Josh. 24:19). What is the meaning of “For God is Holy?” This verse gave an opportunity to the heretics for it appeared like two powers. The heretics asked R. Simlai about “For the Lord is Holy (pl.)” – “You yourselves don’t say that He is one power, rather there are two powers.” He said to them “What fools the world contains! Look at what is written: ‘For He is a Holy God.’ If it had said ‘They are Holy Gods,’ you might have thought there were two powers.”

This passage is recorded in Tanhuma, a later document which is sometimes believed to contain ancient traditions… These heretical arguments were seen to be of the same type by the rabbis, confirming what we already know–that “two powers” had become a conventional term for a variety of heresies whenever scripture could be interpreted to imply plural forms for divinity. Here the argument seems to be confined to grammatical plurals.

However, there is nothing in the traditions to indicate that the heretics themselves would have argued solely from plural grammar. Wherever we know that a scriptural passage was used by heretics, the arguments of the heretics were much more complicated.

The most complete version of this particular tradition is found in b. Sanhedrin 38b where almost all of this type of dangerous scriptural passages were brought together.

R. Yohanan said: in all the passages which the minim have taken (as grounds) for their heresy, their refutation is found near at hand. Thus: let us make man in our image (Gen. 1:26) – and God created (sing) man in His own image (ibid., 27); Come, let us go down their confound their language (Gen. 11:7) – and the Lord came down (sing) to see the city and tower (ibid., 5). Because there were revealed (Gen. 35:7) to him, God. Unto God who answers men in the day of my distress (ibid., 3); For what great nation is there that has God so nigh (pl.) unto it, as the Lord our God is (unto us) whenever we call upon Him (Dt. 4:7). And what one nation in the earth is like Thy people, like Israel whom God went (pl.) to redeem for a people unto Himself (sing.) (2 Sam. 7:23). ‘Til thrones were placed and [one that was] the ancient of days did sit’ (Dan. 7:9)… A grammatical plural form in scripture is used by heretics to demonstrate duality or plurality in the deity. The rabbi suggests that the remedy to the heresy, always a grammatical singular, invariably occurs close to the plurals, proving the heretical doctrine wrong. Some of the dangerous scriptures must reflect real arguments between orthodox and heretical communities, but other passages may have been added purely by analogy, as the tradition grew. More importantly, we have no evidence that any actual heretical argument took the form in which it is reported. While the heretics might have used the passage, their beliefs were no doubt more sophisticated than the rabbis reported. (Segal, Two Powers in Heaven – Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism [Brill Academic Publishers, Inc., Boston – Leiden, 2002], Part Two. The Early Rabbinic Evidence, Chapter Eight. How Many Powers Created the World?, pp. 121-123; bold emphasis ours)

The very fact that so-called heretics were appealing to some of the very same OT texts that we cited in order to prove the existence of multiple divine Persons, which ended up forcing the rabbis to come up with some kind of explanation (no matter how weak it may have been), shows quite conclusively that such plurals would have never been used if the Holy Bible were written by unitarians who thought that God was a singular divine Person.

Hence, whereas a unitarian wouldn’t expect to find the Holy Scriptures employing plural nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives etc., to describe the one true God if unitarianism were true, this is precisely what a Trinitarian would expect to discover if indeed the inspired Bible writers knew that Yahweh is a multi-personal Being.

It is now time to proceed to Part 3.