Elohim and Other Key Terms
The Danger of Confusing the Doctrine of God by Inventing Our Own Definitions and Vocabulary
A Presentation at the One God Conference in Tyler, Texas, July, 2003
"Strange generation this? Father and Son coeval: two distinct and yet but one” (Thomas Ken, 1637-1711, Hymnotheo poet, wks., 1727, III, 335).
“It is difficult to place three billiard balls on one spot” (J.A.T. Robinson).
“The Arians had some plausible things to urge particularly in respect of the generation of the Son” (Daniel Waterland, Sermons, 1720).
“Origen introduced the phrase ‘the Son’s eternal generation’” (Wilberforce on the Incarnation, 1848).
“To be called Son of God in the NT means that you are not God…To read John 1:1 as though it means ‘In the beginning was the Son’ is patently wrong” (Professor Colin Brown, general editor of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology).
“God is one WHAT in three WHO’s” (Hank Hanegraaf, Bible Answer Man).
“The New Testament offers no new doctrine of God, but simply proclaims that the Old Testament God has now acted definitively. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is now the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Even the fatherhood of God is not new (Isaiah 64:8). Thus all Old Testament theology is implied in the New Testament: God is the creator and Lord of history, the God who acts, who calls Israel into covenant, who promises the redemption of his people. The New Testament proclaims that these promises have now been fulfilled, or rather are now in the process of being fulfilled” (Oxford Companion to the Bible, “Biblical Theology,” NT).
“These [traditional] ways of reading the Philippian hymn contain an emphasis on Jesus Christ as a divine being who previously was with God, emptied himself of his pre-existent divinity, became a man on earth, and then went back up where he properly belonged. When people do read Philippians 2, the ‘heavy hand of tradition’ keeps them reading along these lines. The Fathers, countering the Arian dilution of Christ’s divinity, clarified the terms ‘in the form of God’ and ‘he emptied himself’ to show that Christ is fully equal and co-existent with God. This dominant theology is evident in Calvin’s explanation of Philippians 2, ‘For a time his Divine glory was invisible, and nothing appeared but the human form, in a mean and abject condition’” (Professor Mauch, Trinity College, CT).
Defining God in the Bible
“It is as dangerous to get it wrong as it is difficult to get it right.” — Morgridge
“At the Trinity reason stands aghast and faith itself is half confounded.” — Bishop Hurd
“Nothing to support the dogma [of the Trinity] can be pointed out in Scripture.” — Luther
At present the world is deeply divided over who God is. Millions of Jews and over a billion Muslims are alike repelled by the historic Christian doctrine that God is Three in One. As long as that central tenet is maintained it fosters a religious hostility between peoples of the world-faiths. Our difficulties as a human race are firstly theological. Collectively we do not know who God is and which God to serve. And we have apparently forgotten that Jesus was a Jew reciting as his most precious doctrine the Shema (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord”) of Deut. 6:4 (cp. Mark 12:28ff.) which as everyone should know is a unitarian creed. At stake is the question of obeying and following the teaching of Jesus. If our God is not the God of the Hebrew Bible, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of Jesus himself, are we floundering in the chaos of polytheism? It is at least worthwhile exploring that threatening possibility. In so doing we may be able to confirm our salvation and rejoice in the truth as Jesus taught it. No considerations of party loyalty, “what we have always believed,” or fear of standing alone should deter us for one second from the Berean exercise to which we are all committed (Acts 17:11). God is to be worshiped, Jesus said, “in spirit and truth.” Error can only obstruct our relationship with God.
“Distinguished but undivided, bound together in otherness, one in three: that is the Godhead and the three are one (Credo of Gregory of Nazianzus, Jan. 6, 381). This language is still heard in Roman Catholic liturgy. Thus Hans Kung has spoken of ‘the unbiblical very abstractly constructed speculation of the Roman Catholic treatises’ and ‘the Hellenization of the Christian primordial message by Greek theology’ and expresses ‘the genuine concern of many Christians and the justified frustration of Jews and Muslims in trying to find in such formulas the pure faith in One God.’ Claus Westerman said, ‘the question of relationships of the persons in the Trinity to one another and the question of the divinity and humanity in the person of Christ as a question of ontic [having to do with ‘essence’] relationships could only arise when the Old Testament had lost its significance for the early church. The Christological and Trinitarian questions structurally correspond to the mythological questions into relationships of the gods to one another in a pantheon’” (From Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine, A Dialogue Between Pinchas Lapide and Jurgen Moltmann, Fortress Press, 1981, pp. 40, 41).
One does not have to advance very far into Scripture to arrive at the word God, with capital G (although in the original there are no capitals as distinct from lower case).
“In the beginning God created….”
We confront here the Hebrew word Elohim followed by a verb which is singular (“he,” not “they,” created).
In G.T. Armstrong’s paperback of 1977, The Real Jesus, the author announces that “it is time you met the real Jesus” (p. 1). After a spirited description of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, we learn that the Creator, obviously here not Jesus but the Father, was announcing the birth of His Son through three different groups of individuals. Surprisingly the visitation of Gabriel to Mary declaring the basis on which Jesus might be called Son of God, that is, by the procreating activity of the Father (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20) is bypassed in our author’s account. We are immediately, however, plunged into a chapter entitled “Jesus the Creator — His Former Life.”
Jesus in his former life, we are told, had spoken to Abraham in Genesis 18. Jesus, said Mr. Armstrong, was not understood by his opponents when he spoke of Abraham having looked forward to his appearance (p. 14). “Jesus was thinking in another dimension — the full knowledge and awareness of who and what he was, of his spiritual background and timelessness.” Mr. Armstrong then moves from Abraham to John 1:1: “There are two other important Scriptures relative to Christ’s preexistence: ‘In the beginning God created…’ (Gen. 1:1) and ‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’”
Is Elohim Plural in Meaning?
Now I do not wish in any way to come over as “smart” or condemning, but what follows in The Real Jesus sets out a whole theology which has had dramatic consequences for the education and spiritual journeys of countless people over some 70 years.
G.T. Armstrong says: “The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is an interesting word with a plural form (the –im ending).” “A little research,” says Mr. Armstrong, “demonstrates that Elohim can indicate more than one person; and can be taken to mean a family of persons.” Our author goes on. “Elohim means more than one and while not necessarily limiting the number, many other texts prove there was the Father (whom no man has ever seen at any time) and the Son. Therefore in our modern English language, the beginning text of the Bible would be more understandable if it were written thus: ‘In the beginning the family of God consisting of the Father and the Son, created the heaven and the earth.’”
Presumably it would follow that the thousands of appearances of that same word Elohim in the Hebrew Bible are likewise, according to the Armstrong scheme, mistranslated, and really mean “the one God-Family.” The proposal is surely a momentous one setting the standard for an entire theology. At the same time this proposal corrects all the standard translations of the Scripture.
The dye is now set. We are launched, I think, into polytheism — based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts of the Hebrew language — the use of the word Elohim.
I would invite you to pause and reflect on what is happening here. Let us ask this question: Since the Bible was translated into English from Hebrew and Greek in hundreds and hundreds of translations into hundreds and hundreds of languages, has any single translator or committee of scholars who rendered the sacred text from the Hebrew, at any time, proposed or sanctioned that translation, which our author, who would claim no specialist training in language modern or ancient, offers us: “In the beginning the family of God, Father and Son, created the heavens and the earth”?
He goes on:
“The Hebrew word elohim in Genesis 1:1 means that there was more than one member of the God family involved in the creating… The Word of John 1 was the executive member of the Godhead of whom the Bible says all things were made by him. Perhaps the clearest description absolutely proving that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was the same Being who was the Eternal Creator of the OT, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is Col 1:16…. The Bible clearly shows, without any interpretation or exegesis, that the creator being who is called ‘God’ (Elohim or Yahweh) in the Old Testament is the same individual who became the Jesus Christ of the New Testament... The personage who emptied himself and became flesh, born of the virgin Mary to become the baby Jesus in Bethlehem was the same individual who created Adam, who saved Noah, who appeared to Abraham. He was the same personality of the Godhead or God family who wrote the 10 commandments and ruled Israel. The Bible absolutely proves the fact that Jesus Christ of the NT is the same person as the God of the OT” (p. 18).
If we now review the information presented in The Real Jesus, we have been told that:
1) Elohim is plural in meaning
2) It means the Family of God
3) It means one member of that family, the one who became Jesus.
In the Beginning Gods?
There are a number of serious problems with these declarations.
If Elohim is plural in meaning then it should always be translated Gods. In this case it would refer to two or more Gods. A word cannot mean both God and Family. This would be to assign two completely different meanings to the same word. If the Bible wanted to speak of the Family of God it could do this quite easily, as for example in the “family of David,” “family of Egypt.” There is a perfectly good Hebrew word for family, but the Creator is nowhere said to be a Family of Persons.
However, if Elohim means “family,” and yet is a plural word, why should it not be rendered “families”? And if it means in Gen. 1:1 “Gods,” or Family of God, how can it also refer to one single member of that family, Jesus Christ?
A number of more serious problems arise on these premises:
If Elohim is plural and thus means Gods then what is the significance of the singular verb following? (“he [not they] created”). We would have to translate, “In the beginning Gods, he created” or “Gods was the creator.”
We are rapidly reducing the sacred text to nonsense.
What we are seeing here is a highly problematic shifting of definitions, which in every other field would be recognized as a form of confusion and deception. What Mr. Armstrong presents is a grammatical method in which all sorts of grammatical laws, rules and definitions are thrown aside. Dictionaries and lexicons are discarded as unnecessary and imagination is given free rein. A kind of mystical grammatical category is created by which an innocent word like Elohim has taken on a speculative new dimension, allowing this disaster: that precious monotheism is undermined — and the evidence of standard lexicons and commentaries is allowed no place. Moreover, the Jewish understanding of God (remembering that the sacred oracles were committed to Jews) is overthrown.
Unfortunately, it is by changing, or interchanging, the meaning of words, without notice, that disinformation can be created.
Elohim Not a Collective Noun
Firstly, then, Elohim cannot mean at the same time in Gen. 1:1 three different things:
2) Family of God, and
3) One member of that Family.
Gods is of course plural, family is a singular word and one member of the family is also singular. To ask the same word in Gen. 1:1 to have all three definitions is utterly impossible. God and family are quite distinct ideas and cannot possibly be covered by the one term Elohim. Now one could argue that Elohim is a collective noun, like team, family, committee. But in that case it is not plural — not like teams, families or committees. A collective noun denotes a collection of persons, places or things regarded as one (flock, forest, crowd, committee, jury, class, herd, covey, legislature, battalion, squad, and squadron). The objects collected into one term have some characteristics in common, enabling us to regard them as a group. The word “audience” or “congregation” enables us to gather individuals into a single unit.
But the fact needs to be stated clearly: Elohim is never in the Bible a collective noun — never. It is not a “group” word when used of the One God. It does not function like the word family. No lexicon lists it as a collective noun.
Peloubet’s Dictionary of the Bible (F.N. Peloubet, D.D. and Alice Adams, MA, 1947) stated the truth: “The fanciful idea that Elohim referred to a Trinity [or we could add Binity] of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars.”
In presenting what Mr. Armstrong called The Real Jesus we were introduced into the realm of grammatical fiction and fancy. We were invited in fact under the guise of intelligent Bible study, to embrace a pagan godhead consisting of more than one Person.
Twenty years later, when Ernest Martin issued his comprehensive account of the Essentials of New Testament Doctrine in 1999, the same confusion over God was reinforced and with a greater degree of dogmatism. It is worth observing first, though, an extraordinary assertion of E.L. Martin in regard to the status of the teaching of Jesus. His ultra-dispensationalist point of view represents, I think, a dangerous rejection of Jesus:
“All the teachings Christ gave to the Jews during his earthly ministry within the Old Covenant framework were of no importance to Paul (in matters relating to salvation). Paul did not refer to any of Christ’s teachings (other than the bread and wine) given by Christ while in the flesh” (p. 78).
This amazing dictum would mean that the sermon on the mount and the parable of the sower and the rest of Jesus’ precious utterances (including his affirmation of the creed of Israel) are of no interest to the Christian.
This confusion is compounded when ELM declares: “We need to know what ‘God’ signifies in Scripture… It will be found that both God the Father and His Son are ‘God,’ yet they are both separate personalities united together in a singular purpose.” Martin then speaks of “confusion regarding who or what ‘God’ really is” (p. 450). “This misjudgment occurs because most people assume the term ‘God’ always means a singular and exclusive Supreme Being” (ibid). Now this: “Whether the Greek word theos is used to describe the Deity or the Hebrew word elohim, it was fully accepted [by the writers of the Bible] that there existed more than one ‘god’” (p. 451). “Elohim is clearly a plural word. The two terminal letters ‘im’ make the word to be plural…. Since Elohim is plural, the simple meaning of Elohim is ‘Powers,’ or ‘powerful ones.’ However, we will see that when Elohim is governed by a singular verb (which occurs often in Scripture) the stress coalesces the plural meaning into a singular understanding (but still with plural significance)” (p. 488). “The plural is fused into meaning a singular ‘group of powers,’ or worded differently ‘a Congregation of Powers.’” “No matter what we have been taught over the years about the singularity of God, the word Elohim is a simple plural. If we wish to use the English word ‘God’ as its translation, we must (to be grammatically harmonious and consistent) place the letter ‘s’ on our word God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures” (p. 488).
Martin here proposes a corruption of the Hebrew Bible and accuses, by implication, the writers of the NT of ignorance. No NT writer ever rendered the Hebrew word for the One God as “theoi” (Gods).
Elohim Is Singular
Elohim when referring to the One God comes into the inspired Greek of the NT (some 1320 times) as theos (singular). This proves of course that the translations are all correct when they say “in the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth.” Thousands of singular personal pronouns standing for Elohim, and His other names, can only affirm, massively, the fact that God is a Single Personal Being.
Martin repeats himself: “If one wishes to retain the English word ‘God’ one must put an ‘s’ on ‘God’ each time it is used. By stating this I would normally be subjected to ridicule by those who read and know the Hebrew language, because it is evident that in the great majority of cases Elohim, though plural in grammatical construction, is governed by singular verbs and must be understood in a singular manner. Yes, but I state dogmatically [here ELM goes into bold print] that the only way to make sense out of the Hebrew in regard to understanding the Godhead is to put the letter ‘s’ on the end of every word translated ‘God’ in the English language if the Hebrew word is Elohim” (p. 490). “[In the Shema] the very text itself says that Elohim (‘Gods’) is ONE. This cardinal point emphasizes the singularity of the plural word Elohim.” “The Hebrew word ‘one’ can actually carry the meaning of more than ‘one’ (a single person). Note carefully when Adam was married to Eve they became ‘one flesh’ (echad) though they represented two separate personalities (Gen. 2:24)” (p. 495). “The Hebrew word echad is more expansive in the plural meaning than that….” “So the plural Elohim refers to ONE Godhead made up of many individuals (the Father, the Firstborn and other Sons of God, along with female members, see Proverbs 8:2-31)” (p. 495). “Just what is God? Elohim is the One divine family to which all of us belong” (p. 499).
Confusion Began Early
All this prodigious effort to turn One into Two or Three, of course, began early in church history and continues unabated in some evangelical Trinitarian and especially Messianic Jewish Trinitarian circles. By the time of Origen (c. 185-254) a confusion over God was in full swing. The historical Son of God had been turned into the “eternally generated” Son. This concept was at the heart of the whole traditional creedal system of Roman Catholics and Protestants. It produced the problem that though God is One, yet since the Son is God, somehow Two has to be One.
Ernest Martin and Ted Armstrong were unwittingly in the Roman Catholic tradition, a tradition, however, based on arguments about Elohim constantly, in fact, rejected by the best Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars of the biblical languages, for many centuries.
Origen and Bishop Heraclides
Before illustrating some of the ancient debate over Elohim and the supposed plurality in the Godhead (Binity or Trinity), here is the state of play in the 3rd century (a papyrus first published in 1949): Origen is discussing the Godhead with a certain Bishop Heraclides. He wants to check him out and verify his “orthodoxy.”
“Since the bishops present had raised questions about the faith of the bishop Heraclides, so that in the presence of all he might acknowledge his faith, and each of them had made remarks and had raised the question, the bishop Heraclides said: ‘And I too believe exactly what the divine Scriptures say: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and nothing came into existence apart from him.’ So we agree in the faith and, furthermore, we believe that the Christ assumed flesh, that he was born, that he ascended into the heavens with the flesh in which he arose, and that he is seated at the right hand of the Father, whence he is going to come and judge the living and the dead, being God and man.’
Origen said: ‘Since a debate is now beginning and one may speak on the subject of the debate, I will speak. The whole church is here to listen. One church should not differ from another in knowledge, since you are not the false community. I ask you, Father Heraclides, God is the Almighty, the uncreated, the supreme one who made all things. Do you agree?’
Heraclides said: ‘I agree; for this I too believe.’
Origen said: ‘Christ Jesus, who exists in the form of God, though he is distinct from God in the form in which he existed, was he God before he entered a body or not?’
Heraclides said: ‘He was God before.’
Origen said: ‘He was God before he entered a body, or not?’
Heraclides said: ‘Yes.’
Origen said: ‘God distinct from this God in whose form he existed?’
Heraclides said: ‘Obviously distinct from any other, since he is in the form of that one who created everything.’
Origen said: ‘Was there not a God, Son of God, the only-begotten of God, the first-born of all creation, and do we not devoutly say that in one sense there are two Gods and, in another, one God?’
Heraclides said: ‘What you say is clear; but we say that there is God, the Almighty, without beginning and without end, containing all things but not contained, and there is his Word, Son of the living God, God and man, through whom all things came into existence, God in relation to the Spirit and man in that he was born of Mary.’
Origen said: ‘You do not seem to have answered my question. Make it clear; perhaps I did not follow you. Is the Father God?’
Heraclides said: ‘Certainly.’
Origen said: ‘Is the Son distinct from the Father?’
Heraclides said: ‘How can he be Son if he is also Father?’
Origen said: ‘While distinct from the Father, is the Son himself also God?’
Heraclides said: ‘He himself is also God.’
Origen said: ‘And the two Gods become one?’
Heraclides said: ‘Yes.’
Origen said: ‘Do we acknowledge two Gods?’
Heraclides said: ‘Yes; the power is one.’
Origen said: ‘But since our brethren are shocked by the affirmation that there are two Gods, the subject must be examined with care in order to show in what respect they are two and in what respect the two are one God.’”
This today remains the problem for all those who propose that God is in some sense more than one. Once the unitary nature of God slipped from the church’s grasp, and once a Trinity or Binity is embraced, it becomes necessary to force that idea back on to the Bible. Elohim is the point of attack in this procedure.
(For a full history of the protests of good scholars about the futility of arguing for the Trinity [or Binity] from Elohim, please see the Appendix of this paper).
Lexical Facts about Elohim
Elohim, in fact, is singular in meaning when referred to the One God. This is shown by the singular verbs which normally follow. And by thousands of singular personal pronouns.
Elohim has a plural meaning when it refers to pagan “gods.”
Elohim has a singular meaning when designating a single pagan god, Milchom, Astarte, etc.
Elohim, El, Eloah, and Yahweh are identical in meaning and singular in meaning when referring to the one true God. They are replaced by singular personal pronouns.
This information can be inspected in the Hebrew text, in translations and in all the standard Hebrew Lexicons (Brown, Driver and Briggs, Kohler Baumgartner, Jenni and Westermann, etc.) Those of us who followed the Armstrongs in defining God rejected the testimony of history, of the Hebrew text and the Hebrew lexicons and grammarians. We preferred to believe the teaching of those who had no training in languages, biblical or otherwise.
We have seen that Elohim meaning the One God will not yield to any attempts to force it into a support for a Trinity or God-Family of two or more. The fundamental problem remains for all subscribers to the Trinity or Binity as to how Three X’s can be One X. This is logically impossible. But the Athanasian creed which speaks of the Father being God, the Son being God and the Holy Spirit being God, “and yet these are not three Gods but One God” asks us to indulge in illogical nonsense. As Geoffrey Lampe, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge remarked with restrained British humor: “The classical statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, the so-called Athanasian creed, ends: ‘This is the Catholick Faith, which unless a man believes it faithfully he cannot be saved.’ This has been paraphrased in less dignified language: ‘Accept my model or I’ll do you,’ or rather, ‘This is God’s model: accept it or He will do you’” (“What Future for the Trinity,” Explorations in Theology, 8, SCM Press, 1981, p. 31).
The churches have been amazingly cruel to those noble souls who challenged the extraordinary proposition that God is more than One Person and that Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. They burned dissenters, exiled them, defrocked them and passed laws of Parliament against them.
3x = 1y ?
Back to our subject: What then if the Trinity or Binity means 3 X’s or 2 X’s = I Y. This is logically feasible, but what does it mean in terms of defining X and Y?
On the admission of the best contemporary Trinitarian experts, no one has ever been able to explain in what sense they mean God is one and in what different sense more than one. Thus the leading exponent of the Trinity among contemporary evangelicals admits the desperation of the situation:
Professor Erickson (God in Three Persons, 1993):
First he comments on the state of the Trinity in the mind of an average churchgoer. It is:
“A matter of not knowing whether they believe or disbelieve the Trinity because they do not know what the doctrine says” (p. 46). No one has preached to them on this central doctrine.
“Christians who believe this strange doctrine seem incoherent…”
“We can make it partially understandable….”
Erickson continues: “Stephen Davis (a logician) does not say the doctrine can never be shown to be coherent but this has not yet been achieved.”
“Davis the logician has examined the major contemporary explanations and having found them not to accomplish what they claim to do has been honest in acknowledging that he feels he is dealing with a mystery. In so doing, he has perhaps been more candid than many of us who when pressed may have to admit that we really do not know in what way God is one and in what different way He is three” (Erickson, p. 258).
“To say the doctrine has been revealed is a bit too strong, however, at least with respect to the biblical revelation” (p. 258).
“It simply is not possible to explain the Trinity unequivocally. What must be done is to offer a series, a whole assortment of illustrations and analogies with the hope that some discernment will take place. We must approach the matter from various angles, ‘nibbling at the meaning’ of the doctrine as it were… It may be necessary, in order to convey the unusual meaning involved in this doctrine, to utilize what analytical philosophers would term ‘logically odd language.’ This means using language in such a way as intentionally to commit grammatical errors. Thus, I have said of the Trinity, ‘He are three,’ or ‘They is one.’ For we have here a being whose nature falls outside our usual understanding of persons, and that nature can perhaps be adequately expressed by using language that calls attention to the almost paradoxical character of the concepts” (p. 270).
But this is desperation. Where does the Bible say that God breaks the rules of grammar in order to reveal Himself? Erickson has surrendered the grammatical method. God speaks to us in terms which are meant to reveal truth, not confuse us. We are reminded here of GTA’s assertion that Elohim must be taken as plural resulting in “Gods, he created.”
It is customary for some Binitarians and most evangelical Trinitarians (especially Messianics) to propose that the Hebrew word for one, the numeral one (echad), is really “compound one.” This is a clever device which confuses logical thought. Echad occurs some 960 times in the Hebrew Bible, and it is the numeral “one.” It is a numeral adjective when it modifies a noun. “One day,” “one person,” etc. Echad is the ordinary cardinal number, “one.” Eleven in Hebrew is ten and one. Abraham “was only one,” said Ezekiel 33:24 (NASU), “only one man” (NIV).
Just as the famous Armstrongian phrase “uniplural” does not appear in the Webster’s (thus it represents the DIY grammatical venture on which Worldwide theology was done in respect to defining God), “compound one” as a definition of echad is also not recognized in standard texts describing the grammar of the Hebrew language. It is an invented grammatical category which confuses and divides.
The Hebrew word for one operates as does the word “one” in English. You can have one thing, one person. And of course the noun modified by echad may be collective, one family, one people, one flesh, as a single unit composed of two — Adam and Eve, in that case. But to say that “one” carries the meaning of “compound one” is misleading in the extreme. The basic meaning of echad given by the lexicons is “one single,” even the indefinite article “a.” Sometimes “the only one,” or even “unique” is the proper translation of echad.
Does One Mean More Than One?
Suppose now we say that “one” implies more than one. We could prove our point like this: In the phrase “one tripod,” is it not obvious that one really implies three? Does not one dozen mean that one is really 12? Or one million? Is one equivalent to a million? Does this not suggest the plurality of “one”? What about “one quartet” or “one duplex”? To carry this madness to an extreme, we could argue that in the phrase “one zebra,” the word one really means “black and white.”
What is happening here? We are being asked to believe that in the phrase “the Lord our God is one Lord,” that “one” is “compound.” That “Lord” is more than one Lord, perhaps two or perhaps three. We are being lured into a complete falsehood that “one” implies plurality. We are asked to believe this on the basis of a tiny fraction of the appearances of echad when it modifies a compound noun (the vast majority of the occurrences of echad when it does not modify a compound noun are left unmentioned). Even when “one” modifies a compound noun — one family, one cluster — the word “one” retains its meaning as “one single…” There is no such thing as “compound one” as a definition of echad.
Confusing the Word "One" with a Collective Noun
This procedure is to confuse the numeral adjective “one” with the noun it modifies. It is to “bleed” the meaning of a collective noun back into the numeral. This will take the unwary by surprise. Thus “one flesh” is supposed to mean that one can mean more than one. The point, obviously, is that “flesh” as a combination of Adam and Eve does have a collective, family sense. But one is still one: “one flesh and not two fleshes.” “One cluster (singular) of grapes” does not in any way illustrate a plural meaning for the word “one.” “Cluster” has indeed a collective, plural sense. But one is still one: “one cluster” and not “two clusters.” Just imagine if at the check-out the clerk announces that your one dollar purchase is really “compound one.” You could become bankrupt.
The Trinity Seldom Preached
We have the strange paradox in churches (speaking generally) that the most important of all doctrines that God is two or three is seldom if ever preached on. But if these strange concepts are challenged, then the full force of dogma comes into play and threats of excommunication and heresy go flying. When the detail of the argument for a Triune God emerges, the questioner is invited to believe that:
1) “Today” (“You are My Son: Today I have begotten you” — Ps. 2:7) means “In eternity you are My Son.” In this church-speak, which is at the root of all our problems, “today = in eternity.” How then could God say “today” if He meant “today”? God here is being muzzled and told what He can say and what not.
2) “Person” in Trinitarian definitions does not mean person. Beget does not mean beget, bring into existence. God is one ousia (essence or substance) existing in three hypostases (subsistencies).
The term ousia is never used of God in the Bible. Hypostasis is not used to describe Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
3) “I will be his Father” (2 Sam. 7:14) really means “I have always been his Father.” Note how history is replaced by timelessness.
Augustine (On the Trinity):
“Human learning is scanty and affords no terms to express it. It is therefore answered ‘three Persons,’ not as if that was to the purpose [had any meaning] but something must be said and we must not be silent” (De Trinitate, Bk 5, ch. 9). The same Augustine in his Homilies on John felt it necessary to tamper with the sacred text of John 17:3, declaring that Jesus had said: “This is eternal life: that they believe in You and Jesus Christ whom You sent, as the One True God.” Note the complete alteration here in the interests of squeezing the Messiah into the Godhead. Jesus in fact described the Father here as “the only one who is truly God.”
Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels: “The relation of Christ to the Father is that of a real Son, including dependence and subordination (I Cor 3:23; 11:3; 15:24-28).”
This brings refreshing and brilliant light.
Martin Werner, DD, Prof., University of Bern: “There was certainly no justification for substituting, in the interpretation of the person of Jesus, for the original concept of the Messiah, simply a Hellenistic analogy such as that of a redeeming divine being. The analogy was no more appropriate or proper than that which had become problematical, and it did not deserve to serve as a substitute for it. It was a myth behind which the historical Jesus completely disappeared, because there was nothing common between them” (Formation of Christian Dogma, Harper Bros., 1957, p. 298).
He spoke also of “The transformation of the eschatological Primitive Christianity into the Hellenistic mystery-religion of Early Catholicism” (p. vii).
Friedrich Loofs (church historian and theologian, 1858-1928)
How the Church, from the second century AD, lost sight of the historical Jesus and replaced him with a spirit-being who took on human flesh, but was not really a human being! How the unity of God, the first and most important of all commandments (Mark 12:28ff.), was permanently damaged because of the speculative Greek philosophical influence which invaded the original church. Our contemporary problems, in the church and the nation, go back to the drastically weakening process that began when the poison of Greek philosophy mounted a kind of terrorist attack on the supreme unity of the One God of the Bible.
“The Apologists [‘church fathers’ like Justin Martyr, mid-2nd century] laid the foundation for the perversion/corruption (Verkehrung) of Christianity into a revealed [philosophical] teaching. Specifically, their Christology affected the later development disastrously. By taking for granted the transfer of the concept of Son of God onto the preexisting Christ, they were the cause of the Christological problem of the 4th century. They caused a shift in the point of departure of Christological thinking — away from the historical Christ and onto the issue of preexistence. They thus shifted attention away from the historical life of Jesus, putting it into the shadow and promoting instead the Incarnation. They tied Christology to cosmology and could not tie it to soteriology. The Logos teaching is not a ‘higher’ Christology than the customary one. It lags in fact far behind the genuine appreciation of Christ. According to their teaching it is no longer God who reveals Himself in Christ, but the Logos, the inferior God, a God who as God is subordinated to the Highest God (inferiorism or subordinationism).
“In addition, the suppression of economic-trinitarian ideas by metaphysical-pluralistic concepts of the divine triad (trias) can be traced to the Apologists” (Friedrich Loofs, Leitfaden zum Studium des Dogmengeschichte [Manual for the Study of the History of Dogma] (1890), part 1 ch. 2, section 18: “Christianity as a Revealed Philosophy. The Greek Apologists,” Niemeyer Verlag, 1951, p. 97).
This disastrous development is reflected exactly in modern popular evangelism:
James Kennedy says: “Many people today think that the essence of Christianity is Jesus’ teaching, but that is not so… Christianity centers not in the teachings of Jesus, but in the person of Jesus as Incarnate God who came into the world to take upon Himself our guilt and die in our place” (“How I know Jesus is God,” Truths that Transform, 11th Nov., 1989).
God Cannot Die and Jesus Died
The proposition that “Jesus is God” is impossible, since God cannot die. He is immortal (I Tim 6:16). Holy angels cannot die (Luke 20:35). Thus Jesus cannot be Michael the archangel either. Only a mortal human being can die, and only a mortal human Son of God died for the sins of the world.
Jesus died. We, too, die, but we can be brought back from death to life, as was Jesus.
“Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine it is striking that the term does not appear in the NT. Likewise the developed concept of 3 coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon” (Art. “Trinity”).
J.A.T. Robinson of Cambridge: “John is as undeviating a witness as any NT writer to the unitary monotheism of Judaism.”
Elohim: Is it really plural in meaning? And if it is, why not speak of two or three Gods?
“Polytheism entered the Church camouflaged” — Loofs
From: The Concessions of Trinitarians, Being a Selection of Extracts from the Writings of the Most Eminent Biblical Critics and Commentators, by John Wilson, James Munroe and Co., Boston and Manchester, England, 1845. This extraordinarily diligent researcher decided to demonstrate that Trinitarians often explain their own Trinitarian (or Binitarian) “proof-texts” in a unitarian fashion. This shows how tenuous the whole argument for plurality in God is.
“Even our enemies themselves being judges” — Moses
‘There is scarcely one text alleged to the Trinitarians which is not otherwise expounded by their own writers” — John Locke, Common-place Book: Lord King’s Life of John Locke, vol. 2, p. 103.
John Locke, John Milton and Sir Isaac Newton — the latter wrote much more on theology than on science — were passionately engaged in anti-Trinitarian protest, as is shown by their writings.
“There is this distinction which we may boast of, and a proud distinction it is, since the like to it belongs to no other party that I am aware of, — there is this distinction which attaches to us, that the sense which we put upon the most important passages referring to the points in discussion between us and our Trinitarian brethren, is the very sense given to them by orthodox writers of the highest reputation. Destroy, I would say every professed Unitarian commentary on the Scriptures now in existence, and there will still remain, in the writings of learned Trinitarians themselves, those expositions and explanations of Scripture by which our leading [unitarian] principles are maintained and defended” — Thomas Madge, Discourses on the Union Between God and Christ, pp. 46, 47. Rector of Norwich, UK, 1825.
But before developing our point about the meaning of the word Elohim as discussed over the centuries, I quote from commentary from our present time.
State of the art evangelical commentary in our day. Word Bible Commentary on Genesis, Gordon Wenham:
“Elohim: The first subject of Genesis and the Bible is God. The word is the second most frequent noun in the OT. It is derived from the common semitic word for God, il. As here, Hebrew generally prefers the plural form of the noun, which except when it means ‘gods,’ i.e., heathen deities, is construed with the singular verb [interesting that when it is taken as a plural it refers to pagan gods!]. Though it has often been taken as a plural of majesty or power, it is doubtful whether this is relevant to the interpretation of Elohim. It is simply the ordinary word for God, plural in form and singular in meaning. Strictly speaking Elohim is an appellative, that is, it can be used of any deity. It is not a personal name, such as Yahweh, El Shaddai, Marduk or Chemosh. Nevertheless as with the English word God it often acts almost as a proper name…Elohim implies that God is the sovereign Creator of the whole universe, not just Israel’s personal God.”
The Hebrew word Panim is also plural in form but it means face, not faces. God did not meet Moses “faces to faces” but “face to face.” So much for the idea that a plural ending always requires a plural meaning. Joseph is called the lords of the land. Was he plural?
“I do not find the difficulties raised against the view that God was consulting the angels compelling…. When angels do appear in the OT they are frequently described as ‘men’ (Gen. 18:2). And the use of the singular verb ‘created’ in v. 27 does in fact suggest that God worked alone in the creation of mankind [cp. Isa. 44:24]. ‘Let us make man’ could therefore be regarded as a divine announcement to the heavenly courts, drawing the angelic host’s attention to the master stroke of creation, man. As Job 38:4 puts it, ‘When I laid the foundation of the earth… all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (cp. Luke 2:13, 14)” (Word Biblical Commentary).
“From the Epistle of Barnabus and Justin Martyr [150 AD] who saw the plural as a reference to Christ Christians have traditionally seen this verse as adumbrating the Trinity [or Binity]. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.”
He adds: “Certainly the NT sees Christ as active in the creation with the Father and this provided the foundation for the early church to develop a trinitarian [in fact, first an Arian] interpretation. But such insights were certainly beyond the horizon of the editor of Genesis.”
For myself, I question only this last statement, believing that the Son came into existence as per Matt. 1:20, 2 Sam. 7:14-16; Luke 1:35, Acts 13:33, I Peter 1:20, I John 5:18 (not KJV) and that God was unaccompanied at creation (Isa. 44:24), and that God, not Jesus, rested after the creative work was complete (Heb. 4:4). God, not Jesus “made them male and female.”
Jesus did not say “In the beginning I made them male and female,” but “in the beginning God made them…” (Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6). God, not the Son, rested after the work of creation (Heb. 4:4) and God did not speak through a Son until the NT period (Heb 1:1-2). If there was indeed a Son of God in OT times, God did not speak through him. The better solution to the puzzle is that in Old Testament times God was preparing, through promise and prediction, that He was going to beget His Son in Israel. Isaiah 44:24 presents God as solo at the creation of the universe — a privilege which I think should not be compromised in any way.
“In citing verses from the OT nothing will be proved in favor of the Trinity; for that plurality may be understood in a different manner, namely, that in the creation of man, God addressed the angels. God, who is One, is here represented as speaking to the angels in council, or as deliberating with them…” (Tostat. De Sanctissima Trinitate, pp. 3, 6, 1414-1454).
“With how much confidence did Augustine treat of these words, ‘let us make man,’ as an assertion of the Trinity, since this doctrine cannot be proved from the passage” (abridged from Luther, Epist ad Dungersheim; apud Sandium, p. 83).
“It is the custom of the Hebrews to speak of God as King. In important matters sovereigns are guided by the advice of their principal subjects, I Kings 12:6; II Chron. 10:9. So God is represented in I Kings 22:19, 20” (Grotius, Dutch Arminian, Annotations on OT and NT, 1583-1645).
“Nor were those who were accounted orthodox altogether exempt from the same fault of presumptuous speculation. ‘Who,’ says Chrysostum, ‘was he to whom God said, “Let us make man,” but he, the Son of God?’ And Epiphanius on the same passage says ‘This is the language of God to his Word.’ Each of these writers it may be observed in representing God under that title as addressing Himself to the Son as a distinct being, previously to the birth of Jesus, approaches very closely to the Arian tritheism” “Archbishop Richard Whately, D.D., Elements of Logic, pp. 375, 6, 1836”.
“The language employed is not however in itself any more decisive as an argument in favour of the doctrine of the Trinity than the use of the plural term Elohim in verse 1, on which we have already remarked. Compare Job 18:2, 3; II Sam. 24:14” (Professor George Bush, Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages, 1838).
Gen. 1:1: “In the Beginning God…”
“Calvin properly observes that to explain the word bereshit, in the beginning, of Christ is exceedingly frivolous” (Rivet, Op. Theol, vol. 1, p. 3, Professor of Theology at Leyden, 1572).
From Roman Catholic Commentators:
“The second principal authority which the Master of Sentences [Peter Lombard of the 12th century] adduces for the plurality of persons in the Godhead is Gen. 1:1, ‘In the beginning God created,’ where in the original the noun Elohim is put in the plural, and the verb in the singular; the former signifying a plurality of subsistencies; and the latter [the singular verb] meaning a unity of nature. But this cannot be maintained, for the plural is here used for the singular… It is evident that the noun is to be taken improprie, as otherwise it would indicate many gods as many men. Those err egregiously who would prove a plurality of divine persons from such passages. For the change of number does not arise from any mystery, but from an idiom. Such changes are made from the usage of the Hebrew language” (Alphonsus Tostat, tom., 12, De Sanctissima Trinitate, Opera Omnia, pub. 1613, 13 Vols.) Tostat (1414-1454) was Bishop of Avila in Spain.
“With the exception of Peter of Lombardy and Paul of Burgos, there has not been, amongst the Greek, Latin and Hebrew writers, one commentator worthy of imitation who has explained the word Elohim of the Trinity” (Sixtus Senensis, Bib Sanct. lib. 5, note 1. A Dominican who died in 1569).
“A certain catholic and learned writer is of the opinion that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are Gods because in the OT the name of the Almighty is always expressed in the plural number, as Elohim, which he thinks ought to be rendered Gods. The doctrine itself I do not oppose, but convinced by other arguments, I acknowledge this argument to be not solid” (Turrien, Clem Constit, 3, 17. apud Sandium). Sandium was a Polish Arian who wrote on ecclesiastical history, 1669.
“It is not on account of the mystery of divine persons, but because the signification of Elohim is singular that Moses joins this noun with the verb created in the singular number” (Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534), Dominican Cardinal. A reformer, very modern, who reasoned with Luther and opposed Henry VIII’s divorce).
“To prove the doctrine of the Trinity many allege that Scripture joins the plural name of God with a singular verb — bara Elohim, Gods created…. But I do not think that the argument is at all solid, since according to the usage of Scripture, the names of illustrious persons are put in the plural number, though the verbs retain their singular form. This is a usage which we Italians partly imitate when in addressing any eminent individual we say not thou, but you. Lest this however should be thought to savor of Rabbinism, to which I am greatly opposed, I shall adduce for my opinion the reason by which I have been convinced:
1) In Scripture the same phraseology is adopted in speaking of men or of false deities, as Exod. 20:3: ‘You shall not have strange gods.’ Gen. 29:9: ‘He put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his lords (adonay).’ Also Exod. 21:4.
2) If such words have a plural significance it would be proper to say that there are many true Gods; for who could blame us if we followed the Scriptures in this matter? And I ask, why should it be allowable in Hebrew to call the divine persons Gods, but not in Latin? (deos). If you reply that the Name of God in the OT is put in the plural number only when joined with a singular verb, I answer that this is not true, for we read in II Sam. 7:23, ‘what nation is there upon earth as Thy people Israel, whom God went to redeem?’ In Hebrew ‘the Gods went.’ And in other passages you will find similar examples. Why is it lawful in Hebrew to say ‘the Gods went’ and not also in Latin? Certainly for no other reason than this: that the Hebrews were accustomed to employ a plural noun with a singular signification. Whereas the writers in the Latin tongue have no such usage.
3) Neither Jerome nor the translators of the Septuagint version ever rendered the word Elohim in the plural number [when applied to the Divine Being] which proves that in these passages such nouns have not a plural but a singular signification.
4) If this Hebrew word Elohim has a plural meaning wherever it is found in the plural number there would be a most evident and very common contradiction in the language of the Bible. For we often read that there is only One God, and yet as frequently that there are gods. But it is incredible that the Deity should by these obvious contradictions harass His people and afford an occasion of blasphemy to their adversaries” (Cardinal Bellarmine, Disputatio de Contraversia: De Christo, ch. 6, book 2). Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was a theologian and controversialist, Jesuit professor of theology known for his fine scholarship. He produced a revised edition of the Vulgate. One of the saintliest figures in the counter-Reformation. Tried to limit Papal authority. He was made a “Doctor of the Church,” 1931.
“Cajetan was accused of impiety in denying that the conjunction of the plural noun Elohim with the singular verb bara (he created) denoted the mystery of the Trinity. But if this is a crime it is certainly not peculiar to Cajetan, but common to other learned and more ancient men, as Tostat, who wrote a hundred years before him. This discrepancy between Elohim of the plural number and bara of the singular does not contain any mystery but is an idiom of the Hebrew language in which there are many discrepancies of the same kind. Besides, if Moses by this mode of speech had wished to indicate the mystery of the Trinity, he certainly wrote with great impropriety. For if the divine persons could be called Gods it might be said that there are many or three Gods — a doctrine which is condemned both in Sacred Scripture and in the Athanasian creed” (abridged from Periera, a Spanish Jesuit, 1535-1610, Opera Theologica).
“It is much more probable that no mystery is implied in this word, for according to the usage of the Hebrew language, the plural number is here used for the singular. As Aben Ezra says in his commentary on the first chapter of Genesis it is usual with inferiors to employ the plural as a mark of honour in conversing with their superiors or in discoursing of them. Thus in speaking of an individual they say baalim, owners, and adonim, lords or masters. For example in Gen. 24:9; 29:2; 40:1 and other places often” (Petavius, Theol. Dogm., tome 2, p. 139; De Trinitate, book 2, ch. 7, sec. 3. Jesuit Professor of Theology, 1583-1682).
“Instead of ‘God created’ it is, according to the original, literally ‘the Gods created.’ From this some have derived an argument for the Trinity of persons in the unity of the divine Essence. But these proofs do not appear very solid. Such anomalous expressions are found in the Hebrew, as in all other languages, and in passages where there does not seem to be any mystery. Some plural nouns, without changing the sense are construed sometimes with a plural, sometimes with a singular verb — as adonim, lords; panim, faces; see Isaiah 19:4; Gen. 9:23, etc.” (Calmet, French Benedictine monk, 1672-1757, Commentary on OT and NT and Dictionary of the Holy Bible).
“It is truly strange that such a notion [that Elohim denotes a plurality of persons] should ever have been entertained. And indeed it is only a modern notion, of the same age as scholastic [Roman Catholic] theology. The Christian Fathers of the church, who were eager enough to discover in the OT proofs of the Trinity never dreamed of appealing to the word Elohim.
“The plural number is no proof of the Trinity of persons and this is, indeed, allowed by the best commentators. Its meaning was generally restricted to the One God, by putting the verb or adjective which goes with it in the singular number. Every language has some such peculiarities. The Greeks, even the polite Athenians, could write: Zoa trechee, the animals runs; through a cloud the bodies appears larger. The correct and elegant Plato could say ‘there is some persons…’ just as the French do not scruple to say, ‘there is some men, there is some cases’; nor we: It was the French who were the aggressors. Strictly speaking all these phrases are real solecisms. And so is the word means with a singular verb or adjective: ‘one means of doing this…’” (abridged from Dr. Geddes, Critical Remarks, p. 8. Roman Catholic, LL D. Clergyman in Banffshire, 1737-1802. Translation of the Bible with explanatory notes. Critical remarks on the OT).
“Moses uses Elohim, a noun of the plural number, from which it is used to infer that there are three persons in the Godhead. This proof, however, of so important a doctrine appears to me by no means solid. And therefore I will not insist on the word but rather warn my readers against violent interpretations of this kind. To me it is sufficient that the plural number signifies the powers of Deity, which he exerted in creating the world” (John Calvin, 1509-1564).
“From the words ‘God created’ our commentators in general deduce the mystery of the most Holy Trinity: the noun, as they conceive, denoting the Trinity of persons and the verb the unity of Essence — Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. The reason assigned for this inference is that the expression in the original signifies not ‘Gods, they created,’ but ‘Gods He created.’ The Hebrews however attribute this phraseology to an idiom of their language. For the plural words Elohim and Baalim (masters) are used of men and lords, in relation to individuals, as adonim kasha = lords (plural) oppressive (singular), Isa 19:4 [“a harsh lord”], and elsewhere. I am loath indeed to countenance the Jews, unless when they have truth manifestly on their side. But from other passages of Scripture the doctrine of the Trinity can be more clearly and expressly established. And we must contend against our adversaries with stronger weapons than this [argument from Elohim], if we would not, by ignorance of their language, expose ourselves to their ridicule. I agree with the Jews in referring the usage under notice to a Hebrew idiom, but conceive that the plural noun is ascribed to God, chiefly in order to express the fullness of His excellencies, by which He diffuses Himself throughout the universe and exerts His majesty and power which are immense and inexhaustible” (John Mercer, Professor of Hebrew, Royal College, Paris, d. 1572).
“The argument taken from the plural noun Elohim joined to the singular verb bara is exceedingly poor. Since by the usage of their language the Hebrews in designating honorable persons are elsewhere accustomed to employ the plural number for the singular. And this is not surely for denoting some divine mystery, but merely on account of dignity and aggrandizement” (Lambert Daneau, Opusc. Theol, p.2027. French Calvinist and Professor of Theology at Leyden, 1530-1596).
“In ‘Elohim created’ it is thought that a mystery is concealed and that a plurality of persons is implied. For what reason? Because a plural noun is construed with a singular verb [cp. news is good: the sheep are good, the sheep is good]. This is partly true and partly false as to the sense. For when Elohim is spoken of one [person], its significance is singular, being used of the one God everywhere and of an individual angel, calf, idol and man [and thus of the individual One God, Elohim]. And our opinion is demonstrated by other arguments. Both Jerome and Procopius call it a noun of the common number, because it is used of one God and of a plurality. But if this true, and of this there cannot be any doubt, the argument drawn from the number falls to the ground; for when employed of an individual, what child would say that this noun has ever a plural sense? [and JHVH is an individual!] Who would affirm that there are various cities of the names of Athenoe, Theboe, Salonoe, because these are each spoken of in the plural number? Who would deny that there is one supreme heaven, which the apostle terms the third and David the heaven of the heavens, because in Hebrew it is called shamayim in the dual form, or as preferred by Jerome in the plural? Who would infer that there are many darknesses because in Latin the corresponding word is not employed in the singular number? (tenebrae). There is equally a mystery — but which no one recognizes — in the plural baalim (lords). This word is sometimes used of one lord and having a singular sense; as well as in adonim (lords) when said of the One God. Because I have written that the noun Elohim does not from its termination signify the Trinity, I am accused of being a Unitarian Arian, when my adversaries should rather be called Sabellians (Modalists) since they make the holy sprit the spirit of himself and say that Christ was self-begotten and what is very absurd constitute a plurality in individual persons. For though they do not say so expressly, yet all of this necessarily results from their opinion. So true it is that ‘when fools fly from one fault they run into the contrary.’ And when unlearned men avoid errors they fall into others” [!] (John Drusius, Professor of Hebrew at Franeker, 1550-1616. Commentaries on Scripture).
“The weakness of the argument constructed by Peter of Lombardy has been acutely observed and clearly set forth by Tostat, Cajetan, Bellarmine, Sixtus Senessius, Calvin, Mercer, Pareus, Drusius and De Muys who in an appendix to Bellarmine’s Grammar produce many arguments to prove that nothing solid can be concluded from the plural form of Elohim” (abridged from Sixtinus Amama, Anti-barb. Bib. Bk 2, pp 174, 175. A disciple of Drusius (above). Professor of Hebrew at Franeker, d. 1629).
“When the word Elohim is used with verbs in the singular number, the construction is elliptical representing elohe elohim, God of gods; as Behemot is put for Behemat Behemot, fera, ferorum or the most distinguished of wild beasts. And Hochmot is put for Hochmat Hochmot, the most excellent of instructions” (Hugo Grotius: Explanation of Exod 20:1, annexed to his Notes on the Gospels. Dutch Arminian, 1538-1645. Annotations on the NT).
“The difference between Elohim of the plural number and bara of the singular does not contain a mystery but is an idiom of the Hebrew language as in Num. 32:25: and the Sons of Gad, (he) said. If Moses had joined a plural noun with singular verb to denote plurality of persons and unity of essence then when in Gen. 20:13 he speaks of God and connects the plural noun Elohim with a plural verb he would signify not only a plurality of divine persons but also a plurality of Essences (divine nature)” (Andrew Rivet, D.D. Op, Col. 1, p. 6. Professor of Theology at Leyden, 1572-1651).
“The argument sole and naked drawn from the word Elohim does not seem sufficiently valid to convince the perversity of the Jews and the determined enemies of the Holy Trinity” (Lewis Cappel, Crit. Sac, p. 690. French Protestant, Professor of Hebrew at Saumur, d. 1658. Commentary on OT).
“According to the usage of the Hebrew tongue Elohim is almost always put in the plural of majesty to indicate supreme majesty and glory” (Bethner, Lyra Proph. On Ps. 3, no. 137).
“In the Hebrew, the word for God is Elohim, of the plural number, which signifies strong, potent, mighty. And for ‘he created’ the Hebrew word is bara of the singular number: whence some learned and pious expositors have deduced the doctrine of the Trinity of persons in the Unity of the divine essence. Others, among whom are divines, who are likewise learned and religious conceive the words will not warrant any such deduction. The proof of the Trinity from this place is denied by them because first, the phrase joining words of different numbers is a Hebraism. Secondly the words, though indefinitely they may import a plurality, do not precisely and determinately note or design a Trinity. Thirdly, the word Elohim with a verb of the singular number is ascribed to strange gods. Exod 20:3. Fourthly, the word Elohim is used sometimes of a particular person of the Trinity as of the Holy Ghost, v. 2 of this chapter and Ps. 45:6 it is used of the Son. [This is true, but of course it does not mean that the Son was part of an eternal God-Family, AB]. And yet there is only One Son, and one Holy Ghost. Fifthly, those ancient Fathers who were most skilful in the Hebrew tongue make no mysterious exposition of the words bara Elohim. For these reasons, this place is no good proof of the Trinity against the Anti-Trinitarians especially if it be taken alone or set in the forefront of any conflict with them…” (abridged from Ley. Assembly’s Annotations. Subdean of Chester, Annotations on the Pentateuch).
“The word Elohim, though in its declension it is plural number, yet the sense of the word is singular. It is sometimes used to signify the Godhead [If he means the Trinity, this is not right, AB], sometimes applied to each of the persons singly, and so no argument can be based on it” (Dr. Goodwin. Works, Vol. 2, Of the Knowledge of God the Father, p. 5. Member of the Assembly of Divines, 1600-1679).
“Some conclude that the former word Elohim imports a plurality of persons and the latter a Unity of Essence. But others deny that any such peculiar meaning ought or can be gathered from that which is indeed no more than an idiom and propriety of the Hebrew language. So that Elohim applied to others besides God is often joined with a singular number” (Dr. South, D.D. Sermons, Vol. 4, p. 298. Prebendary of Westminster, 1633-1716, Considerations Concerning the Trinity).
“The argument taken from the plural noun Elohim joined either to a singular or plural verb does not very strongly aid the orthodox cause, but exposes it to the derision of the infidels” (abridged from F. Spannheim, Op., Tome 3, p. 1209).
“We do not believe that any argument can be deduced from the plural termination of the noun Elohim for a plurality of persons in the Essence of the Godhead. This doctrine requires to be supported by clear passages taken especially from the New Testament. It is an idiom of the Hebrew language that nouns denoting dominion, even when the subject relates only to an individual are put in the plural number to signify excellence or a plurality of distinguished qualities. Thus in Genesis 24:9, adonim is employed respecting Abraham. In Exodus 22:11 Baal is in its plural form and means one lord or owner; and in Ps. 45: 6, 7 Elohim is used both of God the Father and of Solomon as a type of Christ [showing that Elohim is a single individual!]. The word is sometimes used of an angel (Gen. 32: 28, 30; Hosea 12:3; Exod 3:4; Jud. 13:22), indeed of one man (Exod. 4:16; 7:1) and is construed sometimes with a verb in the singular number and sometimes in the plural” (Philip Limborch, Theol Christ, Bk 1, ch. 2, sec 11, Professor of Theology at Amsterdam, 1633-1712. Commentaries).
“Elohim has a plural ending but very often and always when the One Supreme God is spoken of, a singular signification. Accordingly we sometimes find it joined to a verb, adjective or pronoun in the singular number on account of its singular signification and sometimes to one in the plural number on account of its plural termination. No mystery lies in this. And they who infer from this both the unity of God and a plurality of persons in the Godhead not only show themselves to be void of true critical skill, but by producing and urging such weak and frivolous arguments in its defence do a manifest injury to the cause which they are so zealous to support and establish” (Abraham Dawson, Rector of Ringfield, Suffolk. A New Translation of the First Five Chapters of Genesis, 1763).
“Luther had exclaimed with great vehemence against both Jews and Anti-Trinitarians for not admitting that in these words in the first verse of Genesis God created, bara Elohim, there is contained a proof of the Trinity because the noun signifying God in the Hebrew has a plural form though joined to a verb in the singular. John Calvin, on the contrary, refutes this argument or quibble rather, at some length and adds judiciously, speaking of this expression: ‘Readers are warned to beware of violent language of this sort’” (Dr. George Campbell, D.D. FRS, Lectures on Systematic Theology, p. 489. Translator of the Four Gospels, 1719-1796).
“The plural form is customarily used in Hebrew to indicate great and distinguished individuals, and is therefore commonly termed the plural of majesty. Thus shamayim means great height, that is heaven. Kodshim means most holy, Hosea 11:12; Prov 9:10; Adonai, the highest Lord, Gen. 43:30. By reason of their termination such plurals are sometimes treated as plurals, Gen. 20:13. But they are generally construed with words in the singular number on account of their signification” (abridged from Christian Friedrich Schulz, Professor of Theology and Oriental Languages at Giessen, 1783).
“Elohim is the plural of the word Eloah (God). It is generally construed by writers of the OT as a singular when used of the One True God. By a peculiarity of the Hebrew language the plural whether masculine or feminine is employed of ONE thing which is great and excellent in its kind, for example yamim, a sea; adonim, a lord” (E.F.C. Rosenmuller, Professor of Arabic, Leipzig, d. 1836).
“The original word for God is a very remarkable word occurring for the most part in the plural and yet usually connected as in Gen. 1:1 with a verb in the singular. The evidence however, drawn by some from this fact in proof of the Trinity, is not in itself conclusive, because a similar idiom in Hebrew in respect to words denoting ‘rank, authority, eminence, majesty,’ is by no means uncommon (see Exod. 21:4; Isa. 19:4; Mal. 1:6; Ps. 58:11). The use of the plural in such cases seems to be merely for the purpose of giving to the word greater fullness, emphasis, and intensity of meaning” (Professor George Bush, Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages, NY City University. Notes on Genesis, 1838).
Extracts from Hebrew Grammarians and Lexicographers, Protestant and Roman Catholic
“There is a special situation when plural nouns of dominion are joined to a singular verb or pronoun to express the greatest majesty or as the Hebrews say to indicate a plurality of virtues and powers in the person bearing rule. As in Gen. 1:1, Exod. 21:4, 8; Josh. 24:19; Mal. 1:6” (Buxtorf, sen. Thes. Gram Heb. de Synt Verb, bk. 2, ch. 10, Professor of Hebrew, 1564-1629).
“In agreeing with Calvin, Mercer, Pareus, Drusius, Bellarmine and others that the Hebrew plural Elohim does not prove a plurality or a Trinity of persons in the divine essence, we are convinced particularly by the following reasons. First, because the plural number by itself signifies not Trinity but plurality. Secondly, because when used of God it does not denote the three persons, but sometimes only one, as the Father: ‘God your God has anointed you above your fellows’ (Ps. 45:7) or the Son: ‘Your throne, O Elohim, is for ever and ever,’ v.6. ‘I will save them by the Lord their Elohim,’ Hos 1:7. Sometimes the Father and the holy spirit: ‘And the spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1:2). But surely if the word Elohim signified the Trinity, it could not be orthodoxly said that the Father is Elohim, the Son is Elohim, and the Holy Spirit is Elohim. Thirdly, Because the same noun in the plural number is used also of other individuals, in which there is neither trinity nor plurality. Thus Elohim is used of one calf (Exod. 32:31; cp. Neh. 9:18); of Moses (Exod 4:16 and 7:1), of an angel (Jud. 13:22); the word is applied even to idols individually, i.e., to Dagon (Jud. 16:23); to Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; to Chemosh, the God of the Moabites, and to Milchom, the god of the Ammonites (I Kings 11:33). Does the plural noun in these instances denote either a trinity or plurality? It is a peculiarity in the Hebrew language that nouns of dominion should be used sometimes in the singular number and sometimes in the plural with a singular signification and hence by reason rather of the sense than of the grammatical construction these plural nouns are joined to a verb in the singular number. According to some writers this is done to indicate the highest majesty and honour; and according to others the plurality of powers and dominions, or the multitude and variety of operations and influences flowing, as it were, from the inexhaustible fullness of a fountain” (abridged from Buxtorf, jun. Dissert Philologico-Theol, Dei Heb, sec. 42, Professor of Hebrew at Basl, d. 1664).
“This singular verb bara is in Gen. 1:1 joined to a noun of plural number. The plural nouns denoting dominion as baalim, elohim, adonai are connected with a verb in the singular number and ‘his owner(s) shall be put (sing.) to death’ (Exod 21:29), ‘and if his masters has given…’ (v. 4). Hence it is asked whether from this and similar constructions a plurality of persons in the divine essence can be proved. In answer to the question see the negative opinion confirmed by many arguments in Philo” (Heb. Dissert, 32. Leusden, Clavis Hebraica, p. 2, Professor of Hebrew at Utrecht, Keys to the Hebrew of the OT, 1624-1669).
“It is worthy of observation that many nouns really plural are yet to be taken singularly and joined to adjectives, pronouns and persons of verbs in the singular number, as elohim, adonim, baalim, behemoth, tehomot, chochmot, etc. See Gen. 1:1; Josh. 24:19; II Kings 19:4; Exod.21:29; Job 12:7; Prov. 9:1; Ps. 78: 15; Jer. 29:26. Grammarians say that this is done in order to denote magnitude and excellence, as in Ps. 22:3; 43:5; Ezek. 28:10; Lam 3:22. Though Elohim has a plural termination and is sometimes really plural it commonly has a singular signification” (abridged from Francis Masclef. Gram Heb., Vol. 1, pp. 289-90, 391, Canon of Amiens, 1662-1728).
“Nouns of dominion eloah, baal and adon are frequently used in the plural number instead of the singular to express the dignity of the person who rules or from the usage of the holy language, as in Gen. 1:1; 24:9; 40:1; 42:30; Exod. 21:4, 6, 8, 29; Isa. 1:3; Josh. 24:19 and many other passages” (Peter Guarin, Gram Heb, Vol. 1, p.477, can 3. French Benedictine, Grammar of Hebrew and Chaldee, 1678-1729).
“Plural nouns which have the signification of the singular number are mostly construed as if they were singular as bara Elohim, God created. Thus also Hosea 11:12; Isa. 19:4; Exod. 21:29. Ezek. 29:3; Micah 1:9” (Dr. James Robertson, D.D. Gram Heb, p. 309, Professor of Oriental Languages in the University of Edinburgh, 1783).
“I consider Elohim which is generally construed with verbs and adjectives in the singular number to be plurals of majesty, and deny that it can at all refer to the mystery of the Trinity. If this word signified the Holy Trinity it would imply that the doctrine was by the constant use of the language far better known under the OT than it is under the New” (abridged from Dr. John David Michaelis. Sup. ad Lex. Heb, p. 8, Professor of Philosophy at Gottingen, 1717-1791).
“The plural number is used of things singular, which are great and distinguished; as yamim is equivalent to a great sea, Ps 46:2; Tanim is said of a large dragon, Ezek 29:3; adonim, lords, for a great and powerful lord; elohim, gods, for a god eminently to be worshipped. Kodshim, holy ones, for the most holy God. Behemot, of a huge beast. Naharot, rivers, for a great river” (Schroeder. Inst ad Fund Ling Heb. sec. 7, reg. 100, note 1, p. 30, Professor of Greek and Oriental Languages at Grongen, 1721-1798).
“The plural number is used of things singular which are great and distinguished; as yamim is equivalent to great sea…Elohim, gods, of the Supremely Adorable One; Shaddai, plural form [perhaps intensive afformative, AB], of the greatest strength. Adonim, lords, of a mighty lord, Gen. 40:1; 42:30. But because every servant gave this title by way of honor to his master, the plural (adonim) was at length employed of any lord or possessor, Exod. 21:4, 6, 8; Mal. 1:6; I Kings 16:24; and so also it happens with respect to the word baal, an owner, Exod. 21:29, 34, 36; 22:11, 14, 15. Since there occur so many examples of the plural of greatness, that is, of nouns indicating an individual thing that is great, it is not safe enough to consider the plural word Elohim as denoting a multitude or as a proof of a plurality in God” (Storr. Observ. ad Analog et Syntax. Heb. pp. 97-99, Professor of Divinity, University of Tubingen, 1746-1805).
“The agreement between bara (sing.) and Elohim (plur.) is logical not formal” (Professor Samuel Lee. Gram of Heb. Lang. p. 278, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. Grammar of the Hebrew Language, 1832).
“Some nouns in English as news, mathematics, ethics are construed as singular” (R. Johnson, Grammar of the English Language).
“Enough has been said to show that a great majority of the most learned authors in the ‘orthodox’ body who have treated of the subject acknowledge that the argument drawn from the plural forms of Hebrew nouns applied to Deity are totally invalid, in support either of a Trinity or any plurality of Persons in the Godhead. To deduce a plurality in God from a Hebrew idiom is impossible. The argument for plurality in God seems never to have been thought of before the time of Peter Lombard, a puerile writer who lived in the twelfth century” — John Wilson, concluding remarks
The above since the 1400s should lay to rest any doubts about the meaning of the Hebrew word for God. It is remarkable that grammarians and other expert commentators have for centuries protested the imposition of plurality of meaning on the word Elohim. But this is what some in both Protestant and Catholic circles did. Herbert Armstrong apparently was unaware of the objections to his fundamental concept of God as “two Gods in the God-family.” But is this not to build on a very false foundation?
 “Trinity and Incarnation: In search of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Ex Auditu (7), 1991.
 The translation is mine, and further translation by leading writers follows later in the course of these notes.
 Acts 13:33 refers to the beginning of the Son and v. 34 by contrast describes the resurrection of the Messiah. The KJV is misleading here since it adds to the Greek the word “again” in verse 33. But it is verse 34, in contrast to verse 33, which speaks of the resurrection from the dead.
 Known to commentators as the divine passive, i.e., it was God who begat Jesus.
 Not as in the KJV, “for this reason also…” as if there might be TWO reasons for his being Son!
 But not singular and plural at the same time! And not a collective noun.
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