Elohim — Let US make man in OUR image. (How many Gods do we serve?)

Genesis 1:1 (NKJV)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


The word “God” as used in the text above was translated from the Hebrew noun “Elohim.” Now, there has been a great misconception with respect to the nomenclature “Elohim” used for God in the Tanakh or Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis to Malachi). This is generally due to the presence of the suffix “-im” which is affixed to it. In lexicology, suffixes refer to those words or letters added at the end of another word to modify the word’s meaning. For example, the suffix “-able” changes “adore” (a verb) to “adorable” (an adjective). In this case, “adore” would serve as the base or root word.


The base word from which “Elohim” is derived is “eloah” (derived from “el” referring to “a deity.”). “Eloah” is the singular noun for “God” in the Hebrew. But the suffix “-im” added at its terminus denotes masculine plurality. Hence, “Elohim” is said to mean “Gods.”


Let’s examine this,


Early Hebrew grammarians (such as Wilhelm Gesenius) term this style of writing the “pluralisexcellentiae” (the plurality of excellence). It is used to intensify an original idea. This is achieved through the use of plurals of amplification i.e using the plural form for someone or something great.


For example,


Behemoth (mentioned in Job 40:15-24)


“Behem” means “beast” (singular) in the Hebrew. The suffix “-oth” denotes feminine plurality. This is in reference to one beast but the plural form is used, in order to amplify its characteristics and show its greatness. This was a Jewish style of writing. With the suffix “-oth,” it would mean “great beast.” Behemoth is described as having “bones like beams of bronze” and “ribs like bars of iron.” (vs. 18) as well as “strength in his hips” and “power is in his stomach muscles.” (vs. 16)


So, same rule applies to the noun “Elohim” used for God; “-im” does not refer to plurality but greatness. This is referred to as “the plural of excellence” in Bible interpretation. Examples include


1 Samuel 17:26 (NKJV)

26 Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”


“God” here is Elohim. Notice that in the narrative, David attempts to emphasize the greatness of God — “the armies of the living God.”


1 Samuel 17:36 (NKJV)

36 Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God (Elohim).”


The living God.


Jeremiah 10:10 (NKJV)

10 But the Lord is the true God (Elohim); He is the living God (Elohim) and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.


Describing God’s excellence and power.


Jeremiah 23:36 (NKJV)

36 And the oracle of the Lord you shall mention no more. For every man’s word will be his oracle, for you have perverted the words of the living God (Elohim), the Lord of hosts, our God.


The living God, the Lord of hosts. The word “hosts” here is translated from the Hebrew word “tsaba.” It refers to “armies in great numbers, battle soldiers.” So, “Lord of hosts” literally means “God of war.” (Note: The terminology “Lord of hosts” also appears in some other texts as “Lord of Sebaoth” e.g James 5:4 & Romans 9:29)


Deuteronomy 5:24-27 (NKJV)

24 And you said: ‘Surely the Lord our God (Elohim) has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. 25 Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? 27 You go near and hear all that the Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.’


The Lord our God (Elohim) has shown us His glory and His greatness.


The word “glory” as used here is translated from the Hebrew word “kabowd.” It refers to “honour, splendour.” It is derived from the root “kabad” which means “weight.”


The word “greatness” is translated from the Hebrew word “godel.” It refers to “magnitude.”


So once again, we see the nomenclature “Elohim” used to qualify God’s splendour and magnitude.


Notice that in all the examples given, the greatness of God is being emphasized hence “Elohim” is used. But it is not to be mistaken for “Gods.” God is one (see Deu. 6:4, 1 Tim. 2:5, James 2:19, Deu. 4:35, Deu. 32:39, 2 Sam. 7:22, 1 Chron. 17:20, Psalm 83:18, Psalm 86:10, Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 45:18, Mark 12:29, 1 Corinthians 8:4, Ephesians 4:6). The plural form is to denote excellence or greatness in the Hebrew. Hence, “Elohim” can be better translated as “God of gods” or “Power over powers.” Genesis 1:26 and other related texts would make more sense with this understanding


Genesis 1:26 (NKJV)

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”


“Us” and “our” (plural forms) are used, in this scenario, for God to denote His greatness and power in the creation. They do not refer to number (i.e multiple entities) HERE.


Another one.


Genesis 3:22-23 (NKJV)

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like ONE OF US, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.


“One of us” (in vs. 22) would not denote a literal plurality (referring to several persons), but rather, the plurality of excellence is employed here as well. Actually this is a poor translation from the Hebrew. The phrase “of us” is translated from the Hebrew word “min.” It is a term used to describe separation in the original language (i.e separate from, removed from, far from, severed from, away from). Hence, a better translation would be:


“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like ONE SEPARATE FROM US, to know good and evil…”


It is man who is far from (i.e. not in union with) God, emphasizing the state of sin man acquired and how his unbelief barred him from Life found in God (which Moses presented figuratively as a flaming sword guarding the tree of Life)


Genesis 3:24 (NKJV)

24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2019.


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