How does Hebrew work?

Peace of Christ, everyone!

I don’t understand how Elohim works; for example, how can it mean gods in one passage and God in another, despite being a plural noun? Take the Creation Myth for example: is Elohim speaking by his lonesome in an honorific sense, or should we understand this like Bethel after Jacob’s ziggurat dream (Thanks, Father Stephen DeYoung!), where it should be a divine council of gods with Our Lord at the head? If it’s the former, where else does this honorific plurality show up in The Bible, and if it’s the latter, how can we tell when there’s multiple gods or spirits being talked about if Elohim can be singular?


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Mostly subject-verb agreement. In English, we say “he is” or “they are” because “he” and “is” are singular, while “they” and “are” are plural (verbs can be plural). We don’t say “he are” or “they is”, because the plurality of the nouns and verbs don’t match.

The same is true in Hebrew, except for a few cases where nouns that are technically plural are treated as singular. “Elohim” is the classic example of this. We can tell when Yahweh is being referenced because the verb is singular. So we might read something like “gods is” or “gods says” or “gods creates”, which of course makes no sense, so we understand that in that case “gods (elohim)” is behaving as a singular noun (“god is”, “god says”, “god creates”).

Context also helps. Most (but not all) of the time it’s obvious from context whether one or more gods are intended, such as when characters call Yahweh “the god of Abraham”, or when they speak of “the gods of Egypt”. The word is “elohim” in both cases, but context makes it clear who (and therefore how many) is being referenced.

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@Combine_Advisor Charles, I hope that you understand that this is not a simple question. Evangelicals seem to have the idea that language is simple, univocal, which it is not. If it were then God could not use it to express to us God’s deep profound truth.

Let me begin with the earliest understanding of God by the Hebrews, which scholars call henotheism, “adherence to one particular god out of several, especially by a family, tribe, or other group.” In other words the Ten Commandments say, “You shall have no other gods before Me (YHWH,”) so YHWH does say that other deities do not exist. On the contrary YHWH says put be over them. There seems to be an evolution from put Me over them to I am superior to them, to they are weak or false gods, to no other deities exist.

Henotheism is a totally false view of God. Some Christians think that it cannot be in the Bible, but it is because God comes to humans as they are, so God can remakes us into who we need to be in right relationship to God.

The Semitic pantheon of the Hebrews consisted of El as the high God with all of the lesser gods (elim), presumably including YHWH underneath El, even though it was the elim who exercised the power.

As you noted the word used in Gen 1 for God is Elohim, a plural, based on the word el, god. One theory is that YHWH took on all the powers of all the gods to become the One and Only True God, and thus an el/god became Elohim/God. That is just a theory that makes sense from a certain perspective, not absolute truth,

The other word for God used in the OT is YHWH, usually translated the LORD and some times mistransliterated Jehovah, is the sacred personal Name of God, which needs its own special study. .

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This series gets into it pretty deep.

I’m under the impression Elohim is a reference to a class of beings that includes Yahweh, angels, and humans.

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Peace of Christ, Roger!

Thanks for this! You’re right, Conservative American evangelicalism hasn’t really prepared western Christians to read The Bible in it’s context. After becoming Catholic, I’ve begun to read it like such, but I still sometimes have my hang-ups, or I’m just not qualified to understand some things.

Elohim is the God of the OT. See Gen 1. YHWH and Elohim are the same. Angels are non-material beings created by Elohim. (The translation of Elohim as angels in Ps 8:5 is an error.) Humans are beings with spirits created by Elohim.

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I’ve personally have always heard scholars say the opposite. I can post the words later this weekend perhaps in addition to the links. It’s always been Elohim is a class of being and the name of our Elohim we worship is Yahweh. Genesis 1 never mentions the name of the god, just says a god. It’s not until later we see the name revealed.

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They also have 20ish episodes on Yahweh as well.

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In the OT Elohim and YHWH are used repeatedly for the Person of God, not as a category.

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You shall have no other “Elohim” gods before me.

Again here.

Elohim ( the god ) passes judgement among the Elohim (gods)

It refers to those other “gods/Elohim” as the “congregation of the Devine “ which is the hosts of heaven as we see when they deceives Ahab.

Jesus quotes this verse in John.

I’m both cases the “gods/Elohim” is a reference to humans.

So we see Elohim being used for Yahweh, false gods, angels and humans.

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I agree that Yahweh is as our god’s / elohim name.

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Thank you for your response.

The story behind Psalm 82 is the end of henotheism. YHWH, God of Israel, presides over the sons of El, and condemns them for not doing their job, which is to rescue the weak and the needy. Instead they defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked.

YHWH rules that these gods lose their divine power and become mortal, live and die as humans. Thus YHWH became GOD or ELOHIM all by Himself and Judaism became monotheism. Of course now Jews and Christians believe that YHWH always God all by Himself, but this poem explains the change in Jewish theology historically.

I expect that Jesus’ understanding of Psalm 81 was based on the current understanding of his time. No matter. His point is well taken.

His claim to be the Messiah needed to be based on the facts, on His message, and not as to whether He claimed to be equal to God the Father or not (which of course He did, at least in John.)

Today in the US many political and religious leaders misuse their power by using lies and conspiracy theories to play on the fears and mistrust of the people in order to defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked, instead of doing their job, which is to rescue the weak and the needy. We need to take heed of the message of Psalm 81 as used by Jesus


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