THE TRIUNE NATURE OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL:
THE PLURALITY OF THE DIVINE PERSONALITIES
THE UNITY OF THE DIVINE PERSONALITIES
THE TRINITY OF THE DIVINE PERSONALITIES
THE PLURALITY OF THE DIVINE PERSONALITIES
UPON opening the Bible one is immediately confronted in the Hebrew text (Gen. 1:1) with the word "God" in the plural number; hence it is proper to begin this study with: THE PLURALITY OF THE DIVINE PERSONALITIES.I. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLURAL NOUN אֱלֹהִים
In the first statement of the Tenach (Old, Testament):
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ׃ "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," the word which is translated "God" is אֱלֹהִים, and is in the plural number, as is well known to all Hebrew scholars. All Hebrew nouns ending with ים―ִ are masculine and are in the plural number. As an example note the word כְּרֻבִים, which means more than one, the singular being כְּרוּב (see Psa. 18:10(11). Another illustration is שְׂרָפִים to which is the plural of שָׂרָף.
For conclusive proof that אֱלֹהִים is in the plural number, and means more than one, look, dear reader, at the First Commandment found in Exodus 20:3. לֹא־יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָי׃ "Not shall there be to you other gods before me" (Author's literal Tr.). The word אֱלֹהִים here is correctly translated "gods," meaning many gods, and is modified by אֲחֵרִים which means "strange" or "other" and is likewise in the plural number.
Another instance may be cited which is found in Deut. 13:2(3).
נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יְדַעְתָּם וְנָעָבְדֵם׃ saying, "Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them." Here the words translated "other gods" are the same as occurred in the First Commandment (see Ex. 18:11 and Judg. 10:13). All translators, both Jewish and Gentile, correctly translate אֱלֹהִים "gods" in these and in all other passages where it refers to idols. Hundreds of instances could be adduced, but these are sufficient to make the point clear.
If, when this word refers to heathen gods, it is to be translated grammatically and correctly in the plural number, why should the grammar be ignored and the word be translated as if it were a singular noun when it refers to Israel's God, since the facts are that it is a plural noun and means more than one?¹
II. SIGNIFICANCE OF PLURAL VERBS USED WITH אֱלֹהִים
In addition to the proof which is furnished by the plural noun אֱלֹהִים, the use of the verb in the plural number, used in connection with אֱלֹהִים, indicates that there is a plurality of Divine Personalities.² In Gen. 20 there is recorded a conversation which took place between Abimelech and Abraham, in which conversation Abraham (v. 13) said: וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר הִתְעוּ אֹתִי אֱלֹהִים מִבֵּית אָבִי "And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house." The word הִתְעוּ is in the plural number and has as its subject אֱלֹהִים. From the use of this plural verb the one legitimate inference that may be drawn is that Abraham recognized that there is a plurality of Divine Personalities.
Again, this same fact is presented in Gen. 35:7, in which passage one reads that Jacob built an altar to the Lord, and called the name of the place אֵל־בֵּית אֵל, "For there the Gods revealed themselves unto him when he fled from the face of his brother" (Author's Tr.). The verb נִגְלוּ is in the plural number and has for its subject הָאֱלֹהִים. There were more than one of the Divine Persons who revealed themselves to Jacob as indicated by the plural noun and the plural verb.
III. THE WORD "GOD" APPLIED TO TWO DIVINE PERSONALITIES
The plurality of Divine Personalities is again seen by the fact that in several Scriptures there appears to be a distinction between "God" and "God." A typical case of this distinction is found in Psa. 45:6,7 (7,8). The inspired Psalmist in verse 6, addressing God, said: "Thy throne, 0 God, is for ever and ever: A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom." From this statement it is clearly seen that the Psalmist is addressing the Eternal, Omnipotent God, for such is the signification of אֱלֹהִים "God." Continuing the conversation with God in verse 7 (8), the Psalmist furthermore, says: עַל־כֵּן מְשָׁחֲךָ אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן מֵחֲבֵרֶךָ׃ "Therefore God, thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."³
From this Psalm it is evident that the inspired Psalmist in verse 6 addressed God, who, according to the Targum, is the Messiah; hence אֱלֹהִים in verse 6 is in the second person; and in speaking to God the Messiah, the Psalmist speaks of "God, thy God" in the third person, who is the God of the Messiah; but since the Messiah is none other than God in human form, as will appear later on in this book, it is clear from this passage that there are at least two Divine Personalities who are eternal and omnipotent.
Again, at least two Divine Personalities appear in Hosea's prophecy. In Hos. 1:2, 4, 6 the Lord speaks to Israel. Continuing His message to her in verse 7, the Lord says,
וְאֶת־בֵּית יְהוּדָה אֲרַחֵם וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּים בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיהֶם "I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them (Israel) by the Lord their God." If one man should promise another that he would do a certain work by a third person, it would be quite evident that the one who does the work is different from the one through whom he does it. Such is the case with this prediction. Hence the Lord who speaks is different from the Lord who actually delivers Israel.
As another illustration of the distinction between the Divine Personalities, note Psa. 110:1:
לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי שֵׁב לִימִינִי עַד־אָשִׁית אֹיְבֶיךָ הֲדֹם לְרַגְלֶיךָ׃ "The Lord saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." This Psalm is likewise understood in rabbinical writings to be a messianic prediction. This statement being true, the Lord speaks to the Psalmist's Lord a certain revelation. אֲדֹנִי is here used with reference to the Messiah; hence He is divine. (See Chapter XIII for discussion of Psa. 110). Therefore from this passage it is also manifest that there are at least two Divine Personalities.
IV. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLURAL NOUN אֲדֹנָי
The word אֲדֹנָי is the plural construct form of the word אֲדוֹן with the suffix י–ָ which is the personal pronoun "my" first person, singular number, possessive case, and which is attached to a plural or dual noun. Hence this sacred name, which occurs hundreds of times in the Tenach and is applied to God only, is in the plural number. This fact likewise corroborates the position that there are more than one Divine Personality.
V. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLURAL PRONOUNS
A fifth group of facts pointing toward the conclusion of a plurality of Divine Personalities is the use of the plural pronouns in a number of passages which refer to God.
A. The first example where this usage is found is in Gen. 1:26 which gives a conversation introduced by the words וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים "God said," נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ, "Let US make man in our image, and according to OUR likeness." From this quotation one is forced to the irresistible conclusion that the speaker, who is God, and the one to whom He was speaking, are of the same divine essence or nature, for he uses the words, דְמוּת צֶלֶם "image and likeness" in the singular number and attaches the plural personal pronoun "our" to these singular nouns. This fact in and of itself shows that the speaker and the one addressed are of the same image and substance. Hence since the speaker is God, the eternal God, the one spoken to is none less than the eternal God.
B. A second use of the plural personal pronoun is found in Gen. 3:22, in which God says after man's disobedience וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ "Behold, the man is become as one of us." Again, it is evident that the speaker, the self-existing God, speaks to another who is of the same nature as Himself, by the use of the expression כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ "as one of us." Such language as this God could not use in speaking to a created being. The language unquestionably implies the equality of the speaker and the one addressed.
C. This same usage is seen in the account of the destruction of the Tower of Babel recorded in Gen. 11. In verse 7 God said הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם "Come, let US go down, and there confound their language." The explanation of the two passages just discussed is the only satisfying interpretation of this passage.
Solomon, to whom God gave special wisdom (I Kings 3:12), urged young people in the days of their youth to וּזְכֹר אֶת־בּוֹרְאֶיךָ "remember now thy creators" (Author's Tr., Eccl. 12:1). To the Hebrew student it is very plain that בּוֹרְאֶיךָ is in the plural number, as is indicated by the accompanying vowel which joins the personal pronoun "thy" to the participle "creators." Again, in Psa. 149:2 יִשְׂמַח יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֹשָׂיו "Let Israel rejoice in his Makers." The personal pronoun יו ָ "his" shows that the participle is in the plural number and refers to Israel's God. The facts noted in this paragraph confirm the interpretation of the significance of the pronouns in paragraphs A, B, and C.
VI. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLURAL ADJECTIVE
In Deut. 4: 7 appears the following statement:
כִּי מִי־גוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ אֱלֹהִים קְרֹבִים אֵלָיו כַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ בְּכָל־קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו׃
"For what great nation is there, that hath a god so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is whensoever we call upon him?" In the translation of the Jewish Pub. Soc. אֱלֹהִים is translated as though it were a singular noun and capitalized, which fact shows that the translator understood that it referred to the God of Israel. Isaac Leeser translates it "gods." In the Revised Version it is translated by the expression "a god." These facts show a diversity of opinion as to whom Moses had in mind. This question, however, does not affect the grammar of the original text. The question is, "Is אֱלֹהִים singular or plural?" That it is plural is clearly seen from the adjective קְרֹבִים which is in the plural number and which modifies it. The singular of this adjective is קָּרֹב.
Another instance of the adjective in the plural number modifying אֱלֹהִים appears in Josh. 24:19,20: וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל־הָעָם לֹא תוּכְלוּ לַעֲבֹד אֶת־יְהוָה כִּי־אֱלֹהִים קְדֹשִׁים הוּא אֵל־קַנּוֹא הוּא לֹא־יִשָּׂא לְפִשְׁעֲכֶם וּלְחַטֹּאותֵיכֶם׃ כִּי תַעַזְבוּ אֶת־יְהוָה וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהֵי נֵכָר וְשָׁב וְהֵרַע לָכֶם וְכִלָּה אֶתְכֶם אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר־הֵיטִיב לָכֶם׃ "And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord; for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgression nor your sins. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you evil, and consume you, after that he hath done you good." אֱלֹהִים is here modified by קְדֹשִׁים which is in the plural number קָדוֹשׁ is singular. Therefore אֱלֹהִים is in the plural number since there must be agreement between the adjective and the noun which it modifies.
VII. אֱלֹהִים TRANSLATED "JUDGES"
Another fact which proves that אֱלֹהִים is plural is that in Ex. 21:6; 22:8,9,28 of the translation by Isaac Leeser it is rendered "judges." In the version of the Jewish Pub. Soc. in the text it is translated "God" with this marginal note, "that is, the judges." In the American Revised Version (marginal note) it is likewise translated "the judges." Whenever certain ones came for grievance to the judges, who were God's official representatives in Israel, Moses said that they were coming to God. Hence in a secondary sense the word might properly be rendered "judges." The point, however, here is that it is recognized by these translators as being in the plural.CONCLUSION
With the facts noted in this chapter before an honest inquiring heart, the conclusion is borne irresistibly upon the soul that the Tenach unmistakably teaches the plurality*† of God.
¹ The writer is aware of the argument that the plural noun אלהים is the plural of "excellency, majesty." He admits frankly, that in the Semitic world such usage was common when subjects addressed their king or at times spoke concerning him; but in the passages examined in this section, and in numerous other passages, there is nothing in the context of any of them which warrants a departure from the strict grammatical interpretation of the words and the substitution of an interpretation invented to support a theological bias.
Proof for the "plural of Majesty" is sought for, in such passages as Judg. 11-24: "Wilt not thou possess that which כמוש (Chemosh) thy God giveth thee to possess?" כמוש is in the singular number and is the name of the God of Moab, and in apposition with it is אלהיך "thy Gods." From this passage it is argued that since אלהיך is in apposition with כמוש and since it is in the plural number, it is the plural of majesty, which conforms to the Semitic usage with reference to rulers. Therefore it is contended that אלהים אלהיך אלהינו etc., simply mean "God, thy God, our God," and are not to be taken in their primary, ordinary, literal meaning, the supposition being that when applied to the God of Israel they are the plural of majesty. In reply to this argument it is sufficient to note the fact that כמוש was not the name of one idol only, but it was the name of innumerable idols throughout the kingdom. Hence כמושthough in the singular form is a collective noun which embraced every idol of the realm. Hence אלהיך "thy gods" conforms strictly to the correct grammatical usage of the language and means "thy gods." The same explanation holds good with reference to Dagon in I Sam. 5:7 and like passages.
² Personality is not to be confounded with corporeality. One is as much of a personality after death as he is before. Angels who have not human bodies are personalities. Likewise, God is רוח "spirit" without a material body yet He is a personality.
³ The statement in Ex. 4:16 ודבר־הוא לך אל־העם והיה הוא יהיה־לך לפה ואתה תהיה־לו לאלהים "And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people; and it shall come to pass, that he shall be to thee a mouth, and thou shalt be to him as God" is considered by some to be overwhelming proof that אלהים though plural in form, is singular in meaning. In support of this contention the question is asked, "How can אלהים be plural when Moses was to be to Aaron לאלהים?" This question is quite proper and seems to bear directly upon the question under consideration.
In replying to this argument it is sufficient to call attention to the fact that a comparison or parable has one point of contact with the truth to be taught, and no attempt should be made to make it fit in all points. The function of a comparison may be illustrated by two circles which are tangent the one to the other; hence there is but one point of contact. Thus it is with all comparisons; those illustrations are used whose outstanding characteristic will illustrate the matter in hand.
The context of this passage points definitely to what the point of contact is between the illustration and the lesson to be taught. Verse 15 states that Moses should speak to Aaron and that the former should put his words in the latter's mouth. Verse 16 adds that he, Aaron, should speak to the people in behalf of Moses and that he (Aaron) should be a mouth for him (Moses). These data show that Aaron was to be the spokesman נביא for Moses. A spokesman or prophet in Israel was a representative of God, hence, since the message Aaron was to deliver the people was to be given him by Moses, he sustained the relationship of prophet to Moses; since God is the correlative term of prophet it was but natural that God should say that Moses should be to Aaron as God. This conclusion is furthermore confirmed by the fact that Moses being invested with the power of God to perform miracles and to deliver the chosen people was God's representative on earth. These facts being true, to speak of the reciprocal relationship between Moses and Aaron in these words "he shall be to thee for a mouth and thou shall be to him for God" was the only natural, normal comparison to be used. Therefore this passage has no bearing upon the meaning of אלהים. The same explanation is to be given for Ex. 7:1 and all similar passages.
* That the word אלהים denotes a plurality of personalities is clearly seen in the translation by Isaac Leeser in Josh. 22:22: "The God of gods, the Eternal, the God of gods, the Eternal, He knoweth," etc. Leeser knew that this word is plural, hence he translated it as such, though he applied it to heathen gods. The translators of the Jew. Pub. Soc. render it thus: "God, God, the Lord, God, God, the Lord, He knoweth," etc. This translation correctly makes it in apposition with the word אל but fails to translate it correctly. The correct translation is: "God, Gods, the Lord," etc.
† All standard Hebrew lexicons define the word ’elohim as a masculine, plural noun; hence scholarship confirms the contention herewith set forth.
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