THE PLURALITY OF GOD
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
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 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 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.CONCLUSION
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.
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 כמוש though 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.
* 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.