THE common English name for the Deity is God, which in
these days, is sometimes erroneously derived from good to describe His
beneficence. Its real derivation seems lost in antiquity. It is
significant, however, that the languages of inspiration, though they have
many different appellations, do not call Him by this attribute. Indeed, in
English, we do not think of His goodness by this term, unless our
attention is directed to this supposed derivation. We think of His deity,
His creatorship, His supremacy, His godhood. As our conception of its
meaning has been molded by constant contact with His inspired revelation,
it has become adjusted to the function it performs. One of the divine
titles of the original certainly should be translated "God." This name
should represent Elohim.
The problem of finding acceptable names and titles for the Deity, to
correspond with those used in the original Scriptures, has usually been a
difficult and perplexing one, especially among idolatrous nations where
such terms are used for false divinities. In Chinese this has led to much
discussion. In English it should not be so trying a task as it seems, for
we have several terms which are not used in the Bible, which have close
equivalents in the Hebrew. Is it not strange that no mention of the
"Deity" occurs in Holy Writ? Yet I am quite sure that one Hebrew title,
Al El, has no closer English equivalent. So with the "Supreme," which
is a perfect rendering of Oliun, ON, upper, supreme.
In order to arrive at a satisfactory reason for the use of the plural form
we must understand the meaning of Elohim, or Aleim, as it is in the
ancient, unpointed Hebrew. It is only in certain relations that this idiom
was used. In invoking the aid of a superior, or when subjects addressed
their king, the plural was deemed a mark of respect. Is there anything in
the name to suggest such a relation? An analysis of the title, and a study
of the family of words to which it belongs, will show that Elohim means
the Invoked, the Deity to Whom all mankind instinctively appeals for aid
in moments of stress, irrespective of race, language, or religion. This
being so, the idiom is in perfect accord with the custom of the people and
the usage of the language.
One of the most difficult of the Hebrew roots is al (usually translated
el). Yet it is also one of the most vital, for from it several of the
divine titles are derived. From it comes that greatest of all names, Elohim
(literally transliterated Aleim), which our translators render "God."
Our first task is to fix the essential meaning of this root. We must find
some idea which is common to all the words which are derived from it. At
first this seems impossible, for it is hid in such diverse terms as no,
neither, nay, not, nor, God, power, great, mighty, these, unto, with,
against, at, upon, on, before, after, among, because, of, through, beside,
out of, touching, toward, near, about, for, whether, according,
concerning, that, by, hath, where, within, over, both, and, etc., in the
A.V. With a slight addition it makes curse, swear, adjure, oath,
execration, oak, teil tree, elm, etc.
If we study the translations we will be bewildered. It is only as we
reduce each group of occurrences to a concordant basis that light dawns.
This confines the various renderings to the names of the Deity, the
connective to, the pronoun these, the verb invoke, adjure, the nouns
adjuration or execration and oak tree. The negative terms belong to
another root, and need not be considered.
First, fixing our attention on the oft-recurring
connective to al, and the pronoun these al, we see that they have
the common idea which may be expressed by the word DISPOSE. To and
these indicate the direction or disposition. "The waters are flowing
together to one place" (Gen.1:9) disposes of the waters. "These are the
generations" (Gen.2:4) places the generations. This is the underlying
thought. Hence the divine title Al, which is exactly the same in form,
brings before us the great Disposer. This is notably confirmed by the
Greek equivalent, Theos, which comes from the, PLACE, and signifies
This meaning is most appropriate to many of its occurrences. This is the
title which is used in the appellation Al Shaddai, usually rendered "God
Almighty." Shaddai is the Sufficient One. Hence the signification is
Disposer of Bounties, or some such phrase.
There are many and various explanations of this Hebrew name of God, but
none seems so satisfactory as this. On the one hand, it agrees with the
underlying idea in the root. On the other, it is the same as the literal
meaning of its Greek equivalent. Besides this, it is in thorough accord
with all of its occurrences, and brings before us the essence of Deity. We
rightly say, "man proposes, but Deity disposes." The central truth as to
God during the eons is that all is out of Him and through Him and into
Him. He alone decides the destiny and controls the course of the cosmos.
It is a name worthy of Him, which is fraught with untold blessing when its
significance is understood and acknowledged. The great culmination of His
purpose is involved in it, for all is to al Him. This thought inheres
in three of His titles, Al, Ale, Aleim Elohim, which we translate
Deity and God.
The name "Disposer" would be a good name for God,
especially in all the contexts in which the shortest form Al occurs. The
first occurrence (Gen.14:18-20), is characteristic. Melchizedek was a
priest of the Supreme Disposer. Does not this fit the circumstances
perfectly? In English, however, we already have an unused name which may
be more acceptable, and which is in the right relation to the name "God"
for Elohim. This is "Deity." Melchizedek and Abram worshiped the Supreme
Deity. As the English term includes the idea of One to be invoked, so the
Hebrew usage, especially in its first few occurrences, is connected with
worship such as is due to the Supreme Disposer or Deity.
We are now prepared to study a development of the root al, DISPOSE. The
letter e (usually transliterated h) is often added, making ale. This
letter has the force of toward, making it DISPOSE-toward, with the
sense of invoke, in the Hiphil, cause to invoke, adjure (1
Sam.14:24). Micah's mother did not "curse" anyone for stealing her silver,
but invoked Jehovah concerning it (Judges 17:2). It was customary to
invoke God in making a covenant (Hosea 10:4).
The Chaldee name for God, Ale, therefore denotes the one who is invoked,
and is used of false deities (Dan.3:12) as well as the true (Dan.3:17).
Our principal interest in it in this connection is the fact that it does
not use the plural form unless more than one is intended. The Hebrew
idiomatic plural is not used in Chaldee. If the Scriptures had all been
written in Chaldee, God would not have been called by His plural name.
This shows that it is not a logical plural, but an idiomatic one. It is a
Hebrew usage, and is not followed in the Chaldee or Greek portions of the
inspired Scriptures, because these languages have no such idiom. They give
the literal sense.
So much has been said concerning the plurality of God's name in Hebrew
that it is sometimes supposed that this title is always in the plural
form, Elohim. The singular, Alue (or Eloah), occurs more than fifty
times, scattered from Deuteronomy to Habakkuk. It occurs most frequently
in Job. It is evident, from Daniel 11:37,38,39, that a false god is not
honored by the plural. Both singular and plural are used in this passage.
If we render it literally, the great enemy of the end time will appear as
a monotheist opposing polytheism! It would read thus: "And he shall not
understand the gods of his fathers, nor what wives covet, nor understand
any god, for he shall magnify himself over all, and he shall glorify the
god of strongholds on its base, and a god which his fathers knew not
shall he glorify with gold and with silver and with precious stones and
with that which is coveted. And in fortress strongholds he deals with a
This singular form occurs only eleven times outside the book of Job, where
it is more frequent than the plural. The mere fact that it differs from Elohim
in number does not justify a separate and distinct title. It appears to be
used especially when a plurality of false gods is in view. When Israel
turns to other gods and leaves the Alue Who makes him, they sacrifice to
demons, which are not Alue (Deut.32:15,17). Jehovah asks "Is there a
real alue, without it be I," (Isa.44:8). A false god is given this
One of the main arguments in favor of the trinity is the plural form of
the word for God in the Hebrew Scriptures. Elohim is found comparatively
seldom in the singular, and, if the "Trinity" is correct, our Bibles
should read, "In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth."
No translator will be responsible for this rendering, however, except as
an argument for the Trinity. The fact that our lord sanctioned its
translation in the singular as well as in the plural, should settle the
question. Used of the true God, He always made it singular. As this is one
of the main props of the trinitarian heresy, we will examine the facts
One of the best methods of testing the number of the name Elohim is to
try it out in contexts where two members of the so-called "Trinity" use it
of each other. In the forty-fifth psalm God speaks to the Son and says,
"Thy throne, O Elohim, is for the eon and further" (Psa.45:7,8). Here
the title is used of the Son, as distinct from His Father. If Elohim is
plural, then the Son is a plurality as well as a part of the "Trinity."
This is even clearer in the next verse, where we read. "Therefore God, Thy
God, anoints Thee." According to this the Son not only is a plurality of
Gods Himself, but has a plurality of Gods, if Elohim means more than
one. Elohim, in this passage, cannot be plural. Such an idea is contrary
to other scriptures which definitely protest that there is only one God
(1 Cor.8:4,6). Moreover, it is evident from the form of the verb. It is
not that many Gods anoint, but one God anoints. Elohim nearly always
takes a singular verb.
That Elohim is always singular in this passage is absolutely settled for
us, and put beyond the possibility of debate by God Himself, when He
quotes it, in the first chapter of Hebrews (1:8,9). In Greek the number
cannot be confused. The plural form of "God" is used in John 10:34,35;
Acts 7:40; 14:11; 19:26; 1 Corinthians 8:5,5; Galatians 4:8. But God
deliberately used the singular for Elohim whenever referring to Himself or
His Son. For me this is final. Men may take sides and discuss this matter
interminably, for there seems to be a show of evidence on both sides. What
better course can be pursued than to call in an Umpire Who is qualified to
decide the point? And this is just what God has done. He knows the meaning
of His own name. He inspired the Greek forms which represent it. He says
it is singular when applied to Himself or to His Son. Who is a better
Hebrew grammarian than the Author of the Scriptures?
When God spoke to Moses out of the flaming thorn bush, He revealed Himself
as the Elohim of Abraham, and the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of
Jacob (Ex.3:16). Our Lord refers to this in proving the necessity of
resurrection (Matt.22:32; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37), and Stephen brings it
before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:32). Neither translates Elohim as plural.
We may be sure that the elders in Israel were eager to find flaws in
Stephen's address. He would not stand before such a critical body and
mistranslate the name of the Deity. Of course, he may have failed on this
point. But did our Lord fail? Each one will answer that question according
to his estimate of Him. His word settles it for me. He says that Elohim
is singular when used of the true God. I refuse to question His decision.
Moreover, our Lord did not always translate Elohim by the singular. On
one occasion He definitely made it plural (John 10:34,35; cf Psa.82:6;
Ex.22:28). This should convince us that the form of this word does not
determine its number. This must be derived from its context. This is our
Lord's method. We are safe in following Him. In the Psalms we read, "I
say you are gods elohim, and all of you sons of the Supreme"
(Psa.82:6). The context applies it to a plurality, hence it is theoi,
gods. A little later in the psalm Elohim occurs again, in exactly the
same form in the Hebrew, but with a singular verb. "Rise, O Elohim!
Judge the earth, for Thou art being allotted all the nations"
(Psa.82:8). This refers to our Lord Himself. Elohim is applied to Him,
and to the rulers whom He replaces, without any change in form. Surely
He is the One Who will judge the earth. His God, Who commands Him to
do so, cannot be included in the title.
We might well appeal to the Septuagint translation to prove that Elohim
is singular in number, for it renders it so more than two thousand times,
but we do not wish to base our belief on any fallible human evidence,
however overwhelming it may seem. The Jewish scholars who translated the
Septuagint certainly knew that Elohim was plural in form, for they
recognized this on several occasions, as we have seen. But, when used of
God, they always made it singular. The whole weight of Jewish learning in
the centuries surrounding the first advent was unanimous on this point.
But we prefer to appeal to the One infallible Rabboni Who set His seal on
the diverse renderings of the Septuagint. The whole nation of the Jews may
have been wrong, but He was never in error. He never conceded that Elohim
was plural when used of God or of Himself.
As compilers of the CONCORDANT VERSION, we are inclined to be prejudiced
against the idea that elohim may be either singular or plural. One of
the prime principles of translation of a concordant version seems to be
violated. Frankly, we would translate elohim as plural always, if it
were possible. But it is not wise to press even a great principle to
irrational extremes, in the face of contrary evidence. Since the subject
is cleared up in the Greek Scriptures it is the part of wisdom to follow
our Lord's lead and accept His decision.
Finally and conclusively: Let those who teach a "Trinity" hear the
"Trinity." Let them listen to the Father and the Son and the holy spirit!
Speaking through Stephen, the holy Spirit translates Elohim in the
singular (Deut.18:15; Acts 7:37). The Son insists that Elohim be
construed in the singular (Deut.6:5; Luke 10:27). The Father confirms
their findings by treating Elohim as singular (Psa.45:7; Heb.1:9) What
better evidence can be offered? Those who will not heed their own
"Godhead," cannot be convinced.
Here are the passages, rendered concordantly for safety, and checked by
the Hebrew and Greek originals: "A Prophet from among your brethren, as
you, will Jehovah your God Elohim raise up for you" (Deut.18:15).
Stephen, by the holy Spirit quotes: "This is the Moses who says to the
sons of Israel, 'A Prophet will God singular be raising up to you from
among your brethren, as me.'" This is the Spirit's seal.
Again: "Hear, O Israel! Jehovah your God Elohim is one Jehovah! And you
love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your vehemence" (Deut.6:4,5). The Son listens to a lawyer quoting a
part of this. "You shall be loving the Lord your God singular out of
your whole heart, and in your whole soul, and in your whole strength." Did
our Lord rebuke him for making a mistake? He did not. He said to him, "You
answer correctly." It was the lawyer's business to know. His evidence is
valuable. Our Lord's words put His seal upon them. Elohim is singular.
The Father confirms this evidence. Speaking to the Son He says: "God
Elohim, Thy God Elohim anoints Thee" (Psa.45:7). This is quoted in
Hebrews thus: "God singular, Thy God [singular], anoints Thee"
(Heb.1:9). This is the seal of the Father. Thus the entire "Trinity" is
engaged in affirming that there is but one God, even though His name, in
Hebrew, seems to be in the plural form.