The Plural Form of God's Name

by A.E. Knoch

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 the Placer.

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 foreign god..."

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 title (+Hab.1:11).

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 more closely.

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.

Source: Unsearchable Riches Magazine, Vol. 24, 1933 - pp 171-180

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