Is Elohim Jehovah, or a Pantheon?

Elohīm means “plurality of gods” only when the verb is plural. But usually the verb or modifying adjective is singular, especially when the subject is the one true God, YHWH.

(YHWH is traditionally mispronounced “Jehovah.” Clement of Alexandria in 200 AD tells us, using Greek letters to fill in the vowels, that it was actually pronounced “Iaoue” or “Yahweh.” The copyists who preserved the Hebrew text throughout the 1st millennium AD would always read the word Adonai or “Lord” to avoid pronouncing God’s sacred name. “Jehovah” is a combination of the vowels of Adonai and the Latin letters J and V that were used for the Hebrew letters yod and waw.)

As we will see, most of the time Elohīm means the Sum Total of Deity. This form is usually called the “plural of majesty,” but it resembles certain other similar nouns with a plural meaning “sum total,” include the nouns ḥayyīm (life), mēsharīm (fairness/equity), betulīm (virginity), ne‘arīm (youth), and zequnīm (old age).

Only a monotheistic people like Israel would employ this meaning. In fact, out of all Semitic languages, this use of the word “God” in plural form to mean only one God is found only in Hebrew, and in Jewish Aramaic texts such as Daniel. You won’t find a plural word for God used with such a meaning in pagan Aramaic, in Ugaritic (Canaanite), or in Akkadian (Babylonian).

Several times in the Hebrew Bible it is clearly stated that YHWH = Elohīm. The best example is Isaiah 45:18: “For thus says YHWH, who created the heavens; he (singular) is Elohīm.” Here are some more examples:

  • Deuteronomy 4:35: “So that you might know that YHWH, he (singular) is the Elohīm; there is no other.”
  • 2 Samuel 7:28: “O Adonai YHWH (Lord YHWH), you (singular) are the Elohīm.”
  • 1 Kings 8:60: “All the people of the earth shall know that YHWH, he (singular) is the Elohīm; there is no other.”
  • 1 Kings 18:37: “So that this people may know that you (singular), YHWH, are the Elohīm.”
  • 2 Kings 19:15: “O YHWH, Elohīm of Israel…you (singular) are the Elohīm, you alone.”
  • Isaiah 45:5: “I am YHWH, and there is no other; besides me there is/are no Elohīm.”
  • We also have YHWH and Elohīm paired together as one compound name 37 times in the Hebrew Bible, starting in Genesis 2:4.
  • I did not count the numerous times we find expressions like Isaiah 43:3, “I am YHWH your Elohīm” or Deuteronomy 6:4, “You shall love YHWH your Elohīm.”

Elohīm is the plural of the noun eloah, meaning “god” or “God.” The singular form is used 58 times in the Hebrew Bible, 41 of those times in Job. The plural elohīm is used 2248 times. 366 times it is used with the definite article “the,” most of these in the phrases “ark of the Elohīm,” “house of the Elohīm,” and “man of the Elohīm.” In Exodus 21:6, 22:8, and 22:9, the language is ambiguous as to whether people must bring cases to “the God” or “the gods” (or “the judges,” as some, such as the King James translators, might understand the latter option).

As I said at the very beginning of this post, there are some strong signals given in the text when Elohīm is intended to be singular: whenever Elohīm is the subject of a singular verb, or is modified by a singular adjective, pronoun, or participle. Some examples:

  • Genesis 5:24: “Enoch walked with the Elohīm, and he was not, for Elohīm took (singular verb) him.”
  • Genesis 41:28 (and 25): “The Elohīm has shown (singular verb) what he is doing (singular participle).”
  • Exodus 18:16: “the statutes of the Elohīm and his (singular suffix) laws.”
  • 1 Kings 18:24: “The Elohīm who answers by fire, he (singular pronoun) is the Elohīm.”
  • Nehemiah 8:6: “Ezra blessed YHWH, the great (singular adjective) Elohīm.”
  • Psalm 86:8-10: “There is no one like you (singular) among the Elohīm, O AdonaiYou (singular) alone are Elohīm.”

Exceptions to the above rules are extremely rare, but here’s the few I found. In both Genesis 20:13 and Genesis 35:7, the verb used with Elohīm is plural, although few would argue from context that multiple gods are the plural subject of the verb; in the Samaritan Pentateuch text of these verses, the verb is singular, although one might dispute whether the plural is a corruption, or the singular is a “correction.” In the phrase “living God” in Deuteronomy 5:26 and 1 Samuel 17:26, the adjective “living” is plural. And in 1 Samuel 28:13, the witch at En-dor says to Saul, “I see elohīm coming up (plural participle) from the earth.” (The King James Version takes this to be an actual plural.)

So when does elohīm refer to gods (plural)? The King James translates the word this way 215 times. Deuteronomy 10:17 gives us an unusual case where both singular and plural meanings are juxtaposed in the same breath: “For YHWH your Elohīm is Elohīm (God) of elohīm (gods).” In Exodus 12:12, “all the elohīm of Egypt” refers to multiple pagan gods, as do the 64 times the phrase “other (plural adjective) elohīm” is used. The phrase “sons of Elohīm” is used only 3 times, all in Job; the meaning can be arguably singular or plural.

Finally, Psalm 8:5 and Psalm 82:1 and Psalm 82:6 are worthy of attention. Psalm 8:5 is the lone instance where the King James Version translates Elohīm as “angels,” which is peculiar, in that “God” makes perfectly good sense here. As for Psalm 82, the context seems to fit the meaning “judges” as in Exodus 21:6 and Exodus 22:8-9 above, although evil heavenly powers may be in view.

In addition, there is the common Semitic word El for “God/god,” the plural of which always means “gods (plural).” In the Hebrew Bible, the plural refers to gods other than YHWH in Exodus 15:11 (“Who is like unto thee, O YHWH, among the gods?”), Job 41:25 (“the elīm are afraid”), Psalm 29:1, Psalm 58:1, and Psalm 89:6, among other examples. In such passages, in addition to similar passages that use the word Elohīm such as Psalm 138:1 and Psalm 82, pagan gods (or possibly lesser angelic powers) are referenced, without the author recognizing them as genuine deities who can be rightfully compared to the one true God.

The evidence demonstrates that the Biblical faith was truly monotheistic: there is only one God, known alternately as Elohīm and as YHWH. There is only one God, not two. Our friends, the LDS, do not accept these conclusions. They are not truly monotheistic; they claim to be monolatrous, that is, they claim to worship only one God, although limitless other gods have existed and do exist theoretically in LDS theology. However, there is confusion as to exactly which God the LDS do worship. Suddenly, the oft-denied doctrine of the Trinity begins to make more Biblical sense.

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