Who is Elohim in Genesis 1?

Who is Elohim in Genesis 1?

By Paul Chung

Genesis 1:26 “Then God [אֱלֹהִים 'elohiym, el·ō·hēm'; Strongs H430] said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Does this verse mean that there were more than one or rather three Gods (trinity) present in the creation of the world?

Below statements are what a couple of Trinitarian SDA scholars say about it:

In Genesis 1:26, we read “Then God said (singular), ‘Let Us make (plural) man in Our (plural) image, according to Our (plural) likeness.’” What is significant is the shift from singular to plural. Moses is not using a plural verb with ’Elohim, but God is using a plural verb and plural pronouns in reference to himself. Some interpreters believe that God is here speaking to the angels. But according to Scripture, angels did not participate in creation. THE BEST EXPLAINATION IS THAT ALREADY IN THE FIRST CHAPTER OF GENESIS THERE IS AN INDICATION OF A PLURALITY OF PERSONS IN GOD HIMSELF. (Gerhard Pfandl , The Trinity in Scripture, Biblical Research Institute Silver Spring, MD June 1999)

This is the case in Genesis 1:26: “Then God [’elohîm] said [he said], ‘Let us make [na‘aśeh: verb, first person plural] mankind in our [nû: first person plural pronoun] image, in our [nû: first personal plural pronoun] likeness . . .” (NIV). We find the plural ’elohîm with the singular verb in the descriptive narrative, but in the divine speech we find the subject, the verb, and pronouns in the plural. Then in the completion report we read: “So God [’elohîm] created [bārā’: verb, third person singular] mankind in his [ô: first person singular pronoun] own image, in the image of God [’elohîm] he created [bārā’: verb, third person singular] them” (verse 27, NIV). We are back to Genesis 1:1. SCHOLARS HAVE TRIED TO EXPLAIN THE PLURAL VERB AND THE PLURAL PRONOUNS IN VERSE 26, BUT HARDLY ANY CONSENSUS SUGGESTIONS HAVE BEEN MADE. The easiest solution would be to recognize that the text testifies that THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THE BIBLE IN ONE GOD WHOSE INNER BEING IS A PLURALITY. Since this plurality deliberates with itself, ONE COULD GO A STEP FURTHER AND SUGGEST THAT THERE IS A PLURAITY OF PERSONS WITHIN THE ONE GOD. (Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, The Lord Our God in One , Biblical Research Institute)


However, the following study will show that Elohim is not a numerical plural but refers to a singular God. And the inspired writings of Ellen White affirms it.

The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. Elohim ends with the masculine plural suffix "-ים". From this some might conclude that Elohim signifies a numerical plural, i.e. denoting multiplicity and translate it accordingly as gods.

But before we determine if Elohim is a single God or multiple gods, we must consider whether the word, Elohim is really a numerical plural.

In Hebrew, a numerically plural noun has three characteristics:
1. It receives a plural suffix;
2. It receives a plural verb;
3. It receives a plural adjective.

The first characteristic, the plural suffix, is familiar to the English speaker. In English, most nouns have the plural suffix "s" or "es" to indicate something that is more than one. For example, dog is the singular while dogs is the plural.

But Hebrew adds another dimension by matching adjectives and verbs to the noun.

In Hebrew, a plural noun gets a plural verb and plural adjective. In contrast, English verbs and adjectives do not change to match the noun.

For example, in English:
Singular: The big dog guarded.
Plural: The big dogs guarded.

But in Hebrew:
Singular: The big (singular) dog (he) guarded. שָׁמַר הַכֶּלֶב הַגָּדוֹל
Plural: The big (plural) dogs (they) guarded. שָׁמְרוּ הַכְּלָבִים הַגְּדוֹלִים

Thus, if Elohim is really a numerically plural noun then it should also get plural verb and plural adjective.

In the very first verse of the Genesis, we read, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים meaning "Elohim (he) created".

Were Elohim a numerical plural, the verse would have to say בָּרְאוּ אֱלֹהִים "Elohim (they) created".

The same thing can be found with the adjective. The adjective for Elohim is singular, not plural:

Thus we find אֱלֹהִים צַדִּיק "righteous (sg) Elohim" (Ps 7:10) and not אֱלֹהִים צַדִּיקִים "righteous (pl) Elohim".

Genesis chapt. 1

vs. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness HE called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

vs. 10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called HE Seas: and God saw that it was good.

vs. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: HE made the stars also.

vs. 27 So God created man in HIS own image, in the image of God created HE him; male and female created HE them.

Note: the pronouns used in Genesis 1 are all singular pronouns denoting a singular antecedent (God-Elohim).

So why does Elohim have a plural suffix if it is numerically singular with a singular verb and singular adjective?

Elohim is an "intensive plural". The intensive plural has the plural ending but the verbs and adjectives that accompany it are singular. The intensive plural denotes a singular object or individual but adds a connotation of greatness. So Elohim does not mean gods but great God.

It turns out there is a special type of plural in Hebrew that has a plural suffix even though it is numerically singular with a singular verb and singular adjective. These nouns are called majestic plurals.

The meaning of the plural suffix in the majestic plural is NOT that there is more than one of the noun, but that the noun is "great, absolute, or majestic".

One clear example of Elohim used not as numerically plural can be found in Exodus 7:1 when God tells Moses that He will make Moses an Elohim to Pharaoh:

"And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god (Elohim) to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet." (Exodus 7:1)

Certainly this does not mean that God made Moses into a god, but rather that he would speak to Pharaoh with authority through Aaron who would serve as God's mouth-piece in the way that the prophets often did in the Old Testament. "The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence..." {DA 469.5}

"And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was VERY GREAT in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people." (Exodus 11:3)

Point being, God magnified Moses in the sight of the Egyptians and made him "very great" not that he became a god of plurality.

Elohim in Genesis 1 therefore refers to plural of majesty which is simply a grammatical form that denotes greatness, meaning "great God".

However, it's worth noting that the word Elohim is not always a majestic plural. When referring to the pagan gods, the term Elohim is usually a numerical plural. For example, the second commandment forbids us to worship אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים "other (pl) gods". In this phrase, not only does Elohim have the plural suffix, but it receives a plural adjective אֲחֵרִים other (pl). This tells us that in the second commandment Elohim is used not as an majestic plural but as a numerical plural denoting multiplicity.

Additionally, Elohim doesn't always necessarily refer to a deity... it simply may denote greatness or something majestic as in Nineveh was "exceeding (Elohim) great city."

"So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding (Elohim Strongs H430) great city of three days' journey. Jonah 3:3

Adonai

It is worth noting that YHWH is repeatedly referred to as Adonai ?ֲדֹנָי (Lord) some 439 times throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This epithet literally means "my lords" but is used as a majestic plural. As in the case of Elohim, Adonai also receives singular adjectives, verbs, and pronouns (with no exceptions) proving that it is meant as the numerically singular "Lord".

Interestingly enough, even a human master is usually referred to as Adonim אֲדֹנִים (literally: "lords") using the majestic plural with a numerically singular meaning (e.g. Gen 24:9; 39:2; Ex 21:4; etc.). In Dan 7:18, 22, 25, 27 YHWH is referred to four times as Elyonin עֶלְיוֹנִין literally meaning "most high ones" but this is also a majestic plural meaning "Most High" (this time in Aramaic).

Who was it that actually said, "Let us make man in our image"?

Scripture tells us that it was the Father who created all things THROUGH the Son and that the Son shares the SAME image as the Father.

“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in GOD [Father], who created all things BY Jesus Christ:” Ephesian 3:9 (brackets supplied by me)

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, BY WHOM [Christ] ALSO HE [Father] MADE THE WORLDS; Who [Christ] being the brightness of his glory, and the EXPRESS IMAGE of his person...” Hebrews 1:3" Hebrews 1:1-3 (brackets supplied by me)

Let us consider Ellen G. White’s statement below:

“Before the fall of Satan, the FATHER CONSULTED HIS SON IN REGARD TO THE FORMATION OF MAN.” (Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, Volume 3, page 36, ‘The temptation and fall’, 1864)

"GOD, in counsel with HIS SON, formed the plan of creating man in THEIR OWN IMAGE… {Review and Herald February 24, 1874, par. 3}

“After the earth was created, and the beasts upon it, the FATHER AND SON CARRIED OUT THEIR PURPOSES, . . . And now GOD SAID TO HIS SON, ‘LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE.’” (The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, pp. 24, 25)

"Satan was once an honored angel in heaven, next to Christ. His countenance, like those of the other angels, was mild and expressive of happiness. His forehead was high and broad, showing great intelligence. His form was perfect; his bearing noble and majestic. BUT WHEN GOD SAID TO HIS SON, "Let us make man in our image," Satan was jealous of Jesus." {EW 145.1}

"And I saw that WHEN GOD SAID TO HIS SON, LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE, Satan was jealous of Jesus." {1SG 17.1}

'“And GOD SAID, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” WHOM DID HE ADDRESS?—THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, who declares Himself to have been with the Father from the beginning…" {Ms43-1906.6}

"We take not the fallacies of man but THE WORD OF GOD THAT MAN WAS CREATED AFTER THE IMAGE OF GOD AND CHRIST, for the Word declares “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty of heaven.” Hebrews 1:1-3. {Ms236-1902.4}

Note: The trinity requires the reader of Scripture to insert the Holy Spirit (as a Being) into narrative contexts where the Holy Spirit is not mentioned. It requires you to read into it all "three" when only one or two are mentioned in the Bible, thus, it constantly redefines passages of Scripture that are describing "God" and a singular Personal Being. 

As you can see Inspired commentary on the the Genesis narrative clearly refers to "God" (Elohim) as one Person (the Father) and He was talking to another Person (His Son) in Genesis 1:26. Thus, "US" in Genesis 1:26 refers to the Father and the Son and it was God the Father (Elohim) who said to His Son (who bears the express image of the Father), "Let us make man in our image."

Summary

YHWH is referred to as Elohim (God) throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Although Elohim is a noun with the plural ending -im -ִים it does not mean "gods". Hebrew distinguishes between a numerical plural and a majestic plural by the verbs, adjectives, and pronouns that accompany the noun. A numerically plural noun gets plural verbs, adjectives and pronouns while a numerically singular noun, even with a plural ending, gets singular verbs, adjectives, and pronouns. Of course, when Elohim is used as a numerical plural meaning "gods", for example, when used by idolators to refer to their false gods, it does have plural verbs, adjectives, and pronouns. However, when referring to YHWH, Elohim always has singular verbs, adjectives, and pronouns, making it clear that it is a numerical singular, despite the plural suffix.

There are only nine exceptions to this rule, three where Elohim has plural verbs (Gen 20:13, Genesis 35:7, 2 Samuel 7:23) and six where Elohim has plural adjectives (Deut 5:26; 1 Sam 17:26; 1 Sam 17:36; Jer 10:10; Jer 23:36, Joshua 24:19). Yet even in these nine passages Elohim retains its meaning of a numerical singular. Such anomalies are best explained as "attraction", meaning that the singular verb or adjective is "attracted" by the plural suffix of Elohim and as a result it becomes plural. Although attraction is an exception to the general rule it is hardly rare in Hebrew and indeed is found in many languages, ancient and modern. We even have a parallel use of a majestic plural with plural verbs in the incident of the golden calf(Ex 32:3-4). Here Elohim is clearly meant as a numerical singular even though it is accompanied by a plural verb. This is also what is happening in the nine instances in which Elohim referring to YHWH has plural verbs or adjectives. Of course, these are rare cases occurring only nine times out of some 2000 appearances of Elohim.