What's In A Name?

In the beginning... God.

So begins the Bible.

Throughout the rest of the first chapter of Genesis, and into the first three verses of the second chapter, the one behind all creation is consistently called "God." In Hebrew, the word is elohim (pronounced eh-lō-HĒM). This is the second most popular "name" for God in the Hebrew Scriptures. I did a quick search in my digital Hebrew Bible and it came up with 666 occurrences (awkward). When you see "God" in the Hebrew Scriptures, it's often elohim in the Hebrew. It's what we might call a more generic word for God. Interestingly, it's also plural. Yeah, plural. Let's talk about that.

Some folks like to look at this and suggest that even in God's very name there is a nod to the Trinity. I'm not sure about that, for a couple of reasons. First, God is not God's name, but more on that next time. Second, this word isn't used only in reference to God. For example, it's used generically of other gods. The first commandment in Exodus 20:3 is a great example, "You shall have no other gods (elohim) before me." Finally, why would God want this to represent the Trinity when people would not have a concept of the Trinity until the next millennium? The God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament is generally about revealing himself rather than concealing himself.

"These are plenty complicated enough for now --
why don't we save the Trinity stuff for later?"

So why a plural word for God? The NIV Study Bible (not exactly a bastion for Jewish thought or maintaining the Jewish roots of Christianity) doesn't connect it with the Trinity. Its study notes on Genesis 1:1 put it this way: "This use of the plural expresses intensification rather than number and has been called the plural of majesty, or of potentiality."

I think there's something to that. God is so big... grammatically, he's plural.


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