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Genesis 20:13 (ESV)

And when God caused me to wander


ויהי כאשר התעו אתי אלהימ

Another question asked about the translation of אלהימ (‘elohim) using the singular God. The answers indicated that this is appropriate because adjectives and verbs attached to it are generally singular. However, when a plural verb is used, the answers indicated that a group of gods should be understood. In the verse above, אלהימ (‘elohim) is used with a plural verb.

This question has a bunch of subquestions:

  1. Is “gods” instead of “God” a possible translation?
  2. Is there anything in the text that suggest that singular God is the right translation?
  3. Is it possible that Abraham recognizes the existence of many gods, namely Abimelech's gods?

The gist of this question is that the word elohim here is followed by plural words. While it makes sense to translate elohim followed by singular words as god, elohim followed by plural words imply that the elohim is plural rather than singular.

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1 Answer 1

Because in it is considered poor grammar not to have subject-verb agreement.

From the text of the Pentateuch and Torah as a whole, it is clear that all occurrences of Elohim (plural) and Yahweh (singular) are discussing the same deity. In verses like Deuteronomy 6:4, Literally, this would translate as "Hear and Obey O Israel, the LORD your Gods are one!" The rules of English and context would dictate that you change the translation to "lord your God is one" while subject-verb agreement is not as much of an issue in the original Hebrew.

Furthermore, the Old Testament is not just a book for Christians, but also a book for Jews. Since Jews do not believe in the Trinity, largely because of Deuteronomy 6:4 it also makes more sense to translate Elohim singular in all occurrences. Whichever convention is adopted in situations like Deuteronomy 6:4, the convention is always used in all occurrences throughout the Torah for the sake of consistency by translators and textual critics throughout the entire translation process (with the exception of where elohim refers to a group of actual lords or kings, or pagan gods.)

It appears in 20:13 that the diety(s) which are the subject in this verse are Yahweh, not abimilech's gods based on verse 11. In verse 11, there is no fear of Elohim and Abraham posits Abimilech may kill his wife because of this. Clearly Abimilech would fear his own elohim, so this can only be Abraham's Elohim. Since 20:13 is part of the same speech by Abraham and there was no subject change or mention of any pagan or heathen elohim, it is clear that the Elohim in v 13 is the same Elohim as in v 11.

Therefore, it might be appropriate to translate this as "Gods", but never "gods". Abraham probably recognizes the existence of Abimilech's gods and that these gods have some power, they are not the God that Abraham follows or is discussing here and are not as powerful as his God.

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You miss the point of the question. In Genesis 20:13, the word elohim is followed by plural words. Hence both the subject and the verbs are plural suggesting plural gods. – Sharen Eayrs Aug 11 '14 at 11:05
Sharen, The word elohim itself is plural in form which is why it is followed by plural words (subject-verb agreement). Despite this, Elohim is used interchangeably with the singular word Yahweh as it is clear from the texts that they refer to the same thing and elohim is therefore considered to be singular despite the plural form of the word itself (it would be like a word in Spanish being considered masculine despite it's feminine form). In other words, it is a rule-breaker in terms of following the grammatical rules. – James Shewey Sep 9 at 19:44
But Jim's point is that it is usually not followed by plural words. He is asking if there is any special significance (or different meaning) in the fact that in this particular instance it takes a plural verb. – Colin Fine Sep 9 at 23:27
Deut 6:4 is a very bad example. There is no verb in the subordinate clause, so we have no way (grammatically) of knowing whether to translate "gods" or "God". – fdb Sep 10 at 8:01
That's correct. It's not usually followed by plural words. In fact, the way hebrew gramar works, I heard, is that it is usually followed by a singular word suggesting that the elohim refer to single entity. – Sharen Eayrs Sep 17 at 17:04

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