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I mean Elohim is a plural form of God. So the correct translation would be gods.

Now, perhaps the word elohim is followed by singular words and hence the word Elohim must mean plural.

So what? That doesn't change the fact that elohim is plural.

Why isn't 'Bereshit bara Elohim' (Gen 1:1) translated as, "In the beginning gods create"?

Yes I know that it means the words does not match the subject. So what? The words doesn't match the subject in the original text. Shouldn't the translation preserve the grammatical error?

Why not translate the bible as faithfully as possible and let the readers decide themselves what it really mean.

Or is there a translation that translates these nuances exactly as it is in the original texts?

I see that even Young Literal Translation is not literal enough with this.

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>"Shouldn't the translation preserve the grammatical error?" It's not an error. It's the way Hebrew works. To translate it the way you propose would be a failing. Would this also apply to verbs? Biblical Hebrew verbs don't have tense in the way that English verbs do. How would that be shown? –  Frank Luke Feb 18 '14 at 22:43
Another thing to consider is that Hebrew word order in a sentence is different than English (so is Greek, but that's another topic). Would that need to be preserved also? That leads to ambiguity in English BUT (and this is important) not in Hebrew. Hebrew grammar tells us things that English does through word order. Hebrew moves words around in the sentence for emphasis. That's not how English works, though, so we put them in English order. The goal of translation is to put the source document into the destination language. That requires more than wooden literalness. –  Frank Luke Feb 19 '14 at 15:11
By the way, considering an object God is Idolatry. So the one guilty of Idolatry is the one claiming that a single object made us all. The one claiming that the word Elohim should be translated as "objects" is not guilt of Idolatry. So carefully consider how you want to translate the word Elohim. You don't want to be guilty of Idolatry do you? –  Only he is good. Jan 7 at 22:25

3 Answers 3

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I think the simple reason for that this plural noun is translated into other languages as a singular noun is because it's being used with a singular verb.

This would be comparable to saying "Ants is here to stay" instead of "Ants are here to stay". It turns this plural word ("ants") into a proper noun.

In the Hebrew Bible Elohim, when meaning the God of Israel, is mostly grammatically singular.

The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'l-h-m found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as "Elohim". Most use of the term Elohim in the later Hebrew text imply a view that is at least monolatrist at the time of writing, and such usage (in the singular), as a proper title for the supreme deity, is generally not considered to be synonymous with the term elohim, "gods" (plural, simple noun). Hebrew grammar allows for this nominally-plural form to mean "He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)", or roughly, "God of gods".

See: Elohim Grammar – singular or plural at Wikipedia

However here are some arguments why Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) should be translated to "gods" or "godly beings" instead of "God":

  • The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim ("life") or betulim ("virginity"). If understood this way, Elohim means "divinity" or "deity".

  • Eloah (or Eloha) is the singular form of the plural word "Elohim".

    • The singular of Elohim is Eloah, not eloha. And although Eloah does translate to deity, the plural of the name, Elohim, can be translated to mean either gods or magistrates, as in judges.

    • The oldest Semitic word meaning "God" is El. Linguists believe its base meaning is strength or power. "El" is the Strong One, or the Deity (God). The Canaanites called their chief deity El, the Mighty Bull. After the Israelites entered Canaan, they adopted this generic word "El" for their God, though "Elohim" took precedence. In some Canaanite myths, one of El's sons was the notorious Ba'al, the nemesis of the true God throughout much of Israel's history. In the Bible, El is often combined in proper names: Isra-El; Shmu-El (Samuel); El-ijah; Immanu-El; Jo-El; Dani-El; Beth-El. It's also found in compounds: El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Roi, El Olam.

    • The word is identical to the usual plural of El meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'lhm found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as "Elohim" although the original Ugaritic vowels are unknown.

    • It had been used in the Tanakh and the Bible, especially in the more poetic chapters; At six places it is used to describe "pagan" gods (like in Chronicles 32:15 and Daniel 11:37-8), though in the most cases it is used to refer to the "God of Israel", known in the Tanakh as Yaweh (YHWH) and Jehova (JHVH) in the English and Greek Bible. Eloah also doesn't specifically refers to a male being because this word is both male and female in the language of Old Hebrew.

  • Genesis 1:26 clearly mentions (In both the NIV and HCSB translations):

    "God (Elohim) said: Let us make man in our own image."

  • The story from the Biblical book Exodus also suggests that the old Israelites didn't knew the God of Israel as the only god. They actually sung the following during the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:11)

    "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" - Exodus 15:11

    These observations eventually overthrew the belief that Israel had always worshipped no other god but the God of Israel known as Yahweh (YHWH) in the Tanakh and Jehova (JHVH) in the English and Greek Bible.

  • In many of the passages in which Elohim occurs in the Bible it refers to non-Israelite deities, or in some instances to powerful men or judges. Human Elohim found in the Bible:

    • They were the Elohim sometimes translated as "judges" of Israel Ex. 21:6, 23:20-22, Gal 3:19, Heb 2:2, Dan 4:13,17,23, Dan 10:20-21.

    • Exodus 21:6 (King James Bible): Then his master shall bring him unto the judges;

    • New American Standard Bible: Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!

    • English Standard Version: Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
    • Since Psalm 82 is a plea for justice, and because the ancient Hebrew was contextual rather than literal, the use of the word "Elohim", in the context of Psalm 82, makes it abundantly clear that verse six is referring to judges, since it is in man's power to judge (as God does) and exact justice.

    • Moses is Elohim to pharaoh because he stands as God's representative in the court of Egypt (Exod 7:1). He is also Elohim to his brother Aaron (Exod 4:16), i.e. in God's place of authority.

    • The messianic king may be called Elohim in Psalm 45:6: "Your throne, O Elohim, is forever and ever." But the Hebrew can be translated as: "Your throne is Elohim forever and ever" [kisacha elohim olam va'ed].

    • Isaiah uses the ancient word El in two messianic titles: Immanu-El ("with us is El"; 7:14, 8:8) and El Gibbor ("El is a warrior" or a "Divine warrior"; 9:5).

    • In Genesis 3:5, the Serpent told Eve, "For God knows that in the day you eat of it (forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened you you will be as Gods, knowing good and evil." This verse further strengthens the claim that human Elohim are magistrates, or judges, knowing good from evil.

    • Luke 17:21, as found in the Geneva Bible of 1602, in which it is stated, as an alternative interpretation for that verse, "You look about for the Messiah as though he were absent, but he is amongst you in the midst of you.".
    • There are the 17 Major human Elohim found in the Bible. Moses was called an Elohim. The 15 Judges of Israel were called Elohim and Saviors: Elohim Moses, Elohim Joshua, Elohim Samson, Elohim Deborah (a lady Elohim), Elohim Gideon, Elohim Othniel, Elohim Ehud, Elohim Shamgar, Elohim Tola, Elohim Jair, Elohim Jephthah, Elohim Ibzan, Elohim Elon, Elohim Abdon, Yahshuah (Jesus) was called Elohim by Thomas
    • No earthly Elohim are ever to be worshipped. To worship an angel, or a human, is idolatry.
  • Elohim by itself is sometimes applied to deities, supernatural beings or angels.

    • The Elohim is used in the plural to refer to multiple entities other than God, either for gods or images (Exodus 9:1, 12:12, 20:3; and so forth).

    • The noun Elohim is used with a plural verb in 1 Samuel 28:13 where the witch of Endor told Saul that she saw "gods" (elohim) ascending (olim עֹלִים, plural verb) out of the earth (translations: ghostly figure, god, gods, divine being) which was Samuel's ghost (see the discussion).

    • About 250 times elohim designates angels (non-human servants of the one God) or foreign, pagan deities (The Bible affirms that many beings exist in the same "elohim class" as the one supreme Elohim. That is, there are supranatural, semi-divine beings other than God. So "elohim" seems to mean simply "Deity" or "deity(ies)". And the term does not, inherently, tell us if they are good or evil.).

    • Psalm 8:5 (King James Bible): For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour,

    • An angel came to Hagar in the desert and she called him “YHVH the Elohim who sees”. YHVH and the Angel of YHVH are used interchangeably. Yah the one true Eloah hears and speaks through the voice of his angel.

    • It's important to notice that in Scripture individual gods and one goddess — such as Dagon, Chemosh, Baal, Ashtoreth — can be called an elohim (1 Sam 5:7; 1 Kgs 11:33; 18:24; 1 Kgs 11:5).

    • The royal marriage song — Psalm 45 — directs the bride: "The King will desire your beauty; because he is your adonim, bow down to him" (v. 11, Heb. v. 12).

  • Adonai (Hebrew) means "Lord", the plural from Adonai is Adonim. There are references to Human Adonim.

    • When "Lord" (adon) is used of individual men in positions of authority, power, or honor, they too are often called an adonim, out of respect. This plural seems to mean "sovereign of all, great lord, honorable master." Abraham, Joseph, David and Elijah are each called an adonim. Even the pharaohs in Genesis are so named.
  • The first of the Ten Commandments says, "I am YHVH your Elohim ... you shall have no other elohim in my presence" (Exod 20:2-3). Therefore should "other elohim" be rendered "other gods" or "other God"? The ambiguity is likely intended. Moses says God is "GOD of gods" or literally, "Elohim of elohim" (Deut 10:17).

  • The word Elo'ah (singular form of Elohim) is used some 57 times, mostly in the book of Job. It is likely the singular form behind Elohim.

  • "Chai" (חַי‎) is the Hebrew word for "life" which indicates living (god),

    • Transcribed Haim, Hayim, Chayim, Chaim (English pronunciations: hym, khym, khah-yeem) is a name of Hebrew origin and it comes from a word meaning "life".
    • According to Kaballah, the name Hayim/Chayyim (חַיִּים) helps the person to remain healthy, and people were known to add Hayim as their second name to improve their health.
    • similarly in traditional Chinese culture, Qi (also chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing and is frequently translated as "natural energy", "life force", or "energy flow".
  • Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah (or Yad ha-Chazakah): Yesodei ha-Torah, counts ten ranks of angels in the Jewish angelic hierarchy, beginning from the highest whereas 7th rank is Elohim translated to "Godly beings".

  • According to the Golden Dawn's interpretation of the Kabbalah, there are ten archangels (similar to the Jewish angelic hierarchy) whereas Elohim rank is translated to "Godly Beings".

  • Bene Elohim (בני האלהים) is translated to "Sons of Godly beings/powers" (a phrase used in the Hebrew Bible [the Christian Old Testament]), Bene Elohim are also part of different Jewish angelic hierarchies. This is Hebrew idiom refers to angels as belonging to a class of mights or powers. This term is used of angels in Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:8, and includes Satan, so this term does not reflect the holy nature of angels.

  • Angels and spirits are Elohim in the same way that men are “human”. Elohim is a classification it is NOT the name or even a name of God. Likewise the word Angel is a job description or activity in the same way that a human can be a carpenter or mail mail (Source: Revelation by Allen Daves).

  • NT comes to us in first-century Greek, it does not contain the Hebrew word Elohim. Instead it uses the normal Greek word for "God": Theos (Θεος). (This is also true of the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, begun in 250 BCE).

  • The Jewish Encylopeda has an entry under Philo a 1st Century writer who identified the Logos as an angel “He calls the Logos the "archangel of many names.

  • Similarly the name YHVH was also applied to one, or more, of the Angels. YHVH could be used for multiple beings. They could call a man YHVH Elohim and know he stood in Yah’s place and was worthy of the title, but he was not “The” YHVH Elohim, but only an ambassador of “The” YHVH Elohim. They could also call an angel or multiple angels YHVH and know they were not the Supreme YHVH.

  • Quote from The Sepher Yetzirah (Sefer Yetzirah aka Book of Creation):

    (Translated from the Hebrew by Wm. Wynn Westcott):

    The Elohim of the Living. The words are ALHIM ChIIM. Alhim, often written in English letters as Elohim, or by Godftey Higgins as Aleim, seems to be a masculine plural of the feminine form Eloah, ALH, of the divine masculine name EL, AL; this is commonly translated God, and means strong, mighty, supreme. Chiim is the plural of Chi--living, or life. ChIH is a living animal, and so is ChIVA. ChII is also life. Frey in his dictionary gives ChIIM as the plural word lives, or vitae. The true adjective for living is ChIA. Elohim Chiim, then, apart from Jewish or Christian preconception, is "the living Gods," or "the Gods of the lives, i.e., living ones." Rittangelius gives Dii viventes, "The living Gods," both words in the plural. Pistorius omits both words. Postellus, the orthodox, gives Deus Vivus. The Elohim are the Seven Forces, proceeding from the One Divine, which control the "terra viventium," the manifested world of life.

  • Quote from Mal’aKim Ben Elohim: The Messenger Sons and Daughters of God by Robert Roberg

    But if you start with the belief that Yahshuah began in Mary’s womb and that he was begotten in her womb by Yah who calls him his son. Then you realize that Yahshuah was Yah’s uniquely birthed human, mortal Elohim, but could not have been the Angel of Wisdom for an angel cannot become a human. They only appear to be humans. They are Yah’s sons and daughters, but not by “begetting”.

  • Some examples of words starting with El:

    • El'ad (אלעד) - “Forever God”.
    • El'amee - God's people.
    • El'adiyo - he who came from Greece.
    • El'azar - God is help, God is my helper.
    • El'ohim - Godly beings.
  • Some examples of words ending with El:

    • Rapha'el (רָפָאֵל) - "God Heals"
    • Mikha'el (מִיכָאֵל) - "Who is like God"
    • Isra'el / Yisra'el (יִשְׂרָאֵל) - "He has striven with God"
  • Mesopotamian Myths and the Elohim

    • The Old Testament originated from the Tanakh of Judaism. Certain Sumerian and Babylonian myths are quite similar to those ancient scriptures including the Tanakh and thus also the Old Testament of Christianity. However though, the Sumerian myths are known to be much older. This implifies that these stories from the book of Genesis probably originated from earlier Sumerian and Babylonian myths.

    • A remarkable difference between the modern Mespotamian myths and the Bible, is that in the Mesopotamian myths there is the mention of the word "gods" in place of the "LORD". This is because the word "Elohim", from the original ancient Hebrew text, had not been translated accurately enough. In the modern Bible the ancient Hebrew word "Elohim" had been translated as the "LORD", and in more recent versions and revisions, it was even translated as "God". According to the original Jewish teachings, the word "Elohim" is plural and literally translates to "Godly beings".

    • The "Chronicle Project" re-translated "Elohim" as: "the supreme ones". That the notion of "Elohim" on itself would refer to a hierarchy of spiritual beings involved with creation. Patricia Cori, channel of the Sirian High Council, calls them the "Elders"; master geneticists from neighboring star systems and extra-dimensional realities.

    • According to a lecture of Austrian philosopher, writer, architect, social reformer and esotericist Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (1861-1925), there would exist higher beings without a physical body who are connected with the evolution of mankind. From his lecture: "Egyptian Myths and Mysteries, Lecture 5":

      "...in the fullness of the light there should also live all those other high beings who, although not assuming a physical body, were connected with the evolution of man: Angels, Archangels and Principalities. But not only were these present. In the fullness of the light lived still higher beings also: the Powers, or Exusiai, or Spirits of Form; the Virtues, or Dynameis, or Spirits of Motion; the Dominions, or Kyriotetes, or Spirits of Wisdom; those spirits who are called the Thrones, or Spirits of Will; finally, in looser connection with the fullness of the light, more and more detaching themselves therefrom, the Cherubim and Seraphim. The earth was a world inhabited by a whole hierarchy of lower and higher beings, all sublime."

    • German psychic intuitive Ute Kretzschmar, who assumedly channeled two different groups of ascended masters who call themselves "Confucius" and "Kuthumi" (derived from two oriental teachers from the past), described the "Elohim" in her book: "Die Seele in den Meisterjahren" (2003), as an exalted, re-fused complete being existing of souls that completed their cycles of incarnation in the "dual universe" (part of the universe were "duality" exists). It was the further development of the ascended masters and Arch-angels. They are called "angels" because in that state they are fused with the dimension of angels. This re-fused total being bears the experiences of many in "himself". "Eloah" does not know the experience of being divided into multiple beings and is the only non-divided total being that can enter the dual universe.

So in summary, the name Elohim can refers to supernatural beings belonging to a class of mights or powers.

However confusing this is for we English speakers of today, thousands of years ago the Hebrews were not confused.

Other suggested translate suggestions are: divine beings, beings a god, divinity, deities, demigods, angels, the supreme ones.

See also:

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As pointed out in the original question, the verb or adjective actually tells the reader if a noun should be understood as singular or plural, regardless of what form the word actually takes.

So even though 'elohim is technically the plural form of the noun, because the verbs or adjectives attached to that noun are consistently in the singular, the noun must be understood as referring to a singular subject/object: usually, God.

On the occasions when 'elohim is attached to verbs that are in the plural form, we must understand that as referring to a group: gods.

Using plural-form nouns for singular subjects and objects is not uncommon in Hebrew grammar. Several other nouns are found in the plural form even though they refer to a single subject/object. For example:

  • Shamayim: literally 'heavens', but can refer to 'heaven', e.g. Genesis 1.8
  • Chayim: literally 'lives', but can refer to a single 'life', e.g. Genesis 27.46
  • Panim: literally 'faces', but can refer to a single 'face', e.g. Genesis 43.31
  • Behemoth: plural of behemah, but can refer to an individual animal, e.g. Job 40.15ff

This is comparable to the English word 'news'. The word 'news' is the plural form of 'new', but it is often used with a singular verb. In English, we don't say 'What are the news', we say 'What is the news'.

In his commentary on Genesis, Kissling writes:

The word for "God" here and throughout Genesis 1:1-2:4 is the Hebrew word אֱלֹהִים (ʾĕlōhîm). This is not a personal name like Yahweh, but the generic Hebrew word for God. Although the form appears to be plural (masculine nouns in Hebrew normally form their plurals by adding im) it is usually used with a singular verb or adjective (as throughout this chapter). The plural is probably a plural of majesty or intensification. ... Often in the history of Christian interpretation of the noun ʾĕlōhîm there has been an attempt by those not thoroughly conversant with Hebrew to argue that the plural form of this word implies a plurality in the godhead. ... Unfortunately the grammatical form of a word in Hebrew does not necessarily tell us anything about whether the word should be understood in English as a singular or a plural.1

Accurate, faithful, literal translation goes beyond just translating each individual word by its contextless definition in the dictionary. Accurate, faithful, literal translation takes into account grammar, context, and meaning.

The absolute majority of the time, 'God' is the most accurate, faithful, and literal translation of (singular verb) + 'elohim, because the grammar, context, and meaning of the full sentence requires it.


Before wrapping up, I want to briefly address one comment from the original question, because it is a question of translation philosophy:

Why not translate the bible as faithfully as possible and let the readers decide themselves what it really mean.

Most readers are completely ignorant of Hebrew. They don't know the vocabulary, or the grammar, or even the alphabet. Accurate translation is a scientific process, not a personal decision. If an individual has no knowledge of how biblical Hebrew functions as a language, they have no authority to decide what a word 'really means' against the consensus of the scholarly community.


1 Paul J. Kissling, Genesis, Volume 1, p. 83.

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And the Hebrew for "water" is also in the plural but translated as singular. My Hebrew I prof used to make a joke about the Hebrew for "face" not being in the singular when referring to that of a person. He said, "So according to the Bible, all people are two faced." –  Frank Luke Feb 18 '14 at 19:15

The Hebrew language has numerous words that are grammatically plural but understood as singular.

For example, the word חיים (chaim), meaning "life."

See "The Various Uses of the Plural Form" in Gesenius' Grammar: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gesenius%27_Hebrew_Grammar/124

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