Is Elohim in Genesis 1:1 a personal proper name, a title, or a common noun?:

KJV Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Since the verb in Genesis 1:1 is singular indicating that its subject has to be singular or a singular entity, elohim in plural form cannot be a common noun.

Since there was no institution introduced yet and a tittle needs a institution for context, elohim was unlikely a tittle.

So since there are biblical examples of personal proper names of individuals in plural forms,

Genesis 10:4, 6, and 13 "... Kittim, Dodanim.... Mizraim...."

then is elohim in Genesis 1:1 also a personal proper name of an individual in plural form?


3 Answers 3


אֱלֹהִים (elohim) and its translations (Latin deus; Greek θεός, English “god”) are all common nouns. (That being said, there are not a few who consider them to be names and reverence them as such, albeit erroneously.) The name of the god of Israel is (arguably) Yahveh; therefore, the word “god” (אֱלֹהִים) is not the name itself. Hence, we encounter phrases such as שֵׁם־אֱלֹהִים (shem elohim)—“the name of [the] god”—meaning, “[the] god’s name.” Logically, אֱלֹהִים has a name; אֱלֹהִים itself is not the name.

Based on verses such as Genesis 31:29, יֶשׁ לְאֵל יָדִי לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּכֶם (yesh liʾel yadi laʿasot immakhem)—“It is in the power of my hand to hurt you”—it is likely that the nouns אֵל, אֱלֹהִים, etc. are related to might and power.

With respect to אֱלֹהִים, it is used in Exo. 22:8 in reference to human judges.

8 If the thief is not found, then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges (הָאֱלֹהִים) to see whether he has put his hand into his neighbor’s goods. NKJV, 1982

In addition, names do not receive pronominal suffixes; on the other hand, אֱלֹהִים can and does receive pronominal suffixes (e.g., אֱלֹהָי—“my god”; אֱלֹהֵיכֶם—“your god”; etc.).

Can a Hebrew common noun be used as a personal proper noun?

Well, sure. There’s nothing that precludes anyone from naming their child after a common noun. That being said, with phrases such as וְיָדְעוּ כִּי שְׁמִי יַהְוֶה (veyadʿu ki shmi Yahveh)—“And you shall know that my name is Yahveh”1—it is quite evident what the name of the god of Israel is.


1 Jer. 16:21

  • Thank you Der Ubermensch! In English, grace is a common noun and can be used as a personal proper noun. Can a Hebrew common noun be used as a personal proper noun? Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 17:42
  • Thank you again Der Ubermensch! So elohim as a common noun is possible to be a personal proper noun. It seems that one of the reason that it cannot be a personal proper noun of the subject of Genesis 1:1 is that Yahveh is already the personal proper noun of the entity of the subject. The reason is because שְׁמִי of Jerimiah 16:21 means the personal proper noun or name. What prevents שְׁמִי to mean "title" instead? Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 19:54

ELOHIM Elohim, the generic Hebrew word for deity, is the most common title attributed to the God of Israel (singular El is also quite common). Elohim is plural in form but frequently refers to a singular subject, including deities other than Yahweh (1Kgs 11:33).-Goggle

Many things in the Bible calls by the common noun "Elohim" from God himself, angels, pagan god, and in some cases Humans:-

[] Added

NWT Exodus 4:16 "He [Aaron] will speak for you to the people, and he [Arron] will be your spokesman, and you [Moses] will serve as God to him [Aaron]. . ."

Example of title and name:-

() Added

Divine Name King James Bible (dnkjb.net)

Genesis 2:4-9 "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah (name) God (title) made the earth and the heavens, 5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for Jehovah (name) God (Title) had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 And Jehovah (name) God (title) formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8 And Jehovah (name) God (title) planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground made Jehovah (name) God (title) to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight,

Further Infomation:

"They are two [Names], Elohim and Jehovah ; the one a general name for God, that is, an appellative expressing the conception God, and therfore having no special significance ; the other Jehovah, the personal name of the God of Israel."-The Theoelogy of the Old testament by A.B. Davidson, D.D., LL.D, Litt.D. Professor of Hebrew and old Testament Exegesis, New College Edinburgh pages 38-39

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 14:12

I feel comfortable with the following 'natural' distinction: (a) when אלהים is grammatically linked with verbal forms, or other inflected parts of speech, in the plural, we have to understand it as a numerical plural noun; (b) when אלהים is grammatically linked with verbal forms, or other inflected parts of speech in the singular, we have to understand it as a non-numerical plural noun.

As regards the 'non-numerical plural' (as I termed it) the Grammar of Joüon-Muraoka list, at least, 6 kinds of them present in MT ('composition', 'extension', 'excellence/majesty', 'intensity', 'abstraction', and 'generalisation' [§ 136:a-j; compared it with Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar § 124a onward]).

So, in Gen 1:1 - for an example - when we encounter אלהים along with the other parts of speech (linked to it), in the singular, we know that there the common termination "-IM" cannot marks a numerical plural (as God is 'composed' by several 'elements') but it is a non-numerical plural, in this case, an excellence/majesty one. Interestingly, the Gesenius Grammar cited above says: "So, especially אלהים Godhead, God (to be distinguished from the numerical plural gods, Ex 12:12, &c. [...] That the language has entirely rejected the idea of numerical plurality in אלהים (whenever it denotes one God) is proven especially by its being almost invariably joined with a single attribute [...]." (ibid. §124b)

Your question is: "Is Elohim [אלהים] in Genesis 1:1 a personal proper name, a title, or a common noun?"

So, the answer is: taking into an account the context (also the global one) of Gen 1:1 we may say that אלהים there indicates the Creator God IEUE. Technically (grammatically), this term here indicates a non-numerical singular noun.

Obviously, different contexts in which this term is used in MT triggers a different word class (a personal proper name, a title, a common noun, and so on).

  • This "'natural' distinction" is not really how language works. When a morphologically singular word is semantically plural ("group", "community", "pair", etc.), it can often take both singular and plural verbs. Similarly, a morphological plural that is semantically singular can take singular and plural verbs. See Corbett, Agreement, 155–160.
    – user2672
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 10:27
  • It would be better (instead to downvote someone), from your part, indicate how your claim ["when a morphologically singular word is semantically plural ('group', 'community', 'pair', etc.), it can often take both singular and plural verbs." ] can be proved in the TaNaKh. In other words, What collective terms in MT take both singular and plural verbs? Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 10:40
  • See Joüon-Muraoka §150e (collectives and peoples can take both singular and plural verbs); f (plural of excellence usually takes singular verbs); g (plural nouns of things or of animals may be regarded as equivalent to collectives). They list many examples. The phenomenon is well-known.
    – user2672
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 10:45
  • It seems to me (Greville G.) Corbett in his 'Agreement' has no relation with the argument we dissert on, also if we consider he was speaking about Slavonic languages (if the Corbett you refer to is the same of this)... More important, the passages included in the Joüon-Muraoka (§150e) section had no relation with the structure of Gen 1:1. First, unlike אלהים all of them are patent collective nouns. Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 13:43
  • Second, the Joüon-Muraoka's passages are composed of an opposite structure (compared to Gen 1:1). In fact, while Gen 1:1 has a grammatically plural noun (אלהים) linked with a singular verbal form (בָּרָא), in J-M's passages we found always nouns on the singular, linked with singular/plural verbal forms. Do you know at least one of patent collective term in the plural (like אלהים, in Gen 1:1, if can be proved it is really a collective noun...), linked with a singular verbal form (like בָּרָא, in Gen 1:1)? Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 13:48

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