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ELOHIM In Hebrew is used in 82:1 as God, in 6 as gods & 8 as God - but in Hebrew the word is exactly the same, why changed in verse 6, is this bad or deliberate translation.

Psalm 82 1-8

1 God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods”: 2 “How long will you[a] defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?[b] 3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. 5 “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ 7 But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.” 8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.

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  • I had an answer, but I thought I should ask a clarification question first: How would you translate it?
    – Walter S
    May 10, 2020 at 18:29
  • @WalterSmetana everything should be consistent either all should be God, or god or gods - the same word in Hebrew should not be translated different to make verses justify a particular position. May 10, 2020 at 18:41
  • The "particular position" of the Law, of the OT, and the NT, is monotheism, as in Deut 6:4. So it's not "justifying" a particular position, but rather simply expressing it as clearly as possible in translation. That Hebrew used the plural noun "Elohim" in at least two senses, to mean the one God, and also about plural men or angels, shouldn't force English to ignore that. In another word: the answer to your question "why?" is something called "context." John 10 also uses singular and plural Greek words for "God" to interpret Psalm 82. We have "G" and "g" too. I... don't mind your translation.
    – Walter S
    May 10, 2020 at 19:08
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    Just because the noun is the same does not mean that the verbs are all in the same grammatical number. Then there is also the Greek of the Septuagint to consider, since the Hebrew of the Masoretic is not our only textual source.
    – Lucian
    May 10, 2020 at 19:10

3 Answers 3

6

Verses 6-7 speak of multiple gods because it uses plural pronouns (אַתֶּם) and verbs (תְּמוּתוּן, תִּפֹּלוּ): "You (plural) are gods"; "you will die (plural) ... you will fall (plural)."

אֲֽנִי־אָ֭מַרְתִּי אֱלֹהִ֣ים אַתֶּ֑ם וּבְנֵ֖י עֶלְי֣וֹן כֻּלְּכֶֽם׃ אָ֭כֵן כְּאָדָ֣ם תְּמוּת֑וּן וּכְאַחַ֖ד הַשָּׂרִ֣ים תִּפֹּֽלוּ׃

Verse 8 uses singular verbs (קוּמָה, שָׁפְטָה, תִנְחַל ) and pronouns (אַתָּה), and so it speaks of one God: "Rise (singular) ... judge (singular) ... you (singular) will inherit (singular)."

קוּמָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹהִים שָׁפְטָ֣ה הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־אַתָּ֥ה תִ֝נְחַ֗ל בְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִֽם׃

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  • Many thanks for your responses, should a sentence decide how it is used and should a capital E or a small ‘e’ make a difference May 11, 2020 at 16:11
  • @anothertheory There is no difference in Hebrew, but the English convention is to translate multiple gods with a lowercase g and the one God with an uppercase G
    – b a
    May 11, 2020 at 19:28
  • Many thanks appreciated May 11, 2020 at 19:38
  • +1 This is the correct answer.
    – Biblasia
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:30
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The question is based on the notion that all Hebrew words have a singular fixed meaning. This is untrue of Hebrew and most natural languages. The best contrast is actually in Ps 82;1 where "elohim" is used twice, once as God and the second time as "gods" meaning angels or supernatural beings in the council of heaven.

The operative word here is אֱלהִים (elohim) which is used in a range of meanings, (eg see Brown Driver Briggs) including:

  • The supreme being, God, eg, Gen 1:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Ps 82:1a, etc.
  • leaders or judges, eg, Ex 21:6, 22:8, Ps 82:6, etc.
  • False gods of the pagans, Judges 5:8, 2 Kings 18:33, etc
  • Other supernatural beings in heaven, Ps 82:1b, 138:1(?)

Thus, the meaning of "elohim" is broader than just "God". However, when the word is used of judges or leaders, it describes people who were supposed to represent God and His leadership or judgement, 2 Chron 19:4-10.

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  • +1. Nice balanced answer.
    – user33125
    May 11, 2020 at 1:32
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Devil's Advocate perspective. I do not claim to be an authority, but ask to be persuaded by reason. The criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of embarrassment suggest that doctrinal interpretations need to be questioned.

I am not arguing that absolute monotheism may not BE the truth; My question is what did the traditional bards and earliest writers of Hebrew believe in earlier centuries?

Bias: Our culture has an embedded theology favouring a monotheistic interpretation. Therefore our English translations fiercely adopt this position. Thus "eloheem" is ALWAYS "The [one true] God" in the KJV except when referring clearly to NON-Almighty personages. Scepticism is warranted when reading histories written by the victors.

Historicism: Strict monotheism among the Israelites clearly was NOT universal until the last centuries of BCE biblical history. Zealous monotheism appears to have evolved as a consequence of exilic suffering, arguing that such misfortunes were BECAUSE the people had NOT been faithful to the one true God prior to that time. There is no saying how quickly this view might have been imposed upon or adopted by all faithful Hebrews, if they ever were. Our texts are the official histories as told by the monotheists.

Ambiguity about the gods may have been tolerated in earlier times if the existence of lesser gods was taken for granted. YHWH as the supreme god among the COUNCIL of the Gods might have been the primary belief system in early Judaism without such faith becoming fiercely nationalistic and demanding the rejection and suppression of all other religious practices venerating other gods in the "pantheon."

High Places/במות bamot: the suppression of altars, stele (matzevah), asherah and sacred trees as places of worship began as late as Josiah (640-609 BCE), and appears to have persisted at least until the return of the zealous monotheists from Babylonian captivity.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely: We need not look far to see examples of strictly-dogmatic (or blatantly-heretical) interpretations being imposed on the faithful in order to concentrate political and religious power in the hands of an elite. We see many hands at work in the received scriptures, each with their own biases. How likely is it that the book of Job, for example, was NOT altered substantially through half-a dozen rewrites? Yet Job still retains Satan as a powerful spirit with his own agency challenging YHWH's claim to have a truly faithful worshipper.

Since it is certain that those who wrote the histories and edited the psalms in the post-exilic period were engaged in a revisionist history with a bias to ostracize and condemn all evidences of a more panentheistic understanding of beliefs of the people in relation to the gods, how likely is it that they refrained from doing so?

Therefore I suggest that the ambiguity of references to eloheem' in Psalm 82 may be a vestige of a far-more common heritage, a spirituality for many generations of the children of Israel that assumed Divine Councils as a norm, and freely-venerated several subordinate or rival gods.

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  • @b-a already gave the correct answer. Many Hebrew nouns are irregular, meaning their number or gender is misleading according to their spelling. For example "fathers" in Hebrew appears feminine, but is shown to actually be masculine when the adjective or verb for it is seen. The verbs and adjectives always give the correct information about the noun. In Psalm 82, the word "elohim" appears in both singular and plural forms, based on the verbs and adjectives for it. This is why the translation varies between "God" and "gods." It has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with grammar.
    – Biblasia
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:19
  • Actually, there is a possible connection to culture. The word "elohim" itself is likely to be a loanword in Hebrew from Aramaic. Aramaic speakers were polytheistic, and never used the word "elohim" in a singular form. It is believed that when Hebrew speakers began using the word, they would have only known its plural form, so they used it in Hebrew much as we would use "sheep" in English. "Sheep is..." equals one sheep; "sheep are..." equals multiple sheep. Even in English, verbs can be the determining factor between a singular or plural noun.
    – Biblasia
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:24
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