Elohim and ὁ θεὸς in Genesis 1
The creation account in Genesis begins with a plural word, elohim to identify God:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV)
בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ
Elohim continues to be used throughout Genesis 1. Despite being the plural of the singular אֱלוֹהַּ, eloha, the earliest translation of Genesis considered elohim to be singular:
In the beginning God made the sky and the earth (LXX-Genesis 1:1 NETS)
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν
The LXX not only rendered elohim as singular, θεὸς, it includes the article. This translation philosophy is maintained throughout the creation account. It appears the article is added as a result of Jewish monotheism at the time of translation. Unlike Greek myths with multiple gods creating or ruling over different aspects of the natural world, ὁ θεὸς, makes the point there was one God who created all things.
In addition to monotheism, treating elohim as singular, could be justified grammatically: the verbs describing God's work are singular. Without needing to explain the choice of elohim over eloha, the singular verb indicates a singular God who acts.
This line of reasoning fails at verse 26:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind according to our image and according to likeness, and let them rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and the cattle and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” (LXX-Genesis 1:26 NETS)
Let us make man... is plural and if grammar dictates, "Gods" is expected. However, ὁ θεὸς makes θεὸς definite. That is, among the "Gods" present, it was ὁ θεὸς who spoke. In this case the article is essential to preserve a monotheistic account. Regardless of who else should be included in "us" it was only ὁ θεὸς who spoke. Then by rendering every use of elohim with ὁ θεὸς, the LXX removed the possibility of understanding Let us make man... as polytheistic, regardless of the plural verb. Thus, ὁ θεὸς which was necessary to demonstrate monotheism in verse 26, dictated how elohim should be translated throughout the account.
1 Corinthians 8:6
Genesis 1:26 cannot be considered narrowly as speaking only of creating man. It also includes a condition which will be present after creation: man will rule the fish, the birds, the cattle, and all things that move upon the earth.
Paul makes a statement attributing creation to God the Father:
yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
ἀλλ᾽ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός δι᾽ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾽ αὐτοῦ
When considered from the perspective of human existence, Paul's statement has the same two-fold conditions described in Genesis 1:26. There is one God, the Father, maker of all things and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom all things exist after they were created.
This raises three questions:
- Is it sound exegesis to see 1 Corinthians 8:6 as based on Genesis 1:26?
- If so, does Paul's treatment have the effect of including the Lord Jesus Christ in the "us" of Genesis 1:26?
- If Paul has Genesis 1:26 in mind, then he changed ὁ θεὸς to εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ. Does this change indicate his understanding of elohim was not exactly the same as found in the LXX translation of Genesis 1?
1. If the Greek translator had varied the use of the article, the English would have to decide if the different uses were anaphoric, or in the case of Genesis 1:1, cataphoric, or if the Greek was to be taken as a different "God" for different aspects of the natural world.
2. The article could not be used as either anaphoric or cataphoric. In essence it means the and functions much like capitalization in translating to English.