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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
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    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
  • I see. So following a plural word elohim with a singular verb is gramatically correct in hebrew. It just means something special. What does it mean? "Royal we?" – user4951 Apr 2 '16 at 14:58
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Answer

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.


Side-Note

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.


Reference

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
  • I see. So the pattern of elohim followed by singular words do imply monotheistic claim. Am I correct? – user4951 Apr 2 '16 at 15:00
  • Sometimes translating elohim followed by plural words into angels instead of gods is a bit farther than just translating. It's interpreting. – user4951 Oct 17 '17 at 7:11
  • "because the verbs or adjectives attached to that noun are consistently in the singular" - you provided no evidence of that. You also ignore the plural pronoun. – Cynthia Avishegnath Oct 17 '17 at 14:18
  • I provided a blockquote from a source that specifically discusses the Hebrew grammar of the text in question. What he wrote is representative of essentially the whole of scholarship on ancient Hebrew texts. If that isn't enough evidence, I submit every English translations done by professional scholars; they're all operating from this information. – user2910 Oct 17 '17 at 20:20
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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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There is only one heaven immediately apparent to humanity. But the Hebrew expresses it as a plurality. Then, in revelation, it becomes clear that there is more to be understood. There are heavens.

Likewise with the word 'Elohim'.

God created; and the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters; and the Word of God uttered - Let there be light.

And God said 'Let us make . . . .'

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Plural used as collective

The Hebrew word for Jewish is {יהודי YHUDI}. It is a collective noun derived/related from/with the plural form {יהודים YHUDIM}.

Plural-Singular forms

{לאך LAKh} = task. {מלאך MLAKh} = causative, committed to task. Could mean the adverbial description of committing a person with task. Or presumptively mean the person being committed with task.

Therefore the plural, {מלאכים MLAKhIM} could mean either

  • a collection of commitments of task to one (or more) person
  • multiple/plural agents being committed with any task.

{אכל AKhaL} = eat.

  • {אוכל OKhEL} = active, eat
  • {אוכלים OKhLIM} = plural masc active = many people eating
  • {אכול EkhOL} = passive singular, being eaten = food
  • {אכולים EkhOLIM} = passive plural masc, being eaten by many = food
    • could also mean many types of edibles

{אל EL} = toward/forward

  • {אלוה ELOHa} passive singular masc = being regarded/respected as in the forward/lead

    • with a presumed descriptee, a person who is regarded as in the lead. A leader, god.
  • {אלהים ELOHIM} passive plural masc = receiving plural regards as in the forward/lead.

    • Someone who receives plural amount of respects as being in the lead. G'd.
    • Or, plural number of {אלוה ELOHa}, gods.

{האלהים the ELOHIM} - this phrase, found at least 350 occurrences in the Bible, should be taken to mean "the one who receives plurality of respects as being in the lead".

{יי אלהים YHWH ELOHIM} - also a frequent phrase, should be taken to mean, YHWH who receives plurality of respects as being in the lead.

There are grammatical dynamics in Hebrew, of how plural forms could be used to refer to a singular, collective or multiple entities.

Singular verbs used with {אלוהים ELOHIM}

{אלוהים ELOHIM} when referring to the One G'd is always used with singular-person verbs. E.g.

  • {ויומר אלהים} = so says Elohim.

This is the strongest reinforcement of the "Singular entity passively receiving plural actions" concept.

Plural pronouns used with {אלוהים ELOHIM}

Genesis 1 and 3, is when the singular Elohim theories break down.

  • Gen 1:26 וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

    • So says Elohim man be-made in our shadow and our life-force.
  • Genesis 3:22

    • וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ לָדַעַת טוֹב וָרָע וְעַתָּה פֶּן יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים וְאָכַל וָחַי לְעֹלָם.
    • so says "YHWH who is multiply regarded as leader", thus the man is as one from us, to know good and evil and henceforth consequently will stretch forth his hand to take also from the tree of life and eats and lives forever.

Why are there two cases of plural pronouns of Elohim in Genesis? But yet all the verbs performed by Elohim are singular?

Is there any paleo incidence archaeologically available to us, where plural pronouns are used for singular persons?

Does this mean, G'd being singular, has a cohort of beings that too had the status of humankind made "like Him, in His shadow". So that the plural pronouns actually refer to Him and His cohorts?

Notes:

  • *the biblical Hebrew word {צלם} also/primarily means shadow.
  • {דמות} is derivative/cognate of {דם} blood - as well as considering the prohibition against eating blood because blood is the life-force of an animal.*

  • without allowing any willy-nilly adjustments Gen 3:22 more likely says "the man having been one from us is now contaminated with the knowledge of good vs evil." i.e., G'd Himself rejects perceiving thro the lens of good vs evil. {היה} used just in Gen 3:1 "the serpent having been cunning", not "the serpent has become cunning".

  • Zechariah Sitchin's attempt to use biblical Hebrew to prove his ridiculous UFO gods hypotheses had been done without understanding biblical Hebrew.

  • Also, so-called paleo-linguists supposed the findings of shards and fragments with EL, in pagan regions, simply jumped to conclusion that "EL" must have been the name of a pagan god. That quick and enthusiastic rush by those paleo-linguists to create a god EL out of thin-air is like saying

    • there must have been a king named {מלך MeLeKh} because that word is found in so many regions.

    • So why don't they presume {מלך MeLeKh} as originally name of a particular person, but yet so enthusiastic to presume EL is originally the name of a pagan god?

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    This is dense with misleading or mistaken information, but there's only one outright falsehood that needs addressing: El is mentioned all over Ugaritic texts. And the virgin Anat replied: "Your decree, O El, is wise: Wisdom with ever-life your portion. Your decree: 'Our king's powerful Baal, our ruler, second to none.'" or Then said the virgin Anat: "Ask for life, O Aqhat the Youth. [...] I'll make you count years with Baal, you shall count months with the sons of El." or At El's feet she bows and falls down, prostrates herself and does him honor. El was not a modern invention. – user2910 Oct 18 '17 at 15:49
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    @CynthiaAvishegnath Using ad hominem rhetoric is not acceptable on this site. Please keep your remarks focused on the topic, not the people discussing the topic. – Caleb Oct 19 '17 at 15:10

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