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The vocabulary of Deuteronomy identifies God using three different words: el, ĕlôha, and ĕlōhîm. el and ĕlôha are singular; ĕlōhîm is plural.

There are even passages where two different words are used together:

el and ĕlōhîm
For the LORD your God (ĕlōhîm) is God (ĕlōhîm) of gods (ĕlōhîm) is God (ĕlōhîm) of gods (ĕlōhîm), and Lord of lords, a great God (el) a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward (Deuteronomy 10:17 KJV)

ĕlôha and ĕlōhîm
They sacrificed unto devils, not to God (ĕlôha) to gods (ĕlōhîm) whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. (Deuteronomy 32:17)

Deuteronomy has the portion of the Shema stating God, ĕlōhîm, is one:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God ĕlōhîm is one LORD. 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God ĕlōhîm with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6)

If there is one God one expects to find only one word to identify one God. Finding three words introduces ambiguity and is unnecessary. On the other hand, the oneness of God describing unity, follows the way these three words in Deuteronomy are used and understood.

The historical books, First and Second Kings and First and Second Chronicles use only ĕlōhîm to identify God. So it is possible to record the history of Israel using one word to identify God. Yet, Deuteronomy unnecessarily and intentionally uses three different words.

The New Testament describes a physical manifestation of God's redeeming work through the Son of God and the Spirit of God. The three words in Deuteronomy, two which are singular and one plural follow the pattern of the work of salvation.

Is the plural nature of God the best explanation for the use of el, ĕlôha, and ĕlōhîm in Deuteronomy? If not, what is a better explanation for the unnecessary and intentional uses of three different terms for God?

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  • Jewish SE will be more suitable for this question
    – Michael16
    Apr 8, 2023 at 7:23
  • @RevelationLad. Is the trinity compose of 3 separate independent intelligent Beings? Apr 8, 2023 at 9:47
  • @RevelationLad. Is the term God, the Trinitarian equivalent of God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Apr 8, 2023 at 10:06
  • @AlexBalilo I think the best way to understand something is to focus on what the Bible says about that something. In this case the Bible is identifying God. The logical question is if God is one why does the text use different words? In contrast to Kings where God is identified with one word, why are three necessary? For example, why do we use one word? Why don’t we follow what the Bible says and rather then use one word, start identifying God with three different words. Apr 8, 2023 at 13:40
  • @RevelationLad. Following uwhat the bible say would lead us to not believe what it does not say. Nothing is said about the trinity in the bible. Apr 8, 2023 at 14:22

3 Answers 3

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Briefly, the answer is "no" for a very simple reason: the writers of the Old Testament had no concept of a Trinity. Writers do not make use of concepts of which they know nothing. The earliest inkling of trinity in YHWH doesn't show up until late Second Temple Judaism, and then it's only speculative based on noting the "two powers" doctrine with an invisible YHWH always in heaven but a YHWH Who also walks on Earth in the form of a man plus how the Spirit of YHWH is sometimes treated as a person Who is plainly not either the heavenly YHWH or the one Who walks on Earth.

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  • Then why did the writers use three different words, one of which is plural for God? For example, in Greek and in English, only one word is necessary. Yet in Hebrew one is insufficient, three are necessary. Absent a meaningful explanation, the issue is why Greek and English fail to preserve a distinction which is present in the Hebrew. Jan 1 at 22:40
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    @RevelationLad There really isn't a distinction in the Hebrew. It's a case of using different words that mean the same thing. An example in English would be walk/strolled/strode -- each of those words means to proceed on foot.
    – Traildude
    Jan 2 at 0:16
  • @RevelationLad Besides that, English has just one word, "God". As for the plural, generally the word for God, אֱלֹהִ֔ים comes in the plural and just indicates YHWH; context can tell the difference. As for הָאֵ֨ל הַגָּדֹ֤ל, it could be a couple of different reasons; one is that the writer is just varying the vocabulary, others could be more pointed.
    – Traildude
    Jan 2 at 0:32
  • If the Scripture is inspired, why the need to vary something which does not vary? Jan 2 at 0:51
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    @RevelationLad - A very apt explanation as to why the writers used three different words for God is given in Dottard's answer, which you, yourself, mistakenly, or was it conveniently, hid/deleted, due, it would seem, to its lack of support for the "Trinity" doctrinal belief. As to the one plural form of God (Elohim) - The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. XXI, 1905, p. 208 - describes this plurality as an intensive plural, denoting greatness and majesty, being equal to The Great God. For the record, Dottard is a self confessed Trinitarian. Jan 3 at 17:54
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If the triune nature of God which is present in the New Testament is correct, then it is a mystery. That is, the plural nature of God was hidden in the Old Testament until more fully explained in the New. In particular, the revelation was in the form of the Son of God.

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1)

In the past, God (Father, Son, Spirit) spoke. In these last days He has spoken by His Son. What was hidden in the plural nature, was revealed and made purification for sins.

If this is true, we would expect God to describe himself in the Old Testament using both a plural and a singular world. This is in fact, exactly what the Hebrew text states.

The most common word is ĕlōhîm which is plural. Yet this fails to accurately convey the truth the Son of God will be sent. Therefore, el and ĕlôha are also used to describe God and His work.

Father, Son, Spirit are individually hidden in the sense the Hebrew is unspecific beyond stating God at times must be identified using a word which is not plural.

There are other explanation for ĕlōhîm. One is the intensive plural or plural of majesties. However, these may also be seen as selective interpretation, since the same word elsewhere is understood to mean something completely different. Furthermore, if God required a plural word to describe Himself, then, not only would any singular word would fall short; it would be derogatory.

They sacrificed unto devils, not to God (ĕlôha) to gods (ĕlōhîm) whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. (Deuteronomy 32:17)

Moses is described as someone who spoke directly to God. If any person was in a position to understand the nature of God, it was Moses. Since Moses used three different words to describe God, he was using the Hebrew language in a way the New Testament explains: God, Father, Son, Spirit are one.

Therefore, understanding God's nature as plural is the best understanding of the vocabulary of Deuteronomy.

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  • In due time, not too far off IMO, we, of the spiritual persuasion, will come to learn how valid and trustworthy, consequential even, our biblical belief tendencies have been, particularly when it came to imparting same on other, often less suspecting, spiritual seekers. We can only hope that our belief in the "Ransom Sacrifice", that the Son of God took it upon himself, in no uncertain terms, to account for the sins of mankind, holds more sway, than any other of our biblical interpretations, right or wrong, which we find ourselves, only to eager, to pass on. Jan 6 at 17:20
  • "... the triune nature of God ..." The what now? Jan 7 at 7:07
  • @OldeEnglish I encourage you to look for truth rather than persuasion. I encourage you to begin by believing what the Hebrew text states. Jan 7 at 19:47
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Hebrew writers, in a similar manner to English writers today, liked to vary their wording and make it less repetitive where possible. The Tetragrammaton, YHWH, is an interesting example of this. It is God's name, but also occurs in shortened form. For readers of the KJV, the only verse in which this shortened form is apparent is Psalm 68:4.

Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH [Hebrew: יָ֥הּ], and rejoice before him. (Psalm 68:4, KJV)

However, the shortened form occurs in dozens of verses, including in Exodus, Psalms, and Isaiah. This is not thought to be a separate name for God, but simply an abbreviated form, used more especially in poetic passages for variety or for its poetic value.

In Deuteronomy, as noted in the question, there are multiple variations on "elohim." Deuteronomy 5:12 is of special interest, as it combines "Yahweh" (יְהוָ֥֣ה/YHWH) with "אֱלֹהֶֽ֗יךָ/eloheka"--a singular form of "elohim" along with the pronominal suffix for "your".

Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD (יְהוָ֥֣ה) thy God (אֱלֹהֶֽ֗יךָ) hath commanded thee. (Deuteronomy 5:12, KJV)

If Yahweh (YHWH), undisputedly the sacred name of God, is singular, and is coupled, as here, with a singular form for "elohim," the Bible would be contradicting itself to also teach that Yahweh were plural.

"Elohim" itself, when used for Yahweh and not for additional or other beings, such as for the pagan gods or for angels or judges, is always accompanied by singular verb forms or singular adjectives, showing that it is grammatically singular, despite its plural word form. Hebrew uses many words which appear plural but whose number is shown to be singular by the verbs or adjectives associated with it. Some Hebrew nouns do not even have a "singular" form, like "news" in English which always appears plural in form but is used with singular verbs.

Some scholars, including professors at Hebrew University, believe that "elohim" is a loan word from Aramaic, the speakers of Aramaic having been polytheistic and always having used it in a plural form. Proponents of this theory suggest the Hebrews would not have encountered a singular form of the word, but simply applied singular verbs and adjectives to it.

Independent of the origin of "elohim" itself, some scholars also claim that the shortened or singular forms of the noun may have actually been names of other (heathen) gods, which is why they are so seldom used for the true God.

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, a Christian Jew and a professor at Hebrew University, is a Trinitarian who teaches that there is no support from the Hebrew or Greek of the Bible for the Trinity doctrine, but claims that we believe in the Trinity today because the light has grown since Bible times. He likens the Trinity dogma to slavery as an example, as even in the New Testament times, slavery was still honored--yet Christians today nearly universally oppose the practice.

Honest Trinitarians will admit that the Bible has no direct support for the dogma; neither in Hebrew, nor in the Greek. The word "elohim" is no exception. Elohim is so clearly used in singular form whenever used for the true God that it is almost beyond question. The uses of "eloha" or "el"--singular and shortened forms of the noun--do not vary from this.

Conclusion

The various implementations of "elohim" in shortened or singular forms do not lend support for any suggestion of a plurality or "tripleness" within the Godhead. Regardless of which word may be used, whenever the word is applied to the true God, its verbs and adjectives consistently indicate that it is singular. Multiple verses expressly indicate a singular God via other word forms, such as singular pronouns (e.g. Exodus 20:2-3) associated with God's name.

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  • (-1) 1. The question is not about YHVH. 2. You state: "Hebrew writers, in a similar manner to English writers today, liked to vary their wording and make it less repetitive where possible." Perhaps with other terms but clearly not the case with the words in this question. Elohim is used 10 times more often then el and 50 more often then ĕlôha. Also elohim is used exclusively in 1 and 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and with one exception, exclusive in 2 Chronicles. Apr 8, 2023 at 2:22
  • @RevelationLad The scribes who are recording official records cannot be expected to write in the same style as others; thus I find it unsurprising that shortened forms are absent from the Kings and Chronicles.
    – Biblasia
    Apr 8, 2023 at 8:41
  • Variation in style is one thing. Using a different word to describe the same thing is not stylistic. Jan 1 at 22:45

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