Various explanations are given for the overall composition of the first five books of the old Testament. For example, the Documentary Hypothesis states the five books are a compilation of four sources: Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P). The latest, the Deuteronomist may have developed during the reforms instituted by Josiah or possibly it was written even later in response to the exile.

Regardless of which explanation is best, the Vorlage of Deuteronomy's identification of "God" includes three different words: el, ĕlôha, and ĕlōhîm. el and ĕlôha are singular; ĕlōhîm is plural.

Here are two 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 of gods, 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)

Furthermore, Deuteronomy has the portion of the Shema which states 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 Deuteronomy is written during a time of reform, or after the exile, one expects to find a text using one word to identify one God. Using three different terms to describe God is something which introduces a measure of ambiguity. This unnecessary and intentional aspect of Deuteronomy is more evident when compared with the books describing the history of this time. Neither el or ĕlôha is used in First or Second Kings. In other words, the history before, during and after Josiah's reform is described using only ĕlōhîm, as one would expect if the writer intended to convey one God.

First and Second Chronicles, both written after the exile follow Kings by using ĕlōhîm and never el. There is one instance where ĕlôha is used to identify a false god (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:15).

Obviously it is possible to accurately record the history of Israel using a single word to identify God. Yet, despite this fact, Deuteronomy unnecessarily uses three different words to identify God.

After reading the New Testament, God is revealed as physically manifesting His work through His Son and His Spirit while at the same time remaining God. With Deuteronomy in mind one could say there are two distinctly individual aspects, Son and Spirit which are singular, and another which involves Father, Son, and Spirit which is plural. The same pattern as Deuteronomy's Vorlage.

Is the Trinity, or the "tripleness" 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?

  • Jewish SE will be more suitable for this question
    – Michael16
    Apr 8 at 7:23
  • @RevelationLad. Is the trinity compose of 3 separate independent intelligent Beings? Apr 8 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 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 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 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


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.


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.

  • (-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 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 at 8:41
  • I do not think explaining texts like Deuteronomy 32:17 as an example of stylistic differences between scribes is an appropriate hermeneutic. Apr 8 at 13:57

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