Elohim (Hebrew: אֱלֹהִים ’ĕlōhîm [ʔɛloːˈhim]) is
one of the many names or titles for God in the
Hebrew Bible; the term
is also used in the
Hebrew Bible to refer to other gods.
The notion of divinity underwent radical changes in the early period
of Israelite identity and development of Ancient
Hebrew religion. The
ambiguity of the term elohim is the result of such changes, cast in
terms of "vertical translatability", i.e. the re-interpretation of the
gods of the earliest recalled period as the national god of
monolatrism as it emerged in the 7th to 6th century BCE in the Kingdom
of Judah and during the Babylonian captivity, and further in terms of
monotheism by the emergence of
Rabbinical Judaism in the 2nd century
The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or
magistrates, and is cognate to the 'l-h-m found in Ugaritic, where it
is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El, and
conventionally vocalized as "Elohim". Most use of the term
Hebrew text imply a view that is at least monolatrist at the
time of writing, and such usage (in the singular), as a proper title
for the supreme deity, is generally not considered to be synonymous
with the term elohim, "gods" (plural, simple noun).
allows for this nominally plural form to mean "He is the Power
(singular) over powers (plural)", or roughly, "God of gods". Rabbinic
Maimonides wrote that the various other usages are commonly
understood to be homonyms.
1 Grammar and etymology
2 Canaanite religion
Elohim with plural verb
Elohim with singular verb
4.3 Angels and judges
4.4 Ambiguous readings
4.5 Other plural-singulars in biblical Hebrew
Jacob's ladder "gods were revealed" (plural)
Divine Council of Elohim
4.8 Sons of God
5 Latter-Day Saints
6 See also
9 External links
Grammar and etymology
Further information: El (deity), Ilah, and Allah
Elohim is a grammatically plural noun for "gods" or "deity" in
Biblical Hebrew. In Modern Hebrew, it is often referred to in the
singular despite the -im ending that denotes plural masculine nouns in
In Hebrew, the ending -im normally indicates a masculine plural.
However, when referring to the
Elohim is usually
understood to be grammatically singular (i.e. it governs a singular
verb or adjective). A possibly another related world is Ilāhīn
(إلاهين), meaning two gods, while alīha (gods, آله) is the
collective form of īlah (a god, إله). Note that
names of human beings in Arabic and
Hebrew can also have plural
endings like Ibrahim,
Abraham in Arabic, and Ephraim, the son of
It is generally thought that
Elohim is derived from eloah, the latter
being an expanded form of the Northwest Semitic noun ’il. The
related nouns eloah (אלוה) and el (אֵל) are used as proper
names or as generics, in which case they are interchangeable with
elohim. The term contains an added heh as third radical to the
biconsonantal root. Discussions of the etymology of elohim essentially
concern this expansion. An exact cognate outside of
Hebrew is found in
Ugaritic ʾlhm, the family of El, the creator god and chief deity of
the Canaanite pantheon, in
Biblical Aramaic ʼĔlāhā and later
Alaha "God", and in Arabic
ʾilāh "god, deity" (or
"The [single] God").
"El" (the basis for the extended root ʾlh) is usually derived from a
root meaning "to be strong" and/or "to be in front".
Further information: Ancient Canaanite religion
The word el (singular) is a standard term for "god" in Aramaic,
paleo-Hebrew, and other related Semitic languages including Ugaritic.
Canaanite pantheon of gods was known as 'ilhm, the Ugaritic
equivalent to elohim. For instance, in the
Baal cycle we
read of "seventy sons of Asherah". Each "son of god" was held to be
the originating deity for a particular people. (KTU 2 1.4.VI.46).
Further information: Elohist
Elohim occurs frequently throughout the Torah. In some cases (e.g.
Exodus 3:4, "...
Elohim called unto him out of the midst of the bush
..."), it behaves like a singular noun in
Hebrew grammar, and is then
generally understood to denote the single God of Israel. In other
Elohim acts as an ordinary plural of the word Eloah, and refers
to the polytheistic notion of multiple gods (for example, Exodus 20:3,
"You shall have no other gods before me.").
The words used for God varies in the
Hebrew Bible. According to the
documentary hypothesis these variations are the products of different
Elohim is used as the name of God in the
Elohist (E) and
Priestly (P) sources, while the name
Yahweh is used in the
Form criticism postulates the differences of names may be the
result of geographical origins; the P and E sources coming from the
North and J from the South. There may be a theological point, that God
did not reveal his name, Yahweh, before the time of Moses, though Hans
Heinrich Schmid showed that the
Jahwist was aware of the prophetic
books from the 7th and 8th centuries BCE.
Yahweh anthropomorphically: for example, walking through
the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve. The
Elohim as more distant and frequently involves angels, as in
Elohist version of the tale of Jacob's ladder, in which there is a
ladder to the clouds, with angels climbing up and down, with
the top. In the
Yahweh is simply stationed in the sky,
above the clouds without the ladder or angels. Likewise, the Elohist
describes Jacob wrestling with an angel.
The classical documentary hypothesis, first developed in the late 19th
century CE among literary scholars, holds that the
Elohist portions of
Torah were composed in the 9th century BCE (i.e. during the early
period of the Kingdom of Judah). This, however, is not universally
accepted as later literary scholarship seems to show evidence of a
Elohist redaction" (post-exilic) during the 5th century BCE
which sometimes makes it difficult to determine whether a given
passage is "Elohist" in origin, or the result of a later editor.
Names of God
Names of God in Judaism
Elohim occurs more than 2500 times in the
Hebrew Bible, with
meanings ranging from "gods" in a general sense (as in Exodus 12:12,
where it describes "the gods of Egypt"), to specific gods (e.g., 1
Kings 11:33, where it describes Chemosh "the god of Moab", or the
frequent references to
Yahweh as the "elohim" of Israel), to demons,
seraphim, and other supernatural beings, to the spirits of the dead
brought up at the behest of King
Saul in 1 Samuel 28:13, and even to
kings and prophets (e.g., Exodus 4:16). The phrase bene elohim,
translated "sons of the Gods", has an exact parallel in
Phoenician texts, referring to the council of the gods.
Elohim occupy the seventh rank of ten in the famous medieval Rabbinic
scholar Maimonides' Jewish angelic hierarchy.
Maimonides said: "I must
premise that every
Hebrew [now] knows that the term
Elohim is a
homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries,
Elohim with plural verb
In 1 Samuel 28:13, elohim is used with a plural verb. The witch of
Saul that she saw "elohim ascending (olim עֹלִים,
plural verb) out of the earth.
In Genesis 20:13, Abraham, before the polytheistic Philistine king
Abimelech, says that "
Elohim (translated as God) caused (התעו,
plural verb) me to wander". Whereas the Greek Septuagint
(LXX) has a singular verb form (ἐξήγαγε(ν), aorist II), most
English versions usually translate this as "God caused" (which does
not distinguish between a singular and plural verb).
Elohim with singular verb
Elohim, when meaning the God of Israel, is mostly grammatically
singular, and is commonly translated as "God", and capitalised. For
example, in Genesis 1:26, it is written: "Then
Elohim (translated as
God) said (singular verb), 'Let us (plural) make (plural verb) man in
our (plural) image, after our (plural) likeness'". Wilhelm Gesenius
Hebrew grammarians traditionally described this as the
pluralis excellentiae (plural of excellence), which is similar to the
pluralis majestatis (plural of majesty, or "Royal we").
Gesenius comments that
Elohim singular is to be distinguished from
elohim plural gods and remarks that:
the supposition that elohim is to be regarded as merely a remnant of
earlier polytheistic views (i.e. as originally only a numerical
plural) is at least highly improbable, and, moreover, would not
explain the analogous plurals (below). To the same class (and probably
formed on the analogy of elohim) belong the plurals kadoshim, meaning
"the Most Holy" (only of Yahweh, Hosea 12:1, Proverbs 9:10, 30:3 - cf.
El hiym kadoshim in Joshua 24:19 and the singular Aramaic "the Most
High", Daniel 7:18, 22, 25) and probably teraphim (usually taken in
the sense of penates), the image of a god, used especially for
obtaining oracles. Certainly in 1 Samuel 19:13, 16 only one image is
intended; in most other places a single image may be intended; in
Zechariah 10:2 alone is it most naturally taken as a numerical plural.
There are a number of notable exceptions to the rule that
treated as singular when referring to the God of Israel, including
Gen. 20:13, 35:7, 2 Sam. 7:23 and Ps. 58:11, and notably the epithet
of the "Living God" (Deuteronomy 5:26 etc.), which is constructed with
the plural adjective,
Elohim Hayiym אלהים חיים but still
takes singular verbs.
New Testament translations,
Elohim has the
singular ὁ θεός even in these cases, and modern translations
follow suit in giving "God" in the singular. The Samaritan
edited out some of these exceptions.
Angels and judges
In a few cases in the Greek
Hebrew elohim with a
plural verb, or with implied plural context, was rendered either
angeloi ("angels") or to kriterion tou Theou ("the judgement of
God"). These passages then entered first the Latin Vulgate, then
King James Version
King James Version (KJV) as "angels" and "judges",
respectively. From this came the result that James Strong, for
example, listed "angels" and "judges" as possible meanings for elohim
with a plural verb in his Strong's Concordance, and the same is true
of many other 17th-20th century reference works. Both Gesenius' Hebrew
Lexicon and the
Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon list both angels and
judges as possible alternative meanings of elohim with plural verbs
The reliability of the
Septuagint translation in this matter has been
questioned by Gesenius and Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg. In the case of
Gesenius, he lists the meaning without agreeing with it.
Hengstenberg stated that the
Hebrew Bible text never uses elohim to
refer to "angels", but that the
Septuagint translators refused the
references to "gods" in the verses they amended to "angels."
New Testament (NT) quotes Psalm 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:6b-8a,
where the Greek NT has "ἀγγέλους" (angelous) in vs. 7,
quoting Ps. 8:5 (8:6 in the LXX), which also has "ἀγγέλους"
in a version of the Greek Septuagint. In the KJV, elohim (Strong's
number H430) is translated as "angels" only in Psalm 8:5.
KJV has elohim translated as "judges" in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8;
and twice in Exodus 22:9.
Sometimes when elohim occurs as the referent or object (i.e. not
subject) of a sentence, and without any accompanying verb or adjective
to indicate plurality, it may be grammatically unclear whether gods
plural or God singular is intended. An example is Psalm 8:5 where "Yet
you have made him a little lower than the elohim" is ambiguous as to
whether "lower than the gods" or "lower than God" is intended. The
Septuagint read this as "gods" and then "corrected" the translation to
"angels", which reading is taken up by the New
Testament in Hebrews 2:9 "But we see Jesus, who was made a little
lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory
and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every
man." (full quote and compare)
Other plural-singulars in biblical Hebrew
Hebrew language has several nouns with -im (masculine plural) and
-oth (feminine plural) endings which nevertheless take singular verbs,
adjectives and pronouns. For example, Ba'alim "owner".
Jacob's ladder "gods were revealed" (plural)
In the following verses
Elohim was translated as God singular in the
King James Version
King James Version even though it was accompanied by plural verbs and
other plural grammatical terms.
And there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because
there God had revealed [plural verb] himself to him when he fled from
— Genesis 35:7, ESV
Hebrew verb "revealed" is plural, hence: "the-gods were
revealed". A NET Bible note claims that the
Authorized Version wrongly
translates: "God appeared unto him". This is one of several
instances where the Bible uses plural verbs with the name
Divine Council of Elohim
Main article: Divine Council
AV Psalm 82:1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he
judgeth among the gods. [...]
I have said, Ye [are] gods; and all of you [are] children of the most
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
— Psalm 82:1, 6-7 (AV)
Marti Steussy, in Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament,
discusses: “The first verse of Psalm 82: ‘
Elohim has taken his
place in the divine council.’ Here elohim has a singular verb and
clearly refers to God. But in verse 6 of the Psalm, God says to the
other members of the council, ‘You [plural] are elohim.’ Here
elohim has to mean gods.”
Mark Smith, referring to this same Psalm, states in God in Translation
“This psalm presents a scene of the gods meeting together in divine
Elohim stands in the council of El. Among the elohim he
In Hulsean Lectures for..., H. M. Stephenson discussed Jesus’
argument in John 10:34–36 concerning Psalm 82. (In answer to the
charge of blasphemy Jesus replied:) "Is it not written in your law, I
said, Ye are gods. If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God
came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the
Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest;
because I said, I am the
Son of God?" – "Now what is the force of
this quotation 'I said ye are gods.' It is from the Asaph Psalm which
Elohim hath taken His place in the mighty assembly. In the
midst of the
Elohim He is judging.'"
Sons of God
Main article: Sons of God
Hebrew word for "son" is ben; plural is bānim (with the construct
state form being "benei"). The
Hebrew term benei elohim ("sons of God"
or "sons of the gods") in Genesis 6:2 compares to the use of "sons
of gods" (Ugaritic: b'n il) sons of El in
Karel van der Toorn states that gods can be referred to collectively
as bene elim, bene elyon, or bene elohim.
In Jewish tradition, the
Torah verse, that was the battle-cry of the
Maccabees (Hebrew: מכבים, Machabim), "Mi chamocha ba'elim
YHWH" ("Who is like You among the heavenly powers, YHWH"), is an
acronym for "Machabi" as well as an acronym for "Matityahu Kohen ben
Yochanan". The correlating
Torah verse, The song of
Moses and the
Children of Israel by the Sea, makes a reference to elim, but more
with a mundane notion of natural forces, might, war and governmental
Main article: God in Mormonism
Elohim is a name occasionally used to refer to God the
Elohim is a being that is separate from Jesus Christ or "the
Lord" of the Old Testament.
Elohim is the physical father of Jesus,
whose name before birth is said to have been "Jehovah".
The Book of Abraham, which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints hold to be divinely inspired scripture revealed by
the prophet Joseph Smith, contains a paraphrase of the first chapter
of Genesis which explicitly translates
Elohim as “the Gods”
Genesis creation narrative
Henotheism § Canaanite religion and early Judaism
Monolatrism § In ancient Israel
Names of God
Raëlism— a new religious movement centered on beings referred to as
^ Mark S. Smith, God in translation: deities in cross-cultural
discourse in the biblical world, vol. 57 of "Forschungen zum Alten
Testament", Mohr Siebeck, 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149543-4, p. 19.;
Smith, Mark S. (2002), "The Early History of God:
Yahweh and the Other
Deities in Ancient Israel" (Biblical Resource Series)
^ a b
Moses Maimonides. "Guide for the Perplexed" (1904 translation by
^ Glinert, Modern Hebrew: An Essential Grammar, Routledge, p. 14,
section 13 "(b) Agreement".
^ Gesenius, A Grammar of the
^ a b c d e f K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der
Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible (revised
2nd edition, Brill, 1999) ISBN 90-04-11119-0, p. 274, 352-3
^ Article "Eloah" by Dennis Pardee in Karel van der Toorn; Bob
Becking; Pieter van der Horst, eds. (1999). Dictionary of Deities and
Demons in the Bible (2 ed.). p. 285.
ASIN B00RWRAWY8. s.v. "Eloah" "The term expressing the
simple notion of 'gods' in these texts is ilm...".
^ van der Toorn, Karel (1999). "God". In van der Toorn, Karel;
Becking, Bob; van der Horst, Pieter. Dictionary of Deities and Demons
in the Bible (2nd ed.). Brill. p. 360.
^ John Day
Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan, p.23
^ H. H. Schmid, Der Sogenannte
Jahwist (Zurich: TVZ, 1976)
^ Brian B. Schmidt, Israel's beneficent dead: ancestor cult and
necromancy in ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition, "Forschungen
zum Alten Testament", N. 11 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr Siebeck, 1994),
p. 217: "In spite of the fact that the MT plural noun 'elohim of v.13
is followed by a plural participle 'olim, a search for the antecedent
to the singular pronominal suffix on mah-to'ro in v.14 what does he/it
look like? has led interpreters to view the 'elohim . . . 'olim as a
designation for the dead Samuel, "a god ascending." The same term
'elohim ... He, therefore, urgently requests verification of Samuel's
identity, mah-to'"ro, "what does he/it look like?" The .... 32:1,
'elohim occurs with a plural finite verb and denotes multiple gods in
this instance: 'elohim '"seryel'ku I fydnenu, "the gods who will go
before us." Thus, the two occurrences of 'elohim in 1 Sam 28:13,15 —
the first complemented by a plural ...28:13 manifests a complex
textual history, then the 'elohim of v. 13 might represent not the
deified dead, but those gods known to be summoned — some from the
netherworld — to assist in the retrieval of the ghost.373 ...
^ Benamozegh, Elia; Maxwell Luria (1995). Israel and Humanity. Paulist
Press International. p. 104. ISBN 978-0809135417.
^ Hamilton, Victor P. (2012). Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary. Baker
Academic. ISBN 978-0801031830.
^ e.g. Gen. 20:13 Hebrew: התעו אתי אלהים מבית
אבי (where התעו is from Hebrew: תעה "to err, wander,
go astray, stagger", the causative plural "they caused to wander")
^ LXX: ἐξήγαγέν με ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τοῦ οἴκου
τοῦ πατρός; KJV: "when God caused me to wander from my
Hebrew Grammar: 124g, without article 125f, with article
126e, with the singular 145h, with plural 132h,145i"
^ Richard N. Soulen, R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of biblical
criticism, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001,
ISBN 978-0-664-22314-4, p. 166.
Septuagint Exodus 21:6 προσάξει αὐτὸν ὁ
κύριος αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ κριτήριον τοῦ
^ The Biblical Repositor p. 360 ed. Edward Robinson - 1838 "Gesenius
denies that elohim ever means angels; and he refers in this denial
particularly to Ps. 8: 5, and Ps. 97: 7; but he observes, that the
term is so translated in the ancient versions."
^ Samuel Davidsohn, An Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. III,
1848, p. 282: "Hengstenberg, for example, affirms, that the usus
loquendi is decisive against the direct reference to angels, because
Elohim never signifies angels. He thinks that the Septuagint
translator could not understand the representation..."
^ "Hebrews 2:7 with Greek". Retrieved 18 March 2013.
^ "Psalm 8:5 with Greek (8:6 in the LXX)". Retrieved 18 March
Elohim as angels in the
KJV only in Psalm 8:5 (8:6 in LXX)".
Retrieved 18 March 2013.
Elohim as "judges" in the KJV". Retrieved 18 March 2013.
^ NET Bible with Companion CD-ROM W. Hall Harris, 3rd, none - 2003 -
"35:14 So Jacob set up a sacred stone pillar in the place where God
spoke with him.30 He poured out a 20tn Heb "revealed themselves." The
verb iVl] (niglu), translated "revealed himself," is plural, even
though one expects the singular"
^ Haggai and Malachi p36 Herbert Wolf - 1976 If both the noun and the
verb are plural, the construction can refer to a person, just as the
statement “God revealed Himself” in Genesis 35:7 has a plural noun
and verb. But since the word God, “Elohim,” is plural in form,8
the verb ..."
^ J. Harold Ellens, Wayne G. Rollins, Psychology and the Bible: From
Genesis to apocalyptic vision, 2004, p. 243: "Often the plural form
Elohim, when used in reference to the biblical deity, takes a plural
verb or adjective (Gen. 20:13, 35:7; Exod. 32:4, 8; 2 Sam. 7:23; Ps.
^ Steussy, Marti. "Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament"
^ Smith, Mark. "God in Translation:..."
^ Stephenson, H. M. (1890) Hulsean Lectures for... lecture 1, page 14
^ (e.g. Genesis 6:2, "... the sons of the
Elohim (e-aleim) saw the
daughters of men (e-adam, "the adam") that they were fair; and they
took them for wives...,"
^ Marvin H. Pope, El in the
Ugaritic texts, "Supplements to Vetus
Testamentum", Vol. II, Leiden, Brill, 1955. Pp. x—l-116, p. 49.
^ First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "The Father and
the Son", Improvement Era, August 1916, pp. 934–42; reprinted as
"The Father and the Son", Ensign, April 2002.
Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament theology, vol. 1, Continuum
International Publishing Group, 1995, ISBN 978-0-567-09735-4,
Hebrew word #430 in Strong's Concordance
"Elohim". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
Names of God
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