Monday, April 23, 2018

Worship vs. Speculation

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

The first sentence in the Bible introduces us to God. The remarkable thing about the Hebrew word used for God here is that is it plural: Elohim. We are not sure what the singular word el implies. Some scholars have suggested “strength,” others “primacy,” along with other suggestions as well. We are certain, however, that while God is sometimes called “El” in the Old Testament, He is more often called “Elohim,” and the “-im” suffix indicates plurality.

Why would the name of God appear in a plural form in a religion that is distinctively monotheistic? As Deuteronomy 6:4 puts it: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” Some have suggested that the plural here is a hint of the fact that God is Three and One, alluding to the doctrine of the Trinity.

There may be some truth to that idea, but we are more confident that the Hebrew language sometimes uses a grammatical construction called the “plural of intensity.” Such a plural form ascribes greatness to God, without specifying any particular implication of that greatness.

Secular philosophers and liberal theologians of the nineteenth century were convinced that the word Elohim implied a primitive view of God. These men were all committed to an evolutionary view of the universe and of human history. They held that all world religions were basically the same, and that as human culture has “evolved,” religious sophistication has also evolved.

Originally, they said, men worshiped the spirits of water, stones, trees, and the like. Later on, they said, men became polytheists, worshiping several personal gods. After a while, one of these gods became supreme, and finally men became sophisticated enough to be monotheists. A plural word like elohim, they said, is a holdover from more primitive times. There is, however, no historical evidence for this supposed evolution of thought.

The Bible confronts us with the One True God in its opening statement. Secular humanism asserts that man’s religions are simply the product of his own speculations. Think of elements of Christianity which preclude the possibility that our faith is the product of our imagination.