Monday, April 15, 2019

Elohim: God's Plural Name

"Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us … offer sacrifices to the LORD our God …” (Exodus 5:3).

The first name of God recorded in the Bible is a plural word, Elohim. There have been several suggestions to account for this. One is that the use of Elohim is similar to a king’s use of the royal “we,” the “imperial plural,” though there is little support for this explanation. Many evangelicals have thought that Elohim refers to the Triunity of God. However, even that Hebrew text traditionally used in Judaism to affirm the oneness of God—the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4—uses the word Elohim: “Hear O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh] our God [Elohim], the LORD is one.” Remember that God revealed Himself progressively through biblical history and the revelation of the Trinity did not come until a later time.

I think the best explanation is this: We know that the ancient Hebrew and Semitic people sometimes used a grammatical construction called the “abstract plural,” or as it is sometimes called, “the plural of intensity.” This abstract plural does not indicate any kind of polytheism. Nor does it imply any notion that God is a composite being. We are not to think of God’s attributes as facets of His innermost being. Rather, his unified inner self is expressed in each of His attributes: holiness, justice, immutability, infinity, eternity, goodness, truth, etc.

God is not a one-sided being, but there is, as Scripture reveals, a fullness to God. This fact has fascinated many Christian philosophers and theologians, because one of the oldest philosophical problems of metaphysics, one that almost drove the ancient philosophers berserk, is this: What is the relationship of unity to diversity? The ancient philosophers labored over this issue, looking for that transcendent point of unity that would draw all the strands of life together. What they were seeking was not just unity, but a universe. Universe comes from two Latin words meaning “to turn toward one thing.” Thus, universe implies a unity amidst diversity. The biblical answer to the problem of unity and diversity is that both find their ultimate resting place in God, who is Himself unified and diverse.

The church is called to manifest God’s unity and diversity. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, yet we also have a diversity of gifts and functions in the body. Consider today your place in that body. What are the gifts that you bring to the people of God?