Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Elohim—A Plural Name? (Genesis 1:26-31)

“Let us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26).

One of the oldest names of God in the Bible is Elohim, a plural form of the semitic word for God, El. There has been much controversy concerning the use of this plural form in the monotheistic Jewish religion (Deut. 6:4). Many theologians and philosophers have wrestled with this designation.

Philosophers of the 19th century applied the concept of evolution to comparative religion, believing that all of history, including religion, moves from the simple to the complex. They developed a series of theoretic stages through which religion evolved: animism, the worship of animals; then polytheism, the worship of many gods; then henotheism, the worship of one national or tribal god among others; and finally monotheism, the worship of one god. Philosophers tried to fit Elohim into their progressive categories. Thus, Elohim was thought to have been evidence of the polytheistic stage of the Jewish evolutionary development.

Another theory is that Elohim is used as a king uses the word “we” as a self-designation. This is commonly called the imperial plural, but there is little biblical support for this explanation.

Many evangelicals have thought that Elohim refers to the Trinity. They maintain that God revealed Himself progressively throughout biblical history, and the reference to Elohim is an implicit revelation of the Trinity, which would be more fully revealed in later days. This theory would fit with the use of Elohim in Genesis 1:26 where God proclaimed that He had made man in “our” image, possibly an early reference to the Trinity.

Another interpretation holds that Elohim is a title capturing the many attributes of God while retaining His unity. God is holy, just, righteous, merciful, but He is not made up of many separate parts. He is unified, being totally holy, totally gracious, etc.

The church today is to be representative of an understanding of God’s name, Elohim, by being unified in faith and diversified in the specific outworkings of that faith. The body of Christ is made up of many different types of people who are gifted with various abilities. The church looks most like God when it reflects that diversification, while maintaining the unity of one Spirit, one faith, and one baptism.

How can the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, personalities, and circumstances of church members be a stumbling block to unity? Who in your church is most unlike you? Ask that person and their family to dinner. As you visit, look past your differences and focus on your unity in Christ.