To start our exploration of God and faith, I decided to take us to the very beginning. God introduces Himself in the very first verse of the very first book of the Bible. “In the beginning, God…” (Gen. 1:1 NASB). The Hebrew word used here is Elohim. Therefore, Elohim is our first name for God.
But what does it mean? What is the original meaning of “Elohim”?
I decided to ask Scholar Joe-Bob. Joe-who? Scholar Joe-Bob is the multiple commentaries that I snore through…I mean!… give my full, fascinated, and undivided attention to every-single-word in order to bring Faithful Reader the most accurate information possible. So what does Scholar Joe-Bob think Elohim originally meant?
He. Has. No. Idea.
I’m serious. Scholars do not agree. They do not know for sure. But! Despair not, Faithful Reader, because the Bible gives us clues. First. Elohim is an interesting word because it is used singularly but it is a plural word. “El” is singular, while “Elohim” is plural.
Why use a plural word in a singular context? Oh, the theories abound. But for sanity’s sake, let’s take a look at Genesis 41 before we start talking about the Trinity.
“Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?” (Genesis 41:38 NASB)
Well, quite frankly, Pharaoh, probably not. Stick with Joseph; he’s a great choice for 2nd-in-charge. I would hire him myself if I could.
Where were we? Ah yes. Elohim. Pharaoh. Joseph. In the passage, the word “divine” in the Greek is…wait for it…Elohim! From the context, a modern interpretation of the phrase might be “…in whom is a supernatural spirit…”. But in ancient Egypt, there was no “supernatural”, there were only gods. And so Pharaoh is basically attributing a form of deity to Joseph. As the Bible interprets, he is calling him “divine”.
So we can take three clues from this passage’s usage of Elohim:
- It’s used in reference to a supernatural occurrence (unexplainable by natural law).
- It’s describing the traditional concept of “deity”
It’s used in a singular context.
- Thus, Elohim can be used singularly and can be used to describe something supernatural or in Bible days; divine.
For confirmation, we see Elohim used in basically the same way in the following verse:
“The king said to her, ‘do not be afraid; but what do you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I see a divine being coming up out of the earth’.” (1 Samuel 28:13 NASB)
Naughty King Saul! Summoning the spirit of Samuel the Prophet? Don’t think he appreciated that.
So! Part 1 of our study of Elohim reveals a plural word used in singular contexts (but it is used in plural contexts as well – more on that to come) and in reference to human beings that are exhibiting some form of supernatural reality and are therefore being referred to as divine. Hmm…what does that remind me of? A divine human being…could this be a foreshadowing…a teeny, tiny hint of Jesus? (Honestly, I have no idea. Scholar Joe-Bob has nothing to say. In fact, I believe he is taking a nap.) But it’s an interesting thought.
Come back next week for Who is Elohim? Part 2.