(El·o·himʹ) [Heb., ʼelo·himʹ (gods), plural of ʼeloʹah (god)].
This Hebrew word is of uncertain derivation, but it is generally thought to be from a root meaning “to be strong.” ʼElo·himʹ is the plural of ʼeloʹah, sometimes in the numerical sense (Gen. 31:30, 32; 35:2), but more often it signifies the plural of majesty, dignity or excellence, ʼElo·himʹ is used in the Scriptures with reference to Jehovah himself, to angels, to idol gods (singular and plural) and to men.—Gen. 1:1; Ps. 8:5, NW, 1950 ed., ftn.; Judg. 16:23; Ex. 20:23; Ps. 82:6.
When applying to Jehovah, ʼElo·himʹ is used in the sense of majesty, dignity or excellence, and takes the singular verb, adjective and pronoun. At Psalm 7:9 it is used with an adjective in the singular number: ʼElo·himʹ tsad·diqʹ, ‘righteous God.’ On this Gesenius-Kautzsch’s Hebrew Grammar, 1949 edition, pages 398, 399, paragraph “g,” says: “The pluralis excellentiae or maiestatis, as has been remarked above, is properly a variety of the abstract plural, since it sums up the several characteristics belonging to the idea, besides possessing the secondary sense of an intensification of the original idea. It is thus closely related to the plurals of amplification, . . . which are mostly found in poetry. So especially El·o·himʹ Godhead, God (to be distinguished from the numerical plural gods, Exodus 12:12, &c.). The supposition that El·o·himʹ is to be regarded as merely a remnant of earlier polytheistic views (that is, as originally only a numerical plural) is at least highly improbable, and, moreover, would not explain the analogous plurals. . . . That the language has entirely rejected the idea of numerical plurality in El·o·himʹ (whenever it denotes one God), is proved especially by its being almost invariably joined with a singular attribute . . . , for example, El·o·himʹ tsad·diqʹ, Psalm 7:10 [9, English], &c. Hence El·o·himʹ may have been used originally not only as a numerical but also as an abstract plural (corresponding to the Latin numen, and our Godhead), and, like other abstracts of the same kind, have been transferred to the concrete single god (even of the heathen).”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volume II, page 1265, comments: “It is characteristic of Heb[rew] that extension, magnitude and dignity, as well as actual multiplicity, are expressed by the pl[ural]. It is not reasonable, therefore, to assume that plurality of form indicates primitive Sem[itic] polytheism. On the contrary, historic Heb[rew] is unquestionably and uniformly monotheistic.” Moses wrote at Deuteronomy 6:4: “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.”
As applied to Jehovah, the title ʼElo·himʹ draws attention to him as the Creator. It appears thirty-five times in the account of creation, and every time the verb describing what he said and did is in the singular number. (Gen. 1:1–2:4) In Him resides the sum and substance of infinite forces.
At Psalm 8:4, 5, the angels are also referred to as ʼelo·himʹ, as is confirmed by Paul’s quotation of the passage at Hebrews 2:6-8. They are called benehʹ ha-ʼElo·himʹ, “sons of God,” AV; “sons of the true God,” NW, at Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1. Of this phrase, the above-quoted Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar on p. 418, par. 2, says that it “properly means not sons of god(s), but beings of the class of elohimʹ.” Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, by Koehler and Baumgartner (1953 ed.), page 134, says: “(individual) divine beings, gods.” And on page 51: “the (single) gods Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7.” Hence, at Psalm 8:5 it is rendered “angels,” LXX; “godlike ones,” NW.
The word ʼelo·himʹ is also used when referring to idol gods. Sometimes this plural form means simply “gods.” (Ex. 12:12; 20:23) At other times it is the plural of excellence and only one god (or goddess) is referred to; these gods were not trinities. (1 Sam. 5:7b [Dagon]; 1 Ki. 11:5 [“goddess” Ashtoreth]; Dan. 1:2b [Marduk]) In view of this, the use of the plural ʼElo·himʹ, when referring to Jehovah, cannot be cited in support of the trinity doctrine. Furthermore, when trinitarians, who oppose polytheism, argue that ʼElo·himʹ, when referring to the true God, signifies the numerical plural “gods,” they make themselves polytheists, contrary to the definition of their trinity doctrine that there are three persons in one God, not three gods.
At Psalm 82:1, 6, ʼelo·himʹ is used of men, human judges in Israel. Jesus quoted from this Psalm at John 10:34, 35. Since the nature of men is not spirit but flesh, in what sense may they be gods? In their capacity as representatives of and spokesmen for Jehovah. Moses was told that he was to “serve as God” to Aaron and to Pharaoh. (Heb., ʼElo·himʹ; LXX, Gr., ho The·osʹ)—Ex. 4:16; see also Exodus 7:1.
In many places in the Scriptures ʼElo·himʹ is also found preceded by the definite article ha. The first of these appear at Genesis 5:22, 24, where a footnote in the New World Translation (1953 ed.) reads: “Use of the article here is deliberate, doubtless because of the move toward false worship indicated shortly before this at Genesis 4:26.” Concerning the use of the article Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, previously quoted, says on pages 404, 405: “The article is, generally speaking, employed to determine a substantive wherever it is required by Greek and English; thus: . . . (d) When terms applying to whole classes are restricted (simply by usage) to particular individuals . . . ” Ha-ʼElo·himʹ, translated as “the one true God,” is then given as an example of this, along with the same usage in other cases, for example, “the adversary,” denoting the opponent of God, Satan; also “the (first) man,” Adam. Accordingly, the New World Translation (1961 ed.) renders ha-ʼElo·himʹ as “the [true] God.”
The singular form ʼEloʹah is also used with reference to Jehovah (Deut. 32:15) and other gods. (Hab. 1:11) ʼEloʹah is found forty-one times in Job out of a total of the fifty-seven times it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. The word that corresponds to ʼElo·himʹ in Aramaic is ʼEla·hinʹ and occurs thirteen times in the Aramaic part of Daniel, beginning at Daniel 2:47.