Elohim: A bamboozle of grammar and meaning

Ibn Anwar, in his “Elohim. One or Plural?” responds to Tony Costa:

Here is the excerpt from Anwar.

Reverend Tony Costa said,

“The Hebrew word “elohim” is a third person masculine plural noun. It is grammatically always plural. It is used of the one true God Yahweh but when it is used of the true God “elohim” is generally followed by the singular verb. For instance Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God [“elohim”; plural noun] created [“bara”; singular].”. “Elohim” is also used of false gods in the Old Testament, used of human judges and angels. The context is vital in the use of “elohim”. This noun is used of Yahweh more often than the other Hebrew words”el” and “eloah”.”

Anwar’s Response

… Reverend Costa says in the first sentence of his brief thesis that, “”The Hebrew word “elohim” is a third person masculine plural noun.” That is right. The word is a combination of the noun Eloa [it is pronounced Eloah due to the vowel markers chataf, segol an chirik) with the pronominal suffix (masculine plural ending) +iym(í). However, he has made a crucial error in the next sentence where he says, “It is grammatically always plural.” It is a scriptural and grammatical fact that whenever the word Elohim refers to God the creator who deserves worship the co-text and context clearly uses ‘signals’ to make the word singular. What are the ‘signals’? Let us examine the first verse of the Bible as a starting point.

“bereshit bara’ ELOHIM et ha shamayim va et ha erets”

The verb used in the verse is bara’ which is a verb inflected in the perfect third person singular which has already been mentioned by Rev. Tony. However, what he failed to mention is that the verb controls the meaning of the subject(elohim). If the word elohim really denotes a plural subject grouped in one(collective noun or uniplural) as Trinitarians would suggest surely it would have used the plural (bar’u). Elohim in verse 1 is understood and translated as singular in all English Bibles because it behaves as a SINGULAR noun(the Elohim is the subject of the verb bara’ which is singular). In fact Genesis 1:26 follows the same rule! The verse says,

“And God (Elohim) said (vayomer), let us make man in our image…”

The noun elohim is the subject of the singular verb vayomer as a result of which determines the former as singular.

End of excerpt from Ibn Anwar.

I now examine Anwar’s argument in terms of the distinction between the linguistic terms “grammar” and “meaning.”

In linguistics, “grammar” has a wide and a narrow meaning.

Costa (and I would think most who read him) distinguishes between the narrow meaning of grammar (the “cement”) and vocabulary (the “bricks”) of language, where wrong grammar does NOT affect the meaning. For example,

How….milk have you got?

(a) a lot (b) much of (c) much (d) many

Answer – much.

We went….the store by car. (a) at; (b) on; (c) for; (d) to

Answer – to.

Here is the use of the wrong verb form with the noun

*They likes sugar.

And more pertinent to our topic:

*God judge (present tense) mankind.

In the dictionary we find vocabulary (lexis), not grammar; for example, we find prepositions but not how to use them. Or verbs (for example “create”) but not their conjugations; for example, I create – he creates.

In Hebrew we have “Elohim bara,” a plural noun with a singular verb, which in normal Hebrew would be regarded as ungrammatical. Tony Costa is talking about a grammatical issue, not a meaning/vocabulary/lexical issue. So, although it is true, as Ibn Anwar points out in his example (“And God Elohim said vayomer, let us make man in our image…”) that the noun “Elohim” is the “subject of the singular verb vayomer, where vayomer determines Elohim as singular,” this fact is independent of the fact that Elohim is a grammatical plural.

Here’s the nub:

Although it is true, as Ibn Anwar points out that “bara” (as a singular verb) determines the meaning of “Elohim” to be a singular, this fact is independent of the fact that “Elohim” is a grammatical plural.

Tony Costa cannot, of course, use his grammatical argument for a lexical (meaning) purpose, namely to assert that if Elohim is grammatically plural then it follows that it must MEAN plural. So Ibn Anwar, you are right on that score.

Ibn brings his presuppositions into the ring while Tony Costa brings his; the former, Islamic, the latter, Christian presuppositions. Here’s the presuppositional rub – from my presuppositional view: it is God who opens the eyes. It is through this divine opening that God comes to sup with us. Evidence won’t convince without Revelation.

So, whose presuppositions are true? God knows.