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.

21 thoughts on “Elohim: A bamboozle of grammar and meaning

  1. Hey Dodgy bog,

    I’m calling you that because you throw these error bombs and then run off to avoid engagement in a discussion that elucidates the many facets of your profound errors–errors you know of at the time you click “post”.

    As we’ve discussed many times, no defense of trinitarian Christian polytheism can be had from the Biblical name “Eloh-m”. Yet here you are again, insisting that all Hebrew words that end with in “-m” are perforce plural. Your insistence on this false presumption is strange in light of your recognition that in English, names that end in “-s” are frequently singular. Witness (in the singular) Kansas (in the singular).

    And even if “Eloh-m” did have to refer to a littany of distinct individuals, there is no ignoring your baseless leap from general plurality to specific trinitarianism. All plural collections that end in “-s” (or “-m” in Hebrew) do not come in threes, you know!

    But the thing I have often pointed out to you that I find most puzzling (in an amusing way, dodbog), is your bizarre insistence that Moses, whom the Hebrew scriptures specifically refer to as an “elohim”, which happens to mean “judge” in Hebrew and is a name of G-d because He is our ultimate Judge, is a trinity. I guess you feel Moses is one substance of three persons, since that’s what you argue “elohim” must mean.

    Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath awaiting your reasoned response to these problems with this favorite apologetic of yours.

    • Anon, one of my posts is called “A Jewish view of a French bottom.” If you had to read it, you would see “A French view of a Jewish bottom.” I say this because you have said the opposite of what I said.

      To summarise my post:

      A grammatical plural does NOT mean plural in reality, that is, it does not MEAN a semantic plural. So you support my thesis.

      There you go spilling your sema again all over the place, Onan, getting things back to front.

      • So you agree that the Bible’s usage of the term “Eloh-m” is no justification for the essential transgression against Deut. 6:4 that Christian trinitarianism epitomizes?

  2. Anon, as I said:
    ”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.

    (I add: Anon, you are also 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.”

    No one can arrive at the trinitarian doctrine from the Tanakh alone. And no one can arrive at any truth without God; indeed, faith and truth (about anything in the natural and supernatural sphere) comes from God alone.

    • bog,

      We have what to agree on.

      You wrote that “No one can arrive at the trinitarian doctrine from the Tanakh alone.” No one can reasonably dispute that, though substantially all missionaries do.

      Moreover, no one can arrive at the other key Christian doctrines from the Hebrew scriptures:

      * Christians worship a god that is “fully man” and who has a human mother, but the Hebrew scriptures say that “G-d is not a man…nor a son of man” (Num. 23:19).
      * Christians believe their god punishes innocents with death and rewards the guilty with eternal life, but the Hebrew scriptures say that “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:20).
      * Christians look at the past two millennia of unending warfare and declare it the messianic era, but the Hebrew scriptures say that “Nation will not take up sword against nation…anymore” commencing with arrival of the messiah.
      * Christians insist the messiah is a creature of two comings,but the Hebrew scriptures only mention a single coming.
      * Christians “testify” that their god revoked the Mosaic law, but the Hebrew scriptures say that the commandments are “a lasting ordinance for the generations to come” (Lev. 23:14).
      * Christians preach that their god has not invested mankind with the capacity to choose to discharge the Biblical commandments. But the Hebrew scriptures adjures Jews to “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the L-rd your G-d, obey Him” (Deut. 30:19).

      These are but a few examples of the stark gulf between the most elementary doctrines of Christianity and the Hebrew scriptures. It’s clear as day that the one does not derive from the other.

      • As you say, and I agree, you cannot arrive at the Christian doctrines through the Tanakh alone. This does not mean that your exegesis of ”elohim” or of the shma (echad) that God cannot be a composite unity, as in ”one flesh” (Adam and Eve). \
        It is impossible for someone who has read the NT and believes it to act as if he is not influenced by it in his interpretation of the Tanach. This applies to most forms of knowledge. Once it’s in your noggin (and your heart) it cannot be neutralised. This is what is called ”presupposition.”

      • And if you stop to think about it, the best way to become a Christian is to read only the “new testament”; that document supports all of the Christian theological platforms.

        It is only when we introduce the Hebrew scriptures that cracks in Christianity begin to emerge. It’s not the nt that says “G-d is not a man”, or that “the L-rd is one”; those are Jewish concepts from Numbers and Deuteronomy.

        The more one turns to the Hebrew scriptures, the less Christian one can remain. The more one turns to the “new testament”, the less Jewish one can remain.

        • Genesis

          כד עַל-כֵּן, יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ, אֶת-אָבִיו, וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ; וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one (ECHAD) flesh.

          Is the couple Adam and Chava one or two?

          Exodus 26
          ו וְעָשִׂיתָ, חֲמִשִּׁים קַרְסֵי זָהָב; וְחִבַּרְתָּ אֶת-הַיְרִיעֹת אִשָּׁה אֶל-אֲחֹתָהּ, בַּקְּרָסִים, וְהָיָה הַמִּשְׁכָּן, אֶחָד. 6 And thou shalt make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains one to another with the clasps, that the tabernacle may be one whole (one – ECHAD)

          Is the curtain a single or fifty?

          יא וְעָשִׂיתָ קַרְסֵי נְחֹשֶׁת, חֲמִשִּׁים; וְהֵבֵאתָ אֶת-הַקְּרָסִים בַּלֻּלָאֹת, וְחִבַּרְתָּ אֶת-הָאֹהֶל וְהָיָה אֶחָד. 11 And thou shalt make fifty clasps of brass, and put the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one (ECHAD).

          Is the tent a COMPOSITE one or a single one?

      • bog,

        Let’s see if we can avoid getting bogged down together with illogical, contra-arithmetic nonsense.

        Each of the passages you cited reports about the joining of many (though none come in threes) into a single whole. Two join together and become one, fifty are joined together and become one. This is normal language usage, and there is nothing hokey about it.

        But let’s switch gears back to your incoherent designs on “the L-rd is one”. It doesn’t say that “three persons will join (or be joined) together to become one”. Rather, it says that “I am” (not “we are”) “the L-rd your G-d”. You would like to have readers understand that straightforward text as meaning something quite opposite it’s plain meaning. You would have everyone read “the L-rd is one” to mean G-d is three. The first problem with your hokey play on “one” is that G-d (whom we know from Num. 23:19 does not lie) would certainly have said “the L-rd is three” if He’d meant that He was part of a threesome. The second problem is that there is no indication that groups inherently are trinitarian; you’ve cited Biblical examples of twosomes and fifties, but no threesomes. But the most damaging passage to your theory of G-d meaning that He’s one of three gods when He said that He is the only one comes from Isaiah 44:8, in which G-d rhetorically asks “Is there any G-d besides Me [in the singular]?” Had G-d meant what you mean, He’d have asked “is there any G-d besides us?”. Even more, He wouldn’t have asked that rhetorical question if He agreed with your view that there are two other panelists on the board of the godhood besides Him.

        • Anon

          You are reading too much into the Shma (and, as so many have told you many times, into Numbers 23:19).

          In Deut 6:4 Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one, the focus is not on the essence of God’s nature but on the teaching that He stands out and is higher than the elohim of the goyim, and He is the only One worthy of worship.

          You refer to Isaiah 44:8. Indeed even Jesus (whom you don’t believe existed) referred to God as his God. Does this, therefore, contradict the trinity? No.

          There is so much on this topic of the trinity and you have said megatons of stuff on the topic at the Roshpinaproject.

        • Anon
          Vis a vis trinity here is a comment from Luke at Roshpinaproject:

          on August 1, 2011 at 1:45 pm said:

          …. the term Elohim, used thousands of times for G-d right from the beginning of Tanakh, is in the plural and the verb which accompanies it is in the singular. When they encountered this oddity, the Sages became well aware of the divine revelation of the unified G-d. This apparent plurality expressed in Tanakh, has been met by several attempts from the Sages, particularly in the Zohar, to explain the various faces of G-d. Amazingly, even the Sages, in their wisdom, grappled with things that Kenneth considers child’s play. We, truly, are honored to have him among us!

          The Zohar uses 5 expressions that refer to the principle of the Unity (or, what you, David, refer to as the “Trinity”) of G-d. They are the tlat rishin or three heads, the tlat ruhin or three spirits, the tlat havayot or three forms of revelation, the tlat shmehin or three names and the talta gvanin, or three shades of interpretation. These Aramaic terms are understood as G-d’s “being”, just as we might use the terms g-dhead, Unity or Trinity in English.

          The Zohar (pt.II) asks: “How can these three be One? Are they One only because we call them One? How they are One we can know only by the urging of the Ruach Ha Kodesh and then even with closed eyes.”

          The humility expressed here in approaching this mystery “with closed eyes”, or in humble faith, is something we, certainly, should take note of. And when I say, “we”, I mean Kenneth.

          Not widely known by many Jews (or Christians, for that matter) is the fact that the word “trinity” doesn’t even appear in the Brit Chadasha. However, the concept of “three in One” is a logical deduction, similar to the inference at which the Zohar arrives. The Zohar (pt.III) refers to the mystery of G-d’s self-revelation by the name razei de-Shlosha or the mystery of the number three. These three are like the “outer shell of the inner truth”, as the Sages have said.

          If Tanakh and the Zohar aren’t enough for you, it appears that this mystery will be revealed by the Mashiach. “And this is the Spirit which will rise from the hidden wisdom, and which is called the Spirit of life; and that Spirit is ready to give this wisdom in its due time through the Mashiach-Nagid, as it is written: ‘And the Spirit of the L-RD will rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding’.(Yeshayahu 11:2)”

          http://roshpinaproject.com/2011/07/28/in-the-beginning…/

      • Yikes! This Luke is verbose. I’m going to have to pass on reading him.

        But I want to tell you why I think your religion has failed so miserably to gain any traction with the Jews. It’s because of your rejection of the word of G-d. Only a Christian missionary would be so bold as to tell a Jew “You are reading too much into the Shma”. The Shma, “Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one”, is the clarion message of the Bible to the Jews. Perhaps if you paid a little bit of attention to what G-d wrote for us, you could join us in the non-polytheistic, non-trinitarian world of consistency.

        • Anon

          With regard to Luke, he is quoting the Zohar, so your beef should be with the Zohar.

          Regarding “one,” I think you have been, like so many educated Jews, too influenced by your Western, that is Hellenic, background.

  3. Raf,

    Luke gets high marks for knowing nothing about Jews or Judaism while being obnoxious and claiming to be a high expert on these subjects, but the Zohar is heady stuff.

    So heady, in fact, that Jews do not study it or know its content. There are a few who do, but they are the leading scholars of the generation, and they keep quiet about it. Show me a person who claims to be knowledgeable in the Zohar, and I’ll show you a nut–be it a member of Madonna’s oddball society of well-heeled gentile Hollywood-type trainwrecks, or a Christian missionary. The funny thing is, Christian missionaries, when pressed, will confess that they believe all non-Biblical sources are, yet they are often at pains to direct Jews’ attention to writings that carry no significance to Jews. Just so you know, in my travels in religious Jewish circles, I’ve never met anyone who confided they study the Zohar. Yet on these evangelical blogs I’ve been confronted by no shortage of know-nothing gentiles who want to teach me the Zohar (and, of course, how it calls for Jews to worship Jesus, which we all know it does not).

    I think that ordinary people like you and I, with our relatively limited knowledge of the basics of the Bible and our sadly lacking degree of genius, would do well to focus on the elementary matters like how many does “one” connote, before we progress on to levels of spiritual advancement we are not yet prepared to appreciate.

    • So, you think that the Zohar is a profound Judaic work. All Luke is doing is quoting the Zohar, not expounding on it. The point is: Do you agree with these quotes from the Zohar.

      Another thing that is crucial in your criticisms of Christianity is your denial of the very existence of Jesus. I find it difficult to carry on a serious communication with you when you can’t even acknowledge the reality of the thorn in your flesh.

      • Raf,

        The Zohar hardly needs my ratification, nor am I qualified to opine on it. Since most Jews never master even the Talmudic foundation that is necessary to begin to contemplate the Zohar, do you think it’s possible that the Madonna’s and Luke’s of the world read but fully misunderstand the Zohar?

        And since you’re the Christian missionary in this discussion, why isn’t the burden of proving Jesus’ existence on you?

        • Anon

          You say you are not qualified to comment on anything the Zohar says. Surely, the meaning of the quotes are clear?

      • Raf,

        I can’t begin to fathom the Zohar, and you think it’s bunk. So, why do you keep trying to steer the discussion to it?

        Jesus was a figment of the “new testament”, not the Zohar. And our discussion was centering around the historicity of the Christian Jesus narrative. So, please, let’s stay on topic. Now before we got sidetracked, you were about to set forth your proof that Jesus really did appear to Paul in the dream that became the foundation of your newfound religion. Please, continue.

  4. Sinai

    God – I’m giving you the Zohar as part of the oral Torah.
    Moses – But it seem to me that hardly anyone down there is going to understand it.
    God – It;s not meant for anyone.
    Moses – For whom then.
    God – The sages.

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