One God Versus Many - The Plurality is in the Pronoun (Part 1)
The Hebrew/Christian concept of monotheism has invaded the far corners of the earth, and many people have heard its doctrine; however, it continues to cause confusion and controversy, just as it did in the days following the life of Jesus Christ. People all over the world are familiar with the concept of the Hebrew/Christian god. This monotheistic, or singular, God as both the Jews and Christians describe him, is referenced in the plural many times in their own holy books. How does this coincide with the beliefs they are promoting? Let us begin at the beginning, or with Genesis rather, which is the first book of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah.
“And God said, let us make man in our image.” Genesis 1:26
“And the Lord God said, Behold, then man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” Genesis 3:22
“Let us go down, and there confound their language.” Genesis 11:7
Yet, in the verse following Genesis 1:26, god is referenced with a singular pronoun:
“God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
The idea of a plural god can be shown here before the Christian concept of Trinitarian doctrine was introduced. Yet how does this god—whom from the beginning the Jews insisted was only one entity—refer to himself in the plural, contrasting the author who referenced him in the singular? There are a few arguable explanations, but first let us first look at the plural pronouns in the Hebrew Tanakh, or holy book, as these are what is being translated here.
The pronoun used for God in many references is Elohim, a plural form of the Hebrew pronoun El, meaning ‘god’. Rabbi Tovia Singer, director of Outreach Judaism, explains this use according to Hebrew tradition.
“The word Elohim possesses a plural intensive syntax and is singular in meaning. In Hebrew, the suffix ים ( im), mainly indicates a masculine plural. However with Elohim the construction is grammatically singular, (i.e. it governs a singular verb or adjective) when referring to the God of Israel, but grammatically plural elohim (i.e. taking a plural verb or adjective) when used of pagan divinities (Psalms 96:5; 97:7).”
Singer goes on to say that other singular pronouns used throughout the Jewish scriptures also end with the same plural suffix and are paired with singular articles and verbs, a usage known as the ‘plural intensive’. This plurality, as he explains it, is in reference to intensity, not number.
Some critics argue it to be a plural verb of the word for ‘strength’ and thus making this mean ‘the strength of strength’ as used by royalty, as opposed to the plurality of a personal pronoun, though this interpretation is not historically sound. Yet the obvious, initial interpretation cannot be ignored: that the god being quoted is saying exactly what it means and, thus, the text literally means what it says.
The invent of modern Christianity explains these versus by decoding them using the following verse in the 1 John of the New Testament:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” 1 John 5:7
Christian believers who promote the concept of the Trinity claim that these passages could not have been understood until the appearance of Jesus Christ, the second person in the godhead, which is why the concept itself was not mentioned until the New Testament, or the second half of the Christian scripture, which takes place after the life of Christ. They claim the plural pronoun being used with singular verbs are evidence that God is referencing himself in multiple persons, and go even further by assigning a specific number, even though Genesis only mentions ‘us’ and ‘our’, with no explanation as to how many gods are being referred to. Though Christians try to explain the Old Testament references in this manner, it is obvious the followers of Judaism, the religion in whose scripture the verses originally appear, do not ascribe the same meaning to these verses.
This triune concept is puzzling to many, though the question it attempts to answer is even more puzzling. Was there more than one god during the creation described in the Hebrew Torah? If so, which one is the one “true” entity that they worship?
By E.C. Rammel