"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Q & A – Did Somebody Find the Trinity in the Name of God?

May 30, 2011

in Christianity:,Idolatry,Judaism vs. Christianity,Judaism:,Noahide - The Ancient Path,Questions and Answers,Rabbi Tovia Singer,The Torah

Dear Rabbi Singer,

First, let me say that what you are doing is a great service to Jews and the religious community at large.  You are setting the record straight — one that has needed correction for almost 2000 years!  Thank you.

Yesterday, a Christian business associate made a point that in the very first verse of Genesis G-d is referred to as “Elohim” which is plural.  She also said that it is a plural form of three (something I have never heard before).  That, she concludes, is proof of the Trinity!  Why is G-d’s name plural in this verse?

Answer:

The question with which you were confronted by your business associate is one of the more well-known arguments used by missionaries to defend their most untenable creed, the doctrine of the Trinity.  It is difficult to imagine a notion more hostile to the pure monotheism preached in the Jewish scriptures than the Christian teaching that there is a plurality within the divine nature of God.  Yet, with limited knowledge of the Jewish Bible and the language in which it was written, many Trinitarians brazenly refer to the name of God as it appears in the first verse in the Bible to advance their contention that there are three persons sharing in the godhead.

More specifically, missionaries point to the plural form of the Hebrew wordElohim,1 which is one of the names of God frequently used in the Torah.  They insist that in scripture the use of the Hebrew letters yod and mem (pronounced “im”), at the end of the word Elohim as a plural suffix, provides ample evidence from Tanach that there is a plurality within the nature of God.  Your business associate went out on an even more fragile limb when she proclaimed that this plural syntax is somehow indicative of the “plural form of three.”

I will begin by saying that you can rest assured that the Hebrew tongue is a foreign language to your business associate, and both of her contentions are erroneous.  While her first assertion can be easily explained away by her lack of familiarity with the biblical language, her second point cannot.  Her latter comment that the plural suffix in Elohim is indicative of “a plural form of three” is particularly preposterous, and underscores how frustrated Trinitarians can become in their rash effort to somehow shore up this alien church doctrine.

While I too have never heard any missionary make the astounding claim that plurals somehow mean “a plural form of three,” I could sense from where this irresponsible contrivance is coming.  If you examine the few verses evangelicals use from the Jewish scriptures as they seek to buttress the doctrine of the Trinity, you will notice that none of them, even in Christian terms, speaks of three persons.  In essence, her flawed declaration was born out of a desperate desire to weave the Trinity out of whole Jewish cloth.  This is an impossible task.

Bear in mind, there is no mystery as to the origins of the Trinity, nor is there any secret as to whose loins gave birth to this aberrant creed.  The doctrine of the Trinity emerged out of the crucible of the Catholic Church long after the Christian century.  It is, therefore, no wonder that this pagan doctrine was unknown to authors of the New Testament.  Church history reveals that it was not until three hundred years after the birth of Christianity that the doctrine of the Bianity (325 C.E.) and Trinity (381 C.E.) received formal approval in the Christian community.  These well-documented events occurred under circumstances confused with political agitation and radical dissention.  In essence, the Jewish people never believed in a Trinity, and the church adopted it under enormous political pressure from the most pagan segments of the Catholic Church.  Understandably, missionaries undertake a formidable task when they seek to prove this fourth century doctrine from a radically monotheistic Torah which is timeless.  Let’s examine your business associate’s claim.

There is an enormous difficulty with the interpretation that the name Elohim signifies a sort of plurality in the godhead; for if Elohim implies a plurality of persons, how can missionaries explain that the identical word  Elohim in Tanach refers to Moses as well?  Regarding Moses, in Exodus 7:1, the Torah says,

And the LORD said unto Moses, “See, I have made thee a god (Elohim) to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” (KJV)

Are missionaries going to claim that there was a plurality of persons in Moses?  Is your associate going to insist that Moses was part of a Trinity?  The notion that Moses, who is called Elohim in the Torah, possessed more than one person is preposterous.  Moreover, if the name of God is to signify a plurality in the godhead, why wasn’t the name Je-hova, which is by far the most frequently used name for God in the Jewish scriptures, also written in the plural?  Clearly, this sort of Trinitarian argument is baseless.

The word Elohim possesses a plural intensive syntax and is singular in meaning.  This is self-evident from the fact that the verb “created” (bara) in Genesis 1:1 is in the singular.  This linguistic pattern is well known and widely used throughout the Jewish scriptures.  For example, I am certain that many of our website readers are familiar with the Hebrew word chayim, meaning “life.”  Notice that this word contains the identical plural suffix “im,” as in Elohim, yet it repeatedly means “life”, in the singular, throughout the Bible.  Examples are:

And Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life (chayim) be to me?” (Genesis 27:46)

You have granted me life (chayim) and favor, and Your care has preserved my spirit. (Job 10:12)

The fact that the name of God, Elohim, does not in any way imply a plurality in the godhead is well known and widely recognized even among Trinitarian Christians.  For example, in the New International Version Study Bible (NIV), which is hardly a translation or annotation which could be construed as friendly to the Jewish faith, the Christian author writes in his commentary on Genesis 1:1,

God created.  The Hebrew noun Elohim is plural but the verb is singular, a normal usage in the OT when reference is to the one true God.  This use of the plural expresses intensification rather than number and has been called the plural of majesty, or of potentiality. (New International Version Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985, p.  6.)

Finally, it is important that you understand the crucial message the name Elohim conveys to the Children of Israel.  To clarify, two questions must be answered.  1) Why does the Torah employ this intensive plural name for the Almighty throughout the Torah?  2) Why is this name predominant throughout the creation narrative in the beginning of Genesis?

There is a fundamental principal regarding the many names of the Almighty as they appear in the Torah — they are exalted descriptions of the God of Israel.  The name Elohim, which is no exception to this rule, comes from the Hebrew root el, which means “might” or “power.”  This common root appears in a variety of words throughout the Jewish scriptures.  For example, we find this word used in the famous opening words to Psalm 29, havu la’donai b’naieylim.  This chapter is well known to the Jewish people because the congregation joyously sings this Psalm in the synagogue every Sabbath morning as the Torah is being placed back into the ark.  What do these noble words mean?  “Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty.” (New American Standard Bible)

We can now have deeper understanding of the message behind the sacred name Elohim.  The pagan world ascribed a god for each of the powers in the world which they observed and on whom they depended.  They saw a powerful and perplexing energy emanating from the sun, and they worshiped the sun god.  They craved an abundant harvest and boundless fertility, and they appointed gods for them as well.  The ancients were awestruck by the forces which sustained them, and venerated each of them with mysterious and sometimes gruesome rites.

The Torah of Israel had a very different and uplifting message for mankind.  All the forces and energies in the universe, all the might and power that man could behold, emanated from the One Creator of the universe.  This grand message was contained in the name of God, Elohim.  All the forces of the world emerged from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This God, Creator of all matter, is alone worthy of worship.

It is for this reason that the name of God, Elohim, appears more frequently than any other name of God throughout the first two chapters of Genesis.  In these two chapters the Almighty is creating all the powers and forces which fill the universe.  There is no sun god to be venerated.  In fact, the God Who created the sun on the fourth day created fish on the fifth.

You can now begin to understand why the nation of Israel, to whom God revealed Himself at the foot of Mount Sinai, knew nothing about a plurality of persons in the godhead.  No fact could be more firmly established once all of our literature — both canonical and rabbinical — is taken as a guide.  This matter is indisputable.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Footnote:

1Due to the sanctity of the name of God which appears on this page, please do not print out this article and discard it.

 

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