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Will the Real Elohim Please Stand Up?

I have three names: Steven Mark Winter.

A German-born typesetter who emigrated to America, Hubert Blaine Wolfe­schlegel­stein­hausen­berger­dorff Sr., had 27 names, including Xerxes, Nero and Zeus.  He usually went by Hubert Wolfstern to avoid confusion.

But no one has more names than God. One website lists over 1000 names and titles. Some of these you probably already know: Lord, Father, Yahweh, Most High. However, the most common Old Testament name for the Divine Being is Elohim (Elo-HEEM), simply translated as “God” in English Bibles. It occurs over 2500 times, appearing right off the bat in Genesis 1:1“In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”

Interestingly, Elohim doesn’t mean just God with a capital “G.” It can also mean false gods, spiritual beings (such as angels and demons), and even human rulers.

Wait . . . What?!

At this point, you may be thinking, “Huh? The Bible also uses God’s name for fake deities and mere mortals? Yep, it’s true. Here’s a couple of examples:

“You shall have no other gods (elohim) before me…” (Exodus 20:3).

“…both parties are to bring their cases before the judges (elohim)” (Exodus 22:9).

“God (elohim) takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers (elohim)” (Psalm 82:1).

Did you notice something in the last verse? God and the “rulers” — that is, a spiritual assembly in heaven — are both “elohim.”

How can this be? After all, “God is not a man…” (Numbers 23:19). God is not even an angel. Why would the Bible apply the same name to the Transcendent One and the rest of His creation?

We Are Not Amused

Some see a hint of the Trinity in the name of Elohim. They bolster their arguments by pointing to such verses as Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

Who is the “us” and “we” in this passage? Could it be Father, Son and Holy Spirit conferring within the Elohim Godhead? “Elohim,” after all, is a plural noun. “Eloah” is the singular form and related to the root word “El,” which most scholars believe means “power” or “supremacy.”

It’s an intriguing idea, but some scholars reject it. One of my seminary professors taught that when Elohim is applied to God, it means the “plurality of majesty.” That’s certainly a mouthful. Fortunately, there is another phrase for this concept that is far easier to pronounce: “the royal we.”

Maybe you’ve heard the story of Queen Victoria who, after hearing a joke she did not like, snorted, “We are not amused.” Historians aren’t sure she uttered this and it doesn’t really matter, as popes and potentates have been known to use the “royal we” throughout history. It’s an expression of power, a way of bringing in the regal authority of the court.

Elohim of elohims

Other scholars describe this plurality in terms of fullness. God is the “fullest” god there is. You could lump all the gods of the world together and they wouldn’t be able to approach the magnitude of Elohim. Of course, for Jews and Christians, there is only one God – yet human beings have always given deference to other “gods,” such as prestige, wealth, power, pleasure. These are actually idols that will always disappoint because, as C.S. Lewis has noted, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Any elohim outside of the True Elohim is not God. No other god could have reached into an abyss and pulled out earth, sea, sky and stars. No archangel had the power to fashion human beings and imprint them with the very image of divinity. The God of the Bible is the Elohim of elohims. In time, He would reveal His personal name to a stuttering shepherd, and finally launch a rescue mission in person – a mission without precedent in the history of the world.

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