Some teach that certain divine names in the Bible have a holiness all of their own, but is this entirely correct? While we might recognise 'Yahweh' as a particular name of significance ('a' and 'e' added, no vowels in the original!), does this apply to all of the biblical descriptions of God?

In particular, is 'Elohim' one of God's “holy names” as some teach?

'ELOHIM' is the first name for God to be found within the Old Testament, and it is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures on over 2,000 occasions. The Hebrew root of the word indicates "strength" or "power", and it is masculine plural in form. In Genesis 1:1, we read, 'In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.' Right from the start, this plural form for the name of God is used to describe the One God, which many Bible expositors (by no means all) see as an indication of the Holy Trinity. Elohim is often combined with other words to describe certain characteristics of God. Some examples: Elohay Kedem - God of the Beginning: (Deuteronomy 33:27), Elohim Kedoshim - Holy God: (Leviticus 19:2, Joshua 24:19). Elohim Chaiyim - Living God: (Jeremiah 10:10). Elohay Elohim - God Of Gods: (Deuteronomy 10:17).

How much more do we know about this fascinating word? Well, it seems as though this word is closely related to the Arabic, 'Allah.' But perhaps even more surprisingly, both of these words appear to have their origin in pagan deities of the ancient past.

Webster’s Dictionary gives the definition and etymology of Allah in the following general manner: Allah is the Muslim name for "the God." Allah is derived from two words "al," which means "the" and "ilah," which is related to the feminine Hebrew word for God, "eloah."The Hebrew title or name for God is 'Elohim' and it is the plural form of 'Eloah' - It is made plural by adding "im," which is masculine. This corresponds to adding "s" to make a word plural in English. So the commonality between Allah and Elohim is "Eloah" and "Ilah." When the masculine plural ending 'im' is dropped from the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, the two words sound much alike. Eloah (Hebrew feminine) is similar to Ilah (God). But both Elohim and Allah appear to be titles rather than names!

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica says this,

'Elohim, the plural of the Hebrew word eloha, "god," a lengthened form of the Canaanite word el (Aramaic alaha; Arabic ilah), is most frequently used for the God of Israel in the Old Testament. … The Israelites probably borrowed the Canaanite plural noun elohim and made it singular in meaning in their cultic practices and theological reflections' (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Vol. III, 15th Edition, p. 863).

Why was a word which had ancient pagan associations used? But we might ask a similar thing about the word, 'God'! This term also has pagan associations and many Christians will speak of 'God' (meaning the true Eternal God) in almost the same sentence in which they may refer to the 'false gods' of the pagans or of the present society; they will deem that just changing from a capital 'G' to a lower-case 'g' (which does not show in normal oral communication) is sufficient to denote the difference.

This tells us that Moses had no problem in using a word with earlier pagan connections because the most important thing was to communicate truth, therefore we are bound to conclude that there is nothing intrinsically holy about either 'Elohim' or, indeed, 'God'. It is simply how these words are used. However, we should note that the plurality of the noun 'Elohim' refers to three or more but cannot refer to two; in that case, the dual form of 'Elohiam' would be used. So 'El' is the singular form, 'Elohiam' the dual form but 'Elohim' the true plural form. This tends to legislate against the argument of some who claim that 'Elohim' simply refers to the Father and the Word, denying the Holy Trinity.

Robin A. Brace, 2005.

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