PLURALITY  IN  THE  HEBREW  GODHEAD

 

          The first name for God given in the Bible is Elohim.  It is a plural word having the primary meaning of “gods,” and, thus, it reflects the lingering influence of polytheism in the Hebrew Scriptures.

 

          In Egypt religion evolved toward monotheism and did so by first grouping nine gods into a Paut, a “great Company.”  (The nine-fold Paut of Heliopolis, the center of sun worship, consisted of the deities Ra, Nut, Shu, Seb, Tefnut, Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Set.)  Gradually this Ennead (triple Triad) was merged into a single Godhead by the name of “Neter.”  The hieroglyphic symbol of Neter was an Axe, and this word is now translated as “God.”  Thus the ancient Egyptian Godhead was a Triple Trinity, and it seems obvious that this idea must have had some influence upon the Hebrews’ choice of the plural term Elohim.

 

          It is also likely that the concept of the Ennead resurfaced in medieval Judaism as the pluralized Divinity of Cabalism.  These Jewish mystics conceived of the Godhead as a Triple Trinity, the Persons of which were named as follows: Wisdom, Reason, Beauty, Mercy, Severity, Foundation, Victory, Glory, and Kingdom.

 

          When the Hebrews constructed a golden bull during the Exodus from Egypt, the high priest Aaron proclaimed, “These are your gods (elohim) that brought you out of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4).  That is how English translations render it, but since there was only one golden image, Aaron would have really said, “This is your God (Elohim)...

 

          Another pagan contribution to the plural term Elohim was the concept of the Divine Assembly.  In ancient Mesopotamian scriptures, any major undertaking of the gods was first preceded by calling together a Great Council of the divinities.  It was just such a Council that decreed the selection of Marduk to fight the Cosmic Dragon.  Also, another one made the decision to bring on the great Flood.  Thus, in the Bible when the Hebrew God, Yahweh, is about to perform some wondrous act, He also convenes a Council, and He speaks as though the Council were manifested in Himself - a pluralized Being.

 

          Let Us make man in Our image...                Gen. 1:26

 

          Behold, man has become like one of Us...    Gen. 3:22

 

          Come, let Us go down...                              Gen. 11:7

 

          The idea of a Divine Council was retained by the Hebrews, but they set their God at its Head as the chief Deity, i.e., “the God of gods.”

 

          Yahweh is greater than all gods...               Ex. 18:11

 

          Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords...

                                                                             Deut. 10:17

 

          God has taken His place in the Divine Council.  In the midst of the    gods He holds judgment.                                       Ps. 82:1

 

          Who among the sons of gods is like Yahweh, the God feared in the     Council of the holy ones.                              Ps. 89:6b-7a

 

          Have you listened in the Council of God?    Job 15:8

 

          Who among them has stood in the Council of Yahweh...?

                                                                             Jer. 23:18

 

          Plural terms in Hebrew could also connote magnitude.  For example, the name of a mythical creature, Behemoth, should be understood as “Great Beast,” but its simple meaning is just “beasts” in the plural.  Likewise, Elohim may be “Great God,” or simply “gods,” or even “angels.”  This has caused diverse renderings of one particular psalm.

 

          You (God) have made him (man) a little less than the gods  (elohim).

                                                                             Ps. 8:5

 

          In translating this verse the Septuagint rendered elohim as “angels,” and this was also the choice of the King James Version.  In the Revised Standard Version, however, the term elohim in this psalm is rendered as “God.”  (There are no capital letters in Hebrew, so the distinction between Elohim and elohim cannot be made.)

 

          A plurality in the Godhead was also recognized in the creedal Jewish statement of faith, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God (Elohim), the Lord is a Unity (Echad).  The Hebrew term dc=a3 (echad) means “one,” “one of a kind,” or “unity.”  It is taken from the word dc-a= (achad) meaning “to unify.”

 

          Christians maintain that the Threefold Nature of Godhead was revealed even in the Hebrew Scriptures:

 

          a. The world was made by the Triune God, according to the Psalmist (33:6).  His Names were “Yahweh” and “Word” and “Breath (Spirit).”

 

          b. “Holy, holy, holy,” was the threefold adulation of Godhead by the Seraphim (Isa. 6:3).

 

          c. To Abraham the Patriarch, three mysterious “Men” appeared  (Gen. 18:2), and the Three were called “They” (18:9) and “He” (18:10) and “Yahweh” (18:13).  These Divine Beings promised Abraham an heir.

 

          d. To Samuel the Prophet, God called three times in the night (1 Sam. 3:4-9).

 

          In the New Testament, the Man, Jesus, came from God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

                                                                                       Richard L. Atkins

 

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THREE-MAN  GROUPINGS

 

Three “men” appeared to Abraham.

 

Three youths were thrown into a fiery furnace by a Persian king.

 

Three gentile Wise Men worshiped the baby Jesus.

 

          Gifts of the Magi:            Gold              Frankincense       Myrrh

 

          Representing Jesus’:        Royalty          Divinity               Mortality

 

          Aspects Of Godhead:      Father            Holy Spirit           Christ

 

          Names of Wise Men:       Caspar           Balthasar             Melchior

 

          Their National Origin:      India              Arabia                 Persia

 

               or (per Bede)             Europe          Africa                  Asia

 

          Racial Representation:     Japheth          Ham                    Shem

          (Biblical)                         (Aryan)        (Hamitic)               (Semitic)

 

 

 

 

 

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