Elohim with plural verb

rickclayfan

Puritan Board Freshman
I was wondering if the Hebraists here would be able to help me with the following texts: Gen 20:13; 35:7; 2 Sam 7:23; Ps 58:12. There you will find Elohim paired with a plural verb or participle. Could this perhaps be an OT allusion to the Trinity?
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
Yes. Although most of the Reformed Orthodox were of the opinion that Elohim always references the Trinity. Zanchi in De natura Dei for example.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
It is etymologically possible at times, though I would caution against reading a full-orbed Trinitarianism back into some of the passages. Take the favorite from Genesis 1. If the plural Elohim actually refers to the three persons, then you have one of the persons telling new material to the other two persons. This runs against the Trinitarianism of the Cappadocians which posited one mind, will, and energy of operation with the divine nature. If they have one mind, then why is one person telling the other two what the other two already know?
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
It is etymologically possible at times, though I would caution against reading a full-orbed Trinitarianism back into some of the passages. Take the favorite from Genesis 1. If the plural Elohim actually refers to the three persons, then you have one of the persons telling new material to the other two persons. This runs against the Trinitarianism of the Cappadocians which posited one mind, will, and energy of operation with the divine nature. If they have one mind, then why is one person telling the other two what the other two already know?
I don't know that it follows from the hypothesis that Elohim has reference to the three persons that in words attributed to them they must be talking to one another, any more than it would follow come the opposite hypothesis that God is talking to himself. Couldn't it alternatively be said "if God is one mind, why is he telling himself something he already knows"? The force of the passage is that God is speaking things into existence, not that any or all the persons of the Trinity are learning something, regardless of the connotations of Elohim.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Couldn't it alternatively be said "if God is one mind, why is he telling himself something he already knows"?

Yes. That was exactly my criticism (and it is one of the main criticisms of the Pactum Salutis).
The force of the passage is that God is speaking things into existence, not that any or all the persons of the Trinity are learning something, regardless of the connotations of Elohim.

Agreed, which is why I don't believe reading the Trinity into "Elohim" is the soundest move.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Here is what Geerhardus Vos, who was no beginner in Near Eastern languages (he had a PhD in Arabic studies), says:

The ending im is a plural ending. The singular is Eloah and appears first in the later books of the Bible as a poetical form. The plural ending does not point to an earlier polytheistic conception, but signifies the plenitude of power and majesty there is in God.​
[...]​
Why must we not seek a decisive proof for the Trinity in the Old Testament?

a) Because Old Testament revelation was not finished but only preparatory. The perfect comes only at the end.​
b) Under the Old Testament’s dispensation the concept of the oneness of God had to be deeply impressed upon Israel’s consciousness in the face of all polytheistic inclinations.​
c) We must not imagine that the Old Testament saints were able to read in the Old Testament everything that we can read there in the light of the New. Yet, what we read in it is clearly the purpose of the Holy Spirit, for He had the Scripture of the Old Testament written not only for then but also for now.​

[...]​
Which traces of the doctrine of the Trinity can we nevertheless discover in the Old Testament?
...The plural form of this name Elohim (see Eloah).​
Since Peter Lombard many have found a proof for the Trinity in this form. For example, Luther, but not Calvin. Elohim, however, is used of Father and Son (see Psa 45:8); the name also appears for people and idols (Exod 22:8, 1 Sam 28:13). The plural is to be understood intensively, as "heavens," "waters" are extensive. It points to the inexhaustible fullness of God, and is therefore a pluralis majestatis in the deeper sense of the word.​
—Geerhardus Vos, Theology Proper, ed. Annemie Godbehere, Roelof van Ijken, and Kim Batteau, trans. Richard B. Gaffin, vol. 1, Reformed Dogmatics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 3, 38-39; italics original.​
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
Yes. That was exactly my criticism (and it is one of the main criticisms of the Pactum Salutis).


Agreed, which is why I don't believe reading the Trinity into "Elohim" is the soundest move.
I'm saying whether God is considered as one or three the same criticism could be leveled. If three, why is the Father saying this to the Son and the Holy Spirit? If considered as one, why is he telling himself what to do? Zanchi writes that the Trinity is in view because creation is a shared work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If three, why is the Father saying this to the Son and the Holy Spirit? If considered as one, why is he telling himself what to do?

That's my point. I don't believe God is talking to himself in Genesis. I believe he is talking with the divine council, the beney ha-elohim. I understand there are difficulties with that view, and I have defended it elsewhere on PB, but it is backed up by many critical Hebraists. Waltke's syntax walks through why it can't be plural majesty/Trinity.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I would take the revelation of plurality in the OP texts as a signal of the internal consistency of the Bible but not as a fully-formed doctrine of the Trinity. That there is communication within the Trinity becomes clearer with the prayers of Jesus to his Father and the interaction of the Trinity at his Baptism. Professor Vos' restraint in interpreting these Old Testament passages within their place in redemptive history should be observed.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Here is what Geerhardus Vos, who was no beginner in Near Eastern languages (he had a PhD in Arabic studies), says:

The ending im is a plural ending. The singular is Eloah and appears first in the later books of the Bible as a poetical form. The plural ending does not point to an earlier polytheistic conception, but signifies the plenitude of power and majesty there is in God.​
[...]​
Why must we not seek a decisive proof for the Trinity in the Old Testament?

a) Because Old Testament revelation was not finished but only preparatory. The perfect comes only at the end.​
b) Under the Old Testament’s dispensation the concept of the oneness of God had to be deeply impressed upon Israel’s consciousness in the face of all polytheistic inclinations.​
c) We must not imagine that the Old Testament saints were able to read in the Old Testament everything that we can read there in the light of the New. Yet, what we read in it is clearly the purpose of the Holy Spirit, for He had the Scripture of the Old Testament written not only for then but also for now.​

[...]​
Which traces of the doctrine of the Trinity can we nevertheless discover in the Old Testament?
...The plural form of this name Elohim (see Eloah).​
Since Peter Lombard many have found a proof for the Trinity in this form. For example, Luther, but not Calvin. Elohim, however, is used of Father and Son (see Psa 45:8); the name also appears for people and idols (Exod 22:8, 1 Sam 28:13). The plural is to be understood intensively, as "heavens," "waters" are extensive. It points to the inexhaustible fullness of God, and is therefore a pluralis majestatis in the deeper sense of the word.​
—Geerhardus Vos, Theology Proper, ed. Annemie Godbehere, Roelof van Ijken, and Kim Batteau, trans. Richard B. Gaffin, vol. 1, Reformed Dogmatics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 3, 38-39; italics original.​

It is my understanding that Vos' opinion is in the minority within the Reformed world. Is that correct?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
It is my understanding that Vos' opinion is in the minority within the Reformed world. Is that correct?
Depends on what time period. Calvin agreed with Vos, though the post-Reformation held a different view. I would suspect that modern Reformed would be closer to Calvin and Vos, given the advances in Hebrew syntax.
 

rickclayfan

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for the responses. I see that the thread has focused more on Elohim than the plural verb. Typically Elohim is paired with a singular verb and I was curious why the authors sometimes use the plural verb instead of the expected singular.
 

EuphratesRiver

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for the responses. I see that the thread has focused more on Elohim than the plural verb. Typically Elohim is paired with a singular verb and I was curious why the authors sometimes use the plural verb instead of the expected singular.

I don't pretend to know Hebrew (or linguistic for that matter), but from what I've read is that it is normal for the verb to follow the noun in gender and number. However, in Scripture, this rule has an exception when it refers to God alone and should be followed in the singular action. It would follow that since Elohim refers to God, by affixing a plural ending to the following verb would indicate that Elohim refers to multiple deities performing an action together, rather than presenting a pluralis excellentiae. This appears at first glance to be a problem, since it is normal throughout the biblical data to present a singular case after the this exceptional plural noun. I don't know if this would indicate an allusion to the Trinity, but it is at least a plausible answer. I thought I would comment to revive this thread so that someone with expertise may share their input, for I am curious now!
 
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