Plurality in the Old Testament

An Examination of God’s Uniplurality in light the Hebrew Bible’s Use of Plurals

Sam Shamoun

In several articles and rebuttals we have presented evidence which we feel conclusively shows that the Hebrew Bible presents a Triune Godhead, that there are three (and only three) distinct Persons identified as Yahweh God. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to Yahweh, Yahweh’s Angel, and Yahweh’s Spirit as distinct Persons, all of whom are fully God. To read the data that establishes this position please consult the following (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

In this article we want to focus our attention on the Bible’s use of plural nouns, verbs, adjectives etc., to see how they lend further support for our premise that the God revealed in the OT is a multi-Personal Being.

Our examination of the use of plurals is not intended to stand on its own, that these plurals by themselves are sufficient enough to prove that God is a multi-Personal Being. Instead, the biblical use of plurals is intended to supplement the evidence already presented which conclusively demonstrates that the God revealed in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures is tri-Personal.

Basically, the existence of such plurals is actually what we would expect to find if the Bible does present a Triune God. In other words, if our arguments regarding there being more than one Divine Person existing as God are exegetically sound, then it should not come as a surprise to find the Holy Bible speaking of God in the plural, i.e. we would expect to find plural nouns, verbs, adjectives being used for God to denote the fact that he is a multi-Personal Being.

Someone may interject and claim that these plurals would actually prove that there are multiple Gods, not multiple Persons of God. This would be a valid objection had it not been for the fact that the Bible clearly and emphatically teaches that there is only one God (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 37:16, 20; 46:9-11; Mark 12:29-32; John 5:44, 17:3; Romans 3:30; Galatians 3:20, 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19). What this suggests is that the Bible writers used plurals, not because they intended to convey the notion that there is more than one God, but because they were trying to communicate the truth that God exists as multiple Persons. They communicated this divinely revealed truth by expressing it in the thought patterns and categories of the Hebrew language.

In the biblical world of the Hebrews they didn’t use terms such as persons and beings as distinct categories whereby they could communicate the fact of God existing as one Being in three different Persons. They would therefore need to relay this truth in a manner appropriate to the Hebrew mindset and language, and one way to do that would be to refer to God by using both by singular and plural nouns, verbs etc.

The first kind of plurals we will look at is that of nouns, since there are many places in the Holy Bible where plural nouns are used for Yahweh God. We start off by analyzing the heart of Jewish and Christian monotheism known as the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4. Here is the Hebrew transliteration of this OT monotheistic creedal confession:

Shema Yisrael Yahweh Eloheinu Yahweh Echad

A literal translation of the above would be:

"Hear, O Israel; Yahweh [is] our Gods, Yahweh is a Unity."

The Hebrew word Eloheinu, which we translated as "our Gods," is the 1st person plural declension of Elohim. Elohim, as most people know, is a plural noun which is regularly translated as God when referring to the one and only God, Yahweh. One Reformed Jewish source made the following interesting claim regarding this specific word:

Eloheinu is the first-person plural possessive form of the Hebrew noun Elohim, which is translated "God" but literally means "our God." Yet strangely, this plural noun is virtually always translated as a singular. Our mystics understood this to be the One manifesting as the many. (Lev Sham Tov, "Life At Its Highest" by Ted Falcon as seen in Reform Jewish Magazine; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The word that we rendered as Unity is Echad. Echad functions precisely like our English word one, and can refer to either a solitary unity or to a compound one. Places where Echad is used as a uni-plural, a compound unity, include:

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (basar echad)." Genesis 2:24

Two distinct persons of flesh come together to form a unity.

"Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people (‘am echad)… Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people (‘am echad)--when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised." Genesis 34:16, 22

Two groups of people, the Israelites and the Shechemites, come together to form one people.

"Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one (echad); God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one (echad).’" Genesis 41:25-26

Pharaoh’s dreams are one, a unity.

It may be worth noting that a medieval Jewish Rabbi and Scholar named Moses Maimonides substituted the word echad for yachid (a word which can mean unique, solitary, only one etc.) when articulating the Jewish position regarding God’s unity. However, this very change, or the fact that Maimonides felt the need to insert yachid in the place of echad, betrays the fact that the Christians had a strong argument based on the original form. Maimonides seemed to be aware that echad could function as a uniplural, suggesting a plurality-within-unity, and chose another word that he thought would more strongly emphasize that God is a singularity or a solitary existence. Messianic Scholar Dr. Michael Brown writes:

"Actually, ’echad simply means ‘one,’ exactly like our English word ‘one.’ While it can refer to compound unity (just as our English word can, as in one team, one couple, etc.), it does not specifically refer to compound unity. On the other hand, ‘echad certainly does not refer to the concept of absolute unity, an idea expressed most clearly in the twelfth century by Moses Maimonides, who asserted that the Jewish people must believe that God is yachid, an ‘only’ one. There is no doubt that this reaction was due to exaggerated, unbiblical, ‘Christian’ beliefs that gave Jews the impression Christians worshiped three gods. Unfortunately, the view of Maimonides is reactionary and also goes beyond what is stated in the Scriptures. In fact, there is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible that clearly or directly states that God is an absolute unity." (Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI, 2000], Volume Two, p. 4)

The Shema is not the only place where the plural is used for God. There are other references which refer to Yahweh as being Gods or Lords such as:

"For the LORD your God is Gods (Eloheh) of gods and Lords (Adoneh) of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe." Deuteronomy 10:17

Yahweh is the Gods and Lords of all the other gods and lords!

One of the most frequent names for God is El, i.e. El Shaddai, and often forms part of a person’s name such as Immanu-El, Isra-El etc. In at least two places the plural form is used in reference to God:

"Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of Gods (Elim), Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength." Psalm 29:1

"For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD? Who among the sons of Gods (Elim) is like the LORD," Psalm 89:6

Elim is the plural of El and literally means Gods or the Mighty Ones.

How do we therefore account for the use of all these plural nouns for the one true God? There are basically two explanations which can be proffered, two explanations why plural nouns are used for Yahweh, as well as for other persons or entities.

Plural words such as Elohim can function either as a numerical plural, referring to more than one God or god as in the following texts:

"Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods (ha elohim), because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people." Exodus 18:11

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

Or it can function as an intensive plural, a plural of intensification, denoting that all the fulness of the Deity is focused or concentrated in the one God, "the highest God," "the quintessence of all divine powers," "the only God who represents the divine in a comprehensive and absolute way."

When the plural such as Elohim is used for the true God it is often used as an intensive plural, and most individuals would want to view the use of plurals in such places as Deuteronomy 6:4 in this manner. These same individuals would want to render the Shema in the following way:

"Hear, O Israel; Yahweh [is] our God, Yahweh Alone."

Now we fully agree that Yahweh alone is God and there is none besides him:

"To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God (Elohim); there is no other besides him… know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God (Elohim) in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other." Deuteronomy 4:35, 39

"‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?’" Isaiah 43:10-13

"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.’" Isaiah 44:6-8

"I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other… Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me." Isaiah 45:5-6, 21

Yet the primary reason why we translated the nouns in the above citations as numerical plurals is because we believe there is good evidence from the Hebrew Scriptures to show that these nouns should be taken as denoting a numerical plurality within God, not in the sense that Yahweh consists of many gods, but that there is actually more than one Divine Person who is Yahweh. Basically, we feel that the evidence is quite strong in supporting the premise that the reason why plurals such as Elohim are used in many places is because the Bible writers knew that there is a plurality of Divine Persons who exist as Yahweh God. We have documented many of the evidences and reasons in our papers dealing with the Trinity which are listed above. In this article, we will provide some additional evidence from the Holy Bible to support our premise, specifically passages where more than one Divine Person appears in the very same text or context.

But before we proceed to the evidence we need to repeat this point lest the reader misunderstands our position. We are not saying that every single occurrence (or even the majority of the occurrences) of these plurals refers to God being a multi-Personal Entity. There are places where the plurals clearly refer to one specific member of the Godhead as in the following:

"In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) was hovering over the face of the waters." Genesis 1:1-2

Here, Elohim cannot be referring to the distinct members of the Godhead collectively since the Spirit is distinguished from Elohim, and yet we know from other passages of Scripture that the Spirit is one of these Divine Persons of God. Therefore, Elohim must be a reference to at least one specific member, particularly the Father, as opposed to the others.

Yet in the very same chapter the author uses Elohim in a collective sense to refer to the Divine members of the Godhead:

"Then God said, ‘Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So GOD created man in HIS OWN image, in the image of GOD HE created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:26-27

God uses the plural pronouns when he comes to create man, an act which we know he performed by himself:

"then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature… So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man." Genesis 2:7, 21-22

And yet we are also told that God’s own Spirit, who is mentioned in Genesis 1:2, created man:

"The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Job 33:4

We therefore have very strong grounds to conclude that the use of the plural pronouns is because the Divine Persons of God were communicating with one another in their deliberation regarding man’s creation. Basically this means that the inspired author used Elohim in reference to the entire Godhead, not simply as an intensive plural.

Other places where Elohim applies to the entire Godhead include the following:

"For God (Elohim) knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God (Elohim), knowing good and evil.’ … Then the LORD God (Yahweh Elohim) said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of US in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-’" Genesis 3:5, 22

To be like God is to be like one of the "Us", indicating that God is somehow a plurality-within-unity. Here is a reference to Yahweh speaking of himself in the plural:

"And the LORD (Yahweh) CAME DOWN to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD (Yahweh) said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let US GO DOWN and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth." Genesis 11:5-9

The LORD by himself comes down to confound the people and the city, and yet the LORD who came down is clearly a plural entity.

For more on Genesis 1:26-27 and the other verses using plural pronouns, as well as our responses to some objections raised against our position, please read this paper.

It is time to turn our focus on the use of plural verbs, participles and/or adjectives. The next set of passages all use either plural verbs, participles or adjectives for God providing additional support that Yahweh is multi-Personal:

Genesis 20:13

"And when God (Elohim) caused me to wander (hit’uw) from my father's house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.’"

The verb hit`uw, translated "cause to wander", is the plural of ta`u. The text can therefore be translated, "When they, Gods (Elohim), caused me to wander from my father’s house."

Genesis 35:7

"and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God (Elohim) had revealed himself (nigluw) to him when he fled from his brother."

The verb which modifies God (Elohim) is nigluw (revealed) and is the plural of gla, which means that the verse is more literally rendered as, "Gods, They revealed themselves to him."

It shouldn’t surprise the readers that both Abraham and Jacob could use such plurals for God since these men were aware that their God was(is) multi-Personal. For instance, Jacob knew that Yahweh had an Angel who was also God:

"In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’" Genesis 31:10-13

He even invoked this very same Angel to bless his son and grandchildren:

"And he blessed Joseph and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, THE ANGEL who has redeemed me from all evil, BLESS the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’" Genesis 48:15-16

Jacob uses the singular verb for bless even though he has two distinct entities in mind, namely God and the Angel!

Exodus 33:14-15

"And he said, "My Face they will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If your Faces, they will go not with me, do not bring us up from here.’" Exodus 33:14-15

We present the transliteration for this passage:

Wayo'mar Paanay yeeleekuw wahªnichotiy laak Wayo'mer 'eelaayw 'Im- 'eeyn paaneykaa holªkiym 'al- ta`ªleenuw mizeh

The words, yeeleekuw and holªkiym, are plural of yalak, and literally say "they will go."

One may take the plural as a reference to Yahweh, the Angel and the Holy Spirit who all went ahead of Israel to prepare their way:

"Behold, I send AN ANGEL before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out," Exodus 23:20-23

"And when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory." Numbers 20:16

"But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name." Isaiah 63:10-14

Joshua 24:19

"But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God (Elohim Qadoshim hu). He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.’"

Holy is the plural adjective Qadoshim ("Holy Ones") and can be translated as, "Gods, the Holy Ones is he."

2 Samuel 7:23

"And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went (haalªkuw Elohim) to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?"

The words "God went" is plural and literally says, "Gods, they went to redeem."

Psalm 42:5-6, 11

"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar… Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."

Psalm 43:4-5

"Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."

In the above passages, "my salvation" (yeshu‘ohth), "my God" (Elohai), "O God, my God" (Elohim Elohai)" are plural and literally read, "my salvations and my Gods," and "O Gods, my Gods."

Psalm 58:11

"Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God (Elohim) who judges (shophetim) on earth.’"

David uses the plural verb shophetim, implying that the passage should read, "Gods, They judge the earth."

We will include a transliteration of the Hebrew for the next particular texts.

Job 35:10

"But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker (`osaay), who gives songs in the night,’"

Wªlo'- 'aamar 'Ayeeh 'Elowah `osaay noteen zªmirowt balaayªlaah

The word ‘osaay is the plural participle of asa’ and refers to "my Makers."

The author of Job clearly knew of more than one Person who was the Maker of all things:

"Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit." Job 10:8-12

"The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Job 33:4

Yahweh and his Spirit made man, and yet Yahweh alone is the Creator according to Job:

"who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who ALONE stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;" Job 9:7-9

"Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not ONE fashion us in the womb?" Job 31:15

Psalm 149:2

"Let Israel be glad in his Maker (bª`osaayw ); let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!"

Yismach Yisraa'eel bª`osaayw Bªneey- Tsiyown yaagiyluw bªmalkaam

The text literally says "his Makers" because it is a plural participle.

The Psalms, much like the book of Job, identify more than one Person or Entity as the Cause of all creation:

"By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the Breath/Spirit (ruach) of his mouth all their host." Psalm 33:6

God, His Word, and His Spirit created the constellations.

"When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground." Psalm 104:30

God sends forth his Spirit to create and renew the earth.

Isaiah 54:5

"For your Maker (`Osayik) is your Husband (bo`ªlayik), the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called."

Kiy bo`ªlayik `Osayik Yahweh tsªbaa'owt shªmow Wªgo'ªleek Qªdowsh Yisraa'eel 'Eloheey kaal- haa'aarets yiqaaree'

The word `Osayik is the plural participle of asa’ and bo`ªlayik is the plural noun form of baal, and should therefore read, "For your Makers are your Husbands."

The prophet Isaiah agrees with the other inspired writers that Yahweh alone created and, since Yahweh is a multiplicity-within-unity, he was also aware of more than one Divine Person as being responsible for creation:

"For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest." Isaiah 32:14-15

"Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who made all things, who ALONE stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth BY MYSELF,’" Isaiah 44:24

"Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together." Isaiah 48:12-13

Ecclesiastes 12:1

"Remember also your Creator (bowrª'eykaa) in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’;" Ecclesiastes 12:1

Uwzkor 'et- bowrª'eykaa biymeey bªchuwroteykaa `ad 'ªsher lo'- yaabo'uw yªmeey haaraa`aah wªhigiy`uw shaaniym 'ªsher to'mar 'Eeyn- liy baahem cheepets—

Bowrª'eykaa is a plural participle and is literally "your Creators."

These plurals do not at all come as a shock or surprise to the Trinitarian, since we expect to find such things if indeed the Holy Bible teaches God’s uniplurality. It is the Unitarian, the anti-Trinitarian, who should be troubled and shocked to find such phenomena.

This concludes the first part. In the next section we will present some texts where more than one Divine Person appear together in the same set of passages.

Continue with Part 2.

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