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What is an Elohim

Posted by Jor-el , 19 August 2010 · 927 views

One of the many questions readers have regarding elohim is what does the word actually mean since it is used in so many different ways in the bible.

Elohim is a strange word in itself. It is neither plural nor singular but both. Only the context of a phrase can determine the meaning of the use to which it is put.

Much like the word "sheep".

The sheep was lost. This is singular because the 3rd person singular "was" is used.
The sheep were taken to slaughter. This is plural because the personal pronoun  in this case is the 3rd person plural ("were").

There is a very good example of this in Psalm 82

1 God (elohim) has taken his place in the divine council;
   in the midst of the gods (elohim), he holds judgment:

2 "How long will you judge unjustly
   and show partiality to the wicked?



Any theory, no matter from what discipline, has to account for all variants in an equation. This is true of mathematics and is also true of Theology. When we interpret  something to which no clear answer is given, we must look at all the evidence and the only theory or theories that account for all aspects can be considered valid.

Elohim stands for God or gods but this word "God" has a variety of meanings and is a "state" rather than a name, as we say in English.

Before I continue with the thought above, let us 1st analyze what we know of the word elohim, beside the grammar, because that is the easy part.

There are 7 different usages given to this word.

1. elohim - God

The standard interpretation of this word is accepted by all scholars to mean God as in the The most High God or Yahweh / El. In nearly all places where the word can be defined by the context to be singular, it is usually a reference to the Most High God. of which we all agree, there is only one. He is the creator and goes by a variety of designations such as El elyon, El shaddai and many more.

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.


2. elohim - Gods

The Gods of the pagan nations were created by Yahweh himself. They are not an illusion and they cannot be dismissed because they appear frequently in the bible. They are part of Gods divine council, but they are corrupt beings, who fight among themselves for power and supremacy here on earth, by using the nations as their tools. Their names may have changed over time, their identities forgotten in some instances, but they are nevertheless the Gods of the pagan nations. Nations to which gods were assigned. 70 Nations, 70 Gods or as the biblical term goes, Sons of God.

Deuteronomy 32:8-9

8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

9 For the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.

To confirm the above we have another.

Deuteronomy 4:19

19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly host—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.

Since the "Host of heaven" refers to these "sons of God". They are essentially the same. Not all sons of God are corrupt but some of them are.

The Torah recognizes the existence of multiple gods who are real enough, because they not only tempt us, but arouse the jealously and wrath of God (Ex 20:3, 20:13, Lev 19:4, Deut 5:7, 6:14, 7:4, 8:19, 11:16, 11:28, 13:3, 13:7, 13:14, 17:3, 18:20, 28:14, 28:36, 28:64, 29:25, 30:17, 31: 16, 31:18, 31:20). Yahweh rules over the other gods (Ex 18:11, Deut 7:10) which is also recognized in the other terms used to identify Him, such as El Elyon.


3. elohim - Angels

Another case of elohim can be seen when it is interpreted as meaning an angel or angels.

Psalm 8:4-5
what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the angels* and crowned him with glory and honor.

The Septuagint, Syriac, Targum, and Jewish tradition translate as angels.


4. elohim - Human Ghost
The case of Samuel appearing to King Saul in his last desperate moments is a famous example.

1 Samuel 28:13

13 The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?" The woman said, "I see a spirit (elohim) coming up out of the ground."

So we have the human dead also being referred to as elohim.


5. elohim - Representations made by man

Another meaning of the word elohim is representations made of gods (Gen 35:2-4) or of Elohim (Ex 32:1-4 & 23). People in those days were not so silly as to believe that the pieces of wood they carved or gold they sculpted had godly properties. When they called them elohim, it was a reification, the way someone today might point at a photograph and say “This is my mother,” not meaning that his mother is a rectangle of developed light-sensitive paper. Some people sometimes do have trouble distinguishing between a reification and the real thing, which is probably why making representations of Elohim is strictly forbidden (Ex 20:4-5, 32:8, 34:17, Lev 19:4, Deut 5:8-9, 9:12-16, 27:15).

Genesis 35:2-4

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone." 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.


6. elohim - Human Judges

The word elohim can also be used for humans, meaning a guide or judge. Moses is Aharon’s elohim (Ex 4:16). Note that the word can be eitther plural or singular, even though there is only one Moses. He is also pharaoh’s elohim, telling him what to do (Ex 7:1). In both of these cases the word elohim is a direct object, not the subject of a phrase, so we can’t know whether the word elohim, is used in the singular, or in the plural.

The same word is used to mean human judges (Ex 21-6 to 22-8). Although the Hebrew language is ambiguous in this matter, these human judges seem to take a plural verb (Ex 22-8), underscoring that the reference here is not to God himself. Thus we can state that they become like the Gods, judging among men. This of-course is a parallel and not a direct reference to men being elohim. They are like elohim. That is very clear, as we can see from this example below.

Exodus 4:16

16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.


7. elohim - Demons

We also find that the term elohim is also applied to demons.

Now the word demon in hebrew is actually the word "Shed" or "Sheddim", which before it was translated to "daemon" due to greek influence was known to mean spirts. Traditionally thought to be the spirits of the dead Nephilim who died in the Flood as well as later when the Nephilim arose again to inhabit the larger area of Canaan.

As can be seen below, they are equated with false gods.

Deuteronomy 32:17

17 They sacrificed to demons (sheddim), not God (Eloah) - gods (elohim) they had not known, gods (elohim) that recently appeared, gods (elohim) your fathers did not fear.


So now we come to the end of this study. What possible meaning could the word "elohim" have that encapsulates all these different uses?

For this we can throw out all the indirect uses of the word as in its application to idols, and humans. These two applications are figurative or metaphorical at best and cannot enter into the equation of what an elohim is.

Yahweh is inherently distinct and superior to all other gods. Yahweh is an elohim (a god), but no other elohim (gods) are Yahweh.

On one level, it is no problem for Yahweh to share attributes with inferior creatures he has created. After all, he does that with respect to us. We mirror the creator in what theologians have often called “communicable” attributes.

Examples would be love, mercy, intelligence, and so forth. Those attributes Yahweh alone possesses are often termed “incommunicable” attributes.

Examples would be omnipotence, self-existence, and omniscience. By definition only one being can be all powerful (omnipotent). If that being’s power is matched by another, then he wouldn’t truly be supreme in power. As the High God shares attributes with us as his creatures, so lesser elohim may share some of his qualities. The former concern is probably more tricky:

How can Yahweh be part of the class of elohim and still be “species unique”?

Answering this question is actually not difficult, but it requires two adjustments in your thinking:

(1) Elohim as a term does not speak of a range of attributes with which we would only associate Yahweh.

(2) The term refers only to a being’s proper plane of existence. The second consideration is crucial, in that it is the key to sorting out how various beings can be described as elohim and yet only one Yahweh exists.

Since the Creator is unique in that he created all other beings, they cannot be said to have the attributes that make God truly unique, ie: omnipotent, self-existent, and omniscient.

Thus the conclusion is;

An elohim is simply a being whose proper habitation is the spirit world.

Aug 19 2010 06:43 PM
I think this is great because so many people think the word simply means "GOD" ...using the sheep example makes this very easy to understand that the word should be examined in the context it is being used....THANKS!
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Fair to say that Elohim is "The Spirit of God?"

In some places we see mentioned "The Angel of the Lord"  -same thing, or said another way, simply- The Holy Spirit.
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Check out pentagrams the 5 points represent Earth, Air, Fire, Water and the uppermost point represents Spirit even when its upside down like say the Logo of the Order of Eastern Stars...which is basically the Seal of The Baphomet and in the position of Spirit you can find the 14th. Hebrew letter which can be seen to be very meaningful when looked at in different languages.  -Samael / Sam A EL..
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Joemama, on 20 August 2010 - 03:10 AM, said:

Fair to say that Elohim is "The Spirit of God?"

In some places we see mentioned "The Angel of the Lord"  -same thing, or said another way, simply- The Holy Spirit.

Actually, I see it in a different light.

The angel of the Lord can have two possible meanings. The 1st being that it is a Christophany.  It refers to the manifestation of God to man as a man or Angel.

1. Genesis 12:7-9–The Lord appeared to Abraham on his arrival in the land God had promised to him and his descendants.

2. Genesis 18:1-33–One day, Abraham had some visitors: two angels and God Himself. He invited them to come to his home, and he and Sarah entertained them. Many commentators believe this could also be a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.

3. Genesis 32:22-30–Jacob wrestled with what appeared to be a man, but was actually God (v. 28-30). This may also have been a Christophany.

Whenever someone received a visit from “the angel of the Lord,” it is frewquently interpreted as the appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. These appearances can be seen in Genesis 16:7-14; Genesis 22:11-18; Judges 5:23; 2 Kings 19:35; and other passages.

The 2nd possibility is that a special angel was dispatched with a specific mission in mind, thus he would be more than a messenger he would be an official represeantative of God, entitles to the term, "Angel of God".

Frequently, the term “glory of the Lord” reflects a theophany, as in Exodus 24:16-18. The term Shekinah of God, is in many instances interpreted as the feminine aspect of God, since it is written in feminine form. This shikinah of God is seen by many to refer to the Holy Spirit.
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