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Elohim

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Biblical Translation

Names for God can be confusing in the King James Old Testament. Anciently the Jews avoided uttering the name of Jehovah (YHWH) out of reverence for the Lord. They use the substitutes, Adonai, signifying The Lord, or HaShem, which means the Name. This led the King James translators to use the following tradition when translating references to God in the old Testament:

YHWH                    LORD
YH YHWH                 LORD JEHOVAH
Adoni YHWH              Lord GOD
YHWH Elohim             LORD God
Elohim                  God, god, (pagan) gods, or divine

It should be pointed out that in the Hebrew Old Testament as it stands today, the term Elohim was not used as the name of a separate individual. Rather it is simply the Hebrew word used to mean the generic term god and sometimes as an adjective meaning divine. This term is sometimes used for YHWH, as the God (Elohim) of the Old Testament (See Genesis 2 where it is used repeatedly to describe Jehovah), or for God the Father, or even to describe Pagan gods (See Joshua 24:2), sometimes the term elohim was even used as an adjective meaning "divine" or "mighty" (as an example, see the Ancher Bible Commentary's translation for Genesis 1:2). It is sometimes used to describe the Israelite King as a mighty or divinely mandated ruler (and thus as a type of Jesus Christ, the true divine king).

In Hebrew, masculine plural words end in 'im' much as plural words end in an 's' in English. Thus Elohim can be seen as a plural for the Canaanite word El or the Hebrew word Eloah, both of which which mean God. El is used in many names like Bethel (house of God), Michael (who is like God), Daniel (a judge is God), and Israel (to prevail with God). Christ used the word El on the cross when he said, “Eloi” (Mark 15:34), which means “My God.” Just as there are many words in English that are not plural but which end in an s, so the word Elohim can at times be singular or plural. Luckily, verbs and adjectives agree in gender and number with the words they modify, so whether a given reference should be translated as singular or plural can be determined by the singular or plural verbs or adjectives that surround it. For example, in Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God [in Hebrew, Elohim] created the heaven and the earth.” In this case we can tell that Elohim should be translated as a singular because the Hebrew word for create in this verse is masculine singular. Moses 2:1 follows this interpretation. However, in Abraham 4 (which was likely based on a different textual tradition) the term "gods" plural is used throughout the creation account. This seems to indicate that the doctrine of The Plurality of Gods is a true and revealed doctrine, we should be cautious in seeing that doctrine in every use of the Hebrew term Elohim.

Modern LDS Usage

The name Jehovah is today used to represent the premortal Jesus Christ who came to earth as a son of Mary while the term Elohim is used almost exclusively as a name for God the Father, although this is not the way it is used in the Old Testament as we now have it. It seems as if this LDS traditional usage began with the Endowment when Joseph Smith needed a distinct name for God the Father and chose to use the term Elohim to refer to Him. Although this name is appropriate for God the Father, it is important to not retroactively apply this usage to the Old Testament (For example, see Genesis 2:9 where the term Elohim is applied to Jehovah).

Although the Old Testament as we have it today does not use the term Elohim as the name of a distinct individual from Jehovah, Margaret Barker, a non-LDS Biblical scholar has proposed that the earliest Biblical traditions differentiated between El (the Father) and Jehovah (the Son)[1]. If she is correct, then the lack of distinction between Elohim and Jehovah evident in the Old Testament as it stands today is a deviation from an earlier tradition which matches with modern LDS usage.

References

  1. Margaret Barker, Temple Theology
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