Tuesday, March 9th, 2021
In the opening chapter of Genesis a deity named Elohim displays
their creative glory. Oops. Scratch that. Scratch out the pronoun their. Instead, make it his. The pronoun their is the wrong pronoun, although it is exactly what an ancient scroll-reader might have expected.
And why is that? Why would have an ancient scroll-reader expected a plural pronoun?
It is because Elohim is a plural noun. The word’s ending makes it plural. In Hebrew, the final letter makes it plural. The easiest parallel example in English is the addition of the letter s. By adding the letter s to a noun, we make it plural: blogger – bloggers, student – students, reader – readers. No, not one single student, but students, plural. No not one singular reader, but several readers, plural. Okay, you get it already; don’t you?
But if I were to use a plural noun and a singular verb, it would probably sound annoying to any native speaker. I do not say, “The students likes recess.” Instead, I say, “The students like recess.” I do not say, “My readers hates bad examples.” Instead, I say, “My readers hate bad examples.” We catch grammatical errors when we hear it, even if we cannot explain why they is wrong. Yeah, y’all gets it already; doesn’t you?
Anyway, the same sort of thing is happening with the name Elohim. The vast majority of the time, it is plural in form, and yet consistently singular in use (except on three odd and curious occasions). It should take plural pronouns and plural verb forms. But they doesn’t. I mean, it doesn’t. Actually, I mean, he doesn’t. Elohim is singular in usage (except those three occasions), but plural in form. Why is that? Inquiring minds want to know. Is there a theological insight to be had there? Maybe so.
What makes this all the more intriguing are those three odd and curious occasions in the Book of Genesis when Elohim refers to himself in the plural. The first time is in Genesis 1:26 when Elohim says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” Why now, Elohim? Why do you switch to plural pronouns in this passage?
So I ask yet again: Is there a theological insight to be had here? Maybe so. I suspect so. In light of what we learn about God in the New Testament, I wonder if this is an initial hint (albeit faint) at the Triune nature of God. In case my readers/listeners want to know, the other two odd and curious occasions of divine self-references in the plural from the Book of Genesis can be found at 3:22 and 11:7. In all three instances, Elohim speaks to himself in the plural. Very interesting.
But back to where I started, I go. In the opening chapter of Genesis a deity named Elohim displays
their His glory through an enumerated six-step process of creation. Yes, I am picking my words very, very carefully. Eventually, I am going to zero-in on the word glory, because I think that is the biggest intended take-away from the opening chapter of Genesis. All the hearers and readers of Genesis throughout the centuries are supposed to catch a glimpse of the Majesty and Glory of Elohim. That is intended take-away numero uno. That is the premier point we are meant to perceive. Elohim is quite the impressive deity. Elohim deserves all the credit for creation. Therefore, Elohim must be immensely, unimaginably great. Elohim is magnificently majestic and glorious beyond measure. His glory is on full display in and throughout his Creation. Yeah, y’all gets it already; doesn’t you?
And yet surprisingly, the word glory is nowhere to be found in the first chapter of Genesis. Instead, perhaps we are supposed to come to that conclusion on our own. I mean, I certainly do; don’t you? Any Being that creates everything is pretty impressive, pretty magnificent. Moreover, that Being stands a very good chance of being the Supreme Being. The word glory comes quickly to mind. So I am willing to make that interpretive, theological move. I am suggesting that the best way to understand this section of Genesis is through a set of Glory-Goggles. Am I right?
Well, I will say that I ain’t the first interpreter to do so. Those of you who are familiar with the Psalms may already hear portions of Psalm 8 or Psalm 19 echoing in your inner ear: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” They do. We are wowed at the sight of the night sky. The heavens are awesome to behold. And the question sometimes comes to mind, “Is it possible Someone made all this?” And a follow-up question sometimes accompanies, “Is God actually real?”
The Biblical answer to those questions is yes. Yes, God is the Creator of all this majesty and wonder; and yes, God is real. We are meant to get a glimpse of His glory in Creation.