Learn more about the origin and meaning of the name "Elohim," and why it hints at the Lord's unity and complexity.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26a).
Since the beginning of human history, man has attempted to resolve what philosophers call “the problem of the one and the many.” Is reality just a chaotic jumble of different organisms and objects, or is everything ultimately one? Can we reconcile the complexity of reality with the unified, predictable order we find in the universe?
Relativists typically exalt diversity over unity, teaching that no single comprehensive story can explain all things. However, few consistently hold this view. Scientists conduct experiments with hopes of explaining their observations. Some visit counselors to integrate the various dimensions of our humanity (biological, social, emotional, etc.) in order to live happier lives. Societies want leaders to unite their factions. In sum, men live as if unity and diversity are not opposed.
Only Christianity adequately answers the problem of the one and the many. “God,” in today’s passage, is used as the translation of the Hebrew plural noun Elohim. It can be translated “gods,” but the context demands otherwise. Biblical monotheism, as well as the fact that Elohim is often followed by a singular verb, reveals that Scripture conceives of only one God, even when it uses a plural name for Him.
Why, then, do the biblical authors use Elohim if it is a plural noun? Because the Lord’s character and attributes are multifaceted, Elohim describes the depth of the riches of His being. This use, the plural of intensity, emphasizes His transcendence and His authorship of the world’s diversity. Elohim, as a plural of majesty, highlights God’s oneness. Everything ascribed to deity finds its fullness in Him. He is the “Most High God” because being itself finds expression ultimately in Him. Elohim’s orderly cosmos reveals the order in Himself.
Elohim’s Trinitarian existence most fully demonstrates this principle. Three distinct persons exist harmoniously within God’s one essence. A universe of complexity and harmony exists to manifest His unity and complexity to His glory. Moses may not have had the doctrine of the Trinity in mind when He wrote Genesis, but it is not inconsistent with the name Elohim. This name was not inspired haphazardly, for it hints at His unity and complexity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not just some abstract theological construct, it accounts for why reality is the way it is. Humanity is complex (different sexes, ethnicities, cultures, talents, and so on) and unified (all of us belong to the human race) because we are made in the image of a God who is complex and unified. We find purpose and structure to a varied creation because a structured, multifaceted Lord made the universe.
Passages for Further Study
- Gen. 9:6–7
- Deut. 6:4
- Isa. 6:8
- John 10:22–30
- Acts 5:1–4