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Ask a Scholar: What Does YHWH Elohim Mean?

Sep 21, 2010 |  Mark D. Futato

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Ask a Scholar: What Does YHWH Elohim Mean?

Sep 21, 2010 | 

Mark D. Futato

Dear Ask a Scholar,

If Elohim refers to multiple 'gods,' then Yhwh Elohim really means Lord of Gods...the one of many, right?

- Boyd Stough, College of Charleston

Answered by Mark D. Futato, Robert L. Maclellan Professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Dr. Futato received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Semitic Languages from the Catholic University of America. He specializes in Hebrew language and is author of the book Beginning Biblical Hebrew (Eisenbrauns, 2003).

Let's take a look at the meaning of YHWH Elohim.

First, YHWH is a proper noun, the personal name of Israel's deity. Second, Elohim is a common noun, used to refer to deity.

Elohim is actually a plural noun (indicated by the /im/ as in cherubim and seraphim). Sometimes the referent is plural. At other times the referent is singular. Like most words in English, Elohim can mean several things. Sometimes Elohim refers to plural "gods," as in "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deuteronomy 5:7). At other times it refers to the singular "God," as in "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). It is clear in this latter example that even though the form of the word Elohim is plural, the referent is singular, because the verb with which Elohim is used ("created") is singular in Hebrew.

So, why the plural form if the referent is singular? The best answer is that this is an "honorific plural," that is to say, a plural used to show honor to a singular referent. Such an honorific plural is used for humans in texts like 1Kings 1:43, where we read, "our lord King David." The Hebrew word translated "lord" in this case is plural, even though it refers to the singular David. This honorific plural is also used of God elsewhere in texts like Psalm 8:1, where we read, "O LORD, our Lord…." In this text "LORD" (small caps) translates YHWH, while "Lord" translates a common noun for "master," which is in this text plural in form though referring to the singular YHWH. So Psalm 8:1 could be translated "O YHWH, our Master…."

So, YWHW is the true God's personal name, and Elohim by itself is simply the Hebrew common noun used to refer to the true God in an honorific way. Now, what about the combination YHWH Elohim?

First, YHWH Elohim cannot mean "Lord of Gods." This is the case for a fundamental grammatical reason. In Hebrew there is a special grammatical relationship between two nouns called the construct state. The construct state is the Hebrew way of expressing all the relationships that English expresses with the simple word "of." So in Hebrew when one noun, for example, "king," is in construction with a second noun, for example, "Israel," we could translate this phrase, "king of Israel." The problem with YHWH Elohim is that Hebrew grammar does not permit a proper noun to be put in construction with a common noun, so YHWH Elohim cannot mean "YHWH/Lord of Gods." In addition, when Elohim refers to the true God, it is singular and so translated "God" and not "Gods."

Second, the relationship between YHWH and Elohim in the combination YHWH Elohim is one of apposition, that is to say the second noun is placed immediately after the first noun to provide some sort of further definition or explanation. The significance of this can be seen in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1 only Elohim is used to refer to deity. This is no doubt because of the universal perspective of this creation story. In Genesis 2, on the other hand, deity is referred to as YHWH Elohim. These two accounts converge to affirm that YHWH (the God of Israel) and not any other ancient Near Eastern deity is Elohim (the universal God).

So then, YHWH Elohim does not mean "Lord of Gods...the one of many," but means that YHWH, the personal God who rules over Israel, is at one and the same time the universal God who rules over all.

* * *

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Renee Souder

| February 10, 2013 - 6:01 PM


What of the Gnostic Jews who say Yahweh is the son of Yaldabothe & neither are the God of the Universe or all that is?The Sethian Israelites say Yahweh is warring and arrogant and fought with his brothers and other gods and the events of the Torah were done by many gods & not one Yahweh. According to archaeological evidence this is true.Other gnostic texts descripe him as being a seven headed serpent-re-The Secret Book of John & On the Origins of the World. Thank you for your help. Much love & peace.Sister Renee

Caesar Carpenter

| January 17, 2015 - 9:14 PM


Is it correct to aspirate YAHH El’oheim

Cheryl

| March 26, 2015 - 1:45 PM


What is the correct spelling of Jesus’ name in paleo hebrew and aramaic.

Jay

| December 06, 2015 - 3:29 PM


I believe this explanation is incorrect. The term God in Genesis (Elohim) refers to multiple entities combined as a single entity, that, one would not be wrong to translate this term to also mean “A Kingdom” or a “Group of Spirits”.

When the term YHWH Elohim comes into play, it is not speaking that a specific group of spirits is Universal, rather, it is a descriptive phrase of how God made living beings. It basically means “one of the spirits of God entered into the flesh” and this is singular because one of the entities among God or Elohim (plural) has entered into the flesh to become a fleshly living being. When it comes to all physical living beings including creatures of the sea and the air, only one spirit can occupy each physical body to be what they are.

The reason why one spirit enters into a body is to program wisdom into them to let them know what their functions and purposes are (instinct) and the spirits that make up the “house of god” are all different (which is the main reason why there are different personalities, characteristics, behaviors, so on and so forth to each individual). It is the only time when “God is separated from their companions, to become the creation they made” and is the only time when God should be described as being singular because in those situations, it’s literal.

YHWH without the term Elohim, is when a Portion no longer has contact with their companions (Elohim) for whatever reason and mankind has to rely on their own conscience to guide them. The Conscience is the part of a spirit that remembers being a part of Elohim. If the spirit is righteous, they will remember their purpose and do exactly what they came into the flesh to do. But if the spirit is bad, then of course they will abandon their conscience and give in to the desires of their own heart, also letting their companions (Elohim) down.

Isaac

| January 08, 2016 - 12:04 PM


Jay ,,, nicely explained!! Those who remember the re reason for coming into the physical world are here to make love based decisions and help others do the same ,bye doing so we lower the entropy of the system bye eratticating fear and embrassing love

jay

| January 08, 2016 - 12:56 PM


Thanks Isaac! I’m no bible scholar, but I do know what the author of Genesis was getting at. It is basically a scientific perception translated into poetic form. The scientific explanation of the big bang theory was taken from the book of Genesis. It was plagiarized to make it more fitting for the unbelieving mind, to explain how the universe was made, however, the author of Genesis was able to explain creation in a very short summery. Detailed explanation of such complex processes such as Creation can only be summerized with limited words through parables or a metaphoric story form. Only difference between the Genesis creation story and big bang theory is that the big bang theory lacks the knowledge of how matter was placed in their appropriate order. The author tells us how all things came into place and behind it all, we know it is the Spirit or Spirits of God that made it what it is.

Jeanette Zook

| February 29, 2016 - 3:48 PM


What do we call YHWH in Englisb?  (the pronunciation)?

Diane

| May 04, 2016 - 3:44 AM


YHWH…is pronounced JEHOVAH in English
Refer to older Bibles at Psalm 83:18.
The name Jehovah. was removed from the scrolls in later times saying YAWH’s. name was too sacred to pronounce or write and replaced by titles like Master, God, LORD.
  It was replaced in older translations of the Bibles, then removed.
There are few Bibles which retain Jehovah’s name,  one being the New World Translation Bible of the Scriptures of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Recently, the Catholic Church removed the name JEHOVAH from their Bibles.

CRAIG CHRISTENSEN

| June 04, 2016 - 12:59 AM


This is the clearest explanatiln l have found in puzzling out this hidden truth, what they don`t teach in Sunday School.& never will. I find the.English.language so corrupt, Scriptural truth is difficult to.put into.words in competition with.all lies & distortions taught today. For example the term «God» is bantied about so much one would think.this is the acrual term used.on Mt. Sinaí. Nothing could be.furtherfrom the truth.The term «God, or.Gad» depending is originally the Syrophonecian deity of Fortune, in other words,«good luck» also the same term.applies to worship YHWH.hates & rejects ie Ba`al worship as in Ba`al gad (gawd) a synonim for gadfly, certainly, derogatory & in no way honorific,.as in the one addressed as being a roustabout, thanks.

Frederick Sadler, Ph.D. Candidate Systematic Theol

| April 15, 2017 - 6:18 AM


I agree that YHWH is a proper name but must disagree that it means or is translated LORD.  The Hebrew word for LORD is adon or plural adonai.  YHWH is a tetragramaton without vowel points and thus is difficult to translate if at all.  Also Elohim is always used as a plural noun in reference to “God” in the Old Testament and is never used as a singular since the singular of Elohim is Eloah or short form El in the Old Testament.  Finally Jehovah is not found in the Old Testament but was created somewhere around 1100 AD by taking YHWH and adding the vowel points of Adonai which makes this word totally unbiblical.  Frederick Sadler, Juris Doctor, Ph.D. Candidate Systematic Theology.  I took Hebrew in College and at Seminary and now it is one of my language comps for my Systematic Theology Ph.D.

Christine

| October 22, 2017 - 8:59 AM


It’s interesting how Jewish scholars, in discussing identity of god omit any reference to the rather overt psychothological characteristics observed in the preferential treatment of some personalities over others in the Old Testament.  I alogged through—what was it? Numbers…. ? In which it was as if some Approval was given to humans who were plotting and scheming disinheritance, identity theft, fraud…. Women were drugging up powerful men to get favorable ‘seed’ for offspring… It sounded like ancient Phoenicia!  But it was sanctioned because the psychopaths were rewarded.  Perhaps some scholars can attend to the question of which god in the pantheon of Gods justifies such conduct and rewards it.  Because there is NO DOUBT when reading the Old TestAment that god seems to come in all sorts of inconsistent flavors.  Jay’s explanation is the one totally consistent with what I discovered in years of quiet meditation… In which also the Vedic tradition would concur… Although their Lila conception includes a divine feminine.  And there is no bona fide reason not to as there are women on earth, are there not?  It stands to reason that deity would therefore also have a female counterpart, regardless of what ancient empire did to justify seizure of assets.  In short, opportunistic people made out thick as thieves under the Old Testament power system just as they do now.  Humanity better WAKE UP TO THE FRAUD!  The God of Breath—the God that gives life doesnt war or defraud.  Or scheme and plot dishinheritance.  May we get a name going for that one and forget the lunatic deities to whom humans just hand over their powers of discernment.  This way we can be super clear in language.  Many a person is profitting from the embroilio over linguistic confusion and robbing the public in the process while seemingly justified.  May people actual READ THE ENTIRE Old Testament so they can be cured of mythic devas sucking the life force out of human beings. No disrespect to any person intended… This is just an observation from reading the Old Testament.  I only have that book in the house because you cannot get a copy of Christ’s teachings without that book—why not, I wonder? At every turn, there’s that brainwashing of fear _ upset the gods and watch out! Hahahaa lightening my strike if you stand up and say May the REAL God step forward?

Samantha

| December 05, 2017 - 8:21 PM


Thank you Mark for your translation.

However, every translation of the Bible I’ve read seems to make an effort to translate or interpret original meaning on behalf of the reader.

For example, the issue of verbs and nouns, plural and singular, is largely dealt with by the time we read it in English.

Of course this is partly because Hebrew words have different roots and convey different meanings, and don’t translate directly to English.

But where do we draw this line? In my opinion it’s the job of the translator to attempt to translate and convey meaning… But not to modify names, plurals and singulars…

To do so assumes the translator has a definitive knowledge of the writer’s meaning—which they do not.

So I believe Mark’s interpretation – though he is a scholar – should still start with “in my opinion”.

I personally agree that in some instances Elohim is intended to be plural. We can perhaps access this knowledge – as Jay points out – through our personal experience with the spirit.

However I don’t think any one person can speak to the ultimate reality of any other. After all, that – in my opinion – is part of the purpose of us each walking individual paths.

Peter Miller

| February 11, 2018 - 2:06 PM


Does it not occur to any reading this thread that YHWH Elohim read in its plural form is perfectly encapsulated in the doctrine of the Trinity? Maybe this would help: “Hear O Israel, YHWH our Elohim is a unity”.

Samamtha

| February 11, 2018 - 4:32 PM


Peter maybe that’s part of the problem. Almost every translation has it as “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (or similar) ... The meaning is already decided for us.

“YHWH our Elohim is a unity” makes much more sense to me.

PETER J MILLER

| February 11, 2018 - 6:07 PM


Samantha,this quote “YHWH our Elohim is a unity” comes out of little hardback book titled ‘The Eternal God Revealing Himself(to suffering Israel and to lost humanity)’ written by David L. Cooper Th.M.,Ph.D. and published in 1928. I found it purely by ‘happenstance’ in a used bookstore on a table of miscellaneous,‘out-of-prints’ for $.50(fifty cents).

Samantha

| February 11, 2018 - 7:01 PM


Peter fascinating. Yes I’m watching the Mechanical Translation project carefully, which aims to translate the original Hebrew without interpretation (including scribing errors) - the meanings (to me) are entirely different from any translation I’ve read to date… http://www.mechanical-translation.org/

PETER J MILLER

| February 11, 2018 - 7:11 PM


An excerpt from ‘The Eternal God Revealing Himself’-
Some people have had difficulty concerning the doctrine of the plurality and unity of the divine Personalities. The great theologian, Dr. Theodore Christlieb, stated the problem tersely in the following words: “The objections stirred by these might have been avoided by anticipation, had a firm hold been taken from the first of the truth indicated by the Hebrew form of the divine name ELOHIM(as will be more fully shown presently), that in God unity and plurality consist as correlatives which mutually require one another; that, as we have already indicated, it is the essential characteristic of the true doctrine of the divine nature, in contradistiction to Polytheism on the one hand, and an abstract Monotheism on the other, that both elements of the true Being, unicity and multiplicity, do in God meet and interpenetrate one another in a perfectly unique and transcendental way.”

PETER J MILLER

| February 11, 2018 - 7:31 PM


Samantha,
While textual criticism and translational accuracy are essential, my personal aim in digesting and disseminating scripture is not what I find it to mean but rather the meaning the Author intends for me to understand. I am convinced that the omnipotent God that compelled the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts be scribed, is sufficiently powerful to have His exact meaning and intent of those texts be translated into a language of my comprehension.

Samantha

| February 11, 2018 - 7:40 PM


Yes there are many passages that expound God as infinite; that all things exist within it/him and there is nothing outside it. As far as I consider Elohim are entities but whatever they are they are also part of God. God is comprised of everything both seen and unseen.

Samantha

| February 11, 2018 - 7:49 PM


Peter… I feel similar. Because it’s not just the texts but also life experience that tend to reveal the truth if you look for it. The moment I let go of what I think the truth should look like and sought to find it whatever it may be, that became apparent.

I would go further than my last comment and say that I think all of us are in training to be Elohim. If everything is within God and nothing is outside of it, then there are none of us who are not part of it. Perhaps those who try to walk as Christ are further along, perhaps those who turn an eye to the very nature of their being; not so much yet.

PETER J MILLER

| February 11, 2018 - 8:40 PM


Wrestling with this text would greatly benefit you Samantha: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.”
John 14:6‭-‬7

Samantha

| February 11, 2018 - 9:05 PM


That’s implied in my last reply.

Frederick Sadler

| February 12, 2018 - 2:40 AM


Samantha I also consider Deut. 6:4 to be a perfect implication of the Trinity.  “hear O Israel, YHWH is our Elohim, YHWH is one”  Both truths are stated.  YHWH is a plural Deity God and yet YHWH is a unity of one.

PETER J MILLER

| February 12, 2018 - 7:27 AM


Christine,
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—
Jude 1:5‭-‬6

As you can see, the Testament containing the teachings of Christ, teaches that he, Christ, is none other than God of the Old Testament.

Ngumsana solomon

| March 29, 2018 - 6:26 PM


Hahaha alright you v all spoken your mind

Samantha

| March 29, 2018 - 8:28 PM


Frederick, yes, good one! Although I’m less of a subscriber to the Trinity, and more interested personally in the apparent duality of YHWH and Elohim.

Believer

| May 15, 2018 - 1:13 AM


YHWH is a tetragrammaton. Its original pronounciation was monopolized by the Rabbis. The replacement word for YHWH written as LORD. But, that we know not to be the correct meaning. YHWH would mean “Oh HE” (Ya Hua) if we refer to Hebrew’s sister language Arabic. In Elohim “IM” is an honorific plural. So, Eloh would be the Proper Noun. Put together YHWH ELOHIM (ya-Huwa- Elohim)would mean something like “Oh HE is ELOHIM”. This is amazingly similar to the Arabic “Hua-Allah” (HE IS ALLAH) mentioned in the Holy Quran. The message is that the name of the Lord in both Judaism and Islam is Allah (Eloh).

Frederick Sadler

| May 21, 2018 - 7:16 AM


Samantha, there is no duality in YHWH and Elohim.  YHWH is the sir name of “God” and Elohim is the descriptive noun for God.  For example let say you own a Ford car.  Ford would be the name and car would be the description.  In this case Elohim is plural.

Frederick Sadler

| May 21, 2018 - 7:35 AM


Believer I must correct you on some of your assertions.  I agree that the word LORD, Adonai in Hebrew, is not a replacement word for YHWH.  In fact no one knows the complete name of God.  While Yahua is similar it is not the same as YHWH since we do not know the vowel points in YHWH so “Oh HE” cannot be used or compared with YHWH.  The plural ending IM is not an honorific plural since there is no evidence of this in the Old Testament.  In fact there is massive evidence of the plurality of Elohim as it is used throughout the Old Testament.  Also it’s singular Eloah (El for short) is also present in the Old Testament and deflects any pretensions that Elohim is other than plural.  The fact is grammatically Elohim is a plural noun.  Also I must disagree with you.  There is no message that YHWH is Allah.  There is absolutely no evidence of such a conclusion.  As I have said no one knows the vowel points of YHWH or the complete name of the Tetragrammaton and so making a comparison to other words in a different language such as Arabic is totally futile and illusory.  Also a study of the word “Allah” shows these facts:
Allah = Has no gender (not male and not female)
•” He ” is used only out of respect and dignity - not for gender

Allah = Always singular - Never plural
•” We ” is used only as the ” Royal WE ” just as in English for royalty

Allah = Means “The Only One to be Worshipped”

In looking at these facts it is clear that Elohim (God) and Allah are vastly different.  For one Elohim is a plural masculine noun whereas Allah has no gender and is never plural but is always singular.  Also Allah means “the only one” and Elohim has no indication of such a meaning.  In fact it is clear that the Quran is a “copied” version of the Bible put into it’s own ideology and premises.  Hope this helps.

LOVE YWHW ELOHIM

| May 25, 2018 - 11:05 PM


Aramaic Hebrew translated from the Otiote
Yod Hey Waw hey, original blueprint text 22 signed letters. I believe to be the original
Hebrew Ywhw Elohim (Singular / Plural) Elohim meaning ( Father, Son and the Holy spirit). Build the personal relationship with our Father Ywhw Elohim and spiritually
We will have discernment. Love you all

Brandon

| June 12, 2018 - 1:01 PM


Yahweh is Elohim, but not all Elohim are Yahweh

Jesse

| October 02, 2018 - 12:07 AM


Then why is Yahwey tsev’ot translated lord of hosts. Yahwey elohim should be lord of gods if going by that example. Yahwey of the armies Yahwey of the mighty ones

Jesse

| October 02, 2018 - 11:27 PM


Sorry correct spelling tseva’ot

Ryan

| October 04, 2018 - 9:13 AM


Actually Elohim is plural and referred to the triune God proving that even Moses knew that Jesus/The Angel of the Lord and the Holy Spirit were present from the beginning. YHWH means “He who caused existence”

So that’s what separates those names from Allah (just like John and Susan are different names) and “Allah” did not cause existence. Allah represents a kingdom set up the way Lucifer wanted it. It’s the Ishmael branch from Abraham that mirrors God’s story but distorts it.

Anyway, yes Elohim refers to one God but the one God we believe in is three in part and thus plural in existence.

Spy Ritual Eye

| November 07, 2018 - 7:01 AM


And the LORD God said, “Look, man has become like ONE of US, knowing good and evil”

...which ONE did man become that He should also know of good and of evil, and shall surely die.

Calvin

| November 09, 2018 - 4:05 AM


YHWH —> YAHWEH
The “A” is added to represent Adam.. The “E”, for Eve.
Why?  Yahweh, the Father, is SPIRIT. If all things come from ONE, wouldn’t the first human(s) made in the image of the Creator be ONE before being separated into two entities.. just as Elohim is the extension of Yahweh, the Heavenly anthropomorphic being that created the physical things (incl. MAN in the likeness of His image)?
When Yahweh-Elohim said “let US make man”, “He created them male and female, and blessed them, and called their name “Adam,” in the day when they were created.” (Gen5:2) So, after Eve, the womb-man would be separated, the connection shows that A (the beginning) represents the Masculine portion of the Creator’s name in YAH, and E (end), the feminine portion in -WEH (YAHWEH). Which is why the YAHSHUA, The Messiah, the MANifestation of the Holy Spirit, (whom the world calls “Jesus Christ” ) came bearing the MASCULINE portion of his Father’s name, YAH —> YAHweh is Salvation= YAH-SHUA!
Only a CARNAL minded thinker, whom Yahweh has not revealed His truth to, could think that his True name can’t be pronounced due to the ”absence of vowels and pronouns” as many say. Spiritual understanding draws the connection based on the evidence provided.
..
Even the gentiles or heathen knew that their gods had names! That is why in Exodus 3:13, Moses wanted a name. He had been instructed to inform Israel that the Elohim (translated “God” in the KJ) of their fathers ordered them to leave Egypt and knowing the Israelites would ask by whose name should they depart, Moses wanted to be able to give them a NAME. For the first time ever, YAHWEH made known His NAME. Previously, He had been only known in titles that meant “almighty provider,”and so on. Yahweh was getting ready to work a physical salvation of Israel by bringing the land of Egypt to its knees by virtue of His very name, Yahweh, showing the power in that name.

Joe louis

| November 09, 2018 - 9:39 AM


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