& Meaning •
Meaning and etymology of the Hebrew name Elohim
Elohim is one of three Divine Names by which the Creator is known as He creates. The creation account is probably the most difficult and most enigmatic passages in the Bible. It starts at the beginning and it doesn't really end.
There are three stages upon which the creation unfolds. The first stage stretches from Genesis 1:1 to 2:4. During this period God is known as Elohim. From Genesis 2:4 He is known as YHWH Elohim. The third stage starts around the Noah cycle and flows over into the Abraham cycle and beyond across the rest of the Bible. Abraham, after all, was the first to believe and became not only a new creation but also the first of a new continuum of new creations. During this stage God is known as Dabar YHWH, or Word Of God.
For more on this read our article on the Chaotic Set Theory
'Elohim' is a plural word, which is peculiar because God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). The etymology is generally deemed uncertain but most likely it comes from ('lh), and perhaps from , the plural of , el, the common Canaanite word for god.
Which leaves us to a discussion of the actual meaning of :
In HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theologiacl Seminary, R. Laird Harris Ph.D. states, "Most frequently mentioned suggestions for an original meaning are "power" or "fear" but these are widely challenged and much disputed. It may be noted that even if the origin of the word in Canaanite or proto-Semitic is from a root meaning power, this by no means indicates the connotation in Hebrew religious usage. Our word "deity" comes from a root in Sanskrit to mean "sky" but we do not worship a sky-god."
The Abarim Publications Editorial Team feels compelled to reluctantly oppose professor Harris' point of view and subsequent logic. If we do not worship a sky-god, why is in our culture the sky still so strongly associated with heaven? And if the word El originates in a root that means power, the explicit loss of this meaning must be proven (and if proof fails the meaning stands). That the Judaic tradition supports the idea that the most rudimentary experience of God has to do with power is argumentated by Luke 1:49, "For the Mighty One has done great things for me," and Matthew 26:64, "...you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right of Power..."
Another piece of (circumstantial) evidence comes through the name Abi-albon, which may mean Father Of Strength. This man is called Abi-albon in 2 Samuel 23:31 but Abiel (El Is Father) in 1 Chronicles 11:32.
The particle occurs often in names, and in our attempts to translate, we should also take the following words in account:
('al), particle of negation; not, no, neither.
('el) preposition that expresses motion towards someone or something; unto, into, besides, in reference to.
('ala), to swear; derivative means oath.
('ala 95) to wail (Jon 1:8).
Then there are ('alla), oak, from the assumed and unused root , and ('ela), terebinth, from the root .
It is impossible to combine all these words and seek for a fundamental meaning without beaching on the banks of triviality, but it must be noted that the general form of is much more common in Hebrew than our word "god" is in Germanic. It seems to be charged with a firmness and fixedness (oak, terebinth, God, these, oath) but also with the notion of separateness and disparateness (no/ not, God), as well as a rudimentary sense of transfinity (unto, into, God).
However the Hebrews saw God, the name Elohim was far more rich in definite meaning than our abstract word "god."
Though certainly much debated, this Name (still most probably) has to do with the first God-experience that people had; awe or fear for the powers of nature. In the Bible, this word is used for God Himself, but also so-called gods, the wooden or stone images people worshiped. Elohim is even used to (probably) mean 'angels' and even 'judges'. Bottom line: the Name Elohim has something to do with powers: The Powers That Be; The Many Powered. To indicate the Living God this word can be accompanied by YHWH or any description like Elyon, or Shaddai.
For a list of occurrences where the word elohim does not mean God, see our article on the First Commandment.
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