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Genesis 1:1

Hebrew Text

<yhla - God

<yhla is plural, yet the verb arb is singular. Jewish writers say this is the plural of Majesty, but it is more likely an intensification or absolutization with the meaning of "God of gods" or "supreme God" (NIDOTTE, 1997, Vol.1, 405). The root meaning of <yhla is probably "power, strength, might." <yhla is the more general and universal name for God while Yahweh is the specific God of Israel. It may be used for apologetic purposes in Genesis one. Some Christians take the plural to refer to the trinity, but this is just the general term for God.

There are three similar words for God that probably come from the same root. They are El, Eloah, and Elohim. They are all used interchangeably. In Psalm 29:1, and 89:6 there are the sons of Elim, and in Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6 they are the sons of Elohim. Eloah is found mainly in the book of Job (41 out of 57) and El occurs 55 times, while Elohim occurs only 4 times in dialogue. Elohim is used 2570 times in the OT. El is mainly found in poetic or archaizing texts (TDOT, Vol.1, 272).

In this first verse of Genesis "God" is unarticulated. It is thought that Elohim was originally an appellation, a title, which was changed into a proper name and therefore drops the article. Mainly in Genesis Elohim is used without the article. Other archaic words are used without the article like tehom in Genesis 1:2 (Gesenius, 1976, 402-3). This is mainly found in poetic language.

Ugaritic Texts

In Ugaritic El is the god who is head of the Canaanite pantheon and may be identified with the planet Saturn. Some see Elohim as a composite of El+Yam, but this is unlikely. The plural of El in Ugaritic is Elm. The feminine form is Elt singular, and Elht for plural. Note the addition of the "h" in the plural form. There is a rare corresponding plural Elhm (Pope, 1955, 7, TDOT, Vol.1, 271). Therefore, Elohim would just be a rare form of the masculine plural El or Elh. It may be that Elh in Job is singular and the plural is Elohim. Maybe Elh is the vocative form. Elohim is probably the plural form of El expanded with the "h" which occurs else where in Hebrew and Aramaic (Ibid, 273; Gesenius, 399).

There are several descriptive titles or epithets of El that indicate that he is the creator. El is called ab adm, "Father of man;" qn `rs, "Creator of the earth;" qny [w] `adn [i]lm, "Begetter and Lord of the gods;" and bny bnwt, "Creator of Creatures" (De Moor 1980, 171-187; Pope 1994, 47-62).

It should be noted that in the ANE there is not a clear distinction between creation and procreation. Elís wife was atrt or Asherah. They had 70 sons. Asherah is called `um ilm, "Mother of the gods" (De Moore 1980, 175). Yahweh is said to have Asherah at his right hand (Deut. 33:2; Dijkstra 1995, 43-73).


In the LXX the word for God is qeos. It adds the article "the" before God. In John 1:1 qeos is used with the article also. This is the typical name for God, and should have the article in Greek for a proper noun.

Aramaic Texts

In the targums Yahweh is used in place of Elohim. This may be to avoid the plural form of God, or to name the specific god who created everything. Usually you have the God of _____. In the Targum Neofiti I the "Memra (word) of the Lord" created the world which may correspond to "logos" in John 1:1, but "in Christian tradition from earliest times the opening word of Genesis was understood to mean in the son (Jesus, the word)" according to Jerome (McNamara, 1992, 52).

Jewish Literature

Genesis Rabbah takes Elohim as singular which says, "In the beginning [gods] created is not written, but rather, in the beginning [God] created [in the singular]" (I,VII.1.H; Neusner, 1985, 7). It also discusses why God is the third word in the OT and not mentioned first because of modesty (I.XII).

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