Anyone who claims to be a monotheist must be troubled by the Hebrew word “elo-him.” When talking of God this word is translated as “God.” However, ‘elo-him’ has a plural ending. Shouldn’t ‘elo-him’ be translated as a plural? If we translated ‘elo-him’ as ’gods’ then Genesis 1:1, for example, would read: “In the beginning gods created the heavens and the earth.” That can’t be right! Every monotheist who claims the Hebrew Scriptures to be true should immediately think of the verse “Hear O’Israel the Lord our God (elo-him) the Lord is One. That is to say that The Lord is One, who is this Lord? It is THE God called in Hebrew ‘elo-him.’ We have a dilema; as monotheists we want to say that God is one, as people reading the Hebrew text we want to translate ‘elo-him’ as ‘gods’. What is the solution?
In Hebrew there are times when a plural noun is used as a singular object. For example, the terms ‘rachamim” meaning mercy (Genesis 43:14, Deuteronomy 13:18) and ’zekanim’ meaning old age (Genesis 21:2; 37:3, 44:20) are both nouns. The Hebrew word ’nurim’ meaning youth (Isaiah 54:6, Psalms 127:4) is another example.
To solve the problem of knowing when ‘elo-him’ should be translated as a plural or singular noun we should just use grammar that everyone is familiar with. In English (as well as Hebrew) subject verb agreement is a basic rule of grammar. If the subject is plural the verb is plural. For example, in English we would say “A dog is running” or “Dogs are running.” The English words ‘is’ and ‘are’ bring the verb into harmony with the noun and distinguishes the verb as singular or plural. When we look at Genesis 1:1 we see the verb ‘bara’ which means ‘He created’ is a singular verb. Since the verb is singular the subject ‘elo-him’ must also be singular! This simple rule solves our problem. We are able to maintain our desire to be monotheists while also remaining true to the text.