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Pluralisms In the Biblical language And False Positives Aserted

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

The claim is proposed by a class of trinitarian apologists is that the Bible sometimes applies a plural connotation to the creator by using plural verbs. -e.g “Let Israel rejoice in their MAKERS; Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” (Psalm 149:2). This fallacious claim also extends to adjectives and nouns. While many asserters of fact are interested in inflating their assertions to make them as impressive as possible, facts can be tested and lies, when exposed, are always impaired.

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Examples of pluralism can be found in Psalms‬ ‭149:2 mentioned above‬, it ‭uses a masculine plural construct. Also, see Job 35:10, Gen. 20:13, Gen. 35:7, 2 Sam. 7:23, Ps. 58:11, and Ecclesiastes 12:1.


In the grand scheme of things, merely claiming God possesses a plurality doesn’t solve the later doctrine of 3 in 1 simply for the fact that there are many relevant passages that uses plural forms for a single subject yet should be understood as having a singular meaning. E.g. Abraham is called "lord," where a plural form, adonim ("lords"), is used (Gen. 24:9-10). Likewise, Potiphar is called the adonim (“masters”) of Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 3, 7, 8, 19, 20) and the “lords” of Joseph in Genesis 39:16 and 40:7. Joseph is called the man who is the “lords” (adonim) of the land and the “lords” of the country (Gen. 42:30, 33).


It is also important to note that there are other linguistic explanations as to why this unusual ungrammatical oddity transpires. First, we must accept the words (verbs, nouns & adjectives) are certainly plural, but likely to be understood as singular. Hence why in most cases the translator renders them in the singular form. It would be unfair to suggest that the translators or the scribes used those grammatical features because they were driven by a certain theological obligation. Moreover, the plural can [sometimes] express excellence or comprehensiveness. But the more likely explanation is the phenomenon called "linguistic attraction”. This oddity is expressed likewise in our English vernacular. Basically, in unique instances of obvious grammatical mismatches in the Bible, this linguistic phenomenon is potentially present. It is where verbs, adjectives, or pronouns are strongly connected to the grammatical number of a nearby emphatic noun that proximity overtakes the proper grammar construct. See Reaching agreement as a core syntactic process commentary of Bock & Middleton Reaching Agreement.


For instance, Psalm 149:2 presents us with a 3rd person plural verb, "makers” (עָשָׂה) that seemingly describes the covenant God of Israel who created them. Upon further review, we see a string of plural nouns and adjectives attached before and after in the immediate context. בְּנֵי [beni/Children], a plural construct is in close proximity to the plural verb עָשָׂה. Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵ֣ל) is also understood to be plural in meaning.


The absolute plural adjective “hasadim”[חֲסִידִים/saints] is positioned right before vs 2 is introduced. This is a clear example of where an attraction likely occurred. Scribes are accustomed to doing such this in ancient literary works. Here, we have a plural noun and a plural adjective surrounding the plural verb in question. It seems when nuanced out that these oddities are strictly grammatically and not theologically motivated.


So, in relation to the few examples of where יְהוָה (Israel’s covenant God) is certainly the subject, in conjunction with plural forms of verbs (nouns or adjectives), e.g Gen 20:13, it's highly probable that this is an illustration where “linguistic attraction” has likely occurred. For instance, even though it literally asserts a plural in the Hebrew, we understand the Hebrew Bible is not saying that “the gods” caused Abraham to wander from his father’s home (Gen. 20:13). Neither does it suggests a compound unification. Note that the the SP and LXX read those verbs in the singular, against the MT: ‏התעו‎ vs. ‏התעה (ἐξήγαγέν) and ‏נגלו‎ vs. ‏נגלה (ἐπεφάνη). Although Gen. 20 may not be an allusion to the covenant God of Israel at all. Or “the gods” revealed themselves to Jacob at the place called El Beth El (Gen. 35:7), “the gods” redeemed Israel (2 Sam.7:23), or “the gods” judge the earth so that humankind can be pleased that justice prevails (Ps. 58:11-12). Rather, we can understand that we are reading examples in Hebrew where linguistic “attraction” has transpired.


More on Gen. 20.13 (a popular text for the poly-personal God camps), firstly, it's possible that Abraham is accommodating Abimelek’s cultural milieu, or that Abraham has some residual polytheism/henotheism in his mind. Admittedly, the latter seems less likely within the broader scope of the narrative. Although I would add that the hiph. of תעה generally means something like “to lead astray, cause to err.” This would not make much sense to assign the God of Israel in this text. Nevertheless, significantly, no one in the GNT (Greek New Testament) appeals to these Genesis plurals nor any OT (Old Testament) plurals for that matter as apologetic proof-texts for the Messiah’s and Holy Spirits shared status as a deity with God, the Father. When conveyed in this manner, it is apparent that there are grammatical irregularities at play. However, Hebrew grammarians who translate the Hebrew text into English appear not to be caught off guard. They translate these into English in singular forms, knowing there is no mysterious thing happening here.


The word אדניו (which is plural = אדנים שלו) is paired with a singular adjective (המצרי) and a singular verb (וירא). The same thing happens several times in that chapter. Genesis 39. A visual provided below.





Some scholars suggestions


Westermann, Continental Commentary:


But the unusual plural construction התעו אלהים scarcely belongs to such alteration. Some exegetes (O. Procksch, O. Eissfeldt, and others) are of the opinion that a real plural is intended, “the gods”; it is “an accommodation to pagan ideas” (B. Jacob). But this is most unlikely in the present chapter where the God of Abraham speaks also to Abimelech and gives him instructions. The plural construction therefore is intended in a singular sense (so H. Gunkel and others), something that also occurs elsewhere, as well as in the Amarna letters.


Westermann, C. (1995). A Continental Commentary: Genesis 12–36 (pp. 326–327). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


GKC:


The construction of אֱלֹהִים God with the plural of the predicate may be explained (apart of course from such passages as 1 K 19:2, 20:10, where the speakers are heathen, and אֱלֹהִים may, therefore, be a numerical plural) partly as an acquiescence in a polytheistic form of expression, partly from the peculiar usage of one of the early documents of the Hexateuch, called E by Wellhausen, &c., B by Dillmann; cf. his commentary on Numbers—Joshua, p. 618, and above, § 124 g, note 2. So Gn 20:13 (but in conversation with a heathen); 31:53, 35:7, cf. also Jos 24:19. That this construction was afterwards studiously avoided from fear of misconception, is shown by such passages as Neh 9:18 compared with Ex 32:4, 8, and 1 Ch 17:21 compared with 2 S 7:23. Cf. Strack’s excursus on Gen 20:13 in Die Genesis, Munich, 1905, p. 77.


Gesenius, F. W. (1910). Gesenius’ Hebrew grammar. (E. Kautzsch & S. A. E. Cowley, Eds.) (2d English ed., p. 463). Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Victor Hamilton's footnote:


Note the use of the pl. verb hiṯʿû with ʾĕlōhîm. ʾĕlōhîm occurs with a pl. verb here and in 31:53; 35:7; Exod. 22:8 (Eng. 9); 2 Sam. 7:23 (but sing. in the parallel verse in 1 Chr. 17:21); with a pl. participle in Ps. 58:12 (Eng. 11); in the expression “living God,” Deut. 5:26; 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; Jer. 10:10; 23:36. The SP reads the sing. here: htʿh. Speiser (Genesis, p. 150) suggests that the accompanying pl. verb allows one to translate ʾĕlōhîm with a broader connotation, something like “Heaven, Fate, Providence.” GKC, § 145d, suggests that such constructions (ʾĕlōhîm with pl. verb/adjective) may be a vestige of an earlier polytheistic form of expression. But if so, why were these few left untouched, while most, presumably, were modified?


Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


Side note: Alter Rebbe’s in his “The life, teachings, and works of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi”, founder of Chabad, says;


‘This plural expression — “Makers” — refers to our physical world that is filled with kelipot and sitra achra, which are called “a public domain,” i.e., a domain of multiplicity, and “mountains of separation,” in that they are arrogant and separate from one another.” Also, the Greek OT (LXX) of Gen 20:13 has a singular verb form (ἐξήγαγε(ν), aorist II), most English versions usually translate this as "God caused".


The principal of normalcy


It is only until recently we were confronted here with the few plural verbs in relation to אֱלֹהִים (Elohim), in the Old Testament. There over 2300, I repeat 2,300 verses with singular verb forms, proving the singular view for YHWH in literature. Footnotes of a few alternate plural verbs does not have priority over the norm, yes they should be considered and we must provide answers, but the more clearer passages always trump the less clear, therefore the less clear should be read in light of the more clear. This leads me to suggest we should now deduce the more clear passages (singular verbs modifying the singular pronoun) rather than the less clear (plural modifying the singular). The question should be, should we establish the eccentric text as priority? Or the conventional way things fit, almost exclusively? Is it comprehensible to recognize why we have three synoptics and not one? When Jesus said "The scripture cannot be broken," did he in fact know about dissimilarities in the ancient scrolls he likely beheld? Of course he did. What the three synoptics should express to an attentive student is the recurrence of events; the same event may or may not be repeated, but a certain "normalcy" is established by the whole. (We do not say one synoptic is weightier in general than another).

Accordingly, the principle of normalcy is a principle of unbroken text. Particular issues have to be mediated by the reconciliation in turn, of discrepancies or linguistic explanations in any single book in the synoptic tradition.


Fun fact: John Calvin’s interpretation; “ When God caused me to wander (430) Because the verb is here put in the plural number, I freely expound the passage as referring to the angels, who led Abraham through his various wanderings”.


Conclusion:


This fairly new fallacious claim is solely a product of linguistic fallacies, contextual negligence and an over-dependence on a single manuscript tradition. To simplify... Even today, the plural בְּעָלִים is used of one who owns a business, even if it is one person. Why? That person has absolute power over the business or property. They can decide tomorrow to shut down the business or destroy the property. It's theirs, and no one can come to them with any claim if they chose to destroy it. Another example would be the use of אֱלֹהִים, who is occasionally the patron deity of many people. Thus, כְּמוֹשׁ is the patron deity of Moab, and he was called אֱלֹהֵי מוֹאָב in the plural. Again, the fact that Potiphar is called אֲדֹנֵי יוֹסֵף in the plural is relevant to this very same phenomenon that plurals in some rare instances does not require a hint of a later developed ideology. Hebrew also uses plurals in relationships in which a person has total power over another person or thing.


Some may object that to read plurals in a “non-trinitarian” way, i.e. Plural majestic, exhortation plurals, or plurals of self-deliberation, would be anachronistic. Well, Genesis 39 isn't today. The issue with this charge is that they are essentially saying that since הפרה האדומה means "the red heifer" in modern Hebrew, then it doesn't mean "the red heifer" in ancient Hebrew. If the same thing happens at both levels in the linguistic development, it can be compared as the same. The fact that it happens now doesn't mean that it didn't happen then when the evidence shows that it did.


I personally am not fully invested in the plural of Majesty interpolation. I am however sympathetic to the idea. But if it helps, Rainey identifies a few plurals of majesty in Amarna Canaanite literature.




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