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Are YHWH and El Distinct Deities in the Hebrew Bible?


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Thanks for your comments on Genesis 14:22. Your suggestion that a scribe was nervous about so many references to God without the name YHWH is possible, but I think it probably significant that the insertion of the name comes in Abram's speech. The change may reflect a belief that Abram's knowledge of God was fuller or more complete than that of Melchizedek.

Always a possibility. I hope to present at this year's SBL on a different aspect of Gen 14:19-22. It's an interesting little story.

I still plan on commenting more on the issue of reading Scripture "univocally." Thanks for this discussion.

Thank you. I haven't had many critiques of my position on the univocality of the Bible, so I'm always interested in hearing another take on it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just ran across an interesting IRR article related to the designations YHWH and Elohim. I thought I'd offer some thoughts on the approach of the authors.

In our experience, we have not found one Mormon who can explain the discrepancies between the Mormon Church's doctrine of God and how these three names of God [Elohim, Yahweh, and Adonai] are used in the Old Testament; indeed, most Mormons are apparently not even aware of the huge problem that exists in this regard.

The authors are referred to this thread. If they have further questions, I'm usually available. I think, however, that the apparent paucity of Mormons who are aware of, and can account for, this issue is a result more of their investigative shortcomings than an actual lack of awareness.

This is a general Hebrew term for Deity that designates God as our Creator and the object of all true worship.

The term makes no such designations. Theology, which is a field entirely distinct from philology or lexicography, makes those designations.

[Elohim] is thought by many scholars to be related to the Hebrew word El, meaning "strength," "mighty," or "the Almighty."

I don't know any scholars who think that elohim is not related to the word el, but the word el means "El," or "god." Adjectival uses are not uncommon, but they are derivative of the "god" definition.

While Elohim is plural in form, when it refers to the true God, it designates only one Divine Being.

This is a rather silly tautology, but it's also mistaken. In some cases the "true God" is only one of a group of ????? being mentioned. For instance, in Gen 2:5 the serpent states that eating the fruit will not result in Eve's death, but in becoming "as the gods." The translation "as God" may seem appropriate, but in Gen 3:22 God says Adam has become "as one of us." As is clear, the use of the term is plural and refers to the "true God" as well as to other deities.

We know this because it is consistently used with singular verbs, and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular, so that by the rules of Hebrew grammar it must be understood and translated as singular.

And when it refers to a singular subject it is translated as such, but often it refers to a plural subject.

The term Elohim is unique to monotheistic Israel and is not found in any of the closely related languages of any of her polytheistic Semitic neighbors.

This is incorrect. The singular use of the plural of 'l is found in the Amarna Letters and at Mari, Ugarit, Taanach, and Qatna. The concretized abstract plural is 'il?n? in most West Semitic languages, but it's 'lhm at Ugarit. See Joel Burnett's A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim.

Jehovah is the personal name of God, and speaks of Him as the holy, self-existent God who hates sin but provides redemption.

Again, this is theological eisegesis, not lexicography or philology. The word by itself has nothing to do with any of that.

According to the standard Hebrew- English lexicon of the Old Testament, this name for God is used c. 6,823 times in the Old Testament.

The text then cites BDB, which is only the standard for students (because it's cheap and only one volume), but for professionals you should cite HALOT, Botterweck, or Klein.

Like Elohim, Adonai is a plural form. In this special plural form it always refers to God. The singular form, Adon, is used to designate men who are lords over other people. A rare exception where the singular form for Lord (Adona) is used for God will be discussed later.

Actually it's a frozen vocative singular. We know this because when it appears outside of direct address (in the third person) it is unambiguously singular (and because the plural is ?????). See Josh 3:11, 13; Ps 114:7, Isa 1:24; 3:1; 10:16, 33; 19:4; Mal 3:1; Mic 4:13; Zech 4:14; 6:5; 97:5.

Joshua 7:6-7 illustrates how the different names for God in the Hebrew text are coded into the King James Bible

This presupposes a consistent use, which is simply indefensible. The names are used a variety of ways by the different authors and editors.

However, contrary to this assertion, a careful study of the abundant manuscript evidence for the Old and New Testaments reveals that the Bible has been preserved without significant alteration and that no inspired books of the Hebrew prophets or Jesus' apostles have been lost.

Only if you beg the question by insisting Paul's lost epistles and the "Sayings of the Seers" and the other lost prophetic books were not inspired.

With respect to the Old Testament in particular, it should be noted that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has immeasurably strengthened the evidence for the accurate preservation of the biblical text. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts for the Old Testament dated from about A.D. 900. However, among the Dead Sea Scrolls were copies of all or parts of every Old Testament book except Esther, dating from at least a century before Christ. A comparison of these ancient biblical manuscripts with the Medieval Hebrew Masoretic manuscripts (on which the Old Testament portion of the King James Bible was based) shows that the Old Testament text was preserved with a very high degree of accuracy over a period of approximately 1,000 years. Therefore, unless someone is able to show where the Old Testament text is inaccurate, we will continue to hold that it can be trusted. (This is not to say that the New Testament text is not also reliable; it certainly is, but that is not the object of our discussion here.)

The author here cites an F. F. Bruce publication from the sixties to support these assertions. Anyone with a working knowledge of the text-critical significance of DSS vis-a-vis the reliability of MT will know that they show a great deal of variety. In many cases, for instance, they share, against MT, connections with LXX and SP. The author invites the reader to show where the Old Testament text is inaccurate. 4QDeut 32:8-9, 43, as mentioned in the OP, show exactly that, and they directly affect rather serious doctrinal questions. The author mistakes "high degree of accuracy" for "inerrant," and apparently doesn't have much experience with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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Note from these verses that there are several things which God wants us to know, believe, and understand: (1) There is only one true God (Elohim) and Jehovah is that one true God. (2) There were no Elohims formed before Jehovah. This means that Jehovah does not have a Father.

The OP in this thread shows the error in that reasoning.

(3) There will be no Elohims formed after Jehovah. Some say that Isaiah 43:10,11 is talking about idols. But that cannot be true for there certainly have been idols and false gods made and worshiped since this passage was written.

This is a straw man. The argument is that Deutero-Isaiah is asserting that idols made by hand ("fashioned") are not gods. It says nothing about ontological deities. See the OP again.

Following the interpretive principle of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. . .

"Allowing scripture to interpret scripture" really means "finding scriptures that can help change the meaning of verses that conflict with my ideology." Letting scriptures interpret scriptures is a logical paradox.

In Hebrew there are two words for "one:" echad and yachid. It is interesting that the word used here, echad, stresses unity, but allows for diversity or plurality within that oneness.

Actually echad is the word for "one." Yachad is a verb that means "to be united," a noun meaning "community," or an adverb that means "together."

Psalm 110:1. The LORD [Jehovah] said unto my Lord [Adona], Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

This verse has been universally accepted for centuries by both Jews and Christians a Messianic psalm. Matthew 22:41-46 shows that Jesus understood "the LORD" [Jehovah] in Psalm 110:1 to refer to the Heavenly Father and "Lord" [Adona] to refer to the Son of God and Messiah:

First, this interpretation is far from universal. See here for an article in a conservative Christian journal that argues against a Messianic reading. Additionally, the text reads adoni, not adona, and as I've shown above, it's not plural when it refers to God.

It seems a large chunk of my post has somehow been lost. It contained several important points, but I don't have the time to go over it again. Just try to imagine it. You'll be impressed.

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Thanks for your critique of the article on IRR's website. That article was written 17 years ago, and one of the authors has passed away. I think your comments scored some technical points, but as you know I disagree overall with your approach.

I just ran across an interesting IRR article related to the designations YHWH and Elohim. I thought I'd offer some thoughts on the approach of the authors.... The authors are referred to this thread. If they have further questions, I'm usually available.

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Thanks for your critique of the article on IRR's website. That article was written 17 years ago, and one of the authors has passed away. I think your comments scored some technical points, but as you know I disagree overall with your approach.

Just to show that we are not the only ones who understand the Bible teaches a plurality of gods, I find an interesting little discourse from Ben E. Rich, "Two Letters To A Baptist Minister", in Scrapbook of Mormon Literature, the 2nd volume, p.128 that again shows the very biblical basis for this doctrine.

We solemnly plead guilty to believing in many Gods. If this is a crime it is time for a new translation of the Holy Scriptures. Does not the good book say "and God said, let us make man in our own image?" What arc you going to do with the words "us" and "our"' in this Scripture? Does this not prove a plurality of Gods? Ex. 15-11 says "who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods?" Deut. 10-17: "Lord, your God is God of gods and Lord of lords." Paul also refers to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, 1 Tim. 6-15, also see 2 Chron. 2-5, Psalms 86-8, Dan. 2-47, Dan. 4-8, Dan. 11-36. If you desire any more Scripture on this subject we will be pleased to give you chapter and verse. Notwithstanding we believe that there are many Gods, we worship only one God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Our enemies do not put it in this light, do they?

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