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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone

Don Stewart :: What Does the Hebrew Term Elohim Mean?

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What Does the Hebrew Term Elohim Mean?

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 20

When we read about “God” in the Old Testament, we are reading the translation of the Hebrew term Elohim. It is important that we have an understanding of the meaning of this word and how it is used in Scripture.

Elohim Is the Hebrew Name for God

The name commonly used for God in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word Elohim. It is also found in the singular form El and Elah. Whenever we find the English word “God” used in the Old Testament, it is a translation of this Hebrew word Elohim, or one of its forms.

While the exact meaning of Elohim is not known, it seems to contain the idea of strength and power. Elohim emphasizes the transcendence of God. This means that He is above all other beings who are called God.

The word is used in the first verse of the Bible.

In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 KJV)

The noun Elohim is plural but it is always used with a singular verb when it speaks of the true God. This indicates a unity and plurality within the nature of God. This unity and diversity is revealed in Scripture as the doctrine of the Trinity; one God who exists in three distinct Persons or centers of consciousness, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The Word Elohim Is Used in Other Ways

The word Elohim is not restricted to the one, true God. From Scripture we find it used in a number of ways.

1. Elohim Is Used of False Gods

Elohim is used not only for the true God, but also for false gods. We read in Exodus a warning not to make false gods.

“Do not make any gods [Elohim] to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” (Exodus 20:23 NIV)

Here Elohim is used in reference to false gods.

2. There Are Instances of Elohim Referring to Human Beings

On some occasions, Elohim refers to human beings. The psalmist wrote,

I say, “You are gods [Elohim], children of the Most High, all of you...” (Psalm 82:6 NRSV)

In this instance, Elohim does not refer to the true and living God.

3. Elohim Is Used of Angels

In the Book of Job, we find that the word Elohim is used of angels.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6 RSV)

They are called the “sons of God” in this context.

Therefore, when we encounter the Hebrew word Elohim we must determine its meaning from the context.

The Singular El Is Used of All the Members of the Trinity

The singular form of Elohim is El. It has the idea of strength, power, and might. Elohim and El seemed to be used interchangeably.

El is used in the Old Testament of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Genesis, we read about Melchizedek. He is the priest of the Most High God.

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God [El] Most High... (Genesis 14:18 NIV)

God Most High is probably a reference to God the Father.

The Son is also called El. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [El].” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB)

This verse was cited by Matthew as a reference to Jesus Christ. The angel of the Lord said to Joseph,

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”, which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:21-23 NRSV)

The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is called El in the Old Testament. We read in the Book of Job,

“The Spirit of God [El] has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4 NIV)

Consequently, we have the three Persons of the Holy Trinity all designated with the singular Hebrew El.

The Name Eloah Is also Used for God

The Hebrew term Eloah refers to the one God. We read about this reference in the Book of Deuteronomy. It says,

“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God [Eloah] who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:15 NASB)

However, this term can also refer to false gods. The Babylonians used this term to refer to their false gods. We read of this in the Book of Daniel.

“The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods [Eloah], whose dwelling is not with mortals.” (Daniel 2:11 NRSV)

Thus, like other words, the context must determine its meaning.

El Is Used in Combination with Other Words

El is used in combination with other words in the Old Testament. These compound words describe God in various ways. They include the following.


El-Elyon is the, “God Most High;” or the “Most High God.” In Genesis, we read of God as El-Elyon. The Bible says,

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High [El-Elyon] and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20 NIV)

This seems to be the name of God that was known by the Gentile nations. The term is also used in Deuteronomy. Moses wrote the following.

When the Most High [El-Elyon] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:8 NIV)

Here the living God is called the “Most High.”

Daniel wrote of God being “the Most High.” This description of the Lord came from the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God [El-Elyon] come out! Come here!” (Daniel 3:26 NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar recognized that Daniel’s God was above every other so-called God in the universe.

Isaiah records the King of Babylon describing himself to be like the “Most High.” In the context, it seems like a title of Deity. We read,

“I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High [El-Elyon].” (Isaiah 14:14 NIV)

The God of Scripture is indeed the Lord “Most High.”


As El-Shaddai, He is God Almighty. The Lord said that He appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by that name. When the Lord appeared to Moses at the “burning bush” He informed Moses as to the title with which He appeared to these patriarchs.

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty [El-Shaddai], but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” (Exodus 6:3 NIV)

This title expresses His mighty power. To these patriarchs, He was God Almighty.

In the Book of Ruth, we read the Moabitess Naomi referring to God as the “Almighty.” The Bible says,

But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty [El-Shaddai], has dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:20 NKJV)

The God of Scripture is the Almighty God.


El-Olam means that God is the everlasting God. Abraham used this term to describe God. We read the following account in Genesis.

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God [El-Olam]. (Genesis 21:33 NRSV)

Olam expresses the eternal duration of God.

The psalmist wrote about the fact that the God of Scripture has existed from everlasting to everlasting. Indeed, He is the eternal God.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2 NRSV)

God has existed from the very beginning, and He will always exist. This is why He is called El-Olam.

El Gibbor

El Gibbor means, “the mighty God.” Isaiah the prophet described the Lord with a number of titles. Among these was this designation “the Mighty God.” He wrote,

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God [El Gibbor], Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)

The God of Scripture is “the mighty God.”

Jeremiah also used this description of God. He wrote of the great and powerful God whom he served, God Almighty.

“You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty [El Gibbor]...” (Jeremiah 32:18 NIV)

The Mighty God is our great God.


The term Elohim-Sabaoth means the “God of hosts.” “Hosts,” in this context, probably refers to the angelic world. The psalmist wrote,

O God of hosts [Elohim-Sabaoth], restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved...O God of hosts [Elohim-Sabaoth], turn again now, we beseech You; look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine... (Psalm 80:7, 14 NASB)

Each of these names gives us insight into the character and workings of God.

Conclusion: Elohim Generally Refers to the God of the Bible But Can Have Other Meanings

Therefore, we find that Elohim, for the most part, refers to the God of the Bible. However, on occasion it can have other meanings. As always, the context must tell us how we are to understand the term. We must always keep this in mind.

Summary – Question 20
What Does the Hebrew Term Elohim Mean?

The name Elohim means “strength and might.” This plural noun is the common Hebrew term for God. In the Old Testament, when we see the word “God” it is a translation of the Hebrew word Elohim. However this is not its only usage.

Indeed, in certain contexts, it refers to false gods. They are called Elohim on a number of occasions. We also find that Elohim is used of angelic beings.

In addition, this term is also used of humans. In the Book of Psalms, those who were human judges were called Elohim.

El the singular form of Elohim is used for the three members of the Trinity. Indeed, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all called El.

Both El and Elohim are used in combination with other words. These terms give us further understanding of the attributes of God. They mean such things as “God Most High,” “God Almighty,” the “Everlasting God,” “the Mighty God,” and the “Lord of Hosts.”

In sum, Elohim usually refers to the God of Scripture, the true and living God, but in other contexts it can have other meanings.

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