Elohim in Genesis 1: God or Gods?
Isn’t the Hebrew word elohim found in Genesis 1:1 (and throughout Genesis 1) literally a plural form, meaning “gods”? If this is correct, why don’t English versions translate it that way? Does Genesis 1:1 mean that many gods made the world, as Mormonism and some other religions claim?
The Hebrew word elohim is grammatically a plural form, and in a couple hundred occurrences in the Old Testament does mean “gods.” However, about 2,600 times elohim functions as a singular noun. We know this for four reasons.
First, in these passages it is very common for the noun to take singular pronouns, verbs, and descriptive nouns. If you read a sentence saying “Elohim is good,” you know that Elohim in this sentence must be singular because the verb is singular (“is”). The same thing applies to expressions like “Elohim our Father” or “Elohim sits on his throne.” We see this use of singular words in relation to Elohim right in the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The verb “created” in this verse is singular, not plural.
Second, the Old Testament frequently uses the word Elohim as a name or title for Yahweh (Jehovah), who is of course a singular being. For example, Genesis 2:4 refers to the Creator as Yahweh Elohim (Jehovah God). Over half of the verses in the Old Testament that use the name Elohim also refer to him directly as Yahweh.
Third, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word Elohim in these contexts as “God,” not “gods.” For example, Genesis 1:1 in the Septuagint says, “In the beginning God [theos, the singular word for “God”) made the heavens and the earth.”
Fourth, the New Testament, written in Greek, also uses the singular form theos when quoting Old Testament texts referring to Elohim. For example, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 as saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Matt. 4:10). In the Hebrew text, Deuteronomy 6:13 says Elohim. In both the Septuagint and in the quotation in Matthew, the Greek word used is the singular theos.
These four facts prove beyond reasonable doubt that Genesis 1:1 is referring to a single God, not a group of gods, when it speaks about Elohim creating the world.
For Further Study
Joseph Smith and the First Verse of the Bible (pdf document)