May 02, 2014

El or Elohim: "the One True God"

Genesis 1:1-31

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
—Genesis 1:1


The most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible is El, meaning “God.” Derived from a Semitic language, the root meaning of El is “might, strength, power.” This name for God occurs widely throughout the Bible.

Sometimes the word el refers to the pagan gods of nations surrounding Israel. When it refers to the one true God, however, the word is always capitalized, meaning “God of gods.” More often (about 2,600 times in the Old Testament), the name El occurs in plural form as Elohim. This form, sometimes called the “plural of majesty,” emphasizes that the God of Israel is “the one true God of the universe.”

The names El and Elohim set the God of Israel in stark contrast with the false gods of other nations, proclaiming them counterfeit and stating that he is the one true God. No wonder the very first verse of the Bible reads, “In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.” No one knows the reason for the plural form here, but the early church fathers suggest it points to the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God in three persons.

El or Elohim, “the one true God,” declares that our world be-longs to him. We do well to honor him in all that we do and say. How will you do that today?

God, thank you for your marvelous creation! Thank you for your amazing grace! Help us to honor you as the one true God in all that we do and say. Amen.

About the author — Kurt Selles

Kurt Selles is the director of ReFrame Ministries and serves as the Executive Editor of Today. He is a graduate of Calvin College and Seminary, and received his PhD from Vanderbilt University. Before coming to ReFrame, he served 19 years in Taiwan and China with CRC World Missions. Kurt later taught missions at Beeson Divinity School, where he also acted as the director of the school’s Global Center. Kurt and his wife, Vicki, reside in Grand Rapids and have three adult children.

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