God’s plural names

In Hebrew, a verb and its subject always match both in gender and number. One glaring exception to this rule is seen when certain nouns are referring to God. Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) and Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) are both plural nouns but when they refer to God they are almost always used with singular verb forms. The uniqueness of this grammatical feature (limited only to verses that speak of God and unknown in the languages of other ancient near eastern literature) leads many to believe this may have been one of the first glimpses God gave us of his triune nature. However, some scholars argue that this cannot be reflection of the plurality of the Godhead in the trinity because that concept was, as far as we know, unknown in the ancient near east; they suggest that this was merely an indication of “majesty” just like the royal “we” used many centuries later (a concept that was, as far as we know, also unknown in the Ancient Near East); others have suggest that this was a remnant left over from an earlier polytheistic understanding of God (an idea that cannot be reconciled with biblical inerrancy). Still other scholars recognize that God’s divine inspiration often allowed the authors of Scripture to describe ideas they did not fully understand. Additionally, one unique exception to this grammatical rule is found in Ge. 1:26; this verse begins with the singular verb+plural noun combination that is normally used when speaking of God but then dramatically changes into a grammatically correct plural in the remainder of the verse. The very dramatic change in this verse has generated much discussion throughout history about who the “we” is; the royal “we” explanation doesn’t appear to work well very well here. That being said, I think it is important to recognize that we truly do not know why this peculiar aspect of Hebrew grammar developed and, while curious, we have insufficient knowledge to make a dogmatic assertion about its association with the triune nature of God. It alone is not enough to “prove” his triune nature but it really is sufficient to make us stop and wonder.