“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1, ESV
We begin in the beginning, reasonably enough, and someone with the title Elohim (God) taking responsibility for it all. It feels important to point out that Elohim sounds a bit like Sophia Vergara saying “I love him”. I won't often plumb the depths of pop culture like this, so take note.
The Hebrew title Elohim is shared, and perhaps originates from, the ancient Canaanites. Numerous groups in antiquity appear to have used some form of the title Elohim to describe the creator. The root of the title, El, had the well-known connotation of “The strong one” or “The one out in the front.” The writer of Genesis sets out using this familiar title to tell us where we, and all reality, come from.
In the beginning there was The Strength. The Source from which all other things derive their power to live and to be. The River from which all other streams flow.
In Hebrew, adding the suffix im generally makes a word masculine plural. This doesn't work in English, or the name Jim would be the butchest name of all. It may be anyway. Theologians make much or little of the fact that the One God depicted in Genesis 1 is referred to in the plural, depending on their angle. Some sniff at Elohim and confidently declare the scent of the Trinity permeating the first sentence in the Bible. Elohim is one God, yet referred to as containing multiplicity. A corporate oneness. A multitudinous singularity. Others point out that other Hebrew names for individuals, like Ephraim who pops up later in Genesis, are obviously not plural. Unless of course Ephraim was identified by his parents at birth as having multiple personalities. The suffix im is understood in this camp's interpretation as a marker for lofty abstractions, but not necessarily plurals, such as “life” (khayim) or even “the heavens” as is found in Genesis 1:1 (ha shamayim).
Still others point out that, depending on where you find the term in the Hebrew scriptures, it gets translated God, gods, judges, rulers, powers or even angels. You just have to determine the understanding from the context. And of course, from what ideas you bring to the text beforehand.
Where do I come out on it? Not certain. I used to be certain because I used to know everything with certainty. The more I learn, the less certainty about these sorts of things holds for me any appeal. But I am struck with the story starting with a seemingly generic term for the Almighty. I'm puzzled by that. Despite knowing others' explanations about God not yet revealing God's name at this point in the narrative, I'm still puzzled. But these days, for me, the more interesting part is in the next verse.
Feel free to share your take, head-scratchings and enlightenment below.