Ten Christian Prooftexts:
The misuse of Hebrew Scriptures
In the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth.
When one reads the very first verse of the Bible, one may not see how it could possibly be used by Christianity to prove a Christian claim. However, Christians see in this verse an indication of the trinity, the belief that Gd is made up of three 'persons,' the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. To understand how Christians see this, one must read the verse in the original Hebrew. Transliterated, it reads,
B'reysheet Bara Eloheem Et Hashamayim V'et Ha-aretz.
Christians see that the word in the verse used for 'Gd' is the word 'Eloheem.' They point out that the ending of 'eem' indicates a plural in the Hebrew language, and they are right: usually the 'eem' at the end of the word indicates a plural. For example, 'sefer' is 'book,' while 'sefareem' is 'books.'
However, not all words with 'eem' on the end are plural. For example, the word 'mayeem' is 'water,' and not 'waters.' One would not say, 'pass the waters,' one would say 'pass the water' as in English. The same is true for the word, 'paneem,' which means 'face' and not 'faces.'
In the above examples, in order for the nouns to be understood as plural, whatever verbs and adjectives that apply to 'paneem' and 'mayeem' would have to match, and also be plural. However, the verb in Genesis 1:1 is Bara, and is not in the plural, which would be Bar-u. This means that the Hebrew does not recognize the word for Gd, Eloheem, to be in the plural.
The most important response to this Christian claim is to understand that there is no reason to assume a plural reference to Gd must mean three. A plural is simply more than one, and can indicate 2, 3, 5, or even 235,000. There is nothing to indicate that any plural reference to Gd must specifically mean three. If one was required to see plurals, in relationship to Gd, to be references to a trinity, would that meant that someone with a 'paneem,' a 'face' in Hebrew, would have to be three-faced?
The way in which someone interprets a biblical verse will be influenced by that reader's experiences and beliefs. A Christian assumes that the plural references to Gd always mean three, because a Christian begins with the assumption that Gd is a trinity. However, what if a Hindu, with the belief in multiple gods, read the same verse? The Hindu certainly could claim that the verse referred to the multiplicity of Hindu gods, while the Christian would claim that the verse referred to their trinity, and the Jew will maintain that it refers to an absolute one Gd. Of course, the Jewish claim will be based on the verb being in the singular, and the existence of other words that, like Eloheem, appear to be plural but are not.
Furthermore, the Jewish claim will be based on the Jewish idea of absolute Monotheism, that Gd is One and indivisible. However, Christians and Hindus are free to reject the Jewish claim, which is what makes them Christians or Hindus. Were they to accept the Jewish understanding of this verse, leading them to the Jewish understanding of Gd, that Gd is One and Indivisible, it would be a first step to abandoning their own religions, just as if Jews were to accept the Christian understanding of this verse it would be a first step in abandoning their Judaism.
It also must be noted that the word 'Eloheem' is also used in the Bible to refer to pagan idols.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. [Exodus 20:3]
And the word in that verse used for 'gods' is the same word, 'Eloheem,' that we have in Genesis.
To be accurate, the word, 'Eloheem' comes from the root which means 'power.' The Bible uses the word 'Eloheem' to mean Gd, because Gd is the Ultimate Power, however when it does so, it uses a verb that is singular, not recognizing the subject 'eloheem' as plural.
Questions? Email Rabbi Stuart Federow