The Two Jehovahs of the Old Testament
[Editor’s note: The following is a combined synopsis of The Two Jehovahs of the Pentateuch and The Two Jehovahs of the Psalms, both written by Carl Franklin. Complete versions can be found at the Christian Biblical Church of God Web site, www.cbcg.org.]
The name Jehovah is used countless times in the Old Testament in reference to the true God. This name identifies God as both Creator and the Lord God of Israel. Christians typically view Jehovah as a singular name, referring only to one divine being. But the Scriptures show that in Old Testament times there were two divine beings known as Jehovah.
Both the Old and New Testaments proclaim the eternal pre-existence of Jesus Christ as one of the two Jehovahs. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is filled with testimonies of His eternal existence as God. [See Appendix V, “Jesus Christ was the Lord God of the Old Testament.”]
The Scriptures reveal that from the beginning the Creator was known to mankind as both “God” and “Lord”—or Elohim and Jehovah respectively. Both names are used numerous times in the first five books of the Bible. Elohim identifies God as Creator, while Jehovah primarily identifies God as Covenant Maker. The names are frequently used in combination, translated “the Lord God.”
Elohim—Proof of the Plurality of the Godhead
In order to grasp the reality of the two Jehovahs, we must first understand the meaning of the highly significant name Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun—the plural form of El (with the noun extender oh and the suffix im, which is the plural indicator in Hebrew). Although it is a plural noun, Elohim is found with both singular and plural verbs. When Elohim is used as a name of the true God, it is typically found with a singular verb. This use of both singular and plural verbs with the plural noun Elohim may be compared to the verb agreement of collective nouns in our English language. Collective nouns are used to name a plural number of objects or persons but are generally used with singular verbs. The New Webster’s Dictionary defines collective nouns as “expressing under the singular form a plurality of individual objects or persons, as herd, jury, clergy, which as subjects may take their verbs in either the singular or the plural, according to whether they are used to express more prominently the idea of unity or of plurality.”
Despite this fact, few are willing to acknowledge that Elohim is used to refer to more than one divine being. So deeply rooted is the influence of monotheism in our Christian-professing world that most scholars deny any possibility of a plurality of divine beings.
The Book of Genesis contains three passages that clearly refer to a plural number of divine beings. In each of these passages, we find the plural pronoun “Us” used in reference to God. The names of God that appear in these passages are translated from either Jehovah or Elohim, or a combination of the two.
“And God [Elohim] said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ ” (Gen. 1:26).
“And the LORD God [Jehovah Elohim] said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to decide good and evil’ ” (Gen. 3:22).
“And the LORD [Jehovah] said … ‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language…’ ” (Gen. 11:6-7).
Many scholars claim that such plural pronouns are only a figure of speech. Such “experts” are guilty, however, of violating the most fundamental rule of biblical interpretation—taking the text literally whenever possible. “The basic principle of biblical interpretation is to take words always in their literal sense unless there is an unmistakable contextual indication to the contrary” (Gerhard Hasel, Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, p. 176). Yet the context of these passages in Genesis gives no indication that the plural pronouns “Us” and “Our” should not be taken literally.
The Two Jehovahs of the Old Testament
Playing games with the Scriptures, scholars typically deny the literal meaning of “Us” in reference to God in Genesis 11:7 while they acknowledge that “us” is literal when it refers to the men of Babel in verse 4 (“let us build us a city … let us establish a name”). Thus they violate a second rule of biblical interpretation, which states that a word used more than once in the same context should be interpreted in a parallel and consistent manner. According to the basic rules of hermeneutics, if one interprets “let us” in verse 4 as literally referring to the men, plural, of Babel, then one must interpret “let Us” in verse 7 as literally referring to a plurality of divine beings. Just as the antecedent of “us” in verse 4 is the men of Babel, so the antecedent of “Us” in verse seven is Jehovah of verse 6. And as the words “let us” in verse four literally refer to more than one man, so the words “let Us” in verse 7 literally refer to more than one Jehovah! This is the true meaning of the Hebrew, as verified by the strict rules of biblical interpretation.
Elohim—Literal or Figurative?
Having adopted a monotheistic viewpoint, many biblical scholars reject the literal meaning of “Us” in reference to God and claim that the plural pronouns refer to a single God and His angelic host. This human reasoning, however, robs the passage of its vital literal meaning.
In Scripture, a passage may have both a figurative and literal meaning. For example, the fact that the “pillar of cloud” of Exodus 13-14, etc. was a symbol of divine guidance in no way implies that the cloud was not real. The figurative meaning of an object does not negate its literal meaning or existence. This principle also applies to the use of the plural pronouns “Us” in Genesis. Whatever symbolism may be implied by “Us” does not negate the existence of two Jehovahs!
When questions arise as to whether a word or expression in a scriptural passage should be interpreted literally, it is necessary to examine the context in which this word or expression is used. Hasel writes, “A basic principle of interpretation with regard to words is to investigate the same word or term in its usage in the same book [for example, comparing the use of ‘Us’ in Genesis 11:7 with ‘us’ in verse 4], by the same author, and then beyond in the remaining writers of the Bible” (Ibid., p. 177).
Those who sincerely seek the truth of Scripture will base their interpretation of a word or expression on the immediate context and on other passages that use the same wording. This principle will safeguard us from falling prey to the private interpretations of men.
Another theory promoted by a number of biblical writers is that the “Us” passages of Genesis are examples of the “plural of majesty.” While the “plural of majesty” is a traditional practice in some cultures, it cannot be applied to the Hebrew text. To attempt to do so is mere human reasoning. The respected Hebrew grammarian William Green writes that the pronouns “Us” and “Our” in Genesis 1:26 are “not to be explained as a royal style of speech, nor as associating the angels with God, for they took no part in man’s creation, nor a plural of majesty which has no application to [Hebrew] verbs, but [can only be explained] as one of those indications of the plurality … [of] the Divine Being which are repeatedly met with in the Old Testament” (Hebrew Chrestomathy, p. 84).
Notice the testimony of the Anglican scholar John Oxlee: “To prevent us from taking the words [‘let Us make’] literally, and from imbibing the notion that the Godhead exists in a plurality of persons, the modern Jews have instituted two general modes of interpretation; the first of which is: That it is the regal form of speaking [the ‘plural of majesty’], in which the plural is used for the singular; the other: That it is the deity conferring with his angels in council” (The Christian Doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, p. 96).
These false Jewish interpretations are not based on the Hebrew text. They were introduced by certain rabbis whose opinions were shaped by the monotheistic worship of Babylon. Under the influence of pagan monotheism, such false teachers rejected the knowledge that God had originally revealed in the Old Testament. Denying the plurality of the Godhead proclaimed in the Hebrew name Elohim, they claimed that the plural form is used only to show honor to God.
Those who promote this faulty interpretation are not rightly dividing the Word of God. When Elohim is used in Scripture to refer to pagan deities, it is understood that the term clearly designates a plurality of gods. And no one argues that such false gods are being shown “royal honor.” Yet when Elohim is used of the true God, it is wrongly claimed that the noun refers to a single deity Who is being shown “royal honor.” But scholars can’t have it both ways. Elohim is plural and must be consistently understood as such. This contradictory approach is a classic example of how many scholars twist the Scriptures to avoid the truth.
And what of the claim that the “Us” passages are somehow a broad reference to the angelic host? Job 38:4-7 shows that the angels were indeed present when God created the heavens and the earth—thus they were undoubtedly present at the creation of man. But does that mean the angels have the power to create as does God, thus making them part of the “Us” of Genesis 1:26? As we will see, the angels do not have the power to create. That is reserved for God Elohim alone.
One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to realize that the Old Testament cannot be fully understood apart from the New Testament. It this particular case, certain New Testament passages are critical. The apostle Paul made it clear that—as one of the Jehovahs of the Old Testament—Jesus Christ alone created all things. “[By] Him were all things created, the things in heaven and the things on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether they be thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). In creating, Christ was acting on behalf of the Jehovah Who would ultimately become God the Father. Thus, the two of Them—the two Jehovahs of the Old Testament, both Elohim—were the creative “Us” of Genesis 1:26. This clearly excludes the entire angelic host, which had no part in the actual work of creation. Rather, the angels were themselves created by the “Us” of Genesis 1:26.
In the book of Hebrews, Paul demonstrates that angels and humans have entirely different purposes in God’s plan. He writes: “[Christ] Who, being the brightness of His glory and the exact image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His own power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having been made so much greater than any of the angels, inasmuch as He has inherited a name exceedingly superior to them” (Heb. 1:3-4). Having established Jesus’ superior position relative to the angels, Paul then asks in verse 5: “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son; this day I have begotten You’? And again, ‘I will be a Father to Him, and He will be a Son to Me’?” As this passage brings out, God has never offered angels an opportunity to become begotten “sons of God” with a genuine Father/son relationship. Yet this is exactly what God has offered to man—the potential to enter into the very Family of God as spirit-born sons and daughters of God.
Paul goes on to explain the intended purpose of the angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits, being sent forth to minister to those who are about to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). Angels were created to serve those who are to “inherit salvation”—who are to become members of Elohim.
Jesus Himself adds a critical point in John 17, where He uses the word “Us” in a special manner. Here, Christ is praying His final prayer before His death, asking for the Father’s blessing on His chosen ones: “I do not pray for these [present disciples] only, but also for those [future disciples] who shall believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us… (John 17:20-21). At present, the one God Family is composed only of the Father and the Son. Through God’s awesome plan, however, Christians are begotten through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and will ultimately be “born again” in the first resurrection as very sons and daughters of God—thus fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that all of those called by the Father would become “one in Us.”
True followers of Christ are destined to become members of Elohim—members of the divine “Us.” But no such possibility exists for angels. They never have been—and never will be—part of Elohim, the “Us” of Genesis 1:26.
Jehovah Elohim in Genesis 3:22
The combined name Jehovah Elohim—found in Genesis 3:22 with the plural pronoun “Us”— presents a special problem to Trinitarians and monotheists. They cannot explain why the name Jehovah (which they believe to be strictly singular in number) is joined with the plural name Elohim.
“And the LORD God [Jehovah Elohim] said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us…’ “
The name Jehovah Elohim is a compound term that is composed of two nouns. As in English, Hebrew nouns are divided into two categories: common nouns and proper nouns. Common nouns refer to a general group or class, but proper nouns refer to a particular person, place or thing. According to Hebrew rules of grammar, Jehovah—as a proper noun—can only be followed by a noun or noun phrase that either qualifies Jehovah or is in apposition to Jehovah (i.e., a noun or noun phrase that refers exclusively to Jehovah). Therefore, when the proper noun Jehovah is used with Elohim, as in Jehovah Elohim, both nouns must be interpreted as referring to the Godhead. Thus, it is contrary to the Hebrew rules of grammar to interpret Elohim as a reference to the angelic host. In Genesis 3:22—and every passage that uses the combined name Jehovah Elohim—both Jehovah and Elohim must be grammatically interpreted as names that identify the Godhead.
Does Deuteronomy 6:4 Support a Singular Godhead?
Deuteronomy 6:4 is often quoted by those who promote a monotheistic view of God: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Jehovah] our God [Elohim] is one LORD [Jehovah]” (KJV). This translation of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4 is similar to the Jewish translation, which is known as the “Shema.” Shema is Hebrew for “hear,” the first word in the passage. The Jewish Shema:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
The Shema has long been used as a “rallying cry” for monotheistic Judaism, and is often quoted in arguing the singularity of the Godhead. Scholars would have us believe that the Old Testament supports the Jewish view of a monotheistic God. But the truth of Scripture is that Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4 do not limit the Godhead to a single divine being.
Scholars correctly point out that there is no verb in the passage in the original Hebrew. The verb “is” in the English translation is added, and is thus placed in italics in many translations. The Hebrew wording in this verse is known as a verbless clause. Such clauses often require a complex grammatical analysis in order to properly interpret their meaning.
Scholars have arrived at a number of interpretations for Deuteronomy 6:4, and there has been much debate over the meaning of the text. Because there is no other verse in the Old Testament that resembles this passage, scholars are unable to verify that any interpretation of this verse is completely accurate. In An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Bruce K. Waltke explains the complex grammatical factors involved in translating a verbless clause (the term YHWH or Yhwh is the same as Jehovah):
“The problems posed by the Shema (Deut. 6:4) are numerous. After the initial imperative and vocative , ladsi oms ‘Hear, O Israel,’ there follow four words [Jehovah Elohim Jehovah one]. However they are construed, it is agreed that no closely comparable passage occurs [elsewhere]. The simplest solution is to recognize [that we are dealing with] two juxtaposed verbless clauses: (a) wnihla hwhi ‘YHWH is our God’ (identifying clause, S-Pred); (b) dAHa hwhi ‘YHWH is one’ (classifying clause, SPred, with a numeral). Few scholars favor such a parsing. Andersen takes … hwhi hwhi [Jehovah, Jehovah] as a discontinuous [split] predicate, with the other two words as a discontinuous [split] subject, [and thus arrives at] ‘Our one God [Elohim] is YHWH, YHWH.‘ Other proposed parsings take the first two words as subject (viz., ‘YHWH our God is one YHWH’) or the first three words (viz., ‘YHWH, our God, YHWH is one’) or even the first word alone [as subject]. It is hard to say if dAHa [one] can serve as an adjective modifying hwhi [Jehovah]. It is even less clear what the predicate dAHa hwhi wnihla would mean, though some scholars take it adverbially (‘YHWH is our God, YHWH alone’). As Gerald Janzen observes, ‘the Shema does not conform exactly to any standard nominal sentence pattern…’ ” (p. 135; bold emphasis added).
Note that in the above presentation of proposed interpretations of Deuteronomy 6:4, Waltke quotes Francis Andersen, a noted scholar and leading authority on Hebrew verbless clauses. Andersen admits that the passage is uniquely challenging: “Another clause of celebrated difficulty is Deut. 6:4—yahwe `elohenu yahwe `ehad. The many proposed translations face objections of various kinds” (The Hebrew Verbless Clause in the Pentateuch: Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series XIV, p. 47; bold emphasis added).
After showing that numerous translations violate the rules for interpreting verbless clauses, Andersen explains how a correct application of the rules leads to an acceptable interpretation of the disputed passage. “Yahweh is the sole object of Israelite worship. Yahwe … `ehad is the (discontinuous) predicate; `elohenu … `ehad is the (discontinuous) subject: ‘Our one God [Elohim] is Yahweh, Yahweh.‘ [This rendering is a] grammatically acceptable answer to the implied question, ‘Who is our god?‘ ” (Ibid.; bold emphasis added).
Andersen concludes that there exists an implied question in Deuteronomy 6:4, based on the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods [elohim] before Me” (Ex. 20:3). According to Andersen, the implied question is: “If we shall have no other gods (elohim) before You, then Who is our God?” Properly rendered, Deuteronomy 6:4 answers this implied question: “Our one God is Jehovah Jehovah.”
In other words, the Text is emphatically stating that Israel’s only God is Jehovah. The emphasis is clearly expressed through the use of Jehovah in repetitive apposition. Waltke adds that repetitive apposition functions to emphasize the name (An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, p. 233).
This double use of the name Jehovah is not unique in the Pentateuch. Jehovah is also used in repetitive apposition in a significant passage in the book of Exodus which describes the appearance of the God of Israel to Moses on Mt. Sinai when the words of the covenant were being delivered. Notice the name by which Israel’s God revealed Himself: “And the LORD [Jehovah] passed by before him [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God [Jehovah, Jehovah Elohim], merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth’ ” (Ex. 34:6).
It was Jehovah Who had delivered the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt and had covenanted with them at Sinai. It was Jehovah Who had led Israel through the wilderness and had brought them to the land of Canaan. Now, as the children of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land, Moses was proclaiming that they were to worship Jehovah—and Him only: “Hear, O Israel: Our one God is Jehovah Jehovah” (Deut. 6:4). [Editor’s note: In The Holy Bible In Its Original Order, this passage is rendered: “Hear, O Israel: Our one God is the LORD, the LORD.“]
Basing their belief on a monotheistic interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:4, the followers of Judaism reject the truth of the duality of the Godhead and refuse to acknowledge the existence of the two Jehovahs of the Old Testament. Yet both the Old and New Testaments reveal that the two Jehovahs— Who became the Father and the Son—have always existed. Christ said, “[The] Scriptures cannot be broken…” (John 10:35). Indeed, the New Testament Scriptures uphold the correct understanding of Deuteronomy 6:4—as confirmed by Jesus when He quoted the passage in Mark 12:29 (see Appendix X, “Exegetical Analysis of Mark 12:29“).
The Two Jehovahs of the Psalms
In all but one of these passages (Psalm 118), the original inspired words were altered in ancient times by the keepers of the Hebrew text. Under the pretense of reverence for the name of God, the name Adonay was substituted for Jehovah in 134 places—including key verses in the Psalms which reveal that there were two Jehovahs. These alterations to the Hebrew text were carefully documented. The ancient Levitical Massorites, custodians of the Hebrew text, noted every passage in which the name Jehovah was modified to Adonay. Adonay is a variation of the Hebrew word Adon, which means “Lord.”
The motive behind these alterations is not fully understood. It is possible that during the second and third centuries BC—when the Jewish nation was heavily influenced by Hellenistic religious concepts— the Jews accepted of a form of monotheism which resulted in the rejection of the scriptural truth that there were two Jehovahs. Indeed, the selection of the passages which were altered indicates that the Massorites were unwilling to acknowledge the existence of more than one Jehovah.
A contributing factor may have been that the Levites could not accept the scriptural revelation that one of the two Jehovahs would become the Messiah and replace their existing priesthood. Thus, they modified passages in the Psalms which referred to both Jehovahs and which prophesied that one of these Jehovahs would become the Messiah and the High Priest of the New Covenant.
The Two Jehovahs of Psalm Two
In Psalm 2, we find a passage which clearly refers to two divine beings—identified as the Jehovah Who became the Father and the Jehovah Who became the Son. As in other psalms referring to the two Jehovahs, the Massorites have modified the Hebrew text, changing Jehovah in verse 4 to Adonay. This alteration, however, cannot hide the fact that there are two Jehovahs in this passage. The use of Jehovah in other verses of this psalm shows that this divine name is referring to two distinct beings.
“Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD [Jehovah] and against His Christ, saying, ‘Let us break Their [Jehovah and His Christ] bands asunder and cast away Their cords from us.’ He [Jehovah] Who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD [Adonay, originally Jehovah] scoffs at them. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and in His fury He terrifies them. ‘Yea, I [Jehovah] have set My king [the Christ, or Messiah] on My holy mountain of Zion’ ” (Psa. 2:1-6).
The Jehovah in the first part of this passage is obviously the divine being Who became God the Father. In verse 6 this Jehovah speaks of His future King, the Messiah. In verse 7, a second divine being begins to speak, prophesying that He will become the Son of Jehovah. When we read the following verses, we find that this divine being is also called Jehovah.
” ‘I will declare the decree of the LORD [Jehovah, the Father of the Messiah]. He has said to Me [the Messiah], “You are My Son; this day I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I shall give the nations for Your inheritance; and the uttermost parts of the earth for Your possession. You [the Son] shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” ‘ And now be wise, O kings; be admonished O judges of the earth. Serve the LORD [Jehovah, the Son] with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath can flame up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him [the Son]” (Psa. 2:7-12).
It is evident that the Jehovah of verse 7 is the one Who would become the Father of the Messiah, and that the Jehovah in verse 11 is the one Who would become the Messiah, His Son.
The Two Jehovahs of Psalm 110
In the first verse of Psalm 110, David was inspired to prophesy that a divine being called Adon would be invited to sit at the right hand of a divine being called Jehovah. In the original Hebrew text, the same divine being Who is called Adon in verse 1 is called Jehovah in verse 5. This Psalm is actually describing one Jehovah sitting beside another Jehovah! The word Jehovah in verse 5, however, was altered anciently by Levitical Massorites to read Adonay. The Levites were attempting to hide the truth that the Adon of verse 1 was a second Jehovah!
Psalm 110 clearly reveals two Jehovahs speaking to one another and foretelling future events. This psalm is an explicit prophecy of a Jehovah/Adon who would become both Messiah and High Priest.
“The LORD [Jehovah] said to my Lord [Adon, the Messiah], ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies as Your footstool. The scepter of Your strength the LORD [Jehovah] shall send out of Zion; and rule in the midst of Your enemies. Your people will offer themselves in the day of Your power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: Yours is the dew of Your youth.’ The LORD [Jehovah] has sworn, and will not repent, ‘You [the Messiah] are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’ ” (Psa. 110:1-4).
The following verses continue the prophetic description of this Adon Who would become the Messiah. Notice especially verse 5, where the Hebrew name Jehovah in the original Hebrew text was changed by the Massorites to read Adonay.
“The Lord [Hebrew Adonay, originally Jehovah, referring to the Messiah] at Your [the first Jehovah’s] right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath. He [Jehovah, the Messiah] shall judge among the nations, He shall fill them with dead bodies; He shall scatter chief men over the broad earth. He shall drink of the brook by the way; therefore He shall lift up the head” (Psa. 110:5-7).
This passage identifies the Adon of verse 1 with the Adonay of verse 5, which in the original Hebrew was Jehovah. Thus, Adon and Adonay are both referring to the same being, the second Jehovah Who became the Messiah.
How Christ Interpreted Psalm 110: No interpretation of Psalm 110 is more authoritative than the words spoken by Jesus Himself—for He is the promised Messiah about Whom the psalm was written. What did Psalm 110 mean to Christ? How did He interpret the words, “The Lord said unto my Lord…”?
Christ quoted Psalm 110 in Matthew 22:41-46. In conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus asked, “How then does David in spirit call Him Lord [Greek Kurios], saying, ‘The LORD [Kurios] said to my Lord [Kurios], “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet?” ‘ Therefore, if David calls Him Lord [Kurios], how is He his Son?” (Matt. 22:41-46).
In this quote from Psalm 110, we find that the Greek word Kurios, or Lord, is used in place of the Hebrew Jehovah—thus it is the equivalent of Jehovah. But Kurios is also used here in place of Adon. Christ’s use of the term Kurios for both Jehovah and Adon proves that the name Jehovah applies equally to the Adon of Psalm 110.
Both the Pentateuch and the book of Psalms clearly proclaim the eternal pre-existence of Jesus as one of the two Jehovahs of the Old Testament—proving that the Godhead has from eternity been composed of two divine beings, known today as God the Father and Jesus Christ, God the Son.
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