Elohim, Allah, and Trinity

I found this fascinating section of Adam Clarke’s commentary on the Bible recently, where he masterfully presents an argument for connecting the Hebrew word ‘God’ (Elohim) with the Trinity by reason of its being plural. The same can be said of the Arabic word ‘Allah’ and Christians may want to make their Muslim friends aware of this if they are opposed to the Trinity. It is difficult for me to add much to the article, but I cannot help but post it just the same.

The original word אלהים Elohim, God, is certainly the plural form of אל El, or אלה Eloah, and has long been supposed, by the most eminently learned and pious men, to imply a plurality of Persons in the Divine nature. As this plurality appears in so many parts of the sacred writings to be confined to three Persons, hence the doctrine of the Trinity, which has formed a part of the creed of all those who have been deemed sound in the faith, from the earliest ages of Christianity. Nor are the Christians singular in receiving this doctrine, and in deriving it from the first words of Divine revelation. An eminent Jewish rabbi, Simeon ben Joachi, in his comment on the sixth section of Leviticus, has these remarkable words: “Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim; there are three degrees, and each degree by itself alone, and yet notwithstanding they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other.” See Ainsworth. He must be strangely prejudiced indeed who cannot see that the doctrine of a Trinity, and of a Trinity in unity, is expressed in the above words. The verb ברא bara, he created, being joined in the singular number with this plural noun, has been considered as pointing out, and not obscurely, the unity of the Divine Persons in this work of creation. In the ever-blessed Trinity, from the infinite and indivisible unity of the persons, there can be but one will, one purpose, and one infinite and uncontrollable energy.
“Let those who have any doubt whether אלהים Elohim, when meaning the true God, Jehovah, be plural or not, consult the following passages, where they will find it joined with adjectives, verbs, and pronouns plural.
“Gen_1:26 Gen_3:22 Gen_11:7 Gen_20:13 Gen_31:7, Gen_31:53 Gen_35:7. “Deu_4:7 Deu_5:23; Jos_24:19 1Sa_4:8; 2Sa_7:23; “Psa_58:6; Isa_6:8; Jer_10:10, Jer_23:36. “See also Pro_9:10, Pro_30:3; Psa_149:2; Ecc_5:7, Ecc_12:1; Job_5:1; Isa_6:3, Isa_54:5, Isa_62:5; Hos_11:12, or Hos_12:1; Mal_1:6; Dan_5:18, Dan_5:20, and Dan_7:18, Dan_7:22.” – Parkhurst.
As the word Elohim is the term by which the Divine Being is most generally expressed in the Old Testament, it may be necessary to consider it here more at large. It is a maxim that admits of no controversy, that every noun in the Hebrew language is derived from a verb, which is usually termed the radix or root, from which, not only the noun, but all the different flections of the verb, spring. This radix is the third person singular of the preterite or past tense. The ideal meaning of this root expresses some essential property of the thing which it designates, or of which it is an appellative. The root in Hebrew, and in its sister language, the Arabic, generally consists of three letters, and every word must be traced to its root in order to ascertain its genuine meaning, for there alone is this meaning to be found. In Hebrew and Arabic this is essentially necessary, and no man can safely criticise on any word in either of these languages who does not carefully attend to this point.
I mention the Arabic with the Hebrew for two reasons.
1. Because the two languages evidently spring from the same source, and have very nearly the same mode of construction.
2. Because the deficient roots in the Hebrew Bible are to be sought for in the Arabic language. The reason of this must be obvious, when it is considered that the whole of the Hebrew language is lost except what is in the Bible, and even a part of this book is written in Chaldee.
Now, as the English Bible does not contain the whole of the English language, so the Hebrew Bible does not contain the whole of the Hebrew. If a man meet with an English word which he cannot find in an ample concordance or dictionary to the Bible, he must of course seek for that word in a general English dictionary. In like manner, if a particular form of a Hebrew word occur that cannot be traced to a root in the Hebrew Bible, because the word does not occur in the third person singular of the past tense in the Bible, it is expedient, it is perfectly lawful, and often indispensably necessary, to seek the deficient root in the Arabic. For as the Arabic is still a living language, and perhaps the most copious in the universe, it may well be expected to furnish those terms which are deficient in the Hebrew Bible. And the reasonableness of this is founded on another maxim, viz., that either the Arabic was derived from the Hebrew, or the Hebrew from the Arabic. I shall not enter into this controversy; there are great names on both sides, and the decision of the question in either way will have the same effect on my argument. For if the Arabic were derived from the Hebrew, it must have been when the Hebrew was a living and complete language, because such is the Arabic now; and therefore all its essential roots we may reasonably expect to find there: but if, as Sir William Jones supposed, the Hebrew were derived from the Arabic, the same expectation is justified, the deficient roots in Hebrew may be sought for in the mother tongue. If, for example, we meet with a term in our ancient English language the meaning of which we find difficult to ascertain, common sense teaches us that we should seek for it in the Anglo-Saxon, from which our language springs; and, if necessary, go up to the Teutonic, from which the Anglo-Saxon was derived. No person disputes the legitimacy of this measure, and we find it in constant practice. I make these observations at the very threshold of my work, because the necessity of acting on this principle (seeking deficient Hebrew roots in the Arabic) may often occur, and I wish to speak once for all on the subject.
The first sentence in the Scripture shows the propriety of having recourse to this principle. We have seen that the word אלהים Elohim is plural; we have traced our term God to its source, and have seen its signification; and also a general definition of the thing or being included under this term, has been tremblingly attempted. We should now trace the original to its root, but this root does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. Were the Hebrew a complete language, a pious reason might be given for this omission, viz., “As God is without beginning and without cause, as his being is infinite and underived, the Hebrew language consults strict propriety in giving no root whence his name can be deduced.” Mr. Parkhurst, to whose pious and learned labors in Hebrew literature most Biblical students are indebted, thinks he has found the root in אלה alah, he swore, bound himself by oath; and hence he calls the ever-blessed Trinity אלהים Elohim, as being bound by a conditional oath to redeem man, etc., etc. Most pious minds will revolt from such a definition, and will be glad with me to find both the noun and the root preserved in Arabic. Allah is the common name for God in the Arabic tongue, and often the emphatic is used. Now both these words are derived from the root alaha, he worshipped, adored, was struck with astonishment, fear, or terror; and hence, he adored with sacred horror and veneration, cum sacro horrore ac veneratione coluit, adoravit – Wilmet. Hence ilahon, fear, veneration, and also the object of religious fear, the Deity, the supreme God, the tremendous Being. This is not a new idea; God was considered in the same light among the ancient Hebrews; and hence Jacob swears by the fear of his father Isaac, Gen_31:53. To complete the definition, Golius renders alaha, juvit, liberavit, et tutatus fuit, “he succoured, liberated, kept in safety, or defended.” Thus from the ideal meaning of this most expressive root, we acquire the most correct notion of the Divine nature; for we learn that God is the sole object of adoration; that the perfections of his nature are such as must astonish all those who piously contemplate them, and fill with horror all who would dare to give his glory to another, or break his commandments; that consequently he should be worshipped with reverence and religious fear; and that every sincere worshipper may expect from him help in all his weaknesses, trials, difficulties, temptations, etc.,; freedom from the power, guilt, nature, and consequences of sin; and to be supported, defended, and saved to the uttermost, and to the end.
Here then is one proof, among multitudes which shall be adduced in the course of this work, of the importance, utility, and necessity of tracing up these sacred words to their sources; and a proof also, that subjects which are supposed to be out of the reach of the common people may, with a little difficulty, be brought on a level with the most ordinary capacity.
~Clarke’s commentary on Genesis 1:1


Thus, not only is the Hebrew Bible latent with evidences of the Trinity, such that at least the Trinity should not be thought un-Jewish, but so also is the Qur’an. This argument requires prudence, but it is also worth meditating on.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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