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It remains, then, that we contemplate this appellation of the Deity as being actually in the plural number, agreeably to both grammar and analogy; and as expressing a number of persons in that Godhead, to which it is rightly and for the most part appropriated.
This opinion was unquestioned in the christian Church until the time of Calvin, when it was only partially, and for a short time, interrupted by the opposition of himself, Mercer, Pareus, Drusius, Bellarmine, &c., &c.
It is further observable that the Rabbinical writers, even while supporting their alleged rule, recognize a designed plurality in the name Elohim, and say that it is expressive of the manifold faculties or operations of the Deity. "Elohim: its explanation is Possessor of all powers: and for this reason he, (Moses,) does not say El, nor Elohah, but Elohim, in the plural number. So also, He is the Holy God, (Elohim Kedoshism,) because he perfectly comprises all holiness." This is the opinion also, of the ancient Jewish author of the book Cosri, quoted by Hengstenberg, vol. i., pp. 216, 217. To opposition, however, both of Calvin and others, to this view of the word, was made to the idea that the word Elohim, in and of itself, expressed the idea of the Trinity. But even these writers. admit that it is itself plural, and that it indicates the plurality of the Divine Nature, and is absolutely inconsistent with the Unitarian and modern Jewish theory of God, being personally, metaphysically, and only one.
Thus to quote only the most learned Buxtorf who, though in his disquisition on this subject, takes great pains to support the negative opinion with Calvin and others, yet, at the close, he acknowledges nearly, if not altogether, the opinion here supported. His words are as follows: "Not that I think that this argument should be altogether rejected among christians, for, upon the same principle on which not a few of the Jews, as we have seen, refer this emphatical application of the plural number to a plurality of powers, or of influences, or of operations, that is, ad extra; why may not we refer it ad intra, to a plurality of persons, and to personal works? Yea, who certainly knows what that was which the ancient Jews understood by this plurality of powers and faculties?" Buxtorf, fil. Dissert. Philolog. Theolog. Diss. v., pp. 244. Philo has, also, expressed himself in full accordance with this view of the case. See Philo, ed., Mangey, tom. i., pp. 430, 431.
This word, says Ewald, "appears to have remained always in the plural even in prose, not so much on account of its resemblance to the idea of Lord, as because they conceived the Deity in ancient times as infinitely numerous, and yet as conjoined. "Ewald's Heb. Gram. by Nicholson, pp. 231. Neither is this inconsistent with the theory supported with so much learning by Hengstenberg and Havernick, that Elohim is used only to distinguish God in his fulness of power, without reference to his personality or moral qualities, to any special relation in which he stands to men, either as to the benefits he bestows, or to the requirements he makes, and that Jehovah is employed to denote God as personally revealed, manifested, and in covenant with man. For Hengstenberg admits that "the one God comprehends multiplicity in himself. Thus he can oppose to the "we will build," "we will make," of men who trust in their numbers and combination, his own "we will go down." "We will confound." The ancient Jews approached to a correct explanation of the plural? This view is very strongly supported by Theodoret, who advocates the allusion to the Trinity.
Even Hengstenberg, in reference to the views taken by Calvin, &c., on this subject, says, "It is not to be denied that this erroneous view involves a portion of truth. The plural form, as it indicates the infinite riches, the inexhaustible fulness of the Godhead, serves to combat the most dangerous enemy of the doctrine of the Trinity, that abstract monotheism of which Schelling, (uber die Gottheiten von Samothrace, pp. 87,) admirably says, "Mohammedanism may indeed be called monotheism, which only allows one personality or one simple power to the name of God. That this is not in the style of the New Testament, requires no proof; that this is not agreeable to the Old Testament, see Weltalter, Th. i., "Since Elohim is opposed to this view, which, in many respects, stands below polytheism, it contains certainly the germ of the doctrine of the Trinity."-Hengstenberg, vol. i., pp. 268, 269, note.
It is, indeed, affirmed as by Mr. Belsham, that "in all languages it is a common anomaly for words of a plural form to have a singular signification." But he has not produced any instance, and I apprehend that it would not be easy to find one that would prove unexceptionable. Mr. Belsham further says, that "the word Elohim is almost used uniformly in apposition with singular verbs." This is a part of the very case to be accounted for. "It is not so," says Dr. Smith, with the "words of a plural form," in other languages, which the author says
"have a singular signification;" they are always put in apposition with plural attributives. But, if we content ourselves with regarding the apposition of Elohim with singular verbs, adjectives, and pronouns, as a Hebrew idiom of which no other account can be given than that so we find it, what can we say upon the other part of the case, the construction with plural attributives? It is this which forms the great peculiarity of our question, it is this, upon which the chief stress of the argument is laid for an allusion or implication in favour of the doctrine of a Divine plurality, but upon this the writer was silent!"
Mr. Belsham further says, that "Elohim is not limited, like Jehovah, to express the Supreme Being alone." "For that very reason, then, it became the more necessary to guard against possible and probable abuse. As the word was in ordinary use to designate the numerous false deities of the nations, it was the more likely, and even unavoidable, that the Hebrews would understand its perpetual occurrence in the plural form, as the designation of their own God, to be an express intimation that plurality in some sense belonged to Him; while, from other infallible testimonies, they were absolutely certain of his essential unity."
Once more, Mr. Belsham affirms that, "though Elohim is in a plural form, it commonly expresses one object only."
But, after carefully examining the examples brought by Mr. B. to support his assertion, we will only say with Dr. Pye Smith, that they are all irrelevant.
To bring this review to an end, we remark, in the words of Dr. Pye Smith, “We have thus endeavoured to present a faithful view of the whole evidence on both sides of this celebrated question. After the closest attention that I can give to all the parts of the case, the impression on my mind is favourable to the opinion that this peculiarity of idiom originated in a design to intimate a plurality in the nature of the one God; and that thus, in connexion with other circumstances calculated to suggest the same conception, it was intended to excite and prepare the minds of men for the more full declaration of this unsearchable mystery, which should in proper time be granted. This supposition implies, of course, a divine direction in the origin, or in the application of the term, and the intention which we suppose was merely to intimate, not to give an absolute declaration. Now, we know that the earlier dispensations of revealed knowledge were constructed upon the plan of a course
of intimations, (as it were involucra,) with regard to a variety of truths, the clear manifestation of which was reserved for the brightness of the Gospel day. Under such a system, it would be a necessary consequence that the design would be perceived, and the interior meaning apprehended, in various degrees, according to the piety, intelligence, and attention of different persons; and, in all probability, the careless majority would pay no attention at all to such subjects."
To this, we will only add the testimony of Gussetius, in his Commentarii Linguæ Ebraicæ. "From these considerations it follows, that the plural form of speech concerning God, is to be taken strictly and in its full force, if we would comply with the idiom of the Hebrew tongue; and that therefore, it ought to be acknowledged, that by this phraseology, plurality in Deity is most distinctly and strongly affirmed." In the same connexion, he also expresses himself in the following remarkable words: "But you will say, this plurality is inconsistent with the nature of God; I ask, in return, how do you know that? The declaration of God, who knows, is of more weight than your reasoning, who do not know. There are other causes, you retort, of a plural form of speech. I answer, its proper and natural cause is plurality in the things signified. It is from this that the plural form of a noun usually arises; nor could it have been indicated in a manner more effectual than by this description of phrase, at once elegant and consistent with use. Let every humble learner, therefore, of the word of God, settle in his mind, to receive, in sincerity and truth, whatever he (God) may dictate."
See a long note on the subject, in Wardlaw's Socinian Controversy, pp. 488, and note D, Gale's Court of the Gentiles, vol. 4, ch. 3, p. 237. Also, Amyraldus Probatio Trinitatis ex V. T. in Wagenselii Telæ Igneæ Satanæ, pp. 141, 165.
THE NATURE and Origin of THE PAGAN DOCTRINE OF TRIADS, OR A TRINITY.
The fact of the existence of a doctrine of a trinity of Supreme Gods, with more or less distinctness, in all the earlier forms of religious belief, is now universally admitted.
The degree in which any resemblance is found to the christain doctrine varies with the proximity and clearness of the traditions of a primitive theology.
It will be interesting to present an outline of these Triads. from the sources within our reach and chiefly from an elaborate analysis included in a more general review some years since.
The Hindu Triad bears but little resemblance to the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity, although it has been made use of by sceptical writers for the purpose of attempting to cast discredit on christianity. Still, it may seem strange that such a doctrine as that of the Triad should have been conceived by man; especially when to it is added the doctrine of Avatars, or Incarnations, which are part of the functions peculiar to Vishnu, the preserver, the second deity of the Hindu Triad.
And though the resemblance, in its mythological form, is greatly warped and marred, yet it cannot but strike any inquiring mind as very remarkable, that opinions so much above the conceptions of mere reason, and bearing apparently so much more resemblance to the doctrines of christianity than did the revelation given to the Jews, should have been held time immemorial by the Hindus. The surprise of the inquirer will certainly not be diminished, if he be led to ascertain that a similar doctrine prevailed in the earliest ages of every people in the world, whose national existence extends to a sufficiently remote antiquity, and whose ancient records have been at all preserved. A full elucidation of this ancient doctrine is not within either our power or our limits to give; but regarding it as the only key by which the secrets of ancient mythology can be unlocked,regarding it as the lever by which all their delusions may be subverted and overthrown, we request the attention of our readers to so much of a disquisition concerning the recondite mythology of the ancient heathens, as may be requisite for enabling them to apprehend the bearing and force of our argument.