Elohim is a Hebrew word that denotes “God” or “god.” It is one of the most common names for God in the Old Testament, starting in the very first verse: “In the beginning God / (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The name Elohim occurs over 2,500 times in the Tanakh.
The basic meaning behind the name Elohim is one of strength or power of effect. Elohim is the infinite, all-powerful God who shows by His works that He is the creator, sustainer, and supreme judge of the world.
“Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.” Psalm 7:9
Sometimes the word Elohim is shortened to El and used as part of a longer name. El Shaddai, for example, means “God Almighty” (Genesis 49:24); El Elyon means “God Most High” (Deuteronomy 26:19); and El Roi means “God Who Sees” (Genesis 16:13). Personal names of people can include the name of God: Daniel (“El Is My Judge”), Nathanael (“Gift of El”), Samuel (“Heard by El”), Elijah (“El Is Yahweh”), and Ariel (“Lioness of El”) are examples. Place names, too, can contain the shortened form of Elohim: Bethel (“House of El”), Jezreel (“El Will Sow”), and, Israel (“Prince of El”) are examples.
When Jesus cried out from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34), He addressed the Father with a form of Elohim, Eloi. Mark translates Jesus’ statement: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Making Bible translation more complex is the fact that Elohim has other usages in the Old Testament besides referring to the One True God. In some contexts, elohim refers to human rulers or judges (Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34)—the idea is that such people are to act as God’s representatives on earth, exercising authority wisely and ensuring justice. The warning of Psalm 82 is that the human elohim must answer to the Supreme Elohim some day. Elsewhere, elohim is used to refer to false gods (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:28). “They have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the [elohe] of the Sidonians, Chemosh the [elohe] of the Moabites, and Molek the [elohe] of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:33). Note that elohe is a form of elohim used with qualifying words or phrases and translated “god of.”
The word Elohim is grammatically plural rather than singular (the -im suffix in Hebrew indicates the plural form). The singular form of Elohim is Eloah.
It is best to understand the word construction as a plural of majesty; that is, writing “Elohim” is a stylistic way of emphasizing greatness, power, and prestige. With that said, and in light of the overall teaching of the Bible, the plural form of Elohim certainly allows for the further revelation of God’s triune nature; the Old Testament hints at the Trinity in order to prepare people for the Messiah who would be much more than a human prophet. When Jesus appeared, He more fully revealed mysteries hinted at in the Old Testament. At Jesus’ baptism we have all three Persons of Elohim present: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16–17).