[b-hebrew] Genesis 20:13

Audock Audock at charter.net
Fri Dec 10 18:42:39 EST 2004

I have a couple of questions. If you guys wouldn’t mind answering them or at least giving me your thoughts I’d appreciate it. My understanding (albeit a limited understanding) is that the word “elohim” can be a singular word if it is modified by singular verbs, adjectives, or pronouns. Hence, the English translation can be “God”. It can also be understood in the plural sense if it is modified by singular verbs, adjectives, and pronouns; therefore “gods”.


The translation of “elohim” in the singular even when it is modified by plural pronouns is really no problem to me. There are four times, however, in the Hebrew Scripture in which “elohim” is modified by a plural verb, yet is clearly referring to “God”, and not “gods”.


These four examples are in Genesis 20:13; Genesis 35:7; 2 Samuel 7:23; and Psalm 58:1. I am not sure if Genesis 31:53; Exodus 22:8; Deuteronomy 5:26; 1 Samuel 2:25; and 1 Samuel 17:26, 36 are also examples of this phenomena. Some have said they were but most Hebrew scholars do not even mention them as being in the same class the four examples previously mentioned. Nevertheless, my initial question really deals with Genesis 20:13.


Adam Clarke, the great Methodist theologian of a couple hundred years ago, recognized a problem with this verse. He explained it as “Abraham was (probably referring) to his first call.” In other words, he (Abraham) was referring back to his call when he was a polytheist; before he was a monotheist. Another possibility is that Abraham was “caught” in deceit by the pagan King Abimelech and to “get out of it” he rather appealed to the king’s pagan belief in multiple gods. These explanations are more of a theological nature. My question deals more with grammar than theology though.


Either explanation seems reasonable to me but I have recently come across Albert Barnes’ “Notes on the Bible” in which is quoted (with regard to Genesis 20:13) “13. התעוּ  hît‛û is plural in punctuation, agreeing grammatically with אלהים  'ĕlohîym. ו(w), however, may be regarded as the third radical, and the verb may thus really be singular.”  Does this explanation seem reasonable to you? Is the verb “wander”, as used in this verse, really to be understood as “the third radical”? I hope so, this explanation does appeal to me.


Perhaps you could explain what, exactly, is a Hebrew “third radical” verb? I may have a couple of follow up questions based on your response here.



Dennis K. Jones

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