The word 'God' is a title, not a name.
GOD is a Spirit being. Today, it is common for people to refer to this Spirit being as "God."
"Do you believe in God? Yes, I believe in God."
Generally, I think this fact is a good thing. But when it comes to understanding the message of the Bible, this can introduce confusion.
The source manuscripts that are used to translate the Bible into English are primarily from two languages: Hebrew and Greek.
Most English Bibles use a Hebrew source for the Old Testament.
In Hebrew, the word that is translated "God" in English is אֱלהִים (elohim). While it is true that elohim is used to refer to GOD (some 2,000+ times!), elohim is also used to refer to other beings, including the:
- Gods of Egypt (see Exodus 12:12)
- Spirit of Samuel, who had previously died (see 1 Samuel 28:13)
- Idols of Laban (see Genesis 31:30)
Thus, it is most accurate to say that the Hebrew word elohim means a spirit being, regardless of type.
Let me illustrate how this impacts an accurate reading of the Bible.
The first verse in our English Bibles reads:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
(Genesis 1:1 NIV)
If we replace "God" with the Hebrew elohim, the verse would read:
1 In the beginning [elohim] created the heavens and the earth.
Now, using our above accurate definition for elohim, Genesis 1:1 is actually communicating to us:
1 In the beginning [a spirit being] created the heavens and the earth.
Do you see how this impacts the message?
Inserting the word "God" into Genesis 1:1 is an interpolation of the original message. Do we know that GOD created the heavens and the earth? Yes, of course! Other Scripture informs us of that truth.
Is it dangerous (and potentially misleading) to substitute the word God here for a Hebrew word that sometimes refers to other spirit beings? Yes. Why? Because of how it subtly shifts the original message (here and elsewhere, by precedent).
This problem is not isolated to Hebrew. The same issue arises in the Greek Scriptures.
To illustrate, let's consider 1 Corinthians 8:5-6. It is translated in English as:
5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
(1 Corinthians 8:5-6 NIV)
The Greek word translated "God" in v.6 is Θεὸς (theos). 1 Corinthians 8:6 clearly refers to God the Father whom we know as GOD.
But this same Greek word (in plural form) is found (twice) in v.5 referring to the existence of other gods.
In fact, if we refer to the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, the same word theos is found in Genesis 1:1:
1 In the beginning [theos] made heaven and earth.
(Genesis 1:1 OSB)
God is a Title
What does this mean for us?
- When you read the word "God" in an English Bible, remember that the word is not GOD's name. "God" is a title of reverence given to GOD for being the Supreme Being.
- Do your homework. When you see the word "god" in any form, look at the original language (I recommend biblehub.com) and study the context to see whether you think the English translators got it right.
- Do not be surprised or offended when the Bible affirms the existence of numerous "elohim" or "theos" (gods), as we saw with 1 Corinthians 8:5.