The majestic plural – What is it? How is the majestic plural used in the Bible?
The majestic plural is also known as the "royal we." This term refers to the use of a plural pronoun when speaking of oneself. Another more general word for the majestic plural is "nosism." The word "nosism" derives from the Latin route word "nos," meaning "we." The majestic plural is a stylistic device used to give honors to nobility. One of the most memorable nosistic phrases comes from Queen Victoria, who would say, "We are not amused," when turning up her nose at a tasteless joke.
Using the majestic plural indicates power and greatness. Its Western usage is saved for people who have authority, such as popes, bishops, and monarchs. Often, people of low rank would use this device when speaking to someone in an official capacity.
The Latin language has another term for the majestic plural, which is "pluralis majestasis," or "the plural of majesty." This construction does not exist solely in Latin or English, but also in ancient Hebrew, Punjabi, Telugu, Hindustani, and Egyptian Arabic. The president of Egypt is often called "Your Excellencies," which is another way to indicate prestige.
God refers to Himself using plural pronouns four times in the Bible. These verses occur before the doctrine of the Trinity is mentioned in the Bible, so we can infer that God is using this stylistic device to make His power evident through language. The four times that God uses the majestic plural occur in the Old Testament. The most quoted example occurs in Genesis 1:26. God says, "'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. ...'" Here, and also in Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7, and Isaiah 6:8, God uses the pronouns "us" and "our" to speak of Himself in plural form.
One of God's most common names in the Old Testament is Elohim, which translates literally to "gods." However, when Elohim is used to describe the One True God, it is translated to "God." This is a fascinating word play in translation that teaches us how the majestic plural can be used in a word that is not a pronoun. An example of this translation of Elohim occurs in Deuteronomy 4:35. It states, in part, that, "The Lord is God." Translated into Hebrew, this is "Yahweh is Elohim." Note the use of plural "Elohim" coupled with singular "Lord." This shows that there is only one God, and the plural usage is meant as a majestic plural. Yahweh and Elohim are also coupled in Deuteronomy 6:4, which very clearly says that there is only one God.
Pronouns are an important aspect of our language that we should analyze when reading scripture. Is the majestic plural used by God, Himself? What does this say about God? Should this affect the way we use majestic plurals in our language? The use of majestic plurals as a literary tool amplifies God's greatness, power, nobility, and supremacy.
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