The Names of God
Bowling Green, Kentucky
God is a spirit (Jn. 4:24). The only means which man has to obtain a knowledge of God is through His revealing Himself to us. Although man can know that there is a Creator from the things which are made, he cannot know whether there is one God or many gods, whether that God is evil or good, or whether He loves or hates us, etc. on the basis of observation of the creation.
We can know God because He revealed Himself through the inspired Bible. One of the means by which He revealed Himself to us is through the names He is called in the Bible. The Hebrew usage of names served not only as a means of designating someone but also as a means of describing him.
Among the Hebrews the name was never a mere sign whereby one person could be distinguished from another. It always remained descriptive; it expressed the meaning of the person or thing designated. The name bore the same relation to the significance of the thing or person as a word does to a thought. It was always the expression of it. Hence when a person acquired a new significance, or was in some sense a new man, he received a new name. Therefore Abram became Abraham; Jacob, Israel; Solomon, Jedidiah`beloved of God' (2 Sam. 12:25). . . . And the same is true of God's own names. Such a name expresses that which is known to men of the nature of God. When a new or higher side of the Being of God is revealed to men there arises a new name of God. Any name of God expresses some revelation of His Being or character.(1)
By considering the names by which God is designated, we can learn more about God.
Designations Of God
Here is a partial list of the names by which God is called in the Old Testament.
1. El, Eloah, Elohim. These are the most frequently occurring designations of God. El is the most general designation for God; Eloah is the singular form of the more widely used plural Elohim. Their derivation in Hebrew is not absolutely known, although many scholars suggest that they are derived from a root which means "to be strong." The term points to God as "the strong and mighty One, or as the object of fear." In Numbers 23:22, God is spoken of as the God who brought Israel out of Egypt who "hath as it were the strength of a unicorn (wild ox)." "For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of Lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible. . ." (Deut. 10:17). "This name properly represented One only Being, who revealed Himself to man as Creator, Ruler, and Lord. It was His own peculiar title, and ought to have been confined to Him. Accordingly we read, `in the beginning God (Elohim in the plural) created (in the singular) the heavens and the earth."'(2) This designation of God is a general one which might be equivalent to Deity.
The word Elohim is a plural noun. The significance of this plural has been variously interpreted. Here are some ideas: (1) the word reflects a time when Israel had a polytheistic concept of God; (2) the word designates the one God in conjunction with the angelic hosts of heaven; (3) the plural is used to designate unlimited greatness; the plural signifies the infinite fulness of the might and power which lies in the divine being and thus becomes an intensive plural: (4) the plural
form is used because God exists in three persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Of these explanations, only 3 and 4 are viable options if one accepts the Christian doctrine of God and the Bible as a divine revelation. Girdlestone commented:
. . .there is certainly nothing unreasonable in the supposition that the name of the Deity was given to man in this form, so as to prepare him for the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons.
As long as the passage above quoted stands on the first page of the Bible the believer in the Trinity has a right to turn to it as a proof that Plurality in the Godhead is a very different thing from Polytheism, and as an indication that the frequent assertions of the Divine Unity are not inconsistent with the belief that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.(3)
The plural form of God as indicating a plurality of persons constituting the Godhead is also consistent with the plural pronouns of Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7.
This word which should have been reserved for God alone, was corrupted to apply to pagan deities (cf. Psa. 95:3). It is also used to describe angels and even the judges of Israel (Psa. 82:1).
This name of God reminds us of His might and power in the creation of the universe. We should be reminded that we owe our existence and sustenance to the mighty God.
2. Adonai. The Hebrew word adonai is translated "Lord." This points to God as the almighty Ruler, to whom everything is subject, and to whom man is related as a servant."(4) God is the owner of the entire creation and, consequently, He demands unrestricted obedience of all of it.
The claim upon man which is indicated by this designation is well illustrated by Malachi 1:6-"A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honor? And if I be a master, where is my fear?" Jesus related this same idea when He said, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Lk. 6:46). The significance of the designation adonai is the absolute lordship of God over His creation and the consequent responsibility of His creation to obey Him.
One of the most significant facts about this word is that it was used as a substitute for Jehovah (YHVH). The Jews developed a superstition about pronouncing the name of God; hence, when they read the name YHVH (Jehovah), in the text, they pronounced adonai. Consequently, in the Hebrew text, the vowel points of adonai are written with YHVH.
This name of God calls upon each of us to submit to the revealed will of God. As our Lord, He has the right to command and we have the responsibility to obey. If we can understand the role of civil authorities and employers over us, we should certainly be able to comprehend the right of God to command us.
3. El Shaddai. The designation of God as El Shaddai occurs in passages which intend to impress us with His almighty power.
The name characterizes God as revealing Himself in His might; the LXX. do not understand the expression in the Pentateuch, but it is correctly rendered by pantokrator (Almighty, mw) in most passages in Job. It is no longer the powerful Divinity ruling in the world in general that is El-Shaddai, but the God who testes of Himself in special deeds of power, by which He subdues nature to the ways of His kingdom . . . (5)
The title first appears in Genesis 17:1 where God appeared to Abram and said, "I am the Almighty God . . . I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly . . . . Thou shalt be a father of many nations." The significance of this designation is caught in such statements as, "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Gen. 19:14).
The almighty power of God enables Him to perform anything which He promises to do for man. Hence, this designation of God points to the inexhaustible store of His bounty and power. Whatever God desires to do, He has the power to accomplish. Any promise He has given to man, He can fulfill.
4. The Holy One of Israel. This designation of God is a favorite of Isaiah, having been used 32 times in that book. The root meaning of kadosh is "to separate." The word emphasizes the transcendence of God, His separateness above all other beings. The designation also points to His moral attribute of being without sin. The holiness of God makes sinful man quake in His presence (see Isa. 6).
The designation of God as the "Holy One of Israel" should constantly remind us of our sinfulness and our need of forgiveness through the precious blood of Jesus. It should cause us to be humble before Him who is without blemish or moral fault.
5. El Roi. When Hagar fled the presence of Sarah after conceiving Ishmael and after realizing that she was hated in Sarah's sight, God appeared to her in the wilderness and promised to multiply her seed. He promised, "Behold, thou art with child, and shah bear a son, and shaft call his name Ishmael; because the Lord bath heard thy affliction" (Gen. 16:11). In response, Hagar said, "Thou God seest me" (Gen. 16:13-Thou art El Rot). This designation of God reminds us that He knows our needs and cares about our plight. Peter said, "Casting all your care upon him; for he: careth for you" (1 Pet. 5:7).
We have a God who knows our every need, even before we ask (Matt. 6:32). He sees every sparrow that falls. He knows the needs of the animals of the field, the birds of the heaven, the green grass and the lilies. He also is aware of my needs and responds to provide for them.
The Name Jehovah
The name Jehovah needs more personal attention. The name Jehovah is derived from the Hebrew tetragrammaton (four-letter word) YHVH. No on knows its correct pronunciation. The English word Jehovah is formed by using the vowel points of adonai (Lord) with YHVH. The more recent books use the word Yahweh rather than Jehovah to translate the divine name. In the AV, the divine name is translated Lord. To distinguish it from adonai, the AV uses `Lord" for adonai and "LORD" for YHVH. This designation of God occurs 6,823 times in the Old Testament.
The word Jehovah is the personal name of God. It compares with names such as Baal, Chemosh, and Diana-the personal names of pagan deities. In the name Jehovah, the personality of God is distinctly expressed.
The origin of this name for God is generally related to God's appearance to Moses in the burning bush. When God instructed Moses to return to Egypt and lead His people out of bondage, Moses said, "Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exod. 3:13-14). Later He added, "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them" (Exod. 6:3).
The name YHVH is generally thought to be derived from the verb hayah, "to be." The name points to God as the God who was, is, and always will be. As such, this name emphasizes the eternity and immutability of God. Inasmuch as the eternal God does not change (Mal. 3:6), the divine name Jehovah is an assurance that God will be true to His covenant. Though many centuries passed, God did not fail to fulfill His covenant with Abraham. The divine name Jehovah is just as much an assurance to us that Jesus will come again and receive us into heaven as it was an assurance that God would fulfill His covenant to Abraham. "God's personal existence, the continuity of His dealings with man, the unchangeableness of His promises, and the whole revelation of His redeeming mercy, gather round the name Jehovah."(6)
God is also called Jehovah Saboath (The Lord of Hosts). This is a compound name based on the name Jehovah. The Hosts of Jehovah are not the armies of Israel; they are the legions of angels available to accomplish God's will. The name Jehovah of Hosts indicates the power of God to accomplish His revealed will, despite the forces of evil which might be aligned against Him. We are reminded that God has all of the unseen angels to accomplish what He desires. As such, those who are for us will always be greater than those who are against us. The forces of Satan can never overcome and conquer the forces of God.
New Testament Designations of God
"The variety of names which characterizes the OT is lacking in the NT, where we are all but limited to two names, each of which corresponds to several in the OT."(7)
1. Theos. The word God is translated from Theos. This term is parallel to Elohim. It refers to the concept of Deity in the general sense. It can apply to Father, Son or Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:1; Acts 5:3).
2. Kurios. The word "Lord" is translated from kurios. It has the same basic idea as adonai; some passages in the Old Testament which contain the word Jehovah are translated in the New Testament by the word kurios, reflecting the Jewish usage of adonai in the place of YHVH.
3. Descriptive Titles. God is also designated the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega (a descriptive explanation of YHVH [see Rev. 1:4,8,17; 2:8; etc.]). He is known as the Almighty God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Each of these descriptive terms indicates something about God, such as His eternity, His omnipotent power, or His Lordship.
As we look at these designations of God, we are reminded that the God whom we serve is a mighty One, our Lord, the Almighty God for whom nothing is impossible, the Holy One, the eternal and immutable God who has the hosts of heaven to accomplish His will. Whatever He promises or wills, He has the power to accomplish. May we ever bow before Him in reverence and awe, loving and serving Him throughout this life.
1. A.B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, p. 37.
2. Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p, 19.
3. Ibid., p. 22.
4. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 49.
5. Gustav Friedrich Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 91.
6. Girdlestone, op. cit., p: 38.
7. James Orr, editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, p. 1267.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 2, pp. 34, 54-55