The Names Of God
The many names of God in the Scripture provide additional revelation of His character. These are not mere titles assigned by people but, for the most part, His own descriptions of Himself. As such they reveal aspects of His character.
Even when no particular name is used, the occurrence of the phrase “the name of the Lord” reveals something of His character. To call on the name of the Lord was to worship Him (Gen. 21:33). To take His name in vain was to dishonor Him (Exod. 20:7). Not to follow the requirements of the Law involved profaning His name (Lev. 22:2, 32). Priests performed their service in the name of the Lord (Deut. 21:5). His name pledged the continuation of the nation (1 Sam. 12:22).
The term elohim occurs in the general sense of deity about 2,570 times in the Old Testament. About 2,310 times it is a name for the true God. The first occurrence is in the first verse of the Bible. It is used in reference to false deities in Genesis 35:2, 4; Exodus 12:12; 18:11; 23:24.
The meaning of elohim depends on its derivation. Some understand that it comes from a root that means fear and indicates that the deity is to be feared, reverenced, or worshiped. Others trace it to a root that means strong, indicating a deity of great power. Though not conclusive, the evidence seems to point to the latter derivation signifying, in the case of the true God, that He is the strong One, the mighty Leader, the supreme deity.
C. The Plural Form
Elohim, a plural form, is peculiar to the Old Testament and appears in no other Semitic language. Generally speaking there are three views as to the significance of this plural form.
1. It is a polytheistic plural; i.e., the word originally had a polytheistic sense and only later acquired a singular sense. However, the monotheism of the Old Testament was revealed and not developed from polytheism.
2. It is a trinitarian plural; i.e., the Triune Godhead is seen, or at least intimated, in the use of this plural form. However, as we shall see in the next chapter, to conclude this necessitates reading New Testament revelation back into the Old Testament. The plural may allow for the subsequent revelation of the Trinity, but that is quite different from saying that the plural indicates Triunity.
3. It is a majestic plural. The fact that the noun is consistently used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular affirms this. This plural of majesty denotes God’s unlimited greatness and supremacy.
D. Relationships of This Name
If this name of God means the Strong One and occurs in a majestic plural, one would expect that it would be used in relation to His greatness and mighty acts.
1. In relation to His sovereignty. Elohim is used to describe Him as the “God of all the earth” (Isa. 54:5), the “God of all flesh” (Jer. 32:27), the “God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4), and the “God of gods and the Lord of lords” (Deut. 10:17).
2. In relation to His work of Creation. He is the Elohim who created all things (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 45:18; Jon. 1:9).
3. In relation to His judging (Pss. 50:6; 58:11).
4. In relation to His mighty works on behalf of Israel (Deut. 5:23; 8:15; Ps. 68:7).
E. Compound Names
1. El Shaddai. Though the derivation of this word is uncertain, the most accepted one is that shaddai is connected with an Akkadian word that means “mountain.” Thus this name of God pictures Him as the Almighty One standing on a mountain. It was the name by which God appeared to the patriarchs to give comfort and confirmation of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Exod. 6:3; see also Ps. 91:1–2). This name is also often used in connection with the chastening of God’s people (Ruth 1:20–21).
2. El Elyon. This name, “the Most High God” emphasized God’s strength, sovereignty, and supremacy. It was first used by Melchizedek when he blessed Abraham (Gen. 14:19), though if Isaiah 14:14 records Satan’s attempt to usurp the supremacy of God, this would be a prior use. After these early occurrences, its use recedes until about 1000 B.C., where it appears again in poetic and exilic literature (Ps. 9:2; Dan. 7:18, 22, 25, 27).
3. El Olam. This name means “the Everlasting God,” from an original form meaning “the God of eternity” (Gen. 21:33). It emphasizes God’s unchangeableness (Pss. 100:5; 103:17) and is connected with His inexhaustible strength (Isa. 40:28).
4. El Roi, “God who sees” (Gen. 16:13). Hagar gave this name to God when He spoke to her before Ishmael’s birth.
The second basic name for God is the personal one, YHWH, the Lord, or Yahweh. It is the most frequently used name, occurring about 5,321 times in the Old Testament.
A. Origin of the Word
The name apparently comes from the root hawa, which signifies either existence (as of a tree trunk where it falls, Eccles. 11:3) or development (as in Neh. 6:6). Perhaps both ideas can be combined in the significance of God’s name by saying that it denotes Him as the active, self-existent One.
B. Revelation of the Name
This name was used by Eve (Gen. 4:1), people in the days of Seth (v. 26), Noah (9:26), and Abraham (12:8; 15:2, 8). But it was to Moses that the deep significance of the name was revealed. God said that even though He appeared to the patriarchs He was not known to them by His name Yahweh (Exod. 6:3). The meaning of the name was not known in its fullest and deepest sense. This revelation came to Moses at the burning bush when God identified Himself as “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14), the principal idea being that God was present with the people of Israel.
C. Sacredness of the Name
Since Yahweh was God’s personal name by which He was known to Israel, in post-exilic times it began to be considered so sacred that it was not pronounced. Instead the term Adonai was usually substituted, and by the sixth to seventh centuries A.D. the vowels of Adonai were combined with the consonants YHWH to remind the synagogue reader to pronounce the sacred name as Adonai. From this came the artificial word Jehovah. But all of this underscores the awe in which the name was held.
D. Significance of the Name
Several facets seem to be included in the significance of the name Yahweh.
1. It emphasizes God’s changeless self-existence. This may be supported by the etymology and from the Lord’s use of Exodus 3:14 in John 8:58 to state His claim to absolute eternal existence.
2. It assures God’s presence with His people. See Exodus 3:12.
3. It is connected with God’s power to work on behalf of His people and to keep His covenant with them, which was illustrated and confirmed by His work in their deliverance from Egypt (Exod. 6:6).
E. Compounds with the Name
1. Yahweh Jireh, “the Lord Will Provide” (Gen. 22:14). After the Angel of the Lord pointed to a ram to use as a substitute for Isaac, Abraham named the place “the Lord Will Provide.”
2. Yahweh Nissi, “the Lord is My Banner” (Exod. 17:15). After the defeat of the Amalekites, Moses erected an altar and called it Yahweh Nissi.
3. Yahweh Shalom, “the Lord is Peace” (Judg. 6:24).
4. Yahweh Sabbaoth, “the Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 1:3). This is a military figure that pictures Yahweh as the Commander of the angelic armies of heaven as well as the armies of Israel (1 Sam. 17:45). The title reveals the sovereignty and omnipotence of God and was used often by the prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah) to remind the people during times of national crisis that God was their Leader and Protector.
5. Yahweh Maccaddeshcem, “the Lord who sanctifies you” (Exod. 31:13).
6. Yahweh Roi, “the Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1).
7. Yahweh Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
8. Yahweh Shammah, “the Lord is there” (Ezek. 48:35).
9. Yahweh Elohim Israel “the Lord, the God of Israel” (Judg. 5:3; Isa. 17:6).
Strictly speaking, these compounds are not additional names of God, but designations or titles that often grew out of commemorative events. However, they do reveal additional facets of the character of God.
Like Elohim, Adonai is a plural of majesty. The singular means lord, master, owner (Gen. 19:2; 40:1; 1 Sam. 1:15). It is used, as might be expected, of the relationship between men (like master and slave, Exod. 21:1–6). When used of God’s relationship to men, it conveys the idea of His absolute authority. Joshua recognized the authority of the Captain of the Lord’s hosts (Josh. 5:14), and Isaiah submitted to the authority of the Lord, his Master (Isa. 6:8–11). The New Testament equivalent is kurios, “lord.”
IV. GOD (THEOS)
Theos is the most frequent designation of God in the New Testament and the most common translation in the Septuagint for Elohim. It almost always refers to the one true God, though sometimes it is used of the gods of paganism in the reported words of pagans or by Christians repudiating these false gods (Acts 12:22; 14:11; 17:23; 19:26–27; 1 Cor. 8:5; 2 Thess. 2:4). It also refers to the devil (2 Cor. 4:4) and sensuality (Phil. 3:19). Most importantly Jesus Christ is designated as Theos (though some of the passages are disputed). Notice Romans 9:5; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; and Titus 2:13.
The uses of the word reveal a number of important truths about the true God.
1. He is the only one true God (Matt. 23:9; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19). This fundamental truth of Judaism, the unity of God, was affirmed by Christ and the early church.
2. He is unique. He is the only God (1 Tim. 1:17), the only true God (John 17:3), the only holy One (Rev. 15:4), and the only wise One (Rom. 16:27). Therefore, believers can have no other gods beside the one true God (Matt. 6:24).
3. He is transcendent. God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Lord of the universe and Planner of the ages (Acts 17:24; Heb. 3:4; Rev. 10:6).
4. He is Savior (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:13; 3:4). He sent His Son to be the Redeemer (John 3:16) and delivered Him to death for us (Rom. 8:32).
C. Christ as God
Christ, the Son of God, is called God in several New Testament texts.
1. In John. The Johannine teaching includes the following passages: John 1:1, 18, where some manuscripts read “the only begotten God,” and that unusual reading may be regarded as grounds for accepting its authenticity; 20:28, where Thomas used both kurios and theos of Jesus; and 1 John 5:20.
2. In Paul. Titus 2:13 seems to be the clearest designation of Christ as God in Paul’s writings since Romans 9:5 is questioned by some. However, it is linguistically proper and contextually preferable to ascribe the phrase “God blessed forever” to Christ.
V. LORD (KURIOS)
The majority of the 717 occurrences of kurios in the New Testament are by Luke (210) and Paul (275) since they wrote to people of Greek culture and language.
VI. MASTER (DESPOTES)
This word connotes the idea of ownership, whereas kurios emphasizes authority and supremacy.
God is addressed in prayer as Despot by Simeon (Luke 2:29), Peter and those with him (Acts 4:24), and the martyrs in heaven (Rev. 6:10).
Twice Christ is called Despot (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4).
One of the distinctive New Testament revelations is that of God as Father of individuals. Whereas the word “Father” is used of God only fifteen times in the Old Testament, it occurs 245 times of God in the New. As Father, He gives His children grace and peace (a regular salutation in the Epistles; e.g., Eph. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1), good gifts (James 1:17), and even commandments (2 John 4). We also address Him as Father in prayer (Eph. 2:18; 1 Thess. 3:11).
To sum up: a name in Bible times was more than an identification; it was descriptive of its bearer, often revealing some characteristic of a person. “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth” (Ps. 8:1, 9).