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Names of God

GOD, NAMES OF. Distinctive of the Hebrew-Christian system is the use of the names for deity as instruments for divine disclosure. The several names, simple and compound, employed in both the OT and the NT are not mere human designations or constructs. Rather they are revelatory instruments, appearing at nodal points in the career of the Israelitish people, and reflecting God’s self-revelation.

Israels’ feeling for names reflected the general attitude toward nomenclature which was common to ancient peoples. With them a person’s name was not a mere designation of familial relationship—not a mere possession—but something distinctly personal. While there is no evidence that in Israelitish usage of names these were held (as in some cultures) to possess magical power, yet names were held in serious regard. This was true concerning personal names; and the same seriousness is apparent in the employment of designations for deity among OT peoples.

In Sem. culture, names were frequently used to designate a characteristic of the person named. The feeling seems to have been that nomina sunt realia. An example of this type of usage is found in the case of the name of Jacob, meaning “supplanter,” whose subject was in actual fact a crafty and self-seeking person.

God’s name: general considerations.

In some parts of Scripture, God’s name is regarded in a strictly sing. sense, and the principles surrounding its usage are collectively applied to the several designations of Him. Thus we have in the Decalogue, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exod 20:7, KJV). The usage here is generic and is intended to exclude any fraudulent or flippant use of any of the terms by which God was designated.

The third commandment is thus intended as a safeguard placed upon the structure of divine names as a revelatory instrument. The entire pattern of names was to be held in respect as a vital part of the self-disclosure of Deity, so that no aspect of His revealed nature should be regarded frivolously.

It should be noted that it is the use of the name, rather than its derivation, that is most significant in OT usage. While etymology is a highly relevant study in this connection, its conclusions cannot by themselves be accepted as definitive for the understanding of divine names. Nor can the fact that the Hebrews used names for God which were current in the ancient world be held to militate against a special use of names as revelatory in OT times.

It is to be noted that within the divine nomenclature of the OT, there are varying combinations of designations with respect to the “transcendence-immanence” question. These suggest that to the Hebrews, God was understood as being both hidden and present. Again, there is evidence that He was understood in both transcendent and anthropomorphic modes so far as His personal qualities were concerned.

The NT understanding of both the divine names and the divine nature continues and simplifies the OT usage. The names employed to designate the Deity are fewer, and less emphasis is laid upon names themselves as indicative of the nature of God. Whereas in the OT usage nuances and compound verbal structures are employed to convey the qualities of the Deity, in the NT there are characterizations, direct and indirect, which serve to elaborate men’s understanding of God’s nature.

Basic names for God in the OT.

Much of OT criticism, particularly of the liberal variety, has pivoted about the use of two divine names, אֵל, H446, and יהוה, H3378. These, taken together with the name אֲדֹנָי, H151, (usually transliterated as Adonai) form what may be considered the basic OT designations for the Deity. These are, as well, simple names, as contrasted with a group of compound names, to which attention will be given later.

The name El is one of the oldest designations for deity in the ancient world. It forms the basic component for the general term for God in Babylonia and Arabia, as well as with the Israelitish people. That the conceptions which were sometimes attached to the term El in the world of antiquity were unworthy of the God of the Bible is clear, but this does not diminish the significance of the occurrence of the term in the racial stocks of the Middle E. It is a very old term, and many feel that it is reasonable to infer that the term has been retained from a primeval revelation, an Uroffenbarung.

The term El seems to suggest power and authority. In this connection, John P. Lange says:

Power, greatness, vastness, height, according as they are represented by the conceptions of the day, carried to the fullest extent allowed by the knowledge of the day; this is the ideal of El and Elohim, as seen in the etymological congruity of the epithets joined to those in Genesis. (Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, I, 109n.)

Thus the original meaning of El may have been: (a) to be strong; (b) to have extended sphere of control; or (c) to possess binding force. Walther Eichrodt suggests that:

It is worth noting that whichever of these meanings we adopt stresses the distance between God and man. In this they are in basic conformity with the basic characteristic of the Semitic concept of God, namely, that what is of primary importance is not the feeling of kinship with the deity, but fear and trembling in the face of his overwhelming majesty. Another point which it is necessary to remark is that they do not identify the Godhead with any natural object, but describe it as the power which stands behind Nature, or the overruling will manifested in it (Theology of the OT, p. 179).

If the name El was a general term for the divinity in the thought of the peoples of the Bible Lands and Middle E of antiquity, the name Yahweh (transliterated Jehovah) was a specifically Israelitish name for God. The basic meaning of the term seems to be: “He which Is” or “He who is truly present.”

It is difficult to ascertain how widely this name was used during the Patriarchal era, though it was current in Abraham’s day. It was given new emphasis and significance to Moses (Exod 3:15, 16; 6:3, 6. Cf. Gen 12:8) beyond what was understood by Abraham as he built his altar between Bethel and Ai (Gen 12:8). Yahweh was revealed as an intensely personal name. Ortho-graphically, it was indicated by the tetragram YHWH, and current transliterations supply vowels variously.

If it be correctly understood that the name was known as early as the birth of Enosh (Gen 4:26) and that Abraham had a knowledge of it, then it follows that the revelation to Moses in Exodus represented a deepening and more personalized usage of the name. It is possible that earlier disclosures of the name had been obscured or even largely lost.

The Mosaic use of the term (including the new significance attached to it) set the pattern for subsequent Heb. thought. With Moses, the name seems to have gained general currency and specific acceptance; but more important, it became intimately associated with the life of Israel as a people. That is it became the token of a special and crucial self-revelation of God to a special people—a disclosure which tied together the mighty acts involved in the Exodus and Israel’s self-consciousness as a nation. These acts in turn prepared the way for the intimate involvement of Israel with Yahweh at Sinai.

Thus the name Yahweh was tied in inseparably with Israel’s national awareness and was inescapably involved in Israel’s unique covenant relation with Deity. Vital to this was the fact that Yahweh had taken the initiative, and had stepped visibly and unmistakably into Israel’s national affairs.

It is significant that the use of this name for God was unique with the Israelites. The other Sem. peoples do not seem to have known it or at least did not use it in reference to the Deity except as contacts with the Heb. people brought it to their attention. It was the special property of the covenant people.

It is significant also, that the name came to have such significance that the scribes avoided pronunciation of it. Scribal usage involved circumlocutions and as well the use of alternate names. This bears witness not only to the significance of the name as a basis for the feeling for nationhood, but also to the respect which the people felt for the supernatural source of their history.

This is another way of saying that the name Yahweh was, in the Israelitish consciousness, set over all that which was merely naturalistic. This does not imply necessarily that the Hebrews saw in the name a metaphysical meaning (as for example Aristotle’s formula of “essence equals existence”) in the “I AM WHO I AM” of Exodus 3:13, but rather, that they understood Yahweh as being existent and active in the here and now.

In this connection, Eichrodt suggests that the name Yahweh

goes much further than the divine names hitherto in use in its emphasis on the concrete nearness and irruptive reality of God, and contrasts vividly for this reason with their generalized statements (earlier names) on the rule and guidance, the exaltedness and eternity of the divine. (Op. cit., p. 191.)

It seems clear that the revelation and the grasp of the name Yahweh by the Israelitish people marked a landmark in spiritual awareness and in national religious experience. With the Exodus the Deity assumed in the mentality of Israel a specifically redemptive role. His “mighty acts” were specifically saving acts, and were so understood. In the deliverance at the Red (or Reed) Sea, Yahweh had shaped the forces of nature to serve the ends of grace, and had brought His power to bear upon the nation in a time of historic emergency and crisis.

It is understandable in the light of this, that the events of the Exodus formed the core of the Heb. kerygma: “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod 20:2). Here is emphasized the specialized quality of God’s self-disclosure to the Heb. people. It goes without saying that objections have been raised to the specificity which is implied here. Such thinkers as Douglas Clyde Macintosh have held that for God to have revealed Himself esp. and exclusively to the Heb. people would have been an act unworthy of Him, and one ultimately immoral. It is at this point that a sharp antithesis between merely human thought and the Biblical insight appears.

The OT insight is that God has taken the initiative in restoring the knowledge-bond which existed between God and fallen man, a bond which was fractured at the fall. And it was through His revelation to Israel of Himself under the name of Yahweh or Jehovah that the unfolding of saving history became visible. The unveiling of God’s nature by the giving of this name to Israel was of supreme significance to the entire Biblical system.

Another of the basic names for deity which occurs frequently in early Israelitish history is Adhon or Âdhônāy, usually transliterated as Adonai. Its root form, Adon, does not seem to have been in common use among Sem. peoples generally, but was used mainly by the Hebrews. In the OT it was used in reference to human beings possessing authority.

In Joshua 3:11 God is called “Lord of all the earth”; most frequently the pl. form, Adonai (literally “my Lords”) is employed. In its earliest usage it was evidently a more transcendent term, indicating God’s role as one high and above all things. In later usage, it came to indicate a more personal and intimate relation between the Deity and His people. It thus involves not only gradations of relationships but also obligations and duties. The name was frequently used, not only for, but with the name Yahweh. In the latter usage, the significance would seem to be that while Yahweh does indeed enter into relationship with His people, He is not to be localized or regarded as the God of any specific place.

Combined or secondary names: OT.

In addition to the three names which are frequently regarded to be basic in Heb. usage, there are several compound or otherwise grammatically qualified forms of divine name in the OT. Belonging to this group for lack of other special classification would be the extended form of אֵל, H446, אֱלוֹהַּ, H468, (pl. אֱלֹהִים, H466). The form Eloah (or Eloha) is used chiefly in the Book of Job, being found some forty times there.

The pl. form, Elohim (often called “the plural of intensity”) is used over 2000 times in the OT to refer to Israel’s God. It is frequently used with the article ha-’elohim, bearing the significance of the one true God. The major significance of the usage seems to be that the Hebrews went beyond the usual Sem. name El as a fitting designation for their Deity, whom they regarded as being above and beyond all other gods.

Among the compound names for God in the OT, the name אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י represents a clear progression in the self-disclosure of God to the Hebrews of the patriarchal period. As El Shaddāy or “the almighty God” the Deity is seen to be not only creator and sustainer of the universe, but also the initiator and keeper of covenants. As such He is seen to move clearly in the human sphere, shaping natural forces to spiritual ends.

The name seems to have had Babylonian connections; the Heb. word sadu being related to the older Sem. word meaning “mountain.” While some have understood the name El Shaddāy as “sustainer,” this seems to rest upon a confusion upon the part of the translators of the LXX, who incorrectly associated the word sadu with a term meaning “breast.”

The correct understanding of the name, as being derived from the name “mountain,” seems to suggest strength, stability, and permanence. It has been suggested that the name is basically poetic, thus indicating majestic stability, the reliable refuge, the unmoved pillar. The disclosure of the name is associated closely with the giving of the Covenant as recorded in Genesis 17. The events associated with this point in Israel’s history were intimate and personal ones, centering in the birth of Isaac, the institution of circumcision, and the provisions made for Hagar and Ishmael.

It is significant that this name for the Deity became current in the patriarchal period, in which God’s providences toward the Heb. people were manifested most intimately and also uniquely to the race of Abraham. In this period, the name El Shaddāy was an important verbal aid in the pedagogy of the Hebrews. It may be said that in a sense this name formed a bridge in the Heb. mind between the epoch in which Elohim was the chief designation for the Deity, and the period of the re-emphasis on the intensely personal and redemptive name, Yahweh or Jehovah.

The names אֵ֥ל עוֹלָֽם, and אֵ֥ל עֶלְיֹֽון, which are both compounds of the original Sem. form El, represent variant emphases. The former of these bears the meaning of “God of ancient days” or “God of eternity.” The chief usage of this name, in Genesis 21:33, suggests the permanence of the Deity, His exaltation above the changes and contingencies of time. He is conceived to be above the flux of natural phenomena. The ideas contained in this designation were esp. common in the era of the prophets, continuing into the time of the Exile. El Ôlām (or El’ôloām) as a name calls attention to God’s eternal duration, His agelessness and His perpetuity amid the changing tides of natural and human events.

The name El ’Elyôn (Gen 14:18; Num 24:16) denotes the Deity as “the Most High,” the highest and therefore supreme Being. In the use of this name for God, the Israelites gave expression, not in the first instance to the exclusiveness of their God (which was amply expressed elsewhere), but to His supremacy.

This name, which occurs in very early Heb. history, seems to have receded in use until about 1000 b.c., at which time it came again into use, esp. in the poetic lit. of the OT. Here the omnipotence of God is the point of stress. It occurs also in postexilic times, notably in Daniel 7:25, 27.

The name אֱלֹהִ֥ים צְבָאֹ֡ות, often transliterated as Elohim Sebā'ôt and tr. “God of Sabaoth,” means literally “God of Hosts.” It is employed to indicate God’s role as the One who controls all created agencies and beings. The name is associated with the Ark of the Covenant (e.g. 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2) and is employed frequently by the prophets. That it was not merely an appellation equivalent to “Warrior God” is evident from its large use (nearly 250 times) by the prophets.

That the term does not suggest a merely national or racial deity is witnessed by the prophetic usage which links Yahweh Sebā'ôt with judgment upon both Israel and the environing nations. Thus the “Lord of Hosts” was conceived as being sovereign over all hosts, both “things in heaven and things on earth.” The name suggests exaltedness, transcendence, and omnipotence.

The use of this name implies also a universalistic tendency in Israel’s religion during the period of the monarchy. As Eichrodt points out, it suggests that the early concept of a high God in Israel was sustained (op cit. 193). It follows that during the period of the monarchy, the Hebrews continued and sustained an earlier exalted concept of the Deity, and that their cultic usage was shaped and conditioned, not by purely national or tribal sentiment, but by a Yahwist faith which possessed universalistic conceptions.

The name צ֥וּר (“Rock”) occurs five times in the song of Moses (Deut 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31) and a number of times in Psalms, Isaiah and elsewhere. The connotation is fig.; the name suggests Gods’ role as a fortress or shield. It occurs in Deuteronomy in a context which suggests both God’s greatness and His righteousness. The same combination occurs in Psalm 92:15: “He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

In Deuteronomy 32:15, Moses chides יְשֻׁרוּן (meaning “Upright One,” no doubt an ironical reference to Israel) for forgetting Tsûr who as Maker is the source of Israels’ security. In verse 31 of the same chapter, Israel’s Tsûr is contrasted with the enemies’ “rock.” Here the reference is to God’s strength, as well as to His special relationship to the Israelitish nation, in which He confuses their enemies, and causes them to triumph in the face of vastly overwhelming numerical odds.

The name קָדוֹשׁ, H7705, (“Holy One”) appears in the Psalms, and esp. in Isaiah, where it is employed over thirty times. The term implies separation from all that is unworthy and unrighteous, and carries the connotation also of power, distance from man and the world, and in a certain sense aloofness and inaccessibility. At the same time, God is declared to be “the Holy One of Israel”; thus the motif of transcendence which might have been the major thrust of the term is modified by the suggestion of specialness with reference to Israel.

Two names are employed which indicate the greatness of God, אָבִיר, H51, (“Mighty One”) and גִּבּוֹר, H1475, (“Mighty”). The first is employed in connection with the names of Israel or of Jacob; taken with a proper name, it is a poetic title of power. The second has the same significance, and is found in connection with the names both El and Yahweh (Isa 9:6; 42:13; Jer 32:18).

The name Abhīr (Gen 49:24) indicates a Mighty One who strengthens the hands of chosen men, and whose presence is symbolized by the Ark of the Lord (Ps 132:2, 5). The name is intimately connected with Israel’s salvation (Isa 49:26).

The name צַדִּיק, H7404, (“Righteous One”) is applied to the Deity in His role as covenantkeeper, and as utterly true to Himself. There is a clear implication of divine justice in the name; Pharaoh is shown to recognize this (Exod 9:27) as is also the psalmist (Pss 129:4; 145:17).

Two names for God which are hapax legomena are אֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י and אֵ֥ל בְּרִֽית. The former occurs in Genesis 6:13 and its use is attributed to Hagar as she fled into the Negev from the ire of Sarah. The name ’El Rô'î is capable of being tr. “God of Vision” or “God of Seeing.” It seems from the context that the latter is intended in Genesis 6:13.

The name ’El Berit occurs only in Judges 9:46. The basic meaning is “God of the Covenant”; the reference in Judges is to the name of a sanctuary at Shechem, from whose treasury the citizens of Shechem gave seventy silver shekels to Abimelech to aid him in his struggle for kingship of the city. The actual relation of the sanctuary in the city to the motif of “covenant” is unclear, but some covenant agreements between the sons of Jacob and the Shechemites were prob. implied in Jacob’s acquisition of land there (Gen 33:19).

From the foregoing, it seems clear that in OT usage, the names describe functions or activities of God, although intrinsic and even metaphysical implications are not wholly absent. More significant still, they represent stages in a progressive self-disclosure of the Deity, a revelation which utilized situations (esp. crucial ones) as vehicles. The entire revelatory process was safeguarded by the third commandment, which prescribed not only a certain economy in the use of divine names, but a scrupulous adherence to norms of truth in connection with their employment.

Names for God in the NT.

The employment of names for the Deity in the NT tends to simplify the nomenclature of the OT. The most common name is, of course, Θεός, which occurs more than one thousand times. It connotes, in one name-form, the names El and Elohim and their compounds and is expressive of essential deity. The term emphasizes self-sufficiency, self-determination and absolute righteousness. (“God, Names of” in ISBE, II, 1268, art. by Edward Mack.)

In general, NT usage of the name Theos takes for granted some familiarity with OT conceptions of the divine Being, whose existence is usually assumed. As Theos He is present in depth in all things, yet is independent of the created universe. While being no stranger to the world, He is in His essential being transcendent, unmixed with created realities.

The name Κύριος (“Lord”) occurs with great frequency in the NT. It seems to gather together within itself the combined meaning of the Heb. name Adonai, of which it is the verbal equivalent, and Yahweh or Jehovah. The name is applied to both Father and Son, and at times is the chief signification for Jesus Christ. In the gospels it appears as the direct equivalent of Adonai (Mark 1:3), and as a close correlate to the name Theos (John 20:28). In the postresurrection narratives, esp., it appears as a direct name for Jesus Christ (Luke 24:34; John 20:18; 21:20).

Thus, in the unfolding of the message of the NT, the richness and variety of OT nomenclature for the Deity was presupposed. This is expressed, not only in the wide range of usages of the names Theos and Kurios, but also in the carrying over in tr. of attributive names from the OT, such as Highest, Most High, and Almighty which correspond respectively to ’Elyôn, Abhīr and Shaddāy. (See, e.g. Luke 1:35, 76; Rev 4:8; 11:17; 21:22.)

While our Lord claimed that God was Father to Him in a unique sense (see John 5:18) yet that fatherhood was something to be shared (Matt 7:11; Luke 11:13). As the Redeemer and Son, He ever called attention to the Father who had sent Him into the world. The ease with which He employed the name made it natural for the early Christian community to speak of God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It follows that our Lord’s language was not philosophical but filial. The name Father gave dimensions to the understanding of the Deity which neither the name Theos nor the title Kurios could afford.

The thrust of the language of the NT epistles is that God is the Father of all men in the sense of being the creator and sustainer of all, while at the same time there is an essentially Christian sense in which God is the Father of the regenerate. It is within the context of Christian redemption that the name Father comes to its fullest significance.

God’s nature as revealed by names.

It has been noted that God’s existence is not argued in detail in Holy Scripture. The names by which He revealed Himself in the OT period were, as has been noted, descriptive largely of the divine activities and functions. It was mentioned further that there was an elaboration of functions (and by implication, of nature also) in the plurality of names.

This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that the employment of the varied designations afforded to the Hebrews—and to men and women of the Christian era—a propositional understanding of God’s essential nature. The twin qualities of spirituality and personality shine through the OT nomenclature rather clearly. Back of this was the more basic understanding of God’s sovereign freedom. He is portrayed as being above any determination outside Himself. He existed before the world and is in no way dependent upon the cosmos for His existence.

As the Almighty, He is unique in the quality of His freedom. This uniqueness has for its corollary the unitary quality of His being. He thus answers to the Shema (Deut 6:4): “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord.” This view, which by the period of the return from the Exile had been indelibly impressed upon the mentality of the Hebrews, sums up the Jewish view of God.

As sovereignly unique and exclusively unitary, God appears also as sovereign Father. This latter concept developed alongside the regal understanding of Jehovah, and in NT times became a dominant motif. It goes without saying that each of these conceptions is morally and ethically based, this being a corollary of God’s holiness.

As almighty, God is shown to act, not merely from the fact of irresistible power, but in accordance with that holiness (Lev 11:44; 1 Sam 2:2). This quality demands that all that is associated with him shall also be holy: the priests, the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the people. The purity thus enjoined is not merely a ritual characteristic, although the so-called Holiness Code (Lev 17-26) has profound ritualistic overtones. But at the same time, the Code has strong practical and ethical overtones. In the section dealing with blessings for obedience, God the Lord demands separation from evil as a condition to His making His dwelling with Israel.

The NT usage of designations for God sheds light upon the question of God’s love. While in the OT there were racial and national limits to the exercise of divine love, in the NT God’s love and benevolence is clearly shown to extend to the whole of mankind. This is the clear implication of the words “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The supreme evidence for this is, of course, shown to be found in the Incarnation of the Word, and in the sufferings, death and resurrection of the Incarnate One (1 John 4:9, 10).

Something needs to be said, finally, with respect to the relation of God’s nature (and esp. as this is revealed through the employment of divine names) to the created world. This question assumes its sharpest form in the issue of transcendence versus immanence. The name El, with its strong overtones of power, clearly suggests God’s transcendence. The element of distance applies both to the relation of God to man, and of God to the world. The accent falls upon His majesty (Neh 9:32; Ps 68:34, 35; Ezek 10:5) in OT usage and in His role as the Lord of history, Creator of all things and Ruler of the ages in the NT (1 Tim 1:17).

In the name Yahweh are combined the two motifs of transcendence and immanence. On the one hand, He was a God of power and ability (Exod 3:14; 20:2) but at the same time, One who was vitally operative in human events. His nearness was, in general, seen in terms of proximity and availability to persons (e.g., Moses and the Israelitish people). The term Covenant seems to bring the two motifs into close relationship, for the Mighty Deliverer was also Lawgiver and Provider.

It is significant that the understanding of Deity, particularly as it is revealed progressively through divine names in both Testaments, is singularly free from the twin extremes of Deism and Pantheism. On the one hand, God is declared and shown to be concerned with the affairs of the created universe and particularly the needs of mankind; on the other, He is intensely personal and thus distinct from all of the empirical universe.

It is noteworthy that the thrust of the Scriptural view of Deity avoids the peril of envisioning transcendence in exclusively spatial terms, and as well, that of seeing His immanence in terms of a mixture (or identification) of Him with created realities. Rather, God as spirit (John 4:24) is essentially and intrinsically independent, and at the same time irreducible to corporeal or material existence.

While many feel that the employment of the pl. form Elohim leaves the way open to the NT view of a plurality of Personae in the One divine Essence, the doctrine of the Trinity rests primarily upon other grounds than that of the use of names for the Deity. But these names do play an indispensable role in the total movement of history-and-thought by which the eternal God has made Himself known to the sons of men. To say the least, these names inform us, not only that God is, but also “that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).


J. P. Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (n.d.), I, 109n; A. E. Suffrin, “God (Jewish),” HERE, Vi (1914), 295-299; E. Mack, “God, Names of” ISBE, II (1915), 1264-1268; W. T. Davison, “God, Biblical and Christian,” HERE, VI (1922), 252-269; W. R. Matthews, God in Christian Thought and Experience (1930),89-110; C. F. H. Henry, Notes on the Doctrine of God (1948), 75-91; T. Rees, “God,” ISBE, II (1955), 1250-1264; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, I (1961), 178-203; R. T. A. Murphy, “Nature of God in Biblical Theology,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, VI (1962), 560-562; H. B. Kuhn, “God: His Names and Nature,” Fundamentals of the Faith (1969), 35-55; L. F. Hartman, “God, Names of,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, VII (1971), 674-679.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. The Phrase "His Name"

2. Classification.


1. ’Elohim

2. ’El

3. ’Eloah

4. ’Adhon, ’Adhonay

5. Yahweh (Yahweh)

6. Tsur (Rock)

7. Ka`dhosh

8. Shadday


1. ’Abhir

2. ’El-’Elohe-Yisra’el

3. `Elyon

4. Gibbor

5. ’El-ro’i

6. Tsaddiq

7. Qanna’8. Yahweh Tsebha’oth

9. "I Am That I Am"

IV. New Testament NAMES OF GOD

1. God

2. Lord

3. Descriptive and Figurative Names


I. Introduction:

To an extent beyond the appreciation of modern and western minds the people of Biblical times and lands valued the name of the person. They always gave to it symbolical or character meaning.

While our modern names are almost exclusively designatory, and intended merely for identification, the Biblical names were also descriptive, and often prophetic. Religious significance nearly always inhered in the name, a parent relating his child to the Deity, or declaring its consecration to the Deity, by joining the name of the Deity with the service which the child should render, or perhaps commemorating in a name the favor of God in the gracious gift of the child, e.g. Nathaniel ("gift of God"); Samuel ("heard of God"); Adonijah ("Yahweh is my Lord"), etc. It seems to us strange that at its birth, the life and character of a child should be forecast by its parents in a name; and this unique custom has been regarded by an unsympathetic criticism as evidence of the origin of such names and their attendant narratives long subsequent to the completed life itself; such names, for example, as Abraham, Sarah, etc. But that this was actually done, and that it was regarded as a matter of course, is proved by the name given to Our Lord at His birth: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people" (Mt 1:21). It is not unlikely that the giving of a character name represented the parents’ purpose and fidelity in the child’s training, resulting necessarily in giving to the child’s life that very direction, which the name indicated. A child’s name, therefore, became both a prayer and a consecration, and its realization in character became often a necessary psychological effect. Great honor or dishonor was attached to a name. The Old Testament writings contain many and varied instances of this. Sometimes contempt for certain reprobate men would be most expressively indicated by a change of name, e.g. the change of Esh-baal, "man of Baal," to Ish-bosheth, "man of shame" (2Sa 2:8 ), and the omission of Yahweh from the name of the apostate king, Ahaz (2Ki 15:38, etc.). The name of the last king of Judah was most expressively changed by Nebuchadnezzar from Mattaniah to Zedekiah, to assure his fidelity to his overlord who made him king (2Ki 24:17).

See Proper Names.

1. The Phrase "His Name":

Since the Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament are essentially for purposes of revelation, and since the Hebrews laid such store by names, we should confidently expect them to make the Divine name a medium of revelation of the first importance. People accustomed by long usage to significant character indications in their own names, necessarily would regard the names of the Deity as expressive of His nature. The very phrase "name of Yahweh," or "His name," as applied to the Deity in Biblical usage, is most interesting and suggestive, sometimes expressing comprehensively His revelation in Nature (Ps 8:1; compare 138:2); or marking the place of His worship, where men will call upon His name (De 12:5); or used as a synonym of His various attributes, e.g. faithfulness (Isa 48:9), grace (Ps 23:3), His honor (Ps 79:9), etc. "Accordingly, since the name of God denotes this God Himself as He is revealed, and as He desires to be known by His creatures, when it is said that God will make a name for Himself by His mighty deeds, or that the new world of the future shall be unto Him for a name, we can easily understand that the name of God is often synonymous with the glory of God, and that the expressions for both are combined in the utmost variety of ways, or used alternately" (Schultz, Old Testament Theology, English translation, I, 124-25; compare Ps 72:19; Isa 63:14; also Davidson, Old Testament Theol., 37-38).

2. Classification:

From the important place which the Divine name occupies in revelation, we would expect frequency of occurrence and diversity of form; and this is just that which we find to be true. The many forms or varieties of the name will be considered under the following heads:

(1) Absolute or Personal Names,

(2) Attributive, or Qualifying Names, and

(3) Names of God in the New Testament. Naturally and in course of time attributive names tend to crystallize through frequent use and devotional regard into personal names; e.g. the attributive adjective qadhosh, "holy," becomes the personal, transcendental name for Deity in Job and Isa. For fuller details of each name reference may be made to separate articles.

II. Absolute or Personal Names of God in the Old Testament:

1. ’Elohim:

The first form of the Divine name in the Bible is ’Elohim, ordinarily translated "God" (Ge 1:1). This is the most frequently used name in the Old Testament, as its equivalent theos, is in the New Testament, occurring in Ge alone approximately 200 t. It is one of a group of kindred words, to which belong also ’El and ’Eloah. (1) Its form is plural, but the construction is uniformly singular, i.e. it governs a singular verb or adjective, unless used of heathen divinities (Ps 96:5; 97:7). It is characteristic of Hebrew that extension, magnitude and dignity, as well as actual multiplicity, are expressed by the plural. It is not reasonable, therefore, to assume that plurality of form indicates primitive Semitic polytheism. On the contrary, historic Hebrew is unquestionably and uniformly monotheistic.

(2) The derivation is quite uncertain. Gesenius, Ewald and others find its origin in ’ul, "to be strong," from which also are derived ’ayil, "ram," and ’elah, "terebinth"; it is then an expanded plural form of ’el; others trace it to ’alah, "to terrify," and the singular form is found in the infrequent ’eloah, which occurs chiefly in poetical books; BDB inclines to the derivation from ’alah, "to be strong," as the root of the three forms, ’El, `Eloah and ’Elohim, although admitting that the whole question is involved in uncertainty (for full statement see BDB, under the word ...); a somewhat fanciful suggestion is the Arabic root ’ul, "to be in front," from which comes the meaning "leader"; and still more fanciful is the suggested connection with the preposition ’el, signifying God as the "goal" of man’s life and aspiration. The origin must always lie in doubt, since the derivation is prehistoric, and the name, with its kindred words ’El and ’Eloah, is common to Semitic languages and religions and beyond the range of Hebrew records.

(3) It is the reasonable conclusion that the meaning is "might" or "power"; that it is common to Semitic language; that the form is plural to express majesty or "all-mightiness," and that it is a generic, rather than a specific personal, name for Deity, as is indicated by its application to those who represent the Deity (Jud 5:8; Ps 82:1) or who are in His presence (1Sa 28:13).

2. ’Eloah:

The singular form of the preceding name, ’Eloah, is confined in its use almost exclusively to poetry, or to poetic expression, being characteristic of the Book of Job, occurring oftener in that book than in all other parts of the Old Testament. It is, in fact, found in Job oftener than the elsewhere more ordinary plural ’Elohim. For derivation and meaning see above under 1 (2). Compare also the Aramaic form, ’elah, found frequently in Ezra and Daniel.

3. ’El:

In the group of Semitic languages, the most common word for Deity is El (’el), represented by the Babylonian ilu and the Arabic ’Allah. It is found throughout the Old Testament, but oftener in Job and Psalms than in all the other books. It occurs seldom in the historical books, and not at all in Lev. The same variety of derivations is attributed to it as to ELOHIM (which see), most probable of which is ’ul, "to be strong." BDB interprets ’ul as meaning "to be in front," from which came ’ayil, "ram" the one in front of the flock, and ’elah, the prominent "terebinth," deriving [’El] from ’alah, "to be strong." It occurs in many of the more ancient names; and, like [’Elohim], it is used of pagan gods. It is frequently combined with nouns or adjectives to express the Divine name with reference to particular attributes or phases of His being, as ’El `Elyon, ’El-Ro’i, etc. (see below under III, "Attributive Names").

4. ’Adhon, ’Adhonay:

5. Yahweh (Yahweh):

The name most distinctive of God as the God of Israel is (Yahweh, a combination of the tetragrammaton (YHWH) with the vowels of ’Adhonay, transliterated as Yehowah, but read aloud by the Hebrews ’adhonay). While both derivation and meaning are lost to us in the uncertainties of its ante-Biblical origin, the following inferences seem to be justified by the facts:

(1) This name was common to religions other than Israel’s, according to Friedr. Delitzsch, Hommel, Winckler, and Guthe (EB, under the word), having been found in Babylonian inscriptions. Ammonite, Arabic and Egyptian names appear also to contain it (compare Davidson, Old Testament Theol., 52 f); but while, like ’Elohim, it was common to primitive Semitic religion, it became Israel’s distinctive name for the Deity.

(2) It was, therefore, not first made known at the call of Moses (Ex 3:13-16; 6:2-8), but, being already known, was at that time given a larger revelation and interpretation: God, to be known to Israel henceforth under the name "Yahweh" and in its fuller significance, was the One sending Moses to deliver Israel; "when I 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 .... I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE .... say .... I WILL BE hath sent me" (Ex 3:13,14 margin). The name is assumed as known in the narrative of Genesis; it also occurs in pre-Mosaic names (Ex 6:20; 1Ch 2:25; 7:8).

(3) The derivation is from the archaic chawah, "to be," better "to become," in Biblical Hebrew hayah; this archaic use of w for y appears also in derivatives of the similar chayah, "to live," e.g. chawwah in Ge 3:20.

(4) It is evident from the interpretative passages (Ex 3; 6) that the form is the fut. of the simple stem (Qal) and not future of the causative (Hiph`il) stem in the sense "giver of life"--an idea not borne out by any of the occurrences of the word. The fanciful theory that the word is a combination of the future, present and perfect tenses of the verb, signifying "the One who will be, is, and was," is not to be taken seriously (Stier, etc., in Oehler’s Old Testament Theology, in the place cited.).

(5) The meaning may with some confidence be inferred from Origen’s transliteration, Iao, the form in Samaritan, Iabe, the form as combined in Old Testament names, and the evident signification in Ex 3 and other passages, to be that of the simple future, yahweh, "he will be." It does not express causation, nor existence in a metaphysical sense, but the covenant promise of the Divine presence, both at the immediate time and in the Messianic age of the future. And thus it became bound up with the Messianic hope, as in the phrase, "the Day of Yahweh," and consequently both it and the Septuagint translation Kurios were applied by the New Testament as titles of Christ.

(6) It is the personal name of God, as distinguished from such generic or essential names as ’El, ’Elohim, Shadday, etc. Characteristic of the Old Testament is its insistence on the possible knowledge of God as a person; and Yahweh is His name as a person. It is illogical, certainly, that the later Hebrews should have shrunk from its pronunciation, in view of the appropriateness of the name and of the Old Testament insistence on the personality of God, who as a person has this name. the American Standard Revised Version quite correctly adopts the transliteration "Yahweh" to emphasize its significance and purpose as a personal name of God revealed.

6. Tsur (Rock):

Five times in the "Song" of Moses (De 32:4,15,18,30,31) the word tsur, "Rock," is used as a title of God. It occurs also in the Psalms, Isa and poetical passages of other books, and also in proper names, Elizur, Zuriel, etc. Once in the King James Version (Isa 44:8) it is translated "God," but "Rock" in the American Standard Revised Version and the American Revised Version, margin. The effort to interpret this title as indicating the animistic origin of Old Testament religion is unnecessary and a pure product of the imagination. It is customary for both Old Testament and New Testament writers to use descriptive names of God: "rock," "fortress," "shield," "light," "bread," etc., and is in harmony with all the rich figurativeness of the Scriptures; the use of the article in many of the cases cited further corroborates the view that the word is intended to be a descriptive title, not the name of a Nature-deity. It presents the idea of God as steadfast: "The appellation of God as tsur, `rock,’ `safe retreat,’ in Deuteronomy refers to this" (Oehler, Old Testament Theology). It often occurs, in a most striking figure, with the pers. suffix as "my rock," "their rock," to express confidence (Ps 28:1).

7. Kadhosh:

The name (qadhosh, "holy") is found frequently in Isaiah and Psalms, and occasionally in the other prophets. It is characteristic of Isaiah, being found 32 times in that book. It occurs often in the phrase qedhosh yisra’el, "Holy One of Israel." The derivation and meaning remain in doubt, but the customary and most probable derivation is from qadhash, "to be separate," which best explains its use both of man and of the Deity. When used of God it signifies: (1) His transcendence, His separateness above all other beings, His aloneness as compared to other gods; (2) His peculiar relation to His people Israel unto whom He separated Himself, as He did not unto other nations. In the former sense Isaiah used it of His sole deity (40:25), in the latter of His peculiar and unchanging covenant-relation to Israel (43:3; 48:17), strikingly, expressed in the phrase "Holy One of Israel." Qadhosh was rather attributive than personal, but became personal in the use of such absolute theists as Job and Isaiah. It expresses essential Deity, rather than personal revelation.

8. Shadday:

In the patriarchal literature, and in Job particularly, where it is put into the mouths of the patriarchs, this name appears sometimes in the compound ’el shadday, sometimes alone. While its root meaning also is uncertain, the suggested derivation from shadhadh, "to destroy," "to terrify," seems most probable, signifying the God who is manifested by the terribleness of His mighty acts. "The Storm God," from shadha’, "to pour out," has been suggested, but is improbable; and even more so the fanciful she, and day, meaning "who is sufficient." Its use in patriarchal days marks an advance over looser Semitic conceptions to the stricter monotheistic idea of almightiness, and is in accord with the early consciousness of Deity in race or individual as a God of awe, or even terror. Its monotheistic character is in harmony with its use in the Abrahamic times, and is further corroborated by its parallel in Septuagint and New Testament, pantokrator, "all-powerful."

III. Descriptive Names of God in the Old Testament:

It is often difficult to distinguish between the personal and the attributive names of God, the two divisions necessarily shading into each other. Some of the preceding are really attributive, made personal by usage. The following are the most prominent descriptive or attributive names.

1. ’Abhir:

This name (’abhir), translated in English Versions of the Bible "Mighty One," is always combined with Israel or Jacob; its root is ’abhar, "to be strong" from which is derived the word ’ebher, "pinion," used of the strong wing of the eagle (Isa 40:31), figuratively of God in De 32:11. It occurs in Jacob’s blessing (Ge 49:24), in a prayer for the sanctuary (Ps 132:2,5), and in Isa (1:24; 49:26; 60:16), to express the assurance of the Divine strength in behalf of the oppressed in Israel (Isa 1:24), or in behalf of Israel against his oppressors; it is interesting to note that this name was first used by Jacob himself.

2. ’El-’Elohe-Israel:

The name ’El is combined with a number of descriptive adjectives to represent God in His various attributes; and these by usage have become names or titles of God. For the remarkable phrase ’EL-’ELOHE-ISRAEL (Ge 33:20), see separate article

3. `Elyon:

4. Gibbor:

The ancient Hebrews were in constant struggle for their land and their liberties, a struggle most intense and patriotic in the heroic days of Saul and David, and in which there was developed a band of men whose great deeds entitled them to the honorable title "mighty men" of valor (gibborim). These were the knights of David’s "Round Table." In like manner the Hebrew thought of his God as fighting for him, and easily then this title was applied to God as the Mighty Man of war, occurring in David’s psalm of the Ark’s Triumphant Entry (Ps 24:8), in the allegory of the Messiah-King (Ps 45:3), either alone or combined with El (Isa 9:6; Jer 32:18), and sometimes with Yahweh (Isa 42:13).

5. ’El-Ro’i:

When Hagar was fleeing from Sarah’s persecutions, Yahweh spoke to her in the wilderness of Shur, words of promise and cheer. Whereupon "she called the name of Yahweh that spake unto her, Thou art El roi" (Ge 16:13 margin). In the text the word ro’i, deriv. of ra’ah, "to see," is translated "that seeth," literally, "of sight." This is the only occurrence of this title in the Old Testament.

6. Tsaddiq:

7. Kanna:

Frequently in the Pentateuch, most often in the 3 versions of the Commandments (Ex 20:5; 34:14; De 5:9), God is given the title "Jealous" (qanna’), most specifically in the phrase "Yahweh, whose name is Jealous" (Ex 34:14). This word, however, did not bear the evil meaning now associated with it in our usage, but rather signified "righteous zeal," Yahweh’s zeal for His own name or glory (compare Isa 9:7, "the zeal of Yahweh," qin’ah; also Zec 1:14; 8:2).

8. Yahweh Tsebha’-oth:

9. "I Am That I Am":

When God appeared to Moses at Sinai, commissioning him to deliver Israel; Moses, being well aware of the difficulty of impressing the people, asked by what name of God he should speak to them: "They shall say to me, What is his name?" Then "God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM .... say .... I AM hath sent me unto you" (Ex 3:14). The name of the Deity given here is similar to Yahweh except that the form is not 3rd person future, as in the usual form, but the 1st person (’ehyeh), since God is here speaking of Himself. The optional reading in the American Revised Version, margin is much to be preferred: "I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE," indicating His covenant pledge to be with and for Israel in all the ages to follow. For further explanation see above, II, 5.

IV. New Testament Names of God.

The variety of names which characterizes the Old Testament is lacking in the New Testament, where we are all but limited to two names, each of which corresponds to several in the Old Testament. The most frequent is the name "God" (Theos) occurring over 1,000 t, and corresponding to El, Elohim, etc., of the Old Testament.

1. God:

It may, as [’Elohim], be used by accommodation of heathen gods; but in its true sense it expresses essential Deity, and as expressive of such it is applied to Christ as to the Father (Joh 20:28; Ro 9:5).

2. Lord:

Five times "Lord" is a translation of despotes (Lu 2:29; Ac 4:24; 2Pe 2:1 the King James Version; Jude 1:4; Re 6:10 the King James Version). In each case there is evident emphasis on sovereignty and correspondence to the ’Adhon of the Old Testament. The most common Greek word for Lord is Kurios, representing both Yahweh and ’Adhonai of the Old Testament, and occurring upwards of 600 times. Its use for Yahweh was in the spirit of both the Hebrew scribes, who pointed the consonants of the covenant name with the vowels of Adhonay, the title of dominion, and of the Septuagint, which rendered this combination as Kurios. Consequently quotations from the Old Testament in which Yahweh occurs are rendered by Kurios. It is applied to Christ equally with the Father and the Spirit, showing that the Messianic hopes conveyed by the name Yahweh were for New Testament writers fulfilled in Jesus Christ; and that in Him the long hoped for appearance of Yahweh was realized.

3. Descriptive and Figurative Names:


Theology of Old Testament by various authors: Oehler, Schultz, Davidson; Delitzsch, Psychology of the Old Testament; H.P. Smith, "Theophorous Names of OT" in Old Testament and Semitic Studies; Gray, HPN; "God" in HDB and EB.