The Names of God
It is worthwhile to spend some time reflecting upon the various names of God, particularly those names given in the Old Testament. In thinking on these names, it is important to reject at the outset of this discussion the theological error of attributing the many names of God to a variety of cultic traditions which were later combined together to form what we know as Old Testament Judaism. These names do not reflect multiple cultic groups, but rather reflect ancient Israel’s attempt to understand the fullness of God’s character from multiple angles. These names are designed to reflect specific character traits of our infinite God, and as God is infinite, so too are the angles in which one may seek to express his character. Just as one needs more than one lens on a camera to take a three-dimensional picture, the multitude of names given to God give us multiple lenses by which we can perceive God’s character and thus have a fuller picture of his character.
Primary Names of God: While there are many names given to our God in scripture, there are five names that are most commonly used in the Old Testament to speak about God:
hwhy (Yahweh): By far the most commonly used name of God is Yahweh (6,828 times in the Old Testament). This is the name that God gave to Moses on Mount Horeb at the burning bush so that Moses could identify God to the Israelites back in Egypt. It is the name that God gave to his people by which we can know him throughout the generations. This name literally means, “I am who I am,” or “I am who I will be.” In other words, it reflects the eternality and self-existence of God’s character. There never was a time when God was not, nor will there ever be a time when God will be, God simply “is.” In the New Testament, the language that refers to God as “the one who was, who is, and is to come” is built on the idea of the covenantal name of Yahweh. In addition to speaking of the eternality of God, the giving of this name also reflects God’s covenantal nature and is often found used in a redemptive context.
~yhiloae (Elohim): This name of God, used 2,602 times in the Old Testament, reflects his strength and power, especially in the context of Creation. Oftentimes, the fact that this name is found in the plural is cited to speak of the plurality of God’s person, yet the plural usage of this name, as discussed above, may also simply be seen as reflecting the idea that God’s might and power are so abundant that it is not suitable to speak of it in the singular. In addition, this name is also understood to represent God as lawgiver in the lives of his people.
yn”doa; (Adonay): The root word for this name of God, found 444 times in the Old Testament, is !Ada” (adon), which simply means “lord” in a very generic sense. Yet, when the y ‘ (ay) ending is added, the term takes on new meaning. This ending elevates the word to a title of exaltation. God is not simply being referred to as Lord, but as the Lord of all Lords, or as the greatest and mightiest Lord that has or ever will exist.
tAab’c. hw”hy> (Yahweh Tsebaoth): God is called “Yahweh of Armies” or “Lord of Hosts” on 242 occasions in the Old Testament. This name is a constant reminder not only of the might that is found in God’s own hand, but that he is the God of hosts of armies. God is the mightiest Emperor in all of the universe, no Czar, no Caesar, no Pharaoh, no King or General can stand against him—God reigns and no other has the might to rival him.
lae (El): This is a more generic name for God that refers to his might and to his power. It is found 200 times on its own in the Old Testament, but is usually found in connection with one of God’s attributes, reflecting that God is the greatest in righteousness, holiness, etc…
Secondary Names of God: There are a number of other names that are given to God that are reflections of some of God’s many perfections. They help us see the fullness of God’s glory, his grace, and his goodness and the abundance of these names is meant to enhance our worship as we see God in the context of these various attributes. As mentioned above, many of these names are composites of the name lae (El) and one of God’s attributes.
yD:v; lae (El Shaddai): This name literally means, “God of the Mountain,” but is often translated as “God on High,” reflecting God’s exalted state resting high above the mountains. It might also be seen as an allusion of our relationship to God, sitting under the mighty shadow of his presence, not unlike the Israelites when they dwelled under the shadow of Sinai.
!Ayl.[, lae (El Elyon): This name means “God Most High,” and is a name that reflects the exalted nature of God himself. Jesus is also referred to as the “Son of the Most High,” which is a direct reference to this divine name.
hn”Wma/ lae (El Emunah): “God of Faithfulness” or “Faithful God.” God is faithful to the ends of the earth, we need to fear him to be whimsical or capricious, but in him lie everlasting stability and faithfulness.
tA[DE lae (El Deoth): “God of Knowledge.” God is all-knowing and omniscient; God knows all things to an infinitely thorough degree. There are no surprises to God and there is nothing is not eternally and intimately known to God on high.
tAlmuG> lae (El Gemuloth) and tAmq’n> lae (El Neqamoth): “God of Recompense” and “God of Vengeance.” God will bring vengeance upon his enemies and upon those who cause harm to his people. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord.
yliyGI tx;m.fi lae (El Simchath Gili): “God of my Jubilation and Exultant Joy”. This is probably one of my favorite, and could even be simply translated as “God of my joy joy” to echo the old children’s song about having God’s joy down in our heart. This title used only once of God expresses the almost uncontainable joy that one feels when he or she comes into the presence of the Lord of their life.
New Testament Names: Though the New Testament does not contain the abundance of names for God as does the Old Testament, several new Testament Names are worth mentioning.
qeo/ß (Theos): This Greek term is the most common name that is used to reference God. It can be applied to refer to any supernatural entity, but within the Greek New Testament, it is most commonly used to refer to the God of the Bible. It is the term from which we get “Theology” and “Theophany.”
Pa/ter (Pater): Normally when we think of God in terms of his Fatherhood, we think in New Testament terms. We think of how, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s household and given the privilege of calling him Father. Yet, we must also recognize that this language is not alien to the Old Testament as well. God is referred to as Father of believers in ancient Israel as well. In addition, as a sign of God’s great mercy, God is also referred to as a “Father to the fatherless.”
uJio/ß (huios): As we move into the New Testament, we find the Trinitarian names of God coming into prominence. And while we will spend time speaking of the many names and titles given to Christ when we deal with the section on Christology, it is important to remember at the onset, that God is Triune and thus the names applied to the Son apply to the Trinitarian Godhead as a whole. God is not Father alone, but he is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in perfect Trinitarian union as discussed above.
a¢gion pneuvma (hagion pneuma): The third member of the Triune God is God the Holy Spirit, again, as we have seen above, who has been spoken of in the Old Testament, but presented with far more clarity in the New Testament. Again, we will discuss the Holy Spirit more fully when we deal with the section on Soteriology, but it is important to mention Him here as we present the names of God.
Kurio/ß (Kurios): This is just as much a name as it is a title. It is the Greek term which is used to translate both hwhy (Yahweh) and yn”doa; (Adonay) from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, its primary usage as a name of God is applied to God the Son, who is Lord of our lives as believers.
∆Emmanouh/l (Emmanouel): Once again, the name “Immanuel” is as much a title as it is a name, and means “God with us.” While this name is most commonly thought of in terms of the naming of Jesus, we must be reminded that this name, like that of Pa/ter (Pater), has Old Testament roots.
While there are many other names of God that we could explore and reflect on, rich names like “Lord of Lords,” “Lord of Kings,” “Lord of the Whole Earth,” and “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the aforementioned names demonstrate for us how these names reflect upon the character of God as a whole. In some ways, looking at these names, like looking at God’s many perfections, is like gazing at a diamond from many different angles. As you turn the diamond, the light catches the different facets from different directions and the gem never ceases to sparkle and gleam in slightly different, but increasingly captivating ways. The deeper we look at God and his perfections, the more deeply we must be drawn into him, the more deeply we must love him, and the more deeply we shall adore him.
Note that the very fact that we have names of God given to us in scripture is just one more affirmation that our God has made himself knowable to his people. Note also that these names do not originate in the ideas that men have about God, but as scripture, they originate with God and come through inspired men who are seeking to describe what God has revealed to them about himself.
Because of the uncertainty of the vowels for the covenantal name of God, many older texts transliterate this name as Jehovah, yet most modern scholarship leans toward Yahweh as the proper pronunciation of God’s covenantal name. Most of our English Bibles will render this name as LORD or LORD (depending on the typeset) to reflect the Jewish tradition of substituting yn”doa; (Adonay, which means “Exalted Lord”) out of reverence for the divine name.