Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Names of God

There is a large amount of information on the Names of God. I will merely scratch the surface enough for you to be able to determine which name of God is being used and why it is important to know the names of God.

There are two Hebrew names from which most of the names of God are built. The first is El. Meaning God. I think its use is much the same as 21st Century America uses “God.” It is generic and can mean anything that the user wants it to mean: such as Mother Nature, a cosmic force, or the sum of all peoples love, etc. So the Hebrews were very inclined to add a suffix to the name in order to define which God they were talking about. The word for God used in Gen 1:1 is Elohim meaning “strong one”. The form of the word is plural, indicating plentitude of power and majesty. The word could be translated as the plural of majesty. So one could say Gen 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Majesties created…”

Anyone see a problem here? The Hebrews believed in One True God. Moses is the hero of the Hebrew people and Moses wrote a plural form for the word God in the beginning. As one theologian put it to me, “They didn’t understand it, but they knew better than to change it.” The important thing to note here is that the word allows for the New Testament revelation of the Trinity of the Godhead.

For the purposes of a simple layperson anytime you see the word God by itself you can assume the Hebrew word used is Elohim. Not totally accurate but close enough as all names are talking about the same God. Other compounds are actually spelled out in the text. El Elyon for instance means God Most High. Look at Gen 14:22 and you will see “God Most High” in the text. So you don’t really need to know that it is El Elyon, just be aware that whatever Hebrew word was used it means “God Most High.”

The second base compound word is YHWH. This is the word the Hebrews valued so highly that they would not pronounce it. While reading the scriptures the Hebrews would pause when reaching the YHWH and then say “Adonai.” We put vowels in the word making it Yahweh and have no problem pronouncing it. The meaning of the YHWH is “I am that I am.” The name first appears in the second chapter of Genesis so was well known to the Hebrew people when passed down from generation to generation in their oral tradition. When God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, this is the name He called Himself so the Hebrews knew exactly who had sent Moses.

The YHWH is translated into English as LORD. Notice the capital letters. When there are compound names associated with it like YHWH Jireh (or Jehovah Jirah from the Greek) then once again the whole meaning is translated into the English. Look at Gen 22:14. You will see imbedded into the verse “The LORD Will Provide”. It is not a sentence, it is a name. Notice all the capital letters. Again, you don’t really need to know that it is YHWH Jireh, just be aware that whatever Hebrew word was used it means “The LORD Will Provide.”

The last word you need to know is Adonai. Adonai is translated as Lord. Notice the lack of capital letters. The most famous use of this is in Psalm 110:1. “The LORD says to my Lord…” In English this looks rather silly, but with your new found knowledge you now know to read it, “YHWH says to Adonai…” This is another Old Testament allowance for One God in multiple Persons.

Now that the surfaced is scratched we ask, Why do I need to know the names of God? Look at John 3:18. You will see imbedded in the verse a command to “believe in the name…” What does it mean to believe in the name? The names, as you have seen, have meanings. You need to believe what the names are telling you. So which name does John 3:18 tell us to believe in? “… in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Which leads us to ask, what does the name Jesus Christ mean?

Matt 1:1 leads off with the name of Jesus Christ. The notes of your Study Bible tell you that Jesus is from Jeshua which means “the Lord is salvation.” Christ means “anointed one.” So we must believe that Jesus Christ is “the Lord is salvation” and “the anointed one.”

So what’s in a name? Now you know.


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