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Divine Names in the Bible

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Question:  Can you give me some information on the names for God in the Bible?

Response:  Certainly - glad to help. You may also want to check out part 1 of the Bible Basics series which deals with some of these issues in the context of theology.  There are of course two main divine names:

LORD: Jehovah and Jahweh are the two most well-known English vocalizations of what is often called the "tetragrammaton", i.e. the four consonant name for the Lord explained in Exodus 3:13-15. In Hebrew, יהוה, (yhvh) is traditionally vocalized as 'adonai, though it occurs in the Masoretic text of the Old Testament without vowels. The divine name "LORD", explained by God Himself as based on "I am/shall be", can potentially be derived from either the Hebrew verb "to be" or the verb "to become" (very close in the Hebrew). Likewise, the form יהוה is a unique one which appears to be a cross between an imperfect (indicating repeated action irrespective of time as in "I shall be/I am") and an infinitive absolute (summing up the meaning of a verb at one throw: "being/becoming"). Thus it is clear both from the context of Exodus chapter three and from all the potential meanings of the verbal form itself that "the name" expresses the very definition of being and existence without regard to time or phenomena.

God: Much can be understood about the Trinity through a consideration of the names by which they are revealed. Collectively, the Trinity refer to themselves as God (cf. Gen.1:26). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for God, `Elohiym (אלהים), translated in the New Testament by the common Greek word for God (theos: θεός), is technically a plural of a word originally meaning "mighty one"; collectively then, the Trinity share this appellation, pluralized to express additional majesty. Individually considered, however, members of the Trinity in the Old Testament are referred to most commonly by the Hebrew word Yahweh (LORD) discussed immediately above. This is translated in the New Testament by the common Greek word for Lord: kyrios (κύριος). These two names, God and Lord, emphasize respectively the unity of the Trinity in its three-fold persons (`Elohiym is plural but refers to the Trinity collectively), and the joint divine-essence of all three individual members (Yahweh is singular but can be used to refer to any of the Trinity's members individually).

Alternate forms of these divine names:

"El" is the poetic singular of "Elohiym", literally meaning "mighty one". The poetic form of Jehovah/Yahweh is "Yah" and, like "El" it shows up in many personal names. For example, in the name Elijah both occur and the literal meaning of the name is "my God is Yah".

Some compound names:

El `Elyon: "God Most High" (`Elyon" meaning "upper" and so "above all [others]") God is the only God.

El Ro`i: "God who sees me" (Ro`i being the participle of the verb ra`ah "to see" plus the 1st singular suffix) - God is a God who knows all our problems and is ever present to help those who seek Him.

El Shaddai: This one is the most difficult of the names to translate because of the cultural divide between contemporary USA and Israel 3,000 years ago. Literally = "God of the two (twin) breasts". God is a God of bounty and grace. His provision and blessings for those who love Him are rich beyond measure.

Jehovah-nissi: "Jehovah is my battle flag". The battle is the Lord's - in whatever we do who follow Him, no matter how daunting the foe (Ps.3), the Lord brings the victory for His own sake for all those who trust in Him.

Also of note on this topic: In verse one of John 1:1-3, the clause "the Word was God" cannot legitimately be translated "the Word was a god". First of all, earlier in the verse, the apostle John had used the definite article with the Greek word theos to refer to the Father according to customary usage ("the [sc. Father] God"), and so to use the identical combination again to refer to the Word [Jesus] would be potentially confusing, making it seem as if "the Word" was really identical to "the [sc. Father] God", one of the very points that John is disproving here. Secondly, Greek does not possess an indefinite article ("a/an"), but it does have an indefinite pronoun ("a certain one"; Greek tis) – the very word that a Greek reader would expect here if the point was that Christ was somehow a god, but not really "God". So John only had three ways to write this: 1) the Word was "the God" (but this would mean that there was no real distinction between the Father and Christ); 2) the Word was "a certain god" (but this would mean that Christ was a lesser sort of divinity, not God on the level of the Father); or 3) the Word was "God" – what John actually did write, thus fully and unambiguously attributing deity to the Word as distinct from the Father.

Please also see these links:

In BB 4A: Christology, "The Names of Jesus Christ" 

Jesus' Name

Changing the Name of God?

The Divine Name

"I AM"

The Names of the Trinity

The Name Jesus

Hope all this helps somewhat,

Yours in Christ,

Bob Luginbill

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