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Home Topical Index

Names of God
Bible study on God: names.

The following is an except from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia under the heading of "God." For further information, see Dictionaries & Encyclopedias. Major references, below, to the name of God are in bold print.

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" (Genesis 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 (Psalms 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 (Judges 5:8; Psalms 82:1) or who are in His presence (1 Samuel 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:

An attributive name, which in prehistoric Hebrew had already passed over into a generic name of God, is 'Adhon, 'Adhonay, the latter formed from the former, being the construct plural, 'adhone, with the 1st person ending -ay, which has been lengthened to ay and so retained as characteristic of the proper name and distinguishing it from the possessive "my Lord." the King James Version does not distinguish, but renders both as possessive, "my Lord" (Judges 6:15; 13:8), and as personal name (Psalms 2:4); the Revised Version (British and American) also, in Psalms 16:2, is in doubt, giving "my Lord," possessive, in text and "the Lord" in the margin. 'Adhonay, as a name of Deity, emphasizes His sovereignty (Psalms 2:4; Isaiah 7:7), and corresponds closely to Kurios of the New Testament. It is frequently combined with Yahweh (Genesis 15:8; Isaiah 7:7, etc.) and with 'Elohim (Psalms 86:12). Its most significant service in Massoretic Text is the use of its vowels to point the unpronounceable tetragrammaton YHWH, indicating that the word "'Adhonay" should be spoken aloud instead of "Yah-weh." This combination of vowels and consonants gives the transliteration "Yahweh," adopted by the American Standard Revised Version, while the other English Versions of the Bible, since Coverdale, represents the combination by the capitals LORD. Septuagint represents it by Kurios.

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 (Exodus 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" (Exodus 3:13,14 margin). The name is assumed as known in the narrative of Genesis; it also occurs in pre-Mosaic names (Exodus 6:20; 1 Chronicles 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 Genesis 3:20.

(4) It is evident from the interpretative passages (Exodus 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 Exodus 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 (Deuteronomy 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 (Isaiah 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 (Psalms 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 (Isaiah 40:31), figuratively of God in Deuteronomy 32:11. It occurs in Jacob's blessing (Genesis 49:24), in a prayer for the sanctuary (Psalms 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 (Isaiah 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 (Genesis 33:20), see separate article

3. `Elyon:

This name (`elyon, "highest") is a derivative of `alah, "to go up." It is used of persons or things to indicate their elevation or exaltation: of Israel, favored above other nations (Deuteronomy 26:19), of the aqueduct of "the upper pool" (Isaiah 7:3), etc. This indicates that its meaning when applied to God is the "Exalted One," who is lifted far above all gods and men. It occurs alone (Deuteronomy 32:8; Psalms 18:13), or in combination with other names of God, most frequently with El (Genesis 14:18; Psalms 78:35), but also with Yahweh (Psalms 7:17; 97:9), or with Elohim (Psalms 56:2 the King James Version; Psalms 78:56). Its early use (Genesis 14:18) points to a high conception of Deity, an unquestioned monotheism in the beginnings of Hebrew history.

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 (Psalms 24:8), in the allegory of the Messiah-King (Psalms 45:3), either alone or combined with El (Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 32:18), and sometimes with Yahweh (Isaiah 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" (Genesis 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:

One of the covenant attributes of God, His righteousness, is spoken of so often that it passes from adjective to substantive, from attribute to name, and He is called "Righteous" (tsaddiq), or "the Righteous One." The word is never transliterated but always translated in English Versions of the Bible, although it might just as properly be considered a Divine name as `Elyon or Qadhosh. The root tsadhaq, "to be straight" or "right," signifies fidelity to a standard, and is used of God's fidelity to His own nature and to His covenant-promise (Isaiah 41:10; 42:6; compare Hosea 2:19); it occurs alone (Psalms 34:17), with El (Deuteronomy 32:4), with Elohim (Ezra 9:15; Psalms 7:9; 116:5), but most frequently with Yahweh (Psalms 129:4, etc.). In Exodus 9:27 Pharaoh, in acknowledging his sin against Yahweh, calls Him `Yahweh the Righteous,' using the article. The suggestive combination, "Yahweh our Righteousness," is the name given to David's "righteous Branch" (Jeremiah 23:6) and properly should be taken as a proper noun--the name of the Messiah-King.

7. Kanna:

Frequently in the Pentateuch, most often in the 3 versions of the Commandments (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 5:9), God is given the title "Jealous" (qanna'), most specifically in the phrase "Yahweh, whose name is Jealous" (Exodus 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 Isaiah 9:7, "the zeal of Yahweh," qin'ah; also Zechariah 1:14; 8:2).

8. Yahweh Tsebha'-oth:

Connected with the personal and covenant name Yahweh, there is found frequently the word Sabaoth (tsebha'oth, "hosts"). Invariably in the Old Testament it is translated "hosts" (Isaiah 1:9; Psalms 46:7,11, etc.), but in the New Testament it is transliterated twice, both in the Greek and English (Romans 9:29; James 5:4). The passage in Roman is a quotation from Isaiah 1:9 through Septuagint, which does not translate, but transliterates the Hebrew. Origin and meaning are uncertain. It is used of heavenly bodies and earthly forces (Genesis 2:1); of the army of Israel (2 Samuel 8:16); of the Heavenly beings (Psalms 103:21; 148:2; Daniel 4:35). It is probable that the title is intended to include all created agencies and beings, of which Yahweh is maker and leader.

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" (Exodus 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 (John 20:28; Romans 9:5).

2. Lord:

Five times "Lord" is a translation of despotes (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; 2 Peter 2:1 the King James Version; Jude 1:4; Revelation 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:

As in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament various attributive, descriptive or figurative names are found, often corresponding to those in the Old Testament. Some of these are: The "Highest" or "Most High" hupsistos), found in this sense only in Lu (1:32,35,76; 2:14, etc.), and Equivalent to 'Elyon (see III, 3, above); "Almighty," Pantokrator (2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8, etc.), corresponding to Shadday (see II, 8 above; see also ALMIGHTY); "Father," as in the Lord's Prayer, and elsewhere (Matthew 6:9; 11:25; John 17:25; 2 Corinthians 6:18); "King" (1 Timothy 1:17); "King of kings" (1 Timothy 6:15); "King of kings," "Lord of lords" (Revelation 17:14; 19:16); "Potentate" (1 Timothy 6:15); "Master" (Kurios, Ephesians 6:9; 2 Peter 2:1; Revelation 6:10); "Shepherd," "Bishop" (1 Peter 2:25).

LITERATURE. 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. Edward Mack