The Names for God

What is the name of the Supreme Being, the person we refer to as God? By looking at His names, we can learn more about who He is.

The name "God" is a proper noun for the person who is the Supreme Being, God the Father. He is referred to in several ways in the Scriptures and we will explore those names and the implications of those names. Jesus said in Matthew 23:9 "And call no man your Father upon the Earth, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven." The word reverend is used only one time in the Bible, and that word is for God (Psalms 111:9--"...holy and reverend is his name.") From the context of Psalms 111, God is the only person reverend could be talking about since no one else is mentioned in the entire chapter. What human should take the Name upon himself that is reserved for God? It approaches ridiculousness when men call themselves "Reverend," "Right Reverend" and "Most Holy Right Reverend." Do they think they are more holy than God?

But through all of this exploration, there is one detail of which we will remain uncertain: The actual personal name of the Supreme Being. Mounting evidence suggests that "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" are not very close. The pronunciations have been lost through (1) disuse and (2) as a by-product of the copying processes used in ancient times.

When either of our daughters calls for "Daddy," we all know who they are referring to. But "Daddy" is not the name that I sign on our checks, nor is it one of the names our automobiles are registered to. "Sid T. Womack" is that name. We are unsure about the equivalent when we are talking about God's personal name. The word "Jehovah" is an approximation. From the Preface of the Harper Study Bible, Revised Standard Version,

"A major departure from the practice of the American Standard Version is the rendering of the Divine Name, the 'Tetragrammaton.' The American Standard Version used the term 'Jehovah;' the King James Version had employed this in four places, but everywhere else, except in three cases where it was employed as part of a proper name, used the English word LORD (or in certain cases GOD) printed in capitals. The recent revision returns to the procedure of the King James Version, which follows the precedent of the ancient Greek and Latin translators and the long-established practice in the reading of the Hebrew scriptures in the synagogue. While it is almost if not quite certain the Name was originallly pronounced 'Yahweh,' this pronunciation was not indicated when the Masoretes added vowel signs to the consonantal Hebrew text. To the four consonants YHWH of the Name, which had come to be regarded as too sacred to be pronounced, the attached vowel signs indicating that in its places should be read the Hebrew Adonai meaning 'Lord' or Elohim meaning God.') The ancient Greek translators substituted the word Kyrios (Lord) for the Name. The Vulgate likewise used the Latin word Dominus. The form 'Jehovah' is of late medieval origin; it is a combination of the consonants of the Divine Name and the vowels attached to it by the Masoretes but belonging to an entirely different word. The sound of Y is represented by J and the sound of W by V, as in Latin. For two reasons the [Revised Standard] Committee has returned to the more familiar usage of the King James Version: (1) the word 'Jehovah' does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew; and (2) the use of any proper name for the one and only God, as though there were other gods from who He had to be distinguished, was discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era and is entirely inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church" (page v., Harper Study Bible, Revised Standard Version.)

The first reason we do not know the exact pronunciation for the personal name of God is disuse. Early scribes show a high regard for the Tetragrammaton. During the time when copies were being hand-transcribed, when the person name of God was encountered, the reader and all of the scribes doing the copying would get up from their writing, clean their quills, and ceremoniously bathe themselves before returning to write YHWH or Jehovah or whatever the letters were. They were terrified to try to say that name out loud, lest they be accused of taking the Lord's name in vain, for this exposed them to death by stoning (Deuteronomy 5:11). As time passed by and the rules were relaxed a little bit, in passages where the proper name of God was going to occur frequently, the scribes left blanks on their parchments and waited until there were quite a few blanks, then paused for a break to clean their quills and take their ceremonial baptisms. Then they came back and filled in all the blanks at once.

Second, added to the lack of exposure problem a facet of the Hebrew written language: They didn't write vowels at the time the Old Testament was being written. To approximate the situation in a ordinary English word, the word wife would not have the i or the silent e in it, the reader being supposed to guess at those vowels from the context. So wife would be wf. If a reader substituted the wrong vowels, the companion who is the "help-meet" of a man might be a "wufi."

Below are the names and self-descriptions of God, the Person who is the leader and chief intellect of the Godhead, the Trinity:

1. Elohim. The generic name for God. Harper Study Bible, p. 1. This is a plural Hebrew word and contextually with Generis 1: 2 and 1: 26, and John 1: 1-3 and Hebrews 1: 3 indicates the Godhead.

2. Eli. The singular name for God that Jesus used upon the cross to speak to God, the Father. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthanni" for "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me?"

3. El Shaddai. The Almighty God who spoke to Abraham during the renewal of their covenant. This name is a reminder that all power resides with God and that there is nothing that is impossible for Him.

4. I Am. See Exodus 3: 14, especially using Strong's dictionary. The idea is that God and the Godhead exist, always have existed, and always will exist. God is a God who exists outside of time and is not limited by time (compare to II Peter 3: 8). It is unlikely that English words exist to describe the full extent of the meaning of I Am.

5. Father. See Matthew 23: 9 as discussed above. Also, God the Father is progenitor of all mankind.

6. Adonai is a name that recognizes that God is Lord and Master over us. It is not a "buddy" kind of name but is softer and more affectionate than Jehovah. Examples include Geneisis 19: 18, Genesis 24: 9, Genesis 43: 20 (Adonai or lord sometimes applied to human masters or governors), Isaiah 51: 22, Daniel 10: 19.)

7. Shepherd is the reference to God as Lord in the favorite Psalm 23 passage. Clearly "Shepherd" is an affectionate name for God. Most would rather appeal to His staff of protection than His rod of correction.

8. The Lord, the Righteous Judge. In Genesis 18: 25 we read of Abraham pleading with God for patient and righteous judgement for Sodom. Hebrews 10: 31 uses Theos to denote this same function of God as a magistrate and judge ("It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God") . Revelation 20: 11-15 describes that scene.

God, then, describes that Fatherly Person whom we address during the simplicity of our childhood days. As we mature we come to recognize God the Father, God the Son, and God's Holy Spirit as all parts of a Supreme Godhead.


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