THE NAMES OF GOD
by Wayne S. Walker
"…Holy and awesome is His name" (Psalm 111:9). Before considering the evidences for the existence of God, it would be well for us to know a little bit more concerning the One whom we are discussing. Who is this God? What is He like? How do we know what we know about Him? These are all questions that we shall be examining in this series of articles. We shall begin this phase of our study by looking at the names of God as found in the scriptures.
The basic Hebrew term for God is El. Frequently it is found in some compound form, as in Genesis 17:1 where the Lord appeared to Abraham and said to him, "I am Almighty God" or El Shaddai. This was evidently the name commonly used by the patriarchs to refer to God. In Exodus 6:3, God said to Moses, "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty [or El Shaddai, WSW], but by My name LORD [or Jehovah, WSW] I was not known to them." The basic term is contained in the most commonly used term for God in the Old Testament, Elohim.
Girdlestone, in his Synonyms of the Old Testament (pp. 19, 22), wrote the following:
"The general Hebrew name for God is Elohim. Sometimes it is used with a definite article, sometimes without. Altogether it occurs 2555 times. In 2310 of these instances it is used as the name of the living and true God, but in 245 passages it appears to be adopted in lower senses. Although plural in form (this is indicated by the termination -im, as in such words as Chrub-im and Seraph-im…), the name is generally used with a singular verb when it refers to the true God. (The exceptions are Genesis 20:13; 35:7; 2 Samuel 2:23).
"This name properly represented One only Being, who revealed himself to man as Creator, Ruler, and Lord. It was His own peculiar title, and ought to have been confined to Him. Accordingly we read, ‘In the beginning (Elohim in the plural) created (in the singular) the heavens and the earth’ ….Perhaps the idea unfolded in the plural form Elohim may be expressed more accurately by the word Godhead or Deity than by the word God; and there is certainly nothing unreasonable in the supposition that the name of the Deity was given to man in this form, so as to prepare him for the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons."
The proper name used for God throughout the Old Testament is the tetragrammaton YWHW, in its usual English translation, Jehovah, as noted about from Exodus 6:3. Some of the more modern writers use the form, "Yahweh," which they think may be closer to the original pronunciation. It is apparently derived from or related to the phrase that God used to describe Himself when talking to Moses at the burning bush. Exodus 3:14 tell us that when Moses asked God what he should say when the children of Israel asked for His name, "And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’" In later years the Jewish people, through superstition, refused to pronounce this name and its exact pronunciation was lost. As a result, the American Standard Version is the only translation to use the word "Jehovah" consistently. Most other versions normally render it "LORD" in capital letters.
Edward Mack gives us the following information in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1939 Edition, Vol. II, p.1266):
"The name most distinctive of God as the God of Israel is Jehovah (…a combination of the tetregrammaton with the vowels of Adhonay, transliterated Yehowah) …It is the personal name of God, as distinguished from such generic or essential names as El, Elohim, Shadday, etc. Characteristic of the OT is its insistence on the possible knowledge of God as a person; and Jehovah us His name as a person."
As indicated in the above quote, the Hebrew word Adonai is regularly used in the Old Testament with reference to God also. Its primary meaning is that of Lord or Master. The Greek word for God used in the New Testament is Theos. We shall study it and its different forms in our next article. However, the more we know about our God as revealed by these names, the better we can sing, "Hallelujah, praise Jehovah! From the heavens praise His name." (—taken from With All Boldness; April, 1992; Vol. 2, No. 4; p. 8)