Unsolved:Names of God in Christianity

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Short description: Terms for the Christian deity
The Tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of God written in the Hebrew alphabet, All Saints Church, Nyköping, Sweden
Names of God at John Knox House: "θεός, DEUS, GOD."

The Bible usually uses the name of God in the singular (e.g. Ex. 20:7 or Ps. 8:1), generally using the terms in a very general sense rather than referring to any special designation of God.[1] However, general references to the name of God may branch to other special forms which express his multifaceted attributes.[1] The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible reveals YHWH (often vocalized with vowels as "Yahweh" or "Jehovah") as the personal name of God, along with certain titles including El Elyon and El Shaddai.[2][3][4] Jah or Yah is an abbreviation of Jahweh/Yahweh, and often sees usage by Christians in the interjection "Hallelujah", meaning "Praise Yah", which is used to give God glory.[5] In the New Testament the terms Theos, Kyrios and Patēr (πατήρ i.e. Father in Greek) are additionally used to reference God.[6][1][7]

Respect for the name of God is one of the Ten Commandments, which some Christian teachings interpret to be not only a command to avoid the improper use of God's name, but a directive to exalt it through both pious deeds and praise.[8] This is reflected in the first petition in the Lord's Prayer addressed to God the Father: "Hallowed be Thy Name".[9]

Going back to the Church Fathers, the name of God has been seen as a representation of the entire system of "divine truth" revealed to the faithful "that believe on his name" as in John 1:12 or "walk in the name of Jehovah our God" in Micah 4:5.[10][11] In Revelation 3:12 those who bear the name of God are destined for the New Jerusalem; which will come down (to earth) from heaven. John 17:6 presents the teachings of Jesus as the manifestation of the name of God to his disciples.[10]

John 12:28 presents the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God, and the ensuing salvation delivered through it as the glorification of the name of God, with the voice from Heaven confirming Jesus' petition ("Father, glorify thy name") by saying: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" referring to the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus.[12]

Old Testament

YHWH, the Hebrew Name for God

The simplest form by which God is referred to in the Old Testament is El[13][14][15] (see proper names of earlier Canaanite gods). Elohim (singular Eloah) is likely derived from the same root and points to God as being strong and mighty, able to judge and to strike fear.[13][15] Elyon refers to elevation and being exalted.[13] These are, however, not proper names for God, but epithets also used for rulers and judges.[13] Adonai has a similar context and refers to God as a powerful ruler.[13][14] Similarly, El Shaddai, derived from "shad" i.e. Lord, also points to the power of God.[13]

Yahweh is the principal name in the Old Testament by which God reveals himself and is the most sacred, distinctive and incommunicable name of God.[13] Based on Lev, 24:16: "He that blasphemes the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death", Jews generally avoided the use of Yahweh and substituted Adonai or Elohim for it when reading Scripture.[13]

The name "Jehovah" on the dome of the Roman Catholic Saint Martin's Church in Olten, Switzerland , 1521

The pronunciation of YHWH in the Old Testament can never be certain, given that the original Hebrew text only used consonants.[16] The English form Jehovah (יְהֹוָה, Yəhōwā) was formed during the Middle Ages by combining the Latinization of the four consonants YHWH with the vowel points that Masoretes used to indicate that the reader should say Adonai when YHWH was encountered.[16] Thus Jehovah was obtained by adding the vowels of Adonai to the consonants of YHWH.[16] Jehovah appears in Tyndale's Bible, the King James Version, and other translations from that time period and later. In Christianity, certain hymns dedicated to God invoke the divine name using the vocalization Jehovah, such as Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.[17] The Jehovah's Witnesses, a Restorationist denomination, make consistent use of Jehovah.[18]

Jah or Yah is an abbreviation of Jahweh/Yahweh/Jehovah, and often sees usage by Christians in the interjection Hallelujah, meaning "Praise Jah", which is used to give God glory.[5]

Many English translations of the Bible translate the Tetragrammaton as LORD, following the Jewish practice of substituting Adonai for it.[19]

In the same sense as the substitution of Adonai, the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible to Greek mainly used the word Kyrios (Greek: Κύριος, meaning 'lord') for YHWH.[20] Apostle Paul was likely familiar with the use of the term Kyrios in the Septuagint and used it in his letters to refer to Jesus, thus signifying his divinity.[20][21]

The pronouncement "I Am that I Am" in Exodus 3:14, in rabbinical scholarship taken as a gloss on the meaning of the Tetragrammaton, was in Hellenistic Judaism rendered as ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὢν. In the iconographic tradition of Eastern Christianity, it is common to depict Christ with a cruciform halo inscribed with the letters Ο, Ω, Ν for ὁ ὢν "He Who Is".

In Exodus 34:14, God does give his name as Jealous. "...for you shall worship no other god, because Jehovah, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God." (NRSV)

New Testament

Latin inscription of Philippians 2:10: "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow", Church of the Gesù, Rome.

While the Old Testament has a wide variety of names and epithets that refer to God in Hebrew, the Greek text of the New Testament uses far fewer variants.[22]

The essential uses of the name of God the Father in the New Testament are Theos (θεός the Greek term for God), Kyrios (i.e. Lord in Greek) and Patēr (πατήρ i.e. Father in Greek).[1][15] The Aramaic word "Abba" (אבא), meaning "Father" is used by Jesus in Mark 14:36 and also appears in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.[23]

In the New Testament the two names Jesus and Emmanuel that refer to Jesus have salvific attributes.[24][25][26] The name Jesus is given in Luke 1:31 and Matthew 1 and in both cases the name is not selected by humans but is received by angelic messages with theological significance, e.g. the statement in Matthew 1:21 "you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins" associates salvific attributes to the name Jesus.[24][25][27][28] Emmanuel, which appears in Matthew 1, may refer to Isaiah 7, and does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, but in the context of Matthew 28:20 ("I am with you always, even unto the end of the world") indicates that Jesus will be with the faithful to the end of the age.[29] According to Ulrich Luz, the Emmanuel motif brackets the entire Gospel of Matthew between 1:23 and 28:20, appearing explicitly and implicitly in several other passages, setting the tone for the salvific theme of Matthew.[30]

The names of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are inherently related in the New Testament, e.g. with Jesus' instruction to His disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19):"make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".[31] The Greek word pneuma, generally translated spirit, is found around 385 times in the New Testament.[32] The English terms Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost have identical meanings, with the former having become the usual term in the 20th century.[33] Three separate terms, namely Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth and Paraclete are used in the Johannine writings.[34] The "Spirit of Truth" in used in John 14:17, 15:26 and 16:13.[35] The First Epistle of John then contrasts this with the "spirit of error" in 1 John 4:6.[35]

Sanctity and power of the name

More than a name

A parchment of the Ten Commandments, 1768, Jekuthiel Sofer.

Although in some modern cultures names are simply labels and designators that distinguish one item from another, in Christian theology the names of God have always had much deeper meaning and significance.[14] In the religious sense, the names of God are not human inventions, but have divine origin and are based on divine revelation.[13]

Veneration of the name of God goes back to the Old Testament, and as in Exodus 20:7, the Ten Commandments state: "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God".[36] Christian teachings view this commandment as not simply an avoidance of the use of the name of God, but as a directive to exalt it, through both pious deeds and praise.[8]

In Christian teachings, the name of God is not simply a label, but involves divine mysteries that require and preempt respect and praise.[13] Louis Berkhof states that the issue surrounding the use and interpretation of the names of God provide a theological puzzle in that given that God is "infinite and incomprehensible", His names transcend human thought, yet they allow Him to be revealed to humans as he descends to what is finite and comprehensible.[13] Thus the name of God has always been revered in the Christian tradition, and has been associated with His presence.[13][16]

Name of God, way of God

The traditions and the hymnody of Christian liturgy have for long emphasized the importance of acting in the name of God, e.g. the Sanctus (which may go) states: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord".[37]

Going back to Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr[38] or Cyril of Alexandria, in Christian teachings the name of God has been seen as a representation of the entire system of "divine truth" revealed to the faithful "that believe on his name" as in John 1:12 or "walk in the name of the Lord our God" in Micah 4:5.[10][11] This is further shown in Jesus' Farewell Discourse to his disciples at the end of the Last Supper, in which he addresses the Father and in John 17:6 and 17:26 states:[10]

"I manifested Thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world." (17:6)
"I made known unto them Thy name, and will make it known" (17:26)

In Revelation 3:12 those who bear the name of God are destined for the New Jerusalem; which will come down (to earth) from heaven.[39] In Christian teachings, although the people of God bear the name of God, even they can offend the name of God by transgressing against the nature of God, and disobeying his commandments, as in Romans 2:24: "For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written.".[40]

Hallowed be thy name

The Lord's Prayer, in Matthew 6, 1500, Vienna

The first petition in the Lord's Prayer is "hallowed be thy name" and is addressed to "Our Father who art in Heaven". In his 4th century sermon "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come", Gregory of Nyssa referred to Romans 2:24 and Ezekiel 36:23 which states:

And I will sanctify my great name, which hath been profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am Yahweh, saith the Lord Yahweh, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.

Gregory stated that the petition that starts the Lord's Prayer deals with the insults, disregard, and inattention to the honor of God's name and seeks to remedy that through the pious actions of believers.[41] Modern Christian theology has continued that teaching, and also adds that the remedy also involves the judgement of God against those who disrespect his name.[9]

In John 12:28 Jesus submits a petition to the Father and receives a response:[12]

Father, glorify thy name. There came therefore a voice out of heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

The first glorification refers to Matthew 3:17: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." at the start of the ministry of Jesus with his baptism, and the second to his upcoming crucifixion.[12] Thus in John 12:30 Jesus explains to the crowd who hear the voice: "This voice hath not come for My sake, but for your sakes", referring to his crucifixion as the key element of the path to salvation.[12]

Other prayers in various Christian traditions have continued to refer to the name of God, e.g. the Catholic Golden Arrow prayer begins with:[42][43]

May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable, most incomprehensible and ineffable Name of God be forever praised, blessed, loved, adored and glorified in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, by all the creatures of God

The widespread use of the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church has also been associated with the power of the name of God, with continuing theological discussions.[44]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Manual Of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof (Aug 1, 2007) ISBN:1930367902 pages 19–20
  2. Parke-Taylor, G. H. (1 January 2006) (in en). Yahweh: The Divine Name in the Bible. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-88920-652-6. "The Old Testament contains various titles and surrogates for God, such as El Shaddai, El Elyon, Haqqadosh (The Holy One), and Adonai. In chapter three, consideration will be given to names ascribed to God in the patriarchal period. Gerhard von Rad reminds us that these names became secondary after the name YHWH had been known to Israel, for "these rudimentary names which derive from old traditions, and from the oldest of them, never had the function of extending the name so as to stand alongside the name Jahweh to serve as fuller forms of address; rather, they were occasionally made use of in place of the name Jahweh." In this respect YHWH stands in contrast to the principal deities of the Babylonians and the Egyptians. "Jahweh had only one name; Marduk had fifty with which his praises as victor over Tiamat were sung in hymns. Similarly, the Egyptian god Re is the god with many names." 
  3. "The Name of God in the Liturgy" (in en). United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2008. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/frequently-asked-questions/the-name-of-god-in-the-liturgy.cfm. "…pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," known as the holy or divine tetragrammaton, written with four consonants, YHWH, in the Hebrew alphabet. In order to vocalize it, it is necessary to introduce vowels that alter the written and spoken forms of the name (i.e. "Yahweh" or "Jehovah")." 
  4. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Exodus (Zondervan 2017)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Loewen, Jacob A. (1 June 2020) (in English). The Bible in Cross Cultural Perspective (Revised ed.). William Carey Publishing. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-64508-304-7. "Shorter forms of Yahweh: The name Yahweh also appears in a shortened form, transliterated Jah (pronounced Yah) in the Revised Version and the American Standard Version, either in the text or footnote: "my song is Jah" (Ex 15:2); "by Jah, his name" (Ps 68:4); "I shall not see Jah in Jah's land (Is 38:11). It is common also in such often untranslated compounds as hallelujah 'praise Jah' (Ps 135:3; 146:10, 148:14), and in proper names like Elijah, 'my God is Jah,' Adonijah, 'my Lord is Jah,' Isaiah, 'Jah has saved.'" 
  6. Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, I. Howard (18 February 1992) (in en). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. InterVarsity Press. p. 271. ISBN 978-0-8308-1777-1. "Many of the uses of kyrios for God are in citations of the OT and in expressions derived from the OT (e.g., "angel of the Lord") , and in these passages the term functions as the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT name for God, Yahweh. For example, twenty-five of the uses of kyrios for God in Luke are in the first two chapters, where the phrasing is so heavily influenced by the OT. The third frequently used term for God is "Father" (patēr), doubtless the most familiar term for God in Christian tradition and also perhaps the most theologically significant title for God in the NT. Unlike the other terms for God already mentioned--without exception in the Synoptics, and with only a few exceptions in John--"Father" as a title for God appears only in the sayings attributed to Jesus (the Johannine exceptions are in editorial remarks by the Evangelist in 1:14, 18, a saying of Philip in 14:8 and the crowd's claim in 8:41)." 
  7. "From Elohim to Abba: the intimate names of God | StudentSoul". https://studentsoul.intervarsity.org/names-of-god. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church by Patrick D. Miller (Aug 6, 2009) ISBN:0664230555 page 111
  9. 9.0 9.1 Theology of the New Testament by Georg Strecker (2000) ISBN:0664223362 page 282
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Ten Commandments by Arthur W. Pink (Dec 30, 2007) ISBN:1589603753 pages 23–24
  11. 11.0 11.1 John 11-21 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture) by Joel C. Elowsky (May 23, 2007) ISBN:0830810994 page 237
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Wiersbe Bible Commentary by Warren W. Wiersbe (Nov 1, 2007) ISBN:0781445396 page 274
  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 13.11 Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof (Sep 24, 1996) ISBN:0802838200 pages47-51
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN:0-86554-373-9 page 336
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 All the Doctrines of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer (Sep 29, 1988) ISBN:0310280516 pages 25–26
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia(E-J) by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Mar 1982) ISBN:0802837824 pages 504–507
  17. Barrett, Michael P. V. (20 September 2020) (in English). The Gospel of Exodus: Misery, Deliverance, Gratitude. Reformation Heritage Books. ISBN 978-1-60178-804-7. 
  18. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (1984). "The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever". Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 2008-04-11. https://web.archive.org/web/20080411010047/http://watchtower.org/e/na/. "Jehovah's name is "majestic, great, fear-inspiring and unreachably high." All of God's purposes are linked to his name." '
  19. NASB (1995). "Preface to the New American Standard Bible". New American Standard Bible (Updated Edition). Anaheim, California: Foundation Publications (for the Lockman Foundation). Archived from the original on 2006-12-07. https://web.archive.org/web/20061207004013/http://www.bible-researcher.com/nasb-preface.html. "There is yet another name which is particularly assigned to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters YHWH (Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 42:8). This name has not been pronounced by the Jews because of reverence for the great sacredness of the divine name. Therefore, it has been consistently translated LORD. The only exception to this translation of YHWH is when it occurs in immediate proximity to the word Lord, that is, Adonai. In that case it is regularly translated GOD in order to avoid confusion." 
  20. 20.0 20.1 The Letters of Paul, Fifth Edition by Calvin J. Roetzel (Oct 30, 2009) ISBN:0664233929 pages 21–22
  21. Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN:0-86554-373-9 pages 520–525
  22. All the Divine Names and Titles in the Bible by Herbert Lockyer (Sep 29, 1988) ISBN:0310280419 page 93
  23. Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN:0-86554-373-9 page 2
  24. 24.0 24.1 Bible explorer's guide by John Phillips 2002 ISBN:0-8254-3483-1 page 147
  25. 25.0 25.1 All the Doctrines of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer 1988 ISBN:0-310-28051-6 page 159
  26. Theology of the New Testament by Georg Strecker, Friedrich Wilhelm Horn 2000 ISBN:0-664-22336-2 page 89
  27. Matthew by Thomas G. Long 1997 ISBN:0-664-25257-5 pages 14–15
  28. The Gospel of Matthew by Rudolf Schnackenburg 2002 ISBN:0-8028-4438-3 page 9
  29. Who do you say that I am?: essays on Christology by Jack Dean Kingsbury, Mark Allan Powell, David R. Bauer 1999 ISBN:0-664-25752-6 page 17
  30. The theology of the Gospel of Matthew by Ulrich Luz 1995 ISBN:0-521-43576-5 page 31
  31. Lord, giver of life by Jane Barter Moulaison 2006 ISBN:0-88920-501-9 page 5
  32. Companion Bible–KJV–Large Print by E. W. Bullinger, Kregel Publications, 1999. ISBN:0-8254-2099-7. Page 146.
  33. Robin W. Lovin, Foreword to the English translation of Karl Barth's The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life (1993 ISBN:0-664-25325-3), page xvii
  34. Spirit of Truth: The origins of Johannine pneumatology by John Breck 1990 ISBN:0-88141-081-0 pages 1–5
  35. 35.0 35.1 Acts and Pauline writings by Watson E. Mills, Richard F. Wilson 1997 ISBN:0-86554-512-X pages xl-xlx
  36. Christian Ethics by D. Stephen Long (29 Jul 2010) ISBN:0199568863 page 32
  37. Perspectives on Christian Worship by J. Matthew Pinson, Timothy Quill, Ligon Duncan and Dan Wilt (Mar 1, 2009) ISBN:0805440992 pages 64–65
  38. Philippe Bobichon, "Fonctions et valeurs des noms dans les écrits de Justin Martyr", Apocrypha : Revue internationale des littératures apocryphes 11 (2000), pp. 93–121.
  39. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Jul 10, 1985) ISBN:0802824048 page 1035
  40. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Feb 1, 1995) ISBN:0802837859 page 482
  41. Gregory of Nyssa, "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come", Sermon 3, in The Lord's Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary by Nicholas Ayo (Feb 2003) ISBN:0742514536 pages 125–129
  42. Ann Ball, Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices 2003 ISBN:0-87973-910-X pages 209–210
  43. A collection of my Favorite Prayers G. P. Geoghegan (Dec 2, 2006) ISBN:1411694570 page 106
  44. The Jesus Prayer by Lev Gillet and Kallistos Ware (Apr 16, 1987) ISBN:0881410136 page 85