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Monday, March 10, 2014

What is God's name? (Part I)

The subject of God's name has received a great deal of attention in recent years thanks to the "Sacred Name" movement. As with any other subject associated with religion, there are a great many shades of opinion reflected within this particular belief system. Nevertheless, the basic premise is that God has a personal name, and that it is important to him that his people use that name in their correspondence with him and each other.
In beginning to explore this topic, a few general observations about names relative to the Hebrew culture of the Old Testament should be noted. First, personal names had meanings that were intimately associated with the person to whom they were assigned. God changed Abram's name to Abraham, because he was to be the "father of many nations." Genesis 17:5 Likewise, God changed Jacob's name to Israel to reflect the fact that he had "prevailed" with God and his fellow man. Genesis 32:28. We are also informed in Scripture that the names of each one of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel had a special meaning. Genesis 29 and 30 We are told that the human leader of the Israelites was named Moses, because he was taken out of the water of the Nile River as a baby. Exodus 2:10 We could point to numerous other examples of this phenomenon in the Old and New Testaments, but I think we have provided sufficient examples to demonstrate that the practice was widespread within this ancient culture.
Second, we must remember that different languages used personal names that were familiar to their own linguistic tradition. Hence, the Babylonians changed the names of several of their Hebrew captives in order to better assimilate them into the culture of King Nebuchadnezzar's court. Daniel became Belteshazzar. Hananiah's name was changed to Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah was called Abednego. Daniel 1:7 This phenomenon is not unfamiliar to our world. Steven is “Etienne” in French, “Stefano” in Italian and “Esteban” in Spanish. James is “Jacques” in French, “Jaime” in Spanish and “Shamus” in Scottish. John is “Jean” in French, “Giovanni” in Italian and “Juan” in Spanish. Hence, even in our own times, we understand that different languages have their own slants on personal names.
In the HEBREW Old Testament, there are primarily four names that are used to refer to God. The first of these is “Elohiym”, which is the plural of “Elowahh.” According to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, “Elowahh” means a deity or god. Hence, the plural is indicative of the Supreme Deity or the Supreme God. “Elohiym” is generally translated into English as “God” in the King James Version of The Bible. Sometimes, the name simply appears as “El” in the Hebrew. The second word or name is “Yehovah,” which means “Self-Existent One” or “Eternal One.” It is generally translated into English as “Lord,” but it also appears as “God” in many passages. Less frequently, the word or name “Adonay” is used, and it is most often translated into English as “Lord” in the King James Version. Finally, the word/name “Shaddai” is also used to refer to God in the Hebrew Old Testament. It appears in the King James Version as “Almighty.”
It is important to remember when we are looking at these names and exploring the whole subject of God’s name that there were many "gods" in the ancient world. As a consequence of this fact, the Old Testament scriptures emphasize that all of those other divinities were not really gods at all. They were the product of men’s imaginations and the work of the hands of their craftsmen. Thus, the Hebrews took pains to emphasize the fact that their God was unique, and that He was not one of many. Hence, the Hebrew names for God all point to the fact that their God was THE ONLY GOD.
Nevertheless, it could still be argued that all of the above mentioned names are generic references to the Divinity - like our English word God. So the next logical question one might ask is: "Did God ever address the subject of a personal name?"

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