The name of God

Dear all, I would like to get some clarification on what is actually the name of God according to the Bible. I had this discussion with other Christians and also ex-Muslim who is exploring Christianity.

So my question is what is actually the name of God? Does God have a name? I have been given several answers but I am still not satisfied.

Is it YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, I AM, Elohim, El Shaddai? What meaning does each word bring?

I am sorry if this topic is very basic.

Blessing,
Yuven

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Great question. I am not sure that this answer will be satisfactory to your friends but I put together a PDF from a resource that I have that will be helpful to you. Hope this moves the conversation in the right direction.

Names of God

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I am going to wade in here and give a little explanation. Thanks to Jimmy_Sellers for a great list of God’s names.

Knowing God’s names is equivalent to knowing God personally. This point has to be understood from an oriental point of view in which using a name shows a type of control or mastery over a person. For a person of lesser power to use the name of a person of greater power, the lesser person needs the permission of the greater person. Otherwise, honorary titles must be used. When a person of greater power uses the name of a lesser person, they are controlling that person in some way. For a person of greater power to grant the use of their personal name to a lesser person, the lesser person is shown trust, preference, and a relationship of some type.

It is no small matter that God has given His people several names to use to refer to Him. All the names of God found in the Bible are given in a covenantal context. People outside the covenant have no name to use for the one true, living God. And in their estranged status, they probably don’t care, to their peril. Those inside the covenant, however, have His covenant names to use.

The most important of God’s covenant names is Yahweh. The Hebrew spelling of Yahweh uses the letters YHWH (using Roman letters here). The Hebrews, knowing the great trust & honor they had been shown when God gave them His covenant name, chose to substitute the word Adonai, or Lord, for Yahweh. The older English rendering of Yahweh is Jehovah. All these name forms refer to the covenant name of God.

When someone who belongs to the covenant uses God’s covenant name, they open a direct hotline to the throne of God to make their covenant request. God takes this seriously. He has granted the permission, opportunity, and privilege of contacting Him at any time with covenant requests. So members of the covenant should make take honorable advantage of this privilege. Make God-sized requests that are consistent with His design for Kingdom living. Don’t be petty and don’t whine about life on earth.

Some of the other names of God fall in place as reminders of God’s activity in great moments. For example, Jehovah Jireh, The God Who Provides, was given when Abraham found the ram that God provided on the occasion of the sacrifice of Isaac. Learning about each of God’s names makes for great Bible study. Using these names in one’s devotion life makes for dynamic living.

Lord Sabaoth, or Yahweh Sabaoth, or the Lord of Hosts, or the Lord Almighty is the greatest name of God after the name Yahweh. Sabaoth means “hosts” or “armies” not Sabbath. It refers to the absolute power of God, hence “Almighty.” The “host” or “army” part refers to the vast, countless numbers of created beings, in heaven or on earth, who choose to obey the Lord and carry out His will. This name is also built on an oriental idea in which a person’s power is shown by the number of people who obey a person’s voice/wisdom/instruction/command. A powerful king orders an army to march and a navy to sail, with instant obedience by the army and navy. And God, the universe’s ultimate king, gives orders and “armies” of Kingdom adherents instantly & willingly obey.

BTW, think of the importance of the fact that the God of the Bible gave so many names by which to know Him. What is the overarching message conveyed through these names? In comparison, what are the names of the gods of other religions? What messages are learned through those names? You will be surprised on all accounts.

I hope this is helpful. Blessings to you, Yuven204.

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Something worth mentioning is that “Jehovah” is actually the consonants YHWH (from the name God gave to Moses, meaning “I AM”) fused with the vowels from “Adonai” (meaning “the Lord”). Ancient Hebrew texts tended to omit vowels, and by the time they were added in, the Jews had taken to substituting God’s name with “Adonai” to avoid any possibility of misusing it; they used the vowels from “Adonai” as a visual reminder to do this. Nowadays, our best guess is that “YHWH” is supposed to be pronounced “Yahweh,” while “Jehovah” was the result of misunderstanding what the text was communicating.

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Here’s one way to attempt an answer to the question:

Using the ESV and substituting “YHWH” for “the LORD” in capital letters (which indicates a substitution of “the Lord” for “YHWH” by translators) we have the following:

Exodus 3:15
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations."

Exodus 6:3
“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them.”

Exodus 33:19
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘YHWH’. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."

Leviticus 19:12
“You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am YHWH.”

Leviticus 22:2
“Speak to Aaron and his sons so that they abstain from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they do not profane my holy name: I am YHWH."

Leviticus 22:32
“And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am YHWH who sanctifies you,”

1 Kings 8:17
“Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of YHWH, the God of Israel.”

1 Kings 8:20
“Now YHWH has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as YHWH promised, and I have built the house for the name of YHWH, the God of Israel.”

2 Kings 21:7
“And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which YHWH said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever.”

2 Kings 23:27
"And YHWH said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

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@Jimmy_Sellers, Thank you so much for lists of God’s names.

@MarkThunder, Thank you for the detailed explanation of God’s name. It is really helpful when you explained God’s name in a covenantal context. Also, the analogy you used in relation to persons with greater and lower power also makes the context to comprehend easily.

However, when you said the following,

I am not sure here if God cares people outside the covenant (gentiles). It could be misleading right?
The questions you raised in the end is important to ponder! Thanks!

@MicahB, Thank you for the explanation of the name of God in terms of Hebrew vowels and consonants. Does this mean YHWH = Jehovah, and vowels AE = Adonai? Also the word Jehovah is it the results misunderstanding in KJV translation? Did the Israelites omit the vowels in showing their respect? I have read/ heard somewhere that they were afraid to mention ‘YAHWEH’, and hence they used YHWH.

@DeanW, Thank you for the list of OT verses.

Blessings!

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No, I do not mean that God does not care for non-believers. I mean that non-believers do not care about God. Therefore, they are not interested in the true names of God.

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Ancient Hebrew text (and the texts of some other languages) generally does not include vowels; it was not exclusive to the name of God. Apparently, many ancient peoples thought that familiarity with the spoken language and contextual clues were sufficient to tell the reader what vowels were intended (remember that language was primarily verbal in the ancient world, since most people were illiterate), and it saved time when writing. See if you can make out the verse below:

BLSSD R THS WH HNGR ND THRST FR RGHTSNSS, FR THY SHLL B FLLD.

So originally, the ancient Israelites would read YHWH and say “Yahweh,” but later on, they feared misusing God’s name and inserted the vowel markings of “Adonai” as a reminder not to utter the name of God. When Christians began reading the text divorced from spoken context, the result was “YaHoWaiH,” or “Jehovah.” The KJV does indeed use “Jehovah” on several occasions, which helped popularize the term in English-speaking countries.

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As a side note how does the importance of the true name of God compare to the Islamic belief that there are 99 names for Allah? You can see them Here. Is there an opportunity for a conversation here?

Jimmy, I think there is. I have read through the list you provided. The names of Allah show his character traits or duties or status. Many are built on the word “Allah.” This is a reference word, like the English word “God,” not a name. The point of using a name is to show relationship, but the words Allah & God do not convey relationship specifically. The word Yahweh (and it’s variations) shows relationship. The core biblical message is that God can be known in a personal way. Muslim usage has Muslims using frequently using the term “Allah.” It is as if they are not looking for or expecting a personal relationship with Allah. The situation is different with the Lord. He wants to be known personally. He promises the experience of eternity in His intimate presence. He can be experienced in daily life. He provides for the greatest & smallest needs. Personal requests can be made 24/7. And while he is to be feared, when His people show fear of Him, the Lord says, “do not fear.” That is relationship at work. I travel in Muslim lands. I try to help people understand that God wants a personal relationship with people. That’s why He has given us many names by which to know Him, the greatest of which is “Jesus.”

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I don’t know much about Muslim theology, but i would rather doubt that there is much/any discussion about something like God being willing to come to live in us, as we see in various verses i quote below.

The most intimate relationship for people is the marital union, the two becoming one flesh. And we, as Believers will be at the “wedding feast of the Lamb”, as His Bride (Rev 19:7+). By His Spirit He “engages us” now, to prepare us for the great Day of consumation of the Eternal Marriage.

+++++++

"Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” 2 Cor 13:5

“But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness.” Rom 8:10

“Because the God who said, Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not out of us.” 2 Cor 4:6-7

“But when it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me.” Gal 1:15-16

“I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Gal 2:20

“My children, with whom I travail again in birth until Christ is formed in you.” Gal 4:19

“That Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith.” Eph 3:17

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col 1:27

+++++++

And, of course, Jesus Christ is called “Immanuel”, that is “God with us”. I don’t see this level of supreme Divine intimacy in Islam, do you?

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Part of what prompted my question regarding the 99 names is in Mark’s comment.

I brought this up for two reasons.

  1. Islam puts a great deal of value on these names and even commands that memorization is required for entrance into paradise according to the Hadiths.
  2. The list of names are names that describe Allah’s absolute sovereignty and the one word AL-WADOOD that speaks of love is a love exclusively for those who believe, Muslims. (my understanding)

I think there is an apologetic here when dealing with Muslims and even when we talk about the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible loves unconditionally as a contrasting view.

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What i meant to be asking, before i got into the details a bit much from the Christian point of view, was:

“Is there any concept of intimacy with Allah similar to what we see in the teachings of Christ regarding the Father?”

I didn’t think so, but i would like to be more aware if there are any openings along that line.

Thanks for any help you can provide, especially if any of the names have a connotation of “closeness” in Arabic.

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I am sorry I am not the best in getting the point across. Let’s see if this helps. Here are a few notes that I took during a course on the Quran. The short answer to your question is no but the reason is you can’t have a relationship with the unknown.

This is a comparison of Biblical verses that demonstrate the essences and nature of God:

The God of the Bible loves all, John 3:16,

Convicts all of sin, John 16;7,

Desires that all be saved, 2 Peter 3:9

Give the necessary light, Romans 1:19-20;2:12-15

Accepts any who come to him, Acts 10:35; Hebrews 11:6

In the Quran there is no essences to Allah only will.

Shabbir Akhtar: “The Koran, unlike the Gospel, never comments on the essence of Allah. ‘Allah is wise’ or ‘Allah is loving’ may be pieces of revealed information but in contrast to Christianity, Muslims are not enticed to claims that ‘Allah is love’ or ‘Allah is Wisdom.’ Only adjectival descriptions are attributed to the divine being and these merely as they bear on the revelation of God’s will for man. The rest remains mysterious.

Answering Islam The Crescent in Light of the Cross Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb

This might shock you, but the logical outcome of Orthodox Islamic theology is agnosticism.

A quote from Karl Gottlieb Pfander,

“if they (Muslims) think at all deeply, they find themselves absolutely unable to know God….Thus Islam leads to Agnosticsim.”

Islamic agnosticism about God is due to the fact that they believe God caused the world by extrinsic causality. In deed, “the divine will is an ultimate beyond which neither reason nor revelation go. In the Unity of the single Will, however, these descriptions co-exist with those that relate to mercy, compassion, and glory.” God is named from his effects, but he is not to be identified with any of them. The relation between the ultimate cause (God) and his creatures is extrinsic, not intrinsic. That is God is called good because he causes good, but not because goodness is part of his essence.

Despite all the names of God in the Qur’an, in orthodox Islam we confront a God who is basically unknowable. These names do not tell us anything about what God is like but only how God has willed to act. God’s actions do not reflect God’s character.

Al-Ghazali, the most prominent theologian in the history of Islam, went so far to say:

“The end result of the knowledge of the arifin (those who know) is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him.” Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God

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Dean! This list is REALLY good. It’s the way the author of Hebrews recites verse after verse to emphasize a point.

Yes, Mark, it is quite a point. I think the many references to Christ living in us, as Believers, are the great hope that helps transform us into His image.

“In Him we live and move and have our being”, we are told in Acts 17. And it is His life in us, and through us, that prepares us to meet Him at just the right time, and “see Him as He is” so we can “be like Him” in our new bodies, patterned after His.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Jesus gave His life for us – so He could give His life to us – so He could live His life through us”? Lot of truth in one little sentence, isn’t it…

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