As stated in our previous article, we prefer the distinction between the proper names of God and His attributes. The name of the Lord, we remarked, is not merely an idle sound, a human word, but a living reality, the revelation of the living God, or, the living God as He continuously reveals Himself, His continuous self-revelation. The names of the Lord which we use, such as: God, Almighty, Jehovah, etc., have meaning only because they are expressions of and speak to us of God as He revealed Himself (and continuously reveals Himself) in all the works of His hands and in our Lord Jesus Christ. That we prefer the distinction between the Lord’s proper names and His attributes is due to the fact that we can thereby better distinguish between those names which are attributes and the proper names which we use when we speak of the living God or address Him. We do not address the Lord as: Mercy, Grace, Love, Wisdom, etc., but as: God, Father, Almighty God, Most High, etc.
In this article we will call attention to the several names of the Lord as they appear in Holy Writ. In the Old Testament we have the names: El, Elohim, Adonai, Shaddai and El-Shaddai, Jahweh and Jahweh Tsebhaoth. And in the New Testament the following names appear: Theos, Kurios, Pater, Pantokrator, Despotees, Sabaoth.
The Names of God in the Old Testament.
El and Elohim.
The Hebrew word “El” is the original word for “God”. It is generally accepted that this name is derived from a word which may mean: to be first, to be lord, or: strength, to be mighty. El is, therefore, the strong, the mighty one. This name appears often in Holy Writ. We quote but two passages in which this idea of the mighty God is clearly expressed. In Numbers 12:13, where Moses intercedes before the Lord in behalf of the leprosy stricken Miriam, we read: “And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God (mighty one), I beseech thee”. And in Numbers 23:22 we read: “God brought them out of Egypt; He hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.” The implication of this latter text is plain. It is the mighty God who brought Israel out of Egypt; in fact, it is stated that He has the strength of an unicorn. That God is the Strong One surely receives the emphasis here.
The name “Elohim”, too, is translated “God” in the Scriptures. We immediately recognize the name “El” in this name. Hence, also this name expresses the idea of strength and of great power. Only, Elohim emphasizes this idea of strength and power from the viewpoint of the impression which it makes upon the creature. Elohim is, therefore, the mighty God who impresses us with His majesty and power and is the being who must be feared and served and honored.
Elohim, as far as its form is concerned, is plural; literally translated, it reads: Gods. As one might expect, various interpretations have been given of the name “Elohim”. Modern criticism, of course, has also used this word to undermine the authenticity and truthfulness of the Holy Scriptures. These modern critics regard it as a remnant of earlier polytheism. Heathendom is polytheistic, believes in many gods. This conception of many gods also characterized, it is said, the early writers of Holy Writ. Hence, the form “Elohim” is to be ascribed to this early polytheistic conception. This interpretation of Elohim, we understand, is impossible in itself. The Word of God is the inspired, infallible revelation of the living God from the beginning to the end. “All Scripture”, we read in 2 Tim. 3:16, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. The Word of God, the whole Word of God, speaks to us with undeniable authority, is therefore profitable also for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, exactly because it is in its entirety the Word of the living God and therefore bears the seal of divine authority. Moreover, the polytheistic conception of Elohim is to be rejected in the light of the striking fact, that later investigations have disclosed that, outside of Israel, this name was later in use to designate the one and only God.
Another interpretation of Elohim which must be rejected is what is called: Pluralis Majestatis. Dignitaries, in their correspondence, often speak of themselves in the plural. Kings and rulers often refer to themselves in the plural, as “we”. Thus some would interpret the plural form of Elohim. However, that the Lord speaks of Himself as “we” does not find any support in Holy Writ. Isaiah 43 strikingly illustrates this. I have already called attention in a previous article to the repeated use of the personal pronoun “I” in this chapter. One cannot read this beautiful chapter and not be impressed by this fact. “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee . . . . I will be with thee. . . . for I am the Lord . . . . I gave Egypt for thy ransom, etc. The idea, therefore, of a Pluralis Majestatis is foreign to the Scriptures.
The meaning of Elohim, as far as its plural form is concerned, is clear, we believe. It is to be regarded as intensive, and indicates a fullness of power. Elsewhere in the Old Testament this intensive idea is expressed in the form of a repetition, as, e.g., in Isaiah 6 where we read: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord. The twice repeated “Holy” emphasizes the holiness of the Lord. Thus we must also understand the plural “Elohim”. The singular “God” is repeated, as it were, to emphasize that the God of heaven and earth is full of majesty and power, is God alone, and, therefore worthy to be served and feared.
Eljon. (Most High)
This name of God, which appears often in the book of Daniel, we may read in the following passages: “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God”—Gen. 14:18; “He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most high, which saw the visions of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.”—Numbers 24:16; “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most high.”—Isaiah 14:14.
The name “Eljon” designates God as the transcendental, the highly exalted God, That the Lord is the transcendental God does not merely imply that He is above us in the local sense of the word, as if He is in the heavens whereas we are upon the earth. Even the heaven of heavens, we are told in Holy Writ, cannot contain the Lord. The Lord is transcendental in the absolute sense of the word. He is essentially the Transcendental One, infinitely and eternally and therefore absolutely exalted above us, is the wholly-other, the one and only God, the Creator who alone lives in an inaccessible light. As such He is absolutely exalted above every creature, and is therefore also exalted above the gods of the heathens, which gods, of course, are no gods.
Shaddai and El-Shaddai (The Almighty).
This name appears, e.g., in Genesis 17:1: “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” Shaddai or El-Shaddai appears repeatedly in Holy Writ in connection with the Old Testament patriarchs: Gen. 28:3, 35:11, 43:14, 48:3, 49:25, Ex. 6:3, Num. 24:4. This name also appears in the book of Job, in a few psalms and in certain prophecies. That the name, Shaddai or El-Shaddai, is used as a proper name is evident from its use in the book of Job.
Shaddai or El-Shaddai designates the Lord as the Almighty One. That God is the Almighty One signifies that He is the alone mighty God. The Lord is not merely the mightiest. We must not conceive of His power in a relative sense of the word. He is not comparatively mightier or superlatively mightiest. We must not conceive of the development of His kingdom and the realization of His covenant as a struggle between the Lord and the powers of darkness in which struggle the Lord will ultimately gain the victory. God is the Almighty, the alone-mighty one. It is true that a struggle is being waged throughout the ages between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, between the serpent and the seed of the woman. The powers of darkness oppose the Lord in His revelation even as He is revealed in His Church and in the Christ. However, even in this struggle the Lord is the alone-mighty one. All power and strength is of the Lord, also the power and strength of the devil and all his host. God knows no opposition. The Lord never struggles to realize His kingdom and covenant. The devil and all his host must not be regarded as evil forces who “enjoy” their existence apart from the Lord. The Lord does not merely realize His purposes in spite of them but also through them. They are His instruments, as far as the Lord’s power is concerned. He uses them unto the realization of His eternal and blessed Kingdom. In God they, too, move and live and have their being, without Him they can do nothing. And although this does not relieve them of their responsibility (which must be strictly maintained), we nevertheless believe that the devils cannot even move without His will, and that He also uses them unto the eternal realization of His counsel. God’s purpose alone is realized and His will alone is done. The Lord, therefore, is not only the faithful one who is willing to save, but He is also the Almighty one who is always able to save. His is the sum total of all might and power, and He does all His good pleasure and will maintain His covenant and cause, not only in spite of all the powers of sin and darkness but also through all the forces of darkness and hell.
Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts).
The name “Sabaoth” is a pluralis, a plural noun, as is the name, Elohim. This appears from the word “hosts”. Some would interpret the word “hosts” as applying to the armies of Israel. This, however, is extremely unlikely. In the first place, the army of Israel is regularly indicated by the singular. And, secondly, a passage such as 2 Kings 19:31 seems to militate against this view. In this passage we read: “For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this.” In this passage the Word of God speaks of a remnant, not armies therefore, that shall go forth out of Jerusalem. It is generally agreed that the Word “hosts” refers primarily to the angels, although the word also appears to designate the stars. The name of the Lord of Hosts appears repeatedly in connection with the angels: 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2, Isaiah 37:16; Hosea 12:5, 6; Ps. 80: 2, 5; Ps. 89: 6-9. Besides, the angels are repeatedly described as an host which surrounds the throne of God: Gen. 28:12, 13; Gen. 32:2; 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; Ps. 68:18; 89:8; 103:21; 148:2; Isaiah 6:2. The Lord is called in Scripture the Lord of Hosts undoubtedly to designate Him as the Lord of glory, full of glory and majesty, surrounded by His angelic hosts, to Whom all things are subject, the angels and the stars and all that moves, breathes, and has being. This name, therefore, expresses solemnly the royal glory of the Lord, refers to Him as the only mighty King, full of majesty and glory.
This name is derived from a word which means to judge, to rule, and therefore designates God as the almighty ruler, Judge of heaven and earth. This name appears, e.g., in Gen. 18:27: “And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord (Adonai), which am but dust and ashes.” And in the preceding verse these words occur: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God is Adonai because He is the absolute ruler and Judge over all, to whom all are subject and whom all must obey.
It is essentially in the name “Jehovah” that God reveals Himself in all the glory and beauty of His covenant relationship to His people. The Jews had a superstitious dread of this name and, in reading the Scriptures, would substitute either Adonai or Elohim for it. The name, Jahweh or Jehovah, means literally, “I Am That I Am” or “I Shall Be What I Shall be”, and it is also thus explained by the Lord Himself in Ex. 3:14: “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”
Of interest, in the first place, in connection with this name, Jehovah, is the passage of Ex. 6:2-3. This passage reads: “And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.” The meaning of this passage certainly cannot be that the name JEHOVAH as such was not known to the patriarchs. This is evident, e.g., from the following passages, where the name “Lord” in the translation is JEHOVAH in the original: “And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth”—Gen. 14:22; “And He said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.”—Gen. 15:7; “And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.”—Gen. 24:3. In addition to these passages we can also refer to the following: Gen. 28:13, 16; 15:28; 32:9. It is clear from all these passages that the name JEHOVAH as such must surely have been known to the patriarchs. The meaning of Ex. 6:3 is undoubtedly that historically the significance of this name had not as yet appeared upon the foreground. As the Almighty God the Lord had appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But now the people of Israel was suffering affliction in the land of Egypt. The oppression was extremely heavy and Israel’s position in that land of bondage appeared to be hopeless. Would the Lord remember His covenant, His word which He had spoken to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob? The bush which burned without being consumed is not a symbol of Israel in the land of Egypt but of the Lord. This is evident from the entire incident. It is the Lord who addresses the Mediator of the Old Testament out of that bush. And the Lord declares to the man of God that His name is Jehovah, THE I AM THAT I AM, the unchangeable God. Hence, that bush which burns but is not consumed is obviously a symbol of the Lord God. As that bush is not consumed although burning, so that Lord, too, burns with zeal and love for His own and is not consumed. It is this unchangeable aspect of the Lord God which now appears historically upon the foreground; the Lord will reveal unto His people that He has not forgotten them or His word unto their fathers, but will reveal Himself unto them presently in all His faithfulness and unchangeableness.
JEHOVAH is the unchangeable covenant God. He is THE I AM THAT I AM. Hence, He is the unchangeable God, first of all, in Himself. The Lord Himself is THE I AM. He is the I AM, the Rock in distinction from the creature. We cannot say of ourselves: We are, but: We became. We do not owe our existence to ourselves. We do not exist of ourselves. We have our being, live, and move in the Lord. Secondly, we become also in the sense that we are daily subject to change. We are ever becoming. But the Lord is the I AM. He possesses eternally the origin of His eternal and infinite existence within Himself. Hence, He never increases or decreases, inasmuch as He is eternally the fount of infinite and eternal perfection. This also explains why the Lord is in Himself the unchangeable God. And for this reason He is also the unchangeable God in His relation to His people. Having loved His own from before the foundation of the world, He loves them with an everlasting and unchangeable love. Yea, a mother can forget her sucking child, but the Lord can never forget His own. He would surely remember the word which He spake to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and redeem His people out of the Egyptian house of bondage. And throughout the ages the Lord will ever remember His covenant and save His people unto the uttermost until they all shall stand before Him without spot and without wrinkle.
The Names Of God In The New Testament.
The New Testament name for El and Elohim is Theos (God). This name, of course, is very common in the New Testament and need no further elucidation. Eljon is translated by “Hupsistos Theos” (Most High God) as in Mark 5:7, Luke 1:32, 85, 76; 8:28. We read in Mark 5:7: “And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not.” The idea of “Most High” is also expressed by the expression: “en tois houranois” (in the heavens).
The name “Adonai” is translated “Kurios (Lord)” and also by Despotees and Pantokrator. The name “Kurios” appears very frequently in the New Testament and is also frequently used with respect to the Christ. Christ is our Lord because He bought us with His own precious blood and made us His very own, Who commands us and Whom we must obey, and also because He is responsible for our welfare and will protect and defend us to the uttermost. The name, “Pantokrator” occurs in 2 Cor. 6:18, Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14. To quote merely the first of these passages, 2 Cor. 6:18: “And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons, and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” The name, Pantokrator, means literally the Almighty, to which we have already called attention in connection with the Old Testament El-Shaddai. The name “Adonai” is also translated in the New Testament by the word “Despotees”, and the implication of this name is clear in the following passages: 1 Tim. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:21; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18. We quote the first two passages: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters (despotees) worthy of all honour, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed. . . . If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s (despotees) use, and prepared unto every good work.”
Finally, a common name in the New Testament is “Father”. This name also appears in the Old Testament, and it is therefore hardly true that it is confined to the New Testament, in the following texts, e.g.: Deut. 32:6; Ps. 193:13; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4, 19; 31:9; and Malachi 1:6; 2:10. Besides, Israel is called the son of God in the following passages: Ex. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; 32:19; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 31:20; Hosea 1:10; 11:1. In the Old Testament this name expresses the special, theocratic relation in which the Lord stands to Israel; in a wonderful way He had brought that people forth out of Abraham. The fundamental idea of “Father” is not that of love but that of generation, bringing forth; and in a wonderful way the Lord had been a Father to His people and had brought them forth out of the house of bondage, yea, out of Abraham, and had led them into the land of Canaan. In the New Testament, however, in which God’s covenant relation to His own in Christ is, of course, more clearly revealed, the name expresses the relation in which the covenant God stands to His people, His children whom He loved from before the foundation of the world, redeemed in Christ, and will save unto the uttermost when He shall tabernacle with them in the new heavens and upon the new earth.