Muslims often refer to the “99 names of God” mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith. The Bible mentions numerous names. But do we worship the same God?
The “99 names of God” should not be confused to mean, “God has 99 names”. These ‘names’ are indeed God’s attributes.
God is also infinite and therefore assigning a certain number puts limit to the infinite. The scholars of the three major Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, concur that God is way beyond human imagination, beyond time and space. Any attributes or names are to make it a little easier for the finite human minds to understand the divine.
Verily, there are 99 names of God, 100 minus 1. He who enumerates [and believes in them and the one god behind] them would get into Paradise. Hadith: Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, no. 1410
God, Allah and Elohim
There is a common misconception that Allah is “the God of the Muslims” or “the God of the Qur’an”, different from “ The God of the Bible”. The truth is that Allah simply means ‘the God’. It is derived from two root words, Al, meaning ‘the’ and ilah, meaning ‘god’ or ‘deity’. So Allah means, the god. Coptic Christians and Arabic speaking Jews use the word Allah to mean God. Arabic translations of the Bible use Allah for God, as noted below.
It is important to remember that Allah signifies one true God, the creator of everything and everyone with all the unique qualities and attributes that only He possesses, so even though the God is often used interchangeably with simply God , the uniqueness of God without using the can be overlooked. In other words the word God can be used to denote any (false) god and therefore Allah should be used to refer to the one true God. In common English, the creator God is customarily denoted with an uppercase ‘G’, whereas the other (false) gods are denoted with a lowercase ‘g’.
In fact there is some argument within Islam that Allah is a proper name of God, referring to one true God, the creator, and therefore the English translations should carry the same word, Allah, and should not be translated as God. They claim the word God lacks the uniqueness of the one true God that only Allah can signify. The translation for Allah in this verse 20:14 from the Qur’an reflects the varying opinions.
إِنَّنِي أَنَا اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا
Surely I am Allah, there is no god but I…(Pickthal, Shakir, Yusuf translation)
Verily, I am God, there is no God but I…(Syyed Nasr)
Verily, I – I alone – am God; there is no deity save Me… (Asad)
In any case, all agree that Allah refers to the one unique, true God, whether it is an Arabic word for the one true God- the creator, or a proper name of the one true, creator God.
Elohim is the first name used for God in the Bible. It denotes power and strength and refers to God, the creator. Grammatically it refers to masculine plural, but it denotes a singular God, whereas elohim (with a lower case e) refers to gods, or false gods. Elohim is used frequently to refer to the singular God of Israel.
Elohim is in fact used in the very first verse of Genesis, the first of the five books comprising Torah.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
Here is the Arabic translation of the verse.
فِي الْبَدْءِ خَلَقَ اللهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالارْضَ
The transliteration is as follows:
Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz.
Another divine name used in the Hebrew Bible is Yahweh, a proper name for the God of Israel. It is derived from a Hebrew word that’s transcribed into Roman letters as YHVH. It is the most frequently used name of God in the Bible. YHVH is considered to be an unutterable name of the God of Israel and is often referred to as “tetragrammaton” (“the four letters”) since it’s derived from four Hebrew letters: Yod, Hey, Vav, and Hey. Yahweh, used often to mean Lord, is also translated as Jehovah in English. Some Arabic translations use “Rabb” for Yahweh.
I (am) Jehovah thy God, who hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of servants. Exodus 20:2 (Darby translation)
I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. (New Living Translation-NLT)
The names of God
One may argue Allah and Elohim are not God’s names, as they simply refer to the Arabic and Hebrew words for God and are not proper names of God. The names, on the other hand do refer to God’s attributes. Even a cursory review of the Qur’an and the Bible will draw your attention to the striking similarities in the use of these attributes.
The 99 names appear frequently in the Old Testament and the New Testament, though there is not a complete cross over. I will point out to the similarities of the attributes of God’s attributes.
Many of the names, or attributes are mentioned in this set of verses from the Quran.
Allah is He, besides Whom there is no god, the Knower of the unseen and the seen. He is the Compassionate, the Merciful. Allah is He, besides Whom there is no god, the King, the Holy, the Giver of peace, the Granter of security, the Guardian, the Almighty, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory be to Allah! He is far above the ‘shirk’ they commit (by associating other gods with Him). He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory, and He is the All Mighty, the All Wise. The Qur’an 59:22–24
God, the Creator
This goes without saying but the Abrahamic traditions agree that God is the Creator of everything known and unknown to us. God can create out of nothing. This separates God from the rest of the ‘creators’.
God is the creator of all things, and He is the Guardian and Dispenser of all affairs. The Quran 39:62
In the beginning, God (Elohim) created heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
God, the creator: “Be” Verses
Not only God created everything, but this creation was easy for Him.
Verily, when He intends a thing, His command is, ‘Be’, and it is! The Quran 36:82
Rather, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth; all are obedient to Him. He is the creator of heavens and the earth. When He decrees a thing, He needs only to say, ‘Be’, and there it becomes. The Quran 2:116-117
The “Be” Verses in the Bible
Praise Him, all His angels! Praise Him, all the armies of heaven! Praise Him, sun and moon! Praise Him, all you twinkling stars! Praise Him, skies above! Praise Him, vapors high above the clouds! Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for He issued his command, and they came into being — Psalms 148: 2-5
Next page: Eternal God but do we worship the same God?