The way in which God is called, says much about how the people see God and the characteristics that define God. When God gives a name, God is providing additional revelation of Gods character. We can also learn a great deal when no particular name is used. This also shows us attributes about God found in the names God is called. It is within the names of God we reveal the relationship humankind has with the divine.
Pronouns to describe God
One thing that needs to be discussed when describing God is the use of pronouns when discussing God. Throughout scripture and most of church history, God has been referred to as “He” and described in masculine terms. We must understand that this designation is more cultural than fact.
The fact of the matter is God does not ever make a He or She declaration about the Godhead. John 4:24 tells us that “God is Spirit”. Outside of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Triune God, by scriptures accounts should not be thought of as a flesh and blood being. The reality is that God does not have a sex, because to have a sex implies that God was created. God has no flesh and blood organs outside of the incarnation.
We must look deeper into the reality that God is not a human and therefore does not have human features. The Bible tells us that both man and woman are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Thus, “God’s masculine ‘title’ does not imply that the female nature is alien to God. Instead, God has imprinted his qualities in both male and female, and ‘we may think of both as like God in their distinctively nonphysical, personal male and female qualities’” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Elwell, 492).
To understand why God is presented with masculine pronouns in scripture is to understand the cultures in which scripture was written. Scripture was written by ancient Hebrew and Greek writers who lived in patriarchal cultures. Within these cultures it would have been understood that males were superior to females.
Let us be truly clear here, God specifically stated male and female are created equal in authority. Although inerrant in its original context, scripture was written by men who lived in these cultures. They would assign God the pronoun “He” because in their culture, if God held the feminine pronouns, God would be inferior. It is important to remember that man assigned God pronouns, not God.
In the modern era, where patriarchy is fading and pronouns no longer define position in society, (at least they should not) it would be acceptable to refer to God with any pronoun, so long as the understanding of God is that God is superior to anything in the world, male or female.
Calling God by masculine, feminine or asexual pronouns is acceptable. God possesses all masculine and feminine traits because those traits were given to us by God. The making of a sex of people inferior is a sin and a result of living in the fallen world.
Usage of the word Elohim occurs about 2,500 times in the Old Testament. It is used about 2,300 times as a name for the Triune God. This term means Supreme One, or Mighty One, indicating the understanding of the power of God and Gods supremacy over the world. Elohim, which is a plural form, is only used in scripture and is not found in many places outside of the Old Testament.
Why its plural form is used in the Old Testament is debated even today but is likely because of one of two possibilities:
The Triune Godhead can be seen in the name Elohim. However, we must be careful to use it as the first indication of the Trinity. Although the trinity has always existed, Old Testament Judaism did not understand God in this way. The Triune Godhead can only be fully comprehended with the Old and New Testaments in synthesis with each other. Since at the writing of the Old Testament the New Testament had not yet been revealed, we must be careful to understand that when used for a descriptor of God in the Old Testament Elohim would not have meant Trinity to the contemporary audience.
When used with singular nouns and pronouns this is used to describe the Power of God. Elohim in its context is more likely a name to describe the power of the Creator God.
Elohim is used as the majestic plural in terms of Gods Sovereignty and Gods ability to create.
In relation to God and Gods Sovereignty Elohim is used to describe God as:
- Isaiah 54:5- God of all the Earth
- Jerimiah 32:27- God of all Flesh
- Nehemiah 2:4- God of Heaven
- Deuteronomy 10:17- God of gods
In relation to the creative work of God:
- Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 45:18- Creator of all things
Commonly known as the “El names”, these are also names used to describe God. These are names that humans have given to God to describe an experiential encounter with God.
- El Roi– The God who Sees (Genesis 16:13) Hagar gave this name to God after a discussion before Ishmael’s birth
- El Eyon– The Most High God (Genesis 14:9) this name emphasizes strength. It is first used with the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek. It also appears many times in the Psalms.
- El Olam– The Everlasting God, literally translated the God of Eternity. Used in the psalms to describe Gods unchanging nature.
Another common name found in scripture used as a name for God is Yahweh. This is a personal name meaning “The Lord”. It is the most common name of the Old Testament, occurring over 5,300 times.
The origin of this name is from the root Hebrew word hawa, which can mean existence (see Ecclesiastes 11:3) or development (see Nehemiah 6:6). Many scholars agree that this word described God to the Ancient Hebrews as an active, self-existent God.
This name is first used by Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 4:1) and also it was used in days of Seth (Genesis 4:26), Noah (Genesis 9:26) and Abraham (Genesis 15). In Moses’ time however this name begins to form its very personal bond and name as the name of God for the Ancient Hebrews. In Exodus 3:14 Moses is shown by God the very deep and real meaning. Yahweh was not a name given or revealed to the patriarchs before Moses.
However, at the burning bush God reveals to Moses the true deep meaning when God states to Moses “I AM WHO I AM”. This name is such a personal one because it informed the people of ancient Israel as it does the people of today that God is not only near us but desires to be near us. Even in sin God still desires to draw near to us. God is active and self-existent, God does not need our worship or acknowledgement to exist, yet God still desires relationship with us. This truth is certainly one of the greatest mysteries.
The Personal Name of God is Not Gendered
It must be pointed out that this is the name God has given as Gods personal name. Because of this, in the post-exilic timeframe, the name was considered to be sacred. So sacred in fact that for a time it was not allowed to be spoken or verbalized. Instead at this time the term Adonai was used instead. The term Yahweh was held in the highest regards as the personal name of God.
More so than the fact this name was held in such high regard the significance of the name is seen in scripture. In Exodus 3:12 we see the name assuring that God will always be with them. In Exodus 6:6, it appears to connect the work of God to the power of God on behalf of Gods people.
Many compounds of this name appear in scripture as personal descriptors of what God is, what God does, and who God is. These descriptors give us the sense and the reality that God is multifaceted and can be our everything and in everything. This lends credence to both the infinity and eternity of God. God is everywhere and cares about everything.
- Yahweh Elohim Israel-The Lord God of Israel (Isaiah 17:6)
- Yahweh Shammah– The Lord who is there (Ezekiel 48:35)
- Yahweh Tsidkenu– The Lord is our righteousness (Jerimiah 23:6)
- Yahweh Jireh– The Lord will provide (Genesis 22:14)
- Yahweh Nissi– The Lord is my banner (Exodus 17:15)
- Yahweh Sabboth– The Lord of Hosts (1 Samuel 1:3)
- Yahweh Shalom– The Lord is Peace (Judges 6:24)
- Yahweh Maccaddeschem-The Lord who sanctifies you
Remarkably similar to Elohim, Adonai is a plural of majesty. In the singular the word can mean “Lord, Master or Owner”. It is used in scripture to describe a master and slave relationship, and many other relationships that have headship. However, when used to describe God’s relationship to man it specifically conveys the concept of absolute and total authority that God possesses over everything. The New Testament equivalent of Adonai is Kurios or “Lord”.
Specifically used in the New Testament as well as in the ancient and modern church, the word “God” or “Theos” is the most common modern designation of the Triune God. It is also commonly used to translate the word “Elohim”. In modern English it is capitalized as a name to convey the concept of being the one true God. Interestingly, Jesus Christ is given this title in John 1:1 and Titus 2:13.
The word Theos or “God” in English still gives us important aspects about the nature of God and Gods relationship with us even though it is a relatively modern name. Matthew 23:19 and James 2:19 inform us the title is only to be given to the one true God. 1 Timothy 1:7 shows us that the title is given to something that is very unique, there is no other like God.
Acts 17:24 shows us God is a creator. John 3:16 shows us the bearer of the name is also the author of our salvation. Jesus Christ is also referred to as God in John 5:20 where the terms Kurios and Theos were both ascribed to Jesus Christ.
Only occurring about 700 times in the New Testament, and specifically used the majority of the time by Luke and Paul. This was due to the fact that these two were speaking to a Greek audience that would have more readily understood this title in Greek.
In Greek, this word emphasizes supremacy and authority, much as it does in English. In Greek, it can mean master (see Colossians 3:22), sir (see John 4:11) or owner (see Luke 19:33) This name is used more times than not to describe creatorship, revealed power and Justified Dominion over creation. (Biettenhard, 1976)
This word Despotes, as opposed to Lord (Kurios) implies ownership above authority and supremacy. In Luke 2:29, God is addressed as master. Peter addresses God this way in Acts 4:24. Christ is also called master two different times (2 Peter 2:1 and Jude 4)
Very distinctive to New Testament theology and the revelation of God to the New Testament church was seeing God as a father. Occurring less than 20 times in the Old Testament it occurs almost 250 times in the New Testament. This is a more familiar name given to God by the New Testament church as they began to see God on a more personal and intimate level.
Jehovah is a Latinization of the Hebrew Yahweh, one vocalization of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), the proper name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible (Schaff, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclepedia of Religious Knowledge, 1950). “Jehovah” was popularized in the English-speaking world by William Tyndale and other pioneer English Protestant translations such as the Geneva Bible and the King James Version (Driver).
Ard Rí (HIGH KING)
Referring to God as Ard Ri or High King, is used in the liturgy of modern Celtic movements and gets its meaning from the ancient kings of Ireland. In Ireland, the Ard Ri, or High King was traditionally the supreme ruler of all the Irish provinces, subject to no higher domestic authority. In such fashion, the Celtic Irish viewed God as the High King having no higher authority.
Since Ireland had come out of druidism there was a sense that many supernatural beings existed. But even in the power the Celts thought they had, they could not surpass the Ard Ri, the High King of the universe.
So, what is in a name? Well, everything. As humans who have verbal and written communication, God is typically named from our personal experiences of God, in the understanding of the culture around us. What matters is the intent of the name. Whether you call God Jehovah, Elohim, High King or simply God, the fact is God is there.
The names describe the experience’s that Gods people have had with God and what God has done for them. We may call God by any name. So long as its purpose is to convey our desire to experience the Almighty Being that is God. To seek after Gods just and righteous ways as we navigate this earth with God in our heart.
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