“...the church of the living God, the pillar
and foundation of the truth.”
– 1 Timothy 3:15


| Home | About Us | Archive | Articles | Comment | Directory/Churches | Links | News | Youth |


(in chronological descending order)

1. Be Strong and Courageous
2. The ‘Allah’ Issue: Round 2
3. The ‘Allah’ Debate: Moderating Principles
4. The Debate: ‘Allah’ or Are There Alternatives?
5. Names of God in the Bible
6. A Brief Survey of Views Expressed in the ‘Allah’ Controversy
7. Testing Times



There are three main words, possibly from the same root, used of God in the Old Testament: ’ël, ’elôah and ’elöhîm. These are not proper nouns per se, but generic terms for ‘god’ or ‘gods’ or ‘the mighty one’. Pagans used these words to denote their gods inasmuch as the Old Testament writers used them of the one God they believed in.

There is a proper name for God in the Old Testament, though. It is Yahweh (or, Jehovah), from the unvocalized tetragrammaton, YHWH. In the NIV it is typically rendered as ‘LORD’; but when it is linked with ’ädôn (‘lord’) it becomes ‘God’: thus, ‘the LORD God’.

’ël is a basic Semitic word for ‘god’, true or false. It can also be used of an image or idol (e.g., Gen. 35:2). But in Canaanite religion, it is the proper name of the Canaanite god, El, whose son is Ba’al. The patriarchs of the Old Testament recognized ’ël as not the highest god in a pantheon, but the only God. It is usually used in association with other words descriptively (e.g., ’ël ’elyôn, ‘God Most High’, Gen. 14:18-22; ’ël rö’i, ‘God of seeing’, Gen. 16:13; ’ël ’ëlöhe yisrä’ël, ‘God, the God of Israel’ (Gen. 33:20); ’ël sadday God Almighty’, Gen. 17:1).

’elöhîm is the plural of ’ël; but it can also be treated as a singular, in which case, it suggests a fuller manifestation of a deity; or, it can mean a supreme deity. In the Old Testament, it is rendered as ‘God’ as in Genesis 1:1. In this passage ’elöhîm is the Creator God, the cosmic and supreme Person, and thus the word takes on the characteristic of a proper noun, yet maintaining its abstract conception.

’elôah, the least used of the three in the Old Testament, occurs primarily in the book of Job. Outside Job, the word is linked with other descriptive words of God to convey the idea of strength (e.g., Deut. 32:15 - ‘Rock and Saviour’; Prov. 30:5 - ‘shield’; and Ps. 50:22 - ‘destroyer of sinners’). In Aramaic, the word takes the form ’elah.

Yahweh is preferred by many today over the older form Jehovah in the English rendition of YHWH. The pious Jews of old were reluctant to pronounce the divine name. Instead they would say ’adönäy, ‘my Lord’, whenever they came across YHWH in the texts. Later, the vowels of ’adönäy were combined with the consonants YHWH in the Masoretic Text (MT) to form yehöwâh, which became ‘Jehovah’ in English as in the KJV. But ‘Jehovah’ is considered to be a malformation of a transliteration of a word in the Hebrew OT, but which was never used as a word (Colin Brown, DNTT, Vol. 2); thus, the preference for ‘Yahweh’, which more conforms to the pronunciation indicated by the transliterations of the name in early Greek literature (e.g., iaoue, by Clement of Alexandria; or, iabe, by Theodoret - the Greek b pronounced as v).

Yahweh can be considered as the only ‘name’ of God and when thus considered, it is a proper noun. In Genesis, wherever the Hebrew sëm (‘name’) is used in connection with God, that name is Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 12:8 - ‘called on the name of the LORD’, NIV). As with ’ël, Yahweh (or, Jehovah) is linked with other words to form descriptive names of God: Yahweh yir’eh, ‘the LORD provides’, Gen. 22:8, 14; Yahweh nissî, ‘the LORD is my banner’, Ex. 17:15; Yahweh sälôm, ‘the LORD is peace’, Jdg. 6:24), etc.).

A possible interpretation of the name Yahweh is provided in the encounter of Moses with God in the burning bush (Ex. 3:13ff.). Anxious that the Israelite people might ask him, “‘What is his name’ that has sent you to us?” Moses asked of God: ‘Then what shall I tell them?’ God answered Moses in this manner: ‘I AM WHO I AM [MT: ’ehyeh ’aser ’ehyeh]. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM [’ehyeh] has sent me to you.”’ Though there is some considerable debate on the translation and meaning of ’ehyeh ’aser ’ehyeh, there is general agreement that the words point to God as the eternally self-existent one.

In Deuteronomy 5:9, we have a conjunction of the three terms, ’ël, ’elöhîm, and Yahweh: ‘I, the LORD (Yahweh) your God (’elöhîm), am a jealous God (’ël)’.

In the New Testament, the Greek theos is the most common designation for God. The Greeks had many gods and goddesses and theos was used equally of these diversity of deities in their many shapes and forms. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) and the writers of the NT employed theos to denote the one and only Sovereign God of the universe; but it was shorn of all its Greek notions and mythologies associated with the deities.

As a rule theos would be used to translate ’ël and ’elöhîm; but sometimes kyrios (‘Lord’) or other expressions are used. Yahweh or Yah is mostly translated by kyrios, but also by theos in about 330 instances.

Significance of Names and Naming
Names are more than just labels. They have significances of their own other than to identify and to distinguish one object or one idea or one person from others of similar or even different kinds. They tell more than just the letters or the sounds that go into their composition. There is purpose, power and dominion involved in the process of naming. Adam was able to give names to ‘the birds of the air’ and ‘the beasts of the field’ (Gen. 2:19-20) because he was granted dominion (or, rule) over them (Gen. 1:28). Or, he was able to name the one that God had created from out of his rib ‘woman’ because he preceded her; but in thus naming her as ‘woman’ Adam was purposefully granting co-equal status with him ‘for she was taken out of man’ (Gen. 2:23).

The process of naming can predicate on a number of reasons or occasions. No name is plucked off from thin air for no reason or rhyme. Eve gave her first born son the name ‘Cain’ (qayin) because she ‘gained possession’ (qänâ) of a child with the help of God (Gen. 4:1). Babel (‘confusion’) is precisely that because the place was where God confused the tongues of the people (Gen. 11:9). Isaac (‘he laughs’) was so named because his parents laughed at being told that they would have a child despite their advanced age (Gen. 17:17, 18:12, 21:3-7). Abram (‘exalted father’) became Abraham (‘father of many’) (Gen. 17:5) because it marked the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the great patriarch. Names sometimes have predictive/prophetic purposes: Hosea was asked to name his daughter Lo-Ruhamah (‘not loved’) because God ‘will no longer show love to the house of Israel’ and son Lo-Ammi (‘not my people’) because there would come a time when God would refuse to acknowledge Israel as his people and he their God (Hosea 1:6-9).

The above short discussion applies at the human level. However, at the ‘divine-to-human’ level, the concept of the ‘name of God’ takes on a different tone. It is not so much as man having power over God but man receiving the power/privilege from God to know him and to enter into a relationship with him. This power or privilege to know and to relate to God comes precisely because God has revealed his person, his nature and his will to humankind. It is because God has entered into the human world and shown himself through his actions, words and promises. Thus, human beings ascribe to this God certain designations or descriptive words because they know him through and in certain described characteristics or events. If he is Yahweh sidqënû (e.g., Jer. 23:6) it is because his people had known and tasted of his righteousness; and if he is Yahweh, it is because he has revealed himself by that name to his people.

To know God by name is the beginning of a long and eternal walk with him. It means to be possessed by him for we are ‘called by his name’ (Isa. 43:7; Amos 9:12) and are saved through the name of his Son Jesus Christ (Acts 4:10-12). To be saved is predicated on a personal belief of the name Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 3:23) and of all that the name stands for and what and who lies behind the name. Those who are called by God’s name (e.g., as in God’s children) come under the powerful protective arms of God (Jn. 17:11; Mt. 23:37). There is special blessing for those who come ‘in the name of the Lord’ (Mt. 23:39).

The presence of God is secured when his name dwells among his people (Dt. 12:5, 11). This means that the people not only verbalized the name of God but conduct themselves in such a manner as to bring glory to God (e.g., see Mt. 6:13-16). God’s name is holy; but this is not the reason to refrain from using or uttering the name of God. Rather, we should ever be so careful and so reverent with the name as to not abuse it or take the name of God in vain (Dt. 5:11). God’s name should never be confused with any magical power to control him or to call upon him to perform any deeds outside of his own will. Instead, his name should prompt us to put ourselves in his service since he is the LORD our God.

‘For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.
The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples
on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.’
- Deuteronomy 7:6


| Home | About Us | Archive | Articles | Comment | Directory/Churches | Links | News | Youth |

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this page may be reproduced, in any form or by any means, without permission, oral or written, from the Church of Christ, Seremban, Malaysia.