GOD HAS MANY
Lester L. Grabbe
Is YHWH the only "name" of God, while all other designations
are merely "titles"? Even in English such a distinction is far
from exact. One of the definitions of "name" is "title," and one
of the definitions of "title" is "name" (Webster's New World
Dictionary). In the Hebrew of the inspired Old Testament, the
distinction does not exist.
The truth is that the argument that YHWH is a "name" while
other appellations such as Elohim are only "titles," is a
linguistically unsound quibble over semantics. The matter can be
simply settled from the Bible itself, where the Hebrew word
usually translated "name" is sem.
Notice the following passages which speak of God's "name"
(sem in Hebrew) as something OTHER than YHWH:
Amos 4:13 - "For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and
createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his
thought.....(is) The Lord, the God of Hosts (Elohe-sev'ot)
IS HIS NAME."
Exactly the same Hebrew wording is used in Amos 5:27, which
rendered literally says - "Therefore will I cause you to go into
captivity beyond Damascus, says the Lord, The God of Hosts IS HIS
NAME." The Authorized Version is NOT in error with "....saith
the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts."
In Psalm 48:10, the Hebrew text could correctly and just as
easily be translated, "As your name ELOHIM, so is your praise to
the ends of the earth."
And one could read the original of Psalm 69:30 as - "I will
praise ELOHIM WITH A SONG AND MAGNIFY IT WITH THANKSGIVING."
Now consider the following passages and names: Psalm 111:9
- "His name is HOLY (Qados) and Fearful (Nora)." These two could
be taken as personal names.
Isaiah 57:15 - "For thus saith the high and exalted One who
inhabiteth eternity, whose name is HOLY (Qados)."
We could speak of God as the HOLY(One) just as easily as the
Eternal (YHWH). In fact, the Bible does so in 2 Kings 19:22; Job
6:10; Jeremiah 50:29; 51:5; Ezekiel 39:7;
Hosea 11:9; Habakkuk 1:12; 3:3, seven times in Psalms and nearly
30 times in the book of Isaiah. In every case, "Holy One" is
translated simply from this one word in the inspired Hebrew.
The New Testament also declares that the Savior's name is
HOLY (Luke 1:35,49) and uses "Holy One" as His name in Mark 1:24;
Luke 4:34; Acts 3:14 and 1 John 2:20. Every true Christian is
called a "saint" (Greek agios, holy one) because we, too, are
becoming :holy ones" in the God Family.
Isaiah 9:6 also gives Jesus Christ the Messiah - who is,
remember, the YHWH of the Old Testament - several additional
names: "......his NAME (sem) shall be called WONDERFUL,
COUNSELLOR, MIGHTY GOD (El), FATHER OF ETERNITY, PRINCE
The Hebrew word for "name" (sem) can be used with a greatly
expanded meaning to include a person's whole character and
reputation. A similar usage can be found in the English
expression, "a good name." When we say a person has a good name,
we aren't referring to its PRONUNCIATION. Of course not! We mean
the entire CHARACTER of the one who bears the name.
Rather than trying to distinguish between "name" and "title"
we should all learn how the Bible actually uses the concept of
NAME in both Greek and Hebrew. Sober biblical and linguistic
scholars J.H. Moulton and George Hilligan write: " By a usage
similar to that of the Heb. (sem. "name")....(onoma, the Greek
word for "name") comes the NT (New Testament) to denote the
CHARACTER, FAME, AUTHORITY of the person indicated" (Vocabulary
of the Greek Testament, p.451).
Along with the name (title, character, fame, authority) of
YHWH, the Eternal also bears many more names.
EL is perhaps the primary Hebrew word used to express the
attribute of the divine all-ruling Creator. It is a root common
to most of the Semitic languages, found in Babylonian and
Ugaritic literature and appearing in Arabic as ALLAH.
ELOAH seems to be a variant form of EL though the singular
is not used frequently. However, the plural is one of the most
frequently used words in the Bible.
ELOHIM is the second-most-used word (after YHWH) for the
Divinity in the Old Testament. Although originally the plural
form Eloah, it had already come to be used with a singular idea
by the time the first part of the Bible was written. So we find
in Genesis 1:1 that Elohim CREATES, not Elohim CREATE.
Because of its unique usage, Elohim serves very well to
express the idea of the divine Family. It can apply to every
member or to one member without changing form. For example, the
plural verb in Gen.1:26 obviously takes more than one person. But
many times throughout the Bible we find Elohim speaking directly
and using the pronoun "I."
(In these passages it is obviously only the single individual who
became Christ speaking, though He is speaking for the entire
Also, just as we can use the term "god" or "gods" to refer
to idols or pagan concepts, so Elohim is used to refer to other
gods, usually in the plural but sometimes in the singular only
(Judges 11:24). This usage by ancient Israel shows it is
perfectly all right to use our native English word "god" to apply
both to idols, and to the true God.
SHADDAY is generally believed by Hebrew scholars to mean
something like "Almighty." It first appears in Genesis 17:1. It
is sometimes used in combination with EL (hence the rendering
"God Almighty") and in names of persons, such as Zurishaddai ("my
rock is Shaddai") in Numbers 1:6.
ADONAI was the name most often read by later Jews instead of
YHWH. But this word also occurs many times in its own right in
the Hebrew text. It means "Lord" or "Master."
The One who became the Messiah or Christ is the member of
the God Family most often mentioned in the Old Testament.
Naturally, the various names most often refer to Him. But as
descriptive names or titles, they can and do apply to EVERY
member of the God Family. That is why, for example, we find YHWH
once apparently applied to the Father in Psalm 110:1.
The Greek NT also contains various names and titles. A study
of these would be helpful to understanding God better. Yet even
if we studied the entire Bible from beginning to end, we would
not exhaust God's name. For one thing, God will give NEW NAMES to
those who enter His Family in the resurrection (Rev.2:17).
In addition, Christ will write His OWN NEW NAME on them at
that time - ".....and I will write upon him the name of my
God.....AND my own NEW NAME" (Rev.3:12). One of the Eternal's
(Christ's) names will be NEW. And it it's new, we don't know it
We can be absolutely sure Christ has at least one name we do
not know, because Revelation 19:11-12 tells us this. "And I saw
heaven open, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him
was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge
and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head
were many crowns; and he had a NAME written, that no man knew,
but he himself."
God's names and titles help us to see some of His character.
His names are only SYMBOLS of what He is. We respect His names
because they represent HIM. But God reveals Himself primarily
through His WORD.
Christ said He came to reveal the name of the Father (John
1:18; 17:6, 26). YET WE WOULD SEARCH IN VAIN FOR ANY DISCUSSION
OF ITS PRONUNCIATION OR REQUIREMENT TO USE ONLY HEBREW.
What then is meant by these verses?
What Christ revealed is the WAY. He revealed the WAY to
LIFE, the WAY of the CHARACTER of God. The same character in us
will lead us to have eternal life like God, and to bear His names
which summarize His character.