In times past, a name carried much significance. It might signify occupation (Baker, Carpenter, Cartwright, Gardner, Farmer, Mason, Miller, Shepherd, Smith, Taylor, Weaver). It might signify residency, or family origin (Britton, Brooke, Forest, Hill, Lock, London, Meadows, Woods). It could signify relationship (Bar Jonah, Fitzpatrick, Johnson, McDonald, O’Brien, Wilson). It could signify position (Duke, Earl, Noble), or that you owned land (Von Eric, Van Deaver). It might indicate physical appearance (Edom – red, Esau – hairy, Little, Longfellow).
Today, in our society name usually carry less significance. It is true that some parents name a child after someone (a Biblical character, national hero, or respective relative). However, many times a name is chosen based upon lesser things. A parent may choose a name based upon liking the sound, or based upon the name being trendy.
The names that God is called by in the Bible is significant and telling. They tell us much of Him, and His nature.
1. Adonai (Lord).
This word occurs over 300 times in the Hebrew Bible. It means “Master” or “Lord”. Example: “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 23:17). It is a reference to authority.
This word is used at times of men. In Genesis 18:12, Sarah called Abraham “Lord”. The term is also used of Joseph’s authority (Genesis 45:8; 42:30).
2. El (God).
This is a very common name for Deity. It occurs in some form, usually as a compound word, over 2,800 times in the Hebrew Bible. It means “might one,” “strong one”. Example: “Who is a God like unto Thee.” (Micah 7:18). This word refers to His “strength,” “might,” “power,” “rank,” or “authority”.
This word often occurs in compound. El-Olam (the mighty God of eternity); El-Shaddai (the mighty God who is able to supply or satisfy our needs); El-roi (the mighty God who sees); El-elyon (the mighty Supreme or Most High God); Elohim (the Mighty God who makes or keeps a covenant).
This word is not used exclusively of Deity. It is used of powerful people, people of great authority (Exodus 7:1-2; Psalm 82; Ezekiel 31:11). It is also used of false powers, idols (Isaiah 44:10, 15, 17; 46:6).
3. YHWH (LORD/Jehovah).
The ASV renders this “Jehovah”. The KJV usually renders this “LORD” in all capital letters. Four times it uses “Jehovah” and three additional times a compound of Jehovah. This name occurs 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible. Example: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). This word is used of the one true God, and no other.
What does this word mean? Zondervan’s Pictoral Dictionary says, “The sacred name is derived from the verb ‘to be,’ and so implies that God is eternal… and that He is the Absolute, i.e. the uncaused one.” Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gensenius in their Hebrew and English Lexicon say “Many recent scholars explain (Jehovah B.H.) as… the one bringing into being, lifegiver… giver of existence, creator… But most take it as… the one who is: i.e. the absolute and unchanging one… the existing, ever-living…” J.J. Turner in the book Doctrine of the Godhead uses words like “The self-existant one”, “the self-sufficient one”, “The Immutable one”.
It is common for this word to appear in compound Jehovah-jireh (Jehovah will provide); Jehovah-tsidkenu (Jehovah our righteousness); Jehovah – M. Kaddesh (Jehovah who sanctifies); Jehovah – shalom (Jehovah is our peace); Jehovah – rohi (Jehovah is my shepherd); Jehovah – shammah (Jehovah is there); Jehovah – nissi (Jehovah is my banner); Jehovah – rophe (Jehovah heals); Jehovah – kanna (Jehovah is jealous); Jehovah – sabaoth (Jehovah of host). Even the name Joshua or Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation.” Other names of interest: Joel (Jehovah is God); Elijah (My God is Jehovah); Elisha (my God is Savior).
A passage worth considering when studying this name is Exodus 6:2-3, “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 God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.” The difficult is that this name was certainly known from the earliest of times (Genesis 2:4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 21, 22; 3:1, 8, 9, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23; 4:1; 9:26; 15:7; 22:14, 26:2; 27:20). It will not do to say that this is mere prolepsis. It is not. Eve used the sacred name (Genesis 4:1), as did Noah (Genesis 9:26). God used this name to Abraham (Genesis 15:7), and Abraham, himself, used this name (Genesis 27:20). Moses’ parents were named Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20); Moses’ mother’s name Jochebed means “Jehovah is glory”. So, what is the solution? Coffman writes, “The words should be read interrogatively, for the negative participle (not) often has this power in the Hebrew. Clark’s rendition of the whole sentence is “And by my name Jehovah was I not also made known unto them?’ Regarding the conjunction here (‘but’ ASV, ‘and’ KJV) it is not in the Hebrew at all… and is merely supplied by the translator.” Jameson-Fausset-Brown writes, “rather, interrogatively, by my name Jehovah was I not known to them? Am I not the Almighty God, who pledged My honor for the fulfillment of the covenant, also the self-existent God who lives to accomplish it? Rest assured therefore, that I shall bring it to pass.”
4. Theos (God).
This word appears over 1,200 times in the New Covenant. This word is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew “El”. It is not used exclusively of the true God. It is used of men of authority (John 10:34). It is also used of Greek/Roman pagan gods (Acts 14:11; 19:26; 28:6; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Gal. 4:8).
There is a man in the New Covenant named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). His name means “lover of God”. We each should be genuine lovers of God.
5. Kurios (Lord/Master).
This word appears over 670 times in the New Covenant. It means “having power or authority” (Vine’s); “having power or authority… he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord, owner… a title of honor, expressive of respect and reverence…” (Thayer). The word seems to have been used in two senses; (1) of one with power or authority; (2) an address of respect, much as we use the term “sir”. This word is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Adonai”. It is also used for the sacred name YHWH.
This word is not used exclusively of Deity. It is used of people of authority (Ephesians 6:5; Luke 19:33; Matthew 20:8; Acts 25:26). It is used of idols (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
Do we treat Jesus as if He is our Lord? Jesus asked, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). He also stated, “Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). He wants more than mere lip service to His being Lord. He wants to truly be Lord of our lives.
6. Tsur (Rock/God).
This is another Hebrew word. It means “rock”. In Isaiah 44:8, God says, “Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God…” The second term rendered “God” literally means “rock”. The NKJV renders it “Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is not other Rock.” David said, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer… who is God save the LORD? And who is a rock save our God? The Lord liveth; and blessed by my rock; and exalted be the rock of my salvation.” (2 Samuel 22:2, 3, 32, 47 cf. Psalm 18:2, 31, 46).
7. Pater (Father)
This word is translated “Father”, as in “our Father which art in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9). The Greek term means “a nourisher, protector, upholder” (Vine’s).
This idea of viewing God as Father is not new. It is seen even in the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:5-6; 1 Chron. 29:10; Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 1:2; 63:16; Mal. 2:10). However, it is especially seen under the New Covenant (Matt. 5:45; 6:4, 6, 8, 9; 7:11;10:20, 29; 18:14; Mark 13:32; Luke 11:13; John 1:18; 4:23; 20:17; Romans 1:7; 8:15; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 8:6; 15:24; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 1:1, 3, 4; 3:26-28; 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; 6:23; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 2:2; 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 3; 3:11, 13; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 2; 2:16; James 1:27; 3:9; 1 Peter 1:2, 17; 1 John 3:1; 2 John 3; Jude 1. He cares for us the way a father does his children (Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13).
Summing It Up
The names of God teach us many things: (1) His eternal nature – YHWH, Lord, Jehovah; (2) His might and power – El, Theos, God; (3) His authority – Adonai, Kurios, Lord, Master. (4) His care – El-shaddai (shaddai is derrived from the term ‘breast’. Thus, the mighty God which is able to nourish, satisfy)/ Jehovah-rohi (Jehovah is my shepherd)/ Pater (Father); (5) His being a rock of safety and security – Tsur/Rock cf. Psalm 94:22.