For the uninitiated, it can seem slightly confusing that God goes by many names in the Bible, especially because the Christian faith emphasizes God’s monotheistic nature. Why does He need so many names? Why not just one?

First, it’s important to understand that the various names for the Lord are not distinct identifiers, but titles He simultaneously bears. In western culture, we often forget that other cultures, especially those of the ancient Near East, did not use names as we do. Today, most people don’t associate their names with any deeper meaning. They are at most a family name or traditional name in your country, and in many cases just a random collection of syllables that your parents liked.

In the world of the Bible, however, names bore a more significant weight. A name was something to live up to or something earned. What you were called had some intrinsic connection to who you were as an individual. Names were not just a sound your friends and family associated with you but a title that said something about your place in the world. Genesis 17:17 tells us that Sarah laughed when God told Abraham and Sarah they would have a child, and so she named her son Isaac, which means “laughter.” Nabal was followed by folly, and his name meant “fool” (1 Samuel 25:25). Simon’s name meant “He who hears or obeys,” and Jesus called him – and then later changed his name to Peter, which means “rock.” Of course, Jesus said He would build His church upon Peter (Matthew 16:18).

In the same way, God’s many names in Scripture are more than just syllables by which we can refer to Him. They are all His name because they all describe who He is.

Here are some of the most prominent names for God in Scripture:

  1. JEHOVAH

The most essential name of the Most High, “I AM WHO I AM,” am existential statements about His preeminence in Creation.  Exodus 3:13-15

  1. EL-SHADDAI

“God Almighty,” the source of all power and all blessings. Genesis 49:22-26

  1. ADONAI

“Master” or “Lord.” Highest in authority over all. 2 Samuel 7:18-20

  1. ELOHIM

“Powers” or “gods.” There is much debate about why this title appears to be plural in Hebrew grammar, but it is not a mistranslation. “Elohim” is a plural noun but used with a singular verb in the original text. Some scholars theorize that it is meant to symbolize God speaking to Himself in the Trinity, while some suggest that this is a way of demonstrating that God is above all in strength, transcendent, the possessor of all powers. Genesis 17:7-8

  1. FATHER

In Matthew 6:9, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Our Father.” The God of the universe is not only our Creator, but also our loving Father. Romans 8:15-17

Want to learn more about God’s identity? Consider starting with ISOW’s course on The Theology of the Trinity, or any of our many in-depth online Bible studies. Visit www.ISOW.org today to get started on an affordable online biblical education!

 

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