Names of God

The names of God in Scripture are divine self-revelations. They are not human attempts to describe Him or evidence of developing Jewish consciousness of Him, as documentary theories of the OT suggest (see JEDP). Theologians distinguish God’s names as follows: proper names, essential names (His attributes), personal names (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Our concern here is with God’s proper names, or nomina propria.

Proper Names in the Old Testament

El, Elohim. Since these names are not used exclusively of the true God they are not strictly nomina propria and are included among them only to show that they are distinct from the essential names. This double usage exactly parallels our English use of God or god. As a divine title, El signifies the strong one. Elohim (a plural word, the singular form of which is Eloah, Deut. 32:15, 17) speaks of God as the strong and mighty one, the object of fear. The singular rarely occurs, except in poetry. The plural does not denote a plurality of gods. Some regard it as an indication of the doctrine of the Trinity, while most treat it as a plural of majesty, used to intensify and magnify the ideas of strength and might.

Elyon. This signifies the high and exalted one. The AV translates it as “the Most High” (Gen. 14:18–20), who is “over all the earth” (Ps. 83:18).

Adonai. This plural form with a singular suffix is uniquely a title of the true God. It signifies the supreme master or sovereign, the almighty ruler to whom all are subject. The AV translates it “Lord.”

The singular ha’adon occurs only infrequently, always as a divine title (an important OT witness to the essential deity of the Messiah, Mal. 3:1).

El-shaddai. This speaks of God as the all-powerful Lord of all creation, the source of comfort and assurance to His people (Gen. 17:1). The AV typically translates it “Almighty God.”

Jehovah. This is the incommunicable name, the name of God as the covenant God, the great I AM (Exod. 3:14), the absolute and immutable one, who will ever remain faithful in all His covenant engagements. The AV translates it as “LORD.”

Jehovah (Jah is a contraction used in poetic portions) has no plural form and never takes a suffix. For example, in Ps. 8:1 we have Jehovah adonenu, “LORD our Lord,” but nowhere do we read of “our” or “my” Jehovah. Jehovah tsebaoth means “Lord of Hosts,” referring primarily to the angelic hosts. (See Tetragram.)

Ab, Father. While Father is a personal name, it is also a proper name with reference to God as the Creator of all men and, especially, as sustaining a saving covenant relation to all His elect. These He regards as His children. It is popularly thought that Father is exclusively a NT description of God, but that is not so (e.g. , Deut. 32:6; Ps. 103:13; Isa. 63:16, 64:8). It signifies that God is the Creator and sustainer, caring for and protecting His children.

Proper Names of God in the New Testament

Theos. “God,” the NT equivalent to El in the OT.

Hupeistos theos. “The most high God” (Mark 5:7), equivalent to Elyon in the OT.

Pantokrator, Theos Ho Pantokrator. “The Almighty,” or “omnipotent God” (2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 19:6). It is equivalent to El-shaddai in the OT.

Kurios. “Lord.” It is used of Christ and of God, and is equivalent to Adonai or Jehovah in the OT.

Pater, Abba, Father. See Ab, Father above.

Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms. Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

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