Explanation of The Names Of God


The concept of Name.

Especially in Hebrew thought but also in nearly all cultures there was the conception that the appellation by which someone was known in some way communicated something of his character. Hence especially in the Hebrew mentality the concept of name was very important..

The Personal Character of a Name

In addition the name is something personal, it is what identifies us as individuals. We are not just numbers. Even today when names are hung on individuals indiscriminately without reference to character there is a personal quality about them. It is always unpleasant or annoying to have one’s name misspelled for example.

Naming and Power

The concept of naming in Scripture also implied power or authority over the thing named. Hence when it comes to God He reveals His names to his people rather than their giving names to him. (Cf. Gen 2. Adam is, as God’s vice-regent over the Earth given the responsibility to name the animals. Also cf. God’s renaming of individuals, Abram->Abraham; Sari->Sarah; Jacob->Israel; also cf. Nebuchadnezzar’s renaming of Daniel and his three friends.)

Naming and Relationship with God

“When the believer enters into a relationship with his God he starts by pronouncing His name, and this ancient usage is continued in the liturgy of the Church under the form of the invocation; Similarly when God takes the initiative of revealing Himself, He starts by uttering His name.” (Jacob, Old Testament Theology, 43)



This is the generic name for deity in the ANE. However, having said this, it must be noted that in the OT EL is “rarely if ever used … as the proper name of a non-Israelite deity…” (TDOT  Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 1:253) Associated with this name in the Ancient Near East (ANE) and in the OT is the idea of power, “The Strong One”. This name of God never appears in the narrative portions of the OT, and only infrequently in the poetic sections. Some have theorized that this name was the original name, for the God whom the ancients worshiped. and as the pristine conception was corrupted polytheism set in.

Henry notes: “Although the generic term for God has become part of the linguistic heritage of mankind, references to deity-in- general do not predominate in the early history of religion; least of all do we find a technically abstract `God-concept.’ The generic term for deity or the gods were most employed of specific supernatural entities. EL was used not only generically but also, where Semitic religion affirms a pantheon of gods, of the supreme deity. The Old Testament uses EL not only to refer to `deity’ in the general Semitic sense, but to describe the God n by Abraham and his descendants in the true and vital sense…EL is not for them the highest god in a pantheon of divinities, but the one and only God whom they worship on the ground of his revelation.” (Carl F. H. Henry, God Revelation and Authority 2:184)

While the etymology of the name EL is difficult, it apparently is derived from a root which means “might” or “first in rank” (TDOT 1:273)


The Name itself

The name ELOHIM appears for God 2570 times in the OT. In fact this is the first Name for God which appears in the Scripture in Genesis 1:1. ELOHIM is viewed in Scripture as the creator, absolute ruler, & source of all things. While it is true that ELOHIM as well as El were ancient Canaanite names for deity, in the Bible ELOHIM “is uniquely the one God who concentrates in himself the being and powers of all the gods, comprehending the totality of deity in himself. (Henry, 185) Two features which should be noted here:

ELOHIM is in the plural.

The Hebrew conception was often to use a plural to express a concept which could not be expressed by the singular. In the case of ELOHIM what we may well have is a plural of majesty or a plural of incomprehensibility or a plural of intensification in which case the plural “would mean the `great,’ `highest,’ and finally `only’ God …”(TDOT 1:272-273; cf. Payne, Theology of the Older Testament, 145 who notes : “It is not legitimate to use the plural to advance a theory of polytheism)

Henry notes: “Some theologians have found here anticipations of the Trinity, of a plurality of persons within the single divine essence. But the revelation that the one God is irreducibly triune awaits the manifestation of his Son and the large New Testament revelation. To insist on plurality in ELOHIM, and then to expound this in terms of a plurality of persons but not of essence, reflects a retroactive theologizing that nullifies God’s progressive self-disclosure of the inmost secret of his Being. Yet the deity of the Messiah is foretold in Ps 45:7, etc., and we should not deny the revelatory intimations of the doctrine in the Old Testament.” (Carl F. H. Henry, God Revelation and Authority 2:191). It is precisely this type of mistake that Lewis and Demarest make in their otherwise excellent Integrative Theology.

Payne, (Theology of the Older Testament, 145) notes : “It is not legitimate to use the plural to advance a theory of Israelitish polytheism. Similarly ELOHIM ought not to be adduced as a proof of the trinity because Christians believe in only one God!”



Man [, ish] is in some sense the antithesis to ELOHIM (Numbers 23:19) “God is not man that he should lie nor a son of man that he should repent.” Here the word of God is firm in contrast to human words which are deceptive. Additionally, God is seen to be spirit, in contrast to flesh (Is. 31:3). The context has reference to ELOHIM’s power and strength as opposed to human impotence. ELOHIM is also associated with holiness, “I am EL and not man, the Holy one in your midst.” The context here focuses on ELOHIM’s compassion and forgiveness in contrast to punitive wrath.

ELOHIM is the antithesis of the non-gods

ELOHIM is the antithesis of the non-gods which the Israelites constantly were seduced by. As god he possesses knowledge to which man cannot attain. (see Gen 3:5)

ELOHIM is not earth bound

ELOHIM is not earth bound nor does he dwell upon the earth or with man (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron 6:18; Cf. Ps 115:3 “our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.” a reference to omnipotence)

Only ELOHIM has the power to kill or make alive,

only ELOHIM has the power to kill or make alive in contrast to man (2 Kings 5:7) 5) God is so completely different than man that no one can see His (or hear him) and live (Ex. 33:20; Jgs 13:22; cf. Gen 16:13)

Adjectives and verbs

  • holy ELOHIM (Josh 24:19)
  • righteous ELOHIM (Ps. 78:10)
  • Living ELOHIM (Deut. 5:26; 1 Sam 17:26-36; Jer 23:36; 2 Kings 19:4,16)
  • an ELOHIM who is near (Deut 4:7)
  • a jealous ELOHIM (ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt. 4:24)
  • an angry ELOHIM (Ps 7:12)
  • merciful ELOHIM (Deut 4:31)
  • merciful and gracious ELOHIM (Ex 34:6) 9)
  • great and terrible ELOHIM (Deut 7:21) 10)
  • mighty ELOHIM (Deut. 10:17; Jer 32:18)
  • faithful ELOHIM (Deut 7:9)
  • forgiving ELOHIM (Ps. 99:8)
  • hiding ELOHIM (Is. 45:15)
  • the incomparable ELOHIM. e.g. 2 Sam 7:22

“There is none like thee and there is no ELOHIM beside thee.” “Before no god was formed, nor shall there be after me. I am Yahweh and beside me there is no savior…” (Is 45:2)

ELOHIM as an Appellative

the ELOHIM of Israel.

This appellation for ELOHIM has covenant implications and has a close affinity with Yahweh the personal name of the covenant keeping God of Israel. (TDOT 1:277)

the ELOHIM of the individual

(e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) 3) my, your ELOHIM. This phrase while rare, asserts the personal relationship which the worshiper possesses with ELOHIM


EL Elyon: The Most High God

This name for God occurs first in the Bible in Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham after he had defeated the five kings. The king of Tyre (Satan?) is said to have desired to be like EL Elyon (Is. 14:12-14). It is also used by Baalam (Num. 24). Along with EL and ELOHIM this title for God expresses His transcendent majesty. (See also Ps 91:1)

EL Shaddai: God Almighty

This self-revelation of God is characteristic of the patriarchal period. (Ex. 6:2-3: And God said to Moses I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as EL Shaddai.”) This name for God stresses particularly His omnipotence as it is displayed in His immanence. Many (e.g. the Scofield Reference Bible) trace the origin of the term “Shaddai” to the root word which refers to a mother’s breast. If this be correct the Name is one which suggests God’s grace and His condescension to the level of His creatures to make Himself known and to give sustenance to them. It is a name which is associated with God’s relationship with His children. Two characteristics are associated with this name. (See Lightner, The First Fundamental, 110-112)

He comforts His own and makes them fruitful. Jacob, when fleeing his brother Esau, was alone and defenseless. Isaac besought EL Shaddai to bless his son even though he was a deceiver and a cheat. “And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a company of peoples. May He give to you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham…” cf. also Ps. 91:1,2.

He disciplines His own to make them fruitful. The idea here is not judgment of sin and punishment, but correction. God clearly does judge sin, but the name of YHWH is associated with this activity of God. The book of Job is illustrative of this use. Thirty-one times in the book the name EL Shaddai is found. There is no punishment involved with God’s dealing with Job, instead he is bringing him to a more perfect understanding of Himself. Also cf. Ruth 1.

Others have suggested that the derivation of the Term Shaddai is from the Akkadian shadu (mountain) with the sense of “he of the mountains.” Henry notes that “invariably the Scriptural use conveys Strength.” (193-194) Keil has observed that the name EL Shaddai belongs “to the sphere of Salvation, furnishing one element in the manifestation of Jehovah, the covenant God, as possessing the power to realize His promises, even when the order of nature presented no prospect of fulfillment, and the powers of nature were insufficient to secure it.” (Keil and Delitzsch 1:223) Likewise Geerhardus Vos has observed that God is called EL Shaddai “because through the supernaturalism of His procedure He, as it were, overpowers nature and, in the service of His grace, compels her to further His designs.” (Biblical Theology, 96) Henry concludes: “EL Shaddai emphasizes God’s solicitous condescension and singular providence in the creaturely sphere…for his special activity of covenantal concern the omnipotent One was honored in Israel as EL Shaddai.” (194)

EL Olam: The Everlasting God

The term “Olam” itself meant “secret” or “hidden” or “concealed” or “unknown.” From the idea of hiddenness developed the concept of eternity. Eichrodt has noted that the Name signifies :”the permanence of the deity exalted over the changes and chances of time.” (W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 1:182). The idea of God’s immutability is involved in the passages which speak of EL Olam. EL Olam cannot be dragged down into the flux of natural phenomena. This is in stark contrast to the nature deities of the surrounding pagan peoples. He is all that His people have from generation to generation. (Ps. 100:5). Although times, needs and people all change, EL Olam never changes. He is always the same. “Do you not know, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom.” (Is. 40:28-29) While this aspect of God is revealed very early in the Old Testament, After the Exile there is an increasing emphasis upon His transcendence.

Two characteristics are evident concerning EL Olam:

  • He is inexhaustible.
  • There is no searching His understanding.

EL Roi: The God who sees:

This title for God occurs only once in the OT (Gen. 16:13) from the lips of Hagar as she and her son are dying in the desert. While this is the only occurrence of the actual name, the concept is found else where, e.g. Laban’s lying and cheating had been seen by God (Gen. 31:10-12); God saw the affliction of His people in Egypt. The name thus communicates omniscience.

Adonai: Lord

When used of men this title speaks of an intimate personal relationship, e.g. master-slave; husband-wife, thus connoting the idea of authority, love and faithfulness. When applied to God two factors stand out.

  • The master has a right to expect obedience.

This can be seen graphically in the life of Moses who was silenced of all objections to God’s call when he recognized Him as Adonai (Ex. 4:10). In so doing, he admitted his position as a slave and his obligation to obey his master. Also see Isa. 6:1- 8, Isaiah’s response to the heavenly vision is “Here am I Adonai, send me.”

  • The slave may expect provision

The slave has no worry. It is the responsibility of the master to provide food, clothing and shelter for his slave. Since he is owned by the master, his needs become his master’s needs.


This is the most common name for God in the Old Testament, occurring over 6800 times. In contrast to other names for deity in the OT it is used ONLY of the god of Israel and never of the pagan deities.

Interpretations of the Name

  • “I am the One who is.”
  • “I am who I am.”
  • “I will be what I will be.”
  • “I cause to be what I cause to be.”
  • . “I am present is what I am.”

Henry having discussed the pros and cons of each of these interpretations concludes: While the forward looking manifestation of Yahweh has in view the pledge of redemptive presence, the name Yahweh accumulates to itself all that the patriarchs had already known about God. the Hebrew verb `to be’ had originally to do with absolute existence, not relative relationships. In our view, Yahweh is the revelation of the Eternal, the independent sovereign of all, who pledges in free grace to come to the redemptive rescue of his chosen people. (220-221)

God as the self-existent one

Yahweh, the self-existent, eternal, and unchanging “I am” is the God of grace who enters into covenant relations with His chosen people (Deut. 5:2). The glorious incommunicable name that the Jews superstitiously refused to pronounce (cf. Lev. 24:16) is descriptive of none but the God of Israel. Henry observes that it was only in post-OT times that the Name of Yahweh was avoided and Heaven was used as a periphrasis. The OT itself did not share this avoidance of the Name of God. (224)

“… in post-Old Testament days Yahweh ceased to be pronounced aloud in the synagogue reading and was replaced orally (but not in writing) by Adhonai. This exchange took place because of the superstitious reverence in which the scribes held the ineffable name of God. Next when medieval Jewish scholars, the Masoretes, began to write in vowels to accompany the Old Testament text, they added to the original consonants of Yahweh the Masoretic vowel points of Adhonai, and the actual written result became the impossible Y h w h. In the American Standard Version it is rendered “Jehovah.”(Payne, 147)

Since the name Yahweh occurs some 150 times in Genesis, one meets with initial surprise Yahweh’s saying to Moses (Ex. 6:3): “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (`EL Sadday’), but by my name the Lord (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them.” No contradiction in the pentateuchal traditions need by posited. Rather Exodus 6:3 affirms that whereas God formerly had been addressed as Yahweh, only at Sinai was the full import of that “glorious name” (Deut. 28:58) made known.(See Henry, 195-209)

The name YHWH is one of covenant relationship,

The name YHWH is one of covenant relationship this is in contrast to ELOHIM which is a name which bespeaks power and transcendence. “Yahweh is the God of covenant promise, of covenant revelation, whose active redemptive concern for his people is–is not merely a memory of past history, is not merely a future hope, but is.” (Henry, 222) “In the exodus revelation God `gave himself away’ to Israel–within his freedom indeed, yet bound by covenant to historical redemptive deliverance.” (Henry 221-222)

YHWH & Hatred of Sin

Also associated with YHWH; His holiness, hatred of sin, love for sinners and redemptive activity.


  • Yahweh-Jireh: The Lord will provide (Gen. 22:14)
  • Yahweh-Sabbaoth: Yahweh of Hosts

The term means “to assemble” and the underlying idea seems to be involved in warfare 1 Sam. 1:3. Usually appears in connection with a national crisis in Israel.

  • Yahweh-Nissi: Yahweh our banner
  • Yahweh-m’qaddishkhem: Yahweh Sanctifier appears in Ex. 31:13 in relationship to sabbath keeping.

The name “ELOHIM” designates God as creator and preserver of all things; “EL Shaddai” represents Him as the mighty one who makes nature subservient to grace; “Yahweh” describes Him as the one whose grace and faithfulness endure forever; “Yahweh-Sabbaoth” characterizes Him as the King in His fullness of Glory, surrounded by organized hosts of angels governing the entire universe as well as the Omnipotent one, and in His temple receiving the honor and adoration of His creatures.

Other Descriptions:

  • Rock: strength
  • Fortress: protection
  • Shield: defense of His own
  • Mighty One: strength forbearance and faithfulness
  • Strength
  • Jealous: desire for the exclusive worship of His people
  • Self-existence

In addition to His names, God’s character is known by the ascription to Him of specific attributes. The opening statement of the Bible, “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1) suggests an existence that is absolute and not contingent on any other being or power. God’s self-existence or aseity is also affirmed in the revelation of the divine name at Sinai (Ex. 3:14). Yahweh thus is upheld as the One who has life in Himself, and One who most fundamentally is.

  • Eternity

The eternity of God is amply affirmed in the five books of the Law. Abraham “called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God” (Gen. 21:33). Moreover, implicit in the “I am” of Exodus 3:14 is the postulate of the divine eternity. In addition, both Moses and Yahweh testify that the Lord will live and reign forever (Ex. 15:18, Deut. 33:27). The divine eternality suggests (1) that God’s existence had no beginning and will have no end, (2) that God transcends the limitations of time (“I am”), and (3) that God is the cause and ground of time (cf. John 1:3).

  • Immutability

A consequence of the divine aseity and eternity is God’s immutability. “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14) dwells above the flux of the contingent universe. Similarly the oracle of Baalam reads: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind (naham). Does He speak and then not act? Does His promise (dabar) and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19). Moreover, the God who is unchanging in His being, character, and counsel is given the title of “Rock” (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, et al.). As the solid material of which mountains are formed, Rock (sur) points up the stability, unchangeableness, and reliability of Israel’s God. The fact that in Noah’s day God was grieved (Niphal of naham, “be sorry,” “mourn over”) and purposed to destroy sinners from the face of the earth (Gen. 6:6), does not invalidate the divine immutability. Neither did His decision to stay His hand of judgment following the golden calf incident (Exod. 32:12-14) and to withhold his judgment of fire against the murmuring Israelites (Num. 11:1, 10) effect any change in God’s being, character, or strategic purpose. Rather, God consistently dealt with people on the basis of His changeless character and their moral responses, and these dealings He had omniscient included in His overall plan. That God experienced authentic emotions of regret (Gen. 6:6), anger (Num. 11:10), hatred (Deut. 12:31), jealousy (Ex. 20:4-5), and vengeance (Deut. 32:35) demonstrates that the personal God enjoys a healthy and controlled emotional life. Not moved by forces external to Himself, God remains Himself in the fullness of His own nature.

by M. James Sawyer, Ph.D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s