Name of God

by Doug Batchelor


An Amazing Fact: A man stopped at the bar in the Los Angeles airport to "relax" for a few minutes before catching his plane. Then, realizing he had lost track of time, the man raced out of the bar and quickly asked directions for the departing gate to Oakland. After hurrying through a maze of terminals, he handed the flight attendant his ticket and scurried onto the plane just as it was about to depart. After storing his briefcase, the weary traveler slumped into his seat and drifted off to sleep. When he awoke two hours later and examined his watch, the man wondered why the one-hour flight was taking so long. To his horror, he discovered that instead of boarding the plane for Oakland, Calif., he was on his way to Auckland, New Zealand! Because someone had confused Auckland with Oakland, that man had to endure a 22-hour round-trip flight.

Humorous things have happened because someone mispronounced a name. I have a friend who was flying from Australia to the Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. However, he got confused and ended up in Dallas, Texas.

Most of us try to avoid this type of confusion, but others actually promote it! Perhaps you have heard of the "Lear Jet"? Well, the Lear family named their daughter Chanda Lear. Then I had a friend named Jerry Mellow who named his son Marshall. Can you imagine growing up with the name Marshall Mellow? I have jokingly told my sons that they need to marry a girl named Mary Ann, because then her name would be Mary A. Batchelor.

A Holy Name
While people's names can be very funny or even fascinating, the holy name of God should never be taken irreverently. "Hallowed be thy name," Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 6:9.

The Bible also teaches that the name of Jesus is to be respected far above every earthly name. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:9-11.

Israel had a great reverence for God's name, perhaps because the Mosaic law taught that those who disrespected God's name must pay the ultimate price (Leviticus 24:16). The name of God was so sacred to the ancient Jewish scribes that they used a special pen to write the name of God as they reproduced the Scriptures. Each time they came to the name of God, they would set down the regular pen and pick up a pen that was used only for writing God's name. After saying a prayer, they would write God's name with the designated pen and then resume their work.

On the contrary, most of the secular world-and even many within the church-have no concept of how offensive it is to heaven when we employ the name of God carelessly. One author put it this way: "Angels are displeased and disgusted with the irreverent manner in which the name of God, the great Jehovah, is sometimes used in prayer. They mention that name with the greatest awe, even veiling their faces when they speak the name of God; the name of Christ also is sacred, and is spoken with the greatest reverence. And those who in their prayers use the name of God in a common and flippant manner, have no sense of the exalted character of God, of Christ, or of heavenly things." 1

Controversial Subject
The subject of God's name remains one of the most confusing and disputed issues in Christianity. This is partly because God has many names in Scripture. Each serves as an important key in disclosing His doctrine, character, power, holiness, and desired relationship with His people.

Examples of the names of God (as they appear in the original text) include:

  • El-Shaddai (Genesis 17:1-2), which means "the Almighty God."
  • El-Elyon (Numbers 24:16), which means "the Most High God" or "the Exalted One"
  • El-Olam (Psalm 90:2), which means "God of eternity" or "God, the Everlasting One"
  • El-Berith (2 Chronicles 34:32), which means "God of the covenant"
  • El-Roi (Genesis 16:13), which means "God who sees me" or "God of vision"
  • Elohim, a plural form for deity, is used in Genesis 1:26 where the Bible says, "And God said, Let us make man in our image." This name is frequently used to support the truth of the trinity.

Jesus also has many names in the Scriptures. I've listed just a few of them below:

Son of Man Son of God Son of Righteousness
The Branch The Vine The Root of David
The Door The Way The Living Water
The Life The Bread The Lamb of God
The Truth The Word The Faithful Witness
The "I AM" The Amen The First and Last
Alpha & Omega King of Kings Good Shepherd

In addition, Isaiah 9:6 says of the Messiah, "And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

What Is the "Correct" Name of God?
On our weekly Bible Answers Live radio program, an increasing number of people are calling with a burden regarding the correct pronunciation of God's name.

The word so often translated "LORD" in the Scriptures is a biblical enigma. Nobody seems exactly sure how to pronounce that word. It is a combination of four Hebrew consonants, YHWH, which is known as the Tetragrammaton. YHWH, meaning "self-existent or eternal one," is God's most common Hebrew name and is found more than 6,000 times in the Old Testament. Reverence for the divine name led to the practice of avoiding its use lest one should break the third commandment (Exodus 20:7). In time it was thought that the divine name was too holy to pronounce at all. Thus the practice arose of using the word "Adonai," which means "Lord." Many translations of the Bible followed this practice. In most English translations, YHWH is substituted with the word "LORD" in capital letters.

Over the course of centuries, the correct pronunciation of YHWH was lost. Jewish scholars in the Middle Ages developed a system of symbols placed beneath and beside the consonants to indicate the missing vowels. YHWH appeared with the vowels from "Adonai" to remind them to say "Adonai" when reading the text aloud. A Latinized form was pronounced "Jehovah," but it was actually not a real word at all. Most scholars today believe that YHWH was probably pronounced Yahweh. 2

Native Tongue
One problem is that most of us speak English, not Hebrew. Furthermore, we're not sure what language we will speak in heaven. Therefore, it is certainly not a sin to say these divine names in your own native tongue.

Does the Lord say: "Let me see if you can say My name correctly. No, I'm not going to answer that prayer because you didn't say it right. You have a thick American accent!"?

Of course not. Earthly parents don't become angry when their toddler says "Dada" instead of "Father." A good father is excited that his child is starting to recognize him. Likewise, our Heavenly Father is primarily concerned with whether or not we know Him, not with the pronunciation of His name!

Name Dropping
Some people in Hollywood have tried to build their careers around the practice of "name dropping." They refer often to some famous producer or actor, using their names freely as though they know them intimately, in the hope that they will gain prestige by association. But in reality, they may not know the person at all.

Believe it or not, some professed Christians have used the name of God in the same manner. Acts 19:13-17 tells the story of the seven sons of Sceva, who decided to use the name of Christ to cast out demons. Apparently these itinerate Jewish exorcists saw Paul's gifts and thought, "Hey, Paul's really good at this! Maybe we should adjust our means of casting out devils. We'll use the name Paul uses!" At their next opportunity, they commanded the demons, "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." Verse 13.

The Bible says that "the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded." Verses 15, 16.

Those young Jewish exorcists tried "name dropping" with the devil. They knew the name of Jesus, and they even knew how to pronounce it. They just didn't know the Lord! And unfortunately for them, even the devils recognized this fact.

Do you know Him? God's name is not a magic word, but a revelation of His character. Paul understood God's character and could cast out demons by the name of Jesus. They obeyed because of the authority and the power of Christ's name.

God may have intentionally allowed the exact pronunciation of His name to be lost because He does not want us to use it like some people use the magic word "abracadabra." The Lord did not allow the children of Israel to see His form when He spoke the Ten Commandments lest they should seek to make an idol (Deuteronomy 4:15, 16). He concealed the burial place of Moses to prevent people from making it a shrine (Deuteronomy 34:6). Likewise, God does not want us to worship Him because He has a glorious form or a mystical name, but rather because of who He is.

When Peter healed the beggar at the beautiful gate, he said, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." Acts 3:6. The miracle happened by virtue of the power, authority, and person of Jesus, not by the correct utterance of His name.

Taking the Lord's Name in Vain
Using God's name without a real knowledge of Him is part of the sin pointed out in the third commandment. "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Exodus 20:7. We often think of this commandment condemning profanity, and it surely does, but that is the least of the meanings. To take the name of the Lord in vain means to take it unto yourself and say that you are a child of God, but then live like the world.

A newspaper ad read: "Lost-one dog. Brown, scruffy hair with several bald spots. Right leg broken due to auto accident. Left hip hurt. Right eye missing. Left ear bitten off in a dog fight. Answers to the name 'Lucky'." Obviously, that unfortunate little dog was "Lucky" in name only. Some Christians are like that! When we become Christians, we take the name of Jesus. Sadly, some people merely become "nominal" Christians, meaning "in name only." These people are essentially taking the name of the Lord in vain.

History tells us that Alexander the Great had a soldier in his army who developed a bad reputation. When the fighting became severe, the young man would start to retreat while everyone around him fought on. The general summoned this soldier, whose first name was also Alexander, and said: "I hear how you're behaving in battle. Young man, you either need to change your behavior or change your good name! I don't want the name Alexander to be associated with cowardice."

When you say you're a Christian, you have a responsibility to uplift the name of God in word and in deed. Jesus began the Lord's prayer by saying, "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed [holy] be thy name." Matthew 6:9. If we take the name of the Lord in vain, we are making our Father's good name look bad.

A New Name
In the Bible, every name had meaning. Some names described a person's character, as in the story of Nabal (1 Samuel chapter 25). Some names were memorials of events that happened at the time of the child's birth; one example is Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21). Others were prophetic, pointing to a future event in the person's life-as with Jesus (Matthew 1:21).

Sometimes God would change someone's name because of a change in the person's heart. For example, Jacob's name meant "supplanter." Sure enough, he tricked his twin brother Esau out of his birthright and his blessing. But after Jacob wrestled with an angel and confessed his sin, God changed his name to Israel, meaning "Prince of God."

God wants to do the same for us. He wants to take the bad name we've made for ourselves and give us the good name provided by His Son. Jesus tells us that everyone who is saved will have a new name. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Revelation 2:17.

John saw that the 144,000 in particular would have God's name in their foreheads. "And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." Revelation 14:1.

At the end, everybody will be associated with a certain name. One group is going to have the mark of the name of the beast in their foreheads (verses 9, 11). The other group is going to have their heavenly Father's name written in their foreheads (verse 1).

Does this mean that they will have something tattooed between their eyes? No. In the Bible, the forehead represents the mind. In Deuteronomy 6:6-8, God tells the Israelites, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: ... And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes." The "frontlets between the eyes" were to symbolize that the God's commands were "in thine heart," or in the mind. The book of Hebrews quotes a prophecy in Isaiah, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them." Hebrews 10:16.

To have God's name means having His law-not just the rules of the Ten Commandments, but also the principles of His greatest law of love-written in our hearts. The apostle John tells us, "God is love." 1 John 4:8. That's one of His names! It is also the best definition of who He is. This is the name God wants to give us. Like Jacob, we sometimes get a bad reputation because of our behavior. God says that we can get a new name and a new reputation based on the merits of Christ.

Baptize in What Name?
There has been an increasing amount of discussion recently regarding the precise declaration to utter during one's baptism. Do we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as stated by Jesus in Matthew 28:19, or in the "name of Jesus Christ" as Peter said in Acts 2:38?

Let's be careful to place the emphasis where God places the emphasis. Of the 70 references to baptism in the New Testament, only five make any reference to a specific name or title of God to proclaim. One time it says, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 28:19. Another time it says, "be baptized ... in the name of Jesus Christ." Acts 2:38. It also says, "be baptized in the name of the Lord." Acts 10:48. Twice the Bible says, "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." Acts 8:16; 19:5.

The phrase "Lord Jesus" was a favorite title used mostly by Luke (21 times) and does not appear at all in the other Gospels. So, to stay on the safe side and remove any possibility of leaving out one member of the Godhead, it is probably best to follow the clear statement of Jesus given in the great gospel commission and baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 28:19.

During a wedding ceremony, the couple can decide how formal to be in the wording of the official vows. The pastor could say, "Do you William Spencer Peabody IV take this Rebecca Marie Ann Hunter?" or he might say, "Do you Bill take Becky?" As long as the parties involved and the witnesses understand who is being married, the wedding is legally binding. So it is with baptism.

A Name We Can Trust
I get a number of bogus checks in the mail. One said in big letters that I had won $2 million. But the fine print read, "If you are selected, you may get a check that reads this." So I never get excited when I see those bogus checks. But whenever I see a check in the mail from Batchelor Enterprises, I get excited because I know it is from my father. I know the person associated with the name, and I've never received a bad check from him.

God wants us to learn to recognize the true value of His name. Sure, this world offers us riches and pleasures and even a name for ourselves. In the end, though, all it will lead to is worthless shame and death. By contrast, the promises of God can be trusted. He has a good reputation. Jesus told us that "whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." John 14:13, 14.

The Eternal Name
He says, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending." Revelation 1:8. Only a few things are declared to be eternal. These include His existence (Psalm 90:2), His Word (Mark 13:31), His gift of life for the redeemed (Romans 6:23), and His name (Exodus 3:15).

When Ptolemy decided to build the Pharos lighthouse in the second century, he chose Sostratus to design that mammoth structure, which later became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ptolemy insisted that the building should bear his inscription as a personal memorial; however, Sostratus didn't think the king should get all the credit for his work. He therefore put the title of Ptolemy on the front of the lighthouse in a thick plaster, which would be eye-catching at first but later would be worn away by the elements. Secretly he had cut his own name in the granite underneath. For decades the sea dashed against the inscription and gradually eroded the plaster facade. Though it lasted the lifetime of that earthly monarch, it was finally obliterated, leaving the name "Sostratus" standing in bold relief! In like manner, worldly fame often disappears before the relentless waves of time, but "His name shall endure forever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun." Psalm 72:17.

1Ellen G. White, "The Value of Prayer," The Signs of the Times, Nov. 18, 1886.
2Mark Fountain, entry entitled "YHWH, Holman Bible Dictionary, edited by Trent C. Butler (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers), © 1991, pp. 1429, 1430.

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