This article originally appeared in the 2022 Spring Edition of “The BBI Bulletin” available for free download here.
The Names of God
Dr. W. Edward Bedore
Theological Consultant/ Contributing Editor
The names of God and what they reveal about His nature and attributes should cause us to love and appreciate Him all the more. The names and titles ascribed to God in the Scriptures reveal Him to be the All-Sufficient One, the One that man can depend on in any circumstance. A study of the names and titles of God will reveal rich spiritual growth. It also provides much material for teaching and preaching the Word of God.
The names of God, which are descriptive of His character, can be listed under three categories that we might designate as prevalent, practical, and personal. In addition, each of these categories may be further classified in their relationship to the three Persons of the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Our use of the term “prevalent names” refers to the names of God that are dominant in their use in the Scriptures and generally accepted as references to the One True and Living God of the Bible. These names can be said to be universal as, most often, they are used of the Godhead in general or the Father in particular, but may sometimes be used particularly of the Son or the Holy Spirit. These names serve as a declaration of Deity rather than as personal names. The “practical names” of God are actually titles that are used in relationship to His activity. That is, the actions He has taken, the action He is taking, and the actions He will take. These may be associated with the concept of office or rank in reference to the works of God, or may be associated with the work itself.
The “personal names” are those that are used in relationship to His Personhood and character. This can either be a name used for personal identification, or a title that denotes some distinctive personal aspect of God’s character.
We will use the well-known American Civil War general Thomas J. Jackson as an example. We may refer to him as “the man, General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, Confederate States of America.” The term “man” is his prevalent name, “General” is his practical name. We have inserted his nickname “Stonewall” into his name in brackets since he was affectionately referred to as “Stonewall Jackson” because he held his ground like a “stone wall” in battle. This is a name, or title, that combines the practical and personal aspects of the man in order to identify and define the particular character quality that made him an outstanding general. Another example would be “Honest Abe,” a past President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, who was known for his honesty. God the Son’s human name, Jesus, is of this kind. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means Jehovah is Savior, or Jehovah saves. The names of God that are given in Scripture are important as they help us to understand the various aspects of His character, which is vital to our understanding of who God is.
The Primary Names of God in the Old Testament
God’s Prevalent Name: Elohim: This is a generic Hebrew term for Deity that is found over 2,400 times in the Old Testament. About 2,300 of those references are to the True and Living God.1 Examples of its use in reference to false deities can be found in Genesis 35:2,4; Exodus 12:12; 18:11; 23:24.
The name Elohim, which is translated “God” in the Bible, is derived from the root word “el” which conveys the idea of strength or might. It denotes that God is a Being of great power, the Strong or Mighty God. Although Elohim is a plural form, it does not speak of a multiplicity of gods.
“With reference to the true God, Elohim is translated in the singular (“God”), and with few exceptions (cf. Gen. 3:5; Deut. 5:26) it imposes the singular on those parts of the sentence that are grammatically related to it. This shows that the plural form does not speak of more than one God.”2
This name is used of God as a singular (one God) plurality (multiple persons). That an uni-plurality of the Godhead is indicated by the name Elohim gives strong evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity.
El: This is the singular form from which Elohim is derived. It is found about 250 times in the Old Testament. Generally, it is found in combination with some characteristic of the nature of God. These compound names, or titles, combine God’s prevalent name with either a practical or personal one.
Eloah: This is a singular form of Elohim, which is mostly found in poetry. It speaks of God as being the One to whom the worship of man is to be directed.
Elah: This is a Chaldee, or Aramaic, word that corresponds to the Hebrew Eloah. It is used, collectively, over 70 times in the books of Ezra and Daniel but is found only once in the rest of the Old Testament (Jer. 10:11) where it refers to the false gods of Babylon. The use of Elohim as a name of God in the Scriptures speaks to us of the unlimited strength of the Mighty God who is supreme over all that exists.
God’s Practical Name: Adonai: This term, like Elohim, is used of men in the Scriptures as well as of God. It means master, ruler, or owner. It is usually translated by the word “lord” in our Bibles. When used of God, it is spelled Lord with only the first letter being capitalized. In reference to God, it is found well over 400 times in the Old Testament. The significance of this title is that, when used of God, it “is almost always in the plural and possessive, meaning my Lords.’ It confirms the idea of a Trinity as found also in the name Elohim.”3 Thus Adonai, like Elohim, points to the uni-plurality of the Godhead. This is especially important when we take into account the fact that when this word is used of men it is always found in its singular form, adon, and never in the plural as it is of God.4 On the other hand, we find in the use of the singular form in reference to God in Psalm 110:1 an important distinction between the Persons of the Godhead. “The Lord (Jehovah) said unto my Lord (Adon), sit thou at my right hand.” Nathan Stone explains that:
“The Lord Jesus in Matthew 21:41-45 (as also Peter, Acts 2:34 35; and Heb. 1:13; 10:12,13) refers this striking passage to Himself. How significant that David, speaking of but one member of the Trinity, should use here not the plural Adonai, but the singular form Adon, that is to Christ, the second Person of the Trinity!”5
The use of Adonai as a name of God in the Scriptures speaks to us of His authority to rule over all of Creation. The practical application of this fact is that believers should allow Him to rule their lives because He has an inherent right to do so, and He has also purchased the right to our lives (see I Cor. 6:19-20). Having been redeemed from the slavery of sin, believers should present themselves to Him as a living sacrifice on the altar of service (Rom. 12:1-2ff.).
God’s Personal Name: Jehovah: This is the most frequently used name of God in the Old Testament. In our English Bible, Jehovah is not usually translated or transliterated. Instead, the word LORD is substituted for it, being spelled with a capital “L” followed by “ORD” in lower case capital letters. This is done in order to differentiate it from Adonai, which is rendered Lord. See Psalm 110:1 for an example of the two names being used together. “In place of Jehovah ‘Lord’ occurs about 6,700 times in the Old Testament.”6
The substitution of the word LORD for Jehovah comes from the ancient practice that began with the post-captivity Jews of not pronouncing God’s personal name aloud when reading the Scriptures in the synagogue. In its place they would say the word Adonai. This was because they felt that God’s personal name was too holy to be spoken aloud. Eventually Jewish scribes added the vowel points of Adonai to the consonants JHVH, God’s personal name, as found in the Hebrew text. This resulted in the word Je Ho VaH. Because of its not being said for centuries, the original pronunciation is no longer certain. Some scholars today believe that Yahweh, or Jahveh, is closer to the original way of pronouncing God’s name than the traditional Jehovah. But it is impossible to know with any degree of certainty, so the use of either one is permissible. We know that Jehovah is God’s personal name because He has told us so in His Word: “I am the LORD (Jehovah): that is My name: and My glory will I not give to another…” (Isa. 42:8; cf. Ex. 15:3; Jer. 33:2; Amos 5:8; 9:6).
The meaning of God’s personal name is revealed to us by His answer to Moses’ question about how to identify Him to the Israelites. “And Moses said unto God (Elohim), Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say to them, the God (Elohim) of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? What shall I say unto them? And God (Elohim) said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM have sent me unto you. And God (Elohim) said moreover unto Moses, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord (Jehovah) God (Elohim) of your fathers…hath sent me unto you: This is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations” (Ex. 3:13-15).
In pronouncing Himself to be “I AM THAT I AM,” the God of Israel declared Himself to be the Eternally Existing One. The One who exists with no cause other than Himself. In effect He is saying, “I AM who I have always been and I will always be who I AM.” This is an expression of all that God is. What He was yesterday He is today, and what He is today He will be tomorrow and forever. It was an important truth for Israel to know that their God was the Ultimate Being, whose continuing real and personal presence would always be with them. For Israel, and for us today, He is enough to meet every need. Hebrews 13:5-8 should be understood in this light.
In Exodus 3:15, the great I AM tells us that His name is Jehovah (LORD) and is found many times in Genesis, including several times when individuals referred directly to God by it, the Lord said to Moses “I am the LORD (Jehovah) and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Israel, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name Jehovah was I not known to them” (Ex. 6:2-3). Obviously this does not mean that the Patriarchs had never heard the name Jehovah as Eve (Gen. 4:1), men in the days of Seth (Gen. 4:26), Noah (Gen. 9:26), and Abraham (Gen. 12:8; 15:2,8) all used it. What He was saying is that while He had revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the significance of His name El Shaddai (God Almighty), He had not revealed the deep significance of His personal name Jehovah as He had now revealed it to Moses.
Because of its close association with the children of Israel, God’s covenant people, Jehovah is sometimes referred to as God’s “covenant and redemptive name.”7 This means that it was the name by which He covenanted with Israel to redeem them and make them His people and to be their God (see Gen. 15:1,4,18; Ex. 3:15-17; 6:2-8; 19:3-6; 24:3-8; II Sam. 7:4- 16; Jer. 31:31-37). To illustrate the importance of God’s personal name being associated with His covenant with Israel, we need only to think of our modern custom of signing legal documents, especially contracts that bind us to meet certain obligations. We are not usually allowed to use nicknames or titles. We simply sign our first name, middle initial, and last name in our own handwriting. If we fail to meet our part of the bargain, we can be taken to court where our signature would be used as the primary evidence to prove what we had agreed to, and to identify us as the person who made the agreement. So, by establishing His covenant promises to national Israel under His personal name, God has legally obligated Himself to fulfill all of its stipulations. Hence, if in the end God did not fulfill His promises, He would be found to be unfaithful, and therefore unrighteous. But it will never be, because “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (irrevocable)” (Rom. 11:29). God has promised in His Word that when the Dispensation of Grace comes to an end “All Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (see Rom. 11:25-29).
The personal name Jehovah is used of the Godhead (Deut. 6:4) and of particular Persons of the Godhead: God the Father (Ps. 110:1; Isa. 48:16; 61:1), God the Son (Isa. 2:2-5; 33:21-22; 40:10; Jer. 23:6; cf. John 4:26; 8:24,28; 13:9), and God the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:31-34 with Heb. 10:15-17; Isa. 11:2; 61:1).
We have already looked at how the translators of our English Bibles have made it possible to tell the difference between the Hebrew names of God Adonai and Jehovah, even though they are both represented by the same English word. For “Adonai” it is spelled “Lord” (capital “L” and small case “ord”) and for “Jehovah” it is spelled “LORD” (a capital “L” and small case capitals “ORD”). But, while in the majority of its occurrences Jehovah is translated “LORD,” it is also sometimes translated “God.” This occurs when Jehovah is used in conjunction with Adonai or Elohim. Jehovah Elohim is rendered “God the Lord” or “the LORD GOD.” By this special use of lower case capital letters by the translators, we can recognize the Hebrew terms that are in view. This is an important literary device because without it the meaning of the terms Adonai or Jehovah would be lost to the English reader. We want to note here that when we find the phrase “Lord GOD” (Adonai Jehovah) in our Bibles, it is referring to God the Father, and the “LORD God” (Jehovah Elohim) refers to God the Son.8
The Compound Names of God in the Old Testament
Besides the basic names for God and the combinations they are used in, there are also several compound names that are used in the Old Testament. These compound names contain either one of God’s prevalent names or His personal name, along with a practical name or a descriptive title. Going back to our illustration of General Jackson, it would be similar to referring to Him by His popular name of Stonewall along with his prevalent title of General, or, as was more common, his personal name, Jackson, i.e., “Stonewall Jackson.” These compound names of God are important to our understanding and appreciation of the character of God. And, it must always be remembered that the things that reflect the character qualities of the Eternal Triune Godhead reflect the character of Christ Jesus, who is our Savior and Lord. Tremendous insight and blessings are to be gained by those who would study these names of God in their contexts. For our purpose, we will only list the various forms along with the English rendering and selected Scripture references. It should be kept in mind when studying the compound names of God that overlapping and variations in their forms do exist in the Scriptures.
The Compounds with El and Elohim
1. El Elyon: “The most high God” (Gen. 14:18-22; Num. 24:16; Isa. 14:13-14). El Elyon is often associated in some way with the Gentiles. At these times the whole earth is in view rather than the Promised Land alone (see Deut. 32:8; Dan. 4:17,25,32; 7:27; cf. Acts 7:48; 16:17).
2. El Shaddai: “The Almighty God” or the “AllSufficient God” (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Joel 1:14-15; cf. II Cor. 6:18; Rev. 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7,14; 21:22). This name speaks of God’s ability to provide for all the needs of His people. They have no need for any other.
3. El Roi: “The Mighty God who sees” (Gen. 16:13; cf. Job 34:21; Ps. 94:9; 139:15-16; Prov. 15:3). The “God who sees” is aware of every situation and circumstance. This name speaks of God’s care and concern for individuals, and especially for His people (Matt. 6:32; 10:29-31; Phil. 4:4-7; Ps. 34:15; I Pet. 3:12).
4. El Elohe Israel: “God, the God of Israel” (Gen. 33:20). Jacob, using his new name Israel, gave testimony to the fact that El, “the Mighty God,” was his God (Gen. 32:27-28). This is a dispensationally important name of God, as it was through the line of Jacob/Israel that the inheritance of the Covenants of Promise was given to Abraham and passed on. It was his twelve sons who became the twelve tribes that, in turn, became the nation of Israel. This combination of names has been transliterated El-Elohe-Israel (Gen. 33:20) in our English Bibles rather than supplying its literal English equivalent of “God, the God of Israel.” Although this is the only place that this name of God is used in the Bible, other forms are frequently found in the Scriptures. “The God (Elohim) of Israel” (Ex. 24:10) and the “Lord (Jehovah) God (Elohim) of Israel” (Ex. 33:27) are examples.
5. El Olam: “The Eternal God” or “This Everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2). A variation of this name of God is found in Isaiah 40:28 which reads, “The everlasting God, the Lord (El Olam Jehovah).” He is also identified as “The Creator” in this verse.
6. El Neeman: “The Faithful God” (Deut. 7:9; cf. Ps. 40:9-10; 89:1-2,5,8,24,33; 92:1-2; 119:89-90; Isa. 11:4-5; 25:1; Lam. 3:22-24). Because God is faithful, we can trust Him in all things. He will never fail those who place their faith in Him to do what He has promised them in His Word (see I Cor. 1:9; 10:12-13; I Thess. 5:23-24; II Thess. 3:3; II Tim. 2:11-13; Heb. 2:17-18; 10:23; I Pet. 4:19; I John 1:9; Rev. 1:4-5; 3:14; 19:11; also Rom. 4:19-21 with Heb. 11:11-12).
7. El Gadol waw Nora: “The Great and Terrifying God” (Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Neh. 1:5; 9:32). The supreme greatness of God strikes terror in the hearts of His enemies and a strong reverential fear in the hearts of His people (cf. Gen. 35:5; Joel 2:11, 31; Zeph. 2:11; Rev. 6:15-17; 19:11-16; ff. II Cor. 5:9-11; Phil. 1:27-29; 2:12-13).
8. El Chai: “The Living God” (Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10). The God of Israel is a Living Being, and therefore a Personal Being. Elohim Chai is the more common form of this name of God (I Sam. 17:26, 36; II Kings 19:4,16; Jer. 10:10; etc.).
9. El Qanno: “The Jealous God” (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Josh. 24:19). The jealousy of God might be described as the “righteous indignation” that is aroused in Him by His created beings worship of false gods. The Holy One of Israel will not, because He cannot, share the glory of His absolute goodness with the profane. In this regard, He is a “consuming fire” who will eventually destroy all that is ungodly (Heb. 12:29; cf. Ex. 24:17; Deut. 4:23-24; 9:1-3).
10. El Chanun waw Rachum: “The God of Grace and Mercy” (Neh. 9:31; Jonah 4:2). Being gracious, God is willing to do good, or show favor, toward those who do not deserve it. Being merciful, God is willing to relent from bringing harm (judgment) on those who do deserve it. Knowing that God is both gracious and merciful brings great comfort to the hearts of those who trust Him (also see Ex. 33:19; 34:6; II Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8-9; Isa. 30:18; Joel 2:13; cf. Eph. 2:4-6; Titus 3:5-7).
11. Elohim Tsebaoth: “The God of Hosts” or “The God of Armies” (Amos 3:13). The word tsebaoth refers to a very large organized group, or mass, of persons. The main idea is of an army that has been assembled in war-ready array. It can also refer to those who have been brought together and prepared for service or worship. With God as its Commander-in-Chief, this army cannot be defeated. “The God (Elohim) of Hosts” as found in Amos 3:13 is unique. The more common forms are “The Lord (Jehovah) God (Elohim) of Hosts” (II Sam. 5:10; etc.) and “The Lord (Jehovah) of Hosts” (I Sam. 1:3; etc.). And less frequently, we also find “The Lord (Adonai) GOD (Jehovah) of Hosts” (Ps. 69:6).
- Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986), 45.
- Floyd H. Barackman, Practical Christian Theology: Examine the Great Doctrines of
the Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 3rd ed. 1998), 65.
- Nathan Stone, Names of God, (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1944), 43.
- Ibid., 44
- Ibid., 44
- Floyd H. Barackman, op. sit., 67.
- Charles F. Baker, A Dispensational Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Grace Bible
College Publications, 2nd ed., 1972), 143.
- Arthur C. Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation; The Doorway Papers,
Vol. 5, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation, 1976), 241.