It’s not an idle question. The names we use for God reveal what we believe about our relationship. We are saved or unsaved on the basis of what we believe, on the basis of our relationship with God. So what does your name for God say about your relationship?
To the Patriarchs, He was God-Eloheim, the Almighty Creator and Judge. There are different teachings about why a plural form is used for the One Lord of the Bible, but the explanation that Jews accept is that His name is too great for Hebrew grammar to contain it, so the plural singular form communicates His infinite nature. New Testament believers like to think it also communicates that God is a Trinity, but if this is the case, it was hidden for a very long time.
All of the “El” and “Elah” names for God are creator names: Eloheim, El-Shaddai, El-Olam, El-Elyon, etc. The first part of these names means “Almighty.” This was the name Melchizedek used when he blessed Abraham, taken from the age of the Patriarchs.
If we call him, “Almighty God,” perhaps our speech betrays that we think of the Divine Being as our Maker and Judge. The expectation then, is that if we are “good” He will acquit us of our mis-doings, but if we are “bad…” well, it isn’t nice to talk about that. It reminds me of what my parents told me about Santa Claus.
Do believers really act like this? Not out loud in front of other believers, but many secretly do relate to God as our Judge, and feel far away from the love and mercy we profess in church.
Creator names are justified when we communicate with unbelievers. Under the covenant God made with Noah, all flesh (humans and animals) were included under it. The Almighty is the shared God of all flesh. Paul called him this to the learned men of Athens in Acts 17. It was appropriate and bore fruit.
Some prefer the title, LORD, in capital letters. Let’s think about what this name means. In English, Lord (not in capital letters) means owner. The Hebrew for this is Adon (Lord), or Adoni (My Lord). The Ba-al names also mean Lord in Aramaic. If you are a slave, you have a master and owner. If you are a serf in a feudal system, you toil for a landowner who is your Lord or Lady. Today we still say that we pay rent to the land lord, or owner of the property.
Do we think of the Lord as our Master and Owner? It’s a foreign concept for people who have never had a human owner, but in communities where slavery is practiced, many have thought of God in this way. The Hebrew slaves in Egypt called him Adoni, My Lord. The peoples of the Kingdom Age will do so again. When we address him as King of kings, we are saying the same thing. He is King and I am his subject. He speaks, and I must obey quickly.
In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus is the Book of Shemot, meaning, The Book of Names. It begins with the list of names of the people who left Egypt, and ends with God speaking His Personal Name to Moses. In Hebrew, Shem means name, shemot means names, Hashem means The Name. Many Bible passages speak about God as the Name.
The late J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M., gave the following examples:
(1) Abraham called on the name of the Lord (Gen. 12:8; 13:4).
(2) The Lord proclaimed His own name before Moses (Ex. 33:19; 34:5).
(3) Israel was warned against profaning the name of the Lord (Lev. 13:21; 22:2, 32).
(4) The name of the Lord was not to be taken in vain (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11).
(5) The priests of Israel were to minister in the name of the Lord (Deut. 18:5; 21:5).
(6) The name of God is called “wonderful” in Judges 13:18.
(7) To call on the name of the Lord was to worship Him as God (Gen. 21:33; 26:25).
When we turn to the New Testament we find the same. The name Jesus is used in a similar way to the name of God in the Old Testament:
(1) Salvation is through His name (John 1:12).
(2) Believers are to gather in His name (Matt. 18:20).
(3) Prayer is to be made in His name (John 14:13-14).
(4) The servant of the Lord who bears the name of Christ will be hated (Matt. 10:20).
(5) The book of Acts makes frequent mention of worship, service, and suffering in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:18; 5:28, 41; 10:43; 19:17).
(6) It is at the name of Jesus that every knee will one day bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).
LORD in capital letters is the way that English translators handled the holiness of God’s personal name, YHVH. In other places, English translators used Jehovah: Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Nissi, Jehovah-Shalom, Jehovah-Sabbaoth, Jehovah-Ro’i, etc. Jews prefer to handle this name as Hashem, “The Name,” but they are not in the same relationship with God that Christians enjoy.
There are three instances in the Bible where God is called Abba, the Aramaic familiar for Father that is closer in meaning to Papa, Daddy, or Dad:
- Mark 8:15 “And He [Jesus] said, ‘Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.’”
- Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
- Galatians 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba Father!’”
A person who calls God “Abba” or “Dad” has a personal relationship like Jesus has. Sure, He is the Almighty God, the Creator and Judge, the LORD, and King of kings, but if I am in Christ, He is Abba to me personally. I would not use this name for him in public prayer, but I call Him My Dad in private and with my intimate friends. They know Who I’m speaking of, and why I call Him that.
What does your name for God – the one you use in private – reveal about your relationship with Him? Consider what Jesus said to Mary: Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ ” (John 20:17, NKJV).