Boletim dos Obreiros

Care with names

A “name” is “a word or words by which a person or animal or place or thing is known or indicated” (The Oxford Everyday Dictionary). In this article we propose check some of most important names in the Bible, and its significance.

1. Name by which God is identified in the Bible in the Old Testament in the original Hebrew:

  • El”: this a general name for God in the singular in Hebrew. It was the most used in the Middle East in ancient times, both in isolation and combined with others, including personal names (as Emanuel, Ezekiel, Daniel, Gamaliel, etc.). It is translated into English as “God”.
  • Ĕlōhı̄m”: is the plural form of El. It appears at the beginning of the Bible: “In the beginning God (Ĕlōhı̄m) created the heavens and the earth.” Being in the plural it is considered to be the first reference to the divine Trinity. It is worthy of the utmost respect, because this is the supreme Authority. It is also translated as God.
  • YHWH”: these are four Hebrew consonants without vowels, carefully written by Israelite scribes in their copies of the Pentateuch as his personal name, by which it relates with his Hebrew people: “And God (Ĕlōhı̄m) said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'The LORD (YHWH) God (Ĕlōhı̄m) of your fathers, the God (Ĕlōhı̄m) of Abraham, the God (Ĕlōhı̄m) of Isaac, and the God (Ĕlōhı̄m) of Jacob, has sent me to you: this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial to all generations” (Exodus 3:15). Their exact meaning is not known, nor their pronunciation, because the Israelites preferred respectfully to use the word “Adonai” which means “Lord of everything” in place of that sacred name, thus avoiding the danger of taking it in vain, which would be a transgression of the commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD(YHWH) your God (Ĕlōhı̄m) in vain, for the LORD(YHWH) will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

This name appears first in Genesis 2:4 referring to the day in which the LORD (YHWH) God (Ĕlōhı̄m) made the earth and the heavens. Here we see His clear identification as the second person of the Trinity who came into the world and became incarnate taking the name of Jesus, the Messiah (Colossians 1:16). YHWH was for the first time invoked by humanity in time of Seth (approximately thirty-six centuries before Christ) and appears again 6,826 times in the Bible.

In English the name “YHWH” used to be translated as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” but in the more recent versions of the translations it was agreed to use the word LORD in capital letters, thus complying with the Hebrew “Adonai”.

2. Name by which God is identified in the Bible in the New Testament in the original Greek:

  • Theos”: which means Divinity; when accompanied the article “the”, the supreme God.
  • Kurios”: the supreme Authority, the Controller, translated into English as God, Lord or Master (as in “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” - Acts 19:20).
  • Pater”: the Father, used a lot by Lord Jesus in the Gospels, starting in Matthew 5:16. He commanded his disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. ... (Matthew 6:9). To the children of God we have the instruction: “be filled with the Spirit ... giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:19-20). Often these instructions are neglected, confusing the Father with the Son, or simply addressing God, forgetting that the Lord Jesus asked us, as children of God, to pray to God the Father in His name, God the Son.
  • Iesous“: the second person of the Trinity, the YHWH of the Old Testament, who took the shape of man and the name of Jesus in His humanity. In the New Testament He is called by many names in addition to this, like Emmanuel, the Lord, the Christ, the Word, the Son, etc. , and the apostle Paul called him by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10), which we do well to imitate. We are informed that He will yet receive a new Name (Revelation 3:12, 19:12). The Lord Jesus revealed himself as the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and has the name of “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). He is thus identified as the Hebrew “Adonai”, used for YHWH. When He came into the world He received at birth the popular name of Jesus, “Joshua” in Hebrew, which means “YHWH is salvation” but after his death, resurrection and ascension He is rarely called by this name on its own in the Bible, the qualificatory names Lord and Christ (Messiah in Hebrew) being always added.
  • Agios Pneuma”: the third person of the Trinity, called by the same name in Hebrew in the Old Testament, “Codesh Ruach” , translated as Holy Spirit. His action is active, and widely found throughout the Bible.

The various names of God are used carelessly and routinely by the world in expressions such as “oh my God”, “God willing”, “for the love of God”, "go with God", "stay with God", “may the Lord keep you”, etc. If we use these expressions, may it always be respectfully and truly meaningfully, remembering its solemn sense. The Law of God given through Moses to the Israelites declares: “whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD (YHWH) shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD (YHWH), he shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16).

It is common to carelessly call our Saviour only by His common human name Jesus as if he were just anybody. Even His disciples never did this, but respectfully called Him Master and Lord  (John 13:13). He is the Lord of Lords! If we fear God, we must remember His commandment to not to take His name in vain. Remember these prophecies: 

  • Therefore the LORD (YHWH) Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (“God with us” - Isaiah 7:14), and “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). Here YHWH prophesies His own incarnation!
  • I am the LORD (YHWH), that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images”. “As for our Redeemer, the LORD (YHWH) of hosts is His name, the Holy One of Israel.” “But I am the LORD (YHWH ) your God (Ĕlōhı̄m), who divided the sea whose waves roared— The LORD (YHWH) of hosts is His name” (Isaiah 42:8, 47:4, 51:15). “The Portion of Jacob is not like them, for He is the Maker of all things, and Israel is the tribe of His inheritance; The LORD (YHWH) of hosts is His name” (Jeremiah10:16).

We see in these expressions the sublimity of our Redeemer and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested." (Revelation 15:4).

3. The church:

Comparing Himself to a good shepherd, the Lord Jesus called His disciples a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). He later informed them “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”(John 10:16). Upon further reading of the New Testament, we learn that the “flock” to which He referred was the assembly of Christians who gathered at a particular place, as well as the entirety of those who have been saved in His name: “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) and “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).

The word "church" is a translation of “ekklesia” (withdrawal) in Greek, meaning a political, religious, or other congregation, and the word “church” in the Bible is the name of the congregation of saints in a particular locality, for example: "greet the church that is in their house”. (Romans 16:5).

The people of God do well to keep this name “church” only for their congregations. To give this same name to a building or an organization, although allowed by semantics and traditions, is a nonsense and distortion of its original biblical meaning. Try changing the word "church" for “building” in any of the places where it appears in the Bible and you will see that it results in nonsense.

To avoid such a thing, other names have been chosen for the building where the Church meets. One of them is “temple”, but this name is also inadequate (Ephesians 2:21). The name “house of prayer”, according to the citation of Isaiah 56:7 by the Lord Jesus of the name of the temple of the millennium is reasonable, provided that it is not used as a designation of the church itself, as it has already been done by some.

4. Titles:

It is not fitting for some members of the Church to use titles to their names in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the congregation, such as pastor, priest, bishop, deacon, reverend and other such. This violates the principle taught by the Lord Jesus, that nobody should try to exalt himself in such a way: “you do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.  Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:8 to 10). Not fitting, because, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

Finally, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 2:9, Colossians 3:17, 2 Thessalonians 1:12). AMEN.