What does it mean to honor God’s name? Is it sinful to choose not to call God by a certain “sacred name” such as Yashua, El Shaddai or Jehovah? And, if it is, then by what name should we call Him? Some have advanced the theory that a certain “sacred name” must be used to properly honor God. But what is the truth about the “sacred name” doctrine? How do God’s names reveal His power and His purpose? How must faithful Christians honor His name?
Jesus Christ commands us to honor God’s name (Matthew 6:9). Also, when the Apostle Peter addressed the gathered religious leaders of his day and powerfully proclaimed about the divinely healed man, he said, “let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole… Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10–12).
To blaspheme or profane God’s name is a violation of the Third Commandment, which expressly states: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Indeed, in ancient Israel, those who blasphemed the name of the LORD were stoned to death! “And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD 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, he shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16).
Since Jesus Christ commands us to hallow (or “honor”) God’s name, and Peter proclaims that salvation comes by no other name than that of Jesus Christ, and the Third Commandment forbids us from taking the name of the LORD our God in vain, then do we sin if we do not utter a particular name in a particular language?
Is there only one name we should use for God? Or does He have many names that reveal His nature, his power and what He does with that power? This article will describe the importance of God’s many names and what His names reveal about Him, will consider seven key principles that “sacred name” advocates fail to understand, and will explain how Christians are to honor God’s name.
His Nature and His Work
Scripture reveals that names are very meaningful to God. God gave a new name to Abram, calling him Abraham, the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “prevailer” or “overcomer with God” (Genesis 32:28). In Isaiah 14:12 we read of a great being named Heylel (“Shining One”) in Hebrew. Like Lucifer (“Light-bearer”) in Latin, Heylel is an epithet for the morning star. When Heylel or Lucifer rebelled, God changed his name to Satan—meaning “adversary” or “enemy” (Luke 10:18; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 20:2).
Scriptures such as 2 Samuel 7:22–24 and Jeremiah 32:20 show that through God’s great works, He makes a name for Himself, and the Scriptures reveal that God actually has many names. But before reviewing some of His biblical names and what they mean, it is helpful to review the relationship between God, Christ and man. This is important because God’s many names all indicate His Being, His character and His work, as well as the relationship between the Father and the Son.
When in Deuteronomy 6:4 Israel is commanded, “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” the “uniplural” noun Elohim is paired with the word “one” (the Hebrew echad, which means unified, as in when a man leaves his father and his mother and becomes echad with his wife. The two become “one” in marriage). From before time began, the preexistent Father and the preexistent Logos were spiritually “one” on the God-plane, united in mind and of the same essence.
These two divine personages preexisted together forever (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:17) as “one.” The Father was the Supreme Being, along with the pre-incarnate Word (John 10:29–30; 14:28), the “Son,” who became the Christ (Matthew 26:63–64; Mark 1:11; Philippians 2:5–6; Colossians 2:9). The Son is the charaktēr tēs hupostaseōs autou of the Father (Hebrews 1:3)—meaning “the express image of His [the Father’s] person,” or “the exact representation of His [the Father’s] nature” (NASB), and they are one in the Holy Spirit, which is their essence, mind and rational faculty (Isaiah 40:13; Proverbs 20:27; Acts 5:32; 1 Corinthians 2:10– 16; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Jesus would be Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7:14).
An example of how God’s names describe His nature and His work is found in the prophet Jeremiah’s use of one of the names that would be attributed to Christ at His Second Coming. In Jeremiah 23:5–6, the prophet foretells that His name will be called YHWH Tsidenu, meaning “The LORD our Righteousness.” Here, we see one of God’s many names—in this instance, one specifically ascribed to Christ. God reveals His Being (“The LORD”) in the first part of His name, and His work (“Our Righteousness”) in the second part.
Examples of God’s Names
Proverbs 22:1 reveals that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Clearly, a “name” is used to describe one’s character and reputation. What are some of God’s many names and how do they describe Him?
In the Old Testament, El occurs 235 times (cf. Genesis 28:3; Numbers 23:22; 2 Samuel 22:31; Isaiah 9:6; Ezekiel 10:5; Hosea 11:9; Micah 7:18; Malachi 2:10), and means mighty, strong and prominent. The name Elohim occurs more than 2,600 times in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 1:1, 17:7, 6:9, 9:16; 1 Kings 8:23; Isaiah 40:1). Elohim signifies all and everything that God is. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. His dominion encompasses all the nations (Deuteronomy 2:30; 3:22; Isaiah 52:10). He establishes laws (Deuteronomy 4:2; Jeremiah 11:3) and all He does is an expression of love (Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 41:10; Jeremiah 3:23). The use of Elohim often refers both to God the Father and the Word who became flesh, as described in John 1:1–3. These “two” were and are “one” (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 10:30) from before time began. Throughout the creation account, the Elohim conversed (cf. Genesis 1:26; 3:22). Elsewhere, Elohim indicates Christ at His Second Coming (Isaiah 41:10).
El Shaddai, meaning “God Almighty,” occurs 48 times in the Old Testament, including in Genesis 17:1; Ruth 1:20; Job 6:4; Joel 1:15. Adonay (in form a “plural of majesty”) is a name that denotes God’s absolute sovereignty as “Lord” or “Master,” as in Genesis 15:2. It is used nearly 300 times in the Old Testament to refer to God and Him only. By comparison, the singular Adon is used 215 out of about 330 times to refer to men, such as in Genesis 24:65 where Isaac’s servant tells Rebecca that Isaac is his adon (master). Both words are
combined in such passages as Deuteronomy 10:17: “Lord of lords” (adoney ha adonim).
YHWH Ro’i, meaning “The LORD my Shepherd,” is found in Psalm 23 and YHWH Tsevaot, or “LORD of Hosts” is first introduced in 1 Samuel 1:3, then re-used in Isaiah 1:24, Psalm 46:7 and elsewhere. This appellative denotes the vast power at the disposal of the Commander of the angelic armies. In Isaiah, Jesus Christ—as the returning Messiah and King of kings—is named “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). YHWH Rofekha, “the LORD your healer” is found in Exodus 15:26.
El Elyon means “God Most High” or “God the Highest,” and describes His preeminence over all things. The name El Elyon is used in Genesis 14:18–22 and Psalm 78:35, and the shorter Elyon is used in many other passages. Lucifer addressed God with this name when he proclaimed that he would ascend to heaven to overthrow Him and to become like God. Lucifer boasted, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High [Elyon]” (Isaiah 14:14). In his rebellion, Satan did not choose to call God by one of His other names, such as YHWH Ro’i (The LORD my Shepherd) or YHWH Rofekha (The LORD your Healer).
El Elohey Yisrael is found only in Genesis 33:20 and denotes the unique relationship between God and His chosen nation. El Olam, meaning the “Everlasting God” or “God from Everlasting” is found in Genesis 21:33 and Isaiah 26:4. God is also referred to as Melekh, meaning “King” (Psalm 5:2, 29:10; Isaiah 41:21; 43:15; 44:6), as Shafat, meaning “Judge” (Genesis 18:25), as Palet, meaning “Deliverer” (Psalm 18:2) and as Qadosh, denoting “The Holy One” (Psalm 71:22; Isaiah 43:3; 48:17).
YHVH or YHWH (and its various proposed expansions, such as Yahweh, traditionally substituted as Jehovah) is known as the tetragrammaton and is often the source for some of the most intense “sacred name” debates. Discussing it in his Living Church News article, “What Does it Really Mean to Hallow God’s Name?,” Mr. John Ogwyn cites the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament which notes: “Critical speculation about the origin and meaning of ‘Yahweh’ seems endless… but the Bible’s own explanation in Exodus 3:14 is that it represents the simple (Qal) imperfect of hawa ‘to be,’ I am [is] what I am. The precise name Yahweh results when others speak of Him in the third person, yahweh ‘He is’ (vol. 1, p. 211)” (July-August 2000, p. 6).
The most common scholarly view is that the tetragrammaton is a form of the trilateral Hebrew verb hwy. Yet some scholars interpret it as an extension of the exclamation ya. Others consider it a combination of ya and the third-person pronoun hu, forming an adulation roughly translated as “O, He!” Despite intense scholarly debate—there is even controversy over whether YHWH must be pronounced with three syllables rather than two—the fact is that we just do not know. There is no scholarly consensus, nor has clear biblical proof been established, of any one pronunciation of the tetragrammaton.
Yet the tetragrammaton is part of many of God’s names. In 2 Samuel 7, God sends Nathan the prophet to disclose that long after David’s death, the Messiah would arise from David’s lineage (2 Samuel 7:12–13; Hebrews 1:5). Deeply humbled, David leaves Nathan’s presence to pray to the LORD (2 Samuel 7:18). David addresses God as Adonay YHWH five times in this prayer (2 Samuel 7:18, 19, 22, 28–29). This prayer is the only instance in all of Samuel or Chronicles where this particular compound form of the name of God is used (Kaiser, Walter C., The Messiah in the Old Testament, p. 80). Why does David choose this particular appellation and repeat it those five times in that single prayer? Strikingly, Adonay YHWH is the same name that Abram had used centuries before, when God made the same Messianic promise to him (Genesis 15:2, 8). Centuries later, King David is acknowledging the continuation of this same promise, from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and now through him (2 Samuel 7:12). Again, God’s names have profound meaning and describe His nature and His work!
In the New Testament, Jesus uses the Aramaic name Abba, meaning “Father” in Mark 14:36. Paul pairs Abba with the Greek word for Father; Patēr, in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. By Jesus’ day, Abba had developed beyond the childish English-language equivalent rendered “daddy” and was used by both children and adults equivalent to the modern appellative, “Dear Father.”
Jesus refers to Himself as “I am” in John 8:58, denoting His preexistence and oneness with the Father. He is also called Kurios about 600 times, meaning “Lord” or “Master” throughout the New Testament. Despotes, also meaning “Lord” or “Master,” is found less frequently, and occurs in passages such as Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 4 and Revelation 6:10.
Hupsistos, meaning “The Highest,” is used in Matthew 21:9, and Pantokrator, meaning “Almighty,” is used in 2 Corinthians 6:18 and Revelation 19:6. Christ is referred to as he Logos tou Theou, meaning “The Word of God,” in John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13.
Seven “Sacred Name” Errors
Some brethren are occasionally confused by arguments of those who insist that we must always refer to God by a particular combination of Hebrew or other foreign-language sounds. Let us briefly consider seven key points that such “sacred name” advocates fail to understand:
First, as this article has shown, God has many names—not just one sacred name. All of His names are holy and profound in their meaning.
Second, although some insist that we must always use a variation of YHWH or YHVH (the “tetragrammaton,” traditionally indicated by “Jehovah”), there exists no indisputable guidance as to how to pronounce the tetragrammaton. Phonetic variations range from “Ya-hweh” to “Yahu” and many more! Yet, Paul records that the Jews were responsible for preserving the “oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), meaning literally His “words and utterances.” In this same verse, the Apostle Paul refers to God as theos. If it were absolutely essential to God that one certain sacred name “utterance” were to be preserved, then it would have been!
Third, as shown above, even after the time of Moses, the righteous prophets and priests continued to refer to God by numerous names. For example, the “greatly beloved” Daniel (Daniel 9:23) even prayed to God in Aramaic, calling Him ‘elahh (Daniel 2:19–20).
Fourth, Jesus Christ Himself used various names to refer to God. He taught the Apostles to address God in prayer as “Father” (Patēr, in Matthew 6:9). While on the stake, Jesus called out to the Father in Aramaic, transliterated into Greek as, “Eloi, Eloi” (Mark 15:34). Jesus was the Son of God, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22, KJV). It would be foolish—even heretical—to assert that Jesus was either confused, or intentionally chose not to use a particular, required “sacred name” for God. Yet those who contend that their preferred “sacred name” is the only proper name by which to refer to God are implying just that!
Fifth, we find that in Acts 4:10, Luke uses the Greek form “Iesous Christos” for Christ’s name. This passage records the Apostle Peter’s defense of the faith, in which he states that salvation is only through the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:5–12). As Paul wrote, all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16)—and here Scripture uses one of many correct names for Christ. Would the meticulous Luke (Luke 1:1–3), a faithful companion of Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), have transcribed Peter’s Aramaic utterance in this way if it were not proper? Ironically, Acts 4:10 is the very verse that many “sacred name” proponents cite to argue for the use of their own preferred, different sacred name, as the exclusive and somehow better name for God.
Sixth, not only does the Bible contain many diverse names for God, but the Creator even revealed His name in different languages at different times. In John 10:34–36, Jesus Christ cites Psalm 82:6, which uses Elohim. But, then, in Revelation 1:8, Christ spoke to the Apostle John in the Greek language, translating one of His names from the Hebrew to the Greek! Additionally, Hebrews 1:8 is a direct quotation from Psalm 45:6, where the Old Testament Hebrew word Elohim has been translated into the New Testament Greek, Theos.
Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 32:39 the Eternal gives His name in Hebrew as “I am He (ani hu).” But in John 8:58, the Aramaic-speaking Jesus would have given it as ana itay, and John translated this into Greek as ego eimi. Clearly, the Eternal Himself, as well as the inspired writers, used various names in various languages to refer to God. It is obvious that God does not require His name to be uttered only in a specific foreign language, since He personally uttered it to Moses in Hebrew—but then thousands of years later uttered the same name to the Jews in their Aramaic vernacular, and then had John render it into Greek!
Seventh, to honor God’s name goes much deeper than language—it means to honor His attributes and His authority in all we say and do. As we have seen, the Bible plainly shows that God has many names, which are descriptive of His many righteous attributes. Merely making a futile attempt to select one name as “correct” would divert our attention from what God’s people really must do to honor His name.
How True Christians Honor God’s Name
True Christians avoid disrespecting any of God’s names in any way, which is one reason why reverent Christians will even avoid using euphemisms such as “gosh” or “geez.” But true Christians also understand that honoring God’s name goes far beyond verbal utterances. They show their deep love and respect for God’s name by their entire way of life. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Those with false ideas who reject God’s law or any of the clear commands of Scripture “reproach” God and
“blaspheme” His name (Psalm 74:10). In addition to keeping God’s commandments, true Christians honor God’s name by working together in love (1 John 3:11) within the body (Ephesians 4:16) to do the work of proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God; the same Work that Christ preached 2,000 years ago (Mark 16:15; John 4:34). God’s true servants worship God in righteousness and thus glorify His name (Psalm 86:9; Revelation 15:3–4).
True Christians look to Jesus Christ and the Apostles as examples of righteous worship (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:15), and their examples on this issue are abundantly clear. Furthermore, once the facts are understood, “sacred name” advocates are in danger of promoting their understanding and their “righteousness” above that of the heroes and heroines of the faith, the patriarchs, the prophets, the Apostles and even Jesus Christ Himself! Thus, we see that honoring God’s name is about much more than making certain vocal utterances. True Christians “honor God’s name” by their very life.
Christ simply was not, and is not concerned that people carefully utter a certain “sacred name” to worship Him. Instead, Christ warned about false teachers who would attempt to do away with God’s law and who would obscure the message of the coming Kingdom of God. In his article, “What Does It Really Mean To Hallow God’s Name?,” Mr. John Ogwyn addressed this point: “Now notice the warnings about false teachers that Christ gave to His disciples. Did He say that some would come using false names? No! He said: ‘Many will come in My name’ and would deceive many people (Matthew 24:5). The deception would involve a message of lawlessness, that obedience to God’s law is no longer required (cf. Matthew 7:21–23). The problem is the message, not the name!” (Living Church News, July-August 2000, p. 6). For more detail on the
subject of the “sacred names,” please contact the Regional Office nearest you and ask for a copy of Reprint 112, “What Does It Really Mean to Hallow God’s Name?”
God does not place on His people the burden of having to know Hebrew or Greek grammar or the proper pronunciation of His names. In fact, it is not possible for us to know all of Jesus Christ’s names! We read in Revelation 19:11–13 that when Christ returns to make war on a rebellious world, He will bear a name that no one knows. Then, He will take on another of His many names—a name that will again be reflective of His nature, His role and His work: “He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (v. 16). And there is a final encouraging truth about God’s names. The resurrected firstfruit saints, who have overcome the world and entered into the God Family, will also receive new names (Revelation 2:17) when as kings and priests in the Kingdom of God they teach and rule with Him (Revelation 20:6). God speed that day!