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God’s Name Isn’t “God”

May 21, 2008

From the common sense isn’t all that common file:

One day during class a professor of mine was recounting his missionary experiences from around the world to the students. During his many stories, both touching and harrowing, he started to tell of his time in a certain aboriginal community and their attempts to translate the Gospels into the native tongue of the people. At one point he mentioned the word they used in the native language that carried the connotation for them of the Supreme Being. At this point a girl stopped the professor and said, “What? You didn’t use the word ‘God’? They don’t pray using the name ‘God’? How can they pray to God if they don’t use his name?”

And while I was stunned at her outrage another part of me knew that such ethnocentrism should not be surprising in the attitudes that can characterize much of modern evangelical neo-gnosticism.

The word God finds its correlates in the Hebrew elohim and the Greek theos. They are generic terms. God’s name is YHWH. Perhaps, it’s time we started putting it back in the Bible and Christians can start remembering the battle wasn’t between ‘God’ and Baal, but between Yahweh and Ba’al. But even this some would probably try and construe into a magic formula.

Some commentators feel that a couple of times in the HB when people asked God for his name he didn’t give it to them because the predominant understanding in the ancient Near East was that if you had the name of a god then you somehow had power over him. I’m sure that most of us would agree that there would be a human inclination towards believing our prayers had more veracity and validity (and any other V words that support my case) if we somehow had God’s ‘real name’.

The same is true with Jesus. Some may remember the song “There is power in the name of Jesus,” however, when Jesus walked this earth as a man no one called him ‘Jesus’ ! His Hebrew name would have been Yeshua and his Greek name Iesous (pronounced e-a-sous). When Paul wrote, “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,” (Philippians 2:9-10) Paul did not write Jesus; he wrote Ἰησοῦ.

Does this mean that we should all start calling Jesus by his ‘real’ name? The one that has ‘power’? Not if it creates the illusion of magic formula, “I have said this magic name for Christ now he must perform.” But if it leads someone towards the realization of a false idol they have constructed in their language and thinking, and they begin to see that the awesomeness of God cannot be shrunken down and limited to a word in fallen, imperfect human language then I think it is profitable for people maybe to use the ancient names.

Another one of the things I like about using the ancient names Yeshua, Eliyahu, Moshe, Shlomo, is that it can be part of a process that strips the student, layman, listener, etc. of the illusion that the ancient worldview and context was just like theirs, and they think the same way that the Hebrews, Jesus, the disciples, and the early church did.

That is all.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2008 7:11 am

    From John Goldingay’s OT Theology (v1), pg. 339:

    “If Yhwh wants to be known by name and we decline and insist on referring to Yhwh by role, we refuse the personal revelation . . . God asked to be known not as ‘Lord’ but by a personal name. We relate to a person, not a mere authority figure.”

  2. May 23, 2008 7:56 am

    Great quote mic.


  3. lonetruth permalink
    July 30, 2008 11:27 am

    What’s wrong with “JC”? 🙂

    Seriously though, it’s not a big deal… I think that God gave us “a” name so that we could identify the Son of Man in flesh form. “Jesus the Christ” sounds fine to me.

    I think we will never know the true “name” of God because he transcends such human trivialities.

    If we lay our eyes on Him, we’ll go blind. Even if he HAD a name, can you imagine what would happen if we tried to comprehend or pronounce it? Our heads would immediately explode.

    So sayeth The Lord.

  4. October 15, 2008 8:27 am

    God’s primary name is Krishna.

  5. Jake permalink
    October 16, 2008 2:28 pm

    And his primary color is fluorescent pink.

  6. October 16, 2008 2:46 pm

    I think I would go with blinding white based on the eyewitness reports…

  7. Jake permalink
    October 16, 2008 8:38 pm

    pffft, some dusty old Hebrew goat herders and a first century celibate Jew. Like I’d believe any of them…

  8. October 16, 2008 9:01 pm

    Actually His bodily hue resembles a dark rain cloud.

    SB 10.14.1: Lord Brahma said: My dear Lord, You are the only worshipable Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore I offer my humble obeisances and prayers just to please You. O son of the king of the cowherds, Your transcendental body is dark blue like a new cloud, Your garment is brilliant like lightning, and the beauty of Your face is enhanced by Your gunja earrings and the peacock feather on Your head. Wearing garlands of various forest flowers and leaves, and equipped with a herding stick, a buffalo horn and a flute, You stand beautifully with a morsel of food in Your hand.

  9. Jake permalink
    October 17, 2008 6:02 am

    So, like Eeyore… but with gunja earrings.

  10. October 17, 2008 1:36 pm

    Ganja earrings? Are they the holdout for after the hemp shirt is up in smoke?

    Jake, lay off the jehovajuana, dude. Fluorescent pink isn’t even a primary color. Red, blue and yellow, man.

  11. July 2, 2009 6:13 pm

    Interesting. Thanks!

  12. August 24, 2009 4:16 am

    I think we’re all guilty of ethnocentrism. A small example from me, when I first went to a service in France, I was astounded by the fact it was in French. I’d always imagined God as a middle-class white Englishman, and, even though I knew this on a purely theoretical level, to properly understand that He is everyone’s God was mindblowing.

  13. November 25, 2009 4:54 am

    god’s name is the one which you you use to call him. since god is an abstract concept and everyone approaches him in some different manner, there are more than 7 billion names to approach him.

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