The Many Names of God

Sacred Names Part 2

Genesis 1:1-12, 35:1-7, El, Elohim "God"
Exodus 6:2-3; Genesis 17:1-2, 35:11-12, Ruth 1:19-21, El Shaddai "God Almighty"
1 Kings 19:9-16; 1 Samuel 1:3; Romans 9:29, James 5:4, YHWH Tzevaot [Sabaoth], "LORD of Hosts"

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Most Sacred Names "According to Jewish tradition, the number of divine names that require the scribe's special care is seven: El, Elohim, Adonai, YHWH, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, Shaddai, and Tzevaot." ( - Names of God in Judaism)

Genesis 1:1-12, 35:1-7, El, Elohim "God" (1/12/2009)

"El" and "Elohim" mean, almost exactly, "God" or "god." Both words are used in three ways: Generally when you see "God" with only the initial capital, the Hebrew has El or Elohim, and the Greek has theos, which means exactly the same thing. El or Elohim is used about 2700 times in the OT (not always for God).

"Elohim" is the plural of "El." It means "God" or "gods," depending on whether it is talking about God or pagan gods. Which one it means is 100% clear about 99% of the time. Hebrew uses the plural to indicate greatness or majesty of a singular item. (English does the same thing in the first person singular only; this is called the "Royal We." Kings, queens, and editors use the Royal We to show that they are more important than you are.) When "Elohim" means God, it just about always takes a singular verb, e.g., "Gods says," which is one of the ways you know it means God, not gods.

Another thing to know about Elohim is that many scholars, probably most, think that four very ancient scriptural traditions, which we do not have copies of, were compiled by one or more ancient scholars called the "Redactors" into the first several books of the Bible. Two of these traditions were "E," which uses Elohim for God, and "J," which uses YHWH. (The other two are "P," for Priestly, and "D," for Deuteronomist.) Very often the Bible has two versions of an important story one using Elohim and the other using YHWH. Last week we read the creation story from Genesis 2, which is in the J tradition. Today we read the creation story from Genesis 1, which is in the E tradition.

Now, some of you will already know that some conservative scholars reject the JEPD idea, and you may want to know what I think about it. I think there's some truth in it. It appears to me that there are stylistic differences and differences of emphasis between the traditions that are much harder to explain away than the use of different names. The duplication of stories with different names is puzzling if you reject JEPD. On the other hand, hard-core JEPD scholars will take half a verse that doesn't use either name and doesn't talk about priestly practices out of one tradition and put it into another. This is beyond my poor understanding.

Exodus 6:2-3; Genesis 17:1-2, 35:11-12, Ruth 1:19-21, El Shaddai "God Almighty" (1/13/2009)

I mentioned in the introduction to our current study that "Regina" means "queen." We have seen and will continue to see that many of the names of God are like this they have a well-known, unambiguous meaning that can be translated from one language to another. "Anthony" is at the opposite end of the spectrum: many sources say the meaning is unknown, others say "priceless," others say "praiseworthy," and probably others say something else.

El Shaddai is like "Anthony" in this respect. A great many translations have "God Almighty," but this is most likely incorrect, because the actual meaning is unknown. According to Brown, Driver, Briggs, which is the standard Hebrew-English dictionary, El Shaddai is a name of God that has a dubious etymology. El we know means "God" no problem there. BDG gives the following list of the words that scholars have proposed as giving rise to Shaddai: The King James has "Almighty" only 57 times in the Old Testament. We have already seen that other names are occasionally translated "Almighty" as well, so this may not be the exact number of uses of "Shaddai"; it's probably close. "God Almighty" is standard, even though dubious, in traditional translations, because English translations tend to use the King James as a default whenever there's a question. I found "Almighty" in 10 out of 12 translations. Two of my favorite modern translations (in general not just today) are the Jerusalem Bible and the Schocken Bible. Jerusalem goes with "El Shaddai," and Schocken uses "God Shaddai." These appear to be a lot more in line with our actual knowledge than "God Almighty."

1 Kings 19:9-16; 1 Samuel 1:3; Romans 9:29, James 5:4, YHWH Tzevaot [Sabaoth], "Lord of Hosts" (1/14/2009)

You probably remember from the quiz we did before Christmas that a host is an army, and a heavenly host is an army of angels. One of God's important names or titles is YHWH Sabaoth, "LORD of hosts." Just as Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, God is Supreme Commander of the Universal Expeditionary Forces. "LORD of Hosts" occurs about 270 times in the OT in various forms (e.g., "Lord, GOD of Hosts," "LORD, God of Hosts") and a couple of times in the NT. When you read today, remember to say "Adonai" or "Lord" for "YHWH," and then remember that "kurios" means "adonai."

I said earlier that sometimes it's hard to tell a name from a title or job description, and this is one of those times. The use of "Sabaoth" as a modifier of YHWH looks a bit like a title and not a name. By the time you get to the New Testament, the Greek does not translate "Tzevaot" into the Greek word for army, but instead transliterates it into "sabaoth," which sounds about the same but isn't a Greek word at all. This makes it look more like a name. (Note that Sabaoth is the anglicized spelling of the Greek version of Tsevaot; it has nothing to do with "Sabbath.")

For reasons that are completely obscure to me, some translations use "LORD Almighty" or "God Almighty" for YHWH Sabaoth. Now, it is probably not a good idea to say, "You and whose army?" to God. The point of "YHWH Sabaoth" is that God has an army; however, there really isn't anything about "Sabaoth" that should suggest "Almighty." The battle still must be fought; see Revelation. It's ironic that Elijah, who calls God "the LORD of armies," is in a funk because he, Elijah, God's prophet, is powerless against earthly armies. God is unsympathetic.

More Names of God
Names of God - Introduction
Sacred Names - Part 1
Sacred Names - Part 2
Other Names - Part 1
Other Names - Part 2
Other Names - Part 3
Names of Jesus - Part 1
Names of Jesus - Part 2
Names of Jesus - Part 3
Names of Jesus - Part 4
Names of Jesus - Part 5
Names of Jesus - Part 6
Names of Jesus - Part 7
Names of Jesus - Part 8
Names of Jesus - Part 9
Names of the Spirit

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