The Names of God
Πáτερ δοξασóν σου τò óνομα
Father, glorify your name!
The forthcoming names of God still fuel my daily prayers and life, both private and public, and inform my desire to “know God and make him known.” May they similarly serve you in this way.
Each name of God represents a dimension of God that’s still being exhibited today: somewhere, somewhere.Click to tweet
The Bible’s many names for God calls us to know him and warns us that he’s beyond knowing.
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Clement of Alexandria says it well, “We speak not as supplying His name; but for want, we use good names, in order that the mind may have these as points of support, so as not to err in other respects. For each one by itself does not express God; but all together are indicative of [God] (Stromata 5.12)
As I keep the Bible as my main book, I’ve found that meditating on the names of God is beneficial for the sake of:
Knowledge and Understanding: Contrasting how the NIV and ESV translate John 17:26a may amplify this point. In this verse, the NIV translates the Greek phrase σου τò óνομα as “you” and footnotes it as “your name.” However, the ESV translates it as “your name.” The ESV is being true to its literal translation goal, the NIV to its dynamic equivalent goal. The differences read as follows: “I have made you known to them” (NIV); “I have made known to them your name” (ESV). The NIV correctly understands that within the contextual setting of the first century church to know God’s name meant to know God; it takes an interpretive step for its readers by translating the phrase σου τò óνομα as “you.” “You have exalted above all things your name and your word” (138:2b). That is to say, God exalts above everything else “who he is and how he acts” as well as “what he says.”
Praise and Prayer: “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.” (Matt 6:9; HCSB) “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:15-16; cf. Ps 7:17; 8:1; 9:2; 18:49; 22:22; 44:8; 66:1–4; 80:18; 86:12; 89:15-18; 97:10–12; 99:6; 100:4-5; 105:1–4; 113:1–9; 116:13, 17; 135:13; 138:2; 148:13; Mark 11:9). Meditating on the enclosed names helps me properly worship and praise my Lord and Savior. When I give thanks, I’m conscious of a benefit received; however, when I offer worship and praise “my soul ascends to self-forgetting adoration, seeing and praising only the majesty and power of God, His grace and redemption” (Ole Hallesby). People of faith consistently appealed to the LORD’s throne of majesty, as they “called on the name of the LORD” in their distress (cf. Ps 116:4). “Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever … His greatness no one can fathom” (Ps 145:1b–3). “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Ps 8:1)! “Let the nations praise your great and awesome name – he is holy” (Ps 99:3).
Salvation and Provision: “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32). “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Pro 18:10; cf. Ps 20:1, 7; 25:11; 31:3, 21; 44:5; 54:1; 91:14; 143:11; Pro 18:10; Mal 4:2; John 17:11-12; Rom 10:8-13). The enclosed names of God helps me experience God’s “grace and peace … in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pe 3:18); it keeps me from getting stuck in dry theological thoughts and instead calls me to experience the LORD like those of old, as I read the Living God’s narrative, His-story, with his people that is found in the Bible. When I do so, I can contextualize their lives, their encounters and experience with God and anticipate how this same God – who is the same yesterday, today, and forever – may choose to interact with my upcoming day. “In your name I will hope, for your name is good” (Ps 52:9).
Maturity and Ministry: “I [Jesus] made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26 ESV; cf. Deut 28:9-10; Jer 15:16; Mic 4:5; Zech 13:9). We are to pray in God’s name (Luke 11:2; John 15:16) and declare his name (Matt 28:18-20; Rom 10:13-15). Further, the nascent church was known as people of that Way (Acts 9:2) and were even called by Christ’s name (Acts 11:26), no doubt because they acted like Christ. Paul, declared himself, “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1). When I enter into God’s story and walk daily and relationally with the LORD God Almighty revealed to me through the Bible, my growing understanding of the name and nature of God helps grow in godliness and become more capable of representing the name given to me: Christian, called to be Christ-like, a Christ follower. “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength” (Ps 89:15-17a).
Let’s summarize the above four points, by making it personal to our own life: All of us relate to people through names: When we are first introduced to someone, we learn their name, whether Sarah or Sam, Luke or Ruth. Then we learn how this person expresses him or herself; i.e., we learn what they do and who they are. As we come to know someone , we use labels to express our knowledge of them to others so that they too may known them in this dimension. For example, Mariam is a doctor, filled with wisdom and knowledge, who helps people heal; Bill a servent-leader of godly character and joy, who leads people into green pastures. As I’ve pastored people, several things come to mind in this regards. Irrespective of a person’s name, coming in contact with a mature person of God – an image carrier of God – and their ministry for the LORD has exposed me to some dimension of God’s goodness manifested in the flesh. I’ve also directed people to gifted counselors to experience God’s salvation and provision, who by going have encountered the Living God. Additionally, when someone receives praise or is asked by someone for help, I encourage the recipients of such things to realize that others are acknowledging Christ in them, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).
Growing in my knowledge and understanding of the names of God – an act that helps me to pray, experience, and represent the LORD – is an ongoing adventure for me. Here in this eBook are my latest, incomplete reflections on this matter, as I too “kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name … that our LORD may do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine … To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations” (Eph 3:14-21).
I thank God for you and all that you mean to our LORD and his Great Cause! As the Name dwelt in Jerusalem’s temple and was commissioned to go from there to the nations, may it likewise do so in and through you and our churches, for as individuals that comprise the body of Christ we are the temple of Living God (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20).
Grace & Peace,
PS. The entries in this eBook are primarily technical in nature and typically for the pastor-teacher. When a Grace Lived Out blog post relates to one of these names, its genre is more devotional, inspirational, and practical in nature; this eBook’s table of contents provides a URL link to these latter posts. Every Jan & July, if not more often, I repost a fresh version of this eBook on this website, Grace Lived Out.