Three thousand years ago on a dark moonlit night in Israel, the psalmist David looked up in awe at an endless stream of sparkling stars. Struck by the greatness of creation in light of his own insignificance, he later recalled,
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
What did David mean by God’s “name?” David addressed God as “Yehovah Adoneynu” (Jehovah Adonai).1 The God of the Bible frequently used different names in revealing Himself to His people. His names in the Bible reveal an unfolding portrait of who He is and how He deals with us, conveying much deeper meanings than mere labels.
In both the Old and New Testaments there are distinctly different names and titles used for God.
God’s Hebrew Names
The three primary Hebrew words used for God in the Bible are YHWH, EL and Adonai. Elohim, the plural form of El, is used much more frequently in Scripture than its singular form. Following are their most common meanings and approximate number of Scriptural references:2
|1. YHWH||“LORD” or “I AM”||6,800|
|2. Elohim (plural)||“One True Unique God”||2,600|
|El (singular of Elohim)||“One True Unique God”||238|
|3. Adonai||“Lord” or “My Lord”||439|
These names for God are frequently combined with other Hebrew words to define an attribute of His character, or to shed light on a special aspect of His relationship with us. For example, “El Shaddai” means, “God Almighty.” “YHWH-Jireh” means, “The Lord will provide.”
As the table above reveals, the two Hebrew names most frequently used for God are “YHWH” and “Elohim.” The use of EL in ancient Israel also referred to the ancient Canaanite false gods.
In the Bible, Elohim is the Hebrew word used for God in creation. Since Elohim is a plural word, a literal translation of Genesis 1:1 would read, “In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth.”
Later in verse 26 of the Genesis account, God says, “Let us make man in our image.” Why would God use a plural name for Himself? Many Christian scholars believe its usage confirms the Trinitarian teaching that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct persons within a single Godhead, each being involved in the creation of the world.