What Does “Your Name” Mean in the Bible?

Is the Bible true? Are Bible translations bad? What language is the Bible?

The Bible talks a lot about names. In the NIV, the Hebrew and Greek words for “name” appear 944 times. That’s a bunch!

I get a lot of questions about Bible names. Many people are confused about how “name” is used in the Bible. It’s used in more than one way, so some explanation would be helpful. The simplest way the Bible uses “name” is like this:

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. (Genesis 29:16)

Everybody understands this. Everybody has a name. The word is used in other ways, which causes some confusion…like this:

There Abram called on the name of the Lord. Genesis 13:4

This doesn’t mean that Abram knew God’s name, and called Him by that name. Nobody knows whether God has a name, let alone what that name might be. Now, it’s important to avoid thinking about the Bible in strictly 21st-century terms. To understand what phrases like “the name of the Lord” mean, we have to learn what the authors meant when they wrote them.

The Hebrew word for name is shem. It can mean a name, like Bob or Dave or Melissa. It can also be used to talk about a memorial, or a monument, and it can also be used to talk about a person’s reputation, fame, or glory. This is the part that confuses some people. A lot of people have written to me over the years, suggesting that God’s name is important. They want to know God’s name, or how to pronounce God’s name, or why English-speaking Christians say “Jesus” rather than Yeshua or Yehoshua. They say things like, “Jesus’ name has power” or “Praying in Jesus’ name means your prayer will be answered.”

There’s nothing special, or spiritually meaningful, about speaking someone’s name out loud. There’s no reason to worry about whether you’re saying it exactly right. We don’t need to only talk about the Son of God by using His Hebrew name. This kind of thinking turns Christianity into some kind of system of magic, or superstition…if you say it wrong, you get the wrong result. That’s nonsense.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we’re not invoking some spiritual power by saying it out loud. Instead, we’re calling on God to help us based on Jesus’ reputation…His character, and our relationship with Him. There’s no power in speaking the sounds “gee” and “zuss” together, like an incantation. We’re saying that we belong to Jesus, and we’re asking for help based not on our own authority, but on Jesus’ authority. It’s not our reputation that we talk about, but His.

An example would help here. When a police officer comes to a house to arrest a criminal, they may knock on the door and say something like, “Open up, in the name of the law.” They’re not saying that someone should open the door for Bob, or Dave, or Melissa…as if they have any authority of their own. Instead, they’re saying that their authority comes from the law of the land. They come “in the name of the law” in the same way that we pray in Jesus’ name: we have no authority of our own. Jesus has all authority (Matthew 28:18), and when we pray, we’re to pray as He instructed.

God made a promise to Abraham. Here’s what He said:

I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

When God said that He would make Abraham’s name great, He meant that Abraham would be famous, that he would have a great reputation, and that he would gain glory because he would be used by God in important ways. That’s what the Bible means when it talks about the name of the Lord. Not that His name is Bob, or Dave, or Melissa…but that He is great, and powerful, and good. When Abram called on the name of the Lord, He was relying on God’s reputation, believing in God’s character, and trusting that God would deal with Him in ways that matched His reputation.

When the Bible says “the name of the Lord,” we should translate that to “the reputation of the Lord…what we know about His character.”

What is Paradise?

Paradise

We have very little information about Paradise. We only find the word paradeisos in three passages in the Bible:

  • Luke 23:43, where Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he would Join Him in Paradise that day
  • 2 Corinthians 12:4, where Paul talks about a man who was ‘caught up’ into Paradise, or “the third Heaven.”
  • Revelation 2:7, where Jesus writes to the church in Ephesus.

Commentators differ greatly on Paradise, since we know so little. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone take a strong position on Paradise. It’s a secondary matter, and certainly not one worth disputing. Here are a few thoughts that come to mind when reading these three passages:

Luke 23:43

Jesus tells the thief that he would join Him in Paradise that day. Based on this passage, it would appear that Paradise was not the same as Heaven. We read in John 20 that Jesus told Mary, do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. That was on Sunday. If the thief joined Jesus in Paradise on Friday, that may mean that Jesus went to Paradise and not to Heaven.

2 Corinthians 12:4

Paul describes a man who was caught up into God’s presence. In v2 he writes, the third heaven and in v4 he writes, paradise. According to ancient Jewish thought, the third heaven is the place where God dwells. Based on this passage, we might believe that Paradise is Heaven.

Revelation 2:7

Jesus told the church in Ephesus that to the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. One would presume that this is the same Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden…which leads some (including some early church fathers) to believe that Eden was never on Earth, but is on some other plane of existence, like Heaven and Hell. There are three other verses about the Tree of Life in Revelation, showing that it is (or will be) located in the New Jerusalem, which will descend from Heaven to the New Earth.

Paradise: a Possible Synthesis

Is there some way to reconcile these passages? I believe so. First, paradeisos is a general word that provides a mental picture of a garden, or a safe, manicured, well-tended park. It could be used to describe any place that’s like that. Several passages in Proverbs talk about things being like this garden: wisdom, the fruit of the righteous, a longing fulfilled, and a soothing tongue. It’s possible that the three New Testament passages that mention Paradise are talking about different places that are all like this kind of safe, protected, beautiful garden. Next, it’s possible that the word was used to describe two different places. The first would be Heaven or, more literally, ‘the place where God is.’ The second would be a temporary place where the dead waited for Judgement Day. Jesus mentioned this in Luke 16, where He told of a rich man and Lazarus. This place was historically known as Hades, where the unrighteous dead would be in hell and the righteous dead would be in Abraham’s Bosom, believed to be Paradise. Some believe that this place was emptied at the time of Jesus’ resurrection. If that’s the case, the same word could have been used to describe both Hades and Heaven.

In the end, we’re left with a lot of conjecture. We don’t know if anyone is currently in Paradise, or what they would be doing if they were there. That’s okay. There are plenty of other passages that talk about where we’ll end up. Those who wish to be with God forever, and are willing to submit to Him, will be with Him forever in a beautiful, safe, amazing world. Those who want nothing to do with God, who are unwilling to submit to Him, will get their wish…they will be separated from Him forever.

I know which I’d prefer. Do you?

Old Testament God vs New Testament God?

Is God real? Does God exist? Does God love me? How can I be saved? How can I go to Heaven?

Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament?

At first glance, God in the Old Testament seems harsh, and perhaps callous. God in the New Testament seems loving, and gentle. With respect, this is a simple misunderstanding. It’s also not new…this has been a common misunderstanding since at least the turn of the first century AD.

It may seem like the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament, but He’s the same. His nature and character have not changed at all. How does God describe Himself? Look at Exodus 34:6-7

And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

In the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a shepherd who cares for His sheep, a faithful husband who forgives His unfaithful wife, and so on. His “New Testament character” is clearly seen in these descriptions. Yes, He created some strict rules for His people. Yes, He has always held people accountable for their actions.

On the flip side, those who see Jesus as only gentle and meek are also missing half of the picture. We all know that Jesus used very harsh words when talking to the self-righteous. Take a look at the list of “woes” that Jesus pronounced and try to picture Him as only meek and mild! We also read in the Gospels that He proclaimed a coming judgment on Israel, which happened in 70AD. Jesus talked just as much about Hell as Heaven, if not more. In Acts, Ananias and Sapphira were killed for lying. In Hebrews 10 we read that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and that He is a consuming fire (12:29). When we get to Revelation, we see that Jesus isn’t soft. He carries a sword, and will judge and destroy those who oppose God.

God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness have been shown from the beginning, from Genesis to Malachi. His justice – with wrath, punishment, and destruction – are there to see from Matthew to Jude and Revelation. God has not changed. He handles different situations differently, which makes sense…but His character has always been the same. Naturally, we LIKE to think of God as more loving and kind and gentle…but what would happen if that were His only attributes? The wicked and unrepentant would go unpunished. That would make Him unjust, and unloving toward those who have been victimized. Were He only harsh and demanding, He would be unjust toward those who love Him and seek to serve Him well.

The antidote to this misunderstanding is easy: just read the Bible more thoroughly. It’s hard to read the first few chapters of Hosea and not see that God is forgiving, loving, compassionate, and patient. We tend to think of God as emotionless, but Song of Solomon tells us otherwise. Reading through the Psalms will show that God cares for us deeply. At the same time, reading ALL of the Gospels – not just passages like the Beatitudes – will help us understand that neither the Son nor the Father are playing games. Lives are at stake, and there will be a reckoning.

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

Who is Jesus? Was Jesus a real person? Why did Jesus die? Is Jesus God?

Many skeptics of Christianity believe that Jesus never claimed to be God. Some claim that nobody believed He was God until long, long after His death. Others argue that Jesus’ own words show that He believed Himself to be simply a man, or only the Son of God and not God Himself. Still others claim that Jesus’ divinity was created by the apostle Paul, and that his teaching and Jesus’ teaching are in conflict. From Jehovah’s Witnesses to Muslims to atheists, a whole bunch of people deny that Jesus is God.

Their confusion is understandable. It’s not a common situation…you know, God becoming human. When we look at Scripture, it’s undeniable that Jesus Himself, and His disciples, and the Jews around Him, understood that He was claiming to be God.

Jesus claimed to be God

Jesus repeatedly called Himself the Son of Man. This refers to a prophecy in Daniel 7, which Jesus quotes directly. The Son of Man is the one whom all will worship, whose reign will last forever, and so on. Remember: religious Jews are fiercely monotheistic…they would never worship anyone who is not God, yet they accept that the Son of Man should be worshipped.

In Revelation 1:17, John records Jesus saying, I am the first and the last. This is a direct quote from Isaiah 44:6, where God says I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.

When Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, He wasn’t claiming that He was a created being, or that He was less…He was claiming to be EQUAL with God. The Jewish leaders understood this very well, as we see in John 5:18For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

John 2:19, Jesus claimed to be able to raise Himself from the dead: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.

In Luke 6:5, Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. Of course, God Himself created the Sabbath.

In John 8:58, Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham, who died 1600 years before He was born: Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am! (see the next part for more on this)

The Jews believed Jesus claimed to be God

In that same passage, some Jews asked Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus used the phrase “I am.” He used this phrase to describe Himself numerous times. This is the same phrase God used to describe Himself in Exodus 13:14 when Moses was going to confront Pharaoh: I am. How did the Jews respond? They picked up stones to kill Him for saying it because they understood that Jesus was calling Himself God.

At Jesus’ trial, the Jewish leaders insisted, We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.

It was understood that only God could forgive sins, and then, in Luke 5:20, Jesus forgave sins: When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

In John 10:30, Jesus was talking about God the Father, and then said, I and the Father are one. Sounds maybe like Jesus was saying they were like-minded, or on the same team or something. That’s not how the Jews heard it, of course…they knew exactly what Jesus meant: Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

The High Priest believed Jesus claimed to be God

In Matthew 26:63, Caiaphas said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Remember that the Jews believed the Son of Man was divine.

Jesus’ disciples believed Jesus is God

John 1:1 says that Jesus was God.

In John 20:28, Thomas called Jesus God.

In Hebrews 1:8 we read that God called the Son God.

In Acts 20:28, Luke records Paul’s words that God bought the church with His own blood…clearly meaning Jesus.

In 2 Peter 1:1, Peter called Jesus our God and Savior.

In Titus 2:13, Paul calls Jesus our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Do we believe Paul, or Jesus?

This is a seemingly valid question, but one that betrays ignorance of the events outlined in the Bible. After fourteen years of ministry, Paul went to Jerusalem to meet privately with Peter, James, and the other Christian leaders there. He presented to them the gospel that he preached to the Gentiles…to make sure he was on track. They added nothing to his message. Why would the disciples accept what Paul taught as true if he falsely claimed that Jesus is God? No…Paul agreed with Jesus and His disciples, which is why there was never any conflict over him saying that Jesus is God.

I could go on, of course. Without question, Jesus claimed to be God. Without question, those around Him understood exactly what He meant…some followed Him because they believed Him, and others wanted to kill Him – and ultimately succeeded – because they didn’t believe Him.

The most important question at the moment is whether YOU believe Him. Having the facts is important, but not enough by itself…to have peace with God, we must trust Him enough to submit to Him as well.

How Big Was Noah’s Ark?

How big was Noah's ark?

God told Noah to build a big boat. This boat – an ark, which means “vessel” – had to be big enough to save Noah, and his family, and two of each kind of animal from a big flood. How big was Noah’s ark?

We read about these events in Genesis 6-9. Verse 15 says:

The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high…

A cubit is an imprecise measurement, something like the distance between an adult man’s elbow and the end of his fingers…around 18 inches, or 46 centimeters. A little math tells us the ark was approximately 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. That’s around 137 meters long, 23 meters wide, and 14 meters high.

That’s as long as 52 water buffaloes.
How big was Noah's ark?

Dogs and Cats in the Bible

Are dogs mentioned in the Bible?

Are dogs and cats mentioned in the Bible?

The Hebrew word for dog (keleb) and the Greek word for dog (kyon) appear a number of times in the Bible:

40 times in the King James Version (KJV)
40 times in the New American Standard Bible (NASB),
and 41 times in the New International Version (NIV).

Cats are mentioned in the Bible exactly zero times, as are cheezburgers.

Was the Baptism by the Holy Spirit just for the Disciples?

It’s clear from simply reading the New Testament that baptism by the Holy Spirit is not just for the apostles (Jesus’ first disciples). To see this, we only need to go to the most famous verse in the whole Bible, and read it in context. It is, of course, John 3:16. It’s important to read the whole section in John 3.

Here’s the situation: Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a member of the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus was not an apostle. He asked Jesus how someone can be born again (v4). Jesus answered this way:

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Jesus was explaining how anyone could be born again, which is a requirement for being part of God’s kingdom. That’s all the evidence we need, but that’s not all we have. We can also look at 1 Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Clearly, not everyone in the church at Corinth was an apostle…right?

We can also go to Mark 1:8 and see this, spoken by John the Baptist: After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Clearly, John was not addressing only the apostles…right?

No, baptism in the Holy Spirit IS what makes one a “new creature” in Christ. We must be born again, which is a spiritual thing…performed by the Holy Spirit on everyone who believes the gospel and places their trust in God. Have you decided to trust God with your life yet?

Thanks for the question, Billy.