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.”

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.

Questions that God asked Job

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

The Bible tells of a man named Job, who suffered the loss of his family, his possessions, and his health. When he questioned God about why this had happened, God responded…but, in His response, God did not answer Job’s question. Instead, God asked Job a series of questions. Essentially, God’s response was, “Who are you to question me?”. The idea is that we know very little about how God operates, and why He does what He does.

I find that reading this part of the book of Job to be an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. We too wonder why we suffer. For those who know little of God, the question is troubling. Those who know how God has revealed Himself to humanity over time can cite His character, and His track record of faithfulness, as evidence that He can be trusted even though we may suffer. Christians read in the New Testament that suffering produces character, which leads, in the end, to hope (Romans 5). It seems strange that suffering would lead to hope but, in my experience, suffering makes us ask important questions…questions that should, eventually, lead us to the same conclusion that Job himself came to: that God knows what He’s doing, and that we can trust Him.

Recently, someone asked me if I knew how many questions God asked Job. I wasn’t sure, and couldn’t find a definitive answer…so I did a little homework. We find the questions that God asked Job in the book of Job, chapters 38 through 42. I counted 66 question marks, so there are at least 66 questions. Some questions, however, have more than one question in them. For example, in verse 24 we find these two questions:

  • Where is the way that the light is divided,
  • Or the east wind scattered on the earth?

Here are the questions that God asked Job, taken from Job chapters 38-42. I do not offer them to you to answer the question, “How many?”, but as food for thought. As you read, consider the implications of who God is, and how vast is the difference between the Creator and mankind, His greatest creation.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?

On what were its bases sunk?

Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’?

Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?

Have you entered into the springs of the sea
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

Have you understood the expanse of the earth?

Tell Me, if you know all this.
Where is the way to the dwelling of light?

And darkness, where is its place,
That you may take it to its territory
And that you may discern the paths to its home?

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
Which I have reserved for the time of distress,
For the day of war and battle?

Where is the way that the light is divided,
Or the east wind scattered on the earth?

Who has cleft a channel for the flood,
Or a way for the thunderbolt,
To bring rain on a land without people,
On a desert without a man in it,
To satisfy the waste and desolate land
And to make the seeds of grass to sprout?

Has the rain a father?

Or who has begotten the drops of dew?

From whose womb has come the ice?

And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
Or loose the cords of Orion?

Can you lead forth a constellation in its season,
And guide the Bear with her satellites?

Do you know the ordinances of the heavens,
Or fix their rule over the earth?

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
So that an abundance of water will cover you?

Can you send forth lightnings that they may go
And say to you, ‘Here we are’?

Who has put wisdom in the innermost being
Or given understanding to the mind?

Who can count the clouds by wisdom,
Or tip the water jars of the heavens,
When the dust hardens into a mass
And the clods stick together?

Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
When they crouch in their dens
And lie in wait in their lair?

Who prepares for the raven its nourishment
When its young cry to God
And wander about without food?

Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?

Do you observe the calving of the deer?

Can you count the months they fulfill,
Or do you know the time they give birth?

Who sent out the wild donkey free?

And who loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,
To whom I gave the wilderness for a home
And the salt land for his dwelling place?

Will the wild ox consent to serve you,
Or will he spend the night at your manger?

Can you bind the wild ox in a furrow with ropes,
Or will he harrow the valleys after you?

Will you trust him because his strength is great
And leave your labor to him?

Will you have faith in him that he will return your grain
And gather it from your threshing floor?

Do you give the horse his might?

Do you clothe his neck with a mane?

Do you make him leap like the locust?

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars,
Stretching his wings toward the south?

Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
And makes his nest on high?

Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Let him who reproves God answer it.”

Now gird up your loins like a man;
I will ask you, and you instruct Me.
Will you really annul My judgment?

Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?

Or do you have an arm like God,
And can you thunder with a voice like His?

The following questions are related to “behemoth.” The identity of behemoth is unknown, but the text clearly suggests a large beast. Some commentators suggest that this is an elephant, a hippopotamus, or possibly a dinosaur.

Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you…
Can anyone capture him when he is on watch,
With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?

The following questions are related to “leviathan.” The identity of leviathan is unknown. Some commentators suggest that this may be a crocodile, a whale, a shark, a dragon, or a dinosaur.

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?

Or press down his tongue with a cord?

Can you put a rope in his nose
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?

Will he make many supplications to you,
Or will he speak to you soft words?

Will he make a covenant with you?

Will you take him for a servant forever?

Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you bind him for your maidens?

Will the traders bargain over him?

Will they divide him among the merchants?

Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?

Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?

No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;
Who then is he that can stand before Me?

Who has given to Me that I should repay him?

I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
Or his mighty strength, or his orderly frame.
Who can strip off his outer armor?

Who can come within his double mail?

Who can open the doors of his face?

Are the God of the Bible and Allah the same?

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

Two items of note here. First, the reader who asked this question stopped being my friend because she disagreed with me. That’s why she’s a “former” reader. Second, the question came up because she believes that Rick Warren, a popular minister who is reaching out to Muslims, is not a Christian and is a false teacher because of his attempts at building bridges in this area. I tend to avoid debates involving personalities and prefer to limit discussion to the principles involved, the applicable Scriptures, and the benefit of the doubt.

A (former) GodWords reader asks:

Do you believe that the God of the Bible and Allah is the same?

Anonymous Ex-Reader

That’s a complex question. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity come from the faith of Abraham. They’re not the same, as much has been added to Abraham’s faith for all three. From a historical point of view, Islam and Christianity and Judaism worship the same God. How they understand God, and how they live that faith, is a very different story.

Do I believe that Islam will lead one to eternal life with God? Nope. I don’t believe that of Judaism, either…but you’d be hard-pressed to claim that the God of Judaism and Christianity aren’t the same. Christians have a more complete understanding of God, but it’s the same God. Complex.

Paul went to Athens and told the people there that they were ALREADY worshipping the same God. Were they Christians? Absolutely not. Were they saved? Absolutely not. Could their religion lead them to salvation? Not directly…but, indirectly, that’s exactly what happened:

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. – Acts 17:22-23

It seems logical to me that you could drop Paul in the middle of a Muslim community and see him doing EXACTLY the same thing. He would probably say that they were very religious, but that they worshiped in ignorance…and then proclaim the gospel to them.

It’s important that we approach such matters with a clear view of Scripture, and with some amount of logic. We don’t have a problem with Paul finding common ground with the Athenians…why would we have a problem with any Christian finding common ground with Muslims in an effort to win them to Christ?

Is God Too Loving to Send Me to Hell?

Is Hell real? Why would God send people to Hell? How can I go to Heaven? Is the devil real?

Having a website is a big responsibility. Most of the time, most people don’t think twice about it…after all: they wonder why anybody at all would read their website. If they’re convinced that they’re not being read, they don’t have to think about what they write.

Being a web designer means knowing too much to think that way. Virtually everything I write will be found by somebody, read by somebody, and believed by somebody. As a Christian, that’s both a blessing and a warning.

I looked at the Official GodWords Traffic Stats this morning, and found that I’m #2 on Google (of 426,000) for this phrase:

is god too loving to send me to hell

I’m also #8 of 44 million sites listed by Yahoo…but before you hurt yourself patting me on the back, think about the process involved. Somebody wanted to know the answer to that question, and they wanted to know it badly enough to search the internet and ask strangers to give them that answer.

Because GodWords is highly-ranked for that search phrase, I get a lot of the traffic that comes from people searching that way. Because I get a lot of traffic that way, it’s important that I have a good answer for them…I need to know whether a loving God would send someone to Hell. If I give them the wrong answer, I would be leading them astray.

Do you have a website? Do you know what people are searching for, and why they come to your website? If not, maybe you should do a little digging. I’d be happy to help.

If God Knows Everything, Why Pray?

Why pray when God knows everything? God didn't answer my prayer. Praying in Jesus' name

If god already knows what we want, why pray?

Miranda

That’s a very good question, and one that lots of people have asked. I’m not sure that anyone has a complete answer…but let me point out a couple of things that might help us think about it further:

  1. God knows how you’ll pray before you start…so prayer isn’t giving God new information.
  2. God may say “no” to whatever you pray…so prayer isn’t convincing God to do whatever you ask.
  3. God can do what needs to be done without our input…so prayer isn’t helping God make difficult decisions.

Seems like a good argument that we don’t need to pray, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s only half of the story. When we check what the Bible says about prayer, we see something different: God wants us to pray, and it’s assumed that we actually will. Jesus, who is God become human, prayed to the Father. Despite the fact that God knows everything, we’re given lots of instructions about prayer…so it’s obvious that we’re supposed to pray:

God wants us to ask for help.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.James 1:5

God wants us to pray for others.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.Matthew 5:44

We don’t have to know everything about prayer.
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.Romans 8:26

I’m sure I could find a half-dozen more verses for each, and there’s more to prayer than just those three things…but it’s a start. Christianity is a living relationship with God, and prayer is our primary method of communicating with Him. No relationship can grow without intimacy, and prayer is our way of opening up to God. I don’t know how much or how often you pray, but let me encourage you to be honest with God. Since He already knows what you’re thinking, you should be comfortable talking with Him about your fears, needs, and doubts – even doubts about Him. He won’t be surprised.