Names of God

A diagram of the names of God in Athanasius Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–54). The style and form are typical of the mystical tradition, as early theologians began to fuse emerging pre-Enlightenment concepts of classification and organization with religion and alchemy, to shape an artful and perhaps more conceptual view of God.

A number of traditions have lists of many names of God, many of which enumerate the various qualities of a Supreme Being. The English word "God" (and its equivalent in other languages) is used by multiple religions as a noun or name to refer to different deities, or specifically to the Supreme Being, as denoted in English by the capitalized and uncapitalized terms "god" and "God".[1] Ancient cognate equivalents for the biblical Hebrew Elohim, one of the most common names of God in the Bible,[2] include proto-Semitic El, biblical Aramaic Elah, and Arabic 'ilah.[2] The personal or proper name for God in many of these languages may either be distinguished from such attributes, or homonymic. For example, in Judaism the tetragrammaton is sometimes related to the ancient Hebrew ehyeh ("I will be").[2] In the Exodus 3:15), the personal name of God is revealed directly to Moses, namely: "Yahweh".[2]

Correlation between various theories and interpretation of the name of "the one God", used to signify a monotheistic or ultimate Supreme Being from which all other divine attributes derive, has been a subject of ecumenical discourse between Eastern and Western scholars for over two centuries.[3] In Christian theology the word must be a personal and a proper name of God; hence it cannot be dismissed as mere metaphor.[4] On the other hand, the names of God in a different tradition are sometimes referred to by symbols.[5] The question whether divine names used by different religions are equivalent has been raised and analyzed.[6]

Exchange of names held sacred between different religious traditions is typically limited. Other elements of religious practice may be shared, especially when communities of different faiths are living in close proximity (for example, the use of Om and Gayatri within the Indian Christian community) but usage of the names themselves mostly remains within the domain of a particular religion, or even may help define one's religious belief according to practice, as in the case of the recitation of names of God (such as the japa).[7] Guru Gobind Singh's Jaap Sahib, which contains 950 names of God.[8] The Divine Names, the classic treatise by Pseudo-Dionysius, defines the scope of traditional understandings in Western traditions such as Hellenic, Christian, Jewish and Islamic theology on the nature and significance of the names of God.[9] Further historical lists such as The 72 Names of the Lord show parallels in the history and interpretation of the name of God amongst Kabbalah, Christianity, and Hebrew scholarship in various parts of the Mediterranean world.[10]

The attitude as to the transmission of the name in many cultures was surrounded by secrecy. In Judaism, the pronunciation of the name of God has always been guarded with great care. It is believed that, in ancient times, the sages communicated the pronunciation only once every seven years;[11] this system was challenged by more recent movements.

The nature of a holy name can be described as either personal or attributive. In many cultures it is often difficult to distinguish between the personal and the attributive names of God, the two divisions necessarily shading into each other.[12]

Abrahamic religions

Judaism

El comes from a root word meaning might, strength, power[citation needed] . Sometimes referring to God and sometimes the mighty when used to refer to the God of Israel, El is almost always qualified by additional words that further define the meaning that distinguishes him from false gods. A common title of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (Hebrew: אלהים). The root Eloah (אלה) is used in poetry and late prose (e.g., the Book of Job) and ending with the masculine plural suffix "-im" ים creating a word like ba`alim ("owner(s)" and adonim ("lord(s), master(s)") that may also indicate a singular identity.

In the Book of Exodus, God commands Moses to tell the people that 'I AM' sent him, and this is revered as one of the most important names of God according to Mosaic tradition.

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation".

In Exodus 6:3, when Moses first spoke with God, God said, "I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name YHWH."

YHWH (יהוה‬) is the proper name of God in Judaism.[citation needed] Neither vowels nor vowel points were used in ancient Hebrew writings and the original vocalisation of YHWH has been lost.[13]

Later commentaries additionally suggested that the true pronunciation of this name is composed entirely of vowels, such as the Greek Ιαουε.[14] However, this is put into question by the fact that vowels were only distinguished in the time-period by their very absence due to the lack of explicit vowels in the Hebrew script. The resulting substitute made from semivowels and glottals, known as the tetragrammaton, is not ordinarily permitted to be pronounced aloud, even in prayer. The prohibition on misuse (not use) of this name is the primary subject of the command not to take the name of the Lord in vain.

Instead of pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say "Adonai" ("Lord"). Halakha requires that secondary rules be placed around the primary law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken. As such, it is common religious practice to restrict the use of the word "Adonai" to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God Leviticus 24:11).

Almost all Orthodox Jews avoid using either Yahweh or Jehovah altogether on the basis that the actual pronunciation of the tetragrammaton has been lost in antiquity. Many use the term HaShem as an indirect reference, or they use "God" or "The Lord" instead.

Christianity

Some biblical scholars say YHWH was most likely pronounced Yahweh.[13] References, such as The New Encyclopædia Britannica, validate the above by offering additional specifics to its (Christian) reconstruction out of Greek sources:

Early Christian writers, such as Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century, had used a form like Yahweh, and claim that this pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was never really lost. Other Greek transcriptions also indicated that YHWH should be pronounced Yahweh.[14]

The Hebrew theonyms Elohim and YHWH are mostly rendered as "God" and "the LORD" respectively, although in the Protestant tradition the personal names Yahweh and Jehovah[15] are also used. "Jehovah"[15] appears in the Tyndale Bible, the King James Version, and other translations from that time period and later. Many English translations of the Bible translate the tetragrammaton as ORD, thus removing any form of YHWH from the written text and going well beyond the Jewish oral practice of substituting Adonai for YHWH when reading aloud.[16]

English Bible translations of the Greek New Testament render ho theos (Greek: Ο Θεός) as God and ho kurios (Greek: Ο Κύριος) as "the Lord".

Jesus (Iesus, Yeshua[17] was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ("Yehoshua" - Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous, from which comes the English spelling Jesus.[18][19] "Christ" means "the anointed" in Greek (Χριστός). Khristos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah; while in English the old Anglo-Saxon Messiah-rendering hæland (healer) was practically annihilated by the Latin "Christ", some cognates such as heiland in Dutch and Afrikaans survive—also, in German, the word Heiland is sometimes used as reference to Jesus, e.g., in church chorals).

In the Book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament, God is quoted as saying "I am the 22:13)

Some Quakers refer to God as The Light. Another term used is King of Kings or Lord of Lords and Lord of the Hosts. Other names used by Christians include Ancient of Days, Father/Abba, "Most High" and the Hebrew names Elohim, El-Shaddai, Yahweh, Jehovah and Adonai. Abba (Father) is a common term used for the creator within Christianity because it was a title Jesus used to refer to God the Father.

Mormonism

In Mormonism the name of God the Father is Elohim [20] and the name of Jesus in his pre-incarnate state was Jehovah.[21][22] Together, with the Holy Ghost they form the Godhead; God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.[23] Mormons typically refer to God as "Heavenly Father" or "Father in Heaven".[24]

Although Mormonism views the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three distinct beings, they are one in purpose and God the Father (Elohim) is worshiped and given all glory through his Son, Jesus Christ (Jehovah). Despite the Godhead doctrine, which teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate, divine beings, many Mormons (mainstream Latter-day Saints and otherwise, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) view their beliefs as monotheist since Christ is the conduit through which humanity comes to the God the Father. The Book of Mormon ends with "to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the eternal Judge of both the quick and dead. Amen."[25]

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God has only one distinctive name, represented in the Old Testament by the tetragrammaton. In English, they prefer to use the form Jehovah.[26] According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the name Jehovah means "He causes to become".[27]

Scriptures frequently cited in support of the name include Isaiah 42:8: "I am Jehovah. That is my name", Psalms 83:18: "May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, You alone are the Most High over all the earth", and Exodus 6:3: "And I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but with regard to my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them."[28][29]

While opposers of the faith critique their use of the form “Jehovah”, Jehovah’s Witnesses still hold on to their belief that, despite having scholars prefer the “Yahweh” pronunciation, the name Jehovah adequately transmits the idea behind the meaning of God’s name in English. While they don’t discourage the use of the “Yahweh” pronunciation, they highly consider the long history of the name Jehovah in the English language and see that it sufficiently identifies God’s divine persona.[30][31]

Other Christian movements

Deus is the Latin word for "god". It was inherited by the Romance languages in French Dieu, Spanish Dios, Portuguese and Galician Deus, Italian Dio, etc., and by the Celtic languages in Welsh Duw and Irish Dia.

Guđán is the Proto-Germanic word for God. It was inherited by the Germanic languages in Gud in modern Scandinavian; God in Frisian, Dutch, and English; and Gott in modern German.

Bog is the word for God in most Slavic languages. (Cyrillic script: Бог; Czech: Bůh; Polish: Bóg; Slovak: Boh). The term is derived from Proto-Slavic *bogъ, which originally meant "earthly wealth/well-being; fortune", with a semantic shift to "dispenser of wealth/fortune" and finally "god". The term may have originally been a borrowing from the Iranian languages.[32]

Shàngdì (上帝 pinyin shàng dì, literally 'King Above') is used to refer to the Christian God in the Standard Chinese Union Version of the Bible. Shén 神 (lit. "God", "spirit", or "deity") was adopted by Protestant missionaries in China to refer to the Christian God. In this context it is usually rendered with a space, " 神", to demonstrate reverence. Zhŭ and Tiānzhǔ 主,天主 (lit. "Lord" or "Lord in Heaven") are equivalent to "Lord"; these names are used as formal titles of the Christian God in Mainland China's Christian churches.[citation needed]

Korean Catholics also use the Korean cognate of Tiānzhŭ, Cheon-ju, as the primary reference to God in both ritual/ceremonial and vernacular (but mostly ritual/ceremonial) contexts. Korean Catholics and Korean Anglicans also use a cognate of the Chinese Shàngdì (Sangje), but this has largely fallen out of regular use in favor of Cheon-ju. Also used is the vernacular Haneunim, the traditional Korean name for the God of Heaven. Liberal-minded Korean Protestants also use Haneunim, but not Sangje, and conservative Korean Protestants do not use Sangje or Haneunim at all but instead use Hananim, which implied the oneness of the Almighty distinct from the mythological implications they see in the term Haneunim.[33]

Many Vietnamese Christians also use cognates of Shàngdì (expected to have a distribution in usage similar to Korean Christians, with Anglicans and Catholics using the cognates of Sangje in ritual/ceremonial contexts and Protestants not using it at all), to refer to the biblical God.[citation needed]

Tagalog-speaking Filipino Catholics and other Christians use Maykapal (glossed as "creator") – an epithet originally applied to the pre-colonial supreme deity Bathala – to refer to the Christian godhead in most contexts. When paired with another term for God (e.g. Panginoong Maykapal "Lord Creator", Amang Maykapal "Father Creator"), it functions as a descriptor much like the adjectives in the English "God Almighty" or Latin Omnipotens Deus.

Among the Nguni peoples of Southern Africa, he is known as Nkosi (roughly glossed as "king"). This name is used in Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.[citation needed]

Followers of the Rastafari Movement call God Jah Rastafari.[citation needed]

In the Yorubaland region of West Africa, Nigeria, meanwhile, He is known as Olodumare.[citation needed] In the Igbo region of West Africa, Nigeria, He is known as Chukwu. In the Hausa region of West Africa, Nigeria, He is known as Allah. In the Ibibio region of West Africa, Nigeria, He is known as Abasi.[citation needed]

Islam

99 names of Allah, in Chinese Sini (script).

Allah—meaning "the God" in Arabic—is the name of God in Islam.[34] The word Allah has been used by Arabic people of different religions since pre-Islamic times. More specifically, it has been used as a term for God by Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab) and Arab Christians. God has many names in Islam, the Qur'an says (translation) to Him Belong the Best Names (Lahu Al-Asmao Al-Husna), examples like Ar-Rahman (The Entirely Merciful), Ar-Rahim (The Especially Merciful). Besides these Arabic names, Muslims of non-Arab origins may also sometimes use other names in their own languages to refer to God, such as Khuda in Persian, Bengali and Hindi-Urdu. Tangri or Tengri was used in the Ottoman Turkish language as the equivalent of Allah.[35]

He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, Knower of the unseen and the witnessed. He is the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Overseer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior. Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Translation of Qur'an: Chapter 59, Verses 22-24)

Sufism

In Tasawwuf, the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, Hu, Huwa (depends on placement in sentence), or Parvardigar in Persian are used as names of God. The sound Hu derives from the last letter of the word Allah, which is read as Allahu when in the middle of a sentence. Hu means Just He or Revealed. The word explicitly appears in many verses of the Quran:

"La ilaha illa Hu"

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í scriptures often refer to God by various titles and attributes, such as Almighty, All-Possessing, All-Powerful, All-Wise, Incomparable, Gracious, Helper, All-Glorious, and Omniscient.[36] Bahá'ís believe the Greatest Name of God is "All-Glorious" or Bahá in Arabic. Bahá is the root word of the following names and phrases: the greeting Alláh-u-Abhá (God is the All-Glorious), the invocation Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá (O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious), Bahá'u'lláh (The Glory of God), and Bahá'i (Follower of the All-Glorious). These are expressed in Arabic regardless of the language in use (see Bahá'í symbols).[37] Apart from these names, God is addressed in the local language, for example Ishwar in Hindi, Dieu in French and Dios in Spanish.[citation needed] Bahá'ís believe Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, is the "complete incarnation of the names and attributes of God".[38]

Other Languages