The God of Israel was known by many different names, titles, and epithets. God's particular names derive both from his revealing his attributes and character to Israel and from Israel's response to him. However, alongside this wealth of names and epithets in the Bible, the concept of God's "Name" itself plays an important role. In the Bible God reveals his Name, puts his Name in a place, causes places to bear his Name, protects by the power of his Name, and Acts for the sake of his Name. People call on, pronounce blessings, minister, preach, speak, pray, believe, take oaths, and wage war in his Name. They may revere, fear, suffer for, blaspheme, misuse, be called by, be kept by, or build a temple for the Name.
As God's image-bearer Adam imitated God's creative speech by naming the creation ( Gen 2:19-20 ): this naming gave expression to the order in the universe and showed Adam's understanding of the character, place, and function of the animals. Adam may well have been able to name other creatures, but only God can assign his own name; only he can fully understand himself and reveal his character and nature ( Exod 3:13-14 ; 6:2-3 ). God's "Name" becomes a summary statement of his own nature and of how he has revealed himself to the world; it becomes virtually synonymous with the word "God" itself.
God's "Name" and God's "Glory." In studies of the Old Testament it has become commonplace to distinguish rather sharply between the "glory theology" of the cultic/priestly literature and the "name theology" of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history (Joshua through Kings). This distinction is ordinarily portrayed as emphasizing either God's transcendence or his immanence. Biblical literature oriented to the activities of the priests and Levites in their duties at the sanctuary is said to emphasize God's immanence, his real presence in the world. The pillar of fire and cloud the theophany of the divine presence, the Shekinah glory appears physically and materially with Israel in the wilderness and at her sanctuaries. The tabernacle and temple were viewed as God's dwelling-place ( Exodus 15:13 Exodus 15:17 ; Lev 15:31 ; 26:11 ; 2 Sam 7:6 ; 15:25 ; 1 Chron 9:19 ; Psalm 84:1 ; Psalms 132:5 Psalms 132:7 ). The ark was God's throne and footstool ( 1 Sam 4:4 ; 2 Sam 6:2 ; 1 Chron 28:2 ; Ezek 43:7 ). Wherever the ark went, God went. Israel served "in the presence of the Lord" at the tabernacle and temple. Some have argued that the development of a "name theology" in ancient Israel was given impetus by the loss of the ark itself.
Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history are then widely viewed as a corrective to this earlier "cruder" concept that God dwelled in a building. Deuteronomy seeks to preserve the transcendence of God with an idea theologically more sublime and subtle. It is not God himself materially and physically who dwells at the sanctuary, but rather God's "Name" dwells there. Deuteronomy is quite clear. Heaven is the dwelling-place of God (26:15). When Solomon dedicates the temple, he says, "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple that I have built!" ( 1 Kings 8:27 ). Solomon goes on to pray that when the Israelites direct their prayers toward the temple, God would "hear from heaven, your dwelling place" (vv. 30, 39, 43, 49). Rather than God's "Glory" the pillar of fire and cloud coming to the city ( Ezekiel 10:1-5 Ezekiel 10:18 ; 43:3-7 ), Deuteronomy prefers to speak of God as "choosing a place as a dwelling for his Name" ( 12:11 ; 14:23 ; Deuteronomy 16:2 Deuteronomy 16:6 Deuteronomy 16:11 ; 26:2 ) or "putting his Name in a place" ( Deuteronomy 12:5 Deuteronomy 12:21 ; 14:24 ). The "Name" became a hypostasis for God, an alternative realization of his presence, but freed from the corporeal and physical notions associated with "glory theology"; this substitute way of speaking thus preserved the transcendence of God above and beyond the creation.
In spite of the fact that this contrast between "glory theology/immanence" and "name theology/transcendence" has been widely adopted among Old Testament scholars, it needs rather to be set in a different context, one that does not pit crude against sublime or early against later. A number of passages show the complete compatibility of the two concepts and suggest a different way of relating them. Most important in this regard is Exodus 33:12-23. Here four different "manifestations" of God are described in juxtaposition: his presence, his glory, his name, and his goodness. In response to God's assurance that his presence would go with Israel, Moses requests to see God's glory (vv. 14, 18). The Lord, however, declines this request and says instead, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I will have compassion. But no one can see my face [= "presence"] and live" (vv. 19-20). This incident follows the account of Israel's worshiping the golden calf, a moment in her history that prompted deep concern that a holy God would not continue with this nation but would erupt in judgment against it. How can a holy God be in the presence of a sinful nation? In God's own answer to this issue, a careful distinction is made between God's presence/glory and his name/goodness. God's presence and glory were holy, awesome, and unapproachable, and sinners must be shielded from exposure (v. 22). But Moses could experience the name and goodness of God, both of which express the disposition of the divine nature to show mercy (v. 19). Those who worship the Lord become familiar with his name ( Exod 3:14 ; 6:2-3 ).
The distinction suggested here is borne out in the remainder of the Old Testament as well. God's glory remains an awesome, holy, unapproachable, and dangerous manifestation. When his glory appears before the nation, it is the cloud-encased pillar of fire the cloud shielding and protecting from exposure to the consuming fire of divine glory ( Exod 16:10 ; 24:16 ; 40:34 ; 1 Kings 8:11 ; 2 Chron 7:2 ). God's name, by contrast, is that which Israel can know, approach, and experience it suggests his goodness and mercy. The psalmists do not trust in or call upon God's glory, but rather on his name. God's majestic self-manifestation in the form of his glory is common in dramatic and occasional theophanies attended by fire, noise, and earthquake, but his name is the mode by which he is known in the context of ordinary, ongoing worship. "Glory" is the form of the divine appearance in the dramatic events of redemptive history at the exodus, at Sinai, at the dedication of the tabernacle and temple. But "Name" portrays God's approachability and mercy, and it is the mode of worship as Israel approaches the sanctuary, the "place where he has chosen to put his name."
But even with this more nuanced approach in view, God's glory and his name are both divine self-revelations and must be closely related. Isaiah most clearly takes this step: "See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke" ( Isa 30:27 ). Here it is the Name that becomes the cloud-encased pillar of fire. Though name and glory are distinguishable for their own respective nuances, they are ultimately revelation of one and the same Lord, the God who is judge and yet who is disposed to show mercy.
Extrabiblical texts may also enhance appreciation for what it means that the Lord "set his name" in a place. A similar expression is found twice in the Amarna letters from the second half of the second millennium b.c. King Abdu-Heba "set his name in the land of Jerusalem." This expression suggests both ownership and conquest. For God to place his name on a place or nation is also to imply his ownership of the world, of Israel, and of her land. In Deuteronomy where the emphasis is on possessing the land and on Israel's covenant with God, expressing God's presence through his "name" reminds the nation of his ownership and dominion. Rather than diminish or correct the notion of God's immanent presence, God's name in Deuteronomy affirms the very real presence of God in the fullness of his character and covenantal commitment to those on whom he had set that name.
God's Name in the New Testament. The New Testament draws on the Old and continues to use the wide range of idioms associated with God's name. God's name is the theme and basis for worship, prayer, and actions just as it was in the Old Testament.
Of particular interest in the New Testament, however, is the way in which the writers treat the theme "the name of Jesus." This is especially true in the writings of John. People are to believe on Jesus' name ( John 1:12 ; 2:23 ) and to pray in his name ( 14:13-14 ). The power of God's name is in the name that God gave to Jesus ( 17:11-12 ). Jesus associates himself with God's mighty self-disclosure as "I AM" ( 8:58 ). John reports Jesus' promise to the one who overcomes, "I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name" ( Rev 3:12 ; 22:4 ). Just as God had put his name on the place Jerusalem in the Old Testament, now Jesus puts his new name the name he won for himself in his warfare at the cross on individuals; he proclaims his ownership and dominion, that they belong to him through his conquest on the cross.
Paul also reports that God has given to Jesus a name that is above all other names, so that at the mention of his name every knee in heaven, on earth, and under the earth should bow ( Php 2:9-10 ). The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the exact representation of the glory of God, one who has a name superior to that of the angels ( 1:4 ).
Raymond B. Dillard
Bibliography. J. Barr, Congress Volume, Oxford, pp. 31-38; R. de Vaux, Das Ferne und Nahe Wort, pp. 219-28; L. Laberge, Estudios Biblicos43 (1985): 209-36; J. G. McConville, Tyn Bul 30 (1979): 149-64; G. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, pp. 37-44; J. G. Wenham, Tyn Bul 22 (1971): 103-18, W. Elwell, TAB pp. 5-10.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'God, Name of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".