January 18 is, believe it or not, National Thesaurus Day! And for someone like me who loves words, it’s a great holiday to celebrate. But it also got me to thinking about the many different ways we refer to God—the thesaurus of the Bible, if you will.
Here at the Pauline Books & Media publishing house, there is a poster we pass many times a day, as it hangs in a busy corridor. It lists the many ways Scripture refers to Jesus:
And thou shalt call his name Jesus, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Holy One, Lamb of God, Prince of Life, Lord God Almighty, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Root of David, Word of Life, Author and Finisher of our Faith, Advocate, The Way, Dayspring, Lord of All, I Am, Son of God, Shepherd and Bishop of Souls, Messiah, The Truth, Saviour, Chief Cornerstone, King of Kings, Righteous Judge, Light of the World, Head of the Church, Morning Star, Son of Righteousness, Lord Jesus Christ, Chief Shepherd, Resurrection and Life, Horn of Salvation, Governor, The Alpha and Omega.
And that’s only for Jesus—it doesn’t include God or the Holy Spirit! Did you remember all those names? (I didn’t.) It’s odd, isn’t it, how we don’t think much about the name of the Lord we love. God has many names: twenty of them in the Hebrew Bible alone.
Why so many names?
In the past, names generally carried some meaning. Parents gave their children names with prophetic significance, or that reflected circumstances surrounding their birth, or that offered positive character traits. (There’s something similar in names popular a century or two ago—names like Charity or Grace or Victor.)
Words are important. Language is important. It forms and defines the way we think about things. But how do we think about a God who is infinitely more encompassing than human imagination can ever hope to understand?
The answer is that we’re given a whole range of names, each of which expands our view and understanding of God. Language is the tool we use to conceptualize the world around us, so God uses language throughout Scripture to help us conceptualize—as much as we are able—who he is.
Here are just a few of the names of God, and how they enrich our understanding of him:
- Abba is the name Jesus used when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s the name children use for their father—Daddy, Papa. Abba expresses the love and trust of a small child for a beloved father.
- El Olam means the Everlasting God. David wrote, “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” There has never been a time when God didn’t exist, and God doesn’t change. When we are feeling adrift in life, we can cling to this unchanging, everlasting One.
- Elohim is the name by which God is introduced in the first verse of the Bible. He is the Creator, strong and powerful… a God strong enough to help us deal with anything we can face in our small lives.
- Yahweh is the most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible—it’s used over 6,500 times! It means to be: God is always there, present to us in every moment of our lives.
Every name enlarges our understanding of God, and every name shows us a side to our Father that speaks of relationship with him. So whether it’s National Thesaurus Day or not, finding different ways to address Our Lord can only enrich our prayer lives… and help us deepen our relationship with God.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir