The Mystery of God’s Name
There are so many names for God in the Bible. It’s all pretty confusing to the average person. They have their choice of Elohim, Yahweh, Jehovah, El, El Shaddai, among others. God always seems to have a different name. It’s a mystery. That is, which God is really God – just one of them, all of them or none of them?
The Bible, of course, begins with Genesis. Genesis 1 is pretty straightforward. It’s a creation story and God is referred to as “Elohim” (in the Hebrew texts). The first three verses of Genesis 2 are actually the ending of the creation story of Genesis 1. It’s a very tricky way of segueing from Genesis 1 to make the reader think that Genesis 2 is a continuation of Genesis 1 when, in fact, it is a rewriting of the creation story with respect to the creation of man. So, let’s try and break it down.
An interesting change takes place starting with Genesis 2:4. Suddenly, God is called the “Lord God” instead of simply “God”. Why would anyone want to change his name? “Lord God” is a translation from the Hebrew “Yahweh Elohim.” It’s like calling an entity God God. If your name was Rudolph, would anyone ever call you Rudolph Rudolph?
Using the name Yahweh Elohim is only meaningful if the Elohim are a group of entities and by adding Yahweh to Elohim the reader understands specifically who the writer is writing about, namely Yahweh (of the Elohim). Again, if your name was Rudolph, some people would refer to you using both your first and last names (in that case Rudolph Masterson, or whatever last name). If, instead, they simply referred to you as Masterson, then a third-party would only know that you were a member of the Masterson family but not specifically which member. So, Elohim designates the family and Yahweh is a specific member of the Elohim.
There has been considerable debate among scholars as to whether the term “Elohim” is a singular or plural term. If Elohim were plural, then that would certainly explain why in Genesis 1:26 it says, “And God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness’….” (emphasis mine). Wikipedia, for example, discusses the term Elohim saying: “Hebrew grammar allows for this nominally-plural form to mean ‘He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)’, or roughly, ‘God of gods.’” This corresponds to the following Bible verses:
- Joshua 22:22 – “The God of gods, the Lord, the God of gods….”
- Psalm 136:2 – “O give thanks unto the God of gods….”
- Deuteronomy 10:17 – “For the Lord your God is the God of all gods….”
Those bible verses are rather controversial in that they state that there was more than one god. Maybe, that’s why in Genesis 35:7, the word Elohim, which is obviously plural in that context, was translated as a singular (God). I say obviously because the Hebrew verb which accompanies the word “Elohim” in Genesis 35:7 is plural and that’s why Elohim should have been translated as a plural (gods). I said should have been and, yet, it has always been translated as a singular without any real justification. Why?
My favorite bible verse about many gods is Psalm 82:1,6 which reads, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods…I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” Here yet another name, Elyon in the Hebrew text, is introduced and is translated as “most High”, meaning the highest of the gods. Yes, the highest, higher than all of the other gods (Elohim).
So, the mystery remains. Which one, if any, was truly God? Well, the highest of them all was apparently Elyon, not the Elohim and certainly not Yahweh.
Chapters 10 and 11 of Genesis give a list of all nations. It’s referred to as the “Table of Nations”. As for Yahweh, he was allotted Israel by the Most High (presumably God), as can be seen in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, as follows:
“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s (Yahweh) portion is his people; Jacob (Israel) is the lot of his inheritance.”
So the Israelites were in fact a Chosen People, chosen for Yahweh that is (as opposed to having been chosen by Yahweh). As for Yahweh, himself, he was not the Prime Creator (i.e. the Most High) and really should not be referred to as God. The title Lord which is given to Yahweh in most places in the Bible is sufficient, albeit misleading. Truth be told, he wasn’t even a god.
“Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?”
– Exodus 15:11