Hebrew Names of God in The Bible

List of the different Hebrew names of God in the Bible and their meaning.

(1) יהוה (YHWH) – The Tetragrammaton

The most important and most often written name of God in the Hebrew Bible is יהוה (YHWH, or YHVH), the four-letter name of God, also known as “Tetragrammaton” derives from the prefix tetra- (“four”) and gramma (“letter”). The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh: יהוה. In English it is written as YHWH, YHVH, or JHVH depending on the transliteration convention that is used. YHWH appears 6,828 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. This name is first mentioned in Genesis 2:4 and in English language bibles is traditionally translated as “The LORD”.

In some of the oldest surviving square Aramaic Hebrew texts, the Tetragrammaton was written in contrasting Paleo-Hebrew characters, and were not read as Adonai (“My Lord”) until after the Rabbinic teachings after Israel went into Babylonian captivity.

In appearance, יהוה (YHWH) is an archaic third person singular imperfect of the verb “to be”, meaning, therefore, “He is”. This explanation agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person—”I am”. It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself for himself, and is the uncreated Creator who is independent of any concept, force, or entity; therefore “I am that I am”.

The prohibition of blasphemy, for which capital punishment is prescribed in Jewish law, refers only to the Tetragrammaton (Soferim iv., end; comp. Sanh. 66a)

יה (Yah)

The name Yah is composed of the first two letters of YHWH. It appears often in names, such as Elijah or Adonijah. It is found in the King James Version of the Bible at Psalm 68:4. Also translated as JAH.

(2) אלהים (Elohim)

Another common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (אלהים).

Despite the -im (ים) ending common to many plural nouns in Hebrew, the word Elohim, when referring to God is grammatically singular, and takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible. When the Hebrew Bible uses אלהים (elohim) not in reference to God, it is plural (e.g., Exodus 20:3). There are a few other such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth. In Modern Hebrew, the singular word ba’alim (“owner”) looks plural, but likewise takes a singular verb.

A number of scholars have traced the etymology to the Semitic root *yl, “to be first, powerful.” Elohim is thus the plural construct “powers”. Hebrew grammar allows for this form to mean “He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)”, just as the word Ba’alim means “owner” (see above). “He is lord (singular) even over any of those things that he owns that are lordly (plural).”

Other scholars interpret the -im ending as an expression of majesty (pluralis majestatis) or excellence (pluralis excellentiae), expressing high dignity or greatness: compare with the similar use of plurals of ba`al (master) and adon (lord). The Jewish grammarians call such plurals … plur. virium or virtutum; later grammarians call them plur. excellentiae, magnitudinis, or plur. maiestaticus. This last name may have been suggested by the we used by kings when speaking of themselves (compare 1 Maccabees 10:19 and 11:31); and the plural used by God in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7; Isaiah 6:8 has been incorrectly explained in this way). It is, however, either communicative (including the attendant angels: so at all events in Isaiah 6:8 and Genesis 3:22), or according to others, an indication of the fullness of power and might implied. It is best explained as a plural of self-deliberation. The use of the plural as a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew.

The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim (“life”) or betulim (“virginity”). If understood this way, Elohim means “divinity” or “deity”. The word chayyim is similarly syntactically singular when used as a name but syntactically plural otherwise.

The Hebrew form Eloah (אלוהּ, which looks as though it might be a singular feminine form of Elohim) is comparatively rare, occurring only in poetry and late prose (in the Book of Job, 41 times). What is probably the same divine name is found in Arabic (Iah as singular “a god”, as opposed to Allah meaning “The God” or “God”, “al” in “al-Lah” being the definite article “the”) and in Aramaic (Alaha). This unusual singular form is used in six places for heathen deities (e.g.: 2 Chronicles 32:15; Daniel 11:37, 38). The normal Elohim form is also used in the plural a few times, either for gods or images (Exodus 9:1, 12:12, 20:3; and so forth) or for one god (Exodus 32:1; Genesis 31:30, 32; and elsewhere). In the great majority of cases both are used as names of the One God of Israel.

Eloah, Elohim, means “He who is the object of fear or reverence”, or “He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge”. Another point of view is that it is derived from the Semitic root “uhl” meaning “to be strong”. Elohim then would mean “the all-powerful One”, based on the usage of the word “el” in certain verses to denote power or might (Genesis 31:29, Nehemiah 5:5).

In many of the passages in which elohim [lower case] occurs in the Bible it refers to non-Israelite deities, or in some instances to powerful men or judges, and even angels (Exodus 21:6, Psalm 8:5).

(3)אל (El)

In the Hebrew bible אל (El) appears very occasionally alone (e.g. Genesis 33:20, אל אלהי ישׂראל, “El the god of Israel”, and Genesis 46:3, האל אלהי אביך, “El the god of your father”), but usually with some epithet or attribute attached (e.g. El Elyon, “Most High El”, El Shaddai, “El of Shaddai”, El `Olam “Everlasting El”, El Hai, “Living El”, El Ro’i “El of Seeing”, and El Gibbor “El of Strength”), in which cases it can be understood as the generic “god”. In theophoric names such as Gabriel (“Strength of God”), Michael (“Who is like God?”), Raphael (“God’s medicine”), Ariel (“God’s lion”), Daniel (“God’s Judgement”), Israel (“one who has struggled with God”), Immanuel (“God is with us”), and Ishmael (“God Hears”/”God Listens”) it usually interpreted and translated as “God”, but it is not clear whether these “el”s refer to deity in general or to the god El in particular.

(4) עליון (‘Elyon)

The name עליון (`Elyon) occurs chiefly in poetic and later Biblical passages either alone or in combination with El, YHWH or Elohim. It derives from the Hebrew root ʿly “go up, ascend”. The modern Hebrew adjective “`Elyon” means “supreme” (as in “Supreme Court”) or “Most High”. In the Septuagint, it is translated as ὕψιστος (highest). El Elyon has been traditionally translated into English as ‘God Most High’.

(5) אֵלָה ( Elah)

Elah (Hebrew: אֵלָה), (plural “elim”) is the Aramaic word for “awesome”. The origin of the word is uncertain and it may be related to a root word, meaning “fear” or “reverence”. Elah is found in the Tanakh in the books of Ezra, Daniel, and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:11, the only verse in the entire book written in Aramaic.). Elah is used to describe both pagan gods and the one true God.
(i) אלה ישׂראל (Elah Yisrael), God of Israel (Ezra 5:1)
(ii) אלה ירושׁלם (Elah Yerushelem), God of Jerusalem (Ezra 7:19)
(iii) אלה שׁמיא (Elah Shemaya), God of Heaven (Ezra 7:23)
(iv) אלה אבהתי (Elah-avahati), God of my fathers, (Daniel 2:23)
(v) אלה אלהין (Elah Elahin), God of gods (Daniel 2:47)

צבאות Tzevaot/ Sabaoth

The name YHWH and the title Elohim frequently occur with the word צבאות (Tzevaot/Sabaoth) (“hosts” or “armies”) as YHWH Elohe Tzevaot (“YHWH God of Hosts”), Elohe Tzevaot (“God of Hosts”), Adonai YHWH Tzevaot (“Lord YHWH of Hosts”) and, most frequently, YHWH Tzevaot (“YHWH of Hosts”).

This compound name occurs chiefly in the prophetic literature and does not appear at all in the Torah, Joshua or Judges. The original meaning of Tzevaot may be found in 1 Samuel 17:45, where it is interpreted as denoting “the God of the armies of Israel”. The word, in this special use is used to designate the heavenly host, while otherwise it always means armies or hosts of men, as, for example, in Exodus 6:26, 7:4, 12:41.

אהיה אשר אהיה (I AM THAT I AM)

Ehyeh asher ehyeh (אהיה אשר אהיה) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God’s name (Exodus 3:14). The Tetragrammaton itself derives from the same verbal root as אהיה אשר אהיה. The King James version of the Bible translates the Hebrew as “I am that I am” and uses it as a proper name for God. The Aramaic Targum Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated and is so quoted in the Talmud (B. B. 73a).

Ehyeh (אהיה) is the first-person singular imperfect form of hayah (היה), “to be”. Ehyeh is usually translated “I will be”, since the imperfect tense in Hebrew denotes actions that are not yet completed (e.g. Exodus 3:12, “Certainly I will be [ehyeh] with thee.”).

Asher (אשר) is an ambiguous pronoun which can mean, depending on context, “that”, “who”, “which”, or “where”.

Therefore, although אהיה אשר אהיה is generally rendered in English “I am that I am”, better renderings might be “I will be what I will be” or “I will be who I will be.” In these renderings, the phrase becomes an open-ended gloss on God’s promise in Exodus 3:12. Greek, Ego eimi ho on (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), “I am The Being” in the Septuagint, and Philo, and Revelation or, “I am The Existing One”; Latin, ego sum qui sum, “I am Who I am.”

שכינה (Shekhinah)

Shekhinah (שכינה) is the presence or manifestation of God which has descended to “dwell” among humanity. The term never appears in the Hebrew Bible. The term was used by later Jewish rabbis when speaking of God dwelling either in the Tabernacle or amongst the Israelites. The root of the word means “dwelling”. Of the principal names of God, it is the only one that is of the feminine gender in Hebrew grammar.

שלום (Shalom)

The Talmud says “the name of God is ‘Peace'” (Pereq ha-Shalom, Shab. 10b), (Judges 6:24); consequently, one is not permitted to greet another with the word shalom in unholy places such as a bathroom (Talmud, Shabbat, 10b). The name Shlomo, “His peace” (from shalom, Solomon, שלומו), refers to the God of Peace. Shalom can also mean either “hello” or “goodbye”, depending on context.

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