In both gospel models, of course, names are recognized and used as identifying labels. Beyond that, there are variations in emphasis of different aspects.
Traditional Legal Model – At times, great importance is put on use of the correct name and pronunciation especially of divine names and you had better use them. The Jews went too far with valuing the name (as a label) of God, to the point they forbade its use lest someone should use it incorrectly and even its original pronunciation has been lost.
Biblical Healing Model – Names have often (and especially in scripture) had great significance in relation to the character of the person they were given to. In many cases, “name” used in connection with God is a reference to His character.
From a Modern Dictionary
1. a word or a combination of words by which a person, place, or thing, a body or class, or any object of thought is designated, called, or known.
5. a distinguished, famous, or great reputation; fame: to make a name for oneself.(www.dictionary.com, accessed Jan. 20, 2019)
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary – The classic dictionary from two centuries ago brings out meanings closer to what we see in scripture.
1. That by which a thing is called; the sound or combination of sounds used to express an idea, or any material substance, quality or act; an appellation attached to a thing by customary use, by which it may be vocally distinguished from other things…
4. Reputation; character; that which is commonly said of a person; as a good name; a bad name
5. Renown; fame; honor; celebrity; eminence; praise; distinction.
6. Remembrance; memory. The Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. Deuteronomy 29:20.
8. Authority; behalf; part; as in the name of the people. When a man speaks or acts in the name of another, he does it by their authority or in their behalf, as their representative. [eg Exo 5:23]
10. In Scripture, the name of God signifies his titles, his attributes, his will or purpose, his honor and glory, his word, his grace, his wisdom, power and goodness, his worship or service, or God himself.
(http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/name, accessed Jan. 20, 2019)
Names in Hebrews and other Near Eastern cultures had great significance, often being symbolic of character, personality, purpose or reputation. There are many cases of God designating the name to be given a person (Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon, Mahershalalhashbaz – how would you like that one?) or even changing a person’s name to reflect a later change in the person (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul). Obviously, God attaches more significance to names than just an identifier. Many mentions of God’s name are references to His reputation, character or perhaps both, depending on the context.
It is interesting how one name change works out in English:
Hereditary family names (surnames) were little used. To further distinguish identity another identifier could be added such as:
- Joshua the son of Nun (parentage)
- Rahab the harlot (occupation)
- Elijah the Tishbite (tribe, family group)
- Saul of Tarsus (city of origin)
Compounded names from two or more words were used such as:
- Ichabod – the glory is departed
- Abadan – my father is judge
- Loammi – not my people
Many names had reference to God by including one of His names or parts thereof:
- Nathanael – God has given
- Hezekiah – Yahweh has strengthened
- Jahzerah – whom God leads back
Name Variations and Pronunciation
The Bible uses many names and titles for God often because those are designating particular aspects of His character. This helps to show that name and character are closely related. People will often put great emphasis on knowing and using what they believe to be the correct name and pronunciation. Variations of the name Jesus can include: Joshua, Yahshua, Yashua, Yehoshua, Yesha, Yeshua, Yeshu and Yesua. I would never fault anyone for using what they believe to be the correct name. More important though is to understand the connection with character.
Names Have Meaning
With that in mind, many verses reveal additional meaning. Let’s look at some examples and, keeping in mind that name can designate character, see what they might suggest about God’s character:
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13).
To “believe on the name” would NOT mean:
- to simply believe that there was a name Jesus (or Yeshua, as it would have been pronounced in His day) as we believe someone is named Bob.
- to believe that Jesus or Yeshua or whatever variation was the name of the One we understand to be the Savior, the Son of God.
But to believe in His character.
“And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” (Psa 9:10)
You trust in a person not because of the what they are called but because they have given evidence to you of having a trustworthy character. God is worthy of our trust.
When Moses asked God to see His glory, God replied:
“… I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (Exo 33:19)
God’s reply linked His glory with His name. Then, when He actually passed before Moses, He said:
“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” (Exo 34:6-7)
God said He would proclaim His name and when He actually did it He listed character attributes closely linking the two.
“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (1 John 3:23-24)
When “name” is used in this way, it does not mean the word by which a person is called, but rather the whole nature or character of the person as far as we know or understand it.
This verse suggests that a good character (including, for example, honesty) is better than riches that might be gained by dishonesty:
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” (Pro 22:1)
“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” (Eccl 7:1)
Profaning God’s Name
Here are verses that connect profaning God’s name not with mispronouncing it but with misbehavior:
“And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.” (Lev 20:3)
“As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols.” (Eze 20:39)
“In their setting of their threshold by my thresholds, and their post by my posts, and the wall between me and them, they have even defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed: wherefore I have consumed them in mine anger.” (Eze 43:8)
“That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:” (Amos 2:7)
The connection of name to character is illustrated by a story of Alexander the Great finding one of his soldiers sleeping while on guard duty. On learning that the soldier’s name was also Alexander, Alexander the Great told him “Soldier, either change your name or change your conduct.”
To guard one’s good name is to uphold the reputation, not to pronounce it correctly.
See the study Sacred Names – Important to Use? for much more evidence that it is associating the right character with the name not the right pronunciation that is important.
Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index