Names of God
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Names of God, or Holy Names, describe a form of addressing God present in a monotheist notion of a singular God in liturgy or prayer. Prayer involving the name of God has become a part of both Western and Eastern monotheist spiritual practices. A number of traditions have lists of many names of God, many of which enumerate the various qualities of a supreme being.
Ancient cognate equivalents for the word "God" include proto-Semitic el, Hebrew Elohim (God or/of gods), Arabic 'ilah (a or the god), and Biblical Aramaic Elah (God). The personal or proper name for God in many of these languages may either be distinguished from such attributes, or homonymic. For example, in Judaism the Holy Name is sometimes related to the ancient Hebrew ehyeh (I will be).
Correlation between various theories and interpretation of the name of "the one God", used to signify a monotheistic or ultimate Supreme Being from which all other divine attributes derive, has been a subject of ecumenical discourse between Eastern and Western scholars for over two centuries. In Christian theology the word must be a personal and a proper name of God; hence it cannot be dismissed as mere metaphor. On the other hand, the names of God in a different tradition are sometimes referred to by symbols. The question whether divine names used by different religions are equivalent has been raised and analyzed.
Exchange of names held sacred between different religious traditions is typically limited. Other elements of religious practice may be shared, especially when communities of different faiths are living in close proximity (for example, the use of Om and Gayatri within the Indian Christian community) but usage of the names themselves mostly remain within the domain of a particular religion, or even may help define one's religious belief according to practice, as in the case of the recitation of names of God (such as the japa). Guru Gobind Singh's Jaap Sahib, which contains 950 names of God. The Divine Names, the classic treatise by Pseudo-Dionysius, defines the scope of traditional understandings in Western traditions such as Hellenic, Christian, Jewish and Islamic theology on the nature and significance of the names of God. Further historical lists such as The 72 Names of the Lord show parallels in the history and interpretation of the Name of God amongst Kabbalah, Christianity, and Hebrew scholarship in various parts of the Mediterranean world.
One definition of the Name of God was given by Elisha Mulford as "that name which passes into the common forms of thought". The author states that in its derivation, it may have an ethical significance. Other writers suggest that the "name of God represents the nature of God". The attitude as to the transmission of the Name in many cultures was surrounded by secrecy. In Judaism, the pronunciation of the Name of God has always been guarded with great care. It is believed that, in ancient times, the sages communicated the pronunciation only once every seven years; this system was challenged by more recent movements.
The nature of a holy name can be described as either personal or attributive. In many cultures it is often difficult to distinguish between the personal and the attributive names of God, the two divisions necessarily shading into each other.
According to the Bible, the name of God was used during the lifetime of Adam and Eve, but the Hebrew Bible implies that by the time Moses was born none of mankind still knew the name. In the Book of Exodus, God commands Moses to tell the people that 'I AM' sent him, and this is revered as one of the most important names of God according to Mosaic tradition.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation".
The Tetragrammaton is the name for the group of four Hebrew letters (Hebrew: יהוה, English: YHWH) which represent the name of God. Neither vowels nor vowel points were used in ancient Hebrew writings. Some claim the pronunciation of YHWH has been lost, while other authorities say it has not and that it is pronounced Yahweh. References, such as The New Encyclopædia Britannica, validate the above by offering additional specifics:
Early Christian writers, such as Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century, had used a form like Yahweh, and claim that this pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was never really lost. Other Greek transcriptions also indicated that YHWH should be pronounced Yahweh.
The original statement commonly translated "I AM" is Ehyeh (Hebrew: אהיה), from Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, "I Am that I Am (or will be, ongoing)" and is commonly given as a sacred name for God. Rabbinical interpreters and some scholars have asserted that Yahweh is an archaic third person form of hayah "to be", which is rendered Ehyeh when spoken by God in the first person; critics of this theory note that the proper triconsonantal root would seem to be h-w-h.
Instead of pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say "Adonai" ("Lord"). Halakha requires that secondary rules be placed around the primary law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken. As such, it is common religious practice to restrict the use of the word "Adonai" to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God "Hashem", השם, which is Hebrew for "the Name" (this appears in Leviticus 24:11).
A common title of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (Hebrew: אלהים). The root Eloah אלה is used in poetry and late prose (e.g., the Book of Job) and ending with the masculine plural suffix "-im" ים creating a word like ba`alim "owner(s)" and adonim "lord(s), master(s)" that may also indicate a singular identity.
El comes from a root word meaning might, strength, power. Sometimes referring to God and sometimes the mighty when used to refer to the true god of Israel, El is almost always qualified by additional words that further define the meaning that distinguishes Him from false gods.
Most religious Jews forbid discarding holy objects, including any document with a name of God written on it. Once written, the name must be preserved indefinitely. This leads to several noteworthy practices:
- Commonplace materials are written with an intentionally abbreviated form of the name. For instance, a Jewish letter-writer may substitute "G-d" for "God". (Note that not all Jews agree that non-Hebrew words like God are covered under the prohibition.)
- Since the Divine presence (or possibly an appearance of God) can supposedly be called simply by pronouncing His true name correctly, substitute names are used.
- Copies of the Torah are, like most scriptures, heavily used during worship services, and will eventually become worn out. Since they may not be disposed of in any way, including by burning, they are removed, traditionally to the synagogue attic. See genizah. There they remain until they are buried.
- All religious texts that include the name of God are buried.
In Exodus 6:3, when Moses first spoke with God, God said, "I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by My Name YHWH." When Moses heard the name of God he realized that since he had a speech impediment as a result of what he called "uncircumcised lips" (Exod. 6:12), he was unable to pronounce it accurately.
The Torah further describes the role of Aaron who acted as Moses' mouthpiece and conveyed the name of God distinctly to the Israelites. The pronunciation of YHWH is described in Psalms 8.2 by the prophet who wrote, "Thou hast made babes, infants at the breast sound aloud Thy praise." Later commentaries additionally suggested that the true pronunciation of this name is composed entirely of vowels, such as the Greek Ιαουε, as they allow the creation of language, thus conveying the absolute infinite potential of God's character. However, this is put into question by the fact that vowels were only distinguished in the time-period by their very absence due to the lack of explicit vowels in the Hebrew script. The resulting substitute made from semivowels and glottals, known as the Tetragrammaton, is considered the proper name of God in Judaism, and is not ordinarily permitted to be pronounced aloud, even in prayer. The prohibition on misuse (not use) of this name is the primary subject of the command not to take the name of the Lord in vain.
Almost all Orthodox Jews avoid using either Yahweh or Jehovah altogether on the basis that the actual pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton has been lost in antiquity. Many use the term HaShem (The Name) as a euphemism, or they use "God" or "The Lord" instead.
English Bible translations of the New Testament render ho theos (Greek: Ο Θεός) as God and ho kurios (Greek: Ο Κύριος) as "the Lord". Following the Christian New Testament, God is referred to in slightly abbreviated form as the 'Alpha and Omega', the beginning and the end. Another title of God is ho on (Greek: Ο Ων), often depicted in Orthodox iconography, literally meaning "he who is" or "he who exists" but usually translated as "the living God" or "I Am that I Am".
The Israelite theonyms Elohim and Yahweh are mostly rendered as "God" and "the Lord" respectively, although in the Protestant tradition, the personal names Yahweh and Jehovah, based on the Tetragrammaton, are also used.
"Jehovah" appears in Tyndale's Bible, the King James Version, and other translations from that time period and later. Many translations of the Bible translate the Tetragrammaton as LORD, following the Jewish practice of substituting the spoken Hebrew word Adonai (Lord) for YHWH when read aloud.
Jesus (Iesus, Yeshua, Joshua (Yehoshua), was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ("Yehoshuah" - Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous, from which comes the English spelling Jesus. or Yehoshûa) (Arabic: يسوع, Yasū') is a Hebraic personal name meaning "Yahweh saves/helps/is salvation". "Christ" means "the anointed" in Greek (Χριστός). Khristos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah (Arabic: المسيح, al-Masih); while in English the old Anglo-Saxon Messiah-rendering hæland 'healer' was practically annihilated by the Latin Christ, some cognates such as heiland in Dutch and Afrikaans survive—also, in German, the word "Heiland" is sometimes used as reference to Jesus, e.g., in church chorals).
In Messianic Judaism YHWH (pre-incarnate) and Yeshua (incarnate) are one and the same, the second Person, with the Father and Ruach haQodesh (the Holy Spirit) being the first and third Persons, respectively, of ha'Elohiym (the Godhead). YHWH is expressed as "haShem," which means 'the Name.'
Some Quakers often refer to God as The Light. Another term used is King of Kings or Lord of Lords and Lord of the Hosts. Other names used by Christians include Ancient of Days, Father/Abba, "Most High" and the Hebrew names Elohim, El-Shaddai and Adonai. The name, "Abba" (Father) is a common term used for the creator within Christianity because it was the name Jesus used to refer to God.
In Mormonism the name of God The Father is Elohim  and the name of Jesus in his pre-incarnate state was Jehovah. Together, with The Holy Ghost they form the Godhead; God The Father, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit. Because members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormons, promote the strong importance of both of an earthly family and a heavenly family as the core of their religion, and view God as not only the Father of Jesus Christ but the Father of all men and woman in the world, in church services and in informal discussion, Mormons typically refer to God as "Heavenly Father" or "Father in Heaven" . The primary point of this importance of family units and a family connection between man and God is taught in the LDS Church's Doctrine and Covenants, which teaches that Mormons can achieve a state of exaltation (Mormonism), or in other words, become gods in the afterlife.  Although Mormonism views The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit as three distinct beings, they are one in purpose and God The Father (Elohim) is worshiped and given all glory through His Son, Jesus Christ (Jehovah). Despite the Godhead doctrine, which teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate, divine beings, many Mormons (mainstream Latter-day Saints and otherwise, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) view their beliefs as monotheist since Christ is the conduit through which humanity comes to the God The Father. The Book of Mormon ends with "to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the eternal Judge of both the quick and dead. Amen." Moroni 10.34
Other Christian movements
Shàngdì 上帝 (pinyin shàng dì, literally 'King Above') is used to refer to the Christian God in the Standard Chinese Union Version of the Bible. Shén 神 (lit. God, spirit, or deity) was adopted by Protestant missionaries in China to refer to the Christian God. In this context it is usually rendered with a space, " 神", to demonstrate reverence. Zhŭ and Tiānzhǔ 主,天主 (lit. Lord or Lord in Heaven) are equivalent to "Lord"; these names are used as formal titles of the Christian God in Mainland China's Christian churches.
Korean Catholics also use the Korean cognate of Tiānzhŭ, Cheon-ju, as the primary reference to God in both ritual/ceremonial and vernacular (but mostly ritual/ceremonial) contexts. Korean Catholics and Korean Anglicans also use a cognate of the Chinese Shàngdì (Sangje), but this has largely fallen out of regular use in favor of Cheon-ju. Also used is the vernacular Haneunim, the traditional Korean name for the mythological God of Heaven, a primary, but not the only, Korean mythological deity; liberal-minded Korean Protestants also use Haneunim, but not Sangje, and conservative Korean Protestants do not use Sangje or Haneunim at all but instead use Hananim, which implied the oneness of the Almighty distinct from the mythological implications they see in the term Haneunim).
Many Vietnamese Christians also use cognates of Shàngdì (expected to have a distribution in usage similar to Korean Christians, with Anglicans and Catholics using the cognates of Sangje in ritual/ceremonial contexts and Protestants not using it at all), to refer to the Biblical God.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is commonly referred to as the "Mormon" religion. In Mormonism the name of God The Father is Elohim  and the name of Jesus in his pre-incarnate state was Jehovah. Together, with The Holy Ghost they form the Godhead; God The Father, God The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Although Mormonism views The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit as three distinct beings, they are one in purpose and God The Father (Elohim) is worshiped and given all glory through His Son, Jesus Christ (Jehovah). Despite the Godhead doctrine, many Mormons (mainstream Latter-Day Saints and otherwise) view their beliefs as monotheist since Christ is the conduit through which humanity comes to the God The Father. The Book of Mormon ends with "to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the eternal Judge of both the quick and dead. Amen." Moroni 10.34
Allah is the most frequently used name of God in Islam. It is an Arabic word meaning "The God". Also there are many many names for Allah, like Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim, Al-Quddus, Al-Malik, etc. Besides these Arabic names, Muslims of non-Arab origins may also sometimes use other names in their own languages to refer to God, such as Khoda in both Persian language and Urdu or the Ottoman anachronism Tanrı (originally the pre-Islamic Tengrianist Turks' celestial chief god, corresponding to the Ancient Turkic god Tengri). The use of the word "God" in English is also seen as acceptable to Muslims.
The term is used throughout the Qur'an in passages detailing the existence of God and of the beliefs of non-Muslims in other divinities. Notably, the first statement of the shahadah is "there is no ʾdeity but al-Lāh", "there is no god but Allah" (The Almighty God), which cancels out the possibility of other "gods" as it uses "the" referring to "One".
In Sufism, defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, Hu, Huwa or Parvardigar are used as names of God. The Hu is derived from the last letter of Allah which has a sound of HA.
The Bahá'í scriptures often refer to God by various titles and attributes, such as Almighty, All-Possessing, All-Powerful, All-Wise, Incomparable, Gracious, Helper, All-Glorious, and Omniscient. Bahá'ís believe the greatest of all the names of God is "All-Glorious" or Bahá in Arabic. Bahá is the root word of the following names and phrases: the greeting Alláh-u-Abhá (God is the All-Glorious), the invocation Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá (O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious), Bahá'u'lláh (The Glory of God), and Bahá'i (Follower of the All-Glorious). These are expressed in Arabic regardless of the language in use (see Bahá'í symbols). Apart from these names, God is addressed in the local language, for example Ishwar in Hindi, Dieu in French and Dios in Spanish. Bahá'ís believe Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, is the "complete incarnation of the names and attributes of God".
There are multiple names for God in Sikhism. Some of the popular names for God in Sikhism are:
- Waheguru, meaning Wonderful Teacher bringing light to remove darkness, this name is considered the greatest among Sikhs, and it is known as "Gurmantar", the Guru's Word. Waheguru is the only way to meet god in Sikhism.
- Ek Onkar, ek meaning "one", emphasizes the singularity of God. It is the beginning of the Sikh Mool Mantra.
- Satnam meaning True Name, some are of the opinion that this is a name for God in itself, others believe that this is an adjective used to describe the "Gurmantar", Waheguru (See above)
- Nirankar, meaning formless One
- Akal Purakh, meaning timeless One
God according to Guru Nanak is beyond full comprehension by humans; has endless number of virtues; takes on innumerable forms, but is formless; and can be called by an infinite number of names thus "Your Names are so many, and Your Forms are endless. No one can tell how many Glorious Virtues You have."
There are multiple names for God in Hinduism. Some of the popular names for God in Hinduism are:
- Brahman, the unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world", which "cannot be exactly defined"..
- Ishvara is a theological concept in Hinduism translating to "lord", applied to the "Supreme Being" or God in the monotheistic sense, or as an Ishta-deva in monistic thought.
- Vishnu is the Supreme God of Vaishnavism, one of the three main sects of Hinduism.
- Shiva is the Supreme God of Shaivism,one of the three main sects oh Hinduism
In Zoroastrianism, 101 names of God (Pazand Sad-o-yak nam-i-khoda) is a list of names of God (Ahura Mazda). The list is preserved in Persian, Pazand and Gujarati. Parsi tradition expanded this to a list of "101 names of God".
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- Elisha Mulford The republic of God: An institute of theology. p.5 1882. "The name of God is that name which passes into the common forms of thought. In its derivation it may have an ethical significance."
- James Montgomery Boice Foundations of the Christian faith: a comprehensive & readable theology. p.231 1986
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- NASB (1995). ""Preface to the New American Standard Bible"". New American Standard Bible (Updated Edition). Anaheim, California: Foundation Publications (for the Lockman Foundation). Archived from the original on 2006-12-07. "There is yet another name which is particularly assigned to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters YHWH (Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 42:8). This name has not been pronounced by the Jews because of reverence for the great sacredness of the divine name. Therefore, it has been consistently translated LORD. The only exception to this translation of YHWH is when it occurs in immediate proximity to the word Lord, that is, Adonai. In that case it is regularly translated GOD in order to avoid confusion."
- http://www.myredeemerlives.com/namesofgod/el-elyon.html. Retrieved 7 April 2014. Missing or empty
- Yeshua (ישוע, with vowel pointing יֵשׁוּעַ - yēšūă‘ in Hebrew) Strong's Yeshuwa
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- Moroni 10:34
- Old Testament Institute Manual:Genesis to 2 Samuel—"Who is the God of the Old Testament?"
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