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What’s in a Name?

  

The following article is by Bethany Reise who is currently studying at the Atlanta Bible College.

The Bible talks about names a great deal. The Psalms in particular, are filled with references to “the name of the LORD.” The name of the LORD is blessed, exalted, to be praised, and to be feared. The Bible relates many stories of people who “called on the name of the LORD” and were saved or delivered from their distresses.

But what does this phrase “name of the LORD” really mean? Are we supposed to simply call out the name of the LORD? Are we just supposed to say the name YHWH? Is that what saves us?
In the Western mindset, names are generally used as identifiers and do not connote much more than that. They are generally arbitrary and do not carry much significance. We might claim to know a person, “Joe,” simply because we know the name by which he is identified. However, we might not actually know who Joe is, in reference to his character.

However the Hebraic concept of a name is a bit different. The Hebrew word for name is shem. The most common meaning of shem in the Bible is “the essential reality of who someone is.” It refers to that person’s character – the internal qualities that make a person unique and make up who they are. To know a person, from a Hebraic point of view, involves knowing the character of the person.

According to Jeff A Benner, of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center, titles and names are both descriptions of character.

“When we see a name such as “King David” we see the word “King” as a title and “David” as a name. In our western mind a title describes a character trait while a name is simply an identifier. In the Hebrew language there is no such distinction between names and titles. Both words, King and David, are descriptions of character traits, King is “one who reigns” while David is “one who is loved”. It is also common to identify the word “Elohiym” (God) as a title and YHWH (Yahweh, the LORD, Jehovah) as a name. What we do not realize is that both of these are character traits, YHWH meaning “the one who exists” and Elohiym is “one who has power and authority”.

It is important to understand the Hebraic understanding of the “name of the LORD,” because the Bible will not make much sense when read from our Western point of view. It can even be downright dangerous for our faith and salvation to misunderstand the Hebraic concept of the “name of the LORD.”

Consider Romans 10:13, which quotes Joel 2:32, and says that “‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” Understanding this verse with a Western point of view might lead a person to believe that if they simply (and literally) say the name of the LORD, they will be delivered. However, if we are to understand this verse from a Hebrew point of view, deliverance involves much more than simply saying the name of God aloud! To quote Anthony Buzzard, “to call on the name of God or of Jesus is to appeal to them and their character and agenda.”

God has not hidden His Name; instead He revealed both His character and purpose for all of mankind through His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus and the Father were one, unified in purpose, as John 17:21-22 demonstrates, so that the world would know the love of God.

Jesus expresses his purpose in Luke 4:43, where he says that preaching the word of God, otherwise known as the gospel of the Kingdom of God, was the reason for which he was sent. The heart of his gospel message was expressed in Mark 1:14-15, when

“Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’”

God sent His Son into the world proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, so that the world might repent and be saved through him; to inherit immortality and eternal life in God’s future kingdom on the earth. It is God’s desire that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth: that there is but one true God and one mediator between God and men, Jesus the Christ.

Since calling on the name of the LORD God or Jesus involves appealing to their agenda and character, not simply arbitrarily calling out their name with no understanding of who they are or what they stand for, then obedience to the word of God is essential for salvation. Therefore we are to obey the son as Hebrews 5:9 says, because “he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation.”
Even Jesus stresses the importance of obedience to his word, an intelligent response to the gospel of the Kingdom, through his teachings and parables.

He says in Matthew 7:21-23 that

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven will enter. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

He then goes on to compare those who hear his words and act on them to a house built on a rock that when tested, withstands the storm.

According to 1 John 2:3-6, to know God is to keep His word:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

From these passages, it is important to note that only those who do the will of the Father will enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus says that he doesn’t even know those who practice lawlessness. Clearly both Jesus and John are saying that obedience to the word of God is essential for salvation.

From these Scriptures, the truth becomes apparent. The name of the LORD characterizes the agenda and attributes of God, as an individual. It is not a meaningless word applied to identify the God of the Universe. Calling on the name of the LORD leads to salvation. To know God and to call on His name is to keep His commandments, by the power of the Spirit, through loving obedience to His word.

by Bethany Reise

3 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. on 04 Nov 2012 at 4:17 pmWolfgang

    Hi

    the above study makes reference to a statement by A. Buzzard:

    To quote Anthony Buzzard, “to call on the name of God or of Jesus is to appeal to them and their character and agenda.”

    What is meant with the expression “to appeal to them and their character and agenda”? how is such done ?

    How does a name represent “character and agenda”? On what is such definition based and how is such “Hebrew understanding” ?

    In other words, is there a Hebrew lexicon, dictionary or other source which gives this meaning? or is this a modern day interpreter’s idea who claims it is Hebrew understanding when in reality it is his understanding of what he thinks Hebrew understanding was in biblical times?

  2. on 04 Nov 2012 at 4:33 pmWolfgang

    Hi

    the above study quotes from Jeff Benner:

    In the Hebrew language there is no such distinction between names and titles.

    Is this true or a false assumption? I tend to think it is the latter … and that not based on a Western understanding and lack of Hebrew understanding, but based on the context and what the term used as a title or a name itself means and how it is used.
    “King” is a title, but it certainly and plainly does NOT describe character in the first place as is claimed, but rather describes a position, rank and function a person has.
    “David” is a name, and yes, the name has a certain meaning, but does that in general describe the character of the person? sometimes perhaps, but not necessarily in each person’s case … even in Bible times and Hebrew language!

    However the Hebraic concept of a name is a bit different. The Hebrew word for name is shem. The most common meaning of shem in the Bible is “the essential reality of who someone is.” It refers to that person’s character – the internal qualities that make a person unique and make up who they are.

    Is this a proper interpretation? Is the point really about what the meaning of the term “name” is? or is the study about the meaning of persons’ names as being indicative of something? Does a person’s name really refer to their character? or are there cases where a person’s character does not match at all what the meaning of their name might be?

    I am also wondering if perhaps in phrases such as “calling on the name of a person” we are reading a particular manner of speech characteristic for Semitic languages (such as Hebrew, Aramaic) in which reference is made to “THE NAME of a person” in place of just “the person” … linguistically speaking we would have the use of the figure of speech idiom for emphasis. The inclusion of the words “in the name of” may also be a specific Hebrew manner of emphasizing the person’s reputation, for a example reputation as a benefactor, as an authority or ruler, etc.

  3. on 06 Nov 2012 at 4:38 pmJaco

    Wolfgang,

    I think you are splitting hairs, really.

    The inclusion of the words “in the name of” may also be a specific Hebrew manner of emphasizing the person’s reputation, for a example reputation as a benefactor, as an authority or ruler, etc.

    That is precisely the answer to your own question,

    What is meant with the expression “to appeal to them and their character and agenda”? how is such done ?

    Stop sweating the small stuff…

  

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