Names of God
A number of traditions have lists of many names of God, many of which enumerate the various qualities of a Supreme Being. The English word “God” (and its equivalent in other languages) is used by multiple religions as a noun or name to refer to different deities, or specifically to the Supreme Being, as denoted in English by the capitalized and uncapitalized terms “god” and “God“. Ancient cognate equivalents for the biblical Hebrew Elohim, one of the most common names of God in the Bible, include proto-Semitic El, biblical Aramaic Elah, and Arabic ‘ilah. 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 tetragrammaton is sometimes related to the ancient Hebrew ehyeh (“I will be”). In the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 3:15), the personal name of God is revealed directly to Moses, namely: “Yahweh“. 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. Allah — meaning “the God” in Arabic—is the name of God in Islam.
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 Krishna within the Indian Christian community) but usage of the names themselves mostly remains 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.
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.
Further information: El (deity)
El comes from a root word meaning might, strength, power. Sometimes referring to God and sometimes the mighty when used to refer to the God of Israel, El is almost always qualified by additional words that further define the meaning that distinguishes him from false gods. 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.
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”.— Exodus 3:13-15
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.”
YHWH (יהוה) is the proper name of God in Judaism. Neither vowels nor vowel points were used in ancient Hebrew writings and the original vocalisation of YHWH has been lost.
Later commentaries additionally suggested that the true pronunciation of this name is composed entirely of vowels, such as the Greek Ιαουε. 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 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.
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).
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 as an indirect reference, or they use “God” or “The Lord” instead.
Some biblical scholars say YHWH was most likely pronounced Yahweh. References, such as The New Encyclopædia Britannica, validate the above by offering additional specifics to its (Christian) reconstruction out of Greek sources:
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 Hebrew theonyms Elohim and YHWH are mostly rendered as “God” and “the LORD” respectively, although in the Protestant tradition the personal names Yahweh and Jehovah are also used. “Jehovah” appears in the Tyndale Bible, the King James Version, and other translations from that time period and later. Many English translations of the Bible translate the tetragrammaton as LORD, thus removing any form of YHWH from the written text and going well beyond the Jewish oral practice of substituting Adonai for YHWH when reading aloud.
English Bible translations of the Greek New Testament render ho theos (Ο Θεός) as God and ho kurios (Ο Κύριος) as “the Lord”.
Jesus (Iesus, Yeshua was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (“Yehoshua” – 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. “Christ” means “the anointed” in Greek (Χριστός). Khristos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah; 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 the Book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament, God is quoted as saying
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”. (cf. Rev. 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13)
Some Quakers 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 which is Hebrew, “Most High” and the Hebrew names Elohim, El-Shaddai, Yahweh, Jehovah and Adonai. Abba (Father in Hebrew) is a common term used for the creator within Christianity because it was a title Jesus used to refer to God the Father.
|The Old Testament Names
||The New Testament Names|
Main article: God in Mormonism
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. Mormons typically refer to God as “Heavenly Father” or “Father in Heaven“.
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.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God has only one distinctive name, represented in the Old Testament by the tetragrammaton. In English, they prefer to use the form Jehovah. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the name Jehovah means “He causes to become”.
Scriptures frequently cited in support of the name include Isaiah 42:8: “I am Jehovah. That is my name“, Psalms 83:18: “May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, You alone are the Most High over all the earth”, and Exodus 6:3: “And I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but with regard to my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them.”
While opposers of the faith critique their use of the form “Jehovah”, Jehovah’s Witnesses still hold on to their belief that, despite having scholars prefer the “Yahweh” pronunciation, the name Jehovah adequately transmits the idea behind the meaning of God’s name in English. While they don’t discourage the use of the “Yahweh” pronunciation, they highly consider the long history of the name Jehovah in the English language and see that it sufficiently identifies God’s divine persona.
Other Christian movements
Deus is the Latin word for “god“. It was inherited by the Romance languages in French Dieu, Spanish Dios, Portuguese and Galician Deus, Italian Dio, etc., and by the Celtic languages in Welsh Duw and Irish Dia.
Guđán is the Proto-Germanic word for God. It was inherited by the Germanic languages in Gud in modern Scandinavian; God in Frisian, Dutch, and English; and Gott in modern German.
Bog is the word for God in most Slavic languages. (Cyrillic script: Бог; Czech: Bůh; Polish: Bóg; Slovak: Boh). The term is derived from Proto-Slavic *bogъ, which originally meant “earthly wealth/well-being; fortune”, with a semantic shift to “dispenser of wealth/fortune” and finally “god”. The term may have originally been a borrowing from the Iranian languages.
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 (천주), as the primary reference to God in both ritual/ceremonial and vernacular (but mostly ritual/ceremonial) contexts. Korean Catholics and Anglicans also use a cognate of the Chinese Shàngdì (Sangje 상제), but this has largely fallen out of regular use in favor of Cheon-ju. But now used is the vernacular Haneunim (하느님), the traditional Korean name for the God of Heaven. Korean Orthodox Christians also use Haneunim, but not Sangje or Cheon-ju, and with exception of Anglicans, most Korean Protestants do not use Sangje or Haneunim at all but instead use Hananim (하나님), which stemmed from Pyongan dialect for 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.
Tagalog-speaking Filipino Catholics and other Christians use Maykapal (glossed as “creator”) – an epithet originally applied to the pre-colonial supreme deity Bathala – to refer to the Christian godhead in most contexts. When paired with another term for God (e.g. Panginoong Maykapal “Lord Creator”, Amang Maykapal “Father Creator”), it functions as a descriptor much like the adjectives in the English “God Almighty” or Latin Omnipotens Deus.
Among the Nguni peoples of Southern Africa, he is known as Nkosi (roughly glossed as “king”). This name is used in Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
In the Yorubaland region of West Africa, Nigeria, meanwhile, He is known as Olodumare. In the Igbo region of West Africa, Nigeria, He is known as Chukwu. In the Hausa region of West Africa, Nigeria, He is known as Allah. In the Ibibio region of West Africa, Nigeria, He is known as Abasi.
Allah — meaning “the God” in Arabic—is the name of God in Islam. The word Allah has been used by Arabic people of different religions since pre-Islamic times. More specifically, it has been used as a term for God by Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab) and Arab Christians. God has many names in Islam, the Qur’an says (translation) to Him Belong the Best Names (Lahu Al-Asma Al-Husna), examples like Ar-Rahman (The Entirely Merciful), Ar-Rahim (The Especially Merciful). 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 Khuda in Persian, Bengali and Hindi-Urdu. Tangri or Tengri was used in the Ottoman Turkish language as the equivalent of Allah.
He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, Knower of the unseen and the witnessed. He is the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Overseer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior. Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Translation of Qur’an: Chapter 59, Verses 22-24)
Some verifying scholars have divided the Divine Names into the categories such as the Names indicating the Divine Essence, the Names originating in the Affirmative Divine Attributes, and the Names indicating the Divine Acts. They have also regarded some Names as being the leaders or foundations of all the Names, and have made another categorization under the titles of the Names of Majesty and the Names of Grace. They have considered all the Names to be the foundation or source in which the truths of things originate or even these truths themselves, as well as being the means of all things being transferred from the Realm of the Unseen to the visible or manifest world through the Divine Knowledge, Wisdom, Will, and Power. Such scholars have stressed that these all-blessed Names are veils before the All-Sacred One Who is called by them. It is He alone Who knows the exact truth of everything, and what we must do is to believe in whatever He teaches us.
You will find below the most widely known Divine Names only with just brief definitions.
The Names Indicating the Divine Essence
The Names Originating in Divine Attributes of Glory
The Names of Majesty
The Names Indicating Divine Acts
The Foundational Names
The Names of Grace
In Tasawwuf, the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, Hu, Huwa (depends on placement in sentence), or Parvardigar in Persian are used as names of God. The sound Hu derives from the last letter of the word Allah, which is read as Allahu when in the middle of a sentence. Hu means Just He or Revealed. The word explicitly appears in many verses of the Quran:
“La ilaha illa Hu”— Family of Imran:18
Main article: Mandaeism
Mandaeans believe in one God called Hayyi Rabbi (The Great Life or The Great Living God). Other names for God used include Mare d’Rabuta (Lord of Greatness), Mana Rabba (The Great Mind), Melka d’Nhura (King of Light) and Hayyi Qadmaiyi (The First Life).
Mandaeans believe that there is a constant battle or conflict between the forces of good and evil. The forces of good are represented by Nhura (Light) and Maia Hayyi (Living Water) and those of evil are represented by Hshuka (Darkness) and Maia Tahmi (dead or rancid water). The two waters are mixed in all things in order to achieve a balance. Mandaeans believe in an afterlife or heaven called Alma d’Nhura (World of Light).
Main article: Yazidism
Yazidism knows only one eternal God often named Xwedê. According to some Yazidi hymns (known as Qewls), God has 1001 names.
Main article: 101 Names of God
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”.
Main article: God in Hinduism
The Sanatana Dharma focuses only on formless God, as is described in the most authoritative texts such as the Mundakopanishad and Mandukuopanishad. In all vedic texts, God has been revered by the name Param Brahma, Brahmana (not to confuse with the caste), Parmatma (Supreme Soul), Parampita (Supreme Father), Parmaeshwara ( The Ultimate Governor). Besides, There are multiple names for God’s Various Forms worshiped as Deities (Devata and Devi) in Hinduism. Some of the popular names for these Deities in Hinduism are:
Additionally, most Hindu gods (and some revered saints) have a collection of 108 names. Each collection of 108 names is known as that god’s Ashtottara Shatanamavali, which is chanted during pujas or prayer. Gods with 108 names include Krishna, Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, and even saints such as Sai Baba, Swami Samarth.
The Mahabharata, (Anusasana Parva) book 13, (S-149) lists the thousand names of the one god (Vasudeva). That collection is known as the Vishnu Sahasranaamam.
Main article: Satyarth Prakash
Maharishi Dayan and in his book Satyarth Prakash has listed 100 names of God each representing some property or attribute thereof mentioning “Om or Aum” as God’s personal and natural name.
Main article: God in Jainism
Jainism rejects the idea of a creator deity responsible for the manifestation, creation, or maintenance of this universe. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents (soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion) have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws and an immaterial entity like God cannot create a material entity like the universe. Jainism offers an elaborate cosmology, including heavenly beings (devas), but these beings are not viewed as creators; they are subject to suffering and change like all other living beings, and must eventually die.
Jains define godliness as the inherent quality of any soul characterizing infinite bliss, infinite power, Perfect knowledge and Perfect peace. However, these qualities of a soul are subdued due to karmas of the soul. One who achieves this state of soul through right belief, right knowledge and right conduct can be termed as god. This perfection of soul is called Kaivalya or Bodhi. A liberated soul thus becomes a god – liberated of miseries, cycles of rebirth, world, karmas and finally liberated of body as well. This is called nirvana or moksha.
If godliness is defined as the state of having freed one’s soul from karmas and the attainment of enlightenment/Nirvana and a god as one who exists in such a state, then those who have achieved such a state can be termed gods/Tirthankara. Thus, Rishabha was god/Tirthankara but he was not the only Tirthankara; there were many other Tirthankara. However, the quality of godliness is one and the same in all of them. Thus, Jainism can be defined as polytheist, monotheist, nontheist, transtheist or atheist, depending on one’s definition of God.
Jainism does not teach the dependency on any supreme being for enlightenment. The Tirthankara is a guide and teacher who points the way to enlightenment, but the struggle for enlightenment is one’s own. Moral rewards and sufferings are not the work of a divine being, but a result of an innate moral order in the cosmos; a self-regulating mechanism whereby the individual reaps the fruits of his own actions through the workings of the karmas.
Jains believe that to attain enlightenment and ultimately liberation from all karmic bonding, one must practice the ethical principles not only in thought, but also in words (speech) and action. Such a practice through lifelong work towards oneself is called as observing the Mahavrata (“Great Vows”).
Gods can be thus categorized into embodied gods also known as Tīrthankaras and Arihantas or ordinary Kevalin, and non-embodied formless gods who are called Siddhas. Jainism considers the devīs and devas to be souls who dwell in heavens owing to meritorious deeds in their past lives. These souls are in heavens for a fixed lifespan and even they have to undergo reincarnation as humans to achieve moksa.
Main article: God in Sikhism
There are multiple names for God in Sikhism. Some of the popular names for God in Sikhism are:
- Akal Purakh, meaning timeless One.
- Ik Onkar, the beginning of the Sikh Mool Mantar.
- Nirankar, meaning formless One.
- Hari, meaning most absolute or glowing one.
- Ram, meaning all pervading Lord
- 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.
- 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.
- Allah, meaning “The God”: The term is also used by Sikhs in the Sikh scriptures in reference to God. The word Allah (ਅਲਹੁ) is used 12 times in the Guru Granth Sahib by Sheikh Farid. Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Arjan Dev and Bhagat Kabeer used the word 18 times.
In East Asia, Heaven (Tian) is the term most commonly used for God. The concept of Heaven as a power that was believed to judge both the world and its rulers came into currency in China during the Zhou dynasty (1122-255 B.C.E.). Heaven was conceived sometimes as a personal agent, sometimes as an impersonal force, or both. Evidence suggests that under the Zhou, Heaven was an all-powerful entity that guaranteed peace and justice within the kingdom so long as rulers maintained order and justice. If order and justice were not maintained, Heaven meted out punishment through natural and social disasters. The way in which the ruler was obligated to rule his empire in order to please Heaven was known as the Mandate of Heaven (Tian-Ming). Dealing with Heaven was principally the responsibility of the ruler. To maintain the mandate, the ruler (who came to be known as Tian-zi, the “Son of Heaven”) called upon Heaven with ritual and sacrifice.
- Brichto, Herbert Chanan (1998). The names of God: poetic readings in biblical beginnings. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510965-1.
- Mbiti, John S. (1990). African religions & philosophy. London: Heinemann. pp. 34–36. ISBN 0-435-89591-5.
- Parrinder, Geoffrey (1975). Comparative religion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-8371-7301-9.
- Walter Henry Medhurst (1848). An inquiry into the proper mode of rendering the word God in translating the Sacred Scriptures into the Chinese language. Mission Press. p. 170.
- Edward Washburn Hopkins (1918). History of Religions. ISBN 1-4366-7119-1.
- van der Toorn, Karel (1995). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. New York: E.J. Brill. ISBN 0-8028-2491-9.
- Bibliography on Divine Names in the Dead Sea Scrolls
- Do You Know the Origin of Name “Jehovah”?
- Ehyeh and YHWH—The Relationship Between the Divine Names in Exodus 3:14-15
- Hebrew Names of God
- Jehovah (Yahweh)
- The 101 Names of God given by Meher Baba
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia