Select Page

August 2021 GPS

In the Bible God makes it quite clear that His name is important. One of the Ten Commandments forbids using the name of
the Lord in vain. Jesus said that if we ask anything in His name He would grant the request. He taught that the phrase,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is significant. He also said that His followers should baptize people in
the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul said that Jesus has a name which is above every name and that the day
will come when at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. Why does God attach such importance to His name? What is
involved in the meaning of “name” in passages such as the ones noted above?
In order to understand why God places such importance on His name we need to consider the Biblical function of names in
general. Of course, the most obvious purpose for names is to identify someone or something, but that act of identification
needs further nuancing. What was the purpose behind the choice of Biblical names? In the Bible names were selected for
a number of reasons. Early in the Creation account we see two reasons for a name being chosen. One is that it identifies
the origin/nature of the subject under consideration. In Genesis 2:7 we read: “then the Lord God formed the man of dust
from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” ( ESV) In this
verse, “man” translates the Hebrew word adam which is related to the Hebrew word translated “ground” which is
adamah, designating the material from which the man was created. Throughout this passage the same Hebrew word,
adam, is translated either Adam or man, depending upon whether the translator thought it was a generic term
designating a human being or a proper noun designating the individual Adam.
Similarly, further down in the same chapter of Genesis we read: “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man
should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for [other translations have “suitable for” or “corresponding to”] him. Now out
of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man
to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave
names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a
helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and
closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought
her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”” (Genesis 2:18–23, ESV) This paragraph begins with God’s observation that it was not
good for the man to be alone so God would make “a helper fit for him.” Then we are told that Adam gave names to all of
the animals which God brought before him but that there was not found a “helper fit for him.” The names Adam gave the
animals were obviously classification kinds of names, not individual names for each of them. They may have functioned
much like scientific names do today. At the conclusion of what must have been a very long process it was determined that
none of those animals really corresponded to Adam. They were not humans. They were in a different category. When God
brings Eve to Adam, he recognizes that she was “fit for him.” That is, she was a being that corresponded to him. Adam
called her (gave her the name) “Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” In Hebrew, the words for “man” and
“woman” are related very much like the English words are. “Man” is ish and “woman” is ishshah. In both English and
Hebrew the words for “man” and “woman” are related much like “Adam” or “the man” are related to “ground.” In both
cases, the name chosen indicates the origin/nature of the one being named.
A bit later in the Creation narrative we find “name” being used to indicate a different kind of identification. In this case,
“name” the personal identity of the one being named. To do so, the name tells something unique about the subject. “The
man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20, ESV) Although she fitted within
the category of human beings called women, her particular identity within that category was indicated by her personal
name “Eve.” Adam names the woman “Eve,” because “she was the mother of all living” [human beings]. The Hebrew word
for “Eve” is hawwah is related to the Hebrew word for “living,” the adjective hai. Eve’s name reminds us of her
relationship to all later living human beings. Similarly, “Adam” [Hebrew Adam] gets his name from the material God used
to create him, the ground [Hebrew Adamah].
Next month we will look at how this applies to God’s name.