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STUDIES ON THE NAMES OF THE LORD
By Davis Huckabee
The Meaning and Usage of Names
Throughout human history, beginning with Adam and Eve, there has been the need of proper names to distinguish between persons. Generally these names had a meaning to them, so that often the name was generic in meaning. This is seen in that Adam is not only the personal name of the first man, but it actually means “man” so that often the Scripture context has to determine whether it is to be taken as a reference to a specific man, or to man as a genus. This is illustrated by reference to Hosea 6:7: “But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.” Here the reference is probably to the original Adam, but which the translators took in a generic sense, a legitimate rendering since in the Hebrew both are spelled the same way. The same thing is true of some other names all of which have a significance to them. Enos, (Gen. 4:26), and Enosh, (1 Chron. 1:1), are both alliterations of the Hebrew word that emphasizes man as a mortal being. Aner, (Gen. 14:13), refers to a man considered in his relationship to a wife, hence as a husband. And there are several other Hebrew terms for man.
Sometimes there would be variations on a word that resulted from its being applied either to a male or to a female, as at the creation of Eve in Genesis 2:23: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (Hebrew Isha), because she was taken out of Man (Ish).” Sometimes this name for a man was joined to some other term that described him, such as Esh-Baal—a man of Baal, (1 Chron. 8:33). The great betrayer was such a man, for though he was known as Judas the son of Simon, (John 6:71), he was also known as Judas Iscariot, the latter thought to be derived from Esh-Kerioth or a man of Kerioth. Kerioth was a small village on the border of the tribe of Judah, and some trace Judas’ bad character to the fact that he grew up in a village near to the border of the wicked Moabites, and so was influenced by them.
Of course, for some time, until the populace had greatly increased, only one name was generally needed but in due time there began to be needed a second, and sometimes a third name when there were several people that bore a common first name. This is seen in a number of instances in the Old Testament and New Testament alike, and it was sometimes the case that a name was shortened, as with modern “nicknames.” Joshua was a shortened form of the name Jehoshua, but he was commonly known as “the son of Nun,” which would distinguish him from any others by this name. This, incidentally, is the Hebrew form of the name given by inspiration to the Savior to signify both Who He was and What He was to do, for “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jehoshua which means literally Jehovah is Savior, and the applicability of this is shown in Matthew 1:21. “…Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Note the causation implied in “for” (Greek gar). The meaning of His name was neither incidental nor irrelevant, but it was because He was the Divinely ordained Savior that He was so named by Inspiration. Note also the limitation on whom He would save: “His people”—not all mankind.
Nor was this giving of a name that had significance a rare thing, for from earliest times in the Old Testament names were given that had relation to some circumstances involved at the time. The very first person that was ever begotten in the way of natural generation was a case in point, for Cain’s name means “Gotten,” and the reason for this name being given him is explained in Genesis 4:1. Apparently Eve wholly misunderstood, and thought that Cain was the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to send the Divine “Seed of the woman,” (Gen. 3:15), for Hebrew scholars tell us that the verse literally reads, “I have gotten a man, even the Lord.” Alas, how very wrong she was. And this practice especially stands out in regard to the naming of all of Jacob’s sons, (Gen. 29:31ff.), for each one’s name had a significant meaning. But it is to be seen in numerous other places as well, nor has it altogether ceased to this day, for people often give names to their children on the basis of the meaning of those names. In the 1940’s the Texaco Oil Company gave out books that listed many common names and gave the meaning of each one and many people obtained these books and chose their children’s names from them.
In the New Testament we have, for example, Simon Bar-Jonah, (Matt. 16:17), meaning the son of Jonas (Johanan), (John 1:42), whom Jesus named Peter (meaning a small rock), (Mark 3:16), the Aramaic form of which was Cephas, so that these four names all belonged to the same man. This was necessary because Simon, or Simeon, was one of the most common of Hebrew names, nor was even Bar-Jonah that uncommon. Sometimes some personal characteristic of a person caused him to be given some distinctive name or title, as in the case of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were given the name of “sons of thunder,” (Mark 3:17), probably because of their original tempestuous natures, as seen, for example, in Luke 9:51-56. What a tremendous change was wrought by grace in John in the years following this, for he came to be known as the apostle of love.
And we see other instances where there was the possibility of the confusing of persons because of their names. There were three men among the apostles with Simon in their names: Simon Peter, Simon the Canaanite, (Matt. 10:4; the same as Simon Zelotes, Luke 6:15) and Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, (John 6:71). Add to this that one of Jesus’ half-brothers according to the flesh, those born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus, was also named Simon, (Matt. 13:55), and there were at least five others in the New Testament by the name of Simon. Just by considering the names of the twelve apostles and their varied listings we can see how confusion is possible without multiple names.
There is some confusion about the names, for different names are given in different places for the same man. Simon Peter, of course, was originally named Cephas, meaning “a stone” in the Aramaic language, but Jesus changed his name to Peter, which is Greek for “a rock.” Peter and Andrew were sons of Jonas or John. James and John were sons of Zebedee, and they were surnamed Boanerges, “sons of thunder.” Some think that they were given this name because of their fiery temperament, as seen in Luke 9:54. Philip and Bartholomew are always listed together, and it is almost certain that the latter is the same person as Nathaniel, (John 1:45). Bartholomew means “son of Tolmai,” which was probably his family name, while Nathaniel was his given name. Matthew is, of course, the publican, called Levi in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. He is also called “the son of Alphaeus” in Mark 2:14, so that he was probably the brother of James and Judas. Some have thought that James and Judas were father and son instead of brothers. “Judas of James” (literal rendering) is susceptible of such a meaning, but it is just as possible that there were three sons of Alphaeus who were apostles. This Judas is evidently the same as Thaddeus, who is called Lebbaeus in Matthew 10:3.—Davis W. Huckabee, Manuscript Studies On The Harmony Of The Gospels, pp. 168-169.
With these things in mind is it any wonder that sometimes there is confusion over which Bible character is meant when two or more of the same name are mentioned? And often false religion further confuses the matter, as in the case of the Lord Jesus’ own blood kin, for three of His half brothers as listed in Matthew 13:55 have the same names as apostles. Catholicism, in its Mariolotry—idolization of Mary—insists that she never had any other children, but was a perpetual virgin to the end of her life, and that these “brethren” of the Lord were actually cousins or else the older children of Joseph by a supposed first wife. Apart from the idolatry involved in the matter, this speculation is contrary to Holy Scripture, for in a prophecy that is applied to Jesus in John 2:17 and Psalm 69:8-9 makes these brethren to be “my mother’s children,” not cousins or step-brothers to Jesus. Nor is this verse the only one in this Psalm that is applicable to the Savior, for He also quoted verse 4 of Himself in John 15:25 and other verses also apply to Him, so that it is obvious that verse 8 refers to Mary.
But it was many centuries before the use of family names came into usage as in our modern world. Scholars in the derivation of names tell us that when these surnames began to be used that they were derived from one of four sources. (1) From one’s relationship, many were called Johnson, Robertson, etc., because one was the son of John, the son of Robert, etc., and these are common terminologies in many languages. In the Bible Thomas means twin, so that he was probably part of a multiple birth. This was probably the earliest means of distinguishing one man from another by the same name, so that one could make the distinction by saying “You know, Thomas the son of John, and this soon passed into one being called Thomas Johnson, etc. This is the same idea that is seen in the Irish prefix of O’ before a name, the Scottish prefix Mac, the Germanic Von, the Italian Dela, and indeed many other prefixes in other languages. These prefixes generally mean “the son of,” “a descendent of,” “of the house of,” and other related meanings. (2) From one’s occupation, for many, many terms have to do with occupations, such as Smith, which refers to one that works in metals of different kinds, Goldsmith, Blacksmith, etc., or the suffix–wright which was joined to such words as wheel, cart, etc., for a wheelwright made wheels, a cartwright made carts or wagons, etc. Remember on the old television program “Bonanza” how that the family name was Cartwright? Many did not have the more defining prefix, but were simply call Wright because they were manufacturers of some common part of family possessions. A Bowman, Archer or Spearman might be one of a military occupation. Cooper came from one being a maker or repairer of barrels and casts. There were many Stewarts in the British Isles, especially in Scotland, for this was a corruption of the word steward, for the King had many stewards in different areas. People that had to do with growing crops might called Plowman, Tillman, Farmer or other such names, while those that dealt with animals might be known by the name Shepherd, Driver, Tanner or such. (3) From one’s personal characteristics. A swarthy man might be called Black or Brown, while a light complexioned person might be surnamed White. A tall man might be named Long or Longfellow, while William Short, Thomas Small or Robert Littlejohn might so named because of his diminutive size. The biblical name Paul means little. (4) From the location where one lived. The original John Field probably lived in a field as opposed to in the village. Mr. Overstreet’s house was probably a second story house overlooking the street. Mr. Overbrook originally lived across the local stream. A man named Townsend probably lived in the last house in the village. And there are many, many other such illustrations, for almost every surname was originally derived from one of these four sources, or from a corruption of one of these.
But with the passing of a generation or two, the original meaning of the family name was generally lost sight of and children bore the surname of their immediate male parent together with a given name to distinguish the children in the family one from another. Wise people have long recognized the truth of Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches,” and have generally striven to bring no reproach upon the name that they had inherited from their parents. Sadly, today most people are myopic—they cannot see very far—and so, they do not see the value of anything that does not give immediate pleasure, profit and pride, and so, they often sell their good names for a very cheap price, for they have too much “self-esteem” or pride—which promotes utter selfishness, and not enough self-respect. The God of Truth, Deuteronomy 32:1-4, esteems Himself worthy of the highest respect by His creatures, and rightly so, and for this reason, He has revealed Himself by the numerous names by which He has committed Himself to His rational creatures, for thereby alone can they know Him. By nature, man is incapable of grasping spiritual truth, and especially the truth regarding God, and so, man cannot measure up to the duties implied in John 4:23-24, except as he has revealed the greatness of God in every area of His being. It is not enough to be as the ancient Athenians who erected a monument “to the unknown god.” To be pleasing to God one must know as much about Him as one possibly can so that he can rightly approach and worship God.
Being about to treat of God, and of the things of God, it may be proper to begin with his names: the names of persons and things are usually the first that are known of them; and if these are not known, it cannot be thought that much, if any thing, is known of them; and where the name of God is not known, he himself cannot be known; and the rather the consideration of his name, or names, is worthy of regard, because they serve to lead into some knowledge of his nature and perfections; and therefore a proper introduction to such a subject.—John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 1, Chapter 3, p. 25. Turner Lassetter, Atlanta, 1950.
It is tragic, yet true that we live in a day of many and great lies, and this is especially true in the religious world, for every possible corruption of Bible Truth has been brought to pass by men. As in the commercial world, any lying exaggeration is justified on the plea that it promotes the economy, and profits people materially, so most religious people justify lies about God and the things of God on the plea that the main thing is to make people feel better about themselves, and promote this or that religious denomination. But a fundamental truth was expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 8:44 about a group of people that had, in some sense “believed in Jesus,” and so, would have been called “Christian.” He indicted all such by saying, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth BECAUSE THERE IS NO TRUTH IN HIM. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” All lies have their source in the devil, and so, there are no “innocent lies,” however religious leaders may deceive people by saying that if their lies promote “the church” or religion, it is all right, thus promoting hypocrisy by false names.
Much of modern religious lies have been brought in because people were convinced that they could bring in the ancient paganism and convert it by means of baptism, change its name from what it was anciently known as, and henceforth designate it “Christianity,” yet God will have no part in it, but calls it what it is, and centers it in the “city of the seven hills,” (Rev. 17:1-9). This reference is recognized world-wide as a reference to Rome, where the last great final Antichrist will have his headquarters, for it has been a center of false religion for centuries as has been so clearly shown by Alexander Hislop in his book called The Two Babylons. This will be found in the last days to be the center of all apostate religion. Hislop well says:
Now, while this characteristic of Rome has ever been well marked and defined, it has always been easy to show, that the Church which has its seat and headquarters on the seven hills of Rome might most appropriately be called “Babylon,” inasmuch as it is the chief seat of idolatry under the New Testament, as the ancient Babylon was the chief seat of idolatry under the Old. But recent discoveries in Assyria, taken in connection with the previously well-known but ill-understood history and mythology of the ancient world, demonstrate that there is a vast deal more significance in the name Babylon the Great than this. It has been well known all along that Popery was baptized Paganism. But God is now making it manifest, that the Paganism which Rome has baptized is, in all its essential elements the very Paganism which prevailed in the ancient literal Babylon, when Jehovah opened before Cyrus the two-leaved gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.—Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, p. 2, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, NJ, 1959.
God’s Word is exact beyond man’s greatest imagination, and for this reason man’s obedience and submission to it ought to be just as exact, not just in name only, but in truth, otherwise man is headed down the same path that men followed in those early days of this dispensation in what eventually developed into modern Catholicism and her Protestant daughters and granddaughters. This is why it is of such great importance that we know God as nearly perfectly as we possibly can, and this will involve a knowledge of His names, and what each of them signify, and He has revealed them to us in His infallible Word.
With these thoughts in mind we may get more specifically to the subject of this study, and begin with the most basic and fundamental name of God, and that one that appears literally hundreds of time in the Old Testament, and also very commonly in the New Testament as well.
That the Holy One has revealed himself to man, in the use of a variety of names, each of which is appropriated to the illustration of some grand characteristic of the divine nature and its relations to man,—and that these names, taken together, serve to proclaim almost every important element in those characteristics,—every one knows, who knows any thing of his Bible.—Samuel J. Baird, The Elohim Revealed, p. 73. Lindsay and Blakiston, Philadelphia, 1860.
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