Thursday, October 7, 2010

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Four): The Names of God

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)
IV. The Names of God
A. The Names of God in General.
B. The Old Testament Names and their Meaning.
C. The New Testament Names and their Interpretation.

A. The Names of God in General.
“While the Bible records several names of God, it also speaks of the name of God in the singular…In such cases ‘the name’ stands for the whole manifestation of God in his relation to his people, or simply for the person, so that it becomes synonymous with God” (p. 47).

“In the most general sense of the word, then, the name of God is his self-revelation. It is a designation of him, not as he exists in the depths of his divine Being, but as he reveals himself especially in his relations to man” (p. 47).

B. The Old Testament Names and their Meaning.

1. ’El, ’Elohim, and ’Elyon.
These names speak of God as being first, lord, strong and mighty, the object of fear, or the elevated one. It should be noted that these names are not proper to Jehovah alone, for they are also used of pagan deities and rulers.

2. ’Adonai
“This name is related to the preceding ones…points to God as the almighty Ruler, to whom everything is subject, and to whom man is related as a servant” (p. 48).

3. Shaddai and ‘El-Shaddai.
This name of God reveals God as the one who has condescended to enter into relations with his creatures. This is the God who has all power in heaven and earth. This name “while it stresses the greatness of God, it does not represent him as an object of fear and terror, but as a source of blessing and comfort” (p. 49).

4. Yahweh and Yahweh Tsebhaoth.
“It is especially in the name Yahweh, which gradually supplanted other names, that God reveals himself as the God of grace. It has always been regarded as the most sacred and the most distinctive name of God, the incommunicable name” (p. 49).

This name is often referred to as Jehovah. The original meaning and pronunciation of this name is not known. God reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush with this name and its meaning “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). This name is used of no one but Israel’s God, for it is proper to him alone, stressing his covenant faithfulness to his people.

“The name Yahweh is often strengthened by the addition of tsebhaoth [Lord of Hosts]. It is rather hard to determine to what the word tsebhaoth refers. There are especially three opinions:” (p. 49).

a. The armies of Israel. 
Berkhof thinks this interpretation is highly doubtful. The prophets, in using this name “Lord of hosts” do not refer to Jehovah as the God of war. The armies of Israel are referred to in the singular but the Lord of hosts in the plural

b. The stars.
Again, Berkhof says that when speaking of the host of heaven Scripture always uses the singular and never the plural. He says “while the stars are called the host of heaven, they are designated the host of God” (p. 50).

c. The angels.
“This interpretation deserves preference” (p. 50) according to Berkhof. This name is often found in connection with angels, those who surround the throne of God. “Jehovah of hosts, then, is God as the King of glory, who is surrounded by angelic hosts, who rules heaven and earth in the interest of his people, and who receives glory from all his creatures” (p. 50).

C. The New Testament Names and their Interpretation.

1. Theos.
According to Berkhof the New Testament has the Greek equivalents of the Old Testament names. Theos, like ‘El, ‘Elohim, or ‘Elyon is the most common name for God and at times is used of heathen gods.

The basic meaning of kurios is Lord. It is derived from kuros, which means power. “This name designates God as the Mighty One, the Lord, the Possessor, the Ruler who has legal power and authority. It is used not only of God, but also of Christ” (p. 50).

3. Pater.
Berkhof argues against the notion that the New Testament introduced a new name for God in the use of Pater (Father). Heathen religions applied father to their gods and the Old Testament presents God as the Father of Israel.

The New Testament uses the title to refer to God as the originator and creator of all things, as the relation in which the first Person of the Trinity stands in relation to the second, and as the relation of God “to all believers as his spiritual children” (p. 51