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The meaning of Name in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

nam (shem; onoma; Latin nomen (2 Esdras 4:1); verbs onomazo; Latin nomino (2 Esdras 5:26)): A "name" is that by which a person, place or thing is marked and known. In Scripture, names were generally descriptive of the person, of his position, of some circumstance affecting him, hope entertained concerning him, etc., so that "the name" often came to stand for the person. In Acts 1:15; Revelation 3:4, onoma stands for "persons"; compare Numbers 26:53, Numbers 26:55.

I. Old Testament Word and Use.

1. General:

The word for "name" in the Old Testament is shem (also the name of one of the sons of Noah). The etymology is uncertain, although it may be from shamah (obs.), "to set a mark"; shum is the Aramaic form. For the name as descriptive of the person see NAMES. Besides designating persons, the name also stands for fame, renown, reputation, character gained or expressed, etc. (Genesis 6:4; II Samuel 7:9, II Samuel 7:23, etc.); it might be an "evil name" (Deuteronomy 22:14, Deuteronomy 22:19); the "name" is also equivalent to a "people" or "nation" (which might be "blotted out," i.e. destroyed (Deuteronomy 7:24, etc.)); to speak or write "in the name" signified authority (Exodus 5:23; I Kings 21:8, etc.); to "call one's name" over a place or people indicated possession or ownership (II Samuel 12:28; Amos 9:12, etc.); to act "in the name" was to represent (Deuteronomy 25:6); to be called or known "by name" indicated special individual notice (Exodus 31:2; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 45:3-4). Genesis 2:19-20 even displays a conception of identity between the name and the thing.

"To name" is sometimes 'amar, "to say" (I Samuel 16:3); dabhar, "to speak" (Genesis 23:16); naqabh, "to mark out" (Numbers 1:17); qara', "to call" (Genesis 48:16; Isaiah 61:6).

2. The Divine Name:

Of special interest is the usage with respect to the name of God. (For the various Divine names and their significance see GOD, NAMES OF.) He revealed Himself to Israel through Moses by a new name (which was at the same time that of the God of their fathers)—JEHOVAH (which see) (Yahweh)—the nature of which should be shown by His manifestations on their behalf (Exodus 3:13-16; Exodus 15:2-3). The "name of God was therefore not a mere word, but the whole of" the Divine manifestation, the character of God as revealed in His relations to His people and in His dealings with them (Exodus 9:16; Joshua 7:9; Joshua 9:9, etc.). The "name of Yahweh" was proclaimed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, "Yah, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth," etc. (Exodus 34:6); the name Yahweh (so revealed) was (Exodus 3:15) His "memorial Name" (so, often, in the American Standard Revised Version; see MEMORIAL). His sole Deity was such an important element in His name that Deuteronomy 6:4 f. was termed the "Shema" (from shema', "hear," the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4), the first article of Israelite faith, taught to all the children, written on the phylacteries, and still recited as the first act in public and private worship "twice a day by every adult male Jew." Where Yahweh is said to record His name, or to put His name in a place (or person), some special Divine manifestation is implied, making the place or person sacred to Him (Exodus 20:24; I Kings 8:16). His "name" was in the angel of His Presence (Exodus 23:21); what He does is "for his great name's sake," in fidelity to and vindication of His revealed character and covenant relationship (II Chronicles 6:32; Psalms 25:11); the great things He should do would be "for a name" (Isaiah 55:13); He would give His people a new name, "an everlasting name" (Isaiah 56:5); to be "called by" the name of Yahweh is "to be his people" (II Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 43:7); it implies "protection," etc. (Isaiah 63:19; Jeremiah 14:8-9); to "call upon" the name of Yahweh was "to worship him" as God (Genesis 21:33; Genesis 26:25, etc.); "to confess" His name, to "acknowledge him" (I Kings 8:33, I Kings 8:35); to love, trust, act in, etc., "the name," was to love, trust, etc., Yahweh Himself (Psalms 5:11; Psalms 7:17). Very frequently, especially in the Psalms and prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, "the name" of God stands for "God himself"; to "forget his name" was "to depart from him" (Jeremiah 23:27); "to minister, prophesy, or speak" in His name signified Divine appointment, inspiration, authority (Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 14:14-15, etc.); we have "swearing by" or "in" the name of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:13); to take His name "in vain" was to swear falsely (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12); we have "blessing" in His name (Deuteronomy 10:8); "cursing" (II Kings 2:24). In Leviticus 24:11, we have the case of one who "blasphemed the Name, and cursed," the penalty for which was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:13-16). In later Jewish usage (compare The Wisdom of Solomon 14:21) the sacred name Yahweh was not pronounced in reading the Scriptures, 'Adhonay ("my Lord") being substituted for it (the vowels belonging to 'Adhonay were written with the consonants of the Divine name), hence, the frequent term "the Lord" in the King James Version, for which the American Standard Revised Version substitutes "Yahweh."

II. New Testament Word and Use.

1. Character and Work of the Person:

In the New Testament onoma has frequently also the significance of denoting the "character," or "work" of the person, e.g. Matthew 1:21, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save," etc. (Luke 1:31; Luke 2:21; Luke 1:63, "His name is John"; compare the new names given to Simon, James and John; Saul's new name of "Paul"). The "name" of God has the same relation to the character of God as in the Old Testament (Matthew 6:9; "Father, glorify thy name," John 12:28); it is manifested by Christ (John 17:26; compare John 17:3); the name of Jesus, as manifesting God, takes the place of the name of Yahweh in the Old Testament (compare James 2:7 with Jeremiah 14:9, and see below); to Him is given "the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow .... and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father," Philippians 2:9-10 (compare Isaiah 45:23); "It is not the name Jesus, but the name of Jesus" (Lightfoot), i.e. the name ("Lord,") received by Jesus; we have with reference to Jesus simply "the Name" (Acts 5:41, "worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name"; James 5:14 (probable text, Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek), "in the Name"; III John 1:7, "for the sake of the Name"); the "name of Christ" is equivalent to "Christ himself" (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 19:29); it is the same thing as "his manifestation" (John 20:31); therefore "to believe on his name" is to believe in Him as manifested in His life and work (John 1:12; John 2:23); "in the name of God" means sent by God, as representing Him, with Divine authority (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39); in like manner, we have "prophesying" or "preaching" in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18; Acts 5:28). The "name of Jesus" represented His "authority" and "power," e.g. working miracles in His name (Matthew 7:22; Mark 9:39; Acts 4:7, 'by what name (or "power") have ye done this?'), and it is contrasted with casting out evil spirits by some other name or power (Acts 16:18; Acts 19:17). The gospel, of salvation was to be preached "in his name," by His authority and as making it effectual (Luke 24:47); sinners were justified "through his name" (Acts 10:43; I Corinthians 6:11); sins were forgiven "for his name's sake" (I John 2:12); men "called upon the name" of Jesus, as they had done on that of Yahweh (Acts 9:14, Acts 9:21 (compare Acts 7:59); Romans 10:13-14).

"To name the name" of Christ was to belong to Him (II Timothy 2:19); the calling of His name on the Gentiles signified their acceptance as God's people (Acts 15:17 (quoted from Amos 9:12); compare Romans 1:5); to "hold fast his name" is to be true to Him as made known (Revelation 2:13; Revelation 3:8); to be "gathered together in his name," to "do all' things in his name," is as "acknowledging him" (Matthew 18:20; Colossians 3:17); "to baptize in" or "into the name" of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16, "calling on his name," contrasted with baptizing into one's own name in 1Co. 13, eis) is "to call over them his name" (in the rite), as claiming them for Christ and as their acknowledgment of Him or of faith in Him—becoming His disciples; similarly, to baptize "into (eis) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," represents "dedication to" God as He has been revealed in Christ.

"In the name of" means "as representing" (or as being), e.g. "in the name of a prophet," of "a righteous man," or of "a disciple" (Matthew 10:41-42); to receive a little child "in Christ's name," i.e. as belonging to Him, is to receive Himself (Matthew 18:5; Mark 9:37; Mark 9:41 to disciples, the Revised Version (British and American) "because ye are Christ's," margin "Greek: in name that ye are (Christ's)"; Luke 9:48; compare Matthew 18:20; Mark 13:6, "Many shall come in my name"; Luke 21:8).

2. In Relation to Prayer:

The significance of the name of Jesus in relation to prayer deserves special notice. To pray in the name of Jesus, to ask anything in His name, according to His promises, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do" (John 14:13; compare John 14:14; John 15:16; John 16:23); "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask .... that your joy may be made full" (John 16:24), is not merely to add to our prayers (as is so often unthinkingly done): "we ask all in the name of Jesus," or "through Jesus Christ our Lord," etc., but to pray or ask as His representatives on earth, in His mission and stead, in His spirit and with His aim; it implies union with Christ and abiding in Him, He in us and we in Him. The meaning of the phrase is, "as being one with me even as I am revealed to you." Its two correlatives are "in me" (John 6:56; John 14:20; John 15:4 ff.; John 16:33; compare I John 5:20), and the Pauline "in Christ" (Westcott, The Gospel according to John).

W. L. Walker

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