This alphabetical list includes the
most—and least—frequently occurring names found in the
Hebrew Bible or in major English translations such as the King
James Version (KJV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
The four most popular one-word names are Yahweh
(6,800 times); Elohim (2,600 times); Adonai (439
times); and El (238 times). I recommend reading these
entries first, as most other names of God are derived from them.
Adon, in Hebrew, means “lord.” The form Adonai,
used 439 times in the Bible, can be rendered either as “my
Lord” or simply as “Lord.” (Linguists offer various
explanations for the element -ai. Is it a possessive
pronoun denoting “my” or does it indicate a plural of
majesty?) Thus, we find Exodus 15:17 translated most frequently
as “the sanctuary, O Lord [Adonai],*
which thy hands have established” (KJV) but, sometimes, as
“the sanctuary, my Lord, which your hands have
established.”1 Since Adonai and Yahweh
are both typically translated as “Lord,” many modern
Bibles—following a suggestion first made by William Tyndale in
1530—render Yahweh as “LORD” in small capital
letters, and Adonai as “Lord.” So, “The Lord
[Yahweh] appeared to him” (Genesis 18:1), but “Let me take
it upon myself to speak to the Lord [Adonai], I who am but dust
and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). The NRSV only confuses things,
however, by rendering Adonai as both “Lord” and
When used individually, both terms are translated as “Lord,”
but to avoid the awkward appellation “Lord Lord,” the KJV
and NRSV render the expression as “Lord God.” (Here too,
small capital letters are used to indicate that the base word is
Yahweh.) “Lord Yahweh” is also used. The combination Adonai
Yahweh appears 310 times in the Bible, mostly in the
prophetic literature, where the prophets often begin their
speeches by saying, “Thus says Adonai Yahweh.”
The Greek Old Testament and the New Testament (Revelations 1:8)
occasionally use Pantokratôr, “the Almighty,” as a
divine name or epithet. Modern English translations also use
“the Almighty” for the Hebrew Shaddai (see El
Shaddai below); in doing so they follow the Greek Bible.
The Ancient of Days
The Ancient One
This is how the KJV and NRSV render the Aramaic divine name ‘attiyq
yowm, which is only found once in the Bible, in the Book of
Daniel: “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the
Ancient of days [‘attiyq yowm] did sit, whose garment
was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool:
his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning
fire” (Daniel 7:9, KJV). The deity thus designated is
presumably El Elyon (see below).
This obscure name occurs only twice in the Bible, in Exodus 3:14
and Hosea 1:9. The Book of Exodus includes the following
dialogue between Moses and the God of Israel: “But Moses said
to God [Elohim], ‘If I come to the Israelites and say
to them, The God [Elohim] of your ancestors has sent me
to you, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I
say to them?’ God [Elohim] said to Moses, ‘I AM [Ehyeh]
WHO I AM.’ He said further: ‘Thus you shall say to the
Israelites: I AM [Ehyeh] has sent me to you’” (Exodus
3:13-14, NRSV). Here Elohim serves as a description of
the divinity—he is the God; Ehyeh is the God’s name.
Commentators are still coming up with explanations for the
meaning of this obscure name, which appears to be derived from
the Hebrew verb hayah, “to be.” The NRSV offers “I
am what I am” and “I will be what I will be.”
Although not as common as Elohim (see below), this is
another standard Hebrew term for “god” used for any god
(with a small g) as well as for Israel’s monotheistic
“God,” with a capital G—as in, “I am God [El]
and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22). The Canaanite high god
was also called El, and the Hebrews may have given this
deity’s name to their own god.
El Elohê Yisra’el
The name means “El the God of Israel,” but the KJV and NRSV
leave it untranslated. In the Bible it is used only as the name
given to a sanctuary: “And he erected there an altar, and
called it El-elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:20, KJV). (See
also Elohê Yisra’el and El.)
El Elyon; Elyon
The Hebrew term elyon means “upper”; El Elyon,
“The most high God” (KJV) or “God Most High” (NRSV), is
found only in Genesis 14—“and he [Melchizedek of Salem] was
the priest of the most high God [El Elyon]” (Genesis
14:18-22, KJV). The short form Elyon, translated “Most
High,” appears more frequently. Both names were originally
associated with the Canaanite high god El. But the names clearly
came to be used for Yahweh, as is apparent in Psalm 7:17: “[I]
will sing praise to the name of the LORD [Yahweh], the Most High
[Elyon]” (Psalm 7:17, NRSV).
The rare name El Shaddai, literally “God of the
[uncultivated] fields,” but often translated as “God
Almighty,” is found in Genesis 17:1, in which Yahweh appears
to the 99-year-old Abram and says, “I am El Shaddai.” (God
then changes Abram’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah
and promises the elderly couple a son of their own.) Far more
common is the abbreviated form Shaddai, which is
traditionally rendered “the Almighty,” although many
contemporary Bible interpreters (but not the NRSV) leave the
name Shaddai untranslated. Shaddai is frequently
used in the Book of Job—for instance: “Shall a faultfinder
contend with the Almighty [Shaddai]?” (Job 40:2, NRSV).
Rare outside of the Book of Job, this word means God—as in,
“Let that day be darkness; let not God [Eloah] regard
it from above, neither let the light shine upon it” (Job 3:4
KJV). Linguistically, it represents the singular of Elohim
This expression, meaning “the God of Israel,” is
occasionally used to define Yahweh (see below)—as in Isaiah:
“And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden
riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord
[Yahweh], which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel (Elohê
Yisra’el)” (Isaiah 45:3, KJV).
Used about 2,600 times, this is a stock term in the Bible’s
religious vocabulary, with three distinct meanings. First, as a
plural term (-im is the standard Hebrew plural ending) it
means “gods, deities,” as in, “You shall have no other
gods [Elohim] before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7). Second,
when used about a particular god, it can mean “the deity, a
god, the god,” in the singular, as in, “You cannot worship
Yahweh, for he is a holy god [Elohim]” (Joshua 24:19).
Third, with a capital E, it serves as a personal name for
God: “In the beginning, God [Elohim] created the
heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Elohim of Heaven
See God of Heaven.
See El Elyon.
This rendering of Yahweh has been used in both Christian
and Jewish translations. It was introduced by the reformer John
Calvin (1509-1564) and was subsequently used in the French Bible
of Geneva (1588), by the author Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), and
in the English Bible of James Moffatt (1870-1944). The first
Jewish author to use it was the German philosopher and Bible
translator Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). Later it found its way
into Jewish vernacular Bibles in French (1899) and German (the
translation made under the direction of the Jewish scholar
Leopold Zunz [1794-1886]).
Conventionally, “God” is always spelled with a capital
letter when Israel’s deity is meant, whereas “god,”
without a capital letter, refers to a non-Israelite,
polytheistic deity. The most common underlying Hebrew word is Elohim,
but one can also find Eloah, El and, rarely, Yahweh
(in which case it is generally printed in small capital letters
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God
This solemn expression listing a series of ancestors has the
same meaning as “God of the Father(s)” (see below) and
occurs only when God speaks to Moses in Exodus—for example:
“I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of
Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was
afraid to look upon God” (Exodus 3:6, KJV; see also Exodus
3:15-16 and 4:5; the word for God throughout this passage is Elohim).
See El Shaddai.
The God of the Ancestors
Used by the NRSV (Exodus 3:15) for “God of the Fathers” (see
The God of the Father(s)
Genesis and Exodus repeatedly use expressions such as “the God
[Elohim] of my father” (Genesis 31:5, with the father
being Isaac, and Exodus 15:2, without reference to a specific
father) and “the God [Elohim] of their fathers”
(Exodus 4:5—the fathers here being Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).
The term refers to the “personal god” who creates and
protects the individual and whose veneration is transmitted
within the family.2
God of Heaven
The expressions “Yahweh, the God [Elohim] of Heaven”
(Ezra 1:2) or simply “God of Heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4) tend to
occur in texts written after the Babylonian destruction of
Jerusalem and the Exile of the Jews in 586 B.C.E. They highlight
God’s universal sovereignty and rulership, as can be seen in
the expanded expressions, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven and
Earth” (Genesis 24:3) and “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, who
made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9).
God of the Hebrews
This epithet for Yahweh is used only in Exodus: “The
God [Elohim] of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us”
The God of Israel
See Elohê Yisra’el.
God Most High
See El Elyon.
The Holy One of Israel
This appears most frequently in Isaiah, as in, “They have
despised the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 1:4). The term
“holy ones” refers to angels or subordinate deities in the
polytheistic pantheon; thus the expression “Holy One of
Israel” reflects polytheism: The deity thus designated is one
of the many “holy ones.”
Since the Middle Ages, Hebrew Bible manuscripts have inserted
the vowels from Adonai within the most sacred,
unpronounced name YHWH as a reminder that readers should
say Adonai instead (see YHWH, below). The name Jehovah,
which appeared first among Christian scholars of the late Middle
Ages, also mixes the four consonants of YHWH (JHWH
in German) with the vowels of Adonai. It is occasionally
used for Yahweh in the KJV, as in, “Let them be put to
shame, and perish: That men may know that thou, whose name alone
is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth” (Psalm
83:18). Because of this, the name Jehovah is well
established in English poetry. In Paradise Lost, John
Milton wrote: “Great are Thy works, Jehovah, infinite Thy
power” (7.602-603). Modern biblical scholars, however,
generally dismiss Jehovah as a misreading (or
Greek for “lord.” This is how the ancient Greek version of
the Hebrew Bible renders the divine names Yahweh and Adonai.
In the New Testament, kyrios is also used as a title for
Jesus: “Jesus Christ, our kyrios” (Romans 1:4).
See Yahweh and Adonai and Kyrios.
See Adonai Yahweh and Yahweh Elohim.
Lord of Hosts
See Yahweh elohê tseva’ot.
Lord of Sabaoth
See Yahweh elohê tseva’ot.
See Elyon and El Elyon.
See the Almighty.
Abbreviated form of El Shaddai.
This short form of Yahu or Yahweh is occasionally
used as an independent name (“I will sing to Yah”
[Exodus 15:2]) but appears most often in the formulaic
“hallelujah” (or hallelu-Yah), which means “praise Yah”
(Psalm 146:1; KJV, NRSV: “praise the Lord”). The word was
incorporated in the Christian liturgy because it is mentioned in
the Book of Revelation: “After this I heard what seemed to be
the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God’”
An alternative spelling and pronunciation of Yahweh,
found (spelled YHW) on a circa 800 B.C.E. ostracon from
Kuntillet Ajrud and (spelled YHW and YHH) in the
documents written by Aramaic-speaking fifth-century B.C.E. Jews
living in Elephantine in Egypt. The form Yahu is also
used in biblical theophoric names (names that include the name
of a god) like Yeho-natan (Jonathan; Judges 18:30) and Yesha-yahu
(Isaiah). Although most scholars take Yahu to be a short
form of Yahweh, it might also be an earlier form of the
Yahweh elohê tseva’ot
Yahweh tseva’ot is generally rendered as “Lord of
hosts,” as in “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”
(Isaiah 6:3 KJV, NRSV). The tseva’ot are members of a
heavenly council and possibly also the numerous angelic servants
who surround Yahweh as he sits on his heavenly throne governing
his people (as described in Psalm 89:5-8³ [in Hebrew, 89:6-9]
and Isaiah 14:24-27). The title appears 206 times in the Old
Testament and is a short form of Yahweh elohê tseva’ot
(that is, “Yahweh, god of hosts”), which appears 36 times
(for example, in Psalm 89:8 [in Hebrew 89:9]).
Kyrios Sabaoth, the Greek
translation of the expression Yahweh tseva’ot, appears
twice in the New Testament (Romans 9:29; James 5:4); it is
rendered Lord of Sabaoth in the KJV.
This rare name highlights God’s roles as both the Creator (Elohim)
and the God of Israel (Yahweh), as in: “In the day the
Lord God [Yahweh Elohim] made the earth ...” (Genesis
The most common name for the Hebrew God (used more than 6,800
times in the Bible) is typically concealed from the modern
reader; virtually all standard translations render YHWH
as “the Lord” (often printed Lord) or “the Eternal.”
In ancient times, the Hebrew scribes wrote
only consonants and no vowels, and this name of God has come
down to us in this written form. Because the name consists of
four consonants, it is frequently referred to as the tetragrammaton
or tetragram, meaning “the four-letter word.” We
don’t know how YHWH was originally pronounced; the
standard pronunciation (and English spelling) today—Yahweh—is
a modern conjecture, first suggested in the 16th century by
Gilbert Génébrard, professor of Hebrew at the prestigious Collège
Royal in Paris.
Throughout history, Jews have treated this
name of God with great reverence, declaring that it is too
sacred to be used or spoken frequently.4 In
writing, the name appears almost exclusively in biblical texts.
The speaking of the name was traditionally restricted to priests
worshiping at the Jerusalem Temple; after the Romans destroyed
the Temple in 70 C.E., Jews ceased to utter this name altogether
(which is why the original pronunciation of the name was lost).
When scripture is read aloud in the synagogue today, the more
generic term Adonai is used in place of YHWH. Some
scholars follow Jewish tradition and refrain from pronouncing
the divine name out of religious respect and so prefer to write YHWH
rather than Yahweh.
There is one place in modern English
translations where Yahweh or YHWH (or, in the KJV,
Jehovah [see entry, above]) is not translated: In Exodus
6:3, in which God reveals his name to Moses: “I am the Lord [YHWH—here
it is translated]: I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob
by the name of God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name
Yahweh [YHWH—here it is not] did not make myself known
to them” (Exodus 6:2-3).
This passage suggests Yahweh is a
later name than El Shaddai (see entry above), but we do
not know when the divine name Yahweh was introduced into
Hebrew religion. The name appears in the Moabite inscription of
King Mesha (850-830 B.C.E.), the Khirbet el-Qôm burial
inscription (eighth century B.C.E.), and the Kuntillet Ajrud
inscriptions (around 800 B.C.E.).
Arguing that biblical names generally have
a discernible meaning, scholars have tried to establish what YHWH
means. Based on the etymology, scholars have suggested “He
Is” (which can be said of any deity), “He Causes to Be”
(said of the Creator) or “He Blows” (a reference to Yahweh
as storm god)—but none of these have won general acceptance.
Others have tried (with more promising results) to determine the
meaning based on the context in which the name occurs. Consider
the following passage: “I am going to teach them my power and
my might, and they shall know that my name is Yahweh”
(Jeremiah 16:21). Here Yahweh clearly carries the
connotation “the Mighty One”—referring to the one with the
power, the supreme ruler or the Lord (see also Exodus 7:5; 1
Kings 20:13 and others). This is why the ancient translators who
rendered the Hebrew Bible into Greek in the third century B.C.E.
replaced YHWH with “ho kyrios,” or “the
Source: Bernhard Lang
1 Martin Rösel, Adonaj—warum Gott
“Herr” genannt wird (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), p.
is one manifestation of “personal piety”; see “Personal
Piety: A Direct Line to God” (sidebar) and the accompanying
article by Ogden Goelet, “Moses’ Egyptian Name,” in BR,
Lienhard Delekat, “Yáho-Yahwáe und die alttestamentlichen
Gottesnamenkorrekturen,” in Tradition und Glaube, ed.
Gert Jeremias et al. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1971), pp. 23-75.
ancient sources are discussed by Sean McDonough in YHWH at
Patmos (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999), pp. 58-122.