We’ve begun looking at the names of God and how his names help us understand him better. We’ve seen that God is called ‘The Father’, ‘The Son’ and ‘The Holy Spirit’ and unpacked what those names teach us. This week I want to look at the name ‘God’.
The English word ‘God’ is usually used to translate the Hebrew word ‘El’ and ‘Elohim’ in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word ‘Theos’ is usually translated ‘God’.
But what do these words mean? Basically they are used for ‘gods’, that is, supernatural beings.
In the ‘Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament’, Harris et al comment that the Hebrew word ‘El’ is a very ancient term. It is also the most widely distributed name among Semitic-speaking peoples for a deity, occurring in some form in every Semitic language except Ethiopic. They also comment that suggestions for an original meaning of ‘power’ or ‘fear’ are widely challenged and much disputed.
Thus we see the same Hebrew word for ‘God’ is used in the Old Testament to refer to ‘gods’ of other nations as well ‘God’ himself. For example, in his giving of the ten commandments, God calls himself ‘elohim’ and then speaks about other ‘elohim’: ‘I am the LORD your God (elohim), who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods (elohim) before me’ (Exodus 20:2-3).
Similarly, the Greek word ‘theos’ was used widely to refer to the many Greek gods without referring to one specific god. Thus the New Testament also uses the word ‘theos’ to refer to both God himself and also foreign gods. The English word ‘god’ is used in the same way. It may refer to the ‘God’ of Christianity, but also the ‘gods’ of Hinduism, Buddhism and whatever other false religions may arise.
Thus when the Bible uses the common words for gods, one of the main things we learn is that our God does indeed claim to be a transcendent being, similar to the claims of the gods of false religions. God is not a man like us nor any other created being, he is a supernatural being.
Yet, the Bible is careful to point out that in reality there is only one ‘God’; that is, only one supernatural being.
It was reported of Paul that he taught in Ephesus that ‘man-made gods are no gods at all’ (Acts 19:26).
And Paul did say in his letter to the church in Corinth: ‘We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’ (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
So although there are many claims of different ‘gods’ in this world, there really is only one God – the God of Christianity revealed in Jesus Christ. And he alone is worthy of our trust and worship.
Do you worship the only God?