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Are All Names for God Legitimate?

Pluralism embraces the idea that all paths to God are legitimate—no one worldview provides a full picture of absolute reality. Because of that, some pluralistic thinkers propose any name assigned to God in any religion is legitimate and appropriate. Is that true? Or is there a correct revelation of the divine name that uniquely and powerfully grants access into a personal relationship with Him?

I believe if God were to accept, and respond to, all of the names assigned to him in various worldviews, he would be making a confusing and contradictory statement about his own character.

For instance, if God responded to the name Zeus, he would automatically be indicating divine approval of the pantheon of gods promoted in Greek mythology, or Jupiter, the Roman pantheon.

If the name Brahman (Hinduism) or SUGMAD (ECKANKAR) brought a response from above, it would be an immediate disclosure that the Ultimate Source of all things is an impersonal cosmic energy.

If the name Krishna connected a worshipper with God, he would simultaneously be acknowledging that he had 16,108 literal wives while on earth, which is the myth surrounding him—also that he had ten children by each one of those wives.

If God responded to the name Ein Sof, he would be verifying the Kabbalist claim that the Godhead has ten emanations.

If he responded to the entitlement Sat Nam (the Sikh designation for God, meaning “True Name”) he would be verifying Guru Nanak’s claim that the God of the Muslims and Hindus is the same God.

If he responded to the name Allah, God would automatically be characterizing himself as an omnipresent, omnipotent Spirit who has no Son (a basic doctrine of Islam) and that “there is no God but Allah” (a primary confession of faith in Islam).

However, if God responds to the name Yahweh (the Old Testament revealed name) or Jesus (Heb. Yeshua, the New Testament revealed name) then he is indicating that only in the Bible can his true names and titles be found. It also shows approval of Christianity’s claims: that he is a triune being, comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that he is a personal God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent, perfect in all his ways, and accessible only through the redemptive work of the cross.

Just suppose that the Bible is right: that Jesus really is the only “image of the invisible God” and that there really is “no unrighteousness in him”: no error in his judgments and no flaw in his character. (Colossians 1:15, Psalm 92:15) If he responded in prayer to the name Indra (an ancient Hindu god) he would automatically be characterizing himself as a seducer of a sage’s wife, who was cursed with a thousand yonis on his body (symbols of the female sex organ) as a result of his evil deed. Indra is also blamed in the sacred writings of Hinduism for bringing adultery into the world. I personally would not take on another man’s name, especially if the true possessor of that name was a person of criminal or immoral behavior. Why should I expect God to be pleased with an arrangement just as undesirable?

The problem is this—through the millennia, certain persons, in an attempt to define the unseen spiritual realms, have attributed to numerous deities a great number of humanly-created titles, names, myths, and legends. Most likely, many have possessed a genuine love for God—yet, there is a vast difference between loving God and knowing God. I can personally testify that I loved God intensely long before I actually knew him. It was only after I met the Lord in a personal relationship that I came to understand his true nature.

I admit that some names or titles given to God in various religions do correctly define his character and attributes, such as the majority of the ninety-nine names Muslims attribute to God (e.g., the Living, the Eternal, the Supreme, the Tremendous, the Merciful, and the Compassionate). Undeniably, these are all actual personality traits of the true God, but not one is a personal name for him. Interestingly, not one of the ninety-nine names is “Father” because Muslims teach against the biblical concept of being “born of God.” The often-spoken Islam maxim is this: “God is not begotten; neither does he beget.” Because Muslims do not believe that God, as a Father, can dwell within the hearts of human beings, thus making them his sons and daughters, the word “Father” is not attributed to him.

Correct character titles for God can be discovered in many religions, but names that identify his actual person are another matter. So, the essential thing is correctly distinguishing this personal name of God.

With the exception of the one true God, I propose that all other ‘gods’ are humanly manufactured. They are the product of man’s often sincere, yet erring attempt, to interpret the realm of the supernatural. Again, because the various characters assigned to these deities are in many ways a misrepresentation of the true character of God, he does not accept these names, nor does he respond to them. Furthermore, if seeking persons use these wrongly assigned divine names, they automatically associate them with the rest of the doctrinal base of the religion being referenced. In so many cases, if God allowed this, it would be counterproductive to the promotion of truth.[1]

Hindu Scripture strongly declares “nothing is more purifying than the holy name of God.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 6:1) If this is true—and it is—then one of the chief pursuits of life should be a holy quest to know the true name of God (which is only discoverable in the Bible). The legendary founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu, taught that ‘Ultimate Reality’ is an impersonal, cosmic energy force. He admitted, “I do not know its name; I call it Tao.” (Tao-te Ching 25, emphasis by author) How heartbreaking it is that a person, longing to know ‘Ultimate Reality,’ is unaware of the correct name to use, and so invents one! Yet how often this happens![2]

Another very fitting example is Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism. He was most likely a very sincere, pure-hearted man. His heartfelt prayers exude genuine love for God and passionate devotion to righteous principles. His life story is intriguing, especially the supreme effort he made to unite Hindus and Muslims. Guru Nanak insisted that repeating the wonder of the Creator’s Name “is a stairway which leads to the Maker, an ascent to the bliss of mystical union.” Another version of this same passage says, “the way to perfection, the stairs leading to honor.” (Japji 32) There is great truth in this statement. Guru Nanak taught that the right designation for God is “Sat Nam” meaning “True Name.” Yet those words are only descriptive of the very thing we all long to know. Yes, I agree with Guru Nanak. God does have a “True Name” and worshipfully uttering that name will usher us into his bliss-filled presence. But what actually is that “True Name”? Certainly, this is something Guru Nanak longed to know, just as any seeker after “True Light,” and something I believe he would have readily received had he been exposed to the correct revelation.

I believe with all my heart that I now have the answer. At certain pivotal, historic moments, God revealed different facets of his “True Name” to certain key biblical figures who then recorded this insight for others. Just as a human name is usually made up of several names, and some-times a title, so God’s true name is a combination of all the names and titles that he has assigned to himself. God responds to those names and titles revealed in the Bible, because the character and doctrine attached to those names and titles correctly represent who he is, how he acts toward men, and the doctrinal base that is truly inspired.

In the Old Testament God assigned to himself various names and titles that were then transferred to us in the Hebrew language, such as: Elohim (“God”—the fourth word in the Bible), El Shaddai (“the Almighty God”), Yahweh-Rapha (“the Lord our Healer”), Yahweh-M’Kaddesh (“the God who Sanctifies”), and so on.

The evolution of the revelation of the name of God in the Old Testament is very interesting. God revealed Himself to Moses in his “burning bush encounter” as “I AM THAT I AM” (Hebrew: hayah asher hayah) (Exodus 3:14). A few chapters later, God also declared:

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name LORD [Hebrew YHWH] I was not known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)

These letters in Hebrew are yod-hey-waw-hey (YHWH). These four letters are called the Tetragrammaton. Unfortunately, there were no vowels in the Hebrew language so it is not absolutely certain how this should be pronounced.

Most likely in the early 5th century B.C.E., Jews decided that that name was ineffable, too holy to be uttered aloud. This was based on a particular interpretation of the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

The commandment probably intended, at its origin, merely to prohibit inappropriate invocation of God’s name, when swearing or mundane conversation, but during this time it began to be viewed as a prohibition against uttering the name in all but the most solemn of circumstances.

According to the Mishnah, the sacred name was only to be pronounced in the Temple in Jerusalem, and only in very specific occasions – by the High Priest on Yom Kippur and when the priests sanctified the crowds with the Priestly Blessing (found in Numbers 6:24-26).

When the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem 70 C.E. by Rome, to punish them for their rebellion against Roman control, there was no longer a proper setting in which the name of God could be uttered permissibly. Since that day, when the name YHWH arises during prayer or recitation outside the Temple, Jews read it aloud as adonai, meaning “my lord.” Or in conversation they use the word hashem (meaning the name). Because of this practice, the true pronunciation was eventually lost.

Interestingly, Adonai meaning lord is the plural form of Adon—so it is still a revelation of the plurality of the Godhead, the triune nature of the Almighty (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Later, when the incarnation took place, God sent an angel to Mary announcing what the name of the Son of God should be. Gabriel rejoiced to proclaim, “You shall call His name JESUS [Heb. YESHUA, meaning “salvation”] for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) This heaven-conferred name perfectly describes what Jesus was born in this world to accomplish (for he was God manifested in a human body, sent from heaven to bring salvation to the world). The promise given later in the New Testament is very plain—”Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21, See Luke 1:31, Deuteronomy 6:4, 1 Kings 18:24.) Notice this passage of Scripture does not say to call upon “a name for the Lord,” but “the name of the Lord.” (Of course, this includes the pronunciation and spelling of the name JESUS in other languages as well, like Yesu in Chinese or Issa in Arabic.)

I personally used humanly assigned names for God unsuccessfully before I used the name of Jesus. I was sincerely worshipping God from my heart of hearts, but I was not “connecting” with God. Only when I called on the “True Name” of the true Savior did I experience true salvation and the true Spirit of God. I understand the logic of those who claim we are all worshipping the same God, however, this cannot be the case. Furthermore, some religions are atheistic and not even concerned with adoring the Almighty. Still others promote devotion to lesser deities who occupy subordinate roles in some huge pantheon of gods. I acknowledge that some worshippers are actually expressing heart-felt devotion to the Supreme Creator of heaven and earth, whoever they conceive him to be. In such cases, there is definitely a similarity of intent—a desire to love the Everlasting Father and contact him in prayer—but the fulfillment of this desire is only possible by going through “the door” (John 10:9).

There are many ways this ‘connection’ between God and man has been conceptualized, but only one way it can be actualized. The Bible explains that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is a name “above every name” and there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Philippians 2:9, Acts 4:12) It is the triune name of the Triune God (the Lord=Father, Jesus=the Son, Christ=meaning anointed one, a reference to the anointing of the Holy Spirit). God honors this name because it identifies his true character and his present mode of working in this world. This is an essential point.

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[1] Admittedly, there are some unique cultural groups in which a belief exists in a personal, perfect, omnipresent Supreme Deity who transcends the physical creation. When this Supreme Being (Lord of heaven) is not represented by false idols or images and when his character is not marred by false doctrine, fabricated legends, or wrongly applied personality traits, there are rare situations in which the names applied to him may be regarded as legitimate. Sometimes, these names are not only suitable ways of describing the Creator. They are even adaptable in explaining the full revelation of God to those particular people groups. However, such names are not sufficient to bring the users into real salvation experience and/or personal fellowship with God. (See Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson.)

[2] The word Tao means “the Way.” Actually, this is a correct title of the true God, who in his incarnate state declared, “I am THE WAY, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) However, “the Way” in Taoism differs significantly from “the Way” as outlined in Christianity.

Copyright © 2021 Mike Shreve

 

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Written by Mike Shreve