Names
by Rod Jackson

All verses are quoted from the NASB anything in [square brackets] is added by me for clarity.

When one studies the bible you soon come to realise that names are important. In our culture we choose names more on the sound, if we like how it sounds or not. But in the Bible a person's name is more than an identifier. Jesus changes the names of some of His disciples. For example

"And He [Jesus] appointed the twelve [disciples]: Simon (to whom He [Jesus] gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He [Jesus] gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”);" Mark 3:16 & 17

God renames Abram -

“No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I [God] have made you the father of a multitude of nations. Genesis 17:5

Clearly if a name is merely an identifier then it doesn't matter what the name is and so there is no point in renaming someone. The name "Abram" means "exalted father" but the name "Abraham" means "father of a multitude". We can see that God renames Abraham because his old name is not sufficient to what God has planned for him. For God will make Abraham into a "father of a multitude of nations".

So the first argument is that names are changed. The second argument follows -

"If you [christians] ask Me [Jesus] anything in My name, I will do it." John 14:14

Jesus promises to give whatever is asked in His name. If a name is merely a name then any Christian could pray this prayer - "Dear God I am asking You for $1 000 000 000, in the name of Jesus. Amen." God would have to answer that prayer, yet He doesn't. This is because a name is not merely a name; it includes the whole person, their character. That is why names are important in the bible they describe the person. So to ask in the name of Jesus is to ask according to the character of Jesus. This is explained a little more clearly in the following verse -

"This is the confidence which we have before Him [Jesus], that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him." 1 John 5:14-15

So asking in the name of Jesus is the same as asking according to His will. So again we see that a name is more than just an identifier, it is descriptive of their character/being.

So the first argument is that names are changed. The second argument is that "in the name of" means "in character with" or "according to the will of". The third argument follows -

"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. " Hebrews 7:1-2

The author of the book of Hebrews is explaining what the "order of Melchizedek" is like, which is mentioned in Psalm 110:4. But the only other Old Testament reference to Melchizedek is in Genesis 14. It does not say much about him. Notice that the author of the book of Hebrews uses the meaning of his name to gain insight into what it is like. This is especially true in verse 2 of Hebrews 7. In verse 2, twice the author uses the meaning of names - first the name "Melchizedek" means "King of Righteousness", secondly the name "Salem" means "Peace" (and is related to the Hebrew word "shalom"). So the author gathers information from his name and from the name of the city he is ruling over (NOTE - Salem later become "Jerusalem" which means "city of peace").

So the first argument is that names are changed. The second argument is that "in the name of" means "in character with" or "according to the will of". The third argument is that the Biblical authors derive meaning from the names. Finally an example of how this can be useful in one's study of the bible -

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him [Jesus], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, " Philippians 2:9-10

When reading this verse it could be tempting to think it means that if someone says "Jesus" then people will have to bow their knee. Because it says "at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW," but this is not what this verse is saying. Rather at the presence of the person of Jesus people will have no choice but to bow their knee because of His overwhelming glory. Therefore a name is seen to be more than a name; it is the person/character/being behind the name.

"So he [the angel of God] said to him, `What is your name?' And he said, `Jacob.' He [the angel of God] said, `Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.' " Genesis 32:27-28

"[The angel of] God said to him, `Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.' Thus He called him Israel." Genesis 35:10

God via His angel renames "Jacob" to "Israel". The name "Jacob" means "He who grasps the heel" (when Jacob was born he was grasping the heel of his twin brother Esau). The expression "to grasp the heel" may mean either "to supplant" or "to deceive", I believe "to supplant" is the correct meaning in Jacob's case (Jacob supplants Esau's birthright & blessing and later Jacob supplants Laban's flocks). The name "Israel" means "one who strives with God".

Now the problem for people who think a name is only a name is this. Jacob is called Israel and God says to Jacob/Israel that he shall be "no longer called Jacob". Yet the bible continues to use both names to describe the person (and later the nation) Israel. In fact a few chapters after God has said Jacob will no longer be called Jacob; God visits him in a dream, we read -

"God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, `Jacob, Jacob.' And he said, `Here I am.' " Genesis 46:2

Notice that God calls the person Israel, "Jacob" which seems to be a direct contradiction to what God said earlier when God said that the newly named person "Israel" will "no longer be called Jacob". But when we understand that a name is more than an identifier we can see what is really happening here. God says that Jacob's character was that of a supplanter but no more. Now Jacob/Israel's character is one who "strives with God" (which can be a good thing or a bad thing). And there are no more accounts of the person of Jacob supplanting anyone else after he is renamed.


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