Biblical Principle #39: The Word ‘God’ is a Title, Not a Name

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Principle

The word ‘God’ is a title, not a name.

Explanation

GOD is a Spirit being. Today, it is common for people to refer to this Spirit being as “God.”

“Do you believe in God? Yes, I believe in God.”

Generally, I think this fact is a good thing. But when it comes to understanding the message of the Bible, this can introduce confusion.

The source manuscripts that are used to translate the Bible into English are primarily from two languages: Hebrew and Greek.

Hebrew Elohim

Most English Bibles use a Hebrew source for the Old Testament.

In Hebrew, the word that is translated “God” in English is אֱלהִים (elohim). While it is true that elohim is used to refer to GOD (some 2,000+ times!), elohim is also used to refer to other beings, including the:

  • Gods of Egypt (see Exodus 12:12)
  • Spirit of Samuel, who had previously died (see 1 Samuel 28:13)
  • Idols of Laban (see Genesis 31:30)

Thus, it is most accurate to say that the Hebrew word elohim means a spirit being, regardless of type.

Let me illustrate how this impacts an accurate reading of the Bible.

The first verse in our English Bibles reads:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 NIV

If we replace “God” with the Hebrew elohim, the verse would read: 

1 In the beginning [elohim] created the heavens and the earth.

Now, using our above accurate definition for elohim, Genesis 1:1 is actually communicating to us:

1 In the beginning [a spirit being] created the heavens and the earth.

Do you see how this impacts the message?

Inserting the word “God” into Genesis 1:1 is an interpolation of the original message. Do we know that GOD created the heavens and the earth? Yes, of course! Other Scripture informs us of that truth.

Is it dangerous (and potentially misleading) to substitute the word God here for a Hebrew word that sometimes refers to other spirit beings? Yes. Why? Because of how it subtly shifts the original message (here and elsewhere, by precedent).

Greek Theos

This problem is not isolated to Hebrew. The same issue arises in the Greek Scriptures.

To illustrate, let’s consider 1 Corinthians 8:5-6. It is translated in English as:

5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 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 8:5-6 NIV

The Greek word translated “God” in v.6 is Θεὸς (theos). 1 Corinthians 8:6 clearly refers to God the Father whom we know as GOD.

But this same Greek word (in plural form) is found (twice) in v.5 referring to the existence of other gods.

In fact, if we refer to the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, the same word theos is found in Genesis 1:1:

1 In the beginning [theos] made heaven and earth.

Genesis 1:1 OSB

God is a Title

What does this mean for us?

  1. When you read the word “God” in an English Bible, remember that the word is not GOD’s name. “God” is a title of reverence given to GOD for being the Supreme Being.
  2. Do your homework. When you see the word “god” in any form, look at the original language (I recommend biblehub.com) and study the context to see whether you think the English translators got it right.
  3. Do not be surprised or offended when the Bible affirms the existence of numerous “elohim” or “theos” (gods), as we saw with 1 Corinthians 8:5.

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3 responses to “Biblical Principle #39: The Word ‘God’ is a Title, Not a Name”

  1. GARY T Coyle Avatar
    GARY T Coyle

    “CHRIST”
    The original messianic RABI INSPIRED ME 2 be relentless seeker of truth & nothing BUTTT !!! TRUTH !!! Am so GRATEFUL

    GARY T. COYLE

  2. Dave Lunsford Avatar
    Dave Lunsford

    All that was said is impressive. It showed a knowledge of the Bible most do not have. So whomever wrote this, I will presume has an education in Theology.

    If so, how is that they completely missed that only one god is capitalized as God. Our Creator God is always capitalized. Psalms 82 has many gods, that are not human but gods created by God. All of them with lower case g.

    God with a capital G is the God of the Bible and creation.

    How many Gods were there before the God of creation?

    Which came first, the title or the name? As in Jehovah?

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    V2 – the Spirit of God
    V3 – And God said

    Ch 3, V3 – God hath said

    Then the serpent in Ch 3, V5 – says ‘for God does know…’

    I Corinthians 8:4-6
    Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. [ESV]

    1. Tim Harris Avatar

      Excellent question, thanks Dave! (And no, no education in Theology. I’m just a random dude with a passion for GOD who studies a lot to try to know Him more deeply.)

      Regarding capitalization, neither Hebrew nor Greek languages possessed a concept of uppercase and lowercase distinction.

      Let’s look at the Septuagint (Greek) use of “God” and “gods” in Psalm 82:1, which you cited.

      1 A psalm for Asaph.
      God stood in the assembly of gods;
      He judges in the midst of gods, saying,

      The word translated “God” is θεός (https://biblehub.com/greek/2316.htm).

      The word translated “gods” is θεοὺς, which is taken from the same root word (https://biblehub.com/greek/theous_2316.htm).

      But in this case, the distinction is easier to observe because “gods” is plural, therefore we know which is referencing Jehovah versus the heavenly creatures.

      Now let’s consider Judges 8:33-34:

      33 So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made a covenant for themselves with Baal that he would be their god. 34 Thus the sons of Israel choose to no longer remember the Lord their God, He who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side;
      (Judges 8:33-34 OSB)

      In this case, if we insert the root Greek word in place of the English word “god” and “God”, the verses look like this:

      33 So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made a covenant for themselves with Baal that he would be their θεός. 34 Thus the sons of Israel choose to no longer remember the Lord their θεός, He who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side;
      (Judges 8:33-34 OSB)

      The Greek word describing Baal as “god” and Jehovah as “God” are the same word: θεός.

      The same is true if we used the Hebrew Masoretic Text as our source language.

      In our English Bibles, the translators make an educated guess based upon the context as to whether the “g” in “god” should be capitalized.

      So, this wasn’t “missed” on my part, but it was something I should have included since many people may not already know this information. So thank you, again, for raising the question.

      Blessings.

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