According to one baby name website, the name “Brian is pronounced BRY-en. It is of Celtic, Irish, and Gaelic origin, and the meaning of Brian is “high, noble”. Could also mean “strength”.” Who would have thought all that to be wrapped up in a name? And who would have thought it to be such a dead ringer for me? What does your name mean? I would guess that most of us cannot answer that question without going to a baby name website. Until this week I couldn’t. For most of us our names are not entirely empty, but not nearly freighted with as much meaning as names of old. When God names himself, however, he does so to further reveal himself, though not to express who he is in his essence. Thus he does so with meaningful words; which is to say with words or names that carry with them specific and general descriptions of what he is like and how he acts.
El is the singular and Elohim the plural. Interestingly enough the one true God often refers to himself in the Bible in the plural. Unfortunately, some have concluded this to be “proof” for the Trinity. Those who argue thusly missed a few Hebrew classes or, more likely, never took Hebrew at all. This use of the plural is well attested and is referred to as a “plural of majesty” (Bavinck’s suggestion is attractive. He rejects both the plural of majesty and the Trinitarian suggestion and opts for an intensive plural “that serves to express fullness of power”). Thus, it is universally followed by singular verbs and adjectives. It has little to say about the literal number of persons in the Godhead (even if it did it still is not helpful because it could refer to as few as two or a many as, well the biggest number you can think of. Still, New Testament data are needed to substantiate any Trinitarian claims and it is far better to pitch one’s theological tent there than upon the shaky foundation of a plural of majesty), but is instead a way of majestically inflating the persona of God.
The most basic name of God in the Old Testament is the name El/Elohim.
El/Elohim is the most generic name for God, also being used to describe a false “god(s),” The generic nature of the word is seen when the Old Testament writers attach further qualifiers to it, such as in the cases of El Shaddai (“God Almighty,” Gen. 17:1), El Olam (“The Everlasting God/God Everlasting,” Gen. 16:13), and El Elyon (“God Most High,” Gen. 14:19). Generic though it may be, it is nonetheless revealing. Most basically, El/Elohim denotes strength. God is strong, stronger than we, and sovereign and free. He is the Strong One who creates (Gen.1:1; Isa. 45:18) and controls his universe and his subjects. While God does reveal himself more specifically and lovingly to his covenant people, for all the world to see (cf. Rom. 1:18ff), he is most basically the Strong One. He is a ruler, a king, a governor. All other gods are mere counterfeits and copycats. While most basic of all, for those who know Him this is marvelously comforting. For God created all things and sustains this by his powerful arm. And, he is our God and we are His people.