Some people are confused by the fact that the Bible uses different names for God. We often use different terms to speak of the same individual. I might refer to my biological father as Dr. Clayton (he held a Ph.D. in philosophy), Mr. Clayton, Alfred Stafford Clayton, Staff, father, or daddy, depending on whom I was talking to or addressing. Those different names emphasize different aspects of the person. Likewise, the different names for God emphasize various aspects of His nature.
“Elohim” in Hebrew refers to God’s power and might. It involves the fact that God is the only true and supreme God. That word was used in Genesis 1:1 because the creation process was a radical display of power and might. The Hebrew word “Adonai” was used in reference to God’s authority in human affairs. In Deuteronomy 6, we see the conclusion of the giving of the Ten Commandments. In talking about the value of the commandments, God tells His people that the purpose of those rules was “that it may go well with you” (Verse 3). Verse 6 indicates God’s authority: “And these words ‘Adonai’ commands you today shall be on your heart.” This isn’t about power and might, but about structure and order given by one in authority.
Perhaps the most quoted name for God is “Yahweh.” Since “Yahweh” is the proper name of the divine Person, the Jews would not even speak it for fear of violating the commandment against using God’s name in vain. You will find “Yahweh” in passages that involve the promises of God. We see an example of the use of different names for God by a careful study of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, the word used for God is “Elohim.” In Genesis 2, the word used is “Yahweh.” Some skeptics have maintained that Genesis 1 and 2 had two different authors, but looking at the names used for God dispels that idea.
The first chapter of Genesis deals with the creation. The power of God is the theme throughout the entire chapter. In Genesis 2, the theme is not creation, but the relationship between man and woman. Verse 24 of chapter 2 spells that out: “Therefore (the stated purpose of the chapter) shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one.” God’s plan for man and woman was for the support man needed (verse 20). Many of us who have lost our wives can testify to the truth of Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Being one is not just sexual; it is emotional, psychological, and spiritual.
The two names for God used in Genesis 1 and 2 do not indicate different authors. They express different themes, and both are important and correct. The Bible uses other different names for God, and that is not a weakness because each name carries a different emphasis. Understanding that is a key to understanding the Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019