What’s In A Name: Illustrations Of Old Testament Name Theology -- By: Michael Barrett

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:1 (Jan 2014)
Article: What’s In A Name: Illustrations Of Old Testament Name Theology
Author: Michael Barrett

What’s In A Name: Illustrations Of Old Testament Name Theology1

Michael Barrett

In our culture, names are usually nothing more than labels for identification. The name we use to address a person, for instance, often indicates our relationship to him. According to my upbringing, we tend to call only good acquaintances by their first names. Further, we may address by first name someone whom we consider beneath our station in life, such as an employee, but we would not presume to call a superior by his first name. Nevertheless, we tend to be thrilled when a boss addresses us by our first name, inferring correctly or incorrectly that he really knows and cares about us. I suppose I will never forget the day my principal Old Testament professor and mentor called me “Mike” for the first time. I took that as a sign that I was worthy and capable in his estimation of pursuing my degree. I was such an impressionable kid. We served as colleagues for years and have been friends, but to this day I find it awkward to address him by his first name. I’ll call him by his last name without using his degree title, but that irreverent circumlocution is as far as I can go.

Although our first names are in some way special, their use or nonuse does not depend on what the names may mean etymologically or historically. They’re just labels. They can identify us, but they do not describe us.

Nicknames are something else. Not only do they identify an individual, but they also describe something about him. We assign nicknames to public figures as well as those who are close to us. Husbands and wives often refer to each other with particular and sometimes peculiar names. Terms of endearment like “honey” and

“sweetheart” are well-worn and may show little imagination, but they are nonetheless special, communicating something only to each other. Nicknames communicate something about a person. We sometimes refer to people by the position they hold or occupation they perform: Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, Pastor. These are not exactly nicknames, but the titles effectively reveal something about the person.

There is a point to all this. The names of God are more than simply labels: they are means by which God reveals something about His person, His perfections, and His work. They both identify and describe. What is true about the names of God generally is true about the names of Christ specifically. The Old Testament contains many names or titles of Christ that draw attention to some particular aspect of His person or His work. The use of these special titles for Messiah was an effective way for advancing knowledge about Him in the Ol...

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