We find in the first two chapters of Genesis, two different names for God-Elohim
. In Genesis chapter 1 God is exclusively referred to by the name Elohim
. However from Genesis 2:4
, to the remainder of chapter two, He is called the compound name Yahweh-Elohim
. Why are there two different names for God? Does this mean the account refers to two separate gods or are there two different authors writing two separate, contradictory accounts of creation?
Only One God Exists
First we need to emphasize that the Scripture is unified in its teaching that there is only one God who exists. The Bible says:
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! (Deuteronomy 6:4).
You are My witnesses, declares the LORD, And My servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me (Isaiah 43:10).
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me (Isaiah 44:6).
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
It is the united testimony of the Bible that only one God has real substance, no other gods exist. If the Scripture teaches that only one God exists, then how do we understand the two different names used in the first two chapters of Genesis?
The answer to this often-asked question is very simple. The Bible uses two separate names for God in the first two chapters of Genesis to describe different characteristics of the one God. The reason for the differences in names has to do with the emphasis the author is making. The Old Testament basically uses two words for God: Elohim
is the general name for God and is used in the context of God as creator. It emphasizes that God is distant and powerful. It is used to describe God as the awesome and majestic creator. In our English Bibles, Elohim
is translated as God.
(the LORD) is God's personal name and is used in the context of God having a relationship with His people. When God goes about creating humanity, it is Yahweh
who does this act. When the Lord is personally involved with His people, Yahweh
is the proper way to designate Him. In our English Bibles Yahweh
is translated as the LORD with all capital letters.
There is another Hebrew term in the Old Testament, Adonai
which means my master. It is also translated as Lord in our English Bible but not with all capital letters. Therefore when we see LORD that is Yahweh
or the divine name for God. When we read Lord, this is Adonai
, or master. It is easy to see how these two terms can become confused.
Rest Of Scripture
The distinction in the divine names holds true for the remainder of the Scripture. The different names merely reflect a different emphasis on God's character and His dealings with humanity. There is always a reason why the writer uses the term Elohim
. The context will always provide the answer.
We should note that it was a common practice in the ancient world to have two different names for the same god. The Egyptians had two different names for their gods with nobody ever assuming they were anything but the same god referred to. However when the Old Testament gives two separate names for God, immediately critics assume two different accounts written by two different authors. This is not a scholarly or fair way of treating the evidence.
In summation, we can say that the Scriptures clearly teach that only one God exists. Yet this one God is described by different names in Scripture. The different names reflect different attributes of His character. Thus we should not assume any contradiction between the creation account in the first two chapters of Genesis merely because two different names for God are employed.