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  • Rick LoPresti

What's in a name?

Juliet asked Romeo in the famous story by Shakespeare, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are essential in identifying people, places, and things. If people did not have names, how would we be able to specifically identify them? It is much more efficient to identify someone by their name than their characteristics. Would you rather say, “I’m talking about the 6-foot-tall man with the gray hair, blue eyes, long nose, and a scar on his left hand” which might not even help identify the person you are talking about; or is it better to say. “I’m talking about James Smith.” When giving directions, how much better is it to give the name of the place than some lengthy description which might not even direct the person to it? People take care when naming things, because names have meaning. Not long ago, there was a big uproar about the alleged insensitivity of sports teams, specifically the Washington Redskins, about their native American names. Do people name things after people or things they despise? What couple would name their son Ahab or their daughter Jezebel? People should pray about what they name their children. Names have power and meaning. The owners of sports teams who have used native American references are choosing to honor history or to represent something powerful. All companies use names that they think will represent something that projects something to be admired by their customers. They choose strong animals or majestic places, etc. There is no Ford Coatimundi. There is nothing wrong with the coatimundi, which is a raccoon-like animal, but this name does not conjure images or feelings that would attract customers to it. Ford has the Mustang and the Bronco, Dodge has the Ram and the Charger, and Jeep has the Wrangler and the Cherokee. If sports teams are to get rid of all names that refer to native Americans, then should many cities, counties, and states in America also have to change their names? The names of other geographical places would also have to be changed. I don’t believe these things were named as an insult to anyone’s heritage, but rather as an honor.

God has revealed Himself to man through names. He revealed Himself to Abraham as the Almighty God (Gen 17:1). Later, He revealed Himself to Moses as I AM (Ex 3:14, Ex 6:3). When the angel Gabriel visited Mary with the news that she was to give birth to the Messiah, he told her to name Him JESUS (Mt 1:18-20, Lk 1:35). This is the most important and powerful name angels, demons, and men have ever heard. It is the only name whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12). It literally means, “Jehovah (I AM) has become our Savior”. This name is not a name handed down through Joseph’s family. It was given by heaven because it accurately describes the identity of Jesus Christ. He is Jehovah God, the heavenly Father, manifested in the flesh to be the only Savior of man (Jn 1:1-3 & 14, Jn 14:7-11. 2Cor 5:19, Col 2:8-12, 1Tim 3:16). That is why the apostles baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 19:1-7). Prayer (Jn 14:14), casting out of demons (Mk 16:17), miracles (Acts 3:6 & 16), and all things are to be done in this great name (Col 3:17).

God sometimes changed the names of people to signify a change in their spiritual status. Abram (high father) became Abraham (father of many nations) in Genesis 17:4-5. Jacob (deceiver, supplanter), became Israel (power as a prince with God (Gen 32:28). Simon (stone) became Peter or Cephas (also stone) in John 1:42. People’s names also sometimes had special significance. Adam means red clay (Gen 2:7 & 19). Adam called his wife Eve, which means life giver (Gen 3:20).This apparently occurred after the judgment on their sin, but before Cain and Abel were born. Noah means rest or comfort (Gen 5:28-29). Isaac means laughter (Gen 17:17-19). Moses means “drawn out of the water” (Ex 2:10). Joshua means “Jehovah has become my Savior” (Num 13:16). This is the same name as Jesus (Acts 7:45, Heb 4:8). The name of John the baptizer was given by the angel Gabriel (Lk 1:13-19). His name means “God is gracious”. Jesus also nick-named the brothers James and John “the sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17).

Names can also have a negative connotation. When the prophecy of judgment upon the family of Eli the priest and all Israel started to come to pass, his daughter-in-law went into labor. As the child was being born as she died, she named him Ichabod, which means “the glory is departed” (1Sam 4:19-22). Rachel also died in childbirth, and she named her son Benoni, which means “son of my sorrows”. However, her husband Jacob changed it to Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand”. The right hand is symbolic throughout the Bible as power and honor (Gen 48, Ex 15:6, 1Ki 2:19, Job 40:40, Ps 16:11, Ps 17:7, Ps 20:6, Ps 44:3, Ps 118:15-16, Mt 25:33). When this phrase is used regarding Jesus Christ, it is not a literal physical location as related to the heavenly Father (Ps 110:1, Mt 22:44, Mt 26:64, Mk 16:19, Acts 2:33-34, Acts 7:55-56, Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20. Col 3:1, Heb 1:3 & 13, Heb 8:1, Heb 10:12, Heb 12:2, 1Pet 3:22). God is invisible and infinite (1Tim 1:17, Ps 139:7-13). He does not have a literal right hand as a body part or a physical location. He is a Spirit (Jn 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Lk 24:39). Also, Jesus IS the heavenly Father (Jn 10:30, Jn 14:7-11). When Naomi returned from Moab, she changed her name which means pleasant to Mara which means bitterness (Ruth 1:20).God named the prophet Isaiah’s son Mahershalalhashbaz, which means “speedy is the prey” (Is 8:3-4). This was a warning of soon coming judgment on Syria and Israel by way of Assyria. The prophet Hosea had three children whom God named relating to judgment on Israel (Hos 1).

When Israel was conquered by Babylon because of their sins, king Jehoiachin was removed from office, taken to Babylon, and replaced with his uncle Mattaniah (2Ki 24:15-17). They changed Mattaniah's name to Zedekiah. Mattaniah means "gift of Jehovah", and Zedekiah means "Jehovah is righteous" or "Jehovah is just." These are both fine Hebrew names. The purpose of changing his name was not to insult him, but to show control over his identity.

The Babylonians also took other captives to Babylon that they believed showed potential (Dan 1:3-5). Among those were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. If you ask people who Daniel is, they will remember the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan 6). Ask them who Belteshazzar was, and you will probably stump them. If you ask people who Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are, you may get a puzzled look; but if you ask if they have heard of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and they will recall them being thrown into the fiery furnace and coming out alive (Dan 3). This is all because their names were changed in Babylon by the prince of the eunuchs (Dan 1:6-7). Daniel means “God is my judge”. Babylon changed it to Belteshazzar, which means, “prince of Bel”. Bel was an idol. Hananiah means “God has favored”, or “whom Jehovah gave”. The king changed it to Shadrach, which means “friend of the king” or “royal scribe”. Mishael means “who is what God is?”. It was changed to Meshach, which means “guest of the king”. Azariah means “helped by Jehovah”, but it was changed to Abednego, which means “servant of Nebo”, which is an idol also known as Mercury. They were not given insulting, demeaning names. To Babylonians, these were names of great honor; but it was an effort to remove and replace their Hebrew names and thus their spiritual identity as the people of the one true God. That is why they were thrown into a lion’s den and a fiery furnace. They refused to forsake the identity their Hebrew names gave them and take on the identity Babylon want them to embrace instead. They would only pray to and worship the real God, and they refused to bow to idols and the values of the world.

When Pharaoh-necho the king of Egypt conquered Judah, he removed their king Jehoahaz and replaced him with his son Eliakim. He changed his name to Jehoiakim. Eliakim means “he who God has set up”. Jehoiakim means the same thing – “he who Jehovah sets up”. So, why did he bother to change it. Changing his name represented conquering not only his kingdom, but his identity. Assyria tried to strip the Israelites of their identity later when they conquered them (2Ki17). This passage shows the futility of what is called multi-culturalism. You can only embrace one identity and one set of values at a time. Psychologists call trying to be more than one identity multiple personality disorder. The only good identity change is going from a lifestyle of sin to becoming a believer in Jesus Christ.When Rabshakeh the Assyrian later gave his speech at the wall of Jerusalem in an attempt to demoralize the Jews, he offered them a lifestyle just like their own. He even quoted the promises of God in the law of Moses to them about their land (2Ki 18:31-32). The enemy of your soul does not care how you identify yourself, as along as it is not with your God-given identity. He will offer you cleverly disguised substitutes. It can even be something that seems honorable or very much like who God created you to be.

There has been a recent backlash against bullying among children as those who have been bullied have started acting out destructively by either killing themselves or others. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” may be an attempt to fend off bullying, but it is not true. People are hurt by being called negative things in an effort to devalue and belittle them. Unwarranted public shaming can destroy people emotionally. Their perception of God, others, and themselves gets distorted. Names have power and meaning.

When someone becomes a Christian, they are to be baptized by immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins repented of (Mk 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 19:1-7, Acts 22:16). Some say, “What about Matthew 28:19? It says to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” If we look at this sentence grammatically, we see that the word “name” is singular, indicating one name. The words father, son, and Holy Ghost are not names. They are general terms. God in the New Testament has one specific proper name, and that is Jesus Christ (Zech 14:9, Acts 4:12). Also, nobody was baptized in Matthew 28. Rather, this is an account of Jesus giving instructions to the eleven apostles between His resurrection and ascension. There are several other accounts of Jesus instructing the apostles during this time. The one in Matthew 28 occurred in a mountain in Galilee at which the Lord had told them to meet Him in (Mt 28:7 &16). The one in Mark apparently took place shortly after the resurrection, possibly that night. It was after Cleopas and his traveling partner returned from Emmaus to report that they had been visited by the Lord (Mk 16:12-14 , Lk 24:13-36). The one on Luke 24:46-49 took place later in the day of the resurrection (vs 33-36). The book of John shows several meetings between Jesus and the apostles during this time, but one in particular has some elements of what is called “the great commission”. It is John 20:21-23. This also occurred the evening after the resurrection (Jn 20:19). Who were at these meetings? Jesus, the apostles, and some disciples. At the one on Matthew 28, it was only Jesus and the eleven, and again no one was baptized there. So, who would be the best people to ask what Jesus meant and how this command was to be carried out? That would be the apostles. Although they are not currently with us to tell us, we can read the book of Acts where the accounts of them actually baptizing people are recorded. The only way they are recorded as baptizing people is by immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. This is also supported by statements in their letters called the epistles (Rom 6:1-5, 1Cor 1:13, Col 2:8-12, Gal 3:27). Not one person alive for the last 1,800 plus years was there for the conversation in Matthew 28. If the apostles who were at the start of the New Testament church and wrote the New Testament were wrong, then there is no way today to get it right. Some people in their ignorance say, “I would rather obey Jesus than the apostles.” This statement is fullof error. The apostles did obey Jesus by using the singular New Testament saving name of God in water baptism. Jesus said He came in the Father’s name (Jn 5:39), and so would the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Jn 14:26). Jesus is that one name. The Bible does not contradict itself.

Does it really matter? Names are identifiers. Although sometimes people try to attach meaning to names in the Bible that is not specifically there, that is not true when it comes to the name of Jesus Christ. Since it is the only New Testament saving name of God, it is the name through which we are to receive remission of sins (Lk 24:47, Acts 2:38, Acts 4:12, Acts 10:43), it is He with whom we are buried in baptism (Rom 6:1-4, Col 2:8-12), and it is the only baptism the apostles performed. It does matter. This is how the name of Jesus Christ is applied to us. When James spoke in the council about the conversion of the Gentiles (which included baptism in the name of Jesus) in Acts 15:13-17, he quoted Amos 9:11-12 and said that “the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things”. The only part of the steps of salvation where the name of Jesus Christ is called upon people is water baptism. So yes, it does matter. The words father, son, and even Holy Ghost have no specific divine power invested in them. It is, however, in the name of Jesus Christ. When that name is applied to us, we become partakers of His identity. The marriage relationship is often used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the relationship between the Lord and His people. The church is the bride of Christ (Jn 3:29. 2Cor 11:2, Eph 5:22-33, Rev 21, Rev 22:17). As a bride takes the surname of her husband to show her embracing her honored place in this relationship, and to honor her husband’s place, the bride of Christ is identified by His name which is applied in baptism.

The issue has always been the name Jesus Christ. The Jewish religious leaders had a problem with it (Acts 3-5, particularly Acts 4:18 and 5:40). The worldy philosphers did not like it (Acts 17:18). Jesus told His disciples they would be hated of all men for it (Mt 10:22). The demons cannot handle it (Acts 16:18). They are not scared of the words father, son, or Holy Ghost; but they cannot resist the authority of the name of Jesus Christ when properly used by those authorized to use it (Mk 16:17). No sin can keep hold of those who are freed by it as long as they obey the gospel (Rom 6-8). It is what makes prayer powerful (Jn 14:14, Jn 15:16, Jn 16:23-24, 1Cor 1:2). Some day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that great name (Phil 2:10-11). We might as well do it now while it can still save us and transform our identity into the one He died for us to have.

Jacob was given his name, which means deceiver or supplanter, by his parents because when his mother was pregnant with him and his twin brother Esau they wrestled in her womb (Gen 25:22-26). She asked God what the meaning of this was, and He told her that the normal practice of the firstborn receiving the highest position in the family would be reversed. Esau came out first, and Jacob came out holding onto his older brother's heel. Jacob later demonstrated the meaning of his name in his dealings with his brother (Gen 25:27-34, Gen 27). Later, God changed his name to Israel, which means "power as a prince with God" (Gen 32:28). That was a good name change which God intended to demonstrate a change for Jacob. After this event, the Bible calls Jacob 35 times in the book of Genesis, but we only see Jacob use this name six times (Gen 33:20, Gen 48:20, Gen 49:2 & 7 & 16 & 24). However, he is called Jacob 71 times in these same passages. God reminded him of this name change later (Gen 35:10). The name Jacob appears another 196 times in the Bible after Genesis. Why is this? It could be that Jacob never fully embraced his new identity in God. His handling of the situation with his daughter Dinah did not show great faith (Gen 34), He was quick to believe that his son Joseph was dead, but not that he was actually alive (Gen 37:28-36, Gen 45:25-28). He did not exactly have great professions of faith when his other sons were attempting to get food from Egypt (Gen 42:36-38, Gen 43:6-14). His profession before Pharaoh was less than inspiring (Gen 47:9).

It does us little good to be born again (Jn 3:3-5) by being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and taking on His name unless we walk by faith in the newness of the identity He gives us. " Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2Cor 5:17)." Our new birth must be activated and maintained by a continuing faith (Col 2:12, 1Pet 3:21), and faith without works is dead (Jam 2:14-26). We need to become an Israel, and not turn back to being a Jacob. It is through faith in the name of Jesus Christ we can be a new person (Acts 3:16).

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