What is the value of understanding Biblical names?

In our culture, we have a set of words that are used solely as names, words such as David and Michelle. When we name our children, we choose a name based on how well we like the sound of the name. In Biblical times, they used everyday nouns and verbs as names. When they named their children, they chose a name based on the truth that the name communicated.

This is important to us because the Bible uses Biblical names to communicate truth to us. One of the most important names used to communicate truth is the name of Jesus. Let’s look at a couple passages in Genesis to see a demonstration of how names were used to communicate truth, then we will look at the name of Jesus.

Read the following verses from Genesis 17. Notice the word “laughed”. What was Abraham laughing about?

Gen. 17:15 ¶ Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

Gen. 17:16 “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Gen. 17:17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Abraham laughed at the notion that he and Sarah would have a child in their old age. (Later in this article, it will be important to know that Genesis was originally written in Hebrew and that the Hebrew word that is translated “laugh” is the word “yitzchaq”.)

Notice the word “laugh” in the following verses. What was Sarah laughing about?

Gen. 18:9 ¶ Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”

Gen. 18:10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

Gen. 18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing.

Gen. 18:12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

Gen. 18:13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’

Gen. 18:14 “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Gen. 18:15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Sarah also laughed at the notion that she and Abraham would have a child in their old age. (The Hebrew word that is translated “laugh” is the feminine form of the word “yitzchaq”.)

Abraham fathered Isaac at age 100. Abraham died at age 175.Notice the name “Isaac” and the word “laugh” in the following verses from chapter 21.

Gen. 21:1 ¶ Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.

Gen. 21:2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.

Gen. 21:3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.

Gen. 21:4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

Gen. 21:5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Gen. 21:6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

Gen. 21:7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Abraham and Sarah had a child in their old age. They named him Isaac. The Hebrew word that is translated “Isaac” in verses 3-5 is the word “yitzchaq”. The Hebrew word that is translated “laughter” and “laugh” in verse 6 is “yitzchaq”.

Abraham and Sarah both laughed at the notion that they would have a child in their old age. When they finally had that child, they named him Laugh because of the laughter that had surrounded his birth. In other words, they chose a name for their son based on the truth that the name communicated.

Now let’s look at the name of Jesus. Read the following verses written by the Apostle John. What role does the meaning of a name have in these verses?

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

1John 3:23 ¶ This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.

1John 5:13 ¶ These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

There are eternal benefits to believing in the name of Jesus, but in order to believe in the name of Jesus, we have to know what the name of Jesus means. Just as the name Isaac had meaning and communicated truth, so too the name of Jesus has meaning and communicates truth.

Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua. Joshua means “Yahweh saves”. When the Apostle John told us to believe in the name of Jesus, he was telling us to believe that Yahweh saves.


Further Reading

Should we read ancient Bible stories?

How does Bible geography help us?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”