What does Jesus mean by God’s name?

I’m looking at John 17, where Jesus is praying to the Father, and several times he mentions “your name”—for example, “I have kept them in your name” or “your name, which you have given me,” or “I have manifested your name to the people who you gave me.” What exactly does he mean by “your name” in those formations? I mean, is it just a colorful way of saying “You” or “your will” or??? I’m not coming up with a really coherent idea, as you can tell. But it’s clearly very important…

Also, how does it differ from “your word,” which also shows up several times?



  • W HyattW Hyatt Shipmate
    I take it as referring to God's nature or quality, similar to using "name" to refer to someone's reputation or the way someone is known to everyone else.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    For me, using a phrase like that almost always links to what Jews would call HaShem—The Name, meaning the name revealed at the Burning Bush—and all the implications that go along with it. It also links to the Ten Commandments, specifically “You shall not bear the name of the Lord your God in vain.”1 Knowing God’s name is knowing God in a way beyond those who don’t know God’s name. God’s name is intimately connected to God’s nature and God’s identity.

    I also think of passages like Isaiah 43 (“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”)

    In the case of John 17, I think perhaps what Jesus says has to be considered in the broader context of John—the prologue, the number of times Jesus uses “I Am” about himself, etc. I think it’s a way Jesus is yet again identifying himself with YHWH, describing how he has revealed God’s nature and identity, and describing how “those you have given me” have been claimed by God as belonging to God and bearing God’s name, just as a child might bear their father’s name (whether a modern surname or something like Yeshua bar Yosef).
    1     I know the usual translation is “take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” which is often understood to mean “use” or “speak the name of the Lord your God in vain.” But my understanding is that the Hebrew carries a connotation of “take” in the sense of “carry” or “bear,” as in “take this with you.”

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    My take on it is that where Jesus refers to ‘making known’ the Father’s name it’s a respectful periphrasis for ‘you’. Where he refers to ‘keeping’ them in God’s name I’m less sure. It might mean ‘on God’s behalf’, but I’m more inclined to see it as preserving them in their faith i.e. so they are still known as God’s people.
  • I’m wondering what on earth it means to manifest his name.
  • questioningquestioning Shipmate
    I end up going all High Christology TM on this.

    Everything in me wants to claim that "to manifest God's name" is to incarnate God, to reveal God. Not just to reveal some character or quality of God, but to show God forth in a "real" way. I'm grappling for words, and I'm quite sure that someone will come along and beat me up, but that's OK.

    In some cultures, if you know someone's true name, you have power over the person. Clearly, a name is not just a convenient handle, it is, in some way, the essence of the person. I wonder whether manifesting God's name means manifesting the reality of God.
  • That actually makes a lot of sense!
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    I take it that we’re looking at John 17.6 (ESV).

    Manifested there translates the Greek Ἐφανέρωσά which simply means to reveal or to make known. At one level you could just see ‘your name’ as a reverent periphrastic for ‘you’ - ‘I have made you known’ or ‘I have revealed you’.

    In Jesus Christ God reveals himself to humankind in a way that we can truly comprehend. And I think that coheres with what @questioning has posted above.

    That also makes me think of the exchange between Moses and God in Exodus 3.13-14 where again giving the name appears to be something which reveals the ‘person’ named.
  • Merry VoleMerry Vole Shipmate
    edited June 21
    I wonder if 'name' is a sort of plural singular. Eg we might give a child several names which might include the name of a significant relative and an aspirational name that carries connotations of eg bravery or integrity. Taken together with the surname/family name you can end with a name you are usually known by, then a few 'middle names' and all together they are still 'your name' in a singular sense.
    Same with God?
  • Alan Cresswell Alan Cresswell Admin, 8th Day Host
    There's also a tradition, which is evident in much of the Bible as well as wider cultures of the ANE, of giving names that embody something about the person named. Which might be even more important where an adult is renamed - eg Jacob being renamed (by God) Israel, the one who struggled with God and overcame. The name Israel carries with it something about a man who out of fear of his brother has sought to appease him with a flood of gifts, and stays behind (possibly to await a message that it would be OK to cross over and meet Esau) ... and, yet is strong enough to wrestle with God (or an angel) through the night and endure. The name Israel invokes the story of that deeply flawed and redeemed individual, the history that brought him to the bank of the Jabbok, as well as that evening wrestling.

    With the names of human beings being used to convey so much information about who someone is, or what their parents aspire for them, how much more does the name of God convey about who God is? The name of God carries His whole character. He is loving, faithful, forgiving ... being kept in that name is an assurance of our salvation. Making that name known ("manifest") isn't just telling people how to refer to a deity, it's demonstrating who God is by showing all of His character in how we (collectively) behave to others so that in us people see who God is.
  • In verse 11, we get "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." I looked that and the other "keep" passages up and found forms of tereo, to keep, cherish, obey, observe, take care of. The "keep, cherish, take care of" bits are striking me with more force than usual, since I can't see translating this "obey" the way they do when the noun is "your words" or some such. It's also in verse 15.
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