Barry Newman's Blog

February 14, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XIII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 9:29 pm

In the name – with reference to “the name”

Some consideration will now be given to how we should understand the notion of “name” beginning with how the word, translated “name” is used in the Old Testament.  Reference will be made to the opinions of a number of authors, particularly with respect to how “name” in “in the name” could be understood. There will be some focus on “eis to onoma” in particular. In discussion earlier, “into (‘eis’) the name” was sometimes referred to as though “the name” in that phrase could be understood as “who a person is”. Some justification for this understanding is now required.

Old Testament perspectives

The Hebrew word, “shem” in its various forms is to be found about 825 times in the Masoretic text of the Old Testament.  It is often used simply in terms of a particular name given to a person or other entity and sometimes the name has special significance.  Occasionally the person or a group of people such as Israel as referred to but in terms of their “name,” e.g.  their name will stand, they will be summoned by name. Occasionally it can be found denoting the idea of “fame” or “renown” – the person or nation having a “name” amongst other people.  Often the name is God’s name and there are expressions such as, singing praise to his name, calling on his name, building a sanctuary for his name,

Perhaps of most significance given our main area of focus is the Hebrew word, “beshem”. It along with ubeshem” is often translated, “in the name”, though sometimes, with other words such as “on the name” or “by the name”. In about 50 of the 71 instances the name is a reference to God with phrases such as, glorying in the name, speaking in the name, calling on the name, help being in the name of Yahweh, trusting in the name of Yahweh, serving in the name of Yahweh, being named by the name of Yahweh.  There are other forms of “shem” where most of the references are to God and where “in the name” or something similar is a possible translation. These are: “bishemi” and “ubishemi” where translations refer to “in” or “by” or “on” “my name” (the references are to God 18 times from a total of 19), “bishemeka”, “beshimka” and “uleshimka” where the translations refer to “in” or “by” or “on “your name” (the references are to God 12 times from 15), and “bishmo” and “ubishmo” where the reference is to “in” or “by” or “on” his name (the references are to God 9 times from 10).

It might be thought that the Hebrew words, “leshem” and “uleshem” are relevant when considering the notion of “in the name of” or similar.  See later.  Taken together there are 32 instances where these words occur in the Masoretic text. However the notion generally conveyed seems to be in terms of something being done “for” or “to” such as in the phrases, “a house being built for the name of the Yahweh”, “thanks being given to the name of Yahweh”.  Translations commonly use the words, “for” or “to” in these instances.  I will not appeal to “leshem” or “uleshem” as relevant to the present discussion.

Of importance then is what we might say about the significance of “name” in the expression “in”, “by” or “on” “the name” as it is found in the Old Testament.  Sometimes, the name given seems to be simply the name as a label of the entity: the city was called by the name of Dan, Bezaleel being called by name, towns being allotted by name. More commonly, and almost in almost all instances, where the reference is to God, or to a person of some prominence, something more or indeed much more, seems to be involved.   For example, the actual appeal might be to God’s authority or his power.  And his authority or power is some aspect of who he is. Indeed sometimes, it seems to be a reference to who he is without there being a focus on some aspect of his being.  To call upon the name of the Lord is not simply to call upon the name, “Yahweh”.  One is calling on him who has that name.  Prophesying in the name of the Lord is prophesying as the spokesperson of Yahweh, Yahweh being who he is. Trusting in his name, is not making a mere name the object of one’s trust but he who is behind, as it were, that name.  Swearing by God’s name is not simply invoking his name as part of some oath but invoking him in so doing.  Though sometimes it is his actual name that is being called upon, the expectation or hope is that he himself will act. Even with respect to another god, though sometimes the context might be that of invoking the particular name of a god, it is the god, who has been envisaged, in which one has placed one’s hopes.


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