A Compendium of Christian Theology

By William Burt Pope, D.D.,

Volume One

Chapter 6

The Divine Essence and Perfections




            Elohim and Jehovah,

            with their Correlation in the Old Testament and the New

God's revelation of Himself is given in names which declare His nature and His perfections. Some of those names refer rather to the eternal Essence in itself as the one and only real being, some to the Divine Existence and nature as disclosed or revealed in His works, and some present God as the Substance clothed with its attributes. From these, as progressively unfolded throughout the Scriptures, we may humanly define the Essence of God, and arrange in reverent order the Divine perfections.

1. The phrase in most common use, and the only one used in Scripture, is THE DIVINE NATURE. This, according to its derivation, is scarcely applicable in any other than an accommodated and conventional sense to God: indeed, the only instance of its use in Scripture refers to our being made partakers of the Divine nature, 1 meaning either the moral excellence of God or the Divine-human spiritual life given in Christ. Neither the idea of phusis, from phuo, nor that of Natura, from Nascor, comports with the unproduced and undeveloping absoluteness of God. Even Pantheism, which has introduced the two correlative ideas of NATURA NATURANS, or the sum of all things as producing, and NATURA NATURATA, the sum of all things as produced, nevertheless finds these ideas inconsistent with its high conception of the absolute ALL, and prefers the term SUBSTANCE. The Scripture, however, knows no such abstract terms as Essence or Substance. I AM IS BEING, indeed, in contradistinction to all phenomena; but it is Being concrete in an Eternal Person. SUBSTANCE, Substantia, which is the hidden reality that underlies attributes, is equally absent from Divine revelation. In theology the word Nature is generally referred equally to the eternal essence and to the moral character of God; the words Substance and Essence, however, are more appropriate to the former. It may be added, though apparently a refinement in thought, that being is a deeper word than existence—which by its derivation includes the EX, the coming out of being into definite manifestations, —and is therefore strictly the representative of the absolute essence of the Deity.

1 2 Pet. 1:4.

2. Though the Divine names are alone mentioned, it must be remembered that there are other methods by which it has pleased God to present Himself to the thought of His creatures. Some Scriptural references to His being are neither names nor attributes: as when it is said that GOD IS SPIRIT; 1 that GOD IS LIGHT; 2 and that GOD IS LOVE. 3 But those definitions, mediating between essence and attribute, will find their appropriate place in a later department of theology.

1 John 4:24; 2 1 John 1:5; 3 1 John 4:16.


The names which represent the unsearchable mystery of the Eternal have been progressively revealed. Two of them, Elohim and Jehovah, in their Old-Testament unity, declare that God is at once absolute and necessary being, and the personal Source and Giver of all Divine life: these are supreme among many other names running through the older revelation. They are continued in the New Testament and consummated by the disclosure of a Name without a name, that of the Triune God made known through the Incarnate Son: the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Trinity.


These two essential and personal names pervade the Scriptures as distinct, and as related to each other, and as combined with other names. They convey to the mind a representative idea of the Divine Being which, though standing for a reality unsearchable in itself, effectually defends it from every perversion of the notion of God.

1. The former elohiym, is the first and the pervading name of the Supreme Being in the early revelations, and in this form limited to it. Its derivation, whether traced to el, the more primitive type, signifying power, or to its singular eloahh, signifying the effect of power in fear, is of secondary importance: probably in its simplest root it is underived.

Occurring sometimes poetically in the singular, it is generally in the plural: thus expressing the abundance, fullness, and glory of the powers of the Divine nature: as it were intensive, or a plural of majesty; though, as always joined with the singular verb, it is not consistent with such an abstract Monotheism as would leave no place for the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity.

2. The latter, Yhovah, denotes essential and absolute being, uniting what to man is past, present, and future in one eternal existence. This name is explained by God Himself: HE WHO IS, or HE WHO IS WHAT HE IS: 1 uniting as it were the abstract idea of pure Being with the process of continual becoming through revelation to His people. He is eternally steadfast in the perpetual revelation of His nature and relations. It is of importance to remember that Jehovah, no less than Elohim, lays the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity. The historical development of the nature of God in Scripture is always connected with it: the Theophanies and Anthropomorphisms are always those of Jehovah. And Jesus the God manifest in the flesh 2 is Jehovah, the Angel of Jehovah3 in the Old Testament, even as He said of Himself, Before Abraham was I AM, 4 in the New Testament.

1 Exo. 3:14; 2 1 Tim. 3:16; 3 Exo. 3:2; 4 John 8:58.

3. These appellatives are united from the very beginning of Scripture; and their combination, the Lord God and God the Lord, declares the truth that the Elohim or God Who created the universe is the personal Jehovah or God of His creatures: therefore, when the fuller revelation was made through Moses, of the God of a special covenant, the personal relations of Jehovah Who had been known indeed from the beginning were made prominent over those of the Almighty God Whom the fathers had formerly known.

When they are united, Elohim is rather the abstract and generic name, which might be given to false gods; but Jehovah is the proper name that indicates absolute unity, personality, and saving relation to His people and to individuals.

4. These are the two supreme names—given by Himself and not derived from heathenism—of the Divine Being in the Bible. All others are variations on them, or these with additional appellatives that link them with the attributes of the Godhead. For instance: El Shaday, God Almighty, 1 or Shaddai alone; the Living God; 2 Elohiym chayiym, the Most High; 3 El Elyown, the Lord, or the Lord God, of Hosts. 4 There is one name which occupies a peculiar place: the plural, Adonai, joined with Elohim and Jehovah. 5 This name of God denotes His dominion as Lord, which Jehovah does not. The Jews mostly used the vowel points of this word in writing and pronouncing the Name to them above every name, which they thus veiled in reverence: hence it coalesced with the latter when it was translated and passed into the New Testament as Kurios. The testimony of Thomas to the Divinity of Christ, My Lord and my God, 6 unites this with an echo of Adonai Elohai in the Psalms. St. John in the New Testament gives two new definitions of the nature of God, both, however, including His attributes, like those to which we have referred in the Old Testament: God is light and God is love. 7 The same final witness records the last revelation of God in the words of Christ which sums up these Divine names in one remarkable verse: Egoó eimi tó álfa kaí tó Oó légei Kúrios ho Theós hooón- kaí-ho-eén-kaí-ho-erchómenos ho Pantokrátoor. 8 Here are all the Greek representatives of the Hebrew names Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai, Shaddai; with their relation to absolute and personal being. And they form the transition, if our Lord Jesus Christ utters them, to the second branch of our subject, the final and full revelation of the Triune Name.

1 Gen 17:1; 2 Job 5:17; 3 Gen. 14:18; 4 Jer. 5:14; Dan. 9:13; 5 Isa. 40:10; 6 John 20:28; Psa 35:23; 38:15; 7 1 John 1:5; 8 Rev. 1:8.


The two great perversions of thought concerning the Divine nature which have been found wherever men have been left to their own devices—Polytheism and Pantheism in all their forms —are by these names explained at once and condemned.

1. POLYTHEISM is the human corruption of these Divine truths: Elohim, the God of unbounded internal fullness of life and external manifestations of creative wealth, becomes in heathenism a universe of deified and worshipped powers; Jehovah in heathenism degenerates into the special and local imaginary god of each worshipping nation. Or, in the Eastern systems of Dualism, Elohim was perverted into the creative forces of darkness and evil, Jehovah into the co-eternal God of light and goodness. Holy Scripture distinctly refers to these corruptions of the truth, but only as corruptions. From beginning to end the Bible contains no acknowledgment of the reality of other gods. It is true that we read Jehovah is greater than all gods, 1 as the testimony of Jethro, a heathen, and who is like unto Thee, 0 Jehovah, among the gods? 2 in the song of Moses: as if declaring that no Elohim was above the Jewish Jehovah. But throughout Scripture the other gods are Vanities or Nothings. 3 It can hardly be denied however that according to the testimony of St. Paul, the Gentiles sacrifice to devils, daimonions, the saiyr 4 of the Old Testament, and therefore that evil spirits ruled over the empire of idolatry. But St.

Paul, like all the ancient prophets, makes the false gods and their idols identical: both being nothing in the world. 5 The Lord our God is one Lord, 6 and His name one, 7 and the only true God. 8This is the sublime testimony of the opening of Genesis, and it is confirmed throughout revelation. The Pantheon of heathenism has its altar; but that altar is erected to cuwniy, that which is not god.9

1 Exo. 25:11; Exo. 22:3; 2 Exo. 28:11; 3 Deu. 32:21; 4 1 Cor. 8:4; Deu. 32:17; 5 1 Cor. 8:4; 6 Deu. 6:4; 7 Zec. 19:9; 8 John 17:3; 9 Deu. 32:21.

2. PANTHEISM has in every age—in the East and West, in ancient and in modern times— been the prevalent error of the philosophical intelligence in its speculations on this high subject. Unlike Polytheism, it has aimed to simplify the idea of the Supreme; but its simplification reduces Him to the ALL, to pan kai to en, the unity of the world, or the UNIVERSE. As such Pantheism makes God the sum of things in the sense of elevating Him above personality. The ancient Pantheism, as introduced into the modern world by Spinoza, regards the All as one substance, having mind and extension as its modes or attributes. There is no becoming; all is pure being; and phenomena are only the modifications of that being. Whatever the transcendental philosophy has superinduced on this notion, resolving pure being finally into the unmodified NOTHING, of which no limiting attribute can be predicated, has no element in common with Biblical theology.

Modern Materialism unconsciously adopts a Pantheistic character. Its unknown and unknowable Force or Law is the irrational expression of the same thought; it only gives matter the pre-eminence in its philosophy of Nescience.

3. ELOHIM-JEHOVAH is the Scriptural doctrine, expressed in symbolical names, which protests against both perversions. However difficult it may be to receive it, God is the one Absolute Personality. This is the teaching of both names, especially in their union. Each denotes the soleness, the necessity, the infinity of the Divine Being as a Spiritus Independens; and each is connected with man and the creature in such a way as not only to permit, but to demand, the most definite personality, or self-determining relation to the beings whom He calls into existence. This double name expresses clearly all that Pantheism has labored in vain to express during the course of its many evolutions; but for ever precludes the error into which Pantheism has fallen. It avows an infinite fullness of life and possibility in the eternal essence; but assigns all to the controlling will of a Person. The Scripture scarcely ever approaches the notion of an abstract entity; it invariably makes both Elohim and Jehovah the subjects of endless predicates and predicative ascriptions. In Him we live, and move, and have our being: in Him, 1 a Person to be sought unto and found. In fact, the personality of God, as a Spirit of self-conscious and self-determining and independent individuality, is as deeply stamped upon His revelation of Himself as is His existence. We are created in His image: our Archetype has in eternal reality the being which we possess as shadows of Him; He has in eternal truth the personality which we know to be our own characteristic, though we hold it in fealty from Him. THY GOD is the Divine word; MY GOD, the human response, through the pages of revelation. No subtlety of modern philosophy has ever equaled the definition of the absolute I AM; the English words give the right meaning of the original only when it lays the stress upon the AM for the essential being, and the I for the personality of that being.

1 Acts 17:28.

4. The same correction may be traced throughout the long succession of names which are given to the Deity in the Old Testament: the gradual development seems to show that the error, in both its forms, but especially the Polytheistic, was confronted more and more fully from age to age. The variations which were gradually introduced are all connected with appendages that guard the majesty of the one God. When the name Jehovah was made prominent as the covenant-name for His own people, certain peculiarities in its use taught important lessons. Neither the people nor any individual might say, MY Jehovah: it was enough to say MY Elohim, or Jehovah, my Lord. Nor do we ever read of THE Jehovah, as if He were or might be one of many. The Scripture often speaks of the living God, 1 as if in opposition to the gods which are dead nothings. But it never speaks of the living Jehovah; though it is very frequent to make the eternal life of Jehovah the highest oath: as the Lord liveth! 2 Very much importance has been attached to the laws which regulate the use of Elohim and Jehovah respectively; and one of these laws will be found by careful observation to be the assertion of the unity of the God of the whole earth, and His peculiar relation to the entire race of mankind as the God of a covenant of redemption yet to be revealed. After all, the profound and glorious rebuke of all Polytheistic and Pantheistic errors is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. And this Jehovah-Elohim prepares for in many ways. The plural Elohim name lays the indefinite and mysterious foundation for a plurality of Persons in the Godhead; while the singular Jehovah for ever guards the unity of God. The absolute soleness of Deity is maintained by the immutable name Jehovah; while, at the same time, it is that very name which is linked with every Old-Testament manifestation of the Three Persons, and is continued in the New-Testament revelation of the Three-One Jehovah, the Father the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

1 Jos. 3:10; 2 Num. 14:21.