“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’” (Exodus 3:13, NIV)

God had told Moses to lead the people of Israel out of their captivity and to a land that He promised to give them. At that time, the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, where the people believed in many different and coexistent gods who influenced aspects of their lives. For example, Re (Ra) was a god of the sun, Anubis a god of the dead, Thoth the god of writing and wisdom, etc. (Britannica). So, when Moses heard that “the God of your fathers” was sending him to confront Pharaoh, he wanted to know, “who are You?” “what is Your name?”

God is called by many names throughout the Bible. Although He is one (Triune) being, these names have helped people throughout history understand and describe what He’s like. Here are five names commonly used in the Bible:


I AM is the name God gave Himself in answer to Moses’ question: “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:14, NIV). This description of God highlights how different He is to all other gods created by people. He isn’t just one god of many or god of a small corner of reality. He just is. He is self-existent, absolute, and eternal.


In the next verse (Exodus 3:15), God gives Moses another name for Himself. This name appeared in Hebrew texts with four consonants: YHWH. Scholars think this name may be related to the phrase “I AM.” The Jews believed that this personal name of God was too sacred to speak aloud. When they wrote it, they used four consonants only, and the pronunciation was eventually lost. Yahweh is a guess at the correct pronunciation. In some English Bible translations, you may see this name translated as Jehovah, which is a different spelling and pronunciation. Many modern Bible translations show where YHWH originally appeared by using LORD with all capital letters. This name is often combined with other words to describe specific things about God, such as LORD is Peace (Judges 6:24) and the LORD our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1).


El and Elohim are also used many times in Scripture to refer to God. In the Hebrew language, el is the singular word for god, so a capitalized El refers to the One True God. Elohim is a plural form that may highlight that God is the highest or truest God among all gods. Like LORD, El is often combined with other descriptions inspired by specific circumstances or events. For example, Hagar called God El Roi, “the God who sees me” in Genesis 16:13. Other variations include El Elyon, meaning “God Most High,” and El Shaddai meaning “God Almighty.”


Adonai is often shown in English translations as Lord, with just the first letter capitalized. It comes from the Hebrew word meaning lord. The lowercase version can be used in some contexts as a title of respect for human kings, rulers, etc. But Adonai is used to communicate that God is sovereign and in charge.


In Romans 8:15, Abba is translated from an Aramaic word for father: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (NIV). Many scholars point out that this is an informal, intimate name that highlights how privileged we are to be able to approach God in a personal way as a Father.


Maybe we find so many names for God in Scripture because He’s too much to capture in just one word—He’s not just the God of the sun, or the moon, or the underworld, but of everything. I AM captures this idea best, but the other names and combinations in Scripture can help us further understand who God is. What other names can you find in Scripture that describe God?


Author Hannah Rau is a Michigan-based writer and writing tutor. Hannah earned degrees in English and rhetoric and minored in Bible. She enjoys exploring literature, media, and culture through the lens of her Christian faith. And drinking coffee. Lots of coffee.