Review: The Names of God Bible (GW)

A few weeks ago I happened to be in a Christian book store and noticed a new edition of the God’s Word translation. Of the meaning-based translations, I think GW is generally the best (better than NLT), despite a couple of translation issues (i.e. δικαιοσύνη translated as “God’s approval“ in the NT, rather than the more familiar “righteousness”). This post is not about the GW translation, but rather how it is used for this special Names Bible.

I like what Baker Publishing recently has done with published versions of GW. And so I was intrigued by The Names of God Bible. Thank you, Brian Vos, at Baker for kindly sending me a copy of this latest release of GW.

What’s to like? Much!

There is much to like about this Bible. The duravella black cover is appealing, supple, and workable. On the right side of the cover top to bottom the publishers have engraved (not just printed) several names of God in Hebrew. Nice touch!

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this Bible is the attention to details, even of what might seem insignificant. Yet it is exactly those kinds of details that can enhance long term use of the Bible or occasional use. For instance, Baker put the Scripture reference in the top outer margins (some earlier editions of GW did not have that). Small point, but important.

Opening the Bible randomly gives a pleasant visual look at the text. I wasn’t sure how the names in Hebrew transliteration would look in the text itself. If the publishers had used the same black color as the rest of the text, then it would be difficult to pick out the names. At the same time, an overwhelming color would have be distracting in the text. Baker took great care in choosing the font color for the names (which is always italicized); the name font is easy to identify without overwhelming the senses, even when many names appear on the two-page spread.

Names of God Bible—Basic Page
Names of God Bible—Basic Page

That same color is used in transition from the top and bottom of the page, which creates an inviting and comfortable look to the reader. Even after studying and reading for a long period of time, the color combination and page display is “just right.” The color also appears in a slightly darker tint on the sidebars that highlight an individual verse on the page. This draws attention, but again without distracting from the text itself, either the main text of the boxed text. Having those sidebars without the “normal” text box border helped; they have a very slight broken edge shadow—looks like it was ripped from a piece of paper. The chapter introductions and the Name pages have a slightly dark tint of the page color, with a decorative design across the top. Makes each of them easier to find. This Bible is probably the best visual layout that I have seen. Well done!

So, how does this help the English reader? One quick example is 2 Samuel 11. This chapter relates the events of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder (through the army) of her husband, Uriah. No name of God is used in the entire chapter—except the last sentence of the last verse, 27: “But Yahweh considered David’s actions evil.” The visual clue of the font color makes it stand out immediately. I wasn’t even studying or reading the chapter, just glancing through. But when you see all the previous chapters with multiple names of God, and this chapter with none, your attention snaps to that point.

Name pages

The Name pages are perhaps the key thing in this Bible. Ann Spangler looks at the Hebrew names of God and provides a two page spread. Each section provides three items: The background of the name, praying using that specific name, and then promise(s) related that name. This can be very helpful to the English-only reader. I like the idea of praying using the various names. And the promises section focus on 2-3 verses that apply the name in a context of “this is what God has done or is doing.” Good feature, and of course, the purpose of the Bible.

Name Page: Premise, Prayer, Promise
Name Page: Premise, Prayer, Promise

If someone wants to buy this Bible, then it is helpful to keep in mind the self-imposed limits of Ann Spangler. The names feature is primarily Old Testament. One limit is this: “a translation that prints the most significant names and titles of God in their original language” (p. xii). I have highlighted the word “most” because as I began reading through it (before reading the Introduction, like I usually do with Bibles, computer books, etc.), I began to pick up certain titles that were not highlighted, and I thought, What? So, I did then next logical thing, I read the Introduction. Duh. But there are some puzzling omissions (and even errors)—see further below.

Shortcomings and Improvements?

With all that this Bible provides, I almost hate to mention a negative side of the Names of God Bible. Yet, the items I mention directly relate to the purpose of this Bible.

Ann writes:

With one exception, all of the English names and titles of Jesus remain in their English translation. To restore the originals would have meant rendering them in Greek, which might make the New Testament difficult for lay readers like myself to read with ease. But to emphasize the connection between the Testaments, I have chosen to render Jesus’ name in its Hebrew equivalent, Yeshua, a name that carries significant echoes from the Hebrew Scriptures.

I find this statement almost contradictory. How is it that rendering Hebrew names and titles in transliterated English is “easy” for English readers, but Greek names and titles transliterated into English is too difficult? For English lay readers, transliterated Hebrew and transliterated Greek are essentially the same. To me, this is a significant omission. One example of where this connection would be helpful is the disconnect between the two testaments, ironically the very thing Ann wanted to provide readers. As I studied some of the Old Testament titles that are applied to Jesus in the New Testament (“Mashiach” Messiah), it would make sense to highlight that in the New Testament (i.e. Psalm 2:2-3 and Acts 4:25-26).

In the introduction to Psalms, we are given a list of names and titles that are highlighted. The last one is “Rock” (Tsur). Yet in Psalm 62:2 we find “He alone is my rock (Tsuri) and my savior (Yoshuathi, related to Yeshua). Yet neither is identified in the text as a name or title of God. And here is a clear example of the connection between the Old Testament “my Savior” and the title applied to Jesus in the New Testament.

One puzzling omission is the title “Mighty One” (Avir) in Psalm 132:2, 10, with a total of 23 times (most referring to God) in the Old Testament. Notice the critical importance of that title in Genesis 49:24 “But his bow stayed steady, and his arms remained limber because of the help of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel…” (GW). So also, Isaiah 1:24; 149:26; and 60:16. In other words, this is not a side name/title, but the very heart of what the Bible reveals about God.

Some omissions occur with names/titles already identified. Mashiach (“Holy One” or “Anointed One”) is repeatedly referred to in the Old Testament, but not in Ps. 132:17, “There I will make a horn sprout up for David. I will prepare a lamp for my anointed one.” It is the last term, Mashiachi (“my Anointed One”) that is not highlighted, but should be. Then Yahweh (the critical name of God in Exodus 3) is always highlighted with transliterated English, except in Lamentations 1:10; 3:22, 24, 25, 26. And yet in the same chapters, in the same context (i.e. 3:28) Yahweh does appear. Not sure if this is an editorial oversight or intentional. My guess is oversight, which can be corrected in future printings.

However, I noticed these inconsistencies, omissions, and editorial oversights after using the Bible for only a few hours. I have no idea how many others there are, if there are, in the rest of the Bible. And would an English-only lay reader pick up on these inconsistencies? Probably not. And especially with Yahweh who would know that LORD is the English translation of it, since the explanation of the connection found in most Bibles does not appear in this one.

One other thing I missed was a set of maps. Even the eight-page variety would be useful for this Bible, especially if someone only had this Bible for use.

Other helpful features: 

Book Introductions: Each book introduction is about a page, focusing on only the essential topic/flow of the book. Then at the end of each introduction is a list of the primary names of God used in the book. Obviously this is for quick reference and not designed to be a study Bible in the usual sense.

Names of God Reading Path System: This is a like chain reference moving forward throughout the Bible, focusing on that specific name. One limitation is the frequency of four names, a limit had to be put on the chain itself. So, we read this note:

Because the names Elohim, Yahweh, Yahweh Elohim, and Yeshua occur frequently and are easily followed with each chapter, the editors have chosen to link only the last instance of these names in each chapter to the next instance in order to simplify the reading path system. (p. xvi)

This helpful feature could benefit the reader for further study.

End Matters: The following also aid the reader of the Bible in knowing and praying the names of God.

Topical Prayer Guide for the Names of God

Table of the Names of God

Name Index

Reading Plans

Each of them can enhance the Bible reading experience.


There is much to commend this Bible for the English reader. The layout, visual appeal (typography, color, etc.), the Name pages, study aids for Names all contribute to a helpful Bible. My only reservations relate to some of the items noted above. This a good resource, but with a little more refinement could be an excellent one. Would I recommend this Bible? Yes, I would. A student of the Bible will be well served by this. And I will use it as a reading Bible due to its pleasing appearance and reability. Thanks, Baker for this new tool.

The Church is disconnected —and doesn’t know it

That’s a rather strong statement! Before rushing to judgment about it, based on your assumptions of what it means, take a moment to consider what I am saying and why. What am I not saying by this? This is not an exercise in pointing the finger at “someone” and identifying blame for something. This is not an attempt to “modernize” the church. Nor is it a call to be “relevant in worship” (I have much more to say about this!). Nor is this a call to move away from the solid doctrinal foundation of the Church. Nor is this any kind of “latest organizational technique to make the church more efficient.”

Rather, this assessment of the Church has developed over many years, but has come into sharper focus as I worked through the blog series: 15 Reasons why I came back to the Church; Searching for the Church—Part 1; and Searching for the Church—Part 2. And it is causing me to re-evaluate much of what we say and do in the Church.

The Church is disconnected for several reasons; some related to assumptions about people outside the Church, some related to people inside the Church, some related to language, and some related how we view the transition from evangelism to discipleship. Underneath all of these assumptions is the failure of the Church to see how disconnected it really is.

How bad is the disconnect?

I belong to an era that no longer exists. I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. For some that was an exciting time to “throw off the chains of the past.” For others it is seen as the “golden era” of the Church. For me, it was neither. I was not outwardly rebellious even though I was 20 when Woodstock happened. At the same time, as a young child in church, with neither mother nor father present, I went to church with many people “keeping me in line” (including snapping my ears if I happened to turn around to look at people in the church). That was not fun, and certainly not the golden age of the church, for me. Why would I want to restore the Church to that?

So where is the disconnect? Some readers of the previous paragraph are probably wondering, “What is Woodstock?” Notice, even my reference to that event shows a disconnect, and even more a disconnect to all that Woodstock stood for. As the official site declares: “Woodstock is more than a moment of time. It is a way of being in the world.” But note, this disconnect is not because I don’t have those personal memories of Woodstock because I wasn’t there, nor is it a slam against those who don’t know what the event was. Rather, the referent (event) means something to someone my age, but most readers of this blog are not my age, and that event really means nothing to them. And this is a simple example of disconnect.

On a larger scale, the Church has not realized the disconnect across the board over the past 40 years. For many centuries (from the time of Constantine in AD 313 to 1970), the Church of the western world shared a common heritage with society, first in Europe, and then after 1500 in the Americas. That common heritage meant that the collective memories of the Church and of society were essentially the same. Even images, paintings, writings reflected that common heritage.

Assumptions about those outside the Church

Consider the two groups “outside the Church”: 1) those outside the Church in the basically shared heritage of what is called the “western world,” 2) those outside the Church with no societal connections (essentially the entire culture has never had any connection to the Church and the Biblical stories). The second one involves missionary work telling about Jesus in totally new areas. I remember as a young person, this second category was “the mission field,” while the first was “evangelism territory,” as if there were a difference.

As we look at the changing world, perhaps the two are not distinct, and we can and should learn from the second category; no matter where we live, we are involved in missionary work. And that is based on asking the question: Is that common heritage still a valid assumption? I would say it is not valid at all. With the disconnect of the last 40 years, how do we in the Church view those outside the church? My observations over that time indicate that we in the Church continue with the assumptions of previous centuries. We don’t recognize that we no longer live in the “shared heritage” of previous generations.

The unchurched population in the area in which I serve as pastor is 90-95%. When I was growing up, that would have meant that most of them had been in some church for an extended period of time and knew some of the Bible stories, but had drifted away. Today, that is no longer a valid assumption. Many of the unchurched have never read the Bible, never heard about who Jesus was, don’t know how to act in worship (how would they?), etc. This is not a put down, but a realization of the world we live in and the people who live in that world.

Assumptions about those inside the Church

So, we “see the mission field” more clearly. We are all set to move forward, right? Not exactly. The wrong assumptions about those outside the Church are matched by wrong assumptions about those inside the Church. This is perhaps the hardest for pastors and leaders in the Church to face. During the past 40 years of shift we have preached and taught as if everyone in the Church had the shared heritage of Church and society. But they don’t. Consequently we have not helped people grow to maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Let’s take a couple quizzes…

How well do people in the church know the Biblical stories? Can they put the following people in correct chronological order (Paul, David, Abraham, Moses, Jesus)? These are not obscure people in the Bible; they are major players. My observation is that many within the Church could not put them in correct order.

How well do people in the Church know the basic Biblical doctrines? What is the phrase that describes the central teaching of the Christian faith? How does the view of original sin relate to Baptism? How do we relate what the Gospels present about who Jesus is and how the letters of Paul present Jesus?

Language — How do we communicate?

In this section I do not want to address the “worship wars” nor the contest between translation techniques of formal equivalence and meaning based translations. Both are important topics, but this question is even larger. How do we communicate with people inside and outside the church, when the basic foundations of faith and basic knowledge of the Biblical story are not present?

For those outside the Church, it means we have to think, speak, and act like missionaries at the edge. We have to speak with people at a level which connects with where they are. Those who are newest to the faith often are the best ones to learn from; they still have connections with the world outside the Church. As they learn the language of faith and worship from the Church, we in the Church can learn from them about speaking with those outside the Church.

Consider just one area: what do we read in worship services? Historically churches use a lectionary system, a series of readings for each Sunday of the year. Typically lectionaries include four readings from these four sections of the Bible: Psalm, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel. Over a period of years, a large portion of the Bible is read.  The lectionaries focus on “what everyone knows”— and we have to ask, is this helpful in today’s world?

Is this kind of lectionary helpful when those inside and outside the Church have little knowledge of the Bible and doctrine? Let’s take a series of recent consecutive Sunday Old Testament readings in the three year series (approximate years of the events in parentheses):

Isaiah 60:1-6 (~ 700 BC)

Genesis 1:1-5 (yeah, THAT beginning)

1 Samuel 3:1-20 (~1050 BC)

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (~790 BC)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (~1400 BC)

Isaiah 40:21-31 (~650 BC)

What do you notice? Well, there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the selections (there is, but it is not evident when laid out this way). If someone inside the Church has trouble following this, what about someone who is new to the Church? So the question remains: Is the lectionary helping us communicate? 

Discipleship…how do we make the connection?

Regardless of church background, we would all essentially agree that the Church is to be involved in discipleship. Given the changed world both within and without the Church, how do we accomplish discipleship?

Or in terms of continuity, how do we move from evangelism/mission to discipleship? Is our process of Catechesis (teaching the faith) based on assumptions about what “everyone should know”? Are we helping people grow in the faith? Or are we not even connecting with them? Or are we confusing them by giving mixed signals about faith and “what is proper”?

Well, after this long post, it seems there are more questions than answers. But I think we have to begin looking at these questions. We have to examine our assumptions about what people “know” relative to what we “think” they know. And we have to rethink discipleship and Church in the broadest terms.

But I am not suggesting discarding everything in the Church. On the contrary, I think we have the answers, tools, and approaches already. But we in the western world have employed them with wrong assumptions. By doing so, we are not really church, then. We have the shell of being the Church, perhaps fighting and defending against something that is not the real challenge. Are we missing the living existence of “growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Searching for the church — Part 2

In this third part of searching I look more at the issue of “the faith,” that is, what is the content of what a church actually teaches and preaches. The first part of this series is 15 Reasons Why I Came Back to the Church, and the second is Searching for the church — Part 1.

The caveats

This part of the search takes a while. It is one thing to hear a good sermon on Sunday or a good short series of sermons. It is another to determine whether the church covers all key doctrines or whether these are more hobby-horse sermons. What makes this more complicated is that you have to be there and dig into both the sermons and the official teachings of the congregation or denomination.

So, in one sense you are becoming a focus of the church’s ministry (or you should be!) unless the church doesn’t want to deal with you as part of the ministry and only as “members” (whatever that might mean). This is a catch 22 situation. As you and your family become (unintentionally) integrated, it can be difficult to leave if you discover the teaching of “the faith” doesn’t measure up.

This part of the search also involves your own growing in the “the faith.” That is, you study the Scriptures in a more consistent manner. You don’t just pick a few favorite passages, but wrestle with some of the more challenging texts (1 Cor. 11:23-29; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 3-8, John 14-17, etc.). At this point a critical text to keep in mind is Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (NIV)

Thus, no matter what the credentials of the pastor, the size of the congregation, or popularity of the ministry, every pastor ought to welcome questions about Scripture. And you can ask, not to trick someone or “win an argument,” but rather in humility to see whether what you hear and see in the church is consistent with Scripture. I can’t stress this enough: humility is critical in this whole process, in your own study of Scripture and in your testing of the church’s teachings.

Two Questions to Start:

There are always two questions to ask a group or an individual to find out whether it is even worth pursuing.

1. What is most important?

It’s amazing how easily this question is glossed over in many churches today. The Bible is very clear on this point, but the answer to this question can be summarized as: justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. See the following Bible passages:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24 NIV)

The list of passages goes on and on: Philippians 3:9; John 14:6; Acts 2:36; Acts 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 2:16, etc.

Unless that is stated up front by the group and is consistently the center of everything else in teaching and ministry, then the group is one to avoid.

2. What is the source for #1?

For Christians, the answer ought to be “the Bible.” But don’t be too quick to jump on this answer. Why? Because over time it will surface that the real answer might be “The Bible and reason.” In other words, the real stance might be: “I accept the Bible as long as it makes sense to me.” Or ask yourself whether faith is so narrowly defined that it does not apply to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Bible does. Have they (we) restricted it to mental capability? The answer to such a question may indicate that the Bible is no longer the source, but rather my own reason. So, if a group claims the Bible is the only source for doctrine and faith, very good. But look closer at how this is practiced in preaching and teaching.

Distinguish between what is important and not important?

So how do we decide what is or is not important? What is the role of baptism relative to what is most important? What about the role of women? (NB: even phrasing this question this way reveals much about the church) What about end times? It can be very confusing.

As I wrestled through this process I came to realize that there were distinctions between doctrines, some very important, and others less so. At the time I didn’t have resources to formally sort this out, but as it turned out, I followed much the path that Franz Pieper had articulated in his Christian Dogmatics. And I discovered that this process was used by Christians for many centuries, that is, to distinguish Fundamental Doctrines vs. Non-fundamental Doctrines vs. Adiaphora (“things indifferent”).

Fundamental Doctrines: 

These concern the foundation of the Christian faith. Saving faith (as “the faith”) includes the following:

  1. Knowledge of sin and consequences of sin (Luke 24:47; Isaiah 66:2; 57:15; Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Luke 4:18, etc.)
  2. Knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ, i.e. true God and true Man (Matt. 22:42; 16:13-17; 1 John 1:1-4; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 12:3, Matthew 28:18-20, etc.)
  3. Knowledge of the work of Jesus Christ, not as an example, but rather the Mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all to take away the sin of the world (1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 1:29; 1 John 3:8; etc.)
  4. Faith is in the Word of Christ, the external Word, not an internal “feeling” (Mark 1:15; Romans 10:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, etc.)
  5. Belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead and of eternal life for all believers in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 54, etc.)

If the above are not believed and taught, then the person/group is not Christian. It is that simple.

There are two secondary fundamental doctrines, that support the above, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The difference is that while these are built on the above foundation someone can believe or teach wrongly on either topic and yet be Christian. This is critical in two ways. We may disagree on these two topics but we cannot then claim that those who disagree are not Christian. On the other hand, we cannot just accept something to avoid digging further, claiming “it doesn’t matter because I’m Christian.” Doctrine does matter. If Scripture teaches something on these two topics we cannot dismiss it as unimportant (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 1:13-14, etc.).

Non-fundamental Doctrines: 

Pieper writes about this classification very well:

Non-fundamental doctrines…are those Scripture truths which are not the foundation or object of faith in so far as it obtains forgiveness of sins and makes [people] children of God, but with the faith of those who have already obtained the forgiveness of sins should and does concern itself. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pp. 91-2)

The knowledge of non-fundamental doctrines serve faith, and include topics such as: the Antichrist, doctrine of angels, end times theology, etc. However, the denial of or errors regarding non-fundamental doctrines can endanger saving faith, i.e. approaching the end times in such a way that faith in Christ is weakened rather than strengthened.

Adiaphora (“Things indifferent”)

These are things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden. In Christian freedom we can make choices on either side of the topic, but always with concern for the weaker believer (i.e. Romans 14:13-18). Examples include: to be vegetarian or not, to drink alcoholic beverages, what day to worship, etc. These can raise all kinds of additional concerns, which means caution, love, and humility inform and guide our freedom in these matters.

One other topic: Law and Gospel

Understanding Law and Gospel and the proper distinction between them is essential in terms of reading Scripture rightly. Over the past 30 years I have found that once people come to grips with this, many other pieces fall into place (not in the sense of “making sense” but rather consistent with Scripture itself. This deserves a separate post, but just a note on it (and a Law-Gospel, Handout):

  • Law: Tells us what we are to do or not do, and threatens punishment when we fail. It can only condemn, accuse, threaten (in doctrinal terms). “I” am the subject of the Law.
  • Gospel: Tells us what Jesus Christ has done for our salvation, 100% his doing, nothing I can do or even believe to change that. “Jesus” is the subject of saving work, and He is always the object of saving faith. Gospel never condemns, never accuses, but always comforts, forgives, renews, restores, and builds faith in Jesus Christ.

What’s next?

Much more could be written but this is at least a good starting point. It gives a road map to make sure that we do not make a “shipwreck of our faith” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). As we work our way through the above process, we also look at how this is working itself out in the congregation. Correct doctrine is to be consistent with a Spirit-led, God pleasing ministry among the people and in outreach. So that is the next focus.