Why are there different names for God in Genesis 1-2?

If you read Genesis 1-2 in the Hebrew, you notice there are two different words for God.

In Genesis 1, God is called “Elohim.” For instance, Genesis 1:1,

In Genesis 2:4, we see the name Elohim-YHWH. Throughout Genesis 2, we see in our English translations “the Lord God” to represent this shift.

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The divergent names raise questions.

  • Are these two different creation stories that have been mashed together?

  • Are there two different gods?

  • Over time, was the name of a Canaanite god (El) adapted into the name of the Hebrew god (Elohim YHWH)?

Why do you think there are two different names for God in Genesis 1-2?

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The short answer is no - the writer is not referring to two gods.

The long answer…

The old testament was written in Hebrew. The word translated as ‘God’ is elohim. Here are a few pointers towards understanding this word.

  1. This word Elohim, is best understood as a category term denoting a ‘spiritual being’ rather than exclusively referring to God. Why is that?
    Because elohim is used to denote
  • God (Yahweh, God of the Israelites) - numerous times
  • gods of the various non-Israelite nations (Judges 11:24, 1 Kings 11:33)
  • angels / divine council of God (Gen 35:7, Psalm 8:5, Psalm 82:1,6)
  • demons (Deuteronomy 32:17)
  • and even the spirit of Samuel (I Samuel 28:13)
  1. This word Elohim can be used as a singular or plural depending on its context - just as the word ‘sheep’ can be plural or singular.

So the word ‘Elohim’ is best understood as a generic or category term referring to a ‘spiritual being’ (as opposed to a corporeal being with a body).

The God of Israel, Yahweh, is an Elohim, and so are the angels. However, Yahweh is an Elohim like none other; He is far greater than any other Elohim and possesses unique characteristics that no other elohim possesses. In short, while Yahweh (God) is an elohim, all elohim are not Yahweh.
In specifying the name of God through the term ‘Elohim-Yahweh’ (Genesis2:4), the writer is clearly identifying Yahweh as the Elohim who made the heavens and the earth.

No, according to Hebrew scholars, both of the Christian persuasion and otherwise. The word ‘El’ in ancient texts of the region of Canaan, refers to god. Just because the Canaanites used the term ‘El’, it does not necessarily mean that it was adapted into the name of the Hebrew god - just as the Christians did not necessarily borrow the idea of god from the Muslims or vice versa.

Much of the explanation of the term ‘Elohim’ is taken from material written by a Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser in his book ‘The Unseen Realm’.