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Claim: The phrase “call on/upon the name” seems to be a pointer to the true God, and if that phrase bears such significance throughout all of the Bible, then Jesus has to be God.

From searching "call on/upon the name" throughout the Bible via biblegateway.com, all instances of the phrase in the Old Testament are found in twenty-four passages listed here. As part of this list, the following passages show how the phrase was used (from hereon, any emphasis in quoted Scripture is added):

"To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD." (Gen 4:26)

"Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!" (1 Chr 16:8)

"Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!”" (Ps 116:4)

"Correct me, O LORD, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not, and on the peoples that call not on your name, for they have devoured Jacob; they have devoured him and consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation." (Jer 10:24-25)

"“I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’" (Lam 3:55-56)

"And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved" (Joel 2:32a)

"And I [the LORD] will put this third [of sheep] into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”" (Zech 13:9)

These seven passages represent the overall use of the phrase as a variety of actions given the writers’ intents and/or situation at hand. Nevertheless, all instances of the phrase in these passages and the rest of the twenty-four have one thing in common: their reference to the LORD, with the exception of one passage in which the phrase sometimes refers to Baal. This exception in regards to Baal, however, brings to light another meaning to "call on/upon the name," as is found in 1 Kings 18:24-28,36-39:

[Elijah said to the Israelites who have all wandered away from the LORD and to the prophets of Baal and of Asherah, "] 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.

Here, we see both parties call upon the name of who they each believed in, and it is no surprise that calling on the name of Baal proves Baal to be a false god, while the LORD proves to everyone that He is God in response to the calling upon His name. From this pivotal moment on, the Israelites as a group return to believing in the proven God that is the LORD. This challenge to determine the real God from the fake, then, brings about a significant meaning to the phrase in question — an invocation specifically intended for the true God of all creation, an invocation that has been tried and proven to mean as such. Therefore, this passage agrees with the rest of the twenty-four passages in that "call on/upon the name" is a phrase exclusively pointing to the true God being the LORD throughout all of the Old Testament.

(NOTE: after double checking the search, I found a second apparent exception to the phrase in Isaiah 44:5; added to the list above. The ESV translation of the passage reads, "This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”" Here, the phrase points to Jacob, but other translations vary in the section in question — "others will call themselves by the name of Jacob" (NIV), "another shall [/will] call himself by the name of Jacob" (JKV, NKJV, ASV, HCSB), "another will use the name of Jacob" (CSB), etc. — which can be seen here. With this, coupled with the remaining context in verse 5, one can understand the section to mean that the subject takes on the name Jacob as its own. Due to this and the varying word choice resulting from the process of translation, this exception can be ignored, and the claim made in the previous paragraph remains true.)

If that is the case, then surely all instances of "call on the name" in the New Testament should point only to God, yet this doesn't appear to be so. All instances of "call on the name" can be found in six passages: Acts 2:21; Acts 22:14-16; Rom 10:13; Acts 9:13-17; Acts 9:20-22; 1 Cor 1:1-3. Of the six passages, the first three direct the phrase arguably to either God or Jesus, while the remaining three, either explicitly or by context and without challenge like that of 1 Kings 18, direct the phrase only to Jesus. Let's look at the remaining three passages:

"But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he [Saul] has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”" (Acts 9:13-17)

"And immediately he [Saul] proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ." (Acts 9:20-22)

"Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:1-3)

If "call upon the name" points solely to God, then — given the presupposition that Jesus is not God — the disciple Ananias, the saints persecuted by Paul, eventually Paul himself and the saints to come should be heretics for calling on the name of Jesus, especially Paul who was thoroughly trained in the Law as a Pharisee by one honored-by-all Sanhedrin leader Gamaliel (Acts 5:34, 22:3; Phili 3:5). The phrase already meant a lot of things in the Old Testament, and if the phrase bore a significance as initially claimed and Paul knew that, then Paul is the greatest heretic for espousing in public and in New Testament writings, the very message he once persecuted, that God's people call on the name of Jesus and that doing so is tantamount to calling on the name of the LORD as defined in the Old Testament — a plea, an exaltation, a proclamation, an appeal to judge wrongdoers, a prayer, a cry in times of help and in times of testing, an act in alignment with worship, thanksgiving and the pursuit of salvation; all of which directed to the true God and Creator of the universe.

If "call on/upon the name" is to maintain such meaning throughout the entirety of the Bible, then Jesus has to be God.

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    May I suggest you add some more references to substantiate your point ? Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    May 10 at 13:58
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    The question as it stands will only prove Jesus is God to those who understand the biblical statement "to call upon the name of God" to mean calling upon him in faith for salvation. They will then see Acts 2:21 & 4:12 & 10:36, 43 as Jesus being this one, whose name called upon in faith brings salvation. God is not going to save anyone who refuses to call upon his name. Likewise if the command applies to the name of Jesus. That's how they will think. But not everyone does. Can you expand your Q to detail where, in the N.T. there is a command to call on the name of Jesus for salvation?
    – Anne
    May 10 at 16:44
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    @Anne expanded in more detail May 10 at 20:33
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    I don't know who down-voted this question, but it gets an up-vote from me.
    – Lesley
    May 11 at 16:40
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    @Lesley it was down-voted when it initially had roughly 80 words with little references. I put the short, concise version up due to being busy at the time and wanted the idea out there, but I didn't know until recently that you can down-vote if the question isn't well-researched May 12 at 0:08

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Given the long list of scripture quotations given, indicating what "calling upon the name of" meant to the writers of those Bible verses, there is not much that can be added by way of an answer, except to point out the difficult matter of interpretation.

This is significant, for in Christianity there are basically two 'camps' with opposing views of what "calling on the name of Jesus" means. At least, it can be assumed that "calling on the name of God" is not controversial - both 'camps' seem agreed that it is an act of faith demonstrated in worship of God. It would seem reasonable to take that as a starting point for then examining if "calling on the name of Jesus" also amounted to an act of faith demonstrated in worship of Christ.

Not so, however, for one 'camp' claims that "to call upon the name of God" means calling upon him in faith for salvation, as they think only God can save. They will not see Acts 2:21 & 4:12 & 10:36, 43 as Jesus being this one, as he is (they say) a creature created by God. Therefore, to ascribe salvation to Christ would violate their view of the uniqueness of God and that Jesus is but a creature.

However, a simple question that could be asked to help get round this impasse is, "Will God save anyone who refuses to call upon his name for salvation?"

Logically, then, those scriptures already listed showing we must call upon the name of Jesus for salvation, provoke the question, "Will Jesus save anyone who refuses to call upon his name for salvation?"

Neither of those questions have been asked by the OP, but I offer them by way of an answer to help resolve the matter of interpreting whether calling upon the name of Jesus Christ must mean that he is God, as salvation belongs to God, and the Bible is perfectly clear that calling on the name of Jesus brings salvation.

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No: Refuted by Elijah's "competition" with the priests of Baal

If you remember, Elijah and the priests of Baal had a competition to see whose god could actually make stuff happen. From 1 Kings 18:

Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

As you can see, "calling on the name" is simply a way to invoke a divine (or supposedly-divine) entity.

You could perhaps attempt to infer that Jesus is God by the fact that these are the only places where "calling on the name" is shown to have definite results. But then the fact that the Pentateuch was recorded by the priests of a "jealous god" would clearly influence what was written down, so you would clearly be open to the challenge that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For example, the Bible only documents eating, drinking, having sex and defecating where those are relevant to events, but that does not mean that these did not happen at other times.

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    Yes, the OP was fully aware of the 1 Kings 18 event, pointing out, "with the exception of one passage in which the phrase sometimes refers to Baal. This exception, however, brings to light a profound meaning to "call on/upon the name," as is found in 1 Kings 18:24-28,36-39:" then quotes it. Nor is the matter of 'definite results' involved with this Q. It is about whether "calling upon the name of Jesus" indicates belief on the part of the caller that Jesus is the one true God.
    – Anne
    May 14 at 15:26
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Strongs 1941 "epikaleó" meaning "to call upon" gives the following possible definitions:

Middle voice from epi and kaleo; to entitle; by implication, to invoke (for aid, worship, testimony, decision, etc.) -- appeal (unto), call (on, upon), surname.

Calling upon, by definition, is addressing someone by name to invoke that individual for whatever is required.

As the Messiah/Christ didn't take upon himself the role as perfect mediator yet before he died as a ransom sacrifice for many, there was no requirement to address God Almighty in the mediator's name. This changed when Jesus implemented the requirement at the last supper when he said:

Most truly I say to you, whoever exercises faith in me will also do the works that I do; and he will do works greater than these, because I am going my way to the Father. Also, whatever you ask in my name, I will do this, so that the Father may be glorified in connection with the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14 NWT)

The NWT Study notes on John 14:13 read:

Never before had Jehovah required that people pray in someone’s name. For instance, even though Moses had been a mediator between the nation of Israel and God, Jehovah did not say that the Israelites should use Moses’ name when praying. However, on the last evening with his disciples before his death, Jesus revealed this new way to pray, mentioning the expression ‘ask in my name’ four times. (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23, 24) Since Jesus purchased the human race when he gave his perfect life as a ransom, he is the only channel through which God’s blessings are extended to mankind. (Romans 5:12, 18, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13) That act made Jesus the only legal Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5, 6), the only one through whom a person can be freed from the curse of sin and death (Acts 4:12). Appropriately, then, Jesus is the only channel of approach to God. (Hebrews 4:14-16) Those who pray in Jesus’ name acknowledge the vital role he plays.

So it is quite normal, that when the OT speaks about "calling on the name of the LORD" it usually means YHWH is being directly addressed, as there was no requirement laid out for a name through whom prayers should be directed to God up until Jesus' last day as a human on earth.

This changed with Jesus' ransom sacrifice, as stated in the NWT study note quoted above.

Since then, Jesus has become the sole mediator between God and Men, and all our prayers that we want to address to God need to go through the mediator Jesus Christ - which is why we call upon Jesus' name as a request for him to present our prayers to his Father and God Jehovah (John 20:17).

The Watchtower - Issue 15 Dec 1994 said the following about the renderings on "calling upon Jesus' name" in the NT:

How was the name of Christ ‘called upon’ everywhere? One way was that the followers of Jesus of Nazareth openly acknowledged him to be the Messiah and “Savior of the world,” performing many miraculous acts in his name. (1 John 4:14; Acts 3:6; 19:5) Therefore, The Interpreter’s Bible states that the phrase “to call on the name of our Lord . . . means to confess his lordship rather than to pray to him.”

Accepting Christ and exercising faith in his shed blood, which make the forgiveness of sins possible, also constitute a “calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Compare Acts 10:43 with Ac 22:16.) And we literally say Jesus’ name whenever we pray to God through him. So, while showing that we can call upon the name of Jesus, the Bible does not indicate that we should pray to him.​—Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17.

This is why Jesus never talked about this until shortly before he died on the stake/cross. The question could be asked, why didn't he make this more of an important point during the more than 3 years with his disciples and Apostles, if He is the One to whom prayers should be addressed as God? Why didn't he make it clear that it is HE who has to be prayed to by his faithful disciples during that time?

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  • It is not something new that God's Word (made flesh in Jesus) is exalted above His name: "I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." - Psalm 138:2 May 14 at 12:14
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    @MikeBorden - The word used for "word" in Psalm 138:2 is the hebrew "imrah" which means "utterance, speech, or word". The Septuagint doesn't use the word "logos" here but "alētheia" which means "truth". Psalm 138:2 doesn't speak about the Logos but about God's promises unto which He attaches his name, the fulfillment of that promise is “magnified” in that it exceeds all expectations. (Ephesians 3:20) God YHWH never disappoints - His name is the guarantee that he will keep His promise.
    – Js Witness
    May 14 at 12:41
  • @MikeBorden that’s quite a stretch
    – Kris
    May 14 at 13:08
  • All of the promises of God are, in Jesus, yes and amen. "Holy Father, protect them by your name that you have given me," - John 17:11. May 14 at 15:30

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