There are several examples in the Bible where faithful people were given a new name:

Usually, we refer to Abraham as Abraham, Sarah as Sarah, and Peter as Peter – using their new names. Given that pattern, why is it more common to refer to Jacob as Jacob, rather than his new name, Israel? Interestingly, it seems that Jacob was given his new name twice, as if he forgot it the first time (Genesis 32 and 35).

Among the mentions of Jacob/Israel in the Bible, there are 17 occurrences of the phrase “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but only four occurrences of “Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.” Sometimes God himself uses the name Jacob, after having said “you will no longer be called Jacob” (Genesis 35:10).

As evidence of modern usage, the Wikipedia article for Abram/Abraham is Abraham, but the Wikipedia article for Jacob/Israel is Jacob. Also, Abraham and Jacob are the names of the relevant tags here on Christianity Stack Exchange.

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    Also of note are the references in the psalms to God as 'The God of Jacob' and 'The Excellency of Jacob' ; also the references in Psalm 78 to God's people (as a whole) as 'Jacob'. It was promised, by God, while the twins were in the womb, that the younger would prevail over the elder, but Jacob had to travail to realise the promise. 'Few and evil' were the days of the years of his life. (And few, also, were his words.) Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 4, 2022 at 7:50
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    I suspect that it's largely because he's the only one whose name became a nation, so to distinguish the nation from the individual, we conventionally call the individual "Jacob". Though the scriptures do also call the nation "Jacob" as well.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 4, 2022 at 9:09
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    I have heard it said that Jacob is of flesh and Israel is of promise. +1 for an excellent question. Feb 4, 2022 at 14:06
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    IMO the JST of Gen 50 kind implies MikeBorden comment is right. I don't know, only bring this up as OP is familiar with LDS
    – depperm
    Feb 4, 2022 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


Jacob was called Jacob both before and after he wrestled with God, and it was after that wresting that God blessed him with the name Israel. This helps the reader to understand that the term applies not only to the land but also to one who converts from the sinful life to a godly one. It would have been confusing for Jacob, an individual in the Bible who was blessed also by becoming the father of Joseph to be called Israel. It's kind of like how in one verse of the Bible the coming Christ had the name of Immanuel, but who as an individual was named Jesus (Matthew 1:21).

The "nation" of Israel were a group of people who were and are God's chosen, but the entire Old Testament makes it plainly clear that no one is a child of God by birthright alone; they must obey Him and they only obey Him when they love and fear Him. Then there was the point that God divorced Israel, that chosen group of people; He "disowned" them, all who turned away from Him again and again and again. But then we see both the natural branches (Hebrews of Israel) and those grafted in by God's mercy and grace in Romans 11. The whole chapter is good to read at one time to keep things in context.

Clearly, God did not abandon the group of mostly Hebrews called Israel (I say "mostly Hebrews" because some of the Egyptians joined the Hebrews during the great Exodus): His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus, was of the tribe of Judah. Unfortunately, the masses (as it always seems to be) rejected God once again in rejecting Christ (the Messiah). Yet all individuals who repent and come to Jesus, following God's commandments (and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit ARE God as well and are ONE), become a part of the House of Israel spiritually.

Jacob as Jacob represented an individual -- as all of us who follow Christ Jesus -- who has a before and an after. I believe that all of us who follow Christ become a part of God's Israel, and will dwell in the heavenly Jerusalem -- some before and after and some only after pure and heavenly Jerusalem comes down onto a new earth. Israel, in its most significant definition, is the name for the group of believers -- whether Jewish or non-Jewish by birth -- are the children of God; those who worship Christ Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings.


The answer has two parts: 1. Jacob is commonly called "Jacob" rather than "Israel" to avoid confusing his personal name with the nation named after him. While there are no nations called "Abraham" or "Isaac" there was indeed one called Israel. 2. "Israel" eventually came to refer to the northern tribal federation which fell into sin, while the southern federation was called "Judah" and represented the line of Davidic kings. Both of them are "Jacob" but "Israel" was often reserved to describe the north.

The reason Jacob seems to "forget" that his name was already changed to Israel in Genesis is explained by source critics as resulting from a later redactor weaving together two or more versions of the Jacob saga . The "J" source tends to prefer "Israel" from Gen. 32 on, while the other sources are less likely to do so. Thus would also explain why "Jacob" rather than "Israel" is used in parts of the other first five biblical books.

The division between the future nations of "Judah" and "Israel" first appears in 2 Samuel 2:10:

Saul’s son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.

Both the Books of Kings and much of the OT sometimes continued to refer to Israel as synonymous with the entire people of God, but the northern kingdom of Israel is also often contrasted the relatively righteous kingdom of Judah. Thus in 1 Kings 8:16 we read:

‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city in all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.’

But in 1 Kings 15:34 we read:

[King Asa] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jerobo′am and in his sin which he made [northern] Israel to sin.

This formula, in which the northern kingdom is judged as sinful, is repeated throughout the histories of both Kings and Chronicles. Since "Israel" thus became synonymous with the sinful tribes, while "Judah" represented the promise of an eternal throne given by God to the righteous David, it was only natural that Jacob be called "Israel" less frequently than "Jacob." This, along with the need to avoid confusing the person named Jacob/Israel with the collective "Israel" explains why "Jacob" was commonly used to refer to him. We may also wish to consider the source-critical explanation that "Jacob" was preferred by "J" and "Israel" by other sources in the Torah.

  • Another reason for calling the north "Israel" is that the chief tribe of the northern kingdom was Joseph's double portion: Ephraim and Manasseh, who had inherited the name "Israel". ¶ God had promised Abraham two blessings: one spiritual (the "Scepter", the royal line leading to the Messiah) which was passed down to the tribe of Judah, and one material (peace, prosperity, etc.) passed down through Joseph. (See 1 Chronicles 5:1–2.) In Genesis 48:16, Israel says “Let my name be upon them [Joseph's two sons]”. Aug 29, 2022 at 18:00

Michele Michael points out the dual name usage in her comment:

"Jacob as Jacob represented an individual -- as all of us who follow Christ Jesus -- who has a before and an after"

It's a type for ALL those who come into relationship with Christ,

I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it (Rev 2:17)

In the prophets, the two names ("Israel" and "Jacob") aren't meant to be interchangeable. Rather, the Lord is addressing those as to what relationship they have with Him. Jacob being the "before" and Israel the "after" as Michele put it.

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