What’s in a name?

Posted: 20th April 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Faith & Theology

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai – ‘God Almighty’. Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.” (Genesis 17:1, NLTse)

While some Bibles, such as the NLTse above and the New Jerusalem Bible, include the name El Shaddai in the text, most Bibles footnote the Hebrew and translate the name into English as “God Almighty”, following the LXX (Septuagint) text. Is this the correct translation of the first revealed name of God? Many studies and commentaries suggest other meanings of the word Shaddai. Some of more common translations are summarized below:

“Almighty”. The LXX (Septuagint) translates the Hebrew shadday into the Greek pantokrator (“all-powerful or almighty”). The translation “God Almighty” conveys a sense of God’s unequaled omnipotence in comparison to the local gods in the cultures around Abraham.

“Mountain”. This translation connects shadday with the Akkadian word sadu, meaning “mountain.” The ending -ay is added as a suffix meaning “of the”, i.e. “God of the Mountain”. “Mountain” was a common word for God in Semitic languages where gods often resided on a cosmic mountain that was the center of the earth. This is the translation seemingly preferred by academic scholars.

“Sufficient”. The rabbinic exegesis of shadday is that it is a compound word composed of the relative she (meaning “who”) and the word day (meaning “enough”): she-day, i.e. “the one who is (self)-sufficient”.

“Breasted”. This translation sees the root of Shaddai in the Hebrew shad, meaning “breast”. Many commentators expand on this approach along the lines of how the nourishment of breast milk is “all sufficient” for a baby, circling back to the rabbinic translation, though with a different etymology.

“Destroyer”. This translation connects shadday with the Hebrew verb shadad, meaning “to destroy.” Shades of this meaning might be found in passages in Job, but “almighty” seems to be the preferred translation.

Which translation is correct? I have no idea. My memory is of my father telling me that my Bible reads “God Almighty”, but that the full translation meant “God is sufficient for the needs of his people”. This seems to me to be a combination of [3] and [4], whereby God is not only sufficient for His own needs (and doesn’t need other gods around Him), but nourishes and takes care of His people.

  1. […] I know what my name means. I prefer “God, All-Sufficient” to “God Almighty” as far as translations […]