"In The Name of"

This article looks at the variations of the phrase "the name of" and how the variations of that phrase shed light upon its meaning to Jesus and his followers. The Greek word translated as "name" is  more complicated than it might at first appear. It can simply mean a "name" as it does in English, but when just uses it he means a person's reputation and, specifically, their authority. The sense is, as we say in English, "he is acting in the name of the boss." Name in this context has the sense of "reputation," so "in my authority" or "upon my reputation."

Jesus uses the "name of" phrase to indicate his authority and reputation and the authority of his Father. He uses it far more frequently to refer to himself and his authority than to his Father. He refers to his Father with this phrase only four times. All of those occurrences are in John. He uses the phrase to refer to himself twenty-six times. He never uses this phrase to refer to the name of anyone else.

The specific focus on this article in on three Greek phrases:

All of these phrases are translated as "in the name" in the KJV of the Bible. So for those reading in that translation, these differences in phrasing and the meaning of each are all lost in translation. A complete listing of all the verses in which Jesus uses this phrase, with links to their articles, appears at the end of this article.

Looking at the use of these from the perspective of who wrote the Gospels, John clearly prefers the "in (en) the name" phrase. Eleven out of its thirteen occurrences are in his Gospel. The other Gospel writers tend to use the other three phrases. The chart below shows the tendencies.

PhraseMatthewMarkLukeJohn"In (en) the name"11011"Upon (epi) the name"2330"Due to (dia) the name"2111"Into (eis) the name"2001"Into (eis) a name"2000

Into a Name

Let us deal with the final phrase, "into a name" first because it seems to have a different meaning than all the "in the name of" phrases. It is used only three times in two verses, Matthew 10:41 and Matthew 10:42.  The lack of the definite article, "the," seems to drain it all sense of authority, which is the usual sense of this phrase. In this phrase, the preposition seems to have the meaning of "for" a purpose and the "name" has its simpler meaning of a word by which something is called. So the sense of the phrase is "because they are named."

Verb Meaning and Prepositions

The meaning of verbs changes with the prepositions used with them. This is true both in English and ancient Greek. For example, consider the two English sentences:  It occurs to me that the potential gulf between "in" and "into" in English can be demonstrated by two statements:

  • The boy turned in a criminal. 
  • The boy turned into a criminal.

Notice how the change in the preposition changes the meaning of the verb.The affect of these verb/preposition combinations in ancient Greek can shed light on the Jesus's meaning in many cases. We should note here that Greek prepositions themselves emerged from adverbs and often adverbs can be used as prepositions. Prepositions also form prefixes in Greek, and, perhaps for fun, Jesus will often repeat the prefix of a verb in the preposition that follows. We can see these connections between the verb and the preposition in the words that Jesus chooses.

The clearest example is the connection between the word for "hate" and the "due to (dia) the name" phrase, which is used in the causal sense of "because of" or "by." Four out of the five occurrences of "due to the name" are with the verb translated as "hate" (miseo).

There is a similar connection between the "in (en) the name" phrase and the verb translated as "ask' (aiteo). Six out of the thirteen occurrences of the phrase occur with the "ask verb."

There is a similar but weaker connection between upon (epi) and the verbs translated as "come" (erchomai) and "welcome," (dechomai). Out of its eight occurrences, "come" appears three times and "welcome" (usually translated as "receive" in the KJV) appears two times. The connections between these verbs is somewhat obvious and there is no surprise that they take the same preposition.

Only two verbs, "to do (poieo) and "to come" (erchomai) are used with more than one preposition. Both are used with "in (en) the name" as well as other verbs, but this may reflect John's preference for that particular phrase.

Prepositions and Noun Cases

Greek is different from English in that nouns have five different forms: nominative, accusation, dative, genitive, and vocative. This is important here because the nouns, as objects of the prepositions, take different cases. The case of the noun has an impact on the meaning of the preposition. To simplify the picture somewhat, we can say that usually:

  • An accusative noun indicates motion "toward" or "into."
  • A dative noun indicates a stable position, for example, "on", "in", or "under."
  • A genitive noun indicates motion "out of" or "from". 

These differences in meaning from the case of the noun do not apply to every preposition equally. The most varieties of meanings comes from epi (ἐπὶ) and can take objects of any of these forms.  It can show motion with the dative and being at rest with the accusative and genitive. Many of these meanings overlap between the cases but communicate subtle differences in motion and prior motion. 

The preposition dia (διὰ) always indicates movement and takes either the genitive, indicating movement from, and a little less commonly, the accusative, indicating movement toward.

The most frequent preposition used in this phrase is en (ἐν) means "into" with the accusative and "in" with the dative. The dative is used when referring to an instrument or manner, it means "by."

The simplest preposition is eis (εἰς), which always takes the accusative case but it can indicate motion or being at rest after motion.

When Jesus use either en or epi with the "in the name" phrase, he always uses the dative case. This indicates a sense of stability in the position of being in or upon the name. However, with dia and eis, he uses the accusative case, indicating movement into. This means that the emphasis is of the position - of being "in (en) the name" and "upon (epi) the name." That sense of position is used with the verbs "to do," "watch over," "prophesy," "follow," "ask," "send," "to come," "welcome," and "proclaim."

The sense of transition from "through" (dia) and "into" (eis) is associated with the verbs "hate" miseo,  "do" (poieo_ (again, John's preference as an outlier), "gather" (synago), "baptize (baptizo)," and "believe (pisteuo)."

In (En) the Name of

The following verses use the phrase ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι, "in the name." We will sort them by whether Jesus refers to his own name or the name of the Father. Notice that this is the preferred phrasing of John.

The Father's Name

John 5:43 I am come in my Father's name, (erchomai - come)

John 10:25 I told you, and ye believed not: ( poieo - perform)

John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, (tereo- watch over)

John 17:12 While I was with them in the world, (tereo- watch over)

The Jesus's Name

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, ( propheteuo -- prophesy,  ekballo - cast out,  poieo -- have done)

Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; ( akoloutheo -- follow)

John 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name (aiteo - ask)

John 14:14 If you shall ask any thing in my name (aiteo - ask)

John 14:26 But the Comforter, ( pempo -- send)

John 15:16 You have not chosen me, (aiteo - ask)

John 16:23 And in that day you shall ask me nothing. (aiteo - ask)

John 16:24 Hitherto have you asked nothing in my name (aiteo - ask)

John 16:26 At that day you shall ask in my name: (dat) (aiteo - ask)

Upon (Epi) the Name

All the references uses ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί, "upon the name," refer to the name of Jesus.  Note that John does not use this phrase, but all of the other Gospel writers do.

Matthew 18:5 And whoever shall receive one such little child (dechomai, -- welcome)

Matthew 24:5 For many shall come in my name, (erchomai - come)

Mark 9:37 Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name... (dechomai, -- welcome)

Mark 9:39 Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name... ( poieo - perform)

Mark 13:6 Because many shall come in my name, saying, I am (erchomai - come)

Luke 9:48 Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: (dechomai, -- welcome)

Luke 21:8 Take heed that ye be not deceived: (erchomai - come)

Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached ( kerysso -- proclaim)

Due to (Dia) the Name

And interesting note, four of these five occurrences, all those references "hate" are used with another phrase meaning "above all" (ὑπὸ πάντων). This is because the Greek terms translated as "hate" is a relative term, understood clear on within a comparison.

Matthew 10:22 And you shall be hated by all... ( miseo -hated)

Matthew 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up ( miseo -hated)

Mark 13:13 And you shall be hated of all [men] for my name's sake... ( miseo -hated)

Luke 21:17 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. ( miseo -hated)

John 15:21 But all these things will they do unto you (poieo -- do)

Into (Eis) the Name

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together (synago -- gather)

Matthew 28:19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations... (baptizo - baptize)

John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: (pisteuo -- believe)

Into (Eis) a Name

Matthew 10:41 He who receives a prophet

Matthew 10:42 And whoever shall give to drink