God (word)

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Earliest attestation of the Germanic word in the 6th century Codex Argenteus (Mt 5:34)

The English word God continues the Old English God (guþ, gudis in Gothic, gud in modern Scandinavian, God in Dutch, and Gott in modern German), which is thought to derive from Proto-Germanic *ǥuđán.

Germanic etymology

The Proto-Germanic meaning of *ǥuđán and its etymology is uncertain. It is generally agreed that it derives from a Proto-Indo-European neuter passive perfect participle *ǵʰu-tó-m. This form within (late) Proto-Indo-European itself was possibly ambiguous, and thought to derive from a root *ǵʰeu̯- "to pour, libate" (Sanskrit huta, see hotṛ), or from a root *ǵʰau̯- (*ǵʰeu̯h2-) "to call, to invoke" (Sanskrit hūta). Sanskrit hutá = "having been sacrificed", from the verb root hu = "sacrifice", but a slight shift in translation gives the meaning "one to whom sacrifices are made."

Depending on which possibility is preferred, the pre-Christian meaning of the Germanic term may either have been (in the "pouring" case) "libation" or "that which is libated upon, idol" — or, as Watkins[1] opines in the light of Greek χυτη γαια "poured earth" meaning "tumulus", "the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound" — or (in the "invoke" case) "invocation, prayer" (compare the meanings of Sanskrit brahman) or "that which is invoked".

The earliest uses of the word God in Germanic writing is often cited to be in the Gothic Bible or Wulfila Bible, which is the Christian Bible as translated by Wulfila (a.k.a. Bishop Ulfilas) into the Gothic language spoken by the Eastern Germanic, or Gothic Tribes. The oldest parts of the Gothic Bible, contained in the Codex Argenteus, is estimated to be from the fourth century. During the fourth century, the Goths were converted to Christianity, largely through the efforts of Bishop Ulfilas, who translated the Bible into the Gothic language in Nicopolis ad Istrum in today's northern Bulgaria. The words guda and guþ were used for God in the Gothic Bible.

Obsolete etymologies

In 19th century scholarship, there were a number of alternative etymologies suggested. Morgan Kavanagh in The Origin of Language and Myths claimed that the word god was taken from the Buddha's patriarchal name of Gotama. John Campbell connected further theonyms, "I have shown elsewhere that the English word God, the German Gott, the Persian Khoda and the Hindustani Khuda are all derived from the same root as that which appears in Celtic Aeddon or Guydion, the Germanic Odin, Woden or Goutan and the Indian Buddha or Gotama."[2] The Reverend Henry Scadding D.D. and Henry Le Mesurier in his book Mer-cur-ius, or The Word Maker, also connected Lombard Guodan to Gotama Buddha.[3] The connection of Gwydion with Wotan (but not with god) is due to Jacob Grimm.

Tribal names

A significant number of scholars have connected this root with the names of three related Germanic tribes: the Geats, the Goths and the Gutar. These names may be derived from an eponymous chieftain Gaut, who was subsequently deified.[citation needed] He also sometimes appears in early Medieval sagas as a name of Odin or one of his descendants, a former king of the Geats (Gaut(i)), an ancestor of the Gutar (Guti), of the Goths (Gothus) and of the royal line of Wessex (Geats) and as a previous hero of the Goths (Gapt). Some variant forms of the name Odin such as the Lombardic Godan may point in the direction that the Lombardic form actually comes from Proto-Germanic *ǥuđánaz. Wōdanaz or Wōđinaz is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of a god of Germanic paganism, known as Odin in Norse mythology, Wōden in Old English, Wodan or Wotan in Old High German and Godan in the Lombardic language. Godan was shortened to God over time and was adopted/retained by the Germanic peoples of the British isles as the name of their deity, in lieu of the Latin word Deus used by the Latin speaking Christian church, after conversion to Christianity.

During the complex christianization of the Germanic tribes of Europe, there were many linguistic influences upon the Christian missionaries. One example post downfall of the western Roman Empire are the missionaries from Rome led by Augustine of Canterbury. Augustine's mission to the Saxons in southern Britain was conducted at a time when the city of Rome was a part of a Lombardic kingdom. The translated Bibles which they brought on their mission were greatly influenced by the Germanic tribes they were in contact with, chief among them being the Lombards and Franks. The translation for the word deus of the Latin Bible was influenced by the then current usage by the tribes for their highest deity, namely Wodan by Angles, Saxons, and Franks of north-central and western Europe, and Godan by the Lombards of south-central Europe around Rome. There are many instances where the name Godan and Wodan are contracted to God and Wod.[4] One instance is the wild hunt (a.k.a. Wodan's wild hunt) where Wod is used.[5][6]


The tetragrammaton in Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE), old Aramaic (10th century BCE to 4th century CE) and square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts.

One word for God in Hebrew is often written as the Tetragrammaton YHWH, which is not spoken by observant Jews as it is considered the name of God. Its contraction Yah, also spelled Jah, is also found in Hallelujah which means "Praise God".

The word God was used to represent Greek Theos, Latin Deus in Bible translations, first in the Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. For the etymology of deus, see *dyēus.

Greek "θεός " (theos) means god in English. It is often connected with Greek "θέω" (theō), "run",[7][8] and "θεωρέω" (theoreō), "to look at, to see, to observe",[9][10] Latin feriae "holidays", fanum "temple", and also Armenian di-k` "gods". Alternative suggestions (e.g. by De Saussure) connect *dhu̯es- "smoke, spirit", attested in Baltic and Germanic words for "spook," and ultimately cognate with Latin fumus "smoke." The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek te-o[11] (plural te-o-i[12]), written in Linear B syllabic script.


KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of "LORD" (and "God" in the heading)

The development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts. Capitalized, "God" was first used to refer to the Judeo-Christian concept and may now signify any monotheistic conception of God, including the translations of the Arabic Allāh, Persian Khuda, Indic Ishvara and the African Maasai Engai.

  • Adonai YHWH as "Lord GOD"
  • YHWH Elohim as "LORD God"
  • κυριος ο θεος as "LORD God" (in the Septuagint, New Testament and related writings)

The use of capitalization, as for a proper noun, has persisted to disambiguate the concept of a singular God, specifically the Christian god, from pagan deities for which lower case god has continued to be applied, mirroring the use of Latin deus. Pronouns referring to God are also often capitalized and are traditionally in the masculine gender, i.e. "He", "Him", "His" etc.[13][14] However, some people[who?] have referred to the gender of God in feminine terms, using words such as "She" and "Her".[citation needed]

See also


  1. Watkins, Calvert, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
  2. Congres international des americanistes[year needed]page 353
  3. The Canadian Journal of Science and Literature and History, 1880 p. 302
  4. A New System of Geography, Or a General Description of the World by Daniel Fenning, Joseph Collyer 1765
  5. See the chant in the Medieval and Early Modern folklore section of the Wikipedia entry for Wōden.
  6. Northern Mythology, Comprising the Principal Popular Traditions and Superstitions of Scandinavia, North Germany and the Netherlands: Compiled from Original and Other Sources. In Three Volumes. North German and Netherlandish Popular Traditions and Superstitions, Volume 3, 1852
  7. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  8. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  9. θεωρέω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  10. Dermot Moran, The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study of Idealism in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press
  11. Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
  12. Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
  13. The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. The New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2011. Pronoun references to a deity worshiped by people in the present are sometimes capitalized, although some writers use capitals only to prevent confusion: God helped Abraham carry out His law.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Alcoholic Thinking: language, culture, and belief in Alcoholics Anonymous. Greenwood Publishing Group. Retrieved 27 December 2011. Traditional biblical translations that always capitalize the word "God" and the pronouns, "He," "Him," and "His" in reference to God itself and the use of arhaic forms such as "Thee," "Thou," and "Thy" are familiar.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links