Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Meaning of God

Many people believe the word God is historically connected to the word Good, but such is not the case.

The word God could derive from root words in several language families, and includes a combination of meanings, but the core idea of what God is seem to boil down to just a few definitions showing that ancient peoples regarded supreme beings much as we do today.

1 – to shine (indicative, no doubt, of the connection between God and the sun/sky)

2 – festival or holiday (which, remember, is a contraction of "holy day"); temple

3 – strong

4 – to call upon or invoke;

5 – sacrifice to (which we still do today in the form of fasting, or giving up something for Lent, etc.)


Greek: Zeus
Roman: Jupiter

Greek and Latin Derivations

The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Deus definition

n. God.

Deus etymology

[Middle English, from Latin; see dyeu- in Indo-European roots.]

The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

To shine (and in many derivatives, "sky, heaven, god"). Zero-grades *dyu- and *diw-.
Derivatives include Tuesday, divine, jovial, Jupiter, diary, dismal, journey, and psychedelic.

I. Basic form *dyeu-, Jove, the name of the god of the bright sky, head of the Indo-European pantheon.

    1. JOVE, JOVIAL; SANGIOVESE, from Latin Iovis, Jupiter, or Iov-, stem of Iuppiter, Jupiter.
    2. JULY, from Latin I(u)lius, "descended from Jupiter" (name of a Roman gens), from derivative *iou-il-.
    3. Vocative compound *dyeu-p(e)ter, "O father Jove" (*p(e)ter-, father; see p(e)ter- in Indo-European roots). JUPITER, from Latin Iuppiter, I(u)piter, head of the Roman pantheon.
    4. DIONE, ZEUS; DIANTHUS, DIOSCURI, from Greek Zeus (genitive Dios), Zeus.

II. Noun *deiwos, god, formed by e-insertion to the zero-grade *diw- and suffixation of (accented) -o-.

a. TIU, TUESDAY, from Old English T(i)w (genitive T(i)wes), god of war and sky;

b. TYR, from Old Norse T(y)r, sky god. Both a and b from Germanic *T(i)waz.

    1. DEISM, DEITY, DEUS, JOSS; ADIEU, DEIFIC, from Latin deus, god.
    2. DIVA, DIVINE, from Latin d(i)vus, divine, god.
    3. DIS, DIVES, from Latin d(i)ves, rich (< "fortunate, blessed, divine").
    4. Suffixed zero-grade form *diw-yo-, heavenly. DIANA, from Latin Di(a)na, moon goddess.
    5. DEVI; DEODAR, DEVANAGARI, from Sanskrit deva(h), god, and deva-, divine.
    6. ASMODEUS, from Avestan da(e)va-, spirit, demon

The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

theo- definition

pref. God: theomorphism.

theo- etymology

[Greek, from theos; see dh(e)s- in Indo-European roots.]

The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Root of words in religious concepts. Contracted from *dhe(e)1s-. Possibly an extension of dh(e)- in Indo-European roots.
Derivatives include feast, fanatic, atheism, and enthusiasm.

  1. Suffixed form *dh(e)s-y(a)-. FAIR2, FERIA, from Latin f(e)riae (<>f(e)siae), holidays.
  2. Suffixed form *dh(e)s-to-. FEAST, -FEST, FESTAL, FESTIVAL, FESTIVE, FESTOON, FETE, FIESTA; OKTOBERFEST, from Latin f(e)stus, festive.
  3. Suffixed zero-grade form *dh(e)s-no-. FANATIC; PROFANE, from Latin f(a)num, temple.
  4. Suffixed zero-grade form *dh(e)s-o-. THEO-; APOTHEOSIS, ATHEISM, ENTHUSIASM, HENOTHEISM, PANTHEON, POLYTHEISM, TIFFANY, from Greek theos (< *thes-os), god.

God: as depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel

Anglo-Saxon, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindu Derivations

's 1897 Bible Dictionary


(A.S. and Dutch God; Dan. Gud; Ger. Gott), the name of the Divine Being. It is the rendering (1) of the Hebrew 'El, from a word meaning to be strong; (2) of 'Eloah_, plural _'Elohim. The singular form, Eloah, is used only in poetry. The plural form is more commonly used in all parts of the Bible, The Hebrew word Jehovah (q.v.), the only other word generally employed to denote the Supreme Being, is uniformly rendered in the Authorized Version by "LORD," printed in small capitals.

Etymology of the Name God

Oddly, the exact history of the word God is unknown. The word God is a relatively new European invention, which was never used in any of the ancient Judaeo-Christian scripture manuscripts that were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin.

According to the best efforts of linguists and researchers, the root of the present word God is the Sanskrit word hu which means to call upon, invoke, implore.

Nonetheless, it is also interesting to note the similarity to the ancient Persian word for God which is Khoda.

The following is a survey of some of the efforts of those who have been trying to decipher the ancient roots of the word God:

Webster's 1913 Dictionary:

\God\ (g[o^]d), n. [AS. god; akin to OS. & D. god, OHG. got, G. gott, Icel. gu[eth], go[eth], Sw. & Dan. gud, Goth. gup, prob. orig. a p. p. from a root appearing in Skr. h[=u], p. p. h[=u]ta, to call upon, invoke, implore. [root]30. Cf. {Goodbye}, {Gospel}, {Gossip}.]

Catholic Encyclopedia:

Etymology of the Word "God"

(Anglo-Saxon God; German Gott; akin to Persian khoda; Hindu khooda).

God can variously be defined as:

  • the proper name of the one Supreme and Infinite Personal Being, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, to whom man owes obedience and worship;
  • the common or generic name of the several supposed beings to whom, in polytheistic religions, Divine attributes are ascribed and Divine worship rendered;
  • the name sometimes applied to an idol as the image or dwelling-place of a god.
The root-meaning of the name (from Gothic root gheu; Sanskrit hub or emu, "to invoke or to sacrifice to") is either "the one invoked" or "the one sacrificed to." From different Indo-Germanic roots (div, "to shine" or "give light"; thes in thessasthai "to implore") come the Indo-Iranian deva, Sanskrit dyaus (gen. divas), Latin deus, Greek theos, Irish and Gaelic dia, all of which are generic names; also Greek Zeus (gen. Dios, Latin Jupiter (jovpater), Old Teutonic Tiu or Tiw (surviving in Tuesday), Latin Janus, Diana, and other proper names of pagan deities. The common name most widely used in Semitic occurs as 'el in Hebrew, 'ilu in Babylonian, 'ilah in Arabic, etc.; and though scholars are not agreed on the point, the root-meaning most probably is "the strong or mighty one."

Anglo-Saxon: Wodan
Norse: Odin

Oxford English Dictionary:

"god (gρd). Also 3-4 godd. [Com. Teut.: OE. god (masc. in sing.; pl. godu, godo neut., godas masc.) corresponds to OFris., OS., Du. god masc., OHG. got, cot (MHG. got, mod.Ger. gott) masc., ON. goð, guð neut. and masc., pl. goð, guð neut. (later Icel. pl. guðir masc.; Sw., Da. gud), Goth. guÞ (masc. in sing.; pl. guÞa, guda neut.). The Goth. and ON. words always follow the neuter declension, though when used in the Christian sense they are syntactically masc. The OTeut. type is therefore *guđom neut., the adoption of the masculine concord being presumably due to the Christian use of the word. The neuter sb., in its original heathen use, would answer rather to L. numen than to L. deus. Another approximate equivalent of deus in OTeut. was *ansu-z (Goth. in latinized pl. form anses, ON. ρss, OE. Ós- in personal names, ésa genit. pl.); but this seems to have been applied only to the higher deities of the native pantheon, never to foreign gods; and it never came into Christian use.

The ulterior etymology is disputed. Apart from the unlikely hypothesis of adoption from some foreign tongue, the OTeut. *gubom implies as its pre-Teut. type either *ghudho-m or *ghutó-m. The former does not appear to admit of explanation; but the latter would represent the neut. of the passive pple. of a root *gheu-. There are two Aryan roots of the required form (both *glheu, with palatal aspirate): one meaning ‘to invoke’ (Skr. hū), the other ‘to pour, to offer sacrifice’ (Skr. hu, Gr. χέειν, OE. yéotan YETE v.). Hence *glhutó-m has been variously interpreted as ‘what is invoked’ (cf. Skr. puru-hūta ‘much-invoked’, an epithet of Indra) and as ‘what is worshipped by sacrifice’ (cf. Skr. hutá, which occurs in the sense ‘sacrificed to’ as well as in that of ‘offered in sacrifice’). Either of these conjectures is fairly plausible, as they both yield a sense practically coincident with the most obvious definition deducible from the actual use of the word, ‘an object of worship’.

Some scholars, accepting the derivation from the root *glheu- to pour, have supposed the etymological sense to be ‘molten image’ (= Gr. χυγόν), but the assumed development of meaning seems very unlikely.

transcribed from The Oxford English Dictionary

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary:


\God\ (g[o^]d), n. [AS. god; akin to OS. & D. god, OHG. got, G. gott, Icel. gu[eth], go[eth], Sw. & Dan. gud, Goth. gup, prob. orig. a p. p. from a root appearing in Skr. h[=u], p. p. h[=u]ta, to call upon, invoke, implore. [root]30. Cf. Goodbye, Gospel, Gossip.]

1. A being conceived of as possessing supernatural power, and to be propitiated by sacrifice, worship, etc.; a divinity; a deity; an object of worship; an idol.

He maketh a god, and worshipeth it. --Is. xliv. 15.

The race of Israel . . . bowing lowly down To bestial gods. --Milton.

2. The Supreme Being; the eternal and infinite Spirit, the Creator, and the Sovereign of the universe; Jehovah.

American Heritage Dictionary:


NOUN: 1. God a. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions. b. The force, effect, or a manifestation or aspect of this being. 2. A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality. 3. An image of a supernatural being; an idol. 4. One that is worshiped, idealized, or followed: Money was their god. 5. A very handsome man. 6. A powerful ruler or despot.

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, from Old English. See gheu(): in APPENDIX I


DEFINITION: To call, invoke. Oldest form *heu()-, becoming *gheu()- in centum languages. Suffixed zero-grade form *ghu-to-, “the invoked,” god. a. god, from Old English god, god; b. giddy, from Old English gydig, gidig, possessed, insane, from Germanic *gud-iga-, possessed by a god; c. götterdämmerung, from Old High German got, god. a–c all from Germanic *gudam, god. (Pokorny hau- 413.)

Hindu: Indra

The Origin of the English Word for God - Part One

By Craig Bluemel

Word origin: God - Our word god goes back via Germanic to Indo-European, in which a corresponding ancestor form meant “invoked one.” The word’s only surviving non-Germanic relative is Sanskrit hu, invoke the gods, a form which appears in the Rig Veda, most ancient of Hindu scriptures: puru-hutas, “much invoked,” epithet of the rain-and-thunder god Indra.

(From READER’S DIGEST, Family Word Finder, page 351)

(Originally published by The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville New York, Montreal; Copyright 1975)

Now if the sources noted above are accurate, then the word that we use for the Supreme Being, God, comes from a very pagan origin. Thus the word god is used generically by many different religions to refer to their deity or “invoked one.”

Some may laugh at the notion, the very idea that the word “God” has any origin or association with Hindu Sanskrit. To illustrate how this is possible, we again quote from ‘Family Word Finder’ on the historical development of our Modern English language:

Page 7, ‘Word Origins’ - “English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, which consists of about 100 related tongues, all descended from prehistoric language of a pastoral, bronze working, horse breeding people, the Aryans, who inhabited the steppes of Central Asia about 4500 B.C. Scholars refer to their language at this stage as proto-Indo-European, or simply Indo-European.


sasikumar said...

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Michelle said...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing that information!

Anonymous said...

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Michelle said...

Thank you for stopping by with that information, too.

People should always do their best to verify that a person they turn to for any sort of assistance is a legitimate practitioner. This is often difficult because people don't know where to seek the correct information.

Anonymous said...

Good post Michelle!

I think, out of your list of definitions, "to call upon., invoke" will be one of the closest definitions for God.

I personally think the concept of God should be unique to each individual. All 'strict' definitions out there for God is nothing but a make-belief version of somebody's idea of his God.

The feeling.. that there is something more out there .. beyond the scriptures and ideologies , beyond our mind and imaginations.. is definitely the proof of the God. The "feeling" and the ability to feel is individual and can make the way for one towards his God.

The thing that can feel, the person himself, is the only stuff find out about God. The way to feel for the person is obviously to open up the senses and Live the Life that is already on hand.

When a dormant life becomes the real LIFE it solves God. When the life gets invoked it finds the God. Then, there is no questions and answers.

NO definitions are needed, because the God is already the case.. in front of the questioner. in the questioner.

Michelle said...

Thanks for stopping by. :)

I think that, for our earliest ancestors, God had strong connections to the Sun, but for the last few millenia, yes, our connection to God is more of the "call upon or invoke" type.

The thing I find sort of sad is how the meaning of "sacrifice" has changed. The original word meant "to make (something) sacred" by giving/gifting it to God. Now, most people have forgotten the "sacred" and "giving" parts and only look at what they are losing or "giving up." Under these circumstances, it seems the gift to God is grudgingly given.

I also agree that people must arrive at their own understanding of who or what God is. Everyone who lives a spiritual life will eventually come to their own awareness or awakening of their connection to that universal Oneness or God.

vinoth kumar said...

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