Sometimes we run across phrases in the Bible that we really do not understand yet we think we can kind of guess at the meaning and come close enough thus we never bother to study them out to get at the truth. The phrases trouble us a little but not enough for us to do any extra work to find out the meanings. The phrase "my name" as found in the Bible is just such a phrase.
The exact phrase "my name" is found 118 times in the NAS and a 119 times in the NKJV bible. For the purpose of this study I used the NAS and read through all 118 verses where the phrase is used to get at the meaning. What did Jesus mean when he used the phrase "my name" which he did frequently? We seldom use the phrase today in personal conversation, certainly not like Jesus did, unless we are introducing ourselves. Is that the way Jesus used the phrase? I think we know the answer is no. Well then how did he use it and what did he mean?
The Jews of Jesus' time were used to the statement as the exact phrase was found 86 times in the Old Testament according to our English NAS translation thus the best place to start to understand the meaning as Jesus used it is in the Old Testament scriptures. It is a phrase that can be used in more than one way thus have more than one meaning. Some meanings are easy enough to figure out for in some few places the phrase is used like we would use it today but I am not interested in those passages. I want to know the unique way in which God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament used the phrase. We start in the Old Testament.
Exodus 9:16 is a good place to start. God has instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh, "for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you my power and in order to proclaim my name through all the earth." (NASU) This was basically a period of history during which the world did not know God. It was a period where the mass of humanity worshipped in ignorance – everything from mythical Gods, to nature, to the sun or moon, idols, etc. The God of the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants was unknown. It was thus God's design through the plagues in Egypt to make known to the world his existence and his power. The world would hear of the God of the children of Israel. Thus the phrase my name in this passage has reference to a declaration of God's existence and power and a pointing to who he is and where he is found.
To clarify a little think of it this way – a name stands for a being and for everything that makes up that being, the being's characteristics and all that make him or her what they are. As human beings when we hear the name of an individual we are acquainted with it immediately brings to mind certain physical traits of that person, we can picture them in our mind. But, it is more than that. It brings to mind a personality and the personal traits of character of that individual.
God is spirit, not flesh and blood. When we hear God's name we cannot picture in our mind physical traits but we do picture in our mind the traits of character God has as revealed to us in his word. The name Jehovah or Yahweh stands for or represents the divine being characterized by spiritual traits we read about in the word of God as well as power, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, etc. The actual name stands for or represents all that makes God what God is. Thus to proclaim "my name" through all the earth was to reveal the divinity of the one and only living God of the universe to mankind.
A good example is found in Jer. 23:27 where God is speaking of the false prophets of the day and says this, "who intend to make my people forget my name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot my name because of Baal?" (NASU) To forget "my name" in this passage was to forget God himself. The phrase "my name" represents the person. God is saying in modern day language "forget me." For another example along the same line see Zech. 13:9.
Lev. 19:12 is another example where God says to the children of Israel, "You shall not swear falsely by my name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord." (NASU) To do so would have reflected badly back on God as though God was approving such conduct. His character was to be kept unblemished. Don't use God's name, for the name represents the being, to do evil. "A good name is to be more desired than great wealth." (Prov. 22:1 NASU) God's name is to be given praise, honor, and glory for he is worthy. Don't drag God's name through the sewage of an ungodly life. To wear the name Christian likewise is special and it brings with it special obligations to uphold the honor of the being behind the name – Christ himself.
When God's name is associated with whatever it might be, as long as he is the one who has made the association, then that thing, that doctrine, that institution, whatever it might be must be respected and honored for his honor is at stake. "The LORD said to him, "I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting my name there forever, and my eyes and my heart will be there perpetually." (NASU) Would a man defile the temple of God, the place where God had put his name and all that is implied by that name, and go away guilt free? Men did defile the temple of God but they did not do so and go away guilt free. God's name must be honored. "For my own sake, for my own sake, I will act; for how can my name be profaned?" (Isa. 48:11 NASU)
"My name" sometimes refers to God's authority. For example, God in the book of Deuteronomy in chapter 18 verse 19 speaks of the prophet to come whom he will raise up (Jesus) and says this about him, "It shall come about that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." (NASU) The words Jesus would speak were God's words. Jesus said, "the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me." (John 14:24 NASU) But note the passage, God said of Jesus (for that is who he was speaking of), he shall speak in "my name." God's authority (the authority of the Father) was behind the words Jesus spoke. "For I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak." (John 12:46 NASU)
In Deut. 18:20 we read this, "But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name which I have not commanded him to speak…that prophet shall die." (NASU) Here is a case where a man did not have God's authority but wanted men to think he did so he spoke, so he claimed, in the name of the Lord. This is another example showing the use of the phrase "my name" to be standing for authority but also being representative of the being behind the name for "my name" was a direct reference to God himself.
That Jesus used the phrase much the same way it is used in the Old Testament is clear when one looks at a few passages.
Jesus in speaking to the twelve said, "You will be hated by all because of my name." (Matt. 10:22 NASU) That was just another way of saying "because of me." The phrase stands for the person.
Matt. 19:29, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life." Again the phrase means because of me and my cause. The phrase stands for the person and all the person stands for or represents. In Matt. 24:9 we see this again, "you will be hated by all nations because of my name." Because of me, "my name" stands for the person.
Mark 16:17 is an example where the phrase means by my authority (authority carries with it the idea of power). Jesus is there speaking of believers and says, "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons…" (NASU)
I want to take a look before closing at the passages that aroused my interest resulting in the research and this article. I refer to John 14:13-14. Jesus is there speaking to the apostles and says this: "Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." (NASU)
Albert Barnes, the famous Bible commentator says of the phrase "my name" in this passage, "This is equivalent to saying on my account, or for my sake." (Barnes' Commentary on John) I think he is right. Here is what we know about this passage. (1) The asking is to be done in "my name," the name of Jesus. (2) Jesus will respond to the asking by doing what is asked. (3) Jesus' response is so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Since we know from what has been discussed from passages already gone over that the phrase "my name" represents the person and all the person stands for in his traits and character then to "ask in my name" in this passage must represent an asking that represents an asking related to Jesus' role as Savior of the world for that is who he is and his purpose. Does anyone believe Jesus was telling the apostles to ask for golden chariots pulled by white horses while being clothed in purple with golden rings on their fingers? Would such glorify God? What glorifies God is men bringing themselves into a Christian relationship with him through belief and obedience to the gospel.
Does this mean one should not utter the words "in Jesus' name we (or I) ask" in prayer? No, not at all, for I do not know how one asks a thing in Jesus' name without asking it in Jesus' name.
I think a good example of the kind of asking Jesus was speaking about being in his name in John 14:13-14 can be found in Acts 16:18 where Paul commanded the spirit of divination to come out of the slave-girl when he said, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" (NASU) Paul did not do this miracle by his own personal power but by invoking the name of Jesus he was asking Christ to do this. The same thing can be said of miracles performed by the other apostles.
To ask in "my name" then meant yes to ask by invoking the name of Jesus but also as Barnes said for Jesus' sake. These miracles that were wrought by invoking or asking in Jesus' name ("my name") resulted in the Father being glorified in the Son. Jesus' response to the request being made in his name resulted in a miraculous healing that glorified the Father through the Son.
One might find help in a passage found in Col. 5:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father." (NASU) We could rephrase that as if it was a direct quotation from the Lord himself without doing damage to the meaning as follows, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in my name, giving thanks through him to God the Father." That is not the way it is worded but it is the exact meaning of the passage. To do a thing in Jesus name means not only by his authority but also because of his will.
The Bible is not always an easy book to understand. Even Peter spoke of some of Paul's writings as being hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). It is for certain all ought to do their own studying on these matters since ultimately we are all responsible as individuals for the positions we take and the beliefs we hold.