This page discusses what Christ meant by "glorifying the name of God." This may seem obvious, but it is not. The Greek concepts translated as "glorify" and "name" are different than the way we used these words today. The most common ways of understanding this phrase are not consistent with the Greek meaning. This phrase doesn't simply mean "praising God," which is probably the way most people understand it, nor does it mean "making God more glorious," something that is clearly impossible.
To understand what Christ means, we must look at the Greek for what he actually said and connect that meaning to the ways we discuss similar ideas today. That is the purpose of this article
The Greek word translated as "glorify" is doxazo, which primarily means holding something or someone in your mind or imagination. Its secondary meaning is to "extol" or "magnify," which is where the meaning of "glorify" as in "praise" arises. In the Latin Vulgate the Greek word was translated as clarifico, which means "to make illustrious or famous." Interesting, this Latin word is also the source of the English word, "to clarify," which goes back to the primary meaning of the word, having a clear image in your mind.
The noun form ("glory" in English) is from doxa, which means "expectation" and "opinion." It came to mean "reputuation," especially "good repute", "honor", "glory" and rarely "ill repute." It came to mean "glory" and "magnificence" in external appearance through Christian writing after the Gospels were written. Christ did not seem to mean it that way, at least not exactly.
Generally, in the alternative translations of Christ's words on this site, the most common word used to translate doxazo is "to recognize." This idea is also works for the noun form as "recognition." This idea of "recognition" captures the mental imaging part of the concept and the idea of giving honor. By giving people recognition, we make them better known and more broadly respected. People who are more broadly recognized are more famous.
Today's processes of promotion and advertising are the most common forms of "glorification." Advertising is used to create images in our mind, making people and tings more illustrious and famous.
However, in Christ's era, the process was almost entirely word-of-mouth, much like the communication processes we see on the Internet today: people sharing information with others because it is interesting. The process of making someone or something more broadly known is what Christ describes by doxazo, that is, glorification.
We could use "advertise" or "promote" in the place of "glorify" in today's translations of Christ's word, but many would certainly think of that as disrespectful.
What is in a Name?
This concept of making someone more broadly known is closely related to the Greek meaning of "a name," onoma. This concept is related to today's use of the word, but it is also something more.
In any languages, "a name" is the symbol for a mental image of a person. The name just points at the mental image. This image is incomplete and imperfect. No one--other than God--knows another person completely. Different people have different images of the same person. A person's name is a shared common denominator. We use it to "point" at the mental image, even when the images are completely different.
In ancient Greek, a person's "name" was more important than the way we think of names today. A person's name was tied to his or her reputation, how that person was valued by other people. This difference was largely cultural.
Since we live in a more anonymous society today, names become like identification numbers. People can know our names even when their only mental image of us is the name on a piece of paper. People can know our names without knowing anything about us or our reputations.
However, in smaller societies, where individuals are known to their community, their "name" becomes their public reputation, their public identity. In Christ's era, even if you didn't know an individually personally, if that person was in your community, you knew his or her "name." A person's reputation in the community was more important than anything else. It determined how people treated them, especially who would do business with them and how much they could earn. Having a "bad name" meant being an outcast.
Even though we are anonymous in many public aspects of our lives today, we still "make a name" for ourselves where we work, within our families, and among our acquaintances. However, this reputation is more limited than the "name" of Christ's time. There are many aspects of our lives that most people won't know. People at work won't know our reputation within our families. Our families won't know our standing amount our fellow workers. Some "important" pieces of information, such as our bank balance, no one may know.
In Christ's time, however, much more was captured in a person's name, that is, their reputation. People would know about your family even if they didn't know your family personally. In Christ's era, this was the concept of belonging to a "house", which was so important that it would take another article to explain it. People would know where you worked and something about those with whom you worked and that would have a lot to do with your "house." There were no bank accounts, but people would know what you owned and who you owed.
The Greek word "name" also means a person's "fame" and their authority.
We use the word "fame" to describe someone who is known broadly. In ancient times, people would simply say that their name was known, for better or worse, in different areas.
When it came to authority, a ruler's name was his authority. He extended his authority by giving others the ability to "act in his name." Acting in someone's name means using the authority or power of that person. This very much applies to the idea of God's name and Christ representing that name.
The Job of Making God Famous
Christ describes his role "to manifest [God's] name" (Jhn 17:6) and to "declare the name" of God (Jhn 17:26). The term translated as "manifest" primarily means "to reveal" and the Greek word translated "to declare" means "to make known."
This glorification, that is, making God's name famous, is the point of this process (Jhn 17:4). However, it is something that Christ cannot do alone. The Father must make Christ famous so Christ can make the Father famous (Jhn 17:1). In today's terms, we might say Christ's job was marketing and promoting God's name. His life was designed to make God's name "go viral."
This brings use to the larger question of the "name" of God that Christ is publicizing. What is the mental image that Christ wants people to have of God?
If we are looking for a word to describe the name of God that Christ publicized, that word would "Father." This is built on the Jewish understanding of the name of God as "I am," that is, the Being of Existence. However, this is a concept that is impossible to grasp. The primary word of Christ was to make God know as the Father.
But a name isn't a word, it is a mental image. The word "Father" is part of that image, but it is bigger than that. The image was filled in by the Christ himself. Christ was acting in the Father's name. In other words, he was the Father's representative. He was more than that. He was God's son, so there was a family resemblance. In Christ's own words, he was recognized by the Father so that the Father could be recognized in him (Jhn 13:31). So the mental image we have of God is a mental image largely shaped by Christ himself. In a sense, we can call Christ the "name of God," that is, the Word made flesh.