🔼The name Bethuel: Summary
- Virgin Of God, House Of God
- From (1) the noun בתולה (betula), virgin, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼The name Bethuel in the Bible
There are two Bethuels mentioned in the Bible:
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Bethuel
The meaning of this name is disputed, although everybody pretty much agrees that the final part of the name Bethuel is the word אל El meaning God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
But the origin of the first part of the name is a mystery.
Without further argumentation, BDB Theological Dictionary assumes a text error and derives the first part of Bethuel from the Hebrew word מת (mat), meaning man and reads Man Of God for a meaning of Bethuel. But Bethuel starts with bat, not with mat and this explanation seems rather uncalled for.
In Hebrew there are two words בת (bat); one means daughter (see בן, ben), the other one indicates a measure of volume equal to about 22 liters. The central ו (waw) of our name could be due to a third personal possessive pronoun: his, which would give the name Bethuel the meaning of His Daughter Is El. But since El is decidedly masculine, this interpretation can scarcely be seriously maintained.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, undeterred, derives the first part of the name Bethuel from בתולה (betula) meaning virgin, from the root בתל:
The unused verb בתל (batal) probably meant to sever or separate (it does so in other languages). Noun בתולה (betula) describes a young marriageable maiden, not necessarily someone who hasn't ever been with a man (as it also covers young widows and young prostitutes). Likewise, the noun בתולים (betulim) doesn't simply mean virginity but describes maiden-hood; the state or condition of being young and marriageable.
Jones also sees in the second part of the name Bethuel the word אל (El), meaning God, and gives Bethuel the meaning of Virgin Of God. That would work much better, also because Hebrew names don't necessarily describe the bearer of it, and a man may surely be named after the great theological principle of which Isaiah famously spoke when he said: the Virgin will be with Child (Isaiah 7:14). Bethuel was the father of Rebekah who was a key-element in bringing forth the nation of Israel.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List takes the first part of the name Bethuel from בית (bayit), meaning house:
The noun בית (bayit) means house. It sometimes merely denotes a domestic building, but mostly it denotes the realm of authority of the house-father, or אב (ab). This ab is commonly the living alpha male of a household, but may very well be a founding ancestor (as in the familiar term the "house of Israel"). The אב (ab) may also be a deity, in which case the בית (bayit) is that which we know as a temple.
In the larger economy, a house interacts with other houses. These interactions are governed by the אב (ab), or "father" and executed by the בנים (benim), or "sons": those people living in the house, irrespective of any biological relation with the אב (ab). The "sons" combined add up to אם ('em), which means both "mother" and "tribe".
And thus, for a meaning of the name Bethuel, NOBSE reads Abode Of God. That explanation makes no distinction between this name and Bethel.