Question:

What is God's name? The Jehovah's Witnesses tell me it is "Jehovah," but that appears less than ten times in my Bible.


Answer:

The name "Jehovah" appears eight times in the King James Version of the Bible. It is not used in the New American Standard Bible or the New King James Version. However, it appears 5,818 times in the American Standard Version, which has led to Watchtower Society accepting this particular version.

Names in the Bible are often significant. We tend to overlook this because parents in the United States often select names for their children because it sounds pleasant, or because a favorite relative bears that name, or because a famous person has that name. But during biblical times, names were given to convey an idea about the person or to indicate the circumstances surrounding the birth of a child.

For example, when Esau and Jacob were born (Genesis 25:24-26), the eldest twin was given the name "Esau" because he was covered with red hair. "Esau" means "hairy" in Hebrew. The younger twin was named "Jacob" because he was holding on to his brother's heel when he was born. The name "Jacob" means "heel catcher." It is the word used to describe the jokester who sticks his foot out as you walk by to cause you to stumble. It turned out to be an appropriate name because the younger son ended up supplanting his older brother by gaining both the birthright and the family blessing.

Another example is Abram. His name meant "high father." However, God changed his name to Abraham, which means "father of a multitude." By accepting this new name, Abraham showed his faith in God's promises that his descendants would become a great nation (Genesis 17:1-7). At the time of the name change, Abraham had no children with his wife Sarah and only one son with a concubine. He had no evidence of a multitude of descendants, but he took on the name out of trust for God's promise.

God is addressed by a variety of names in the Scriptures. Understanding that names hold meaning, it becomes apparent why a variety of terms are used as God's name. There is no one word or phrase that totally and adequately describes who God is.

God

A common designation for God is "Elohim." It is commonly translated as "God" in the English Bibles and appears over 2,500 times. It is a plural noun used in a singular sense (much as we use the word "herd" or "tribe" or "flock" to speak of a group in a singular sense).

At times the name "God" is joined with other words to give further designation. "When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless" (Genesis 17:1). Or, "The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arm" (Deuteronomy 33:27). Or, the living God as used in Joshua 3:10.

LORD or Yahweh

"I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them" (Exodus 6:3). The name Yahweh is found over 6,800 times in the Old Testament. The generally accepted literal translation of the name is "He is" or "the Eternal." The abbreviated form is Yah and is found at the end of many Hebrew names and words, such as hallelu Yah (that is "praise Yahweh") or Isaiah (that is "Yahweh has saved"). It is also found at the beginning of some names, such as Joash (that is "Yahweh has come to help").

The Israelites were concerned that God's name would be taken in vain, so by 300 B.C. became traditional not to pronounce the name of God. Instead, whenever the name was found in a reading, the word "Lord" was substituted. This tradition was picked up by the Septuagint translation where the Greek word for Lord was used wherever Yahweh appeared. By the sixth century, Jewish scholars began adding vowel pointers to the ancient Hebrew text, which was written only with consonants, so that future generations would not forget how to pronounce Hebrew words. Yet, when they came to the name Yahweh, they continued the tradition of using "Lord" instead of "Yahweh." Hence, while the consonants remained (YHWH), the vowels for "Lord" were placed with the word.

Now we need to jump forward in time. The Hebrew consonants for Yahweh were transliterated using the German system in early English (J's sound like Y's and V's sound like W's). Not knowing the vowel substitution done earlier, the vowels for Lord were mixed with the German letters, giving us Jehovah. The King James Version did not constantly translate Yahweh, often using LORD (Lord in all capital letters to represent the name), though in a few places it used the mis-transliteration"Jehovah." The American Standard was more consistent in its translation using "Jehovah" most of the places where it appeared. It wasn't until the mid-1900's that people began to realize that Jehovah was incorrect and the correct pronunciation was Yahweh. The correct pronunciation was concluded by seeing how YHWH was transliterated into other languages. The Jews living on the island of Yev a generation after Nehemiah lived pronounced YHWH as Yahu. Clement of Alexandria transliterated YHWH into Greek as iaoue around 200 A.D.

Most modern translation render YHWH as LORD, keeping the ancient Jewish practice and avoiding the transliteration problem. It is a practice blessed by God, since the inspired New Testament uses the Greek word for "Lord" in quotes where the orginial Hebrew has the word YHWH (see Hebrews 8:8 which quotes Jeremiah 31:31 as an example). [For further details see: Understand the Tetragrammaton: How Is It Pronounced? ]

As with the name "God," Yahweh or LORD is sometimes combined with other words. In Hannah's prayer, she speaks to the LORD of hosts (I Samuel 1:11). Where hosts is a reference to armies.

I AM

"Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' "" (Exodus 3:13-14).

The Hebrew word hayah is believed to be related to the name Yahweh. The name emphasizes God's self-existence. The literal translation of the word is "to be." It was Jesus use of this term that caused the Jews to be upset. "Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:58-59). The people understood that Jesus' use of the phrase was a claim of deity.

The Most High

"When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel" (Deuteronomy 32:8). This name emphasizes God's position in the world. There is none higher than God. Speaking of God, Moses earlier stated, "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe" (Deuteronomy 10:17).

The Judge

"Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Here Abraham calls God by one of His roles, the ultimate Judge of all that occurs. Again this is a role that Jesus applies to himself. "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22).

Holy One of Israel

"Also with the lute I will praise you-And Your faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 71:22). This name emphasizes the purity of God's character. He is the one who is set apart from all else.

Lord of Sabaoth

"Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4). "Sabaoth" is a military term referring to armies. Here the name refers to God as the ruler of armies. It emphasizes His control and power over the world, and His capability to execute justice.

Father

"He will cry to Me, 'You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation" (Psalm 89:26). Though the term Father is rarely used in the Old Testament to address God (see also Isaiah 63:16 and 64:8), in the New Testament it is frequently used. The term emphasizes our relationship with God -- God being the Father, Jesus being the Son, and Christians being adopted children into God's family. "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:4-7).

Creator, Maker

"Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, "I have no pleasure in them"" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Since God created the universe (Genesis 1:1), it is appropriate to refer to Him as the Creator.

The Rock

"You will have songs as in the night when you keep the festival, And gladness of heart as when one marches to the sound of the flute, To go to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel" (Isaiah 30:29). A rock is a place of strength and refuge. It is solid and unchanging. Such ultimately describes the Almighty God. "Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one" (Isaiah 44:8).

Redeemer, Savior

"For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth" (Isaiah 54:5).

"I will feed your oppressors with their own flesh, And they will become drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine; And all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (Isaiah 49:26).

The name Redeemer and Savior is also an emphasis on what God does for His people. He restores them from the oppression of sin. He rescues them from their own inquities. "For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us And Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name" (Isaiah 63:16).


This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does illustrate that while Yahweh is the most common name for God in the Old Testament, Yahweh is not His exclusive designation. Each name gives us insight into the nature of God and His relationship with mankind.

March 7, 2011