One reference for God, which appears well over two thousand times in the Old Testament, is "Elohim." Literally meaning "Mighty Ones," this word normally appears in a plural form, although the singular "Eloah" is also used. This word first appears in Genesis 1.
"Then God (Elohim) said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .'" (Genesis 1:26, NKJV throughout unless stated)
Normally, however, this word for God is used in a singular construction. Hence, we have Elohim creates, makes, says, not Elohim create, make, say. The root word "El" was used to refer to various false gods of the nations which surrounded ancient Israel, as well as in Hebrew itself. The discoveries made by archeologists at Ugarit, an ancient Canaanite city found in modern Syria, prove this. The Canaanites who lived in this city (c. 2000-1200 B.C.) used a language highly similar to ancient Hebrew.
Did Aramaic scriptures use Hebrew names?
It is often forgotten that some parts of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic, the language which began to replace Hebrew for the everyday speech of ancient Israelites, especially after returning from the Babylonian captivity. These parts originally written in Aramaic include Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4b-6:18 and Jeremiah 10:11. Scattered Aramaic words show up elsewhere also. Jesus and His disciples conducted their ministry in Aramaic, which was one of the main languages in common use in Judea in the first century A.D. Greek also was used in Judea by many average people, not just the wealthy and well educated.
Did the writers of Aramaic-based scriptures use HEBREW words for God? No, they did not! Seventy-eight times the Holy spirit inspired Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezra to use the Aramaic word "Elah" for him, not the Hebrew "Elohim." God clearly granted permission for men to use words referring to Him in languages other than Hebrew. Furthermore, 16 times "Elah" is used to refer to pagan gods, showing once again that the Almighty allows the same word to be used referencing pagan gods that is used to refer to Him. To say God only allows Hebrew words to be used for Him clearly contradicts the Old Testament.
We know Abraham to be the Father of the faithful – which is to say, the father of the covenant of Faith. Because of his faith He was not only considered righteous (Romans 4:3) but GOD considered him a FRIEND (James 2:23)! Jesus said that Abraham, Issac and Jacob would be in God's kingdom (Matthew 8:11). Surely, such a man called upon the Creator, if required, by a special or sacred name. How do we explain, however, the following verses?
"And God spoke to Moses and said to him: "I am the LORD (YHVH). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name LORD (YHVH) I was not known to them." (Exodus 6:2-3)
Read the above verses carefully. God said He appeared to Abraham and the fathers as El Shaddai. They, however, did not know him as YHVH. How could they possibly be saved if they NEVER used the special name of YHVH or variation thereof to call upon him - a name many believe MUST be used in order to receive salvation? Remember, Jesus said the fathers would soon be resurrected to eternal life. The answer is simple. Our Father allows humans to refer to him in a variety of ways!
The strongest proof
The strongest proof against the idea that God requires the use of special Hebrew words is the New Testament itself, which is written in Greek. The Greek word for Lord, "kurios" (Strong's Concordance #G2962) is used to refer to God some 665 times in the New Testament, while "Theos," meaning "God," is used some 1,345 times. In a number of places, where New Testament writers quote the Old, the Greek word for Lord is substituted for the Tetragammaton, YHWH. One example of this is in Matthew 3 which quotes a passage from Isaiah.
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord (kurios), make His paths straight.'" (Matthew 3:3)
The Hebrew text for Isaiah 40:3 has YHWH for "the Lord," while the Greek has "kurios." When Christ entered Jerusalem, the crowds surely did not say "Yahweh" when quoting Psalm 118:26, but:
"Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (kurios)!" (Matthew 21:9).
When Christ quoted Psalm 110:1 to refer to Himself, He certainly did not say "Yahweh," otherwise the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes could have demanded on the spot his execution (note Luke 20:41-44). The apostle Paul was no different: He substituted "the Lord" for the YHWH when quoting from the Old Testament (1Corinthians 1:31; Romans 4:8; 9:23, etc.). God's spirit, by allowing "kurios" to be substituted for "Yahweh" in the New Testament, decisively demonstrates that the old Jewish tradition of substituting "the Lord" for "Yahweh" is not a sin in God's sight, even though it was originally based on an erroneous interpretation.
Can Hebrew Names be used for Jesus?
One attack point used by those who insist Christians must use Hebrew names for God is that "Christ" and "Jesus" are unacceptable. The argument is that Christians should say "Messiah" and "Yahshua" instead. The funny thing, however, is that those who strongly support such dogma CANNOT agree amongst themselves what are the best transliterations for the Savior's name! The word "Christ" comes from the term, "the anointed one," and has the same meaning as the Hebrew word "Messiah." The English word "Jesus" comes from the Greek word "Iesous," which appears over 910 times in the New Testament. It means "Yahweh is salvation." The name "Joshua" comes from the exact same Greek word, and has the same meaning (see Hebrews 4:8). Once again, false conclusions are drawn due to preconceived ideas developed by misinterpreting certain Old Testament passages.
The New Testament refers to our Savior using Greek terms and not Hebrew ones. There is nothing wrong today in using either the Greek terms, or their translation into English, for Jesus. The Bible simply does not prohibit translation of His names into other languages.
Did Jesus ever say YAHWEH?
Did Christ and the apostles use "Yahweh" in their public preaching, at least among the Jews in the first century? If they had, the common people would have reviled them, and the Scribes and Pharisees would not have had to wait long to execute them all. Remember that when Christ was on trial, the Sanhedrin sought, and got, various false witnesses in order to accuse Him (Mark 14:55-59; Matthew 26:59-61). Had He said the name "Yahweh" any time during His public ministry, sentencing Him to death by the religious leaders for what THEY considered was a sacred name would have been easy.
The silence of the New Testament regarding the use of Yahweh is deafening, especially when considering the Scribes and Pharisees were looking for ANY charge on which to accuse Christ. Of course, Christ Himself would not have believed it was wrong to say "Yahweh," especially since He WAS Yahweh in the flesh (John 1:1, 14; 1Corinthians 10:4, etc). But, in order to be able to effectively evangelize and witness to the Jews, He simply could not have used this reference. Since neither He nor His disciples used "Yahweh," Christians should not see it as a requirement for salvation to use it either.
What did Jesus do?
Jesus referred to God most often simply as "the Father", which was recorded in the Greek Gospels with the word "Pater" (from which the Spanish get Padre). And He not only used Pater, or Father, but He directed US to start our prayers with "Our father in heaven . . ." (Luke 11:2). Paul, however, confuses the issue by saying that Christ's spirit in us cries out "Abba", which is Aramaic for Father. So then, instead of Pater, should we use Abba? Christ Himself prayed using Abba:
"And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." " (Mark 14:36)
Mind you, it included Abba because that was the actual word He used. But before you go out and start changing your prayers to use Abba read the following.
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, " Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!" (Matthew 27:46-47)
When Christ was dying, in one of the most distressed prayers He ever made, with His last ounces of life, He prayed using a derivative of the Hebrew word for God – no, not YHVH, but "Eli". The people around Him watching Him die thought He was saying " Elijah", so they evidently didn't understand Eli as a common word for the Supreme Deity. So He abandoned His most commonly-used Greek Pater, then the Aramaic Abba, and now He is using the Hebrew Eli. But a little while later, He is back to using Pater again!
"And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father (Pater), 'into Your hands I commit My spirit.'" Having said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46)
During his time on the cross He is nowhere recorded as having uttered YHVH or other special name once! Yet His prayers were answered – even when using at least three different languages to call upon his Father – and He was "saved" in spite of not using a special name or title!
The miracle of HEARING
Let us look at a familiar New Testament scriptural passage.
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. . . And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. . . And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. " (Acts 2:1, 4,6)
Notice that the apostles weren't SPEAKING all those other languages – but these men all HEARD them speak in their own language, in their mother tongue. The miracle was in the HEARING, not the speaking.
"Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we HEAR, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." " (Acts 2:7-11)
There are seventeen languages mentioned there. And in all of those languages, those men heard them speak of the wonderful works of GOD. A few verses below these the Bible says:
"And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord (Kurios) shall be saved. " (Acts 2:21)
That means that a Greek HEARD Peter say that whoever would call on the name of KURIOS shall be saved. A Roman, who spoke Latin, would hear "whoever calls on the name of Deus shall be saved." Likewise, the Egyptian, the Persian, the Jew, and the Cretans would all have heard Peter say the name of God, or the words "Supreme One" in their own language.
Fundamentally, the error committed by the doctrine that Christians must use Hebrew names when referencing the Godhead is a preconceived idea that is read into certain Old Testament scriptures. When those who have such beliefs confront Greek New Testament texts that contradiction their position, the text is said to be wrong.
What is almost entirely forgotten is that, in God's sight, it is not what we say but what we do while serving him that matters:
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
Let us look at one last scripture.
". . . who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, " (Hebrews 5:7)
Note that Jesus was heard not because He used Abba or Pater or Eli to call upon the Father. God heard him because he feared and obeyed him.
To the Eternal, disputes over how and whether to pronounce one of His names are trivial by comparison to us learning more about His magnificence, power, and authority, which the meaning of his titles and names point to. Using one name or pronunciation over another in reference to God has NO bearing whatsoever on whether prayers are heard or not. Only your obedience and faith can affect that. What really matters is the intent of the heart, not the noises one makes when praying in some language. God knows who His children are even before they start praying to Him. It is not necessary to use a name that specifically distinguishes him from the false, since Christians are directing our prayers towards him to begin with.
Adapted from articles by: Eric Snow and Nat Burson