The name of God

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Does God have a special name? Does he demand we always use it? Do people sin when they do not pronounce or spell it correctly?

The use of a special name for God is so appealing that religious groups have formed over the years supporting a particular spelling or pronounciation. Some believe our Maker should be referred to as Yahweh, while others disagree and believe he should be called Yahveh. Other variations of the special or "sacred" name of God include Yahowah, Yehovah, Jehovah and many more.

These variations of the believed Hebrew name of God revolve around what is called the Tetragammaton. The Tetragammaton is composed of four consonants, usually YHVH or YHWH, that the Hebrew language uses to refer to the Eternal. The problem is, ancient Hebrew was written without any supplied vowels! This means that various combinations of the name are possible and the debate about which one is "correct" has gone on for years.

Before we begin our study on how we should refer to God we need to first define what is a name. Generically, it is a word or term by which a person (or a place, thing, concept or object) can be distinctively labeled and known. Names reference things that exist in the real world. Different languages will, of course, have correspondingly different words to refer to the same thing or person.

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Pagan references

One of the many arguments touted for using a special, rather than generic reference to our Creator such as "God," is that since the generic was used for pagan deities as well it can never be used to refer to the Eternal. One fact this claim ignores, however, is that one of the Hebrew words used to refer to the Creator, Elohim (Genesis 1:26, etc.), is ALSO used in the Bible to refer to false deities time and time again.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew name "Elohim" is used at least 240 times to refer to pagan deities, with variations of the word such as "El" (fifteen times) and "Eloah" (five times) also used. By the same reasoning used to reject the English designation for the Supreme Deity the Hebrew words Elohim, El and Eloah should not have been used to refer to God by the inspired writers of the Old Testament!

What is often overlooked is the fact that the root word "El" used for a name was utilized by pagans to refer to their gods about the same time Moses completed writing the first five books of the Bible. This is one proof that shows our Father does not prohibit the use of words in other languages to refer to him.


God creating the universe
God creating the universe
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, 1511

Hebrew references

The Hebrew word Elohim, which literally means 'mighty ones,' is used as a name for God more than 2,000 times. The first time this word is used in the Bible is in Genesis, where it states, "Then God (Elohim) said, 'Let Us make man in Our image . . .'" (Genesis 1:26).

The root word "El" used to compose the word Elohim was also used in reference to FALSE gods worshipped by the peoples that were Israel's neighbors. Discoveries made at the Canaanite city of Ugarit show this to be a fact.


Abraham

Abraham is called the father of the faithful (see Galatians 3:7), 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 himself considered him a friend (James 2:23)! Abraham would be one of the few individuals in Scripture that would know, without a doubt, the unique name of the Eternal. How do we explain, however, that God told Moses that Abraham called upon him using a term different from the one Moses was familiar with?

I am the LORD (YHVH). I appeared to Abraham . . . as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name LORD (YHVH) I was not known . . . (Exodus 6:2 - 3)

Read the above verses carefully. God said He appeared to Abraham and the fathers as the name El Shaddai. They, however, did not know him as YHVH as was revealed to Moses. Did the Eternal have two special references to himself? How could Abraham and Moses both be saved (Matthew 8:11, 17:3) if, as is taught by some, our Maker has a single reference to himself that must be used correctly or else he will not have a relationship with them? The answer is simple. Our Father allows humans to refer to him in a variety of ways!

The strongest proof

The greatest argument that combats the belief that God wants to be referred to by some special name or title is the Greek language from which we get the New Testament.  The word kurios (Strong's Concordance #G2962), from which the English word "Lord" is derived, occurs 665 times while theos (from which we get the word God) occurs 1,345 times. 

Interestingly, in several places where the Old Testament is quoted, the GREEK kurios for the name "Lord" is used in place of the Tetragammaton (YHWH / YHVH) that was used in the Hebrew!  One example of this is in Matthew 3, which quotes a passage from Isaiah. 

Prepare a road for the Lord (kurios), make a straight path for him to travel (Matthew 3:3).

The original language version of Isaiah 40:3, from which Matthew 3:3 quoted, uses YHVH (Strong's Concordance #H3068) for "the Lord."  The apostle Paul also substituted YHVH when he quoted Old Testament verses (see 1Corinthians 1:31; Romans 4:8; 9:23, etc.). When Jesus made his triumphal arrival in Jerusalem the people did not use YHVH or variation thereof as the name of God. They quoted Psalm 118:26 by stating, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (kurios)!" (Matthew 21:9).

When Jesus quoted the Psalms in reference to Himself He did not say YHVH or YHWH or insert vowels to pronounce the word correctly. Had he done so the self-righteous religious leaders who HATED him who have had him immediately executed (see Luke 20:41 - 44)! 

Did Jesus ever say it?

How did Jesus, or any of the apostles, refer to the Eternal? Did they use the name "Yahweh" or other variation in their public preaching? If they had, the common people would have reviled them, and the Scribes and Pharisees would have killed them on the spot. When Christ was on trial the Sanhedrin sought, and got, various false witnesses to accuse Him of wrongdoing (Mark 14:55 - 59; Matthew 26:59 - 61). Had Jesus used a name like "Yahweh" any time during His public ministry, the Jews would have no reason to concoct a false accusation against him as they believed the public use of any such reference a sin.


A Fundamental error

Fundamentally, the error committed by the doctrine that Christians must use a Hebrew name when referencing God is an idea that is read into several scriptures in the Old Testament.  When those who have such beliefs confront New Testament Greek text that contradicts their position, the text is said to be wrong.  What is almost entirely forgotten is that, in the Eternal's sight, it is not what we say but what we do while serving him that matters (Matthew 7:21).

One last Scripture worth noting is Hebrews 5:7. This verse states, "In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God . . . Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him." Jesus was heard and his prayers answered not because He used some special name for his Father but because he was humble and feared him.

In conclusion

To the Eternal, disputes over how to refer to Him and how to pronounce it are trivial by comparison to us learning more about His magnificence, power, and authority. Using or not using God's name (even if we knew it) would NOT affect our prayers. In the final analysis, if He want us to use a special designation for him, he will no doubt tell us in the resurrection.

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