Must we use a special name for God?

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Does God have a special name that he demands we always use, especially in prayer? 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 pronunciation. Some believe our Maker should be only referred to as Yahweh, while others disagree and believe he should be called Yahveh. Other variations include Yahowah, Yehovah, Jehovah and many more.

Many of these variations, believed to be God's sole personal name he requires, revolves around what is called the Tetragrammaton. The Tetragrammaton is composed of four consonants, usually YHVH or YHWH, which the Hebrew language uses to refer to the Eternal.


What is Biblical numerology?
What do colors mean in Scripture?
List of God's many Old Testament names!

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 repeatedly.


Writing of the Minor Prophets Scroll
Writing of the Minor Prophets
Greek papyrus fragment (50 B.C. to 50 A.D.)
Arrow points to the Eternal's name

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew "Elohim" is used at least 240 times to refer to pagan deities, with variations of the word such as "El" also used. By the same reasoning used to reject the English designation for the Supreme Deity, the Hebrew words Elohim, El and so forth 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" was utilized by pagans to refer to their deities 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.

Hebrew references

The Hebrew word Elohim, a plural form of the word El, is used more than 2,600 times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The first time it is used is in the very first verse of Genesis, where it states, "In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

The root word "El" used to compose the word Elohim was also used in reference to false deities 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 knew?

And God spoke to Moses, and said to him, "I am the Lord (Jehovah) and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai). But I was not known to them by My name Jehovah (Exodus 6:2 - 3, HBFV).

Read the above verses carefully. God said He appeared to Abraham and the fathers as El Shaddai. They, however, did not know him as Jehovah 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? The answer is simple. Our Father allows humans to refer to him using a variety of references!


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 "Lord" is used in place of the Tetragrammaton (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 a reference to 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 "Yahweh" (or a variation) 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 . . . " Jesus was heard and his prayers answered not because He used some special pronounciation for his Father but because he was humble and feared him.

God's many Old Testament names and titles reveal many interesting aspects of his character and power. They should be studied and understood. Disputes over how to "perfectly" refer to Him or how to perfectly pronounce it are trivial to us learning more about His magnificence, power, and authority. Using or not using a particular special name or title for God does not affect our prayers or our loving relationship with our Maker.

Additional Study Materials
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Why did the devil attack God's throne?
Which false deities did Israel worship?
What did the Romans write about Jesus?
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