Are Hebrew terms for the Creator God – rather than English or Greek titles the only ones accepted or recognized by God? Is some one name absolutely essential for salvation? Here’s evidence from the original texts of the Bible.
Must we use only Hebrew terms when speaking of the Creator? Should we say Yahweh rather than God? Is it a sin to use the name Jesus Christ and to call His true people the Church of God?
Despite the fact that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament contains many divine names and titles, the major argument propagated by certain religionists centers around the word many English translations have rendered LORD. Let’s examine this word – the telragrammaton YHWH.
The Old Testament text as it was preserved for many centuries consisted only of consonants, though semi consonants were used to indicate certain long vowels. The exact pronunciation, with the correct vowel sounds, was preserved only by oral usage.
The vowel sounds were not written down until about the 6th or 7th century, A.D. At that time, Jewish textual scholars known as Masoretes devised symbols to represent the vowels. They added these symbols (vowel points) to the consonantal text of the Old Testament.
It was only at this time – centuries after both the Old and New Testaments had been completed -- that the then-current pronunciation as orally preserved was written down. But the telragrammaton, the Hebrew name YHWH, had long before ceased to be pronounced by the Jews as too scared to be uttered. Whenever reciting orally, they always substituted the word Adonai (Lord) or occasionally Elohim wherever YHWH appears in the text. This practice began long before the time of Herod.
Later, in the 6th or 7th century, wherever the Masoretes found the word YHWH, they inserted the vowel points of Adonai or Elohim (not the original vowels of YHWH) to give the synagogue reader the clue to use the acceptable word. It was from the consonants YHWH plus the vowel points of Adonai that the impossible form Jehovah was later created by Catholics only partially knowledgeable of the Hebrew language and text.
Hebrews scholars are quick to admit that the exact vowel sounds and pronunciation of YHWH are not absolutely certain. Most feel that Yahweh (pronounced Ya-hewh, with the second syllable sounding like the whe in where) is a close approximation. But this reconstruction is partly based on transliterations into Greek by some of the so-called church fathers several centuries after the writing of the New Testament.
The Jewish custom of substituting one word for another was already practiced, for example, by the Essene sect at Qumran, who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls. For several technical reasons we need not list, it is certain the Qumran sect had stopped pronouncing YHWH as early as the beginning of the second century B.C.
If the correct pronunciation were known at all in New Testament times, it has not survived in writing. Some scholars disagree with the pronunciation Yahweh. Some believe the name was Yabo or Yahwo or Yahu. There is simply no way to be absolutely sure how it was pronounced when YHWH introduced this name to Moses. And, of course, vowel pronunciation is always subject to great change through the centuries and from region to region. Even if Ezra and later generations pronounced this name Yahweh, how had Moses pronounced it? After all, that would have been the only correct way, if exact pronunciation is what matters.
If the exact pronunciation were all import, what about those today whose native tongue or dialect is different? They can’t form the sounds of Yahweh correctly. Are they all without hope? What about the man today who says Yahvah instead of Yahweh?
Any who continue to support a requirement to designate the Creator as YHWH regardless of how he might think it should be pronounced, must explain the statement in Ex. 6:2-3: “And Elohim spoke unto Moses and said unto them, I am YHWH. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as El Shaddai (God Almighty). But by my name YHWH I was not known to them” (All Bible quotes used in this article are translated directly from the Hebrew or Greek.
Did Elohim mean what He said? – that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not even know the name YHWH? Or must we try to explain away this passage by saying (as some do) that Abraham actually used the name YHWH but just didn’t understand it? On the contrary, these two verses strongly indicate the name YHWH was simply not revealed as the name before Moses.
Supporting evidence for the statement of these verses is found in an examination of the theophoric names of people who lived before Moses, names, that is, bearing some form of divine name within them. Our modern society seldom uses such names except for names actually taken from the Bible. But Hebrew society was different. So we find many names in the Bible with an El, or Yah or Yahu (short for YHWH) in them.
For example, early in the Bible we run across names with El in them. Genesis 5:12 mentions Mahalaleel whose name means praise of El. Genesis 10:28 lists Abimael – a father is El. Jacob changed the name of Luz to Bethel (house of El – Gen. 28:19) and later had his own name changed to Israel, he preserves with El.
Similarly, we find the divine name Shadday, which first appears in Genesis 17:1, in the name Zurishaddai, meaning my rock is Shadday, (Num. 1:6). Zurishaddai lived before the exodus. Yet we find no human names with YHWH (including Yah or Yahu or any shortened form of the name) until after the time of Moses. A careful examination of all the biblical names before the time of Moses reveals no trace of the name YHWH.
Some are bound to ask why the name YHWH is used in the text all through Genesis if it were not known before Moses. It’s simple. By the time the book of Genesis was composed, the name YHWH was known and was simply inserted into the text.
This means that such men as Abel and the other preachers of righteousness before the flood, as well as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph – righteous men for more than 2 ½ millennia never so much as heard this name that some today emphatically assure us is absolutely necessary for salvation!
A careful study of the Bible reveals the Creative Family has a multitude of meaningful names and titles, but yields absolutely no prohibition against translating them into another language. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that only the Hebrew form is permissible. On the contrary, we are given positive examples of these names being translated into other languages.
Many do not realize that several sections of the Old Testament (Dan. 2:4 through 7:28; Ezra 4:8 through 6:18; and 7:12-16) are written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Aramaic was not the language Moses spoke.
Nowhere in these Aramaic sections do we find YHWH, or any Hebrew names for the deity. Instead we find the Aramaic form Elah. Similarly, we find no Hebrew names in the New Testament. Instead we find the Greek terms theos (God) and kuris (Lord). Furthermore, the New Testament uses kurios in quotations from the Old Testament where YHWH is used in the Hebrew, such as Matt. 3:3, quoting from Isaiah 40:3.
Of course, some would rather throw out God than their false theory about sacred names. So they theorized that the New Testament has been corrupted. But what claim would have required no less than one of the most thorough editing jobs in all history! For not a single Greek New Testament manuscript shows any evidence for the use of original Hebrew YHWH supposedly put there by the authors for their Greek readers!
Some would have had to have superhuman powers to gather every single Greek manuscript scattered around the entire Mediterranean basin and carefully expunge YHWH from all New Testament manuscripts and substitute the Greek kurios.
Paul certainly spoke Hebrew (Acts 21:40), but he was under no illusions that only Hebrew names for God were acceptable. Not only did he use Greek terms in his letters, but even a common greeting in Aramaic, which was widespread in the early Church.
When Jesus Christ spoke Greek to someone He used the Greek form of His name. He inspired His servants to use that same form in the New Testament. He didn’t say that YHWH is the only name by which we must be saved, nor Hebrew Yehoshua, or Yahshua.
Instead, the apostle Peter uses the Greek form Iesous in Acts 4:10-12 and goes on to state that whoever calls on the name of kurios will be saved! Why shouldn’t we then use the English forms Jesus and Lord?
Each of the many divine names and titles descries some aspect of the Creative Family’s character. The Bible does not emphasize a pronunciation, a particular combination of laryngeal vibrations modulated by the mouth. It emphasized that we understand the meaning of the divine names and titles in order for us to be more like our Savior Jesus Christ.
As we can’t be absolutely sure of the vowels in YHWH, we can’t be positive about its exact grammatical form. But scholars generally feel it is some form of the verb to be. Some suggest He causes to be, others He exists. But perhaps no better interpretation can be found than the Greek statement of Rev. 1:8, referring to Jesus Christ: “I am the Alpha and the Omega (in English we would say the A and the Z, the first and the last), says the Lord God, the One who is being, who was being, and who is coming, The Almighty.
God names things what they are. YHWH means the self-existent one, the “Ever Living” as the Fenton translation uses, the “Eternal” as in the Moffatt translation.
There is much in a name. Jesus has been given a name above all, in heaven or earth. There is power and authority in His name, the only name by which we may be saved. To act in His name is to act by His authority, as “power of attorney.”
The New Testament, written entirely in the Greek, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, in quoting from the Old Testament, did not quote the Hebrew names, but translated them into the Greek, as we also translate them in to English.
Jesus said He came to reveal the name of the Father (John 1:18; 17:6, 26). Yet we would search in vain for any discussion of its pronunciation or requirement to use only Hebrew. What then is meant by these verses?
What Jesus revealed is the way. He revealed the way to life, which is the way of the character of God. That character is the origin of His names, expressed by whatever different language. The same character in us will lead us to have eternal life like God and to bear His names that summarize His character.
“But this is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:3). We don’t get to know God by concentrating on a few Hebrew characters or their English transliterations.
So the use of only one name for Jesus Christ or a certain unmistakable pronunciation of that name is not a prerequisite for entering God’s Kingdom. Don’t be misled by any such false teachings.