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Chapter 2. Knowing Yahweh God

Chapter 2

יהוה

Knowing Yahweh God

Yahweh: God’s personal name

One of the things that guided us towards biblical monotheism was a deeper realiza­tion that God has a personal name: “Yahweh” or similar (from the Hebrew יהוה). Although we had already known of the Name in theory, it meant little to us in our trinitarian days just as it means little to most trinitar­ians today, apart from scholars.

Exactly who is God and does He have a name? Why do so many Bible schol­ars and Bible dictionaries and Bible ency­clopedias call Him by the name “Yahweh”?

In Eng­lish Bibles, when the word “Lord” is printed in small capit­als as Lord, it indicates that the ori­ginal word in the Hebrew Bible is YHWH or Yahweh, the personal name of God.

For exam­ple, the familiar phrase “the word of the Lord” is in the He­brew text literally “the word of Yahweh” (e.g., 1 Kings 18:1, “the word of Yahweh came to Elijah”). In Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shep­herd” is liter­al­ly “Yahweh is my shepherd”. The familiar term “the Spirit of the Lord” is liter­ally “the Spirit of Yah­weh” (e.g., Ezek. 11:5, “the Spirit of Yahweh fell upon me”).

The typographical convention of printing “Lord” in small capitals as Lord is explained in the prefaces of most Bibles. ESV says, “The ESV usually renders the per­sonal name of God (YHWH) with the word Lord (printed in small cap­itals).” ESV’s helpful explanation of YHWH as “the personal name of God” reminds us of the crucial fact that YHWH or Yahweh is God’s per­sonal name. This is seen through­out the Hebrew Bible, even in the Ten Com­mand­ments: “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain” (a literal translation of Ex.20:7). It is also seen in Exodus 3:15 in which God says to Moses:

“Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.” (Exodus 3:15, HCSB, italics added)

In saying, “This is my name forever,” God is here referring to His own name Yahweh which appears in the same verse. The word “forever” indi­cates that Yahweh is God’s name not just for one generation but for all eternity; indeed it is “to be remembered in every generat­ion”.

It is standard knowledge among Bible scholars, both liberal and conser­vative, that Yahweh is God’s per­sonal name, as seen in Bible en­cyclo­pedias such as ISBE (“Yahweh is the only truly per­sonal name of God in Israel’s faith”), in Hebrew dictionaries such as TWOT (“Yah­weh, the personal name of God”), and in Bible comment­aries such as UBC (“the know­ledge of the per­sonal name of God, Yahweh, was argu­ably the great­est gift of God en­trusted to Israel”).[1]

In fact the standard rendering of Isaiah 42:8 makes no sense (“I am the Lord, that is my name”) unless the name Yahweh is restored, as in NJB and HCSB: “I am Yahweh, that is my name”.

The preponderance of the name “Yahweh”

Most Christians in the English-speaking world don’t know that God’s name is YHWH (Yahweh) or that He even has a name. The ignorance of God’s name is unac­cept­able given that YHWH oc­curs 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible. The ig­norance is puzzling because many acad­em­ic books regular­ly use the name Yahweh or YHWH in their biblical or theo­logical studies. For exam­ple, the exact word “Yahweh” occurs 2287 times in the revised Internation­al Standard Bible Encyclo­pedia, 2090 times in the United Bible Societies OT Hand­books, and 4023 times in the OT portion of New American Commentary.

We note that these are conserva­tive Bible references lest we glibly dis­miss “Yahweh” as a fabricat­ion of liberal scholar­ship or Christian sects. The sometimes liberal Anchor Bible Dictionary, regarded by many as the most scholarly Bible dictionary or ency­clo­pedia ever, has 3280 instances of “Yahweh”.

What about Elohim (אְֶלֹהִים), the well-known Hebrew word for “God” or “god”? Whereas Yahweh occurs 6,828 times in the Heb­rew Bible, Elohim occurs only about 2,602 times. Hence the primary term for God in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) is not even “God” but “Yahweh”.

Moreover, around 10% of the 2,602 instances of Elohim refer to false deities such as the gods of Egypt, the golden calf, and the goddess Ashtoreth (Ex.12:12; 32:4; 1Ki.11:33). In rare cases, Elohim is used of human beings, e.g., Moses (Ex.4:16; 7:1), unjust judges (Ps.82:6), and possibly Samuel’s spirit (1Sam.28:13). The remaining 90% of the instances of Elohim refer to the God of Israel.

The Hebrew Bible’s primary designation of the God of Israel is “Yahweh” rather than “God,” not only in terms of numerical superiority (6,828 ver­sus 2,602 in­stances) but also in terms of precis­ion of refer­ence (the 6,828 in­stances of “Yahweh” all refer to the God of Israel and never to false gods, without exception). Hence it is unac­cept­able that God’s unique and personal name Yahweh is ren­dered in most English Bibles as Lord, a title of honor that is some­times applied to human beings.

In fact some Bible scholars are calling for a return to the orig­inal name Yahweh. The five-volume New International Dictionary of OT Theology says:

The “translation” Lord is some­thing of a problem from various perspect­ives. Lord ob­scures the fact that Yahweh is a name and not a title … In view of this reality, it could be argued that, as with other personal names, we simply trans­literate what the original Hebrew was thought to be—Yahweh. (NIDOTT, vol.5, “Yahweh”)

The identity of Yahweh: Who is Yahweh?

To understand a person whether he is human or divine, it is often helpful to make a few summary statements about him. This will guide us to the exact identi­ty of Yahweh. Here are four identifying state­ments:

 

  • Yahweh is the one and only God

Yahweh says, “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa.45:5); and “there is no other god besides me” (v.21).

  • Yahweh is the only Creator

Yahweh says, “I am Yah­weh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” (Isaiah 44:24)

  • Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

Yahweh told Moses to tell the Israelites: “Yahweh, the God of your fa­thers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:15)

  • Yahweh is the God and Father of Jesus Christ

First we note that Yahweh is our Father: “You, O Yahweh, are our Father” (Isa.63:16; cf. 64:8; Dt.32:6; Mal.2:10). Specific­ally, He is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2Cor.1:3; 11:31; Eph.1:3), a truth echoed by Jesus when he says, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn.20:17). Three chap­ters earlier, Jesus calls his Father “the only true God” (Jn.17:3), an identifica­tion that aligns with Isaiah 45:5: “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God”. Hence Yahweh is the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

 



[1] ISBE (God, Names of); TWOT (484a, YHWH); Understanding the Bible Comment­ary (on Dt.5:11).

 

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church