God is called Yahweh. What does this name mean? Should we call God Yahweh?
Is YHWH Yahweh?
YHWH is a Tetragrammaton or God’s given name in the Old Testament but Bible scholars cannot agree on exactly how this name of God was or is to be pronounced. The Hebrew language does not contain vowels (e.g. e, I o, u, a) so that is why God’s name appears as YHWH and that is why all the letters of His name are always capitalized since His name is a proper noun. When God revealed His name to Moses, He revealed Himself as YHWH or Yahweh which is best translated as “I AM WHO I AM” again, in all capital letters (EX 3:14-15). The Hebrew for “I AM” is “ehyeh” which could also be read to mean “I will be” but when God refers to Himself it must mean “I AM.” I AM means that God exists already and is the speaker when this is used but when humans speak of Him it could be said “HE IS” (again, all caps).
God’s name never restricts His nature or any of His characteristics because God does not change but the English translation of “Lord” does not convey the idea of the Hebrew word “YHWH” as His personal name. Because of God’s name being so holy and the fear of mispronouncing it, Israel preferred to use the substituted the word “adonay” (Lord) for YHWH when reading from the Torah. Consonants were only added for ease of reading during the medieval periods and “the vowels of “adonay” were used in conjunction with the consonants YHWH.1 This led to an unfortunate and inaccurate reading and pronunciation of Yahweh as “Jehovah” and clearly Jehovah is wrong and any Christian or cultic church that uses Jehovah is misinformed and using a name for God that is unbiblical.
Fear of the Lord
Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
The nation of Israel was so afraid of misusing God’s name that as I wrote before, they substituted “Adonay” which today may be translated “Adonai.” The 3rd Commandment struck fear in the hearts of the nation because part of this command said that “the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” God’s name was only spoken one time a year and only once a year by the high priest as he entered into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. God did not intend that His name could never be spoken. This commandment was intended to prevent His name from being used in a vain, careless, meaningless way or used in anger (Lev 24:15; Ex 20:7). This great fear came from Israel’s reading of Leviticus 24:16 which says “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”
Today this commandment is broken so often that not only doesn’t anyone seem to notice but no one seems to care; no one that is except for God and some Christians. Today, believers prefer the name Lord, Jesus Christ or God, however what is a serious and dangerous blaspheme of His holy name is when “damn” is commonly used for God’s last name. The most frequently uttered statement “Oh my God” is about as irreverent as could possibly be and by definition breaks the 3rd Commandment. We ought to fear misusing and abusing God’s name for His name is holy and it is a name that is above all names. When people use His name in swearing and cursing they show that they have a low view of God and a low view of God leads to a low view of the Bible or at least have little regard for its veracity. When people hold to such a low view of Scripture which leads to a low view of God, breaking the 3rd Commandment becomes routine despite the danger of using His name as a curse word (Lev 24:15; Duet 5:11; Rev 16:9, 11; 2 Tim 3:2; Col 3:8).
Jehovah is not YHWH
No one knows how this name of God is actually pronounced and so this lead to the vowels from “Adonai” (Lord) and “Elohim” (God) being inserted into YHWH to become Yahweh however this does not mean that this is how God’s name was originally pronounced or how God pronounced it. Again, that is lost knowledge and we can only speculate about how YHWH sounded when it was spoken. The name Jehovah is never used or seen in the New Testament. God actually has many names and they are often tied to His attributes like the “God who sees me” (El Roi), “God Almighty” (El Shaddai), and “God Everlasting” (El Olam). God has many names, just as He has many attributes but so does Jesus Who is also God. Jesus is known as the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life and estimates are that He has over 200 names. Sadly, when Jehovah is used, it is not actually the name of the God of the Bible but a man-made, human concocted name. Besides, God is so much more than His name, He is more than can ever be described.
God is also called the Father for there is the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, also God, and these three work together in a person’s salvation; God the Father calls (John 6:44), the Savior redeems (John 3:16-17) and the Spirit sanctifies and shows us who Jesus is and why we need the Savior (John 14:26, 15:26). If you do not yet know Christ, then God is not your Father, Jesus is not your Savior, and the Spirit is not your comforter or teacher and if Jesus is not your Savior then He will be your Judge (Rev 20:12-15). I beg you today to humble yourself, bend the knee, repent, confess your sins and trust in Christ because the name that matters most is Jesus Christ Whom “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon
1. Desmond T. Alexander. From Paradise to the Promised Land (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publish, 2012), 191.