How to call God’s Name?

In the Old Testament, the two most common names for God are Elohim and Yahweh. The word Yahweh appears nearly 7000 times in the O.T.! Now I realize what some of you are thinking: “If it’s so common, how come I’ve never seen Yahweh in my Old Testament?”

Well, that’s because of a translation convention. I would wager that the foreword to your Bible explains that the word YHWH, the consonants for Yahweh, is rendered LORD (all capital letters). The Hebrew letters yod-heth-waw-heth are also called the Tetragrammaton (Greek for four letters).

Of course such a convention is confusing, first because LORD isn’t a translation of Yahweh at all, and secondly because there is already a word for Lord, Adonai. I admit that when I read the Bible, I easily miss the subtle distinction between LORD and Lord. So what’s the origin of this odd convention?

Over the course of time, when the Jews saw YHWH, they spoke Adonai — out of reverence for the name of God. Others would simply say ha-Shem (the name). Yet there’s no verse in the Bible forbidding our use of the word Yahweh.

Yet even if we say Yahweh, pronouncing the Hebrew properly, are we sure we’re on the right track? Actually, Yahweh isn’t so much a name as one of his attributes. Yahweh comes from the verb to be, implying something about his (absolute?) existence. (If you are a website member, be sure to listen to the podcast on The Name of God.) We close with a few assorted thoughts:

  • Elí, Elí, lema sabachthaní (Ἠλί, Ἠλί, λιμὰ σαβαχθανί), or My God, My God, why have you forsaken me has the word El (God), a shorter form of Elohim. The ‘í’ after the word means my. Thus Elí is my God.
  • Hallelujah is composed of two words, the verb for praise and Jah, which is a shortened form of Yahweh. (The  J is pronounced like a Y.) For a great article by Jerry Maday, click Hallelujah. In Latin, the word became alleluia, from the N.T. Greek ‘allēlouïá. Jerry also has a great piece on Selah, the unusual word that appears in some of the Psalms.
  • Consider the name of God in Isaiah 44:6, “the first and the last” — equivalent to Jesus’ name, “the Alpha and the Omega,” in Revelation 21:6. He is the one who is, has always been, and always will be!

JESUS! Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

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