Our God Has a Name

yhwhOur God is personal. He relates. Fundamental to his very existence is the reality that he exists as a person in community. From eternity past the Father has loved the Son (John 17:24). He is a personal, relational-covenant-keeping God.

And because he is personal, he has a name. I think it might be time for us to familiarize ourselves with it again.

Lately I’ve been reading Michael Reeves’ excellent book titled, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Here’s an insight that resonated with me.

For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. 1

Which God we worship is of fundamental importance. We can’t agree on anything else, really, if we’re conceiving of, placing faith in, and worshiping different gods. Our God needs to be distinguished. Here’s an explanation of why:

Strangely enough, who and what God is like tend to be things we assume we already know and so do not need to think much more about. Especially in the post-Christian West, where the identity of God seems to have been pretty much universally agreed on for centuries, it seems obvious. Thus Christians ask non-Christians whether they believe in “God”—as if the very idea of “God” is self-explanatory, as if we will all be thinking of the same sort of being. 2

But the reality is that increasingly, when we speak of ‘God’ or ‘god’ with people who live around us, we’re not talking about the same conception of God at all. And even those who think they have a Christian heritage are now so biblically illiterate that I’m almost certain that they have no idea who the God is that I know.

I think one thing that would be helpful for us is to begin using the proper name of God. The reason God’s name was spoken to Moses and given to the people of Israel at the time of the Exodus was specifically to distinguish him from the gods of the surrounding nations. The Israelite people needed a name to boast of, to worship, to give glory to, to ascribe feats of power to, in a way that would make everyone around realize that the God of Israel is very, very different from the gods of the nations.

And that is exactly what we need again.

We don’t worship Oprah’s ‘god’, or Allah, or Jehovah (as in the god of the Jehovah’s Witnesses). We worship Yahweh. Distinguishing him with our speech, using his name, will give us opportunity to speak of him in way that doesn’t presume others know who we’re talking about.

Our God, the covenant-relational God, has intimately bound himself to his people and made himself known by name. Why would we not speak his name?

Notes:

  1. Kindle edition, location 156.
  2. Kindle edition, location 164.

19 thoughts on “Our God Has a Name

  1. One problem: no one knows how to pronounce it.
    "Yaw-way" is merely a guess.

    I really do love the idea, for all the reasons you state, but it's not practical, and could even be a negative. If we're running around mispronouncing His real name, that doesn't seem a very honoring thing to do.

    This is actually a big debate in the so-called Torah movement/Hebrew Roots movement, of which I'm a part. Some make a big deal that we MUST use the name, while others adopt the Jewish practice of not saying it out of reverence and desire to make sure the name is not taken in vain.

    The side I've landed on, for now, is not to use it. Not precisely because I'm following general Jewish custom, but rather I'm emulating the custom of the Jewish believers who wrote the NT. We don't see these Greek-writing authors make any sort of effort to preserve "YHVH" in their writings; rather they simply go with the convention of the day: using the generic Greek "theos" and "kurios" (God and Lord), despite being in an even more polytheistic cultural milieu than we are today.

    We may also do well to note that Yeshua/Jesus never uses the tetragrammaton in the Gospels, either. Whether that was in deference to, or endorsement of, the custom of the day we can't be sure. We do see Him using the common circumlocutions such as "Heaven" and "Lord." Of course, "Father" appears to be a favorite. As His disciples, imitating His practice would seem a wise, safe path to tread.

    Finally, to accomplish what it is you're suggesting (which again I wholeheartedly support), some take to just saying the letters, "Yod-hay-vav-hay", or saying "HaShem" (Hebrew for "the Name"), "Adonai" (Hebrew for "Lord") or what I would use if I wanted to make sure a listener knew I wasn't talking about Allah or a cosmic Santa Claus, "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." A bit more cumbersome, but it does attach the concept to historic roots, and emphasizes that aspect of covenant-making and keeping that is so important.

    Shalom,
    Kevin

    • Kevin,

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! It's a blessing to read and think through with you.

      1. I don't think that 'kurios' or 'theos' are the same as the proper name of God. They are titles that indicate something of his being and status, but not name. 'Abba' certainly is a form of address (one that we're told the Spirit moves us to use for God, because we've been united with Christ), so it comes close, but it's still not a name.

      2. That Jesus never uses the name is worth considering. While on one level, it's an argument from silence (he may well have used it, just not in the Gospel record accounts), I don't want to merely write it off. He did several times use 'I AM' statements at significant moments (moments of self-declaration in John, the commanding of the seas with a word in the synoptics, and at the approach of his enemies in the Gethsemane). I don't want to miss the significance of that either. That is very important. To me he clearly seems to be hinting a the greater revelation of his identity that the disciples would discern post-cross, empty tomb, and Pentecost.

      3. As for the notion of pronouncing his name right in English… well, I think it's funny, but we don't use that argumentation in other cases. Town names and personal names (and even other transliterated words) are mispronounced in church on a weekly basis and no one perceives it as an insult to the people being spoken of. We're just acknowledging that we speak a different language. No one gets upset that we say James instead of Yakobos or Jesus instead of Yeshua. For that matter the New Testament writers didn't seem to have a problem using Iesous instead of Yeshua. I think we're consistently applying the same logic in pronouncing Yahweh as an English form.

      Feel free to respond. I'd love to dialogue more about this. Thanks for the gracious tone and the helpful challenge!

  2. Well put, Julian! I'm cultivating this very thing in my students at Tyndale this summer, getting them to pronounce 'Yahweh' when they see 'LORD' during classroom reading. It changes the way we read and think! I've been wanting to read Bauckham's 'God Crucified' on this very topic as well. But now you are adding Reeves to my reading list. Thanks!

    • Good stuff, Ian! I definitely find it profitable to use God's name rather than LORD in my own reading of Scriptures. It helps remind me he's a person and not a 'force'; nor is he merely my conception. He is an actual personal being. I'm so quick to forget that. I hope it's a blessing to your students!

  3. I've been thinking about this too, Julian. It is odd that LORD was substituted for God's name in Hebrew by Old Testament translators. It certainly seems like that tradition should be corrected in future translations. But as K.C. above wrote, you don't see Christ or the apostles using this OT name of God. I wonder if it could it be that Christ's revelation of himself in his "I am" statements, standing as the ultimate and final revelation of God, "does away with" (fulfills) God's OT name. I have to think so; if neither Christ nor the apostles saw fit to refer to him as Yahweh. To them it was God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Just my thoughts…

    • Thanks, Jeri! I replied to Kevin above. I think it relates to what you're saying here.

      Blessings!

      • Thanks, Julian! I read your reply to Kevin. I'll continue to ponder the idea of calling God "Yahweh" in these last days– again, my thinking is that the NT Scriptures don't commend it, and what do we have as a guide for our practice besides the Scriptures? There are many things important to our practice not specifically addressed by Christ and the apostles, but surely can't be called silence. We're told to imitate Christ's and the apostles' practice, and can surely be confident that God has revealed all we need for the faith and practice of the NT church in the NT Scripture. It is either God's will for his NT church that we refer to him as Yahweh, or it's not his will. I realize that in many of these things it's a matter of our interpretations and overall approaches.

        When I read from the Old Testament I do try to make it a practice to substitute Yahweh for LORD– again, because that's what the text says so it's best. Thanks again Julian, I appreciate your desire to honor the Lord.

  4. Good article. As a native Hebrew speaker, I agree with Kevin above. The letters יהוה are "unpronounceable" as a word, but they mean "I AM" – there is no other word for "I AM" in Hebrew. For example we don't say, "I am shopping", we say "I shop". Or, "I am going to the shop" is "I go to the shop". But, the Jewish leaders of the day knew VERY WELL what Jesus said when He said, "Before Abraham was, I AM". Because the 3rd commandment says we must not take the Name of the Lord our God in vain, it was manipulated and substituted and you might see that in Judaism the letter 'o' is omitted when they write G_d and L_rd. Out of respect or out of fear or out of superstition.
    Out of interest, God is all about TIME. The words for past, present and future are in His Name (יהוה) – Was (היה), Is (הווה) and Will be (יהיה). The letter "vav" takes on different sounds in different contexts, so there is no telling how to say it in God's Name. Other alternatives to being specific about which God we worship are to say "Elohim" or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or to go all out and say the Father of Jesus. Our God is the only one who has a Son!

    Dee
    jadeshort@gmail.com

  5. Not very cool how you dismiss the name Jehovah by associated it with a cult. As if the English speaking world didn't call God Jehovah until Jehovah's Witnesses came on the scene. Entertain the possibility this problem started when academics changed the name of God to begin with.

    • Sorry if it causes offence; that was not my intent.

      In my reading I've come to the conclusion (though I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise, if it can be proven) that in addition to it's association with the cult, Jehovah is simply not the best way to read the name of our God. As I understand it, it is a combination of the consonants Yhvh (which are written without vowel points which were only introduced later) with the vowel points of Adonai ('Lord') which was the actual word pronounced in Second Temple Judaism when the Tetragrammaton was read aloud.

      That's like taking the consonants from my name Jln and adding the vowels from the word 'pastor' to create a new name: Jalon. It doesn't really work.

      In addition to that, Jehovah is an anglicized version of a latinized version of the adjusted Hebrew reading. It's just not the best way to read the name, I don't think.

  6. The Apostle Paul clearly reveals the name of the Lord (God) as he travelled on the road to Damascus. Acts chapter3, verse 3-5 says, "And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." This was none other than the Spirit of God manifesting himself to Paul on the road to Damascus! Jesus was God manifest in the flesh. When his earthly veil of flesh was torn in two, His Spirit (Jesus' spirit) became available to indwell all of humanity that would call on his name. God the Father may manifest Himself as Jesus, the Son of Man, or after Jesus' death through His Holy Spirit, but the last New Testament revelation of His Name is Jesus!

  7. "Briefly, the Tetragrammaton is composed of four Hebrew consonants – YHVH or YHWH. The third letter in Hebrew is known as a vav and is pronounced by different proponents as either a V or a W, thus the two different spellings here. For purposes of this discussion, this particular distinction is irrelevant. When the vowel points are added to these four consonants, the word is
    pronounced literally as Yehovah, or the Anglicized form, Jehovah. This is the straightforward pronunciation with the vowels. It is assumed by modern scholars that the vowels have been transferred from the word Adonai, which means Lord. This assumption has led modern scholars to believe that the vowels that are affixed to the Tetragrammaton are either not accurate or don't belong there. There is no evidence to support this assumption. In fact, the evidence goes the other way, as we shall see…"
    http://www.lamblion.net/eBooks/Scott%20PDF/jehova

  8. Pingback: Our God Has a Name | Soon To Be Here Yahshua ~ Not Mahdi

  9. As a messianic Jew, I do not use the proper Name for some of the reasons listed above. To answer Julian's question directly, though, "Why would we not speak his name?": If you want a surefire way to turn off an observant Jewish person to the Gospel, just use the Name in conversation. Jews have been so disrespected by Christians over the centuries, this is just another way in which to do so.

    • Jews busy worrying about being 'disrespected' need to start worrying about not having salvation.

  10. What I'm saying is that engaging in behavior that is disrespectful of someone and that is NOT essential to salvation (does our salvation rely on using the Name?) doesn't help the cause of the Gospel.

    • Agreed, Mike. The gospel essentials are enough to offend in most cases; there is no need for us to carelessly offend in ways that won't help the gospel get a hearing. I don't think it would be particularly winsome or loving to approach an ethnic and religious Jew and flippantly use God's name. It simply wouldn't be walking in love.

  11. It's the old Socialist tactic: the best way to do away with something is to replace it. Modern scholars wanted to do away with Jehovah, so they replaced the name.

  12. The tetragrammaton occurs over 6000 times in the OT. Most translations translate it as LORD in caps as opposed to Lord. Very few translations(KJ3, ASV, Youngs Literal Translation, Rotherhams) translate it as Jehovah or Yahweh. The Orthodox Jewish Stone Tanach translates it as HaShem meaning "The Name".
    IMHO, either of these translations is preferable to LORD.