"If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'the God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me 'what is his name?' what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM" - Exodus 3:13-14 This phrase is also translated as "I am what I am" or "I will be what I will be," according to the notes in our NRSV translation. The authors and readers of these original texts reverently did not pronounce the name of God. This name was too holy for any mortal to pronounce. So what is actually written in the text and how do you pronounce it? How should I pronounce it?
Many of the original manuscripts left a blank or a notation to look into the margins for what to say in place of God. There were typically four letters for the name of God given which is called the tetragrammaton, literally meaning "consisting of four letters." You can see the Hebrew written texts for these four letters YHWH in the image with this post. In Hebrew, some letters are not pronounced and others can be vowels or consonants depending on other markings. So we do not actually know how this was pronounced and it is possible that it is four vowels.
Our Bible often said God or Lord and I have heard people say Yahweh and Jehovah. Where do these come from and are they correct? Often, the written text in the margin of the manuscript would pronounce God as adonai, usually translated as Lord. The four letters are also often pronounced Yahweh. The incorporation of a "J" from a Latin translation is inaccurate (so don't say Jehovah). We also often see the designation of el or elohim (plural for God or gods) used as well. We read many designations in the Bible about holy spots or temples that are prefaced with El. Think about the times you may have read "God of gods," and you know that it is probably a combination of elohim with another version of God.
The Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) was originally (mostly) in Hebrew and the New Testament has manuscripts in Greek. However, the Septuagint is the Hebrew Scriptures written in Greek. It is Greek translation, probably from older Hebrew manuscripts than to which we have access. All this is to say that the Greek, usually has Kurios or Lord for the name of God or Theos.
Other ways we call God, God?
Our Father... We often use paternal, even maternal and other kindred names to talk about God. These metaphors carry cultural meanings from the day of their authorship and the intent is of one who is a giver of life and protector. Obviously, some of these titles may cause problematic associations for some readers. There are a myriad of ways we describe and refer to God. So what is the correct one? There is no way for us to name the indescribable, immutable, and merciful. We can use caution when using metaphors and in even using the name God, know that many people of all different sects of Christianity call God different names. Our ancient Hebrew texts teach us the reverence with which the name is (or is not) even written or spoken. It may not help to call God YHWH as you pray. It may be Father, abba, God, Creator, know that God is so awesome and wonderful, merciful and life-giving.
Think as you read the Scriptures about the holiness of God and the holiness of God's presence that is with you. Our only way to begin to comprehend the image and name of God is to look towards God made manifest in the person of Jesus the Christ.
YHWH is with you today and always.
What is God's Name?
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The Rev. William L. Packard
I am excited to read the Bible with you, not only for the knowledge and ability to say, "I've read the whole thing," but for the wonderful things that occur when Scripture is read intentionally each day.
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