Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Henrew

The name of God

LORD, in upper case letters, appears 6,510 times in the English Old Testament. This is not a translation of some Hebrew word meaning Lord, but of YHWH, the name of God.

This name was first revealed to Moses in the account of the burning bush Exodus chapter 3. God tells Moses that His name is I AM. When this was written out in the Scripture it was written YHWH in Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is only 22 letters, all consonants. Apparently this is not as much of a problem in Hebrew as it would be in English or French, due to a lesser number of vowel sounds.

Hundreds of years later vowel points were added to Hebrew, but in the meantime the pronunciation of YHWH was lost as it was thought to be a sin to pronounce the name of God. This came from the desire to avoid violating the commandment which says “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”

Rather than pronounce YHWH the Hebrew people would substitue another word, most often Adonai, which means Lord. Whe vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet the voels of Adonai were inserted in YHWH, which gave Yahovah. This is undoubtedly the wrong pronunciation. To be true to the origin of YHWH in the Hebrew word for I AM, the name needs to be pronounced Yahweh (or Yahveh).

I think many readers of the Bible misunderstand the meaning of LORD in the Old Testament. It does not mean that the name of God means Lord, but simpply follows the Jewish practice of substituting Lord for the name of God. Many Jews today will not pronounce God in English and write it as G-D, omitting the vowel.

In French Bibles YHWH is translated as l’Éternel (the Eternal) which nicely captures the meaning of I AM as the name of God. But then in the New Testament French Bibles use Seigneur (Lord) just like English Bibles use Lord. The substitution of Lord for YHWH was so thoroughly entrenched by that time that New Testament writers used kurios, the Greek word for Lord to refer to God.

For I am the Eternal, I change not

The title is taken from Malachi 3:6 as it reads in French Bibles. This use of Eternal for the name of God is found throughout French translations of the Old Testament in places where one would find LORD in the English AV (KJV).

The Hebrew language was first written without vowels and the name of God was spelled YHVH. It is commonly accepted today that the original pronunciation was Yahweh and that the name had its origin in the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush: I AM. However, there developed a superstition among the Jews that a person who spoke this name aloud would be cursed. From then on another word was subsituted when the Scriptures were read aloud, most often Adonai, meaning Lord. In the course of time, the vowels of Adonai were inserted into YHVH, producing Yahovah, which became Jehovah in English.

The English translators of 1611 continued the Jewish practice of substituting LORD for the name of God, setting it in all upper case letters to distinguish God the Lord from other lords. French translators continued the practice of not using the name of God, but opted for a word that reflected the meaning of I AM.

I wonder if the use of LORD for the name of God doesn’t confuse some people.  Who is this Lord? Many people today don’t  understand the significance of the uppercase letters.

Here are a few more examples of how the Scripture sounds when Eternal is used for the name of God:

And the Eternal God formed man of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7).

The Eternal is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1).

The fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).

But they that put their trust in the Eternal shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

There can be no confusion here, there is only one Eternal. To my ears and my mind at least, it lends a greater weight of meaning to read the verses this way. The main thing is to understand that however we spell and pronounce the name of God, we are referring to the self-existing, unchanging Creator and Master of all that exists.

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