For quite some time, a belief has circulated widely that people who believe in one god must believe in the same god, and therefore, all belief systems that promote such a belief share equal validity, and someone can choose among them based on that person's own preferences. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What is the truth?
According to the Bible, people of Moab worshipped a god named Chemosh, people of Ammon worshipped a god named Molech and the Sidonians worshipped a goddess named Astoreth (1 Kings 11:5-6). It tells us that people in a city named Ekron worshipped a god named Baal-zebub (2 Kings 1:2) and that Philistines of Samson's and Samuel's time worshipped a god named Dagon (Judges 16:23 and 1 Sam 5:2). The references do not suggest that those people worshipped other gods. Many in Israel even worshipped the Canaanite god Baal (1 Kings 18:21). And we know from history that the Egyptian pharoah Akhenaten instituted worship of one god, which he called Aten (the sun or sun disk). One can find other examples, some arising since Jesus' birth. But that does not mean all of those gods were the same god, and it certainly does not mean that worshipping and serving a single god, no matter how sincere a person's belief, makes the beliefs of all who do it equally valid.
The Bible tells us unequivocally that, despite various peoples' worship of many different gods, there is only one true, living God-- the God worshipped by Jews and Christians (e.g., Jer. 10:10, John 17:3, 1 Thess. 1:9). Although he often works through his people, he is the only God capable of acting without human involvement, the only God capable of proving his existence. Unlike the gods whose names are invoked to justify violence and terrorism, when he wishes to enforce his will, he does not need people to do it for him. That is what it means to say he is the only true, living God. The name by which he identified himself to Moses in Ex. 3:14 consists of four Hebrew letters, which we represent in English as YHWH or YHVH, all consonants because the ancient Hebrew alphabet did not use vowels. In this and other writings, I have chosen to use YHWH rather than YHVH, because it appears to have wider acceptance in more recent literature.
In the verses following Ex. 3:14, YHWH tells us that his name means "I am the one who is" or "I am who I am", depending on the translation. His name, either as YHWH or as the short form YH ("Yah" or "Yahu", I am), appears in thousands of verses throughout the Old Testament. It appears as part of numerous Old Testament names, such as Eli-yah, Isa-yah and Jerem-yah.
According to references that I've read, the exact pronunciation of YHWH's name was lost in antiquity, hundreds of years before Jesus' birth. Since the ancient Hebrew texts did not use vowels, the four consonants were recorded without vowels. Later transcriptions of the Hebrew text added vowel symbols but use slightly different vowel symbols, leading to different pronunciations of the name. The generally accepted pronunciation uses two syllables-- "Yah-weh" or "Yah-veh" (with the "h" aspirated as in "hay"). In common English, it is typically pronounced "Yah-weh" or "Yah-way" (with a hard "h" at the end of "Yah"). For those who prefer, the "w" can be replaced with "v". In the King James Version, the name is translated "Jehovah". This arises from three vowel symbols appearing in many of the records, resulting in a three syllable pronunciation. Others who prefer three syllables would translate the name as "Yahuwah" (which feels most natural to me), "Yahowah", "Yahovah" or "Yah-hoveh", with emphasis on the last syllable. Given the history of its usage and changes in pronunciation of the Hebrew letters, we should not make an issue of the correct pronunciation or the exact way to spell it in English. We really don't know, and YHWH has not seen fit to preserve the exact pronunciation in the records we have.
'Names' that are not YHWH's name
In ancient times, perhaps out of fear that they might violate the commandment not to take YHWH's name in vain (Exo 20:7 and Deut 5:11), Jews began referring to YHWH as Adonai ("lord" or "my lord"), and that practice carried forward into Christian times. As a result, many English translations use "the Lord" or "the LORD" as a substitute for YHWH's personal name. That practice probably also helps explain why the name YHWH does not appear as such in the New Testament. Instead, the New Testament identifies him as "the Lord" (Greek Kurion and Kurios) and "the God" or "this God" (Greek ho theos). Those words are not names, but they clearly recognize that even though people serve many gods, only one matters, the God of the Jews and ancient Israel, YHWH. The King James Version and every other English translation with which I am familiar have omitted a translation of ho, and as a result, English-speaking people have simply called him "God" for many centuries, treating that as his proper or personal name.
However, "God" is not YHWH's name. Nor is "Adonai" or "the LORD". In fact, other references in the Hebrew scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament are not his names. Such references include el shaddai ('god almighty', Gen. 17:1), el elyon ('god most high', Gen. 14:22), el roi or el rohe ('god who sees' Gen. 17:13), el olam or olam el ('god everlasting', Gen 21:33), and elohiym (normally 'gods' or 'mighty ones' but 'god' when used with a singular verb Gen. 1:1). Those are descriptive titles, helping to identify him, his majesty, omnipotence, transcendence, and eternal nature, just as tsedeq (righteousness) and qadash (sanctify, purify, clean) help to describe him in Jer. 23:6 and Exo. 31:13. YHWH revealed himself to the children of Israel in these ways to help them relate to him, not to change his name.
Why use the name?
What difference does this make? Is it really important what we call the one true, living God? Until fairly recently, it probably made no particular difference, at least among English-speaking people. When such people spoke of "God", they meant only YHWH as he is revealed in the Bible. More recently, however, people have begun to use "God" to refer to all kinds of gods, all kinds of human inventions, even as a translation for the names of other gods, including Allah. I believe most, if not all, expect others to think of the one true, living God of the Bible. Movies, television, radio and news stories have led in perpetrating this blasphemy. Some have done it out of ignorance, and others have done it with evil intent. But regardless of their intent, none of these uses refer to the one true, living God. Nor do they portray him accurately. They merely deceive the ignorant who only know YHWH as "God".
For this reason, I have begun to use the name YHWH gave himself. In addition, the short form of YHWH's name appears as part of the name given by YHWH himself to the Messiah (Messias or Christos in the Greek)-- Jesus, which appears as Iesous, Iesoun or Iesou in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and translates the Hebrew name Yah-shua or Yah-hoshea ("Yah saves" or, better, "I am salvation"), also translated into the Aramaic as Yeshua. I've explained more about Jesus' name and the reason for using it in Why Call Him Jesus? As he revealed himself in the Old Testament, YHWH revealed himself through his son Jesus Christ, and he still acts and reveals himself, among other ways, in and through Christians by the work of his Holy Spirit. But his name remains the same.
As you listen to radio and television or watch movies and as you talk with other people, you might try analyzing who or what the speaker refers to when using the word "God" or even "Lord", whether YHWH, the God of the Bible, or some other god. If you are not sure and the word is used in a conversation, you might ask who or what the speaker has in mind. You might even want to read what is said in the literature about that god. If your experience is like mine has been, you will understand why I consider use of YHWH's personal name important.
I have not always used YHWH's name in my writings, but since 2004, I've been using it more and more. I hope that others will do the same. I now use his name more often in conversations, along with the name of Jesus, the name that is above all names, the name at which all knees will bow (Phlp. 2:9-10). Can there be any better way to talk about the only God capable of healing, redeeming, saving, guiding, and loving each of us?
|Remember who He is and whose you are|