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THEOLOGY > God > Names of God > YHWH 


YHWH, appearing over 6800 times in the Old Testament, is the Hebrew word translated “LORD” in the KJV, NKJV, NASV, RSV, and NIV, and translated “Jehovah” in the ASV. The meaning of the name is derived from Exodus 3:13-15 where God reveals Himself to Moses as “I AM”; God said this is His name forever and says “I AM WHO I AM.” Possible translations of the phrase are: “I am that I am” (KJV); “I am who I am” (NIV, NKJV, ESV, and RSV); “I will be what I will be” (RSV margin). Strictly speaking, YHWH (Yahweh) is the only name for God; it is the name God gave to Moses when Moses asked Him concerning His name. YHWH is the name of the Supreme God, the only God.

Regardless of the translation, the name “I AM” is built upon the root, hayah, "to be," or is derived from the archaic form of the verb, hawah, which also means “to be”; therefore, “self-existence” is the main concept embodied in this revealed name. God is uncaused; He is not contingent. To be God is to be characterized by self-existence or underived existence—He is the eternal “I AM.”

God is never to be spoken of as “was” or “will be” but always as “AM.” God has no past and no future, only an eternal present. God is He who is! To affirm that God is “Am” is to affirm that God transcends time and is not bound by time, for time is inconsequential to Him. God is non-temporal, meaning that time does not impact the Divine Essence, for time itself is a creation of God. Thus He is not according to time, for He inhabits eternity.

Since He only is—only He is self-existent—then all else that exists was after Him and has been brought into existence by Him (see: The God of Creation and The Act of God)—thus, because of His relationship to all that is, only in reference to Him can anything be understood or given meaning. Everything that is must be explained in terms of Him (see: Foundations, Starting Point, Two Options, God and then Creation, Methodology). Without Theism as the reference point in all discussions and decisions, they prove to be without value. Without God there is no meaning.

God’s Revelation of Himself to Moses as YHWH had historical significance. Moses was given assurance that the One who called him would be with him as he returned to Egypt to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery. Whatever the situation you face, God said to Moses, in the situation I will be “I AM!”  Moses would not be alone and no situation would be impossible, for God would be ever present and ever capable.

The name YHWH came to be equated with God’s faithful relationship to the nation of Israel. YHWH was the covenant-making and the covenant-keeping God. At the time of the Revelation of His name God informed Moses that He was “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:15); He further informed Moses that He had promised to bring them “out of” Egypt and “into” the land of Canaan (Ex. 3:17). The God who was going to do this was YHWH, the I AM, the One making and keeping covenant (Ex. 6:4-5).

Exodus 3:15 reveals that the God of Moses is also the God who had been active during the time of the patriarchs. God’s existence and work, including His promises, are continuous and consistent. That is true because God is always, past, present, and future, “AM.” The God who appeared to Moses was not a new God. But according to Exodus 6:3 God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “God Almighty” and did not make Himself known as YHWH. But the word first appears in Genesis 2:4, and in connection with Abraham the word is used (“he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD”—Gen. 12:8), also with Isaac (“Isaac pleaded with the LORD . . . the LORD granted his plea”—Gen. 25:21). Repeatedly with each of the patriarchs the word YHWH is used.

How should the statement of Exodus 6:3 be understood in light of the historical account in Genesis? There are three possible solutions:

One, Exodus 6:3 is a rhetorical question. The NIV in a footnote gives as a possible translation, “and by my name YHWH did I not let myself be known to them?”  God is saying to Moses that He was known by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as both God Almighty (El Shaddai) and as YHWH; God is asking Moses, “Is this not true?” Moses had wanted to know God’s name in Exodus 3:13-15; in Exodus 6:3 God is saying, “You should know me, did not the patriarchs know me?” No major translation (KJV, NJKV, NIV, RSV, ASV, NASV) adopts the translation of the phrase as a question. Only the NIV mentions it as an alternative translation. The New Scofield Reference Bible does mention it in a footnote discussing the verse and its implications.

Two, the word was not known prior to the time of Moses. In writing of the patriarchs, however, Moses used the name in earlier settings because the God who revealed His name to Moses as YHWH was the same God who had spoken to the patriarchs before Moses. The God of Moses had been the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who appeared to Moses was not a new God, revealing Himself for the first time. By placing the word in the times of the patriarchs Moses is showing the continuity of God in the life of the nation. If this view is accepted, is it then possible to state that Moses was, perhaps, guilty of deception? Or is he merely making an affirmation of the ongoing involvement of God in the life of His people?

Three, the word itself was known and used before Moses, but the full meaning of the word was not known prior to the time of Moses. Greater and more personal insight into God is revealed to Moses as the name of God, YHWH, is explained. Through the explanation Moses is given a comprehension that the patriarchs did not enjoy. They had known God as YHWH but had not known all that YHWH meant. To Moses was revealed additional truth about the God the patriarchs only had known as YHWH. And this information was uniquely fitted for the nation at that point in its history. The One who would bring them out and bring them in is the Eternal, Self-Existing One.

The proper pronunciation of the name has been lost. The word in its original form had no vowel markings, and the Hebrews increasingly refused to pronounce the name after the Captivity because of Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 24:16, which they understood very literally and very rigidly. Rather than understanding that the thrust of the Law was to preserve a proper reverence of God when speaking about Him, they applied it to even saying the name of God, to even pronouncing the word itself. To the Hebrews the name was especially sacred. Hebrew tradition maintains that the High Priest did speak the word once a year on the Day of Atonement as he entered the Most Holy Place. In reading the Scriptures and in speaking, however, the rest of the Hebrews substituted the word Adonai for YHWH. YHWH, perhaps, was pronounced something like Yahuwah or Yahweh; but instead of saying Yahuwah or Yahweh the people rather said Adonai, which is the Hebrew word for “Lord.” Thus YHWH (Yahuwah/Yahweh) was not spoken and instead Adonai (Lord) was spoken.

For this reason most of the modern translations translate YHWH as LORD (all letters capitalized) and Adonai as Lord (lower case for the last three letters). In English translation when the word “LORD” is used, the Hebrew is YHWH; when “Lord” is used, the Hebrew word is Adonai.

Yah (Jah), the shorter form of YHWH (Yahuwah/Yahweh), is found in Exodus 15:2 and in 17:15 and is still present today in the word “Hallelujah.”

Theos is the Greek word translated “God” in the New Testament in all modern translations; and in the LXX it is used to translate most frequently Elohim, also on occasion El and YHWH. It is a general word used for deity, and is also used of pagan deities.

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