Is God’s name really God? Why do we call him God primarily in the West, but others call him Jehovah, Elohim, or Yahweh. Or sometimes, we call him, Lord (or LORD). Why all the names and what does the Bible say?
The name God, simply, is just the English word for the monotheistic god of the Bible. The word God comes from the Gothic translation of the New Testament to represent Greek Theos and Latin Deus. But God, Theos, Deus, Lord, or even Yahweh is not his name.
In Exodus 3, when Moses sees God in the burning bush and God tells Moses that He is sending Moses to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, this is the exchange:
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:13-14.
I AM, is derived from the verb “to be.” God just “is.” He self-existed, exists and will always exist eternally. He has no beginning and no end. He wasn’t created, He wasn’t formed, and He is unlike anything we can see, explain or imagine. Put it another way, God answers Moses, “I am everything, I own it all, I created everything, I give life, I sustain life, I sustain everything, I AM!” How do you name that or Him!?
The Hebrew word for “I am” is pronounced Eh-Yeh. However, the Hebrew people would not say this name or write it in full because they felt as mere mortals, human beings should not say His name (although that is not instructed in the Bible). Thus, instead of writing or saying Eh-Yeh, they wrote the four letters YHWH (known as the tetragrammaton) to represent His name. YHWH is not pronounceable because the vowels have been removed, so Yahweh, is how they eventually began pronouncing YHWH. However, Yahweh too, was considered too holy to say, so Adonai is what the Jewish people called Him. Adonai is the Hebrew word for Lord, someone who was over another person, like a master.
English translators of the Bible from Hebrew translated YHWH as LORD (all capitals) out of tradition and reverence for God’s name instead of writing YHWH or Yahweh. Thus, when we see the word “LORD” in all capitals in our English versions of the Bible, that is the name Yahweh (or YHWH) we are reading from the Hebrew. When we read the word, “Lord” (lowercase) in our Bibles, with just the “L” capitalized, that is the name Adonai in the Hebrew Bible. The name Jehovah is a combination of the consonants of YHWH and the vowels of Adonai. It became a way to distinguish between when YHWH (LORD) was written and when Adonai (Lord) was written.
Elohim is the Hebrew word used to refer to deity. The way we say Greek gods or a Hindu god. Elohim is used in the original Hebrew Bible primarily to speak of the creator God. For example, in Genesis 1:1 it says, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth”. However, Elohim can refer to gods, plural. For example, in Deuteronomy 5:7, it says, “You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before me.”
God is above any one name, measurement or word. He is Holy, He is Just, He is our Creator, our Savior, our Lord, He is our everything! So what should be our “official” way to name, title, call…God?
Good luck putting God in a box and calling Him by one name. It can’t be done and has never been done. The good news is, we can worship him and hallow him by praising, shouting and proclaiming Him by all the names you see above. I encourage you to speak the names of God you see above out loud in prayer (private or public) and see how it builds you up spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Because God is so much more than a name!
Elder – NEO Church