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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
What's God's Real Name?

This week's question asks about God's name: "There is a movement to discover the true pronunciation of YHVH. . . . Any thoughts?"

The Bible suggests many names for God. The most is transliterated elohim. This word is translated "God" but is a generic name for God or even for a god. A second common name for God is transliterated el. This is often used as a proper name for God and actually has its origin as one of the chief baal's, or Canaanite gods. Indeed, in Deuteronomy 32.8-9 we read that El gave the people of Jacob as the Lord's portion of the world. The third name for God is considered to be God's real name. It is transliterated yhwh. In most English versions it is translated LORD (note the small capital letters). This is the name God shared with Moses in Exodus 3.15: "God also said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you": This is my name forever'" (Exodus 3.14-15). It is this name, yhwh, that should be understood as the name for God. Repeatedly God is recorded as saying, "I am yhwh, that is my name" (Leviticus 19.12, 22.2; Isaiah 42.8; Jeremiah 16.21, et al).

Although there are many other names for God in scripture, it is this latter, yhwh, that has caused the most difficulty. This is because we don't know how to pronounce it.

Why? Because after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Israelite people were scattered throughout Asia and Europe. Slowly they took up the languages of the native peoples and by the third century Hebrew was no longer a "living" language, i.e., it was no longer learned from birth, only from books. Now, for many languages this wouldn't be too much of a problem, we have little difficulty figuring out how the Romans once spoke Latin. But Hebrew, as a language, is different because Hebrew lacked vowels. When the language was spoken this created no problems, since everyone knew how to pronounce the words because of ongoing custom. However, when people stopped speaking it, the vocalization was soon forgotten.

It was the advocacy of Eliezer Ben Yahuda in the late nineteenth century that returned Hebrew to a spoken language and by 1922 Hebrew was recognized as an official language for governmental use. However, the pronunciation of modern Hebrew is different from its ancient roots because modern Hebrew has undergone substantial Europeanization.

A second problem with the pronunciation of yhwh is that the Israelites came to understand that God's name was too holy to pronounce by the common person, lest they profane the name of God. According to the Mishnah, an ancient Jewish commentary on the Law, the name of God could be pronounced by a priest in the sanctuary, but elsewhere one had to use a euphemism (Sotah 7.6 IIC). The euphemism used was adonai, translated Lord. So, whenever the Hebrew scriptures were read, instead of saying yhwh, the reader would pronounce adonai. In fact, eventually the name was considered so holy, that anyone pronouncing the name inadvertently while reading was considered cut-off from the Israelite people (Mishnah. Sanhederin 10:1G). Thus, since it was not the practice to pronounce the name, the pronunciation was forgotten.

So, how should we pronounce the name? If one is a native from Germany, the nearest pronunciation we can ascertain would be Jehovah, with the Hebrew y pronounced as an English J and the Hebrew w pronounced as an English V. However, in English the closest pronunciation we can ascertain would be Yahweh (Yaw - Weigh).

But here's the rub -- does God care? Recently I read a book that asserted God has no ego and we should feel free to call on God by whatever name we choose, so long as we're actually calling on God. Certainly the Bible ascribes many names to God. Names like Rock, Shepherd, Mighty One (Genesis 49.24), Father, Protector (Psalm 68.5), Redeemer (Job 19.25), Ancient of Days (Daniel 7.9), and others are all found in the Old Testament with many more found in the New Testament.

Though in ancient times it was thought that a name contained the essence of the person, no name can fully contain the essence of God. It would be good if we would learn that it is more important to call upon God by whatever name, than to ignore God and argue with each other about how to say God's name.

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