- Is it Actually a Name?
- The Title “God” in Hebrew
- His Many Titles
- Bible Verses to Consider
- What Should We Call Him?
God is not a name, it is a title like king or father. In theory “God” could refer to any deity. Traditionally, “God” with a capital G has been used to differentiate the Judeo-Christian God from other deities, however linguistically “God” with a capital G simply denotes a monotheistic god. Due to this ambiguity, many have argued that it is improper to refer to the Most High as God.
The most important thing to understand about the name of God, presented in Exodus 3, is that Hebrew does not have written vowels the way English does—or rather writing the vowels is a modern invention. The letters found in the Bible are יְהוָה which translate to YHWH or YHVH (there is debate other where the third letter should be translated as a W or a V ). These four letters are known as the Tetragrammaton and represent the name of God.
Is it Actually a Name?
Most people say this is the name of God but it’s actually a little more complicated than that. In Exodus 3:13-16, Moses asks what name he should give the Israelites when he returns to deliver them from captivity. For context, during that time in that region most people believed in multiple gods. For example, the Egyptians had Isis, Ra, and Osiris, just to name a few. People of that time were not necessarily of the belief that there was only one God so Moses wanted to be clear to the people which God had sent him.
Although YHWH says He is giving Moses a name, the response He gives Moses is actually kind of tongue-in-cheek. Moses’ question assumes the possibility of other deities, but YHWH’s response is actually a phrase that means “I AM THAT I AM.” YHWH is basically saying “I am the only God” or “I am who I am” when He responds to Moses. His instructions are to call Him “I AM”; this phrase in Hebrew is אֶֽהְיֶה—not YHWH. YHWH means He is. When we use YHWH we are basically saying “HE IS THAT HE IS.”
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. 📚Exodus 3:15 KJV
Below, I replaced the word’s God and LORD with the original Hebrew of what is said in Exodus 3:15 so we can discuss:
And אֱלֹהִים said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי of your fathers, אֱלֹהֵי of Abraham, אֱלֹהֵי of Isaac, and אֱלֹהֵי of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. 📚Exodus 3:15 KJV
If you look at the Hebrew, the definite article isn’t actually present before LORD or God. What God actually said could be translated “HE IS God of your fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you.” Now, God does say that is His name forever and “this” is His memorial (whether this is the in reference to the name or to the miraculous deliverance from Egypt is a question I’ll leave you with), so we use YHWH as His name. In His instructions, we see that YHWH Elohim is equivalent to The God of Abraham or The God of Isaac or The God of Jacob (later named Israel, though probably the The God of Jacob is used to avoid confusion whether The God of Israel refers to the person or the nation, which didn’t always follow YHWH).
When we look at Exodus 3:15, is only YHWH the name He is claiming? Or is the name YHWH Elohim? Or is the name “YHWH Elohim, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob?” Are we cutting off part of His name by simply using YHWH?
So I already mentioned that Hebrew didn’t record vowels at the time of writing the Bible and that there’s a bit of debate over whether the third letter in the Tetragrammaton should be translated as a W or a V. That should have clued you in that there’s also a lot of debate on how to actually pronounce it. The most common rendering is Yahweh, followed by Jehovah. I have also seen Yahveh and more recently groups are claiming that the correct pronunciation is Yahuah.
There are many articles floating on the internet explaining why a person favors this or that pronunciation (though I could not find an explanation for Yahuah until I read Idolatry by Josh Mulgia). I am not going over them here because I’m not an expert in Hebrew, and quite frankly, I don’t think our Creator expects you to be an expert in Hebrew either.
lf I am going to write His name, though, I tend to favor YHWH (probably because I learned Hebrew with וָ as a waw not a vav, so it lives in my head as a W) or יְהוָה, because it’s the most accurate I can be without making assumptions. In speech, I have said Y-H-W-H, Yahweh, an even Yod-He-Vav-He (the names of the Hebrew letters).
One thing I will say is if He expected us to pronounce it exactly right, we would see an emphasis of Messiah encouraging the disciples to use His name and we would see the apostles teaching the Gentiles to use His name (with its correct pronunciation). While there are passages telling us to praise His name, I don’t feel the concept that we can’t use His title and must only use His name is present anywhere in the Bible. In fact, YHWH isn’t used at all in the New Testament. A common theme that comes up in discussion is the issue of language, but the New Testament writers didn’t bother to include the Tetragrammaton (or someone removed it… but if we concede that the New Testament was altered to remove the Tetragrammaton, we have to ask what else was changed and the whole text becomes questionable.)
Most people I have encountered who strongly believe it incorrect to reference the God of the Bible as God cite confusion as one reason. If I start speaking about “God” which god am I referencing? A few years ago, Nicki Minaj won an award for her song “Anaconda”—look up the lyrics at your own risk—and not 5 minutes after thanking her pastor, she began a confrontation with Miley Cyrus. I don’t know Nicki Minaj personally, but her actions on the stage and the lyrics of the song would suggest that whatever god her pastor led her to is not the God of the Bible—the fruit doesn’t match. The same can be said of the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church. There is also an increase in new age beliefs where people reference a generic god that they worship; I met a gentleman once who told me he believed nature was god—so when he said god, he was referencing the creation not the Creator.
A century ago, when our grandparents were born, majority of the U.S. identified as Christian and professed belief in the Bible. It was safe to say “God” and assume that everyone was referencing the God of the Bible even if their interpretation of the Bible didn’t match yours. This is no longer true. We live in an increasingly diverse country where atheism, agnosticism, and new age beliefs are on the rise. It is not a given that we’re all talking about the same being.
That being said, “God” is not a derogatory term; it is a title.
Think of it like this: you have a mom and a dad; I have a mom and a dad. You probably call your mom “Mom” and call my mom “Mom.” If we’re in the store and I shout “Mom,” multiple women may turn around because multiple women may have children that call them “Mom.” In that situation, only my mom will answer; the women who are not my mom will quickly realize I’m not talking to them and go on about their business. However, let’s say I’m three year old me and I’m lost in the store. Now, I’m seeking help from the adults around me and they need to page my mom to the front. In this scenario “Mom” doesn’t really cut it, they need a name to identify which woman should come claim her child. This is why it’s important to teach your child your given name. However, that doesn’t mean I should refer to my mom by her given name all the time.
The same is true of our Father in Heaven. It is important for you to know His name, but it is not wrong for you call Him by His title.
The Title “God” in Hebrew
Because “God” is a title, it is not the same word in every language. In Hebrew there are two words that are translated to God in our English Bible: El and Elohim. Elohim is the plural of El. This is where the conversation can get a little muddy depending on who you talk to. Like the term “God,” El is a generic term that existed across Semitic cultures. As such archeological evidence in Syria reference a deity referred to as “El.” This deity was part of the father-mother-son-god pattern and was married to Asherah (spoken of in the Bible).
One could argue that the generic term god, stemming from this word “El” is a reference to this Syrian deity and thus an affront to YHWH. That is likely the path many who believe you must use His name will argue. However, there are instances of the Israelites using the term “El” (usually in conjunction with a descriptor) to reference YHWH. There is even more evidence of the Israelites using the plural of “El,” Elohim to reference YHWH.
His Many Titles
Through the Bible, we see many titles for YHWH. The most popular titles for Him are Father and Creator. Other titles (often referred to as names) are paired with YHWH or El (the Hebrew word meaning God) to form descriptions of His character, like YHWH Yireh (Jehovah Jireh) meaning YHWH will provide or El Elyon meaning The Most High God. You can find these through the Bible.
Bible Verses to Consider
Note, highlighting added by me for emphasis.
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. 📚 Deuteronomy 18:20-22 KJV
1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 📚 1 John 4:1-3 KJV
6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 📚 Mark 7:6-9
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 📚 Matthew 7:15-21 KJV
What Should We Call Him?
From the beginning of time, Satan has been trying to corrupt YHWH’s instruction—literally the first occurrence of sin stems from Satan convincing Eve to question YHWH’s commands. Since then, tons of false doctrine has been introduced and to be honest, unless you’re willing to spend time both reading history and surrendering you’ll never come close to unraveling the lies that have been taught. For that reason, the “church” we see today is very different than the one found in the Bible. Most of us, especially those of us raised in the church (regardless of denomination), had to unlearn a lot to move forward in our relationship with the Most High. We had to make make major changes in our life.
For example, one of the first changes I made was to stop eating unclean meat. When I stopped eating such things, I didn’t stop eating altogether—I had to find alternatives. Instead of eating pepperoni pizza, I started eating hamburger pizza. Instead of eating regular hot dogs, I started eating beef hot dogs. Eventually I became vegetarian (not for religious reasons!); now I don’t put meat on my pizza at all and I don’t eat hot dogs. There was a journey from point A to point B to point C. In the beginning phases of a change, we often need a new habit to replace the old habit.
It is easy to create separate boxes in our mind for pagan Christianity, with all the habits we need to change vs. Biblical Christianity. However, in the box for pagan Christianity are attributes of the Most High that many churches teach or imply which do not exist. It’s natural to ascribe those traits to “God” and then view “God” as the enemy of YHWH. People do the same with Jesus and Yeshua (we’ll discuss this next). What actually happened is that the church taught people a false god and those false ideas are commingled with word “god” so they want to keep the new understanding they have pure by not polluting it with “god.”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing to use The Most High’s name exclusively—be it YHWH, YHVH, יְהוָה, Yahweh, Jehovah, Yahuah, or Yah—nor do I think it’s wrong to address Him by one of His many titles, including God, as long as you get the traits right and you know the name YHWH exists. If the God you describe matches the description of the God of Abraham, I think you’re on the right track.
- “El | Semetic deity”. Encyclopedia Britannica. December 22, 2021; visited March 4, 2023
- “Exodus 3”. Blue Letter Bible; visited March 4, 2023 → this can be used as an interlinear Bible to view the Hebrew text
- “Exodus 15:2”. Blue Letter Bible; visited March 4, 2023 → this can be used as an interlinear Bible to view the Hebrew text
- “ Waw or Vav? Was the third letter in the Name יהוה pronounced as a 'w' or 'v' sound in Biblical times?”. Hebrew Gospels; visited March 4, 2023
- Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin. “Vav: The sixth letter of the Hebrew Alphabet”. Chabad.org; visited March 4, 2023