God’s Name

It’s hard to talk about God, everything you say just doesn’t seem right. You don’t have to go more than two chapters into the first book of the Bible to discover that the writers of the Bible used different names to speak about God. Let’s take a look at two of the most common terms in the Old Testament. 

Oftentimes, he is simply called God.” In the Old Testament, “god” translates the word elohim, which is a generic term for a god or divine being. It’s not a name as much as it is a description. So what is God’s name?

The god we see active in the Old Testament reveals his personal name to Moses in the story of the burning bush. He tells Moses that his name is Yahweh (you may have also heard it pronounced/spelled Jehovah). In your English Bible, it probably says “LORD.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 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, and this my title for all generations. (Exodus 3:13–15, NRSV)

You might wonder why you have never seen this name in your English Bible. Why does it say “LORD” instead of “Yahweh“?

Remember back to the ten commandments. One of them goes like this:

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7, NRSV)

In order to prevent people from using Yahweh’s name “in vain,” medieval Jewish scribes thought it would be better if people didn’t use his holy name at all. So they put reminders in the text for people reading it to read the word “Lord” when they came across God’s name rather than speaking the holy name out loud. Our English Bibles have kept this tradition alive by printing God’s name (Yahweh) as LORD, usually with the first letter bigger than the rest.

The God of the Bible goes by many other names, but these are the two most common, including his personal name: Yahweh. If you want to learn more, check out this video from The Bible Project

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