Some falsely teach that “God” is a pagan name or title and that we should call our creator names such as, “Yahweh”, which is the most common name used for God today. This belief if common among some Evangelicals and especially people who adhere to what is called the Hebrew Roots Movement. They believe falsely that the tetragrammaton–YHWH–can be sounded out following poor outdated scholarship, thus creating an idea that is not Biblically or historically correct.
God revealed his name to Moses
In Exodus 3:14, God revealed His name to Moses as, “I AM” or “THE BEING”. The underlying words for, I am or the Being, are what is known as the tetragrammaton, or YHWH. We will be using this verse to show that Yahweh is not God’s name and the tetragrammaton is not a name at all.
In Greek the tetragrammaton is usually written as, ho on or transliterated as IAO, although in some older versions of the Septuagint YHWH is found. So we can be sure that YHWH is as close to anything resembling a name that we can come to as it has existed in ancient text for an extremely long time whereas names like Yahweh have not.
I have seen many Evangelical Christians use the name Yahweh as well as some Roman Catholics. The problem that arises is the tetragrammaton, as found in Exodus 3:14 for example, does not contain vowel points. And this is how we come to false names like Yahweh.
Ancient Hebrew did not contain vowels when written, so vowels had to be added based on the context of the content. No one knows if the tetragrammaton was meant to have vowels added to it to create a name. Most likely and based on evidence we will get to shortly it was not meant to have vowels added. But even if it were, Yahweh would not be the name we would come to, because the tetragrammaton and Bible text were written in a different form of Hebrew than what we have today. For example, according to Hebrew Scholar Louis Cappell, primitive Hebrew Characters, known as Paleo Hebrew, were Aramaic and vowel points as they stand now were added after the 5th century A.D:
“As a Hebrew scholar, he concluded that the vowel points and accents were not an original part of Hebrew, but were inserted by the Masorete Jews of Tiberias, not earlier then the 5th Century AD, and that the primitive Hebrew characters are Aramaic and were substituted for the more ancient at the time of the captivity. . . The various readings in the Old Testament Text and the differences between the ancient versions and the Masoretic Text convinced him that the integrity of the Hebrew text as held by Protestants, was untenable.” – 1948 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica on 17th Century Hebrew Scholar Louis Capell
If paleo-Hebrew is closer to Aramaic than modern Hebrew, then tetragrammaton would not even translate to anything close to Yahweh:
This hypothesis is not intrinsically improbable, and in Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew, “to be” actually is hawa–but it should be noted that in adopting it we admit that, using the name Hebrew in the historical sense, Yahweh is not a Hebrew name. -Ency Brit 11Ed Vol 15 p 321
Modern Hebrew differs from Ancient Hebrew, with Paleo Hebrew (more Aramaic than Hebrew) being the format Moses would have written in. Inserting Masoretic vowel points, which were added AFTER the time of Christ, will result in God’s name in a variety of formats. For example, we could just as easily add an “i” and “o” to YHWH, or even YHVH, ending up with “Yihwoh.”, “Yehovah”, etc. Thus, the name Yahweh along with other names such as Yehovah, are based on nothing more than a guess:
“The pronunciation of yhwh as Yahweh is a scholarly guess”. (THE ANCHOR BIBLE DICTIONARY vol 6 pg. 1011)
Today we cannot know what the original vowels were, but Yahweh is as good as guess as we can make, though other spellings are often used. -Samuel Cartledge, A Conservative Introduction To The Old Testament, p51
So it is obvious that the name Yahweh is an invention based on the Masoretic vowel points that are not even related to ancient paleo-hebrew and thus are not Biblical. This not only effects the tetragrammaton, but wording in other areas of the Bible as well:
“The Masorets were the most extensive Jewish commentators which that nation could ever boast. The system of punctuation, probably invented by them, is a continual gloss on the Law and the Prophets; their vowel points, and prosaic and metrical accents, &c., give every word to which they are affixed a peculiar kind of meaning, which in their simple state, multitudes of them can by no means bear. The vowel points alone add whole conjugations to the language. This system is one of the most artificial, particular, and extensive comments ever written on the Word of God; for there is not one word in the Bible that is not the subject of a particular gloss through its influence.” -18th Century Scholar Adam Clarke
One of the last items faced concerning the Scriptures is of more recent origin and may account for the vast majority of the linguistic problems that occur. I refer to the reworking of the Hebrew language by the Masorites and Tiberians, between the 6th to 12th centuries C.E. The Masorites were responsible for many of the alterations in the vowels and definitions of the Hebrew words. In that the language had not been a spoken one for at least a hundred years before their endeavor, and not until 1948 was it brought back to life again after not being spoken for nearly 1600 years. This is one reason why meanings of a number of words are unknown thus making it difficult for the modern scholar to rely solely on the Hebrew version as the last authority. This is why the tablets from Ebla are still important as the language is akin to the Hebrew and can give us a clearer understanding of ‘uncertain’ words. – Rev. Robert Palmer
This is why we advocate Christians using only the Septuagint for the Old Testament text. Scholars today say that the Masoretes inserted the vowels of the titles for God, Elohim and Adonai, below or just above the tetragrammaton to remind scribes to not attempt to say God’s name, instead reminding them to say Elohim or Adonai when they saw the tetragrammaton. Over time as translations of the Bible came out in English, the vowel points signaling YHWH to be spoken as Elohim or Adonai were mistaken as the vowels points of the Masorets and were thus inserted into the tetragrammaton, creating the names Yahweh or Jehovah. So we have poor Protestant and Catholic Scholarship, relying on the Masoretic vowel points and mistaking the letters a and e , inserted above or below, the tetragrammaton as vowel points.
Is the Tetragrammaton even a Name?
The fact is, tetragrammaton is NOT a name. At least not a human name. For example, according to Jewish historian Philo, the tetragrammaton only meant what it says, I am, and was not a name.Commenting on Exodus 3:14, which says:
14 And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you.,
Philo stated that the tertragrammaton and what it means, is not a human name:
And God said, “At first say unto them, I am that I am, that when they have learnt that there is a difference between him that is and him that is not, they may be further taught that there is no name whatever that can properly be assigned to me, who am the only being to whom existence belongs. – On the Life of Moses, Book 1, 75, Philo of Alexandria
In other words, what God revealed to Moses, “YHWH” meaning, “I AM” or “the Being”, meant what it says – I AM the Being that created you. Go was letting Moses know he speaking to was His creator and that is all he needed to know. In other words God was telling Moses, I created you and that is all that matters.
Add to this New Testament evidence that YHWH is not a name.
For example, in John 8:58 Jesus says,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, “I am” (KJV).
Here Jesus refers to His Father’s name as the name that was revealed to Moses, I AM. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus refers to God as Father or Abba. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see any name for God. If God had a human name, surely Jesus would have called him by it.
The Early Church Never Revealed a Name for God:
The early Church taught that God does not have or need a human name:
He has no name, for everything which has a name is kindred to things created. Form he has none, nor yet any union of members; for whatsoever possesses these is kindred to things fashioned. He is neither male nor female. The heavens do not limit him, but the heavens and all things, visible and invisible, receive their bounds from him. Adversary he has none, for there exists not any stronger than he. Wrath and indignation he possesses not, for there is nothing which is able to stand against him. Ignorance and forgetfulness are not in his nature, for he is altogether wisdom and understanding; and in Him stands fast all that exists. He requires not sacrifice and libation, nor even one of things visible; He requires not aught from any, but all living creatures stand in need of him. Aristides (2nd century) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.9 pg.262
But we have received by tradition that God does not need the material offerings which men can give, seeing, indeed, that He Himself is the provider of all things. And we have been taught, and are convinced, and do believe, that He accepts those only who imitate the excellences which reside in Him, temperance, and justice, and philanthropy, and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who is called by no proper name. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.165
For God cannot be called by any proper name, for names are given to mark out and distinguish their subject-matters, because these are many and diverse; but neither did any one exist before God who could give Him a name, nor did He Himself think it right to name Himself, seeing that He is one and unique, as He Himself also by His own prophets testifies, when He says, “I God am the first,” and after this, “And beside me there is no other God.” On this account, then, as I before said, God did not, when He sent Moses to the Hebrews, mention any name, but by a participle He mystically teaches them that He is the one and only God. “For,” says He; “I am the Being;” Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 281
The name of God the Father had been published to no one. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 682
Neither must you ask for a name of God. God is His name. We have need of names when a multitude are to be separated into individuals. … To God, who is alone, the name “God” is the whole. Minucius Felix (A.D. 200) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 183
Christians in prayer do not even use the precise names that divine Scripture applies to God. Rather, the Greeks use Greek names. The Romans use Latin names. And everyone prays and sings praises to God as best he can in his mother tongue. For the Lord of all the languages of the earth hears those who pray to Him in each different languages. Origen (A.D. 240) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 65
God’s own name also cannot be declared, for He cannot be conceived. … For the name is the significance of whatever thing can be comprehended from a name. Novatian (A.D. 257) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 615
Neither must you ask the name of God. God is His name. Where a multitude is to be distinguished by the appropriate characteristics of names, there is a need of names. However, to God – who alone is – belongs the whole name of God. Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 467
As I have shown in the beginning, God does not need a name, since He is alone. Lactantius (A.D. 304-313) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.7 pg. 65
Clement of Alexandria and the name Yahweh:
Some point to Clement of Alexandria, claiming that he stated that God’s name was Yahweh, however this can not be proven in any ancient manuscripts of Clement’s writings. In fact, Clement never used Yahweh at all, but instead he used “Iaou” which points to the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) not Yahweh. Remember Yahweh is just a guess.
Some claim that Clement used Iaoue and this means Yahweh, however this is a late additon. They earliest manuscripts of Clement’s Stromata V.6 from the 11th century Codex L, do NOT contain this version. And even IF it did, Iaoue does not translate to Yahweh as it has been translated as Yehwoh, YeHoWaH. and many other similar names based on preference. Either way, this is actually what Clement said:
“Further, the mystic name of the four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called “Iaou” which is interpreted, “Who is and shall be. The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters [Greek theos, where “th” is represented with theta– ed.],” (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, V. 6)
Notice that Clement says, the mystic name of the four letters”. The late version used by sacred namers, Iaoue is NOT four letters. In the altered version everything in the quote above reads the same except for the word Iaou which has been replaced with Iaoue. Again, this is not four letters proving further that this late addition is false:
Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) writes Ἰαοὺ (Iaou) –Wikipedia, Tetragrammaton
Earlier Scholars followed the Iaou spelling and not the modern Iaoue which was added sometime after 1850 A.D.:
“Contrary wise, there is an extant 11th century Greek Codex “L” that preserves the Greek spelling “Iaou” NOT “Iaoue” at Stromata Book V. Chapter 6., and there is a documented 800+ year period from the 11th century to after 1850 A.D. during which there seems to be a consensus among those particular scholars that Clement of Alexandria wrote “Iaou” not “Iaoue” in his Greek Stromata Book V. Chaper 6. And during this 800 year period Greek scholars could point to existing documents, as evidence that Clement of Alexandria wrote “Iaou” and not “Iaoue” –Wikipedia Talk, Tetragrammaton
Some may point to the quote the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica as proof that Clement use the variant Iaoue thus he called God Yahweh, but the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica even points out that this variant is a late addition and points to Codex L as the oldest manuscript which contains Iaou instead or the four letter Tetragrammaton.
Based on all of the evidence from Scholars, Ancient “Hebrew” and the early Church, we can be sure that God does not have a human name. He is in fact beyond human names. He has given us what we need to know in regards to who He is. Since God only revealed His name as “I AM” or if you prefer “the Being” which we know simply means your creator, this is what he was known as. YHWH, means that God is beyong us. And calling God by a title such as Lord or God is a respectful way to address Him as greater than us. As far as other names often used by “sacred name” worshipers, these names come from modern men and poor scholarship which lead to guesses based on their own preference for one name or another. Jesus never mentioned a human name for God. As we are called to be His followers, we should follow Him in this matter as well since we can be sure our Savior, the son of God, would know God’s human name if He had one and would have revealed it to us if we were required to use it.
Hart, G. (1986). A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Retrieved from http://www.books.google.com, p.225