A subject that has aroused contention among Christians is the name of God. What is the name of God? The Bible, the inspired word of God Himself, is the obvious source of the answer to this question.
God’s name is not a mere word. There is deep significance and importance to His name. For 6,000 years mankind has decided for itself what is true and right, ignoring the clear instructions of the Bible, with less than impressive results. What does the Bible say about the name of God?
What is in a name
The English word “name” is shem in the Hebrew and onoma in the Greek. They both refer to the character, reputation, title, rank or authority of the person being referred to. In the Bible, names have meaning. Names are given for a purpose.
For example, the cherub Lucifer’s name was the Hebrew heylel, meaning the shining one, light–bearer or morning star. When he rebelled, God changed his name to Satan—the adversary, the enemy. In Genesis 17:5, God changed Abram's name to Abraham, meaning father of many nations, because of the promises God made to him. The patriarch Jacob’s name in Hebrew meant heel holder or supplanter, but was later changed to Israel—which means prevailer with God, overcomer—after he wrestled with God and obtained forgiveness (Gen. 25:26; 32:28).
The one name
Peter and John healed the man crippled from birth “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” We were baptized “into the name of the Father and the Son.” When we pray to God, we pray and ask “in the name of Jesus Christ.” In Acts 4:12 we read: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” What is this name “whereby we must be saved”?
In the 1930s, a group calling itself the Assembly of YHVH began teaching that the names of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are sacred only in the Hebrew language. They contend that only the Hebrew YHVH must be used. Other Hebrew words such as El or Elohim, they say, are only titles. This group also teaches that the use of God's name in any other language is sin because of alleged pagan origins, and that the name, YHVH, must be correctly pronounced.
There is considerable disagreement and confusion regarding the exact pronunciation because the proper Hebrew pronunciation has been lost. The Hebrew spelling used consonants only, and no one can be certain of the correct vowels that should be used in YHVH. However, most modern scholars and Hebrew authorities agree that pronouncing it as YAHWEH, with the accented second syllable pronounced similar to our English word “way” is acceptable.
Although the Assembly of YHVH, and other similar groups, are built around their beliefs concerning God’s name, there is no Biblical support for their assertions!
What the Bible says
In the Old Testament, the English word God is translated from the Hebrew words El, Eloah, Shaddai, Adonai and Elohim. These are as much God's names as is YHVH. These Hebrew names were translated into other languages in both the Old and New Testaments.
Daniel and Ezra, two biblical authors who were among the Jewish captives in Babylon, wrote portions of the books that bear their names in Aramaic, the official language of the Babylonian Empire. When speaking of God in their writings, they called Him by the the Aramaic name Elah.
If God intended that His name be kept exclusively in the Hebrew language under penalty of sin, then Daniel was a false prophet and Ezra a deceitful priest! In reality, since they were inspired by God to translate the Hebrew name for God to the Aramaic Elah, it is not sin that the Hebrew names for God should be translated into English, or any other language.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul was sent to the Greek–speaking Gentile regions. These people were not familiar with either Hebrew or Aramaic, only Greek, which was regarded as the universal language of that period (“Language of the New Testament”, from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft). How did Paul preach the Father and Christ to these people? What names did He use to identify the Father and Christ?
The Bible shows that Paul repeatedly used the Greek words theos meaning "God", kurios meaning “Lord”, Christos meaning “Christ” and Iesous meaning “Jesus.” There is no record of Paul having used any of the Hebrew names.
A word study with a Bible and a concordance or lexicon will show that the gospel writers and the apostles used the same Greek words in their writings. But most importantly, Christ Himself, who spoke Hebrew, is not recorded as having used the Hebrew YHVH, but rather these same Greek words, to refer to God.
The true Church of God is commissioned to proclaim the good news of the soon–coming Kingdom of God to the world as a witness and to feed those God has called out. To the English–speaking people, the word “God” means the Supreme Creator, Sovereign Lord, Holy and Merciful Redeemer. How can they understand the gospel of real peace and lasting prosperity in the government of God if foreign names like Yahweh or Yahvah or Yahshua are used?
We use the names of God in all languages so that the people we are speaking to will understand our message. Paul couldn't have put it any clearer: “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries….So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air” (I Cor. 14: 2, 9).
The plain Biblical truth is the names of God and of Christ are as sacred in one language as another. No Biblical command exists saying the names of the Father and the Son can be spoken only in Hebrew. Moreover, God is not concerned about specific sounds and precise pronunciations. A true Christian in God's eyes, and the one who gets His attention, is that individual whose heart is teachable, contrite and obedient.
The sacred names movement claims the word “God” is of pagan origin, and therefore, it should not be used in referring to the Creator. However, God inspired the Old Testament writers to use the very same Hebrew words for both pagan idols and the true Creator. We capitalize “God” when referring to the Creator of the universe, and use the lowercase “gods” when referring to idols. Similarly, the Hebrew elohim could refer to either the true God or false idols, depending on the context.
What is this name whereby we must be saved?
When properly and humbly and obediently understood, the name of God stands for that Almighty Being, the Great Creator and Supreme Ruler which set in motion the unchangeable, living laws by which every physical and spiritual aspect of the universe is ordered and regulated. The name of God is the unbreakable seal binding the divine promises He offers to His begotten people—promises of providence, deliverance, protection, salvation and immortality: “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:10, 12). Salvation does not depend on the exact right pronunciation of a Hebrew name. Jesus Christ came to make salvation available to “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Rev. 7:9).
Jesus Christ’s message explained that the name God—the Hebrew Elohim—is a family name! His gospel, His good news, is the message that we may also bear that name, that we may be born again as spirit–beings into the Family of God as the very sons and daughters of God.
The true Church has not denied His name, but it does not cling to a Hebrew–sounding name. It is the true Church which is believing and making known the power, authority, character and reputation of the Almighty, Eternal God. It is the true Church which Christ is leading through open doors to preach His Gospel, His Message to all the world.