googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: What is the Name of God? A Look at the Tetragrammaton

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is the Name of God? A Look at the Tetragrammaton

God is called by many names: Elohim (Creator), El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Elyon (Most High), and many others. However, when Moses asked God His name, the Lord answered, “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14). From this verse, we have an indication as to how God identifies Himself. The word He uses is comprised of four letters (יהוה) collectively known as the tetragrammaton (from Greek literally meaning four lettersh). The English equivalent of these letters are, YHWH.

The tetragrammaton occurs some 6500 times in the OT but there is some debate over the correct pronunciation of the word. Because of the commandment to not take the Lord's name in vain (Exodus 20:7), Jews would not speak the word out of fear of accidentally breaking the commandment. So wherever the word occurred, the Jews would instead say, “Adonai”, meaning, “Lord.” In the King James and other translations, wherever the tetragrammaton appears, it is translated as “LORD” with all upper case letters.

In the original text, Hebrew did not contain vowels. Then around 500-600 AD, scholars began to add “points” to indicate vowel sounds. These points were added around the characters so that the actual text was not altered. To the tetragrammaton, they added the vowel points belonging to “Adonai” so that the reader would know to pronounce the word as, “LORD.” Eventually, people began to pronounce the letters of the tetragrammaton with the vowel points of “Adonai” and thus the name, “Jehovah,” was born.

The tetragrammaton is most likely pronounced as, “Yahweh” (yä'-wā). Alternatively there could be an additional vowel sound: “Yahoweh” (yä-hō'-wā). There is the further complication of the letter vav/waw which can be pronounced as the English “w” or “v.” Occasionally, the letter is even silent but that isn't likely here. So the Name could be pronounced as “Yahweh,” “Yahveh,” “Yehowah,” or “Yehovah.” In spite of the many variations, however, we can be certain the correct pronunciation is not, “Jehovah” as there is no “j” sound in Hebrew!

The word is believed to be an imperfect form of the Hebrew verb, “hayah” meaning “was.” In the passage of Exodus 3:14, it is understood in a sense to mean “the One who is” or “the One who exists.” When the Bible was translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC (a work known as the Septuagint), the tetragrammaton is usually rendered as “kurios” (κύριος), meaning, “Lord.” In Exodus 3:14, the word is translated using two different Greek verbs: “Ego” (εγώ) which is the personal pronoun, “I” and the verb “eimi” (ειμι) which means, “I am.” The redundant use of the pronoun with the verb creates an emphatic expression that literally reads, “I, I am.” This is sometimes rendered in all uppercase letters - “I AM.”

There are some disputed claims that early Hebrew copies of the New Testament included uses of the tetragrammaton but most scholars disagree. However, in the NT, Jesus often referred to Himself with the emphatic, εγώ ειμι. Perhaps the most notable example occurs in John 8:58 where Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” The verse is significant because Jesus invoked of Himself the same divine name God used in Exodus 3:14. This does not escape the attention of His Jewish audience and verse 59 says they took up stones to stone Him. Those who deny the divinity of Jesus often boast that Jesus never claimed to be God. Yet in those instances where He used this emphatic expression, He is doing essentially just that.

Further reading:


Adam Pastor said...

Greetings RKBentley

In actuality, there is no connection between
John 8.58 & Exo 3.14 at all!

To find out what I mean,
I recommend these two articles:

Is Jesus the "I AM?"

Did Jesus really claim to be God in John 8:58? Or is your
translation misleading you?

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor
The Human Jesus

RKBentley said...

Adam Pastor,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate all comments and welcome the opportunity to address folks who disagree with me. I glanced at your links and believe they are somewhat weak.

There's more than I can address in a single blog comment but let me hit one point very directly. From your first link we have the following quote: “In fact God says ego eimi o on (εγω ειμι ο ων).” Your point seems to be that God referred to Himself not simply as the “εγω ειμι” but rather the more complete “εγω ειμι ο ων.” Jesus frequently referred to Himself with the emphatic εγω ειμι. As I had said, John 8:58 is merely the most cited. In the case of “εγω ειμι ο ων”, I would refer you to Revelation 1:8:

Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ, λέγει κύριος ὁ θεός, ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, ὁ παντοκράτωρ.

In this short verse, the Speaker introduces Himself with the Ἐγώ εἰμι (I AM) and further identifies Himself as:

the Alpha and the Omega
the Lord God
the ONE WHO IS (ὁ ὢν)
the One who was
the One who is coming
the Almighty.

I had not considered before that this verse includes the very phrase “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὢν” so I thank you for inspiring me to look for it. The speaker is either Jesus or the Father. I assert that it is Jesus. In Revelation 1:17-18, we know certainly that the Speaker is Jesus because no one would claim that the Father “was dead” (v. 18). Next, in v. 17, Jesus said He is “the First and the Last.” Later, in Revelation 22:13, the Speaker states He is both the Alpha and Omega AND the First and the Last. So, the same Person who is the Alpha and Omega is also the First and the Last. It's a little indirect but I think it's conclusive nonetheless: Jesus is the Speaker in all of these verses.

I have heard people engage in extraordinary mental gymnastics to distinguish between God and Jesus as the Speaker in these different verses so they might avoid the obvious conclusion that Jesus is the Alpha, the Omega, the First, the Last, the Almighty, the Lord God, and the I AM.

I urge you to reconsider your view of who Jesus is. He is God in the flesh. Thank you again for visiting.