Bible Studies

What Is God’s Name?


One God


























God reveals himself through many words in the Old Testament, such as El Shaddai and El Elyon, but one stands out clearly as his proper name, four letters from the Hebrew alphabet:

(Y H W H)
(Hebrew is written from right to left, and the reader had to supply the vowels because there were none in the ancient Hebrew alphabet.)

These four letters (sometimes called the Tetragrammaton, from a Greek word meaning “four-lettered.”) were almost certainly pronounced as Yahweh or Yahvhe, never as Jehovah. This name was always seen as very sacred and powerful and therefore never to be used lightly.

No one ever dared to name a child “God” or “Yahweh”—the very thought was the height of blasphemy—but throughout biblical history, godly people gave their children names that reflected God’s attributes and ownership. For example, Elisha, which contracts two words, El (meaning God) and yeshua (meaning salvation or deliverance), means “God is salvation.”

Many times people incorporated God’s proper name, Yahweh, as part of the name. Elijah is comprised of El (God), with the first person singular suffix, i (my), and Yahweh (contracted to Yah): “My God is Yahweh.”

Joshua is formed by contracting Yahweh with yeshua: “Yahweh is salvation,” an appropriate name for a deliverer, such as the son of Nun. Before the Babylonian captivity, Joshua’s name in Hebrew was pronounced Yehoshua (Yeh HO [as in no] shoo ah); afterwards it was written Yashua (Ya [as in day] SHOO ah). In Greek and Latin it is (pronounced YA [as in day] soos),  written Iesus in Latin.

It is not surprising that Joshua was a popular name for Hebrew boys (cf. e.g. the high priest of Zechariah 3), nor was it unusual when the angel instructed Joseph to name his wife’s son Joshua (Matthew 1:21).*  In the course of time, English translators rendered it Jesus in order to distinguish our Lord from his Old Testament kin.

That is why when Jesus said such things as “I have come in my Father’s name,” (John 5:43) he does not mean that the Father and he had the same name. Yahweh is God’s proper name. As such, it is the name of the Father as well as of the Son and also of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, or Joshua, is the name of the Son of God, once he is incarnate and becomes a human being; it is not the name of the pre-existent Son of God, the Second Person in the Godhead. God, the Son, without ceasing to be God, became a real human being and took the name Joshua, or Jesus. Jesus Christ is that name coupled with the title of the Hebrew kings, Messiah, Anointed one, or Christ. In Hebrew it is Yashua Hamashiach; in Latin and Greek it is Iesus Christus and Iesous Christos.

Therefore, when our Lord Jesus Christ commanded the apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he did not mean that they were to baptize in Jesus’ name in a literal sense, having to pronounce those words at the time of baptism.

*        “2. Up to the beginning of the 2nd century a.d. the name Yashua or Iesous was very common among the Jews. Among the 72 translators of the LXX (The LXX is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint, because there were seventy LXX rabbis involved. It became the Bible of Hellenistic Judaism, because they no longer understood Hebrew well. It was done a bit over a century before Christ.) according to the Epistle of Aristeas (48, 49), three bear the name of Iesous. Josephus mentions some 20 of the name, including ten contemporaries of Jesus. The ossuary inscriptions (An ossuary is a container or receptacle, such as an urn or a vault, for holding the bones of the dead. The Jews preserved the bones of their ancestors in their cemeteries and put stone markers above them with inscriptions. In other words, these are gravestones that have the name Jesus on them, indicating that various people who had the name Jesus were buried there.) from the vicinity of Jerusalem (at the beginning of the 2nd cent. a.d. at the very latest) yield us Yashua . . . Many others bear the name as well as Jesus. Thus we find a pre-exilic example in the genealogy in Luke 3:29. In Matthew 27:16 Barabbas is also called Iesous Barabbas. In Acts 13:6 the sorcerer in Cyprus is called Bar Iesous, and in Col. 4:11 the helper of Paul is called Iesous also called Justus.” [Werner Foerster, “Iesous” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1977), Vol. III, pp. 284, 285 (I have expanded his abbreviations for clarity and transliterated his Hebrew and Greek into Roman letters.)

Bob Vincent