Can We Know the Name of God?

In our latest 'Consider This' episode, Dr. Brown who holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, takes you on a journey through the Scriptures and answers the question, 'Can we know the name of God'?
Can we really know the name of God?

Traditional Jews simply call Him "HaShem," the Name. For them, God's name is too sacred to pronounce.

Many English speaking Christians know Him as Jehovah, while many biblical scholars believe His name should be pronounced Yahweh.

So, can we really know the name of God? Should we even try to know His name? Perhaps questions like this are better left untouched - or maybe not?

After all, when God revealed Himself to Moses, He revealed His name as well. He wanted His people to know Him and understand Him. He wanted them to know that He was not like the other gods and idols - like the false gods of Egypt and the false gods of Canaan. That's not who He was, and He had His own distinct name.

As we read in Exodus 3, "Moses said to God, 'When I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is His name?" what shall I say to them?' And God said to Moses, 'Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.' He continued, 'Thus shall you say to the Israelites, "Ehyeh sent me to you."'"

What exactly does this mean?

The Hebrew words Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh can be translated "I am that I am" or "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be." Yes, that sounds a little mysterious!

Then, Exodus 3 tells us, God said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites 'Ehyeh sent me to you'" - which is like saying, "Tell the Israelites 'I am' or 'I will be' has sent me to you."

So, is that the name of God? Is He called Ehyeh - I am - throughout the Hebrew Bible?

Actually, that is not His name. Instead, His name is spelled out more than 6,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, consisting of four letter Y-H-W-H (in Hebrew, yod-heh-waw-heh), and those letters are related to the word "Ehyeh."

But what does YHWH mean? And how should we pronounce it? And where did the name Jehovah come from?

Most Hebrew scholars believe that the name Jehovah arose out of a misunderstanding when Christian scholars started reading the Hebrew Scriptures for themselves, not knowing about certain Jewish scribal traditions.

In this case, because God's name was considered too sacred to pronounce, Jewish scribes mixed the vowels for the Hebrew name "Lord" with the consonants yod-heh-waw-heh (y-h-w-h), which resulted in yehowah - or, in English, Jehovah.

But when a traditional Jew saw this, he understood that was not the actual name. Instead, it was the scribes' way of saying, "Pronounce this Adonai - Lord."

That means that, from everything we know, the name Jehovah never existed. It is based on a misunderstanding of the biblical text by Christian scholars centuries ago.

Then where do get the pronunciation Yahweh?

Scholars look at words like Hallelujah, which in Hebrew is literally "praise Yah," a short form of Yahweh. We also look at names like Elijah, which in Hebrew is Eli-yahu, "My God is Yahu," which contains the Hebrew letters y-h-w - the first three letters of Yahweh.

Then, based on other ancient Semitic languages close to Hebrew, scholars have reconstructed the pronunciation Yahweh, which would mean something like, "He causes things to be" or, "He who make things happen." That is saying something!

It also works well with the Lord's word to Moses: "I am who I am" (or "I will be who I will be"), and "My very name, Yahweh, means that whatever I promise, I will do."

Can we be 100 percent sure this is the right pronunciation of the name? Can we be 100 percent sure that this is the real meaning of the name?

Actually, we can't, one reason being that, over the course of time, we lost the pronunciation of God's name because it was considered too sacred to be pronounced by the Jewish community.

So, because we can't be totally sure of how the Lord's name is pronounced, we can't be totally sure of what His name means.

But that's not such a bad thing.

After all, we're talking about God here. About the Creator of the universe. About the One who has no beginning and no end.

About a God who can sit enthroned in heaven and walk among us at the same time.

About a God who fills the universe with His presence and yet leads us individually by His Spirit.

That's why Paul wrote, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

But our God is not just transcendent. He is our heavenly Father. And He has revealed Himself to us through His Son Jesus-Yeshua.

So, while there will always be some mystery about the Lord's personal name, there's no mystery about who He is. And He invites us all to know Him - personally and intimately.