I have been calling God “God” since I learned to pray. As I got older, I used other “names” as well. For example, Heavenly Father, Almighty God, Father God, Lord, The Great I Am, El Shaddai. All of these names certainly identify God as “the” God. The Great Divinity. The pastor at my boyhood church often called God King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. I’ve also heard the names Jehovah and Yahweh.
Likewise, Jesus Christ has been called many things throughout the Scriptures. Savior, Emmanuel, The Word, Son of God, Master, Rabbi, Lamb of God, Second Adam, Light of the World, King of the Jews. If we look harder, we find that Jesus has also been called Chief Cornerstone, Prince of Peace, Alpha and Omega, Bread of Life, Bridegroom, Great Intercessor, Counselor, Good Shepherd, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Nazarene, Redeemer, Wonderful.
In the Old Testament, when “God” is used, it is typically a rendering of the general Hebrew word for God, “Elohim.” When LORD GOD occurs, it is a rendering of a dual name for God “Adonai YHWH.” This is the origin of the name Jehovah. It is actually a hybrid name, combining the vowels of Adonai with the consonants of YHWH into JeHoVaH or YeHoWaH. The “a” in Adonai is changed for reasons of Hebrew pronunciation.
I have heard it said that the Jews were afraid to speak the name of God aloud. In Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation or random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the entity being named. This is not as strange or unfamiliar a concept as it may seem at first. In English, we often refer to a person’s reputation as his “good name.” When a company is sold, one thing that may be sold is the company’s “good will.” The Hebrew concept of a name is very similar to these ideas.
Because a name represents the reputation of the thing named, a name should be treated with the same respect as the thing’s reputation. For this reason, God’s Names, in all of their forms, are treated with enormous respect and reverence in Judaism. The most important of God’s Names is the four-letter name represented by the Hebrew letters Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei (YHVH). It is often referred to as the Ineffable Name, the Unutterable Name or the Distinctive Name. Linguistically, it is related to the Hebrew root Hei-Yod-Hei (to be), and reflects the fact that God’s existence is eternal.
The books of the Old testament were originally written almost totally in the Hebrew language, with some sections in Aramaic. Neither language contained any vowels, only consonants. The Jews knew what vowel sounds were to be used in the pronunciation of the words based on the construction of the sentence, the context, and their excellent memories. Since very few people could afford to have their own written copies of even small portions of the Scriptures, huge amounts of Scriptures were committed to memory.
In the 8th through the 10th centuries, after the birth of the Messiah, a group of Scribes know as the Masoretes added a system of vowel points to enable the preservation of the original pronunciation. Their version of the Scriptures is known as the Masoretic Text.
The Name by which God revealed Himself to the patriarchs and to Moses was the Hebrew word for “I AM” or “I AM THAT I AM” — meaning something similar to “The One Who exists by His own power.” This Name was spelled with the Hebrew equivalent of “YHWH,” and was considered too sacred to pronounce. This four-letter word is also know as the tetragrammaton, which means “four letters.” When reading the Scriptures, or referring to the Sacred Name (HaShem), the Jews would substitute the word “Adonay,” which means “Lord.”
So, is it mandatory or not for us to call God by a “sacred name?” When you see the word “GOD” or “LORD” in all capital letters in the King James Bible, it means this was where the name for God, YHWH,” originally appeared in the Hebrew text. When a text contains the name “YHWH” (GOD or LORD), this word applies only to the One True Creator, and never applies to anyone else. So this helps us to understand that Almighty God created the heavens and the earth.
Here’s where it gets interesting. When a New Testament text contains the title “god” or “lord,” it may apply to other lesser gods or mere men. Almost universally, “god” is a translation of “theos,” the general Greek word for deity. Also almost universally, “lord” is a translation of “kurios,” the general Greek word for master. The key point in all of this is that whether we use God’s actual Hebrew name, or refer to Him as God, or Lord, or Lord God, we are to always show reverence to Him and His name.
Christian translators mistakenly combined the vowels of “Adonay” with the consonants of “YHWH” and produced the word “YaHoWaH.” When the Scriptures were translated into German during the Reformation, the word was transliterated into the German pronunciation, which pronounces “Y” as an English “J,” and pronounces “W” as an English “V” — or “Jahovah.” Then in the early 17th century, when the Scriptures were being translated into English with the help of some of the German translations, the word was again transliterated as “Jehovah,” and this error has carried over into many modern English translations.
Jehovah is now recognized by all proficient Bible scholars to be a late hybrid form, a translation error, that was never used by the Jews. And since no one today knows the correct pronunciation of YHWH anyway, there is no need to guess at it. We have the assurance, from scripture, that we only need to call the Creator, “Our Father.”
To this day, some claim that we must call God by a sacred name. They say if we don’t, He won’t hear us. Contrary to their belief, there is and was no command anywhere in scripture given by God to call Him by any sacred name. We do not hear or read God instructing anyone to use the terms ‘Elohim’, ‘Yahweh’, ‘Yashua’, ‘Jehovah’, ‘El-Shaddai’, ‘Adonai”, ‘Ha-Shem’, ‘Adoshem’, ‘Abba,’ or other words to identify God. Love for Him is what is required. Not strict adherence to a sacred name. As our Lord Jesus Christ said, when we pray, we are to pray, “Our Father.” He did not insist on us using a “sacred” name.