Being invited to greet and address an important person by name is an honor. Dignitaries are often addressed by titles, such as “Mr. President,” “Your Majesty,” or “Your Honor.” So if someone in high station told you, “Please, just call me by my name,” you would no doubt feel privileged.
THE true God tells us in his written Word, the Bible: “I am Jehovah. That is my name.” (Isaiah 42:8) Although he also has many titles, such as “Creator,” “Almighty,” and “Sovereign Lord,” he has always honored his loyal servants by letting them address him by his personal name.
For example, the prophet Moses once began to implore God by saying: “Excuse me, Jehovah.” (Exodus 4:10) At the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon opened his prayer with the words: “O Jehovah.” (1 Kings 8:22, 23) And when the prophet Isaiah addressed God on behalf of the people of Israel, he said: “You, O Jehovah, are our Father.” (Isaiah 63:16) Clearly, our heavenly Father invites us to address him by name.
While addressing Jehovah by name is important, truly knowing him by name involves more. Regarding an individual who loves him and trusts in him, Jehovah promises: “I shall protect him because he has come to know my name.” (Psalm 91:14) Clearly, knowing God’s name must embrace a wealth of meaning, since it is a key factor in receiving God’s protection. What, then, would be required for you to know Jehovah by name?
The practice of giving names that are rich in meaning is not new. In Bible times, personal names were usually given because of the meaning they conveyed. Names could indicate a person’s expected role in life. For example, when Jehovah told David about the future role of his son Solomon, He said: “Solomon [from a root meaning “Peace”] is what his name will become, and peace and quietness I shall bestow upon Israel in his days.”—1 Chronicles 22:9.
Sometimes Jehovah gave a new name to a person who was to have a new role. The barren wife of Abraham received the name Sarah, meaning “Princess.” Why? Jehovah explained: “I will bless her and also give you a son from her; and I will bless her and she shall become nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” (Genesis 17:16) Clearly, understanding why Sarah received a new name would involve understanding her new role.
What about the most important of all names—Jehovah? What does it mean? When Moses asked God about His name, Jehovah replied: “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be.” (Exodus 3:14) Rotherham’s translation renders it: “I Will Become whatsoever I please.” Jehovah’s name reveals that he is a God of innumerable roles. To use a simple illustration: A mother may need to fill many roles each day in caring for her children—as a nurse, a cook, a teacher—according to the need that arises. It is similar with Jehovah, though on a more elevated level. In order to accomplish his loving purpose for mankind, he can become whatever he pleases, filling whatever role is needed. Knowing Jehovah by name thus involves understanding and appreciating his many roles.
Sadly, the beauty of God’s personality is hidden from those who do not know him by name. By studying the Bible, however, you can appreciate Jehovah’s roles as a wise Counselor, a powerful Savior, and a generous Provider, to name just a few. The rich meaning of Jehovah’s name is, indeed, awe-inspiring.
Nevertheless, getting to know God by name is not always easy. Keep reading and you will see why.
Satan has used false religion to hinder people from coming to know God by name. For example, in ancient times some Jews chose to ignore the inspired Scriptures in favor of tradition that called for avoiding the use of God’s name. By the first centuries of our Common Era, Jewish public readers had evidently been instructed, not to read God’s name as it appeared in their Holy Scriptures, but to substitute the word ʼAdho·nai′, meaning “Lord.” Doubtless, this practice contributed to a tragic decline in spirituality. Many lost out on the benefits of a close personal relationship with God. What, though, about Jesus? What was his attitude toward Jehovah’s name?
Jesus and His Followers Made God’s Name Known
Jesus declared in prayer to his Father: “I have made your name known . . . and will make it known.” (John 17:26) Jesus would undoubtedly have pronounced God’s name on numerous occasions when he read, quoted, or explained portions of the Hebrew Scriptures containing that important name. Jesus would thus have used God’s name just as freely as all the prophets did before him. If any Jews were already avoiding the use of God’s name during the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus would certainly not have followed their tradition. He strongly criticized the religious leaders when he said to them: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.”—Matthew 15:6.
Jesus set the example in making known God’s name
Faithful followers of Jesus continued to make God’s name known after Jesus’ death and resurrection. (See Below at bottom in the section multitude of Jews and proselytes: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32) Early Christians helped people from many nations to come to know Jehovah by name. Thus, in a meeting of the apostles and older men in Jerusalem, the disciple James said: “God . . . turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.”—Acts 15:14.“Did the First Christians Use God’s Name?”) At Pentecost 33 C.E., the very day the Christian congregation was formed, the apostle Peter, quoting from a prophecy of Joel, said to a
Nevertheless, the enemy of God’s name did not give up. Once the apostles were dead, Satan wasted no time in sowing apostasy. (Matthew 13:38, 39; 2 Peter 2:1) For example, the nominal Christian writer Justin Martyr was born about the time John, the last of the apostles, died. Yet, Justin repeatedly insisted in his writings that the Provider of all things is “a God who is called by no proper name.”
When apostate Christians made copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures, they evidently took Jehovah’s personal name out of the text and substituted Ky′ri·os, the Greek word for “Lord.” The Hebrew Scriptures did not fare any better. No longer reading God’s name aloud, apostate Jewish scribes replaced the divine name in their Scriptures with ʼAdho·nai′ more than 130 times. The influential translation of the Bible into Latin that was completed by Jerome in 405 C.E. and that came to be called the Vulgate similarly omitted the personal name of God.
Modern Attempts to Efface God’s Name
Today, scholars are aware that Jehovah’s personal name appears some 7,000 times in the Bible. Thus, some widely used translations, such as the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, the Catholic La Biblia Latinoamérica in Spanish, and the popular Reina-Valera version, also in Spanish, freely use God’s personal name. Some translations render God’s name “Yahweh.”
Sadly, many churches that sponsor Bible translations pressure scholars into omitting God’s name from their translations of the Bible. For example, in a letter dated June 29, 2008, to presidents of Catholic bishops’ conferences, the Vatican stated: “In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel’s proper name.” The letter gives this pointed direction: “The name of God . . . is neither to be used or pronounced.” Furthermore, “for the translation of the Biblical text in modern languages, . . . the divine tetragrammaton is to be rendered by the equivalent of Adonai/Kyrios: ‘Lord.’” Clearly, this Vatican directive is aimed at eliminating the use of God’s name.
Protestants have been no less disrespectful in their treatment of Jehovah’s name. A spokesman for the Protestant-sponsored New International Version, published in English in 1978, wrote: “Jehovah is a distinctive name for God and ideally we should have used it. But we put 21⁄4 million dollars into this translation and a sure way of throwing that down the drain is to translate, for example, Psalm 23 as, ‘Yahweh is my shepherd.’”
In addition, churches have hindered Latin Americans from knowing God by name. Steven Voth, a translation consultant for the United Bible Societies (UBS), writes: “One of the ongoing debates in Latin American Protestant circles revolves around the use of the name Jehová . . . Interestingly enough, a very large and growing neo-pentecostal church . . . said they wanted a Reina-Valera 1960 edition, but without the name Jehová. Instead, they wanted the word Señor [Lord].” According to Voth, the UBS rejected this request at first but later gave in and published an edition of the Reina-Valera Bible “without the word Jehová.”
Deleting God’s name from his written Word and replacing it with “Lord” hinders readers from truly knowing who God is. Such a substitution creates confusion. For example, a reader may not be able to discern whether the term “Lord” refers to Jehovah or to his Son, Jesus. Thus, in the scripture in which the apostle Peter quotes David as saying: “Jehovah said to my Lord [the resurrected Jesus]: ‘Sit at my right hand,’” many Bible translations read: “The Lord said to my Lord.” (Acts 2:34, NIV) In addition, David Clines, in his essay “Yahweh and the God of Christian Theology,” points out: “One result of the absence of Yahweh from Christian consciousness has been the tendency to focus on the person of Christ.” Thus, many churchgoers are hardly aware that the true God to whom Jesus directed his prayers is a Person with a name—Jehovah.
Satan has worked hard at blinding people’s minds about God. Even so, you can become intimately acquainted with Jehovah.
You Can Know Jehovah by Name
To be sure, Satan has waged war on the divine name, and he has cleverly used false religion in the process. However, the reality is that no power in heaven or on earth can stop the Sovereign Lord Jehovah from making his name known to those who want to know the truth about him and his glorious purpose for faithful humans.
Learn how to draw close to God through a study of the Bible. Follow the example of Jesus, who said to God: “I have made your name known to them.” (John 17:26) As you contemplate the scriptures that reveal the various roles that Jehovah has occupied for the blessing of mankind, you will come to know the many beautiful facets of his exalted personality.
The faithful patriarch Job enjoyed “intimacy with God,” and so can you. (Job 29:4) With knowledge of God’s Word, you can know Jehovah by name. Such knowledge will give you confidence that Jehovah will act in harmony with what he said was the meaning of his name—‘I Will Become whatsoever I please.’ (Exodus 3:14, footnote) Thus, he will surely fulfill all his good promises to mankind.
Did the First Christians Use God’s Name?
During the days of Jesus’ apostles in the first century C.E., Christian congregations were formed in many lands. The members of those congregations regularly met together to study the Scriptures. Did those early Christians find Jehovah’s name in their copies of the Scriptures?
Since Greek had become the international language, many congregations used the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures completed in the second century B.C.E. Some scholars claim that from the time it was originally translated, the Septuagint had always replaced God’s name with the title Ky′ri·os, the Greek word for “Lord.” But the facts show otherwise.
The fragments illustrated here are portions of the Greek Septuagint that date from the first century B.C.E. They clearly show Jehovah’s name, represented in the Greek text by the four Hebrew letters יהוה (YHWH), or the Tetragrammaton. Professor George Howard wrote: “We have three separate pre-Christian copies of the Greek Septuagint Bible and in not a single instance is the Tetragrammaton translated kyrios or for that matter translated at all. We can now say with near certainty that it was a Jewish practice before, during, and after the New Testament period to write the divine name . . . right into the Greek text of Scripture.”—Biblical Archaeology Review.
Did Jesus’ apostles and disciples use God’s name in their inspired writings? Professor Howard notes: “When the Septuagint which the New Testament church used and quoted contained the Hebrew form of the divine name, the New Testament writers no doubt included the Tetragrammaton in their quotations.”
Therefore, we may safely conclude that the first Christians could read God’s name both in their translations of the Hebrew Scriptures and in their copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures.