There are several Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible to describe God. The most common is the Hebrew Word el which is used regularly throughout the Old Testament to refer to God the Father, as well as other gods. Often with God the Father, the Hebrew has the plural form of el which is elohim. Other names of God in Hebrew are Adonai translated lord, El Shaddai translated God Almighty, and other variations of these terms. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses asked “Who should I say has sent me? What is your name?” God answered, “Tell them ’I am who I am’ sent you.” This rather strange phrase is very difficult to translate into English, but God is saying, in effect, “I am the one who is.” or “I will be whoever I am.” or even, “I am the one who exists.” In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint (more on that in another article), the Greek reads: “I am The Being.” God tells Moses that His name is YHVH. This is the most important name in the Hebrew bible for God. No one knows for sure how to pronounce the name, since the Jewish scribes considered the name of God so sacred, they would say Adonai whenever reading from the Hebrew text and they encountered the name.
These four letters are referred to as the “tetragrammaton,” which is Latin for “four letters.” It appears that the Name of God is closely related to the Hebrew verb for “to be,” which is logical, given God’s statement to Moses that he is the One Who Is. In many English bibles the tetragrammaton is written in small caps as LORD. So, whenever you read this in your Bible, you can know that this is where YHVH appears. In other bibles it is written as Yahweh or Yahveh. This is probably the closest to how the name was originally pronounced.
Originally, Hebrew did not have any vowels. It wasn’t until the middle ages, when Hebrew scholars realized that the Jewish people were in danger of losing the ability to properly pronounce Hebrew words that vowel markings were added in the form of dots under and above the letters. At this time, the vowels for Adonai were placed on the letters for YHVH, which eventually produced the improperly transliterated name Jehovah in various English translations. (The rules of the Hebrew language dictate that the letters of Adonai placed on YHVH cannot really be pronounced properly).
Jesus, when speaking of God, calls Him something somewhat unexpected. Evidently, He’s not nearly as concerned about addressing God by His proper name as the Jews were. While the Jews wouldn’t pronounce what they considered God’s name, Jesus referred to God as Abba. This is an Aramaic word for Father. However, a more accurate translation in English would be Daddy!
- Ben Franklin