"THE UNKNOWN GOD"
The ancient Greeks labelled the Creator: "The
Unknown God" (Acts 17:23). They forgot WHO He
is - because they had lost the meaning of His
name! That name is important - what is it? What
does it mean?
Herman L. Hoeh
How important is a name? Does it make any difference what
name you use to designate the Creator?
AUTHORITY IN A NAME
A persons name is certainly important. But what in reality
does the word "name" mean? When one acts in another's name, one
acts in his stead - by his authority. The name designates the
source of the authority - it designates who the person is for
whom one acts. To pray in someone's NAME is to take the AUTHORITY
of that name.
A person's "name" is also his reputation. "A good name is
rather to be chosen than great riches" (Prov.22:1). His name
represents his entire character.
It does make a difference what name you use for the Creator
- and in whose name you pray. There is ONLY ONE "name under
heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
What is this NAME which is necessary to be saved? Is it a
certain SET OF SOUNDS? Or, here too, does name mean the
reputation, personality, character, authority and power of the
The Son came in His Father's name. What is His Father's
name? Unless YOU, too, bear your heavenly Father's name, YOU are
not His son and heir! Without His name you will never see His
Some claim that the Father's name is YAHWEH or perhaps
YAHVAH. They claim that when we speak of or pray to the heavenly
Father and/or the Son, we should use only the Hebrew names of
Deity. They INSIST that it is a SIN to use the words "God,"
"Lord," "Jesus," "Christ," "Word," and "Christian." They
claim that it is a SIN to pray "in the name of Jesus" and
improper to be called "Christian."
The same people believe it is WRONG to translate the names
of God into English! Wrong to do more than TRANS-LITERATE the
same Hebrew SOUNDS of the name into any other language. They
contend that it is the SOUND of the name, NOT ITS MEANING, that
Yet Paul was inspired to write to in 1 Corinthians 14:9:
"Except you utter by the tongue easy to be understood, how shall
it be known what is spoken?" In verse 19 Paul continued, "Yet in
the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding,
that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand
words in an unknown tongue." To the Greeks, Hebrew was an
"unknown" or foreign tongue.
NAMES HAVE MEANING
In the Bible, names have meaning. Names are given for a
purpose. ABRAM'S name in Hebrew was changed to ABRAHAM because
the promise was made to Abraham that he should become "a father
of many nations" (Gen.17:5). Abraham means "a father of many
Jacob's name in Hebrew was changed to ISRAEL. The word Jacob
in Hebrew means "supplanter," but the word Israel means
"prevailer with God." Jacob prevailed with God and obtained His
All these biblical names convey meaning. Notice that these
names are usually not greatly changed in any foreign tongue
because their meanings are already given in the Bible. They do
not have to be TRANSLATED.
But other important Hebrew biblical names mentioned in the
NT (New Testament) ARE TRANSLATED from the Hebrew into Greek.
Notice Acts 9:36, "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple
named TABITHA, which by INTERPRETATION is called DORCAS" - in
Greek. In other words, the disciples in Joppa were speaking
Greek and had translated her name and called her Dorcas. Her
name means "Doc" in English.
Again, in Acts 13:8, the ARAMAIC name "Elymas" is TRANSLATED
into Greek as MAGOS - "sorcerer" in English.
FROM THESE EXAMPLES WE SEE THAT PERSONAL NAMES ARE OFTEN
TRANSLATED IN THE BIBLE.
The names of the Creator also have great meaning.
MEANING OF GOD'S NAMES
In the OT (Old Testament) the English word "God" is used for
the equivalent Hebrew word Elohim. It is a word with a plural
ending, allowing for MORE THAN ONE MEMBER IN THE ONE DIVINE
Sometimes the English word "God" represents another word,
El. Often the word El is combined with still other Hebrew words
to give new names to the Creator. Thus EL SHADDAI means the
"Almighty God" (Gen.17:1).
Now turn to Exodus 3:13-14 for another surprising NAME of
the Almighty. "And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto
the children of Israel, and say unto them, The God of your
fathers has sent me unto you; and they shall say unto me, What
is His NAME? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto
Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, You shall say unto the
children of Israel, I AM has sent me unto you."
Notice! Here is one of the MANY names of the Creator - "I
AM THAT I AM." There is real meaning to this name! It could
also be translated from the Hebrew as "I will be what I will be."
This name - I AM - means that the One who appeared to Moses is
above all creation. His name means the ONE WHO IS, THE
SELF-EXISTENT ONE, THE ETERNAL.
In this context the Creator then introduced to Moses His
name YHWH (verse 15) derived from the same Hebrew verb and having
approximately the same meaning as I AM.
"JEHOVAH" IS AN ERROR
But what about the word "Jehovah" which a well-known
religious group use exclusively? Notice what the Jewish
Encyclopedia has to about the origin of this word:
" ' Jehovah' is generally held to have been the invention of
Pope Leo X's confessor, Peter Galatin.....who was followed in the
use of this hybrid form by Fagius.....But it seems that even
before Galatin, the name 'Jehovah' had been in common use.....It
is found in Raymond Martin's 'Pugio Fidei,' written in 1270"
(Jewish Ency. vol.7, p.88, article "Jehovah").
The word "Jehovah" has come down to the modern world through
the Catholic Church! Even the "Jehovah's Witnesses," in the
preface to their translation of the Bible, state: "While
inclining to view the pronunciation 'Yahweh' as the more correct
way, we have retained the form 'Jehovah' because the people's
familiarity with it since the 14th century" (page 25).
If "Jehovah" is NOT the proper pronunciation of the Hebrew
word YHWH, what then is its proper pronunciation? Some "Hebrew
Name" groups say YAHVAH, others say YAHWEH.
Why this CONFUSION?
The answer is - the true pronunciation of the Hebrew word
YHWH was purposely not preserved in the Hebrew Bible.
Here is HOW it happened.
The Hebrew Bible originally used only consonants and
semi-consonants, not vowels. Moses was inspired to write this
name for the Creator with the four Hebrew letters YHWH. This
Hebrew word, which the Israelites originally knew how to
pronounce, comes from another Hebrew word HWH, an old form of the
root HYH, which means "to be," or "to become."
In the centuries following Ezra and Nehemiah, certain Jews
became superstitious and MADE AN IDOL out of this name. They
treated it with such superstitious reverence that they decided
NEVER TO PRONOUNCE IT! Instead, whenever they found this word
in the OT, they read ADONAI in its place. Or, in places where
ADONAI was already combined with YHWH they read it ELOHIM to
ADONAI is a Hebrew word meaning "Lord" or "Master." IT IS
NOT A PAGAN WORD. Both ADON (Lord) and ADONAI (originally a
plural form meaning "my Lords") are used frequently in the
The pagan Greeks ADOPTED the name of their Adonis FROM the
Hebrews, NOT the other way around.
When the Jewish textual scholars, known as the MASORETTES
(hence Masoretic text) added the vowels to the written Hebrew
text about the SEVENTH CENTURY A.D.,
they wrote the vowel points of ADONAI or ELOHIM with the word
YHWH to tell the oral Jewish reader to pronounce the word which
was thus indicated. Non-Jews, ignorant of this purpose, read and
pronounced a nonexistent hybrid word YEHOWAH, which was written
"Jehovah" in English but not pronounced with our modern "J" sound
until much later.
But the PROPER pronunciation of YHWH had LONG BEEN
NOT NECESSARY TO PRONOUNCE
Here is what Rotherham says about this name in his
EMPHASIZED BIBLE, page 25: " The true pronunciation seems to
have been YAHWE.....The accent should be on the final syllable."
The Jewish Encyclopedia says of this name: " ......the
original pronunciation must have been YAHWEH, or YAHAWEH"
(article "Names of God," volume 9, page 161).
MOST modern Hebrew scholars feel "Yahweh" (pronounced
Ya-hweh, with the second syllable like the whe in where and
accented) is a close approximation.
But other scholars have concluded the original name was YAHO
or YAHWO or YAHU or something else. These include such
well-known men as G.R. Driver, B.S. Eerdmans and W. Vischer.
(I will interject here to say this is a good example of how
so called "scholars" often DO NOT or CANNOT agree among
themselves, yet many of them will claim they are correct and the
others incorrect. Many of them who disagree among themselves are
"experts" in the same field of theology. I guess some will say
the others got in the field by the wrong gate or jumped over the
fence - Keith Hunt)
The MEANING of the name, by contrast, is not uncertain.
lacking the original vowels, we cannot be positive about the
exact grammatical form, but scholars generally agree that YHWH is
from the verb "to be." Some suggest the name was the original
form which meant "he causes to be," others "he exists," etc.
And no better interpretation of the overall meaning can be
found than that given by inspiration in Revelation 1:8, referring
to Jesus Christ: "I am the Alpha and Omega (in English we would
say the A and the Z), says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and
who is to come, the Almighty" (RSV). English equivalents would
be the "Eternal," the "Everliving," the "Eternal Lord."
If we believe the Creator really is all-powerful, and since
only the meaning has been preserved today, this SHOULD TELL US
WHAT HE CONSIDERS IMPORTANT. The MEANING of the Almighty's name
is infinitely more important than its mere sound in Hebrew.
Now notice definite SCRIPTURAL PROOF that it is proper to
TRANSLATE even the names of God so that we may understand what
they mean in whatever language we speak today!
PART OF THE OT NOT WRITTEN IN THE HEBREW!
Some deny we should ever translate the Hebrew names of
Deity. But notice the Bible evidence!
In the OT the English word for "God" is often the rendering
of the Hebrew words EL, ELOAH, and ELOHIM. Remember that these
words are as much God's NAME as is YHWH (Ps.69:30; Isa.9:6
.......). Were THESE Hebrew names EVER TRANSLATED INTO OTHER
TONGUES in the ORIGINAL inspired Old and New Testaments?
The answer is a resounding YES!
After Babylon conquered the Kingdom of Judah, Hebrew
gradually ceased to be the language of the COMMON speech of the
Jews. Hebrew was replaced by ARAMAIC, spoken throughout the
Babylonian Empire. Daniel WROTE PORTIONS of his prophetic
book in ARAMAIC - chapter 2, beginning verse 4, through chapter
7, verse 28. And Ezra WROTE SECTIONS in ARAMAIC - chapter 4:8-23
and chapter 5 and 6:1-18 and 7:12-26.
When daniel and Ezra referred to the Creator in these
chapters, did they USE THE OLD HEBREW WORDS, OR THEIR ARAMAIC
The surprising answer is that Daniel and Ezra TRANSLATED THE
HEBREW NAMES FOR GOD into the Aramaic word ELAH! In 78 DIFFERENT
PLACES in these 9 chapters, the Aramaic word ELAH is used to
translate these Hebrew words.
If anyone says that Aramaic was really just a dialect of the
earlier Hebrew and that Elah is a virtual trans-literation of the
Hebrew El, Eloah or Elohim, THEY SHOULD KNOW that the divergence
between these two different languages was FAR GREATER than mere
dialectical difference. And the change from Hebrew names to
Aramaic ELAH was as great as the tans-literation of Hebrew
YEHOSHUA (Joshua) to YESHUA (Neh.8:17) to Greek IESOUS (Jesus).
If the Almighty intended that His name should be pronounced
ONLY in Hebrew, then daniel and Ezra were false prophets! But
Daniel and Ezra were not false prophets! They were INSPIRED men!
They were INSPIRED TO TRANSLATE THE HEBREW NAMES FOR GOD INTO THE
ARAMAIC WORD ELAH. Every word - every letter - which Ezra and
Daniel were inspired to write has been preserved for us today!
Not one jot or tittle (the least letter or mark of the alphabet)
of the OT has passed away that God's people should not obey His
will (Mat.5:18; Luke 16:17).
Since the creator INSPIRED His prophets to TRANSLATE the
Hebrew names for God into the Aramaic ELAH, then it is fitting
and proper that the Hebrew word Elohim SHOULD BE TRANSLATED into
English in English translations of the OT!
Now let us notice how God INSPIRED the APOSTLES to write His
name in the GREEK New Testament(NT).
To be continued