Why use the name YAHWEH? — Insight #1

YHWH

This series gives an inside view on the structure of By This Name and how it breaks through confusion in our diverse society, bringing clarity to the message of the gospel.

One of the major distinctives of By This Name is the use of a unique name—Yahweh—in reference to God. It is the name by which God identified himself to Moses in Exodus 3:1-15. So, why does By This Name give a special emphasis to using this name?

First, a bit of background. It is important to understand that the Hebrew word Elohim—translated “God” in English—is a generic term that encompasses all gods, including such pagan gods as those found in Egypt (Exodus 12:12) and other nations (Psalm 96:5). Even Satan himself is referred to as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). All of these gods may also be referred to by another generic Hebrew term—Adonai, meaning lord or master.

There are plenty of contemporary illustrations, as well. In India, for example, there are an immense number of gods and goddesses—some say as many as 330 million, though others would say that each is a manifestation of one Ultimate Reality. Some of these gods are also referred to as lords, e.g., Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, etc.

It quickly becomes apparent that the terminology Christians commonly use in referring to God is fraught with potential for serious misunderstanding. Furthermore, many religions adhere to the idea that we all believe in the same deity, though using a different name. To engage in a conversation about “God” with someone who has adopted their own brand of spirituality can quickly lead to confusion and worse—wrong conclusions as to who God is and what he is like.

Even though our society has become increasingly illiterate regarding the Bible, that does not mean people live in a spiritual vacuum. Other “gods” and belief systems fill the spiritual vacuum, each providing their own definitions for eternity, God, sin and salvation.

So, how can we communicate clearly the message of the Bible, a message that is centred in God himself?

When God brought Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt, he gave these descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob an unique name that differentiated the one, true God from all the false gods (Exodus 6:2-3). It was his personal name,Yahweh.

This name appears over 6,000 times in the Old Testament. In our English Bibles, Yahweh is often translated LORD using small capital letters. Many other languages simply render it as Yahweh. In such instances, those reading the Bible are able to immediately recognize this unique name is identifying the Creator God of the Bible.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!” (Isaiah 42:8 NIV)

One of the advantages of using Yahweh is that it doesn’t carry the negative connotations often associated with the generic terms of god, lord or even creator. As God’s personal name, the use of Yahweh clearly distinguishes the biblical deity from all other deities. Once that distinction has been established, then it is much easier to use the terms God, LORD and Creator without the potential risk of confusion.

By This Name was written to address the broad spectrum of spiritualities we find in our world today. It is with that in mind that we rely on “the Name that is above every name” to help distinguish the true God from all other false gods.

“For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.“ (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 ESV)

One last thing: Much more than just a name, Yahweh expresses the intrinsic nature and character of God. It tells us something about the identity of the one true God (Exodus 3:13-15). The “I Am” nature of God indicates that he is the eternal self-existent One. As such, he is ever present with his people. Yahweh can always be counted on to be faithful to what he has promised, delivering those who have a special relationship with him.

By This Name Insight Series

#1: Why use the name Yahweh?
#2: Why focus on Egyptian religion?
#3: Using tables to contrast God’s way and man’s way
#4: Why talk about other “gods”?
#5: How to identify the Promised Deliverer?
#6: Why deal with syncretism when sharing the gospel?
#7: Why talk about prophecy when sharing the gospel?
#8: Why use the concept of a global classroom?

Author: David Cross

Curriculum development manager and staff writer at GoodSeed's International Office.