Is there only one sacred name for God, as some believe? Many supporters of this view have been influenced by what is known as the “Sacred Name Movement.”
Moses asked God an interesting question during the famous burning-bush encounter. “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).
God said that His name is “I AM,” which probably puzzled Moses initially (Exodus 3:14). This name expresses God’s eternal existence. He wasn’t created by anyone or anything—He’s the “Self-Existent One,” as this name has been properly understood.
Then verse 15 provides the name that the Israelites would use for God, “YHWH” (this is one commonly accepted English transliteration of the four Hebrew consonants). This name is often pronounced “Yahweh,” though, since its vowels are not known, its pronunciation is unknown. God highlighted this name by saying, “This is My name forever.”
These four Hebrew letters are known by scholars as the tetragrammaton—from the Greek “tetra” (four) and “grammaton” (letters). The New King James Version translates this proper name with capital letters, “LORD” and “GOD,” in the Old Testament.
The Sacred Name Movement
The Sacred Name Movement is commonly traced to the early 1930s and the Assembly of Yahweh church organization. Adherents also claim that the only sacred name for Jesus is “Yeshua,” which is how some transliterate Jesus’ name from the Hebrew language of the Old Testament.
The use of such Hebrew names was popularized in the late 1930s by Clarence Orvil Dodd, formerly of the Church of God (Seventh Day).
The desire to be faithful in honoring the name of God is good and admirable. Scripture indicates, however, that the way we honor—or defile—God’s name is through our attitude and conduct rather than through simply calling God by His Hebrew name (or by a particular one of His Hebrew names—He had many that He used in the Old Testament). Consider, for example, that the Israelites who sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech are described as profaning the name of God by their sinful conduct (Leviticus 20:1-3).
What does the Bible say?
The Church of God, a Worldwide Association, which sponsors this website, believes a careful study of the biblical teaching on this subject does not show that there is only one “correct” name for God the Father and Jesus Christ. Below are eight biblical reasons for our position on this subject.
- “Our Father in heaven.” With these opening words of His model prayer (often called the Lord’s Prayer), Jesus Christ provided a perfectly acceptable way to address God (Matthew 6:9). The Greek for “Father” here is Pater, not YHWH. Christ also said, “Hallowed be Your name,” without ever explicitly using the name YHWH here. Therefore addressing God as YHWH in our prayers is not required.
- “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These are the only names that Christ commanded His disciples to baptize members into (Matthew 28:19). Again, Jesus did not use the name “YHWH” for God. Neither does the Bible require the use of YHWH upon one’s conversion.
- New Testament omission. As the gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire, it was preached in cities where the primary language was Greek. Therefore, the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word for “Lord,” Kurios, is used instead of the Hebrew YHWH. For example, Matthew 22:44 says, “The LORD [Kurios] said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand.” This quote is from Psalm 110:1, where YHWH is used for “LORD” in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet God did not require the use of the name YHWH in the New Testament text.
- Confusion over God’s name. Since the vowels are not known, is it “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” or “Yehovah” or something else? There’s disagreement among many sacred name groups. If this was important to God, wouldn’t He have made it clear? “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
- Christ is the Rock. In 1 Corinthians 10:3, the apostle Paul referred to “that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” Jesus Christ referred to Himself as “I AM” (John 8:58). These verses support the preexistence of Christ as the I AM and the Rock and link Him to this special name YHWH in the Old Testament.
John 1:18 sheds more light on this subject, “No one has seen God [the Father] at any time” (see also 1 John 4:12). But Moses saw God many times, for example, Exodus 33:18-23. This was the preexisting Jesus Christ, the Rock, who therefore shares this name with the Father (Psalm 110:1). The name YHWH is not reserved for God the Father, exclusively.
- YHWH doesn’t mean “I AM.” Many believe that YHWH is the same as the name “I AM” in Exodus 3:14—but is this true? Actually, the name in verse 14 is spelled EHYEH (NJKV Hebrew-English Reverse Interlinear Bible). Different Hebrew sources give variant spellings. Then, the next verse uses YHWH for “LORD” (verse 15). This is explained in the New English Translation, which notes that when God said His name in verse 14, “he used this form saying, ‘I am.’ When his people refer to him as Yahweh … they say ‘he is.’”
- “By My name LORD [YHWH] I was not known to them.” In Exodus 6:3, God said that He was previously known by the name “God Almighty” (El Shaddai). This is another name reserved for God.
Since God said this, why do we find earlier uses of YHWH in the text of the Bible? For example, Moses used “YHWH” in earlier chapters of Exodus, before God had revealed this name to him (Exodus 3:4, 7). Such revisions of name are known as “redaction.” These edits were written by Moses, who is credited as being the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. He was writing of many events long after the events had taken place, and as a result he used current terms that were not known at the time of the original events.
For example, a land is named after Noah’s grandson, “Cush,” though Adam was the only human alive in Genesis 2:13. In a similar way, Moses was inspired to use the name YHWH in some of the earlier accounts even though knowing the name YHWH was clearly not required for those at that time.
- New Testament manuscript language. Were the New Testament manuscripts originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew before a conspiracy led to all those manuscripts being discarded for the Greek? This is commonly taught by adherents of the sacred name belief.
To the contrary, however, the evidence points to men from an Aramaic/Hebrew background writing in Greek. The New Bible Dictionary says, “Mark is written in the Greek of the common man. … Matthew and Luke each utilize the Marcan text, but each … prunes his style. … John’s Greek … appears to be …written by one whose native thought and speech were Aramaic. …
“Paul writes a forceful Greek. … James and 1 Peter both show close acquaintance with classical style. … Jude and 2 Peter both display a highly tortuous and involved Greek. … So NT Greek, while showing a markedly Semitic cast in places, remains in grammar, syntax and even style essentially Greek” (third edition, “Language of the New Testament,” emphasis added throughout).
The New Testament was written in Greek, with Greek names for God.
The above points illustrate some of the reasons we do not restrict the names for God the Father and Jesus Christ to Hebrew names such as Yahweh and Yeshua, respectively.
Other names for God
The Bible also uses other names for God the Father and Jesus Christ, such as:
- “The LORD, whose name is Jealous” (Exodus 34:14).
- “The LORD, whose name is the God [Elohim] of hosts” (Amos 5:27).
- “The Man whose name is the BRANCH” (Zechariah 6:12).
These are identified as names, not just titles.
Revelation 19:13 says, “His name [onoma] is called The Word of God.” Also, verse 16 says, “And He has … on His thigh a name [onoma] written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD [Kurios] OF LORDS.” Notice that John didn’t write the Hebrew name for Jesus, “Yeshua,” in the last book of the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16), including the Greek words for God’s name.
Glorify God’s name
John 17:6 says, “I have manifested Your name [onoma] to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. … They have kept Your word.” Of course, it’s good to audibly praise God’s name. We can also glorify God’s “name,” i.e. what He represents, through our behavior. We should concentrate on living a godly lifestyle, which doesn’t require the use of a particular name.
Interestingly, YHWH is absent from three Old Testament books—Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. However, these books still glorify God’s name, reflected through the godly character in these books.
For more background information on the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, see our “Who We Are” page.
For more on the names of God, read the article “Names of God.”