Getting God’s Name Right

Have you ever wondered how the title “LORD” came to represent the personal name of God, YHWH? Does the question seem strange to you? Strange or not, for a variety of reasons, I suggest we reconsider how English translation have translated YHWH.

To be sure, the traditional choice of rendering “YHWH” as “LORD” or “GOD” has merit. Here are a few of the more important points in favor of the traditional translation:

(1) LORD has historical and theological capital. It’s certainly an ancient option—the equivalent of “lord” or “master” for YHWH was used by LXX (Greek, which was then taken up by the NT) and Latin traditions, and can be found in early Hebrew and Aramaic as well. Some suggest that the early Jewish aversion to pronouncing YHWH was shared by the early Christians, and we should follow their lead.

(2) LORD carries christological implications, with NT authors using the same label in Greek OT texts to identity Jesus with YHWH. During and after my last two interactions with Jehovah’s Witnesses, there was simply no answer for the observation that Joel 2:32 (a YHWH text) is applied to Jesus in Romans 10:9-13.

(3) LORD has cultural value: “The LORD” has become a very common way of addressing God. And LORD avoids offending Jewish friends and some Jewish siblings in Jesus who do not pronounce God’s name.

(4) LORD has royal effect. The term helpfully renders God as Emperor or King.

Not Compelled

For a variety of reasons—more than I can engage here—I’m not compelled by these and other valid, valuable arguments to maintain the traditional approach. Here are a few reasons, in no particular order.

(1) There are limits to our knowledge of the theological motives behind the use of kyrios, mara, and theos for YHWH in early manuscripts. As Jonathan Pennington shows in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, our long-standing assumption that reverential circumlocution stood behind the use of “the kingdom of heaven” instead of “the kingdom of God” needed to be critically examined (then dumped).

Reverential circumlocution certainly seems far more likely to be in play when kyrios and other words are used for Yahweh. But the aversion may have been partial rather than total. Bruce Metzger has suggested that early Jews moved away from pronouncing YHWH in part to avoid the appearance of polytheism. Other scholars such as James Barr and as Emanuel Tov have urged caution in drawing conclusions about theological motives and the degree to which they were held. It’s often overlooked that names using Yah—the shortened form of the shortened form of Yahweh—were widely employed in Jewish names of this era: John and Joanna, for instance.

(2) The christological value of LORD is not lost when we use Yahweh. All that is true of what we call “kyrios Christology” (say, the use of Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:9-13) could just as easily be described as “Yahweh christology.” Moreover, facilitating theological connections is not a widely accepted principle for contemporary translation. Translation is about accurately communicating the meaning of words, phrases, names, and concepts. In any event, LORD is too great a departure from YHWH to set an unalterable standard.

(3) There’s an important counter-objection: We don’t know how YHWH was originally pronounced. To be sure, Yahweh is an approximation that does not exactly represent God’s name; the original vocalization has been altogether lost. But many English stabs at Hebrew words are approximations. We regularly approximate names like Moses, Jesus, Mary, Peter, James, and John, with the English version of these names probably no greater departure than Yahweh is from the original vocalization of YHWH. (To release my red herring: is guesswork in pronunciation more or less problematic than adding “the” to the text on hundreds of occasions in order to facilitate the use of “Lord”?)

(4) Yahweh offers an advantage over LORD, that of consistency in translation choice. English translations lose consistency when the NIV and ESV capitalize God instead of Lord (Lord GOD). The NRSV employs Sovereign LORD, which preserves consistency but comes off as wooden and archaic (I do have a weak spot for the classic “LORD of Lords”).

(5) While LXX usage is important, it is not the only consideration. The NT’s use of Greek translation traditions has not prevented us from using Hebrew to guide our translation of the Old Testament if other (Aramaic, Coptic, Latin, etc) evidence suggests the Hebrew is more precise.

(6) The heart of my concern is simply practical: how do my students hear the text, and which translation best enables the text to register as intended? In my experience, theopolitical and cultural capital have been canceling one another out. Cultural saturation morphs the title “the Lord” into a name (not surprising, since that is what we are translating), which in my experience severely damages its ability to impress theopolitical significance on believers. By their own admission, my students and parishioners seldom associate LORD with kingship or rule. LORD and Lord both register as religious language—mere vague synonyms for God rather than “the Name of God” (YHWH) or “Emperor,” “Master,” or “King.” As a result, even lower-case uses of “Lord” fail to make an imperial impression.

Although I tend to conceive of our culture as literary, we are in reality very oral. In a given week, I read or cite the Bible aloud for others, or hear it read aloud or cited for me, in family devotions, class, Sunday school, liturgy and sermons, office discussions, and casual conversation. And many people now listen to the Bible or Bible teaching in audio formats. Much of the rest of my interaction with the Bible happens inside my head, where I’m “hearing” texts, not “seeing” them on a page.

To cite just a few passages: try reading Daniel 9:3-4, Psalm 110:1, or the opening and closing line of Psalm 8 aloud. (Fair warning: if you’re older than 30 and were raised on Christian music, reading Psalm 8:1 in the NIV or ESV risks the glory of Sandi Patty playing in your head for a good 30 minutes.) There’s no oral distinction between the different Lord/LORDs in these passages. As a result, almost every listener simply hears the equivalent of “God, our God” or “God said to my God.”

By contrast, student after student tells me that they understand the text far better if in a text like Psalm 8:1 they hear, “Oh Yahweh, our Master,” or “Oh Yahweh, our King,” or “Yahweh our Ruler.” (They’re not alone; their teacher is also aided by such approaches.)


Capital letters aren’t getting the job done (although YAHWEH would be fine with me, let us not speak of the difficulty of typing in small caps! Readers can guess what happened to this intricate format when I tried to copy and paste this essay into an email.) LORD is often written without caps in English, and many languages do not have capital letters. In class, where clarity matters (where doesn’t it matter?!), it’s awkward to speak of LORD /Lord without saying “Lord in [sm]all caps” or “LORD in all caps.” So as a matter of course, I have simply resorted to Yahweh.

I wonder if over-familiarity with (and resulting vagueness of) LORD and Lord have helped make Yahweh an increasingly popular option. I’ve heard scores—probably hundreds—of my fellow scholars and scholar-pastors use Yahweh in class, pulpits, and papers delivered at conferences. Christian musicians regularly employ it (Phil Wickham, Chris Tomlin, and “Yahweh” by Cities Apart). Then there’s the U2 hit.

Contemporary usage always affects translation, for better or for worse. It keeps the name James in the Bible (it should be Jacob), and it keeps us translating Jude, Judas, and Judah (when one of those would suffice and maintain consistency). In this case, I think a change could guide us in helpful directions.

I agree with Bruce Waltke’s assessment: “Using a title . . . establishes a less intimate relationship with a person than using his or her name” (OT Theology, 11), and this is particularly true if the name and all sense of a name has been entirely lost. Waltke opts for “I AM” in all-caps, and I like that option.

But knowing and using God’s name is an enormous privilege given to Yahweh’s covenant people. Don’t we lose something if we lose God’s name?

  • Chuck

    Well said, JASON.

  • Joe

    I agree- good stuff. What are your thoughts on Yeshua?

  • Dan

    Jason, I think this is great and helpful on many levels. Drawing the linguistic and theological connections to Yahweh/Jesus. Here’s my thing though: if this was such an important thing to know and say, why didn’t God inspire the NT writers to use the ‘real’ name of our God? Or am I falsely equating (my apologies if I am) you with the ‘tribe of Yahweh-ists’ who say the NT writers didn’t even get it right??

    P.S. – I love the Psalm 8 example – very helpful to myself personally and pastorally. Minus the Sandi Pattie. :)

    Shalom and Grace!

    • Jason B. Hood

      Thanks Dan.

      NT usage is important, and I’m not saying, “They were wrong.” But we’re not obligated to follow every translation decision made by NT authors. In all of our English Bibles, translators don’t always translate OT words or passages as the NT translated or paraphrased them; we rely on OT text critical evidence (of which NT is a small part) and judgments about the best way to render Hebrew/Aramaic in English.

      There may have been good reasons why God led early Jewish and Christian authors to make the moves they made (for instance, christological connections, concerns over polytheism, etc). These concerns might be less necessary, persuasive, or relevant at later points in history or in other cultural contexts.

  • Luke

    On my recent read-through of the OT, I’ve taken to reading LORD as YAHWEH, it has substantially changed the way the text feels. The OT feels more personal than it has in past. We refer to Jesus by his name, because he revealed himself to us in that way. God also revealed himself to Israel using his name, why are we so uncomfortable with that?

  • Anar

    Yahweh can be used in any language.

  • Jacob

    Thank you for your informing article. The original intention of saying Lord over YHWH was for contextualization of Israel’s God to the Babylonians. They began saying YHWH because eastern religions believed they could control gods by using its name. The Jews did not want to be perceived as trying to summon and control their God.

    In the same way, Christians should exercise caution in using God’s name in public worship. They can and should use YHWH in personal prayer and worship. YHWH is the name God has given us to call him. However, let us exercise caution in its public use for contextual reasons. We live in a society with a high Jewish population, whose minds mentally cringe when they hear YHWH spoken aloud. In my opinion, this can inadvertently create an unnecessary barrier to gospel reception. I am not saying we should not use it in public worship, but I think we should carefully consider when and how we use it. Does using YHWH’s name add receptive value to the message of the text? In my view, this question can help us Christians avoid using our God’s name flippantly, incessantly, and insensitively.

  • EscondidoSurfer

    I wonder if the name YHWH—I Am–holds a clue for how and where God exists and if geometry may provide the best analogy. Consider the present as a plane. All that exists—except for YHWH—fills a point on this plane. The sum of these points is the plane. All that God created has its existence on a line—a succession of points, with a beginning, though not necessarily an end. God, however, fully inhabits the entire plane and participates in the present time of everything, whether this is a molecule, a person or a galaxy. The name YHWH reveals this omnipresence. This would also fit nicely with Open Theism, which interestingly is not unbiblical (per the ETS).

    • EscondidoSurfer

      Not being a theologian, I wonder if any Open Theists have written about the way the name YHWH may support their position. Anyone care to speak to that?

    • casey

      YHWH might be literally better translated as ‘He will be’ or ‘He is’.

      I’m not sure it carries the connotations you associate with it, thought it might. Hebrews probably didn’t think abstractly about existence like you are, here. I don’t really see the connection to Open Theism with omnipresence (that the name may or may not imply).

      I guess my point is that if YHWH is to be translated how you think it would have to be modified to 3rd person (not 1st) – no big deal. And IF it means what you think (omnipresence) – which is questionable – I don’t see a connection to Open Theism. So I’m not saying you are wrong, just that there is a good deal of speculation.

  • David Haslam

    Psalm 8:1 in the Book of Common Prayer:

    O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world : thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens!

    Illustrates the same point exemplified in this article.


  • Oshea Davis

    When Yahweh is repeated to Moses twice, depending the translation it reads: I BE, or, I AM: repeated. What does “being” look like when empathized in relation to God, as the Hebrew is doing? It would mean “Infinite Being,” or “Boundless Existence,” (etc.)

    I have been in my mind reading, as I read the text, “Infinite Existence,” or “Infinite Being” so long that as I read LORD or GOD that it is now second nature. It has really helped the text to come to life, nearness and majesty to me by this practice.

    When the NIV translate lowercase “Lord” as “Sovereign” then the phrase really pops out: The Sovereign Infinite Being.

    This is the reason God is a cut above all other Kings and Lords; why He is the Lord of Lords. Jonathan Edwards pointed out that “infinity” is not a separate attribute of God but describing the “degree” of His nature or existence: of His Holiness (Father), knowldge (Son), and Love (Spirit). God’s Ruler-ship is Infinite and so of course He is above all others and a cute above all others. His sovereignty is infinite and so He does “actually” rule over all things. “Lord GOD” and “LORD God” is repeated so much that we learn this point of –the degree of God’s nature– He does not wish for us to easily forget, although this world would like us to.

    It also sets up the grace of Jesus Christ. In the O.T. we learn and see how in fact God does rule over all because He is the Infinite Being. Likewise this sets up the stage that God indeed can forgive sinners in Christ because the Degree of God’s nature is infinite and has used His Son in all His infinite divine nature to die for in suffering–providing infinite righteousness– and rise in abundant life to provide grace for sinners. They really are forgiven, and they really are the children of God!!

  • Robert Alexander

    Actually by PLACING the proper NAME / Title of God in the OT and NT the average individual can CLEARLY SEE more of the true character, actions of Gods Model & Role and vis versa. Much harder is it for most people to see, even with a teacher – the bible’s storyline. Most people get it wrong – because they have NO solid foundation stone to build from. What better foundation to build Gods word from than over those 7000 specific times that Yahweah with INTENTION specificied his Holy NAME – who are we to reason it out? Who are we to ADD or DETRACT from his word for any reason what so ever. No – I believe the Creator Jesus mentioned Yahweah through the scriptures with purpose / Design – why taint Yah’s design? Why have the heart of an antiChrist – why even attempt to sit in God’s seat in your mind/heart – allow him instead to guide your every thought.

  • chris m

    How about Jehovah? Im speaking with a JW right now and the Watchtower translates the Tetragrammaton Jehovah, but isnt it actually YHWH?

  • Jason Seville

    Great article, Jason! I’m all in favor of bringing back YHWH.

    Just to nitpick with those who have said YHWH = “I AM” (Oshea, EscondidoSurfer, Waltke?), is this technically true? In Exodus 3:14, when God reveals himself as “I AM WHO I AM”, the Hebrew word used is ‘ehyeh (the first person form of the “to be” verb). Then, in 3:15, He tells Moses (maybe to clarify?) to tell Israel that “yahweh” sent him. Isn’t this the 3rd person form? So why not go with “HE IS”?

    Again – my Hebrew is a little rusty, so this may be WAY off. Someone please tell me soon, though, because I’m teaching Exodus twice next week and was going to hit on this!!

    At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter; just fun trivia. The point is that God’s name is Yahweh and he is the one who exists and the one who said, “I AM.”

    • Collin Hansen

      For what it’s worth, I was in told in my Hebrew courses in seminary not to equate YHWH with “I AM.”

    • casey

      you are right. éhyeh = I AM (or I WILL BE). yahweh might be translated as HE IS (or HE WILL BE) – if – its true that YHWH represents an older/archaic form of the Hebrew verd ‘to be'(hayah) that replaces the yod with a waw/vav. So the Y would change to a W/V to make this work.

  • Jason Seville

    Chris M,

    Jehovah the vocalization of the consonants of YHWH and the vowels of Adonai. To explain…

    Biblical Hebrew originally had no vowel points, just consonants (which I’m sure you know). But, the Jews didn’t want to actually *read* the name “YHWH” when they came upon it, so they would read “Adonai” instead (‘DNY + the vowels, a/o/a = aDoNaY. They didn’t want to change the text itself, so as a reminder, the Masoretes put the vowel points of Adonai (aDoNaY) under the consonants of YHWH.

    If you do this, you end up with YaHoWaH.

    So, whenever I come across the name Jehovah anywhere (hymns, books, KJV), I let it serve as a reminder that the intended name is Yahweh.

    Again, as my previous comment, rusty Hebrew. Others may be able to fill in some more detail or correct me if I’ve gone astray here.

  • Norm Farnum

    His Sacred Name is for His People: i.e. Christians (as defined in His Word, the Bible).

    Good article — good comments, folks.

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  • John Englehutt

    To me, it just seems like the obviously right thing to do to call God by His revealed Name, Yahweh(even though, I’ll admit, I frequently just use “God” or “the Lord” in my conversations etc). As our God is a totally personal God who has revealed Himself to us in His Covenant Word, it just makes sense that we should refer to Him by using the name that He refers to Himself with–it seems to me that we don’t really have any valid justification for doing otherwise. This was a very good, thought-provoking article.

  • David WL

    The downside with using “Yahweh”: The name primarily belongs to our Jewish brothers. Do they have a veto? Should we consider their convictions or beliefs? I have had at least one Jewish student who went to a Christian (I believe Catholic) service, and was confused, possibly bothered, by the use of “Yahweh”.

    With all due respect, I think the use of “Yahweh” is a scholarly affectation.

    Finally, the Christian God is the God and Father of Jesus Christ; alternatively, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is unhistorical to claim a DIRECT link to “Yahweh”. The tie to the title of God in the Hebrew Scriptures can only be made through analogical reasoning and interpretation.

    • Ted R. Weiland

      YHWH (most often pronounced Yahweh) is the English transliteration of the Tetragrammaton, the principal Hebrew name of the God of the Bible. It is found nearly 7,000 times in the Hebrew Old Testament and should, therefore, also be in our English versions. In Exodus 3:15, Yahweh is depicted as His memorial name. Moreover, multitudes of Scriptures charge us to use, proclaim, swear by, praise, extol, call upon, bless, glorify, and hold fast to His name. We cannot memorialize His name, unless we read it where He inspired it and use it in everyday conversations. Who are you more worried about offending–the Jews or Yahweh?

      For more, see “The Third Commandment” at

    • Chris

      David WL,

      Why would you be concerned about those who are anti Christ ??? Do they not deny that Christ has come in the flesh ?? How many of your Jewish “brothers” have you heard confess Jesus or Yahshua having come in the flesh ?? Many of them spit when they hear His name.

      ” … every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the anti-Christ, of which you heard is coming, and now it is already in the world.” 1 John 4: 3. See also 2 John 1: 7 & 1 John 2: 18.

      Your concerned about their thoughts on the matter ?? Where do your loyalties lie, with Christ or anti Christs ??

      Perhaps you’d look at this differently if you knew more about them.
      You’ll find this book Biblically and historically factual, as well as extremely enlightening: “Who Is Esau – Edom?”, by Charles Weisman – available here:

      • David WL

        Thanks to Messrs. Weiland and Chris for their interaction.

        First on the question of “the name of God” in the Bible. Some historical review, some of which has been covered by Mr. Jason Seville above. The name “Yahweh” IS a scholarly creation. It didn’t exist 500 years ago. The INITIALS YHWH had been preserved, but no one knew how to pronounce them. The Masoretic text (as pointed by Mr. Seville) interpolated the vowels of “Adonai” (=”the Lord”) but Jews knew that the composite name (YaHoWaiH = Jehovah) was not the real name of God, but perhaps (as one Jew suggested to me) his “nickname.”

        The translators of the Authorized Version simply did not recognize the clues (“say this word as ‘Adonai'”), and mistranslated it as “Jehovah”. So to say, we need to use the name of God as it has existed in scripture, is to ignore that that name only exists in a scholarly recreation.

        To this day, observant Jews call “G-d” HASHEM (“the name”). God has a name, but we don’t pronounce it. That is why I think, unless there are some very emphatic reasons on the other side, the Jewish practice of refusing to pronounce the name trumps any scholarly practice, at least in ritual and reading of scripture.

        To Chris:

        Jews are not “anti-Christ”. They don’t believe in any “Christ” figure whatsoever. Yes, they hope in the MESSIAH, but the Jewish expectation of this Messiah is totally different than the Christian understanding of who Jesus Christ is, and how Christ fulfills the expectations of the Jews. Jews did not accept Jesus Christ because he did not fulfill the messianic prophecies AS THEY UNDERSTOOD THEM. It is unfair to attack people for not agreeing with your argument, when they have a completely different understanding of what the argument is.

        Finally, and I am trying to be kind: the Weisman link is anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. No thanks.

  • Ethan David Ellingson

    I love to see those four Hebrew letters. I love His name and try to use it as He would have me.

    For even more on the subject:

  • Aaytch Barton

    Nonsense. We should address the 1st person of the Trinity as Jesus did; “Father”. Just because we know that his name is “I am” doesn’t mean that we should address Him by anything other than his title. Indeed, the whole point of the new covenant is that we are drawn near to God, even as children and brethren of His only Son. As for the title “Lord”, it now refers to the Son, and that is how we should call Him; we are the Son’s inheritance and He is the Lord in our vineyard. Referring to the 3rd person of the Trinity is a bit trickier. He is the Holy Spirit of God, but His title is “Holy Ghost”, and this is how we should call Him if we should address Him directly rather than through the one who sent Him.

    I am actually surprised that anyone thinks, just because our sins are remitted and we are counted as brethren of Christ, that we have permission to call the 1st person in a way other than as Jesus did and still does. He is still the Holy one of Israel whose name we dare not utter and whose visage we dare not gaze upon except in the company of His only Son.

    • Chris

      Aaytch Barton,

      ” … the Holy one of Israel whose name we dare not utter … ” ????? What ? Talk about “Nonsense”.

      How can one call upon His Name if one does not “utter” it ?? Is one to call upon “mum’s the word” ???? Sounds double minded and a double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Is it really necessary to give citation for this as well as numerous others that show your position to be completely un – biblical?

      Are you perhaps one of those of whom the NAS translators referred to as those they were acting in “reverence” to ?

    • Ted R. Weiland

      I guess then you’re going to stop vocalizing Hallelu Yah!?!

      “whose name we dare not utter” is not Bible but antichrist Talmud and by choosing to follow such non-biblical tradition, you are no better than the Pharisees in Matthew 15:6-9.

      • David WL

        Once again, I am trying to be kind: these anti-Jewish attitudes (“antichrist Talmud”) bother me. (I am a committed Christian, a lay leader in a congregation of a conservative Protestant sect.)

        It is triply problematic that Christians want to (1) use the ancient Hebrew name of God [while not “Father” of Jesus Christ? or the Trinitarian name?](2) which the descendants of those ancient Jews say should be NOT be used (3) while claiming that those Jews are “antichrist” people!

        I remind everyone of Romans 9-11, specifically 11:28: “As regards the gospel, [the Jews] are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

        IRREVOCABLE, brothers and sisters.

        • Ethan David Ellingson

          Who cares what modern-day, so-called, self-styled ‘jews’ think? What does the Scripture (original language) SAY!

          “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Yashua is the Anointed? This is the antianointed, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2

          Revelation 2:9; 3:9

          • David WL

            Mr. Ellingson:

            One thing Scripture does NOT say is “Yashua”. Furthermore, your text doesn’t say “the anointed” but “Christ.” τιs εστιν ο ψευστηs ει μη ο αρνουμενοs οτι ιησουs ουκ εστιν ο χριστοs . (the copy/paste doesn’t capture the ending sigma.) We know that by John’s time “Christ” was a title.

            Was this “originally” “Yashua”? No way of knowing. And by your own criteria it’s irrelevant.

            BTW, the John text has nothing to do with the question of whether Jesus fulfilled the messianic expectations of the Jews. It was a criticism of the GNOSTIC claim that Jesus *Christ* had not come as a fully human man.

            “Christ” is not a direct translation of “Messiah”. Jesus questions the traditional equation of the “Messiah” with “Son of David” (Matt. 22: 41- 45; Mark 12: 35- 37; Luke 20:41-44). So even if “Christ” means “Messiah” and “Messiah” means “anointed one,” Jesus gives “Messiah” a different content. (If the Messiah is not the Son of David, then what does it mean to call him the “anointed one”? Originally, the king was “the anointed one” *because* he was assumed to be the “son of David.”)

            Paul says in Romans 1:3 that Jesus was “descended from David according to the flesh”. We know from elsewhere in Paul that “flesh” is a negative or pejorative category: e.g., Roman 8:6-7a, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” Earthly (“fleshly”) concepts of messianic identity do not grasp the supernatural character of Jesus *Christ’s” divine sonship.

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