What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.

22 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I love the possibility in “I will become what I become.” This certainly speaks to our process as humans awakening to the Kingdom/divine within. This is my new area of meditation as of late…that God is not “out there,” but rather “in here.”

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  3. I would like to know where you get the idea that YHWH is not pronounceable? Do you find a reference to this in scripture or is it a tradition of men that you follow? If it is by tradition I send you to Jeremiah 10:1-9, Micah 6:16, Mark 7:1-23, and Colossians 2:8.

    I’ve search highed and low and I can find nowhere in the Bible to support your claim the creator’s name of YHWH is unpronounceable.

    Please provide more detail.

    Thank You.

    Found you through zemanta, linking you to my blog entry at http://bowie-tx.com/strange-compote/

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    • Big Al. Thank you for dropping in. First a minor correction. The Name is not YHWH, it’s YHVH. The 3 letters used are a yod, he, and vav. With the he being repeated. For thousands of years, even to this day when this name is read in the Torah or prayed Adonai is used. When reading the rest of the Jewish scriptures, the Talmud, Mishna, Zohar, and general scholarly discussion – Hashem is used. Hashem means “the name”.

      This isn’t something I pulled out of the air, it’s been a belief longer than most of the scriptures have even existed.

      I will do a post on the Tetragammaton in the future though.

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  6. When you love somebody intense, the name of that person is very important. Those who love God shall find it important to know Him better and to be able to speak with Him and about Him using His name. They also shall take care not to mix His name with the name of one of His other sons. We are namely sons and daughters of God, but the Nazarene man born in 4bCE in the root of David was a more special son. It is in his name that we can ask the Father many things.
    The Elohim Hashem Jehovah was the spirit Jeshua (Jesus) wanted to follow and to keep to His Laws. Those following Christ Jesus should take up the task Jesus gave to his disciples to let the world to know the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to make the Name of his Father to be know n all over the world.

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  7. Throughout Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus elohim is used most often as a proper name. After Exod. 3 the name begins to occur with increasing frequency as an appellative, that is, “the God of,” or “your God.” This function is by far the most frequent mode of reference to God in the book of Deuteronomy. When used in this fashion the name denotes God as the supreme deity of a person or people. Thus, in the frequent expression, “Yahweh your God,” Yahweh functions as a proper name, while “God” functions as the denominative of deity.

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  11. Why would it be incorrect to use Yahweh and Jehovah. יהוה {Jehovah} is normally read Jaihowah (Jehowah or Jehovvah) so why should English people not use Jehovah, though they often say “dzeehovah” like they also say dzeezus (Jesus) instead of Jeshua. The Name of God is too important not to have it said like it was and is in the original language. Normally Names would not have to be translated.
    Would you prefer that we would call you נלסון רוז or “Boat-captain Flower”? I would not think so, so why translate Nelson or Jehovah into something else like Lord?

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    • This post detailed the Name using Jewish tradition. To the Jews the Name was not to be uttered and since what Christianity calls the “Old Testament” is really their Scripture, I tend to study it using their lens.

      How one chooses to call upon the Almighty is really up to them in my opinion.

      Thank you very much for expressing your views. I am humbled and appreciative that you use some of my posts as reference text for your blog.

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  12. Elohim or Él is a title, meaning the Most High or the Almighty, so than it would be better to say Almighty instead of Lord. Lord also is a title and not a name and we do know that in the United States fathers where called “Sir” (I remember from my childhood), but would you not prefer your children to speak to you with your own name?

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