Sunday, January 31, 2021

Christian Trivia Question #23 - Name Game

Let's stick with names for this post.  And it's another freeby - no question, just a little info on a few names we have used to refer to God and how they originated.  

Ever wonder about the different names for God used by Jews and Christians?  God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Adonai, “THE LORD”.  Probably not, but I did since I think word origins are interesting. 

Even the English word “God” must come from somewhere.  This is what I found.


Since English is a relatively new language, many of our words are derived from more ancient languages.  This is true for the word we use to describe the Creator – “GOD”.  In English, God is a transcription of the word in other languages:

Anglo-Saxon (or Middle Ages English): God

German - Gott

Persian - khoda

Hindu – khooda

 "Yahweh":  (written in Hebrew:  YHWH)

This is the most common word for God used in the Bible.

After God commissioned Moses to speak to the Pharaoh in order to set his people free, Moses asked God for his Name and God replies with the phrase:

         אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, (’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh.)

God said, ‘I AM Who I AM. You must tell them: The One Who is called I AM has sent me to you.’ (Exodus 3:14)

Because the Hebrew writing system did not originally include vowels, the name is written in the Hebrew Bible using only four consonants: יהוה (YHWH) - pronounced Yahweh. YHWH is referred to as the tetragrammaton—a Greek term meaning “the four letters.”

[Glad I wasn't born in Israel because those Hebrew characters look really confusing.] 


The issue is complicated by the fact that, in the centuries just before Christ, pious Jews were reluctant to even pronounce the divine name of God.   The Ten Commandments warn: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod. 20:7; cf. Deut. 5:11). Many Jews decided that, to avoid the possibility of misusing the divine name, they would not even speak it at all.

Jews began to substitute other words for it, such as Adonai—a Hebrew term meaning “my lord.”  When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC (called the Septuagint), they often used the Greek word Kurios (“Lord”) where YHWH appeared in Hebrew. This pious custom passed over into Christian circles, and when the authors of the New Testament quote from the Old Testament, they generally use Kurios where the Hebrew has YHWH.

"Jehovah" (or, I’d like to buy a vowel)

When the Hebrew writing system began to include vowels (written as small marks or “points” above, below, or inside the consonants), the scribes had to decide whether to use the vowel points for Yahweh.

It was decided they wouldn’t. Instead, they wrote the consonants YHWH using the vowel points for Adonai as a reminder to say “Adonai” instead of “Yahweh.” This custom of writing the consonants of one word with the vowels of another is where we get the English and Latin word “Jehovah.”

In Latin, “YHWH” had become “JHWH,” and when combined with the vowels of Adonai—a, o, and a—it became “JaHoWaH”. Around the 13th century, Christian writers began writing “Jehovah” whenever YHWH appeared.

[It is ironic to note that the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to represent the “true, original version of Christianity” and accuse far older traditional Christianity of distorting the name of God by using “THE LORD” rather than “Jehovah” in their Bibles.  (They claim, among other falsehoods, that only “Jehovah” should be used to refer to God.)  However, they have chosen the very word (Jehovah) in their sect’s name that is a later derivation created long after the Israelites and original Christians used the original divine name: YHWH and Kurios.]

[The hit song Kyrie Eleison by Mr. Mister – 1985 - is Latin for “Lord have mercy”]


  1. Interesting! I find it clever that the Jews decided to make up a new word for Yahweh to just completely avoid accidentally saying the Lord's name in vain. I never knew that.