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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

God's Names in the Old Testament

Question: What are the three primary names of God from the Old Testament?

Answer: Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim

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Yahweh

Yahweh and Jehovah are two different English transcriptions of the non-vocalized Tetragammaton -- the four consonants standing for the ancient Hebrew name for God. Both Jews and Christians accept the name Yahweh as being God's Hebrew name, as it was preserved in the original consonantal Hebrew text.

The original Hebrew text was not vocalized, as YHWH was considered too sacred to pronounce. Instead, the name Adonai (my Lord) was substituted in reading. By the time a vowel system was invented, the Hebrews had forgotten how to pronounce YHWH, and so they substituted the vowels for Adonai, resulting in the name "Jehovah." This is the sixteenth century form of YHWH with “a,” “o” and “a” (the vowels from Adonai, “my Lord”) inserted between each consonant -- Latinizing the word, changing the “Y” and “W” to “J” and “V.”

Most modern scholars agree with the editors of Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901-1906 that when the added vowel points to the consonantal Hebrew text, they had not placed the correct vowel points of God's name above and below the consonants of YHWH. Instead modern scholars believe that the Masoretes had placed a modified version of the vowel points of Adonai above and below the consonants of YHWH to indicate to the Jewish reader that he was to substitute Adonai for the proper name in reading the Scriptures.

Thus, "Yahweh" is believed by many modern scholars to be the likely original pronunciation.

God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation. (Exodus 3:15 [CSB] Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Adonai

The name Adonai, translated "Lord" (only the "L" capitalized), occurs approximately 300 times in the Old Testament. No other name applied to is more definite and more easily understood than this.

It is almost always used in the plural possessive form meaning "My Lords." Many Christian scholars believe that this represents Old Testament evidence for the Trinity, as also found in the name "Elohim" -- though there is much debate on this point.

In Hebrew, 'adon' means one possessed of absolute control. It denotes a master, as of slaves (Gen. 24:14, 27), or a ruler of his subjects (Gen. 45:8), or a husband, as lord of his wife (Gen.18:12). This same word is used of men approximately 215 times in the Old Testament and is predominantly translated as "master." When used of men, it is always used in the singular form.

The true meaning of this name in the Hebrew language indicates "mastership" or "ownership". From this, we can clearly see God's outright ownership of all things in Heaven and Earth. This also clearly defines our role as servants to our Adonai.

The LORD (Yahweh) said unto my Lord (Adonai), sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Ps. 110:1 KJV – definitions added)

Elohim

The most frequent Hebrew word for God after Yahweh, Elohim is used more than 2,500 times in the Old Testament. The origin of Elohim is prehistoric, and therefore unknown. This has caused many divergent uses of the word to appear in various cultures and religions. Several theories of the origin of the word have been suggested, including the connection to the Hebrew word "el" or "eloah."

Elohim is the earliest name of God in the Old Testament and persists along with other names until the latest period. Elohim is the third word in the Hebrew text of Genesis and occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible.

The most likely roots for the name Elohim mean either "be strong" or "be in front," denoting the power and preeminence of God.

Jesus uses a form of the name from the cross.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" (Matthew 27:46).

In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1 NASB – definition added).

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