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Is only the Father named “Yahve”?
The significance of the name “Yahwe”
There is a certain religion that believes this detail is of great importance for the salvation of mankind. They are the self-proclaimed “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, who chose this name, because they are supposedly “witnessing” that this name is the “eternal, personal name of God”.
So, let’s examine some of the elements of this topic, which, to some of our fellow-men represents a matter of life or death.
The origin of the name: “Yahwe” – as related to the Hebrew nation and witnessed by the Holy Bible – dates back to the time of the Exodus of the Israeli nation from Egypt. God had personally revealed this name to Moses, as follows:
Moses was staying in Midiam at the time, herding his father-in-law Jothor’s flocks of sheep, when he arrived at Mount Horeb (or Sinai). There, God appeared to Moses, through the now familiar phenomenon of the burning bush, inviting him to take the Israelites out of Egypt.
Fully aware of the difficulty of this mission, Moses expressed his objection, by saying: “Who am I, who can go and tell the Pharaoh that I am to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus, III:11)
God replied, reassuring Moses that He would be with him (Exodus, III:12). Moses then said: “When I go to the Israelites to tell them that I was sent by the God of our Fathers, and they ask me ‘What is His name?’, what should I tell them?” (Exodus, III:13).In reply to this question, God firstly said (according to the Hebrew text): ´´ ´´, which means “I Am He Who Is”. * Then He said: “Say thus to the sons of Israel: “ ‘I Am’ () sent me to you” (Exodus, III:14). And he finished, by saying the following: “Thus say to the sons of Israel: ‘He Who Is’ (written , and correctly pronounced “YAHWE”), the God of our Fathers…. sent me to you. This is my name eternally, and it is for my remembrance, for generations after generations.” (Exodus, III:15).
In Exodus VI:3, God Himself witnesses that His name, “He Who Is” (YAHWE in Hebrew), was unknown to the patriarchs. But in his writings, Moses uses it, for narrations of past eras, obviously because it was familiar during his time.
2. The significance of the name “Yahwe”
Now, why would God choose such a strange name? What could He have wanted to stress, when He told Moses: “Thus say …………‘He Who Is’ (Yahwe)…. sent me to you.” (Exodus, III:15). Why would God choose to be represented by the verb “to be” as an eternal name?
In order to reply to these questions, it would be useful to take a look at the conditions under which the revelation of this name was given to Moses.
According to verse (Exodus, III:15), when Moses received God’s instruction to bring Israel out of Egypt, he was overwhelmed at just how insignificant he was, hence his asking God: “Who am I….?”
With this question, Moses expresses a realization of his insignificance, as well as his inadequacy to undertake such an immense task.
Moses then asks God – in verse 13 – “What is His name”. The reason for this question was that in Egypt there were many gods who were being worshipped, and obviously most people would be wondering who of all the gods would be interested in Israel. Thus, God’s reply was one, yet it covered both of Moses’ questions:We have seen in verse III:14, that God’s reply was: “I Am He Who Is” (In Hebrew: ´´ ´´).
With these words, God counterpoised His very own “I Am” opposite Moses, who declared that he was nothing. It was as if God were saying to Moses: “You may be negligible, but I, I AM something. I am something, whose being corresponds to my nature and it becomes my name. Go and tell the people, that ‘I Am’ sent me.”
God is the fulfillment of existence and of power. Furthermore, with these words, God replies to the other question, which touched on polytheism. Moses asked: “What is your name?” and God counterpoised the name “I Am” to this question, in the sense that ‘I Am” the only, true, existing God. It is as though He was saying: “People ask for my name, because they think that there are other gods in existence, amongst whom they will be able to discern me because I might have a different name from the others. But: I Am He WHO IS, whereas other gods ARE NOT.
So, instead of giving the people another name, tell them “I AM” sent me. To every other god, the name “I AM NOT” is more appropriate.”
Indeed, in Deuteronomy (XXXII:39), this concept regarding the name is clearly apparent: “Behold, that I, I Am, and there is no other god except for Me” (In Hebrew: “I, I He”. The “Am” is inferred beyond any doubt.) The reader can see the same thing in Isaiah (XLII:9-13) and other related tracts.
The “Yahwe” therefore, which signifies “to be”, suggests that this God is the One Who Is (who Exists); He is the one who has existence, who has “being” inside His very nature, so much so, that it identifies with His very name. It is He who “Exists” before everything, and who gave existence to everything else that may be characterized as “not existing by its own accord”. In this sense, “Yahwe” is also synonymous to the familiar phrase of God’s oath: “As I live” (Numbers XIV:21), (Deuteronomy XXXII).
Being the “One Who Is” (exists), God is declaring that He is eternally and never-ending. (The “One Who Is” implies a continuous tense, and it signifies He actually Is; or, as stipulated in Demetrakos’ dictionary, “the eternally existent God”) (Exodus III:14). “The One Who Is” is the word used by the Church of the Lord in Greek, in order to deliver the Hebrew word “Yahwe”.
One can see it inscribed on Holy Icons of the Lord (Ï ÙÍ on the halo), in the sacred texts of the Holy Scriptures and the hymnology of the Church. Furthermore, there is a connection between this word and the word “essence”, which played such an important role in the Ecumenical Councils.
Note on ‘Essence’ (=Greek: ïõóßá, derived from ùí (m.), ïýóá (f.), ïí (n.): being )
Similarly, Latin: essere (=to be), French être: (=to be), English: is (= to be)
“Essence” signifies “existence”.
We shall now refer to certain definitions of the word “essence” (ïõóßá) by the ancient Christians:
“Essence is an existent thing” (Leontios of Byzantium, PG 1277D)
“Essence is the variation of the unsubstantial….. we call the non-existent ‘essence’”. “Essence” implies that something exists”. “It is the actually existent”. (Gregory of Nyssa)
“Essence…. is….. the BEING of God” (Basil of Caesaria)
Saint Athanasios wrote that when “essence” is related to God, it means “He is the one who Is” (Yahwe).
According to Gregory the Theologian: “The names: ‘the One Who Is’ and ‘God’ are the names that refer to ‘essence’” (as regards the use of the word ‘essence’ for God).
(The reader can find more information on this topic, in the book “Jesus-Yahwe” by theologian Nikolaos Sotiropoulos).
3. The use of the name ´´Yahwe´´
Due to an excess of piety by the Israelis and a misinterpretation of Leviticus 24/XXIV 16 (which forbade the blaspheming and not the pronunciation of God’s name ), they avoided saying the name “Yahwe”. Thus, with time, the correct pronunciation of the name was forgotten, as the Israeli language did not have any vowels, and only the consonants of words were written down.
After the 6th century, the Masorites (Judean scholars of that era) introduced their own vowels into Hebrew words. Thus, because they didn’t know what the correct pronunciation of the word “Yahwe” was, they arbitrarily added vowels to the Tetragrammaton (four-letter) ´´YHWH´´, which they had taken from the words “Adonai” (Master) and “Elohim” (God).
This is how the Tetragrammaton “YHWH” eventually became: “Jehovah”.
Even though today’s self-proclaimed “Jehovah’s Witnesses” are aware that the pronunciation they are using for God’s name is incorrect, they insist on using it, because “this is how they have become accustomed to it”.
In response to the Christian observation that this, incorrect use of the name “Yahwe” is irresponsible and perhaps even blasphemous, they reply: “So is Jesus’ name in Hebrew not pronounced “Jesus” but “Joshua”, and despite this fact, we refer to it in Greek as “Iesus”. In the same sense, therefore, it would not be wrong to use the mistaken pronunciation of “Jehovah”, since that is how it is prevalent.”
To this reply, we shall respond with the following:
The name “Iesus” is used in this form by the very Scriptures themselves, consequently, we too can use it. However, the name “Jehovah” is NOT used in this form, so, consequently, we do not have the right to use it arbitrarily. Even more so, because today, we are acquainted with the correct pronunciation of the name, which is: “Yahwe”. Acting as always with prudence and respect, the Church of our Lord uses the forms of address that the Apostles use in the New Testament. They never used the name “Jehovah” in the New Testament; nor even the name “Yahwe”. They only used it in the Greek sense, as “He Who Is” (Ï ÙÍ), or, they used words that the translators of the Septuagint translation used, such as: “Lord” or “God”. In this way, they delivered the meaning of the word, which was exactly what God Himself wanted, when He chose the strange name: “He Who Is”. Because God did not choose a name with an unfamiliar significance, which would be mispronounced; instead, He chose a word with an absolutely clear content that would bear the elements of His personality – and especially of His very “Being”.Let’s therefore use God’s name with its true meaning, in order to honour the One Who “Is” eternally: the only God.
* The word: that we encounter three times in this excerpt, is a verbid form of (in older times it was ), which signified: ´´is´´, with a conjunctive but also an existential inference.In the Hebrew phrase, the first: (I Am), is conjunctive, and it has as its predicate the remaining phrase, while the second is existential and is used in an absolute sense. Also existential in the phrase is: ´´ sent me´´. The that elsewhere has a future inference, here, it refers to the present tense, as indicated in the Septuagint translation. The exact rendition in the present tense, is: ´´I AM´´.
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 23-7-2005.
Last update: 4-8-2005.