Why is LORD sometimes replaced with YHWH or Yahweh by people? Why is everybody suddenly replacing God’s name?
By Tim McHyde
If you're a Christian who's done some studying on the Internet, then you may have been puzzled from seeing a new name used in Bible verses where "the LORD" normally appears. You may have seen various forms of names starting with Y or J including:
I still remember my first reaction upon seeing this years ago in a commentary. It was explained that using one of these forms was an attempt to transliterate the original personal four-letter name of God revealed in the Hebrew Old Testament, also known as the Tetragrammaton (Greek, "word with four letters"). I thought if this was not important enough for the Bible translators to carry forward into English then it was certainly nothing for me to concern myself with. Plus, it did not help that they gave it scholarly sounding label like "Tetragrammaton" which is not a word that slips off the tongue easily. So I missed the significance of it through these biases.
Many years later, I came across it again. This time a friend was explaining to me that they had replaced the name of God in the Bible almost 7000 times. I told him I knew about that tetragrammathingy already, it was no big deal.
However, my friend gave me a new piece of information about the origin of this replacement that caught my attention at last. He revealed that it was the Jews who started this practice centuries ago. They started a doctrine which stated that the name of God was too sacred or holy to be pronounced. By the time of Jesus' arrival in the Second Temple Era, they had even begun to change traditional Hebrew names that contained even part of the name of God (these are called Theophoric names). So Jesus' name became shortened to Yeshua because it started the first three letters of YHWH. How Yeshua became Jesus is a long story but you may be interested to know that Jesus' name and Joshua's name in Hebrew are one and the same: Yehoshua. A great question to ask yourself why are they not transliterated the same?
Now where it gets really interesting is when you find out that this doctrine of Judaism, called the ineffable name, is completely unscriptural. In other words, it's one of the traditions and commandments of men that Jesus condemned. Not only that, he also disobeyed it because the Book of John explicitly quotes him as saying that he had revealed the name of the Father to his disciples. Although the Greek manuscripts we have today do not preserve this name in the text, there are records of the Jews asking each other how to dispose of more primordial versions of the New Testament in Hebrew or Aramaic because they were not allowed (by another invented tradition) to destroy a document with the name of God written on it!
If this practice is wrong, then why have Christians followed suit? I think it's the same reason that I ignored it myself. Number one, it's a tradition which means it's something we're going to likely esteem and not wish to fight without good reason. Number two, I've noticed a tendency among Christians to trust that the Jews have an accurate handle on the Old Testament and that Judaism is in effect a accurate representation of the "religion of the Old Testament." (Since most Christians do not pay much attention to the Old Testament this is understandable.) Nothing could be further from the truth and until you realize this you will not understand many of the difficult words of Jesus when he arguing with the scribes and Pharisees (for example, he did not pick corn on the Sabbath because it was part of the Torah was "done away." See Nehemia Gordon's teachings for more).
But is this a harmless tradition? Should we resist it? Well, let's think about this a minute. God's personal four letter name appears almost 7000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. He certainly was not trying to hide it yet that's exactly what is being done today. The result is that practically nobody knows that God has a name or what is. Or they think that they do know his name and it's "the Lord," which is not a name, it's a title.
It doesn't help you see God as a personal God when all you have is a title. For myself, when I learned his name and begin using it in prayer, God became much more personal and more real to me, like the Father that he is to us. Maybe for this reason and others God says over and over in the Old Testament prophecies of the Millennium, that everyone will know that his name is..."the Lord"?...no, YHWH.
Some groups make knowing his name the all-important central focus. These so-called sacred name groups can't even agree amongst themselves which is the correct transliteration the Tetragrammaton. There's a very good reason for this. The three vowels that go between the four letters and needed to fully transliterate into English are in dispute. It is believed that the vowels recorded as points between the Hebrew letters have been replaced with the vowels from another word: adonai. Therefore people do not trust the Hebrew manuscripts and look to external sources for clues on how to pronounce God's name with the vowels (This is incorrect but you can read the Wikipedia article linked below to understand the issue better. Because of the collaborative nature of Wikipedia it falls down with subjects like this where the truth is not found in the general consesus.)
This is why it's so hard to know and so hard to agree on what is the correct pronunciation (but I did not say impossible). Because of this reality, this issue should not be overemphasized or become a source of strife. If God saw it fit to make sure we could know his name today without any doubt then perhaps we would be accountable to get it right and use it right, just as these sacred name groups insist.
In fact, it can be downright offensive to sacred namers if you use the Lord or Jesus within earshot. While I was composing this article, I received an unkind email from a sacred namer rebuking me over having the name "Jesus" on my website, among other things. They seemed to argue that you cannot be saved if you use Jesus instead of "Yahushua" (which is an impossible transliteration of Jesus' given Hebrew name).
But is God really angry with us if we use the name Jesus or the LORD? Are we denying the truth? Not if there's no way to know for 100% certain what the truth is. Or is God that unfair that he holds us to act on things that are unclear even to scholars? Admittedly there are human fathers who do that, but my impression of God from the scriptures is one of a perfect, loving, and patient Father.
Nevertheless, in its right place, I think seeking to know what God's name is and how to pronounce it is a worthy study which opens up many other areas of understanding of the Bible. If you want some help, I share my research and conclusion on the subject after years of study, trial and error in my book Planet X in Bible Prophecy.
I'll leave you with one clue: if you investigate the assertion yourself that the vowels for adonai are found in the Tetragrammaton you will find it untrue. Beleving this assertion, without checking it out, leads you down the rabbit trail of looking to outside sources for clues on the vowels, and away from the one place where the vowels of God's name are accurately preserved: the many and varied Hebrew manuscripts extant today.
If you liked this article, you will LOVE my book, Know the Future, a comprehensive, literal explanation of end time prophecy read by over 21,000 people since 2005.
It explains more on prophecy than all this site's articles combined and is up-to-date in its 8th edition, in both softcover and ebook. Note: By buying my book you not only bless us both (yourself with understanding and me with support), but you also bless others with the new articles you enable me to write.
Tim McHyde is the founder of EscapeAllTheseThings .com and a blogger on Bible prophecy since 1999. To read more from Tim and not miss a single new article, please sign up for his free newsletter below.
Email this article to a friend
“I've been searching all of my adult life for this kind of wisdom! I have listened to Irvin Baxter for 13 years and the Prophecy Club off and on for the same amount of time. I felt like I only had bits and pieces of the big picture. Then I hit the "wisdom and understanding jackpot" the next night when I typed "Prophecy" into a google search and out of all the sights that were available, I clicked on Tim's site first! It was like God pulled a needle out of a haystack for me in answer to my prayer from the day before!”