The name of God: noun or verb?

Not a trick question at all. God is given static names, proper nouns, by those who prefer reading Scripture as though it were a precise rendering of events, a veritable “who, what, where, when, and why” of God’s revelation. On the other hand, this is not how God introduces Himself to Moses in Exodus. Exodus 3:

13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

In other words, God tells us that He is called by an action: to be.

In the original Hebrew, this is rendered as the tetragamon yod-hey-vav-hey. This is normally given the English meaning “LORD” (as against “God”, which is rendered elohim in Hebrew). Yod-hey-vav-hey is unpronounceable in Jewish tradition; that is, the vowel marks were never known, and only the high priest was actually allowed to utter the holy name of God. In modern Judaism, the tetragamon is pronounced “adonai,” which actually means “my Lord.” But this is a term that might also reasonably be applied to, say, a (human) lord of the manor. It’s used as a pale substitute for the unpronounceable name of God.

Thanks to German translators, the Name of God was incorrectly rendered “YHWH,” which became the familiar, though even more misleading, “Yahweh,” then, transliterated with further error into English as “Jehovah.” Might as well have called Him Joe.

The point is that God is an action, a state of being and becoming. He is not a “Yahweh,” or “Jehovah,” or anything that we should underestand to have the static properties of a proper noun. To best represent Him to our limited senses, the name of God takes the form of a verb.

God simply is, was, and will be.


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