When you read the Old Testament, do you see God’s titles—or do you see his name?
I love listening to The Bible Project podcast. But almost every time Tim (one of the co-founders) reads from the Old Testament, he says, “Yahweh” instead of “Lord.”
This difference made me scratch my head. Is it okay to call God Yahweh? Shouldn’t I say “Lord” because it’s written in my Bible?
A Hidden, Holy Name
You can trace the origin of the name “Yahweh” back to Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. We find this episode in Exodus 3:
Then 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?” God 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.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD [literally, 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, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15).
I remember reading this in the intro to a Bible once—whenever the Bible says L-O-R-D in all caps, that’s the divine name “Yahweh.”
The trouble is, I didn’t call God Yahweh. That was an Old Testament thing. A Jewish thing. A thing for Pentecostal Christians who blew shofars.
What I didn’t know is that the change from “Yahweh” to “LORD” isn’t a modern or New Testament move. Instead, it was an intentional choice by Jewish authors to honor the name of God.
Rather than writing “Yahweh,” to honor God’s name, they changed “Yahweh” to “Adonai,” taken from the Hebrew word for “lord.”
I’m used to reading the word “LORD” as a title instead of a name.
This is all great, with one major hitch—because of the English language, I’m used to reading the word “LORD” as a title instead of a name. That may seem insignificant to you, but this barrier prevented me from reading Scripture in a more intimate way.
“In my home, call me Dr. Marvin.”
Titles are important. They help us understand someone’s status or rank. Titles are important in the military to help you understand who you command and who commands you. But titles aren’t names.
I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “What about Bob” where Bob has landed himself at the Marvin’s house for dinner. After flaring up at Bob, Dr. Marvin stands up from the table. Watch the interaction below.
In Dr. Marvin’s office, he told Bob to call him “Leo,” making their relationship appear more personal. But once Bob invaded his life and drove him up a wall, he created distance by asking Bob to call him “Dr. Marvin.”
See the difference? A title shows status, but a name shows intimacy.
This hit home with me as I read Psalm 116 a few nights ago.
“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” (Psalm 116:1). With my wife sitting next to me, I realized: It’s one thing for me to say, “I love my wife” (any married man can say this). It’s another for me to say, “I love Kaylin.”
It’s one thing for me to say, “I love the Lord,” and another to say, “I love Yahweh.”
A title shows status, but a name shows intimacy.
God has a Name
So where does this leave us? It’s not wrong for your Bible to translate “Yahweh” as “LORD”—this comes from an ancient tradition of honoring God’s name as holy.
But we shouldn’t (as I’ve done for so long) read the all-caps “LORD” the same as “Lord.” Both appear in your Bible. One is a title, the other a name.
Maybe this reminder is enough to help you make God’s name more personal. But for me, thinking “Yahweh” when I see “LORD” in my Bible has opened my eyes to the Old Testament in new ways.
God wants you to know more than his status.
He wants you to know his name.
The Bible Project has a great video explaining the name “Yahweh” and the evolution of the name over time. Check it out!