Does the Holy Name Mean “The Eternal”?

The claim has been made that when God answered Moses pertaining to His name in Exodus 3:13,14, that God, by answering “I AM THAT I AM”, asserted his own eternity and removes Himself from having any designated name. The claim seems to be stating that Jehovah has no designated “name,” as does his Son (Jesus, Joshua, Yahshua, Yeshua), or any name similar to men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, such a statement does not fit the Old Testament as a whole, since the Bible does indeed many times speak of the Holy Name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and gives the designation of that name.

See:
The Holy Name

Even in Exodus 3:15, we read:

God said moreover to Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘Jehovah, 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 this is my memorial to all generations.”

Thus, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does indeed declare Himself to have a name, and proclaims that name to be His name forever.

Getting back to God’s answer to Moses, what does “I AM” mean? If one looks up the Hebrew word attributed here in Strong’s Concordance, we find that it is Hebrew #1961; Strong transliterates this as “Hayah”. This word is the infinitive, meaning, “to be”. This is could be deceptive, however, since Strong gives the infinitive of the verb, not the actual verb as it is used in Exodus 3:14. The expression “I AM” in the Hebrew form is the first person singular conjugation of the infinitive, HAYAH, and is usually transliterated as EHYEH. “I AM THAT I AM” is, therefore, often transliterated as EHYEH ASHER EHYEH. In other words we cannot plug the infinitive (HAYAH – to be) into Exodus 3:14 for the would mean “To be that to be”, which would not express the original thought.

According to Strong, hayah (Strong’s #1961, this word means “to exist,” but he adds, “i.e., be or become, come to pass (always emphatic, and not a mere copula or auxiliary).” The claim, therefore, is that Jehovah was speaking about His existence when he stated these words. From this comes the related claim that the EYHEH means “ETERNAL”, although, in reality, simply stating one’s existence does mean that the person exists eternally. Thus, the idea of eternal existence has to actually be added to what God proclaimed of Himself in Exodus 3:14.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was indeed proclaiming his name to be EHYEH ‘ASHER EHYEH, or, to use the short form, EHYEH. This is said to be a substantive verb form, from which it is evidently concluded that one can “translate” the verb as a noun. Many Hebrew “names” use substantive verbal forms, so the holy name of God is not unique in this sense. Some, however, would seem to single out EHYEH in Exodus 3:14, as though this were something unusal only in that name, so as to make it appear to be that this usage means that we should render the Holy Name in English as a descriptive noun, in this case “The Eternal”. However, Hebrew names that use substantive verbal forms are not usually given a nounal interpretation or translation, nor are they usually rendered into another language with such an interpretive noun. The verbal substantive simply means that the verb itself is used as though it were a noun. In other words, although the word itself is a verb, it is used as a noun. However, the verbal names are usually NOT changed into a noun that are thought to be an interpretation of the substantive verb, and we have no reason to make such an exception in the case of God’s Holy Name as revealed in Exodus 3:14,15.

Nevertheless, the claim is made that “Jehovah” is a clumsy “translation” of the Hebrew verb used, evidently meaning Exodus 3:15. In Exodus 3:15, we do find the third person singular form of the verb, HAYAH. Again, it would be inappropriate to attribute the infinitive to the word that God declares to be His Name in Exodus 3:15, since it is not an infinitive; it is in the third person, singular, meaning “HE IS”. “Jehovah” is an English transliteration of that verb form from the Masoretic text. As such, Jehovah would take on the meaning of the original Hebrew, “HE IS”. If, however, “JEHOVAH” is a clumsy “translation” of the name in Exodus 3:15, then we would have to conclude the same thing is true of practically every name in the Bible that has been rendered into English, including the names Elijah, Joshua, Jesus, etc. “Jehovah” is indirectly based on the Masoretic text, wherein the Masoretes have given vowel points which gives the holy name an approximate pronunciation of “Yehowah,” using one form of English transliteration. Using any such English pronunciations, however, as related to either the Hebrew or Greek does not mean, however, that we are expressing the original Hebrew or Greek pronunciations, since we do not know if the phonemes we are giving to the English characters actually match that of the Hebrew phonemes. This is true of all the Hebrew words (not just the Holy Name). In Jesus’ day, the Hebrew had no vowel points, but Hebrew, or at least the Aramaic, was still being used. Shortly after A.D. 70, Hebrew became a dead language.

It was not until several centuries after Christ that Jewish scribes began to assign vowel points to Hebrew words. In other words, they were dealing with a dead language when they added the vowel points. Some claim that the Masoretes deliberately put vowels points that would cause one to mispronounce the holy name, but, as yet, we have not seen any conclusive evidence that this is true. Of course, even the Masoretes may have had difficulty assigning vowel points, since they were dealing with what had become a dead language at the time they assigned those vowel points. Thus, as one Hebrew scholar stated, we cannot be absolutely sure that any of the vowel points actually represent the original pronunciation of any of the Hebrew words. Nor can we be sure that our English phonemes actually match the original sounds, not only of the vowels, but also of the consonants.

Some argue that “Yahweh” actually represents the Hebrew pronunciation. Directly, however, the English form “Yahweh” came into existence as a result of the Greek rendering of the holy name with vowels, such as might be represented with the English vowels: IAOUE or IAUE. It is from this Greek usage that the English “Yahweh” was formed, by taking the Hebrew consonants YOD HE WAW HE and overlaying it with the Greek pronunciation, and then attributing the English transliteration as being “Yahweh”. Regardless, however, we have nothing definite, but we do have probably over a hundred of theoretical guesses based on assumptions, about the true original pronunciation of the Holy Name in Hebrew. In reality, we have no more reason to assume that we need to have the exact same original pronunciation of God’s Holy Name than of the name of his son. The most common renderings in English of the Holy Name are Jehovah and Yahweh. The most common renderings of the name of his son into English are Jesus and Joshua. We should not view these renderings as different “names,” however, but simply as variations of the same one “name.” As being English renderings, respectively, they are all correct English pronunciations.

The claim, however, is that the word should always be rendered as in fact Dr. Moffat usually renders it, “the Eternal”. This we have to disagree with, since the Bible no where authorizes us to change the holy name to a noun: “The Eternal.” This phrase is actually a man’s nounal interpretation that has been given to the substantive verbal form of the holy name. If we are to do this with God’s name, what about the name of His Son? Should we stop referring to the Son as “Jesus” and start calling him “The Eternal’s Savior,” thereby giving an interpretive nounal meaning to his name? And what about all the other Hebrew names? Let us take the name Isaac, which is a verbal form meaning, “he laughs.” The name is a substantive verbal form, a verbal form that in Hebrew is being used as a nounal appellation. Should we bring that into English as “The Laughter.” Or perhaps we should give it the interpretation: “The Laughing One(?),” rather than the common English form, “Isaac”? Actually, the scriptures do not show that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ever authorized changing his holy name to such a nounal interpretation as “The Eternal.” We do not have Moffat’s translation of the Old Testament, but we would suspect that if he is changing the holy name to “The Eternal,” he has Isaiah 42:8 reading something like: “I am the Eternal, that is my name.” I am not sure how Moffat would fit this nounal interpretation into Exodus 3:14: “The Eternal who The Eternal(?).” If anyone has Moffat’s rendering of Exodus 3:14, we would like to see it. We suppose that he would have the holy name changed in Exodus 3:15 to read something like:

God said moreover to Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘The Eternal, 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 this is my memorial to all generations.”

This would not, as one has claimed, mean that “God asserts His own eternity and in fact removes Himself from association with any question of designating names,” since it would have God as asserting a name designated as “The Eternal.” However, we will emphasize that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never authorized anyone to change his name to a nounal descriptive, such as “The Eternal.” This is man’s doings and man’s interpretations. It assumes first that the verbal form, EHJEH (or EHYEH) and JEHOVAH (or, YAHWEH), are referring to eternal existence, and then it assumes that such eternal existence can be summed up in nounal phrase, “the Eternal.”

We realize that “man” has been debating the meaning of the holy name for centuries. Can we come to a certain understanding of its meaning? We believe that the Bible itself is designed to give us the proper the meaning. Donald E. Gowan, in his book, Theology in Exodus, sums up some, but not all, of the Biblical designs that show the proper meaning of the holy name, although he is hesitant to be definite about its meaning:

Quote from: Theology in Exodus, page 83

4. Should the verb ‘ehyeh be read as present or future tense? (Some even mix them.) The evidence points toward future, although it cannot be conclusive. The first-person singular of the verb “to be” is used in a rather restricted way in the Old Testament. It occurs without waw-consecutive forty-two times (counting the parallels 2 Sam. 7:14 and 1 Chron. 17:13 as one), and in twenty-nine of those God is the subject. All of the latter are future in meaning, and of those with other subjects, only Ruth 2:13, 2 Sam. 15:34, and some difficult and questionable passages in Job (Job 3:16; 10:19; 12:4; 17:6) have anything other than a clearly future sense. With God as the subject, the verb form occurs nine times in the formula “I will be with you” and eleven times in the formula “I will be your God and you will be my people.” This suggests very strongly that the form should be translated, not “I am,” but “I will be.” (11)5. Does the root hayah ever mean “existence” in the Old Testament? (12) Certainly it is used many times simply to indicate that some “is’ (e.g., “an the earth was a formless void,” (Gen. 1:2), but existence as over against nonexistence is not a subject Old Testament writers discuss, except perhaps in Second Isaiah: “I am Jehovah, and there is no other; besides me there is no god” (Isa. 45:5). But if the writer of Exodus wanted to tell his readers that God said to Moses he is the only God who exists, or (worse yet) that he is “absolute existence” (Maimonides and others), there was a straightforward way to do it — exactly as Second Isaiah did.

Lest any may not get the point here regarding Isaiah 45:5, we need to ask the question, what Hebrew verb form is used in Isaiah 45:5 for the words “am” and “is”? Is it a form of the verb hayah? Many may be surprised when we say that Isaiah used no verb form at all. The words “am” and “is” are supplied by translators. Most editions of the King James Version denote this by putting the words “am” and “there is” in italics, showing that there is actually no written verbs in the Hebrew in this verse. This implies that the usage of ‘EHYEH in Exodus 3:14 is more than just about existence vs. non-existence, eternal or otherwise.

While there is much we disagree with on this site (the author is evidently trinitarian), we will quote some of what the author says about the verbal forms ‘EHYEH and YAHWEH:

Quote from: Scripture Research – Vol. 2 – No. 17

The derivation of JeHoVaH seems to be from a root word meaning “TO BE”, i.e., Havah. This could be translated in either of two tenses. in the Qal, corresponding to a static perfect in which all movement has ceased, it would then mean, HE IS (if spoken by others) or I AM, if spoken by Himself. That is, The Supreme Being, The Self-existent, underived, self-sufficient, absolute BEING. The A.V. reflects this in Ex. 3:14, where God names Himself with the words:”I AM THAT I AM.”

If this be the only concept and proper translation, then the Name would be YEHWE or YEHWEH.

538

If the phrase EHYEH ASHER EHYEH, (I AM THAT I AM), is in the older Hiphil imperfect tense (most able authorities on the Heb. text favor this), then the Name would more nearly approach YAHWE or YAHWEH as a pronunciation. The meaning of this tense is an expansion over the other. From mere self-existence, an apathetic and immobile being in constant repose, distant and unfeeling … to One in constant movement, not only in connection with past revelations of Himself, but in loving living movement, acting in the present circumstances and affording new manifestations of Himself in the future. The whole context of the JeHoVaH passages bear this out. It is JeHoVaH Who has seen the affliction of the people in slavery … it is He Who will lead them forth. He will love them with an everlasting love and judge them when they embrace other gods. He will be gracious to whom He will be gracious — He will be to His people all that they need.

The important fact is that the name has the pre-form-ative ‘yod’. The force of this construction is to give the word a future or indefinite sense. The stress would fall on the active (and future) or continuing manifestation of the Divine Existence. The phrase EHYEH ASHER EHYEH, if rendered in the Hiphil tense would be translated:

“I Shall Be What I Shall Be”

“I Will Become Whatsoever I Please”

“I Will Be What I Will Be”

“I Will Be That I Will Be”

If spoken by others the “I AM” of Ex. 3:14b would be expressed as:

“He Who Brings Into Existence”

“He Who Shall Be (or) Shall Become”

“He Causes To Become”

The author of the above, evidently believing that this speaks of Jesus as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then endeavors to apply this meaning to the “seed of the woman,” in the sense of “the coming one.” In reality, the one promised by Jehovah in Genesis 3:15 is not “Jehovah” Himself who made the promise. Since this sidetracks the topic, however, we will not address this in detail at this time.

The point is that the verb forms ‘EHJEH and JEHOVAH are used in active terms. The “active” sense of these Hebrew verbal forms do not actually mean the expressions as we might interpret them into English in the phrases give above, since these phrases are only an approximation of the active sense of the verbal forms. All of them, we believe, although they try to express the active sense of the verbal forms, and probably express the best as possible in English, still they all probably fall short of the fuller sense as such expressed in the Old Testament times.

The contextual usage of Jehovah gives evidence that Jehovah is used in connection with Jehovahs’s covenants and his promises, and His faithfulness to His promises. Recognizing this, most scholars refer to the holy name as the ‘covenant name of God with Israel.’ Nevertheless, by this, they usually want to limit the Holy Name’s importance only to Israel after the flesh, and that, in the Old Testament only. This, of course, would ignore that the seed of Abraham belongs to the Old Testament covenant with Abraham, which convenant is implied in the reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The covenant with Abaham, however, has much to do with the Christian’s relationship with God. — Galatians 3:16-29.

Therefore, we read:

Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be blameless. I will make my covenant between me and you, … I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you.” — Genesis 17:1,2,7.

Jehovah appeared to [Abraham], and said, … ‘In your seed will all nations of the earth be blessed.” — Genesis 26:2,4.

The covenant with Abraham, Paul tells us, was 430 years before Jehovah gave the Law covenant to Israel. It is this covenant of Jehovah with Abraham that is applied to those who belong to Jesus. — Galatians 3:17-19.

Why is this covenant of Jehovah with Abraham so important to Christians? It is because Christians, by faith, enter into that covenant that Jehovah made with Abraham as the seed of Abraham. Thus the Holy Name should be just as important to Christians as it should be to Israel according to the flesh. (Luke 22:29 — Rotherham; Galatians 3:26,2) Jesus is the blessed one who came in the name of Jehovah. — Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Psalm 118:26; Matthew 21:9; 23:39; Mark 11:9,10; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 12:13.

In reality, since the main covenant involved is regarding “the seed of woman” (Genesis 3:15), as well as “the seed of Abraham,” the promise of Jehovah, the Holy Covenant Name does involve Jehovah’s active interest in fulling the promises to both the Israel of the Old Testament, and Israel of faith in the New Testament.

The point is that God’s Holy Name, Jehovah, means more than just that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is eternal, but rather that HE IS WHO HE IS, or HE WILL BE WHO HE IS. This covers all God’s qualities, His wisdom, love, justice, power, and his faithfulness to His Word. Like His Son, God of Israel cannot deny Himself; what He says will be — His promises are certain. — 2 Timothy 2:13.

It is being claimed that to give God a name, as men and false gods have a name, is to bring Him down to the level of those false gods and make Him one among them.

(1) In fact, “we” do not have to “give” God a name. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has given Himself a name. However, by replacing the holy name with “the Lord,” “God,” “Adonai,” or any other form, even “the Eternal,” what really happens is that man is indeed giving God a different name than He has given Himself.

(2) Scripturally, the name “Jehovah” does indeed distinguish the only true God from all the false gods, images, gods formed by the hands of men.

Exodus 3:15 – God said moreover to Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘Jehovah, 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 this is my memorial to all generations. — Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32.

1 Kings 18:24 – Call you on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Jehovah; and the God who answers by fire, let him be God. All the people answered, It is well spoken.

2 Chronicles 33:22 – He did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, as did Manasseh his father; and Amon sacrificed to all the engraved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them.

Nehemiah 9:5 – Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, [and] Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless Jehovah your God from everlasting to everlasting; and blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

Psalm 105:1 – Give thanks to Jehovah! Call on his name! Make his doings known among the peoples. — Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13.

Ps 138:2,5 – I will bow down toward your holy temple, And give thanks to your Name for your lovingkindness and for your truth; For you have exalted your Name and your Word above all. Yes, they will sing of the ways of Jehovah; For great is Jehovah’s glory.

Isaiah 12:4 – In that day you will say, “Give thanks to Jehovah! Call on his name. Declare his doings among the peoples. Proclaim that his name is exalted!” — John 17:26.

Isaiah 42:8 – I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to engraved images.

Isaiah 48:2 – (for they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel; Jehovah of Hosts is his name):

Jeremiah 3:17 – At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart. — Ephesians 4:17,18.

Jeremiah 8:19 – Behold, the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people from a land that is very far off: isn’t Jehovah in Zion? Isn’t her King in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their engraved images, and with foreign vanities? — 1 Corinthians 10:22.

Jeremiah 16:21 – Therefore, behold, I will cause them to know, this once will I cause them to know my hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is Jehovah.

Ezekiel 30:13 – Thus says the Lord Jehovah: I will also destroy the idols, and I will cause the images to cease from Memphis; and there shall be no more a prince from the land of Egypt: and I will put a fear in the land of Egypt.

Joel 2:32 – It will happen that whoever will call on the name of Jehovah shall be saved; For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, As Jehovah has said, And among the remnant, those whom Jehovah calls. — Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13.

Micah 4:5 – Indeed all the nations may walk in the name of their gods; But we will walk in the name of Jehovah our God forever and ever.

Zephaniah 3:9 – For then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that they may all call on the name of Jehovah, to serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Zechariah 13:9 – I will bring the third part into the fire, And will refine them as silver is refined, And will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will hear them. I will say, ‘It is my people;’ And they will say, ‘Jehovah is my God.'”

It is claimed that the word “name” [SHEM] in Exodus 3:15 is based on the idea of renown or fame, as when we say “he made a name for himself”, and “memorial” — zeker — is rememberance or memory. It is further claimed that “For ever” — Ieolam — extends the name and the memorial, the fame and memory, into the illimitable future, into a continuance without a stipulated or visible ending. In what clearer terms could there be conveyed to mortal man. the realization that all his endeavours to know or visualize or defined God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Heavenly Father, call him what we will, the one simply expression “the Eternal” includes all and sets him for ever apart from the every other object of veneration and every other form of authority that has existed or can arise amongst man.

First we are told that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does not have a name, but now we are told by the same author that the name [that he does not have?] means renown or fame. The Hebrew word “shem” does not, of itself, carry any thought of renown or fame. It can, under certain circumstances, refer to the fame earned which is associated to the appellation itself. We would not say that a certain newscaster made a name for himself and then attribute the term “the Newscaster” as the “name” associated with that fame, which is basically the same kind of thing that one does when one replaces the holy name with a man’s interpretation of that name, such as “the Eternal.” Yes, Yahweh is eternal, but he is much more, and His holy name means more than that. His being eternal does not relate to His keeping of his promises; the term man has replaced for the holy name, that is, “the Eternal,” simply relates to God’s eternal existence, which would imply neither anything good or bad, nor anything active toward the Israelites, so as to offer any hope to the Israelites as related to such a meaning. Thus, by limiting the holy name to the expression, “The Eternal,” one actually subtracts from the full meaning of the holy name.

And please note that the substitution of “the Eternal” for the holy name does not, as claimed, mean that such replacement in fact removes God from association with a name designation. It simply changes the name designation to “the Eternal,” and thus, “the Eternal” becomes the name designation, in the same way that many translators and copyists have changed the holy name to forms of the titles “the Lord,” “God,” etc.

We should also note that those who advocate that the Hebrew YAHWEH should be “translated” as the “the Eternal”, almost always do not refer to the holy name as “the Eternal,” but usually they follow the KJV tradition of using “the Lord” or “God” in references where the holy name is used in the Hebrew. For instance, when they refer to scriptures that use that word, do they they present that word as “The Eternal”, or do they use the KJV change to “the Lord” or “God”? Look at their writings eleswhere to see if they are actually following through with that idea that God’s Holy Name should be “translated” as “the Eternal.” Most often, you will find that they do not actually follow through with this. We believe that this only illustrates how strongly entrenched this change of the Holy Name to “the Lord” has affected so many of us. Many speak of the Holy Name as “the Lord” without giving it a second thought.

And one should realize that this does indeed, in effect, attribute the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having the name of “the LORD”. Such would read Isaiah 42:8 as “I am the Lord; that is my name.” One would be attributing that God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having as His Holy Name, “the Lord”. “The Lord”, however, is NOT God’s Holy Name. That reading is the result of changing God’s Eternal Name to that of “the Lord”, something that has not been authorized by God.

We are trying not to be overly-critical, but since the most important name in the universe is involved — the Holy Name of the only Most High, we believe that we should, as Bible Students, be more careful of how we present that Holy Name. We know that we all have, in times past, presented things we thought and believed at the time to be accurate, only later to find out that we were not as accurate as we thought, and thus we need to go back and adapt our study presentations so that they might be more accurate.

Related:

The Holy Name in the Original Hebrew/Greek

“I am” Statements of Jesus

The Tetragrammaton in Genesis

[Bibles, Bible-Related Books and Other Items]
[Should Christianity Abandon the Doctrine of the Trinity?]

The above was originally published on this site on 06/04/2010; it was updated and republished 01/14/2015.

         
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