One of the joys of pastoral ministry is receiving so many wonderful questions from church members through email, Facebook, and of course in person. I have used space on PhilipMeade.com in the past to share some of my responses to various questions. I am going to start a new category called “The Question Vault” where I will keep and archive some of the questions I receive and will share my answer (sometimes modified for publication).
I received this question from a church member after she was visited by a Jehovah’s Witness.
Does God Have a Proper Name? I know there are many names for God but that just seems weird to me.
Yes, we can comfortably say that God has a “proper” name. Do you remember when Moses asked God at the burning bush what his name was? God responded by saying, “I AM who I AM.” (Exodus 3:14). That name in Hebrew is YAHWEH, which over time began to be pronounced as Jehovah (there are a few different theories as to the timing and explanation of the pronunciation, but those aren’t important). In the Old Testament, when you see the name LORD in all caps or small caps, that is the name Jehovah (YAHWEH). When you see the name Lord in lowercase, it is probably the name Adonai which means lord and is sometimes spoken instead of YAHWEH out of reverence to God’s name.
You are absolutely correct to say that God is revealed by many titles which demonstrate his greatness and power, such as El Shaddai and Elohim. In the New Testament, the name God is translated from the Greek word “theos” and the name Lord is translated from the Greek word “kurios” meaning master.
One of the reasons Jehovah Witnesses are so adamant about exclusively using the name Jehovah is because they deny the Trinity and the full deity of Christ. They will say Jesus is “a god” but not THE God. Therefore, by emphasizing the OT proper name for God as Jehovah, they are attempting to demonstrate how the only “true” name of God is written when describing the one God (the Father) and never the Son (Jesus). But that argument fails in several ways that I won’t bore you with. One of the most important reasons why the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus is because Christ had the audacity to refer to himself using the “proper” name of God. Jesus said, “before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)
In summary, you are perfectly correct to just simply call God “God.” But strictly speaking, God’s name that he has revealed to Moses and the prophets is YAHWEH, or Jehovah.