Q&A: The Meaning of Yahweh

The Meaning of Yahweh

What does the word Yahweh mean?

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Answer

God insists that his name is Yahweh. We're not just talking about God's kingship here, as important as that is. We're talking about his name. God is giving his name to his people. Yet the name Yahweh has been fraught with problems historically, things we can't begin to get into simply because of time. But the biggest one is it looks that the name Yahweh appears to be a play off the verb "to be," havah. And because of that it's been common for two millennia to take the name as meaning something like "I am; I exist." Thomas Aquinas in his Summa took the name Yahweh as a statement of being. God is saying to Moses and through Moses to the Israelites, "I am the God who exists over against the gods who do not exist." The problem with that is, one, it comes from a kind of "philosophy of being" approach to reading the text. But it's also kind of a trivialization, if I can put it that way. It doesn't fit the context at all. It's as if Moses has walked up the mountain, he's going to see this great light; he comes onto this bush. It's on fire, but it's not being consumed, and then it speaks. And Moses says, "Who shall I tell them sent me?" and God says, "I exist." And I can just imagine Moses going, "Uhh, yeah, I got that, but what's your name? Who are you, really?" But the context here is that God is giving his name to his people. He wants them to call upon him. I remember Willem Van Gemeren saying God's name, Yahweh, is like on his business card. On the front of it, it says "Elohim, Creator of all things." And then he writes Yahweh and his personal phone number on the back and he gives it to his people "You can get me. You can make contact with me 24/7. I'm always available to you." And what's interesting is the covenant name, it appears throughout the Old Testament in the context of God entering into covenant relationship. So what does Yahweh mean? Yahweh means I am the one who's always faithful. I'm the one who keeps promise. I'm the one who's here for you. I'm your God.

Answer by Dr. Michael D. Williams

Michael Williams is the Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, where he has been teaching since 1996.