The Name of God

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors 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.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, 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 my title for all generations.

Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. (Exodus 3:11-16)

Moses and the Israelites in Egypt lived in a world filled with many gods and goddesses. That there was but one God was something that they only gradually comprehended. Therefore, at the beginning of their relationship, when God first appeared to Moses, it was only natural that Moses should wonder about the name of the God he was standing before. He accepted that this was the same God that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had worshipped, but he wanted a name to bring back to the people. Names were considered important because they gave you power: if someone calls your name, you respond to it, you look up, you see who it is that used your name. Moses wanted that with God.

God was amazed by Moses’ question, since it showed God how little Moses really understood. Names are necessary when there are many examples of something: for instance, there are a lot of human beings. Names keep us from becoming confused. But what need had God of a name? He’s all there is, the only God. Therefore, he responded, “I Am that I Am.” How else could he answer that question? So Moses went back to the Israelites and told them that “He Is” has sent me. The Hebrew pronunciation of that phrase is “Yahweh,” which is sometimes rendered in English as “Jehovah.”

Send to Kindle

About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
This entry was posted in Bible, Religion, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Name of God

  1. Steven says:

    “Although the Hebrew word can be translated as you indicate, I believe that “I am that I am” is the preferable translation for at least a couple of reasons. Jesus uses the Greek equivalent phrase “ego eimi” (used by the LXX in Exodus 3:14).”

    Ah! There lies the rub. You need this verse to mean this in order to support something else in the Greek scriptures!!!

    You are I entitled to your opinion. And what you have stated in your opening remark, within the first sentence is just that, an opinion. This not about what you want to believe. It is not as if there is a gray area. There are too many Hebrew scholars, religious overseers and just plain ole intelligent people that can understand fact rather than fiction on this one verse.

    What ever your bias, Exodus 3:14 is not a scripture that requires a lot of interpretation especially since it is very clear in Hebrew what it means. “I WILL PROVE TO BE” does not fit with or ideology. It shouldn’t. Because you should not be basing your ideology on anything external to the source.

    1. As stated earlier, there are a total of 43 places in the Hebrew Scriptures, where Eh·yeh is usually translated as “I will be.” In fact, just 2 verses earlier, in Exodus 3:12, both the King James and the NASB, among others, translates ehyeh as “I will be.” The majority of Bible translations translate ehyeh as “I will be” or “I shall be,” except for at Exodus 3:14. Can you explain this away??????

    2. Since you are subscribing to the Trinity Doctrine which is not the subject of this dialog, check out these references that I would like for you to refute:

    -The trinitarian United Bible Societies and trinitarian scholar Delitzsch both translated the Greek “I will be” of Rev. 21:7 into the Hebrew ehyeh. – See their Hebrew New Testaments.

    -Not only is ehyeh overwhelmingly translated “I will be” instead of “I am,” but in the vast majority of these instances you will find Jehovah speaking and declaring his “power and enduring presence with [his people]” precisely as is explained in the New Bible Dictionary statement explaining ehyeh at Ex. 3:14 ! – The New Bible Dictionary, Douglas (ed.), 1962, pp. 478, 479.

    -The trinitarian Today’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1982, Bethany House, pp. 330-331, says of Ex. 3:14 – “It has been rendered, ‘I WILL BE that I WILL BE’ as an indication of God’s sovereignty and immutability” and “the translation … that probably comes closest to the intention of God at this point is, ‘I will be there’.”

    -Also see the strongly trinitarian standard reference The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, 1984 printing, Vol. 2, p. 1254 (#3), p. 1266 (#5), and p. 1267 (#9), and the trinitarian A Dictionary of the Bible, Hastings, Vol. 2, pp. 199, 200, Hendrickson Publ., 1988 printing.

    -All the places where ehyeh is used in the writings of Moses are listed below. I believe you will find they all mean “I will be” not “I am,” particularly when it is Jehovah speaking about his relationship to his people (as also in Ex. 3:14)

    a. Genesis 26:3 (Jehovah: “I will be with you” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV))

    b. Genesis 31:3 (Jehovah: “I will be with you” NRSV)

    c. Exodus 3:12 (Jehovah: I will be with you” NRSV)

    d. Exodus 4:12 (Jehovah: “I will be with your mouth” NRSV)

    e. Exodus 4:15 (Jehovah: “I will be with your mouth” NRSV)

    f. Deuteronomy 31:23 (Moses: “I will be with you” NRSV)

    -Notice how ehyeh was translated at Ex. 3:14 in the following Bibles: Moffatt’s translation – “I WILL BE”; Byington’s – “I WILL BE”; Rotherham’s – “I WILL BECOME”; New World Translation – “I SHALL PROVE TO BE.” In addition were the following alternate readings in footnotes: American Standard Version – “I WILL BE”; NIV Study Bible – “I WILL BE”; Revised Standard Version – “I WILL BE”; New Revised Standard Version – “I WILL BE”; New English Bible – “I WILL BE”; Revised English Bible – “I WILL BE”; Living Bible – “I WILL BE”; Good News Bible – “I WILL BE.”

    4. The clear testimony of the evidence shows that Ex. 3:14 incorrectly translates ehyeh as “I am” in some trinitarian Bible translations, and that it should be rendered as something closer to “I WILL BE.”

    If you want to believe in the Trinity Doctrine, that is fine. But you cannot get there using Exodus 3:14. It is just not possible unless you just want it to be regardless.

    You have the last word….

  2. Translation is not equivalent to breaking a cipher. The context of a word or phrase is rather important for making sense of what it means.

    In any language, the meaning of a word is contextually determined. Words do not always mean the same thing, even within a single text or sentence. Translation adds another level of difficulty onto the problem.

    Consider this set of sentence in English:

    When the horse broke for the hills, I thought all was lost. When I fell off the horse, a bramble bush broke my fall. But then I tripped over a rock and broke my ankle. It was another six months before I broke that horse. After that, I lost my job, and then I was flat broke.

    You’ll notice that there are multiple meanings here for the word “broke,” all within one paragraph. Context helps you make sense of it all if you know English well enough. And of course, there are many other words and phrases that have multiple meanings like that, dependent on context. The word love has different meanings in these three sentences:

    I love my wife
    I love the beach
    I want to make love to her

    Again, context makes all the difference.

    Notice how the presence and absence of the preposition “into” changes the meaning of these two sentences.

    I broke into the house
    I broke the house

    My point is, that just because you can show me places where “ehyeh” can be rendered “I will be” All your examples are phrased “ehyeh im”, where the verb “ehyeh” is followed by the preposition “im”; that potentially has an effect on the meaning, though it is easy enough to render it as “I am with.” “I will be” is not the only possible understanding of those phrases. In fact, you’ll find many translations render all the verses you mention above as “I am with you” rather than “I will be with you”.

    And to repeat, the problem is simply that the imperfect aspect in Hebrew is not equivalent to the English present or future tenses. It instead indicates uncompleted action. Classical Hebrew does not, in fact, precisely have tenses at all.

    And in any case, consider that Moses lived in a polytheistic society. He’s curious about the name of this God talking to him out of the burning bush. He’s wondering which of the possible gods he knows about has appeared to him. That’s why the traditional rendering “I am that I am” makes better sense given the questions “what is your name” and “who should I tell them sent me”? If Moses believes (at this juncture) there are many gods, then Moses’ question makes sense. If there is only one, then God’s answer makes sense. God doesn’t need a name (unlike say human beings: there are a bunch of us, and so names help limit the confusion that comes when we are in groups; consider the confusion if two people have the same name).

    God said “ehyeh”, that is “I am”. “I will be doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when he went to the people and announced “Yahweh” sent me, that is “He is” sent me.

    Consider the phrase in Exodus 3:16 that is commonly rendered something like this:

    “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.”

    Given the meaning of the divine name—it is the archaic third masculine singular imperfect form of the verb “to be.”

    You could translate it thus:

    “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘he is the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He appeared to me and said, ‘I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.”

    As you consider the meaning of the word “ehyeh”, the first person singular of the verb “to be” one might also consider this: how is the Hebrew verb “to be” rendered when it is

    Third masculine singular imperfect
    Third masculine singular perfect
    Third masculine plural imperfect
    Third masculine plural perfect
    Third feminine singular imperfect
    Third feminine singular perfect
    Third feminine plural imperfect
    Third feminine plural perfect
    Second masculine singular imperfect,

    And so forth. That is, all the possible uses of the verb “to be” regardless of aspect or person, singular or plural have something to tell us about how to render the first person singular imperfect form of “to be”.

    As to the issue of the Trinity, consider this blog post:

    Old Testament God

    And you may also find this article of mine of some interest:

    The Trinity

    And again, consider the use of the Greek word “kurios” as it was commonly understood by Jewish people (remembering that the LXX used it to translate the divine name) and then how it is that Jesus is called by this word that the Jewish people of his day generally used in place of the divine name.

  3. Vidya says:

    It’s no wonder the Jews who didn’t acepct the testimony of His miracles tried to stone Him to death for saying what you quote above. That was the penalty for blasphemy under the Jewish legal system. It was pretty clear to everyone there He was saying, “I am the God of Israel.”Another passage:Mark 14: 60-64 (ESV)60 The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 61 But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest *said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.The Jewish leaders at Jesus’ trial were doubly offended by the above, because not only was He claiming to be God, but He was quoting an obvious reference to the Messiah from Daniel 7 (ESV):The Son of Man Is Given Dominion13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.C S Lewis’ statement in “Mere Christianity” concerning those who say Jesus is just a good moral teacher, but not the Son of God, is worth noting:“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to acepct Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t acepct His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *