Skip to content

Skip to table of contents

The Challenge of Knowing God by Name

The Challenge of Knowing God by Name

THERE is someone who wants to prevent you from knowing Jehovah’s name and enjoying a close relationship with Him. Who is this evil foe? The Bible explains: “The god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” The god of this present ungodly world is Satan the Devil. He wants to keep you in darkness so that your heart will not be illuminated with “the glorious knowledge of God.” Satan does not want you to know Jehovah by name. How, though, does Satan blind people’s minds?​—2 Corinthians 4:4-6.

Satan has used false religion to hinder people from coming to know God by name. For example, in ancient times some Jews chose to ignore the inspired Scriptures in favor of tradition that called for avoiding the use of God’s name. By the first centuries of our Common Era, Jewish public readers had evidently been instructed, not to read God’s name as it appeared in their Holy Scriptures, but to substitute the word ʼAdho·naiʹ, meaning “Lord.” Doubtless, this practice contributed to a tragic decline in spirituality. Many lost out on the benefits of a close personal relationship with God. What, though, about Jesus? What was his attitude toward Jehovah’s name?

Jesus and His Followers Made God’s Name Known

Jesus declared in prayer to his Father: “I have made your name known . . . and will make it known.” (John 17:26) Jesus would undoubtedly have pronounced God’s name on numerous occasions when he read, quoted, or explained portions of the Hebrew Scriptures containing that important name. Jesus would thus have used God’s name just as freely as all the prophets did before him. If any Jews were already avoiding the use of God’s name during the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus would certainly not have followed their tradition. He strongly criticized the religious leaders when he said to them: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.”​—Matthew 15:6.

Jesus set the example in making known God’s name

Faithful followers of Jesus continued to make God’s name known after Jesus’ death and resurrection. (See the box  “Did the First Christians Use God’s Name?”) At Pentecost 33 C.E., the very day the Christian congregation was formed, the apostle Peter, quoting from a prophecy of Joel, said to a multitude of Jews and proselytes: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32) Early Christians helped people from many nations to come to know Jehovah by name. Thus, in a meeting of the apostles and older men in Jerusalem, the disciple James said: “God . . . turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.”​—Acts 15:14.

Nevertheless, the enemy of God’s name did not give up. Once the apostles were dead, Satan wasted no time in sowing apostasy. (Matthew 13:38, 39; 2 Peter 2:1) For example, the nominal Christian writer Justin Martyr was born about the time John, the last of the apostles, died. Yet, Justin repeatedly insisted in his writings that the Provider of all things is “a God who is called by no proper name.”

When apostate Christians made copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures, they evidently took Jehovah’s personal name out of the text and substituted Kyʹri·os, the Greek word for “Lord.” The Hebrew Scriptures did not fare any better. No longer reading God’s name aloud, apostate Jewish scribes replaced the divine name in their Scriptures with ʼAdho·naiʹ more than 130 times. The influential translation of the Bible into Latin that was completed by Jerome in 405 C.E. and that came to be called the Vulgate similarly omitted the personal name of God.

Modern Attempts to Efface God’s Name

Churches have suppressed God’s name in the Bible because of Jewish tradition or even for the sake of profit

Today, scholars are aware that Jehovah’s personal name appears some 7,000 times in the Bible. Thus, some widely used translations, such as the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, the Catholic La Biblia Latinoamérica in Spanish, and the popular Reina-Valera version, also in Spanish, freely use God’s personal name. Some translations render God’s name “Yahweh.”

Sadly, many churches that sponsor Bible translations pressure scholars into omitting God’s name from their translations of the Bible. For example, in a letter dated June 29, 2008, to presidents of Catholic bishops’ conferences, the Vatican stated: “In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel’s proper name.” The letter gives this pointed direction: “The name of God . . . is neither to be used or pronounced.” Furthermore, “for the translation of the Biblical text in modern languages, . . . the divine tetragrammaton is to be rendered by the equivalent of Adonai/​Kyrios: ‘Lord.’” Clearly, this Vatican directive is aimed at eliminating the use of God’s name.

Protestants have been no less disrespectful in their treatment of Jehovah’s name. A spokesman for the Protestant-sponsored New International Version, published in English in 1978, wrote: “Jehovah is a distinctive name for God and ideally we should have used it. But we put 21million dollars into this translation and a sure way of throwing that down the drain is to translate, for example, Psalm 23 as, ‘Yahweh is my shepherd.’”

In addition, churches have hindered Latin Americans from knowing God by name. Steven Voth, a translation consultant for the United Bible Societies (UBS), writes: “One of the ongoing debates in Latin American Protestant circles revolves around the use of the name Jehová . . . Interestingly enough, a very large and growing neo-pentecostal church . . . said they wanted a Reina-Valera 1960 edition, but without the name Jehová. Instead, they wanted the word Señor [Lord].” According to Voth, the UBS rejected this request at first but later gave in and published an edition of the Reina-Valera Bible “without the word Jehová.”

Deleting God’s name from his written Word and replacing it with “Lord” hinders readers from truly knowing who God is. Such a substitution creates confusion. For example, a reader may not be able to discern whether the term “Lord” refers to Jehovah or to his Son, Jesus. Thus, in the scripture in which the apostle Peter quotes David as saying: “Jehovah said to my Lord [the resurrected Jesus]: ‘Sit at my right hand,’” many Bible translations read: “The Lord said to my Lord.” (Acts 2:34, NIV) In addition, David Clines, in his essay “Yahweh and the God of Christian Theology,” points out: “One result of the absence of Yahweh from Christian consciousness has been the tendency to focus on the person of Christ.” Thus, many churchgoers are hardly aware that the true God to whom Jesus directed his prayers is a Person with a name​—Jehovah.

Satan has worked hard at blinding people’s minds about God. Even so, you can become intimately acquainted with Jehovah.

You Can Know Jehovah by Name

To be sure, Satan has waged war on the divine name, and he has cleverly used false religion in the process. However, the reality is that no power in heaven or on earth can stop the Sovereign Lord Jehovah from making his name known to those who want to know the truth about him and his glorious purpose for faithful humans.

Jehovah’s Witnesses will be pleased to help you learn how to draw close to God through a study of the Bible. They follow the example of Jesus, who said to God: “I have made your name known to them.” (John 17:26) As you contemplate the scriptures that reveal the various roles that Jehovah has occupied for the blessing of mankind, you will come to know the many beautiful facets of his exalted personality.

The faithful patriarch Job enjoyed “intimacy with God,” and so can you. (Job 29:4) With knowledge of God’s Word, you can know Jehovah by name. Such knowledge will give you confidence that Jehovah will act in harmony with what he said was the meaning of his name​—‘I Will Become whatsoever I please.’ (Exodus 3:14, footnote) Thus, he will surely fulfill all his good promises to mankind.