There has been and still is much disagreement among the theologians regarding the God who is worshiped by the Hebrews . . . about whom Plato says in the Timaeus: “What is it that always exists, and has no ‘coming-to-be’; and what is it that comes to be, but never exists?”De Mensibus Book IV, A.D. 550
- 1 The Grammatical Impossibility of Other Interpretations
- 2 The Substitutional Form in Ecclesiastes 11:3 Proves the Name “He WILL BE”
- 3 The Form YHYH Proves the Meaning
- 4 The Contraction YAH Proves Yihvah
- 5 The Name of Israel’s ELOHIM Was Revealed in Exodus 3:15
- 6 The Covenant Name of God
- 7 The Continuous Wordplay of the Old Testament
The Grammatical Impossibility of Other Interpretations
God left no room for the meaning of YHVH.
In Biblical Hebrew, the verb “to be” in hyh, or hvh, only exists in the basic qal form of the verb. There are only two verb tenses, which are the imperfect tense, incomplete action, and the perfect tense, completed action.
YHVH is written in the imperfect tense and can only mean “He WILL BE.” It cannot mean “He IS” or “He causes to be.”
Raymond Abba writes, “In biblical Hebrew the present tense of this verb is never expressed by the imperfect but always by the perfect tense; the imperfect expresses the future.”1 The Grammar of Biblical Hebrew from Paul Jouon and T. Muraoka agrees with the assessment of Raymond Abba. They note that they cannot even find an instance of the present tense of hyh in the perfect form.2
In the Bible, the verb “to be” exists only in the past and future tense.
One has either come into existence (the perfect form), or they have not (the imperfect form).
Until this day, there is no hyphal form of the verb “to be” in Hebrew that would allow the expression, “He causes to be.”
YHVH can only be translated “He WILL BE” within the constraints of Hebrew Grammar. Any other interpretation, such as “He causes to be” or “He IS,” is not based on grammar, but on theological assumptions.
All the names of God we list below have been created by men.
Yaho—The God Who IS
In spite of the rules of Hebrew grammar, and the obvious intention of the statement,” I WILL BE,” in Exodus 3:12 and 14, the Greek Septuagint translated “eh-yeh,” I WILL BE, as “I am He WHO IS.” In his fifth-century commentaries, Bishop Theodoret gave us the meaning of both “eh-yeh” and Yaho as “the God who is,” YAH (the God), Ho (who is).
Yehovah—Who Is, and Was and Is to Come
By the 10th century A.D., the meaning of “Ho” as the “present tense” of the verb “to be” was fully accepted, as we can see in the famous 10th-century Hebrew song, Adon Olam:
וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הוֹוֶה וְהוּא יִהְיֶה בְּתִפְאָרָה
Ve-hu haya, Ye-hu hove, Ye-hu yihye be-tif’ara!
And He was, and He is, and He will be in glory.
In the eighth century, the Masorites began to put vowel markings on the Hebrew text, and the vowel markings of Yaho found their way into YHVH, creating the name Yehovah. Some copies of Targums present only Yehovah and not Yehvah as the name of God.
Many Hebrew websites claim that their sages gave the meaning of Yehovah as “who was, who is and is to come.” J. Etheridge also explained Yehovah as the meaning of Revelation 1:8: “who was, and is, and is to come.”3
Yahweh (Ιαβε)—He Who Causes to Be
In the fourth century, Epiphanius explained the meaning of the Greek name Ιαβε as “who was, and is, and forever is,” (being a combination of the past tense “Haya,” and the future tense Yihveh).
In the 19th century, it was suggested that the Greek name Ιαβε might be a hyphal form of the verb YHVH, meaning “He causes to be.” But no such hyphal form exists in the Hebrew language for the verb “to be.”
The Substitutional Form in Ecclesiastes 11:3 Proves the Name “He WILL BE”
Perhaps the most obvious proof that “He WILL BE” was the real Name of God is simply the fact that the expression “he will be,” as it occurred in common sentences, was replaced by the substitute pronunciation, יהוא.
If a hyphal form really did exist for YHVH, there would have been no need to replace the qal form with a substitute pronunciation.
The Form YHYH Proves the Meaning
YHYH is the spelling of “he will be” most commonly used in the Bible. YHVH is an older form retained in the Name of God. But YHYH appears as the Name of God in many texts.
It is difficult to know when YHVH became YHYH. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is often no discernable difference between a yod and a vav. The renowned expert of Greek Manuscripts Bruce Metzger comments on the tetragrammaton in Nahhal Hhever’s “Cave of Horror,” saying, “As is the case with manuscripts from Qumran, the scribe does not clearly distinguish the shape of yod from that of waw.”4
Of course, most scribes continued to use the form of YHVH when writing the Name of God, to identify it as the Name of God, so that YHVH would not be confused with the common term “he will be,” that appears as YHYH. Early Greek manuscripts (especially in Isaiah) have examples of the mistranslation of the Name of God as “it will be” or “he will be” simply because YHYH was mistaken for its normal meaning as “he will be.” This can be seen in the Greek Septuagint, where the last verse of Ezekiel 48:35 is translated, “The name of the City, from the Day ‘it shall be finished,’ shall be the name thereof”—instead of, “’YHVH is here’ shall be the name thereof.”
The representation of YHYH is also apparent in Greek manuscripts. YHYH is written in Paleo Hebrew in Aquila’s Greek Septuagint. Later manuscripts use the Greek letters PIPI. In Greek, the Hebrew “Y” is pronounced with the Greek“I.” Greek has no letter “H,” so this has been represented by the letter “P.” Therefore, reading the Hebrew from right to left, we have YHYH represented by PIPI. This representation of YHYH is even clearer in the Syriac script, which writes PYPY, reading from right to left as “YHYH”—understanding the “P” as an “H.”
The Targum Jonathan is the oldest and most authoritative of all targums, and is attributed to Jonathan Ben Uziel. It is the only Targum that is considered to be divinely inspired. This Targum uses יי one thousand and three times from Joshua to 2 Samuel, to represent YHYH. Only two yods are needed to pronounce YHYH because the “H” is silent in both syllables.
From Isaiah to Zephaniah, יי was used for the Aramaic expression “woe,” as יֵי, 32 times. Therefore, יוי is used for the Name of God in these books, as in the Targum Onqelos, nearly 200 years later. Subsequent Targums used three yods ייי to represent the Name of God.
Two yods, drawn as Z with a line through them, represent YHYH, and are found in a third century A.D. Oxyrhynchus fragment of Genesis, in P. Oxy 1007. This form is also found on Jewish coins after 200 B.C.5
The Contraction YAH Proves Yihvah
The early Greek texts of the Bible contain a much studied and interesting phenomena for scholars. The Name of God is normally contracted using the first and last letters. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “nomina sacra,” sacred names.
The earliest Greek nomina sacra are κς (κύριος) for Lord, and θς (θεός) for God.
In Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament, YHVH was replaced by the Greek word Κυριος, ΚΥΡΙΟΣ, which was often contracted to ΚΣ, with a line above the letters.
This tradition began in the Hebrew text. YAH is a contraction of YihvAH. The contraction of YahO (YhV) is YO (YV). YahO was first contracted to YO in the Book of Samuel.
Among the Jews, this practice was not limited to the Name of God. Alan Millard, in his book Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus, says, “Contractions of proper names to their first and last letters do stand on Phoenician and Palestinian coins of the Hellenistic period and in graffiti from the Punic towns of North Africa.”6
The Name YAH appears as the Name of God in the Old Testament 48 times and was used as a suffix in 143 Names. As mentioned earlier, some of these endings have been changed to Yahu.
YAH is found in the word “Hallelujah,” meaning “Praise YAH.”
The first recorded use of the Name YAH comes from Leah in Genesis 29:35. Here, the word “praise” (ודה) was also first used in the Bible. Leah gave us the meaning of the name Judah:
I will praise (אודה) YHVH,
therefore, she called his name יהודה Yahudah (YAH praise)
אודה את יהוה על כן קראה שמו יהודה
Leah has just substituted the Aleph of “I will” א, with “Yah” יה to make יהודה Yahudah.
The Name of Israel’s ELOHIM Was Revealed in Exodus 3:15
He WILL BE
As we said in the introduction, the Name of God, as “He WILL BE,” was known from the time of the Garden of Eden. But no one knew the Name of God’s Messenger until God revealed it to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:15.
Here, we want to address the perplexity of this Name. Why would God call Himself “He WILL BE”? And why would He also call His Messenger “He WILL BE”?
The Name of the Word of the Lord
As mentioned in the introduction, the Palestine Targum and the Jerusalem Fragments used the expression “the Name of the Word of the Lord” dozens of times to explain the meaning of YHVH. One feature of the Targums is that they do not simply translate—they interpret. They try to explain the meaning behind the writing.
The Targumists were trying to let us know that the Name YHVH, He WILL BE, was really “the Name of the Word of the Lord.” The invisible God shared the Name of the Word of the Lord, and not the other way around.
As Christians, we understand very well why Christ was called, “He WILL BE.”
He WILL BE What?
The meaning of “He WILL BE” as “the Name of the Word of the LORD” is found in Isaiah 44:6 and John 8:28.
Thus says YHVH (He WILL BE), the King of Israel,Isaiah 44:6
And its Redeemer, He WILL BE of the Armies,
“I am the first and the last;
Besides Me there is no ELOHIM.”
In this famous passage, Christ is identified as “the Word,” the speaker for the invisible God. This is revealed to us in Revelation 1:17 and 22:13 where Christ, the Angel of God introduced in Revelation 1:1, speaks again for the invisible God as He did in the Old Testament.
The answer to He WILL BE what? Is found in the phrase, “King of Israel, and its Redeemer.” Above the cross was the sign, “King of the Jews.”7 So, Jesus told the Pharisees, “When you lift up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM.”8
He WILL BE When?
This question was answered throughout the prophets. In Hosea 1:7 we read, “I will save them by He WILL BE their ELOHIM.” The Targum translates this as, “I will save them by the Word of the Lord, their ELOHIM.” In Hosea 3:2, the Targum says, “I redeemed by My Word on the fifteenth day of the month of Nissan (the Passover).”
Daniel prophesied that the coming of the Anointed One would be after 69 weeks (483 days, as years) from the going forth of the command to repair the streets and walls of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25). This was fulfilled in 457 B.C., taking us 483 years later to A.D. 27.
Through the prophets, God gave us the day, month, and year of Christ’s coming and His redemption.
The Invisible God Always Assumes the Name of His Image
The sharing of the Name, “He WILL BE,” by Christ and God should not be a surprise.
In the New Testament, they share the Name, “He WILL SAVE,” (Jesus) which Isaiah 9:6 prophesied would be “the NAME of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” In Isaiah 63:16, we read, “Our Redeemer from Everlasting is your NAME.” God saves.
The name of Joshua in Greek is Jesus. Of Joshua, God said, “My Name is in Him.” Zechariah prophesied that God would share the Name of His image in the Last Days, “In that Day it shall YHVH ECHAD (one) and His Name ECHAD (one)”(Zechariah 14:9).
The Covenant Name of God
God said, “This is My Name forever” because it reflects His everlasting covenant with His people, “I WILL BE with you” (Exodus 3:12, 4:12, 15; Joshua 1:5, 3:7; Judges 6:16).
In 1899, Hans H. Spoer wrote an essay called The Origin and Interpretation of the Tetragrammaton, in which he argued for “He WILL BE” as the meaning of YHVH.
His essay centered on the grammatical facts of the Hebrew language and the meaning of He WILL BE as the God who would be WITH the Israelites.
Forsaken, oppressed, without rights, crushed to the ground, they needed a mighty helper who would be with them. And this seems to me to be the full meaning of this Name, “God will be with us.” The phrases, “I will be with thee,” “I will be with you,” “He will be with us,” ring through the whole Old Testament. אהיה עמך (I will be with you) was the word of encouragement which Moses received when he still hesitated to go and fulfil what he had been ordered to do., Exod. 3:12. So also Joshua (Deut. 31:8; Josh. 1:5, 3:7) received the assurance that he will not be alone, but that “He WILL BE” will be “with him.” The same interpretation is implied in Judg. 6:13, ויש יהוה עמנו = and if “He WILL BE” will be “with us.” That the Name was understood to express this relationship becomes clearer when we consider some of the negative phrases in which this relationship is expressed; e.g. Numb. 14:43 we read, “Because ye turned away from ‘He WILL BE,’ ‘He WILL BE’ will not be with you;” Josh 7:12, לא אוסיף להיות עמכם …
The expression ויהי יהוה את־ described the Spirit of Christ with Joseph, Joshua, and Judah, as we can see in the following passages: “and WAS He WILL BE with Joseph;”(Genesis 39:2), “and WAS He WILL BE with Joshua;”(Joshua 6:27), “and WAS He WILL BE with Judah” (Judges 1:19).
In 1 Samuel 20:13, Jonathan said to David, ויהי יהוה עמך “He WILL BE with you as he was with my father.”
The greeting of Boaz in Ruth 2:4, יהוה עמכם “He WILL BE with you,” was probably a common expression in his day.
But most famous are the concluding words of Matthew’s gospel, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:20). Here, He WILL BE promised to be with His people forever.
The Continuous Wordplay of the Old Testament
We have discussed the wordplays of He WILL BE as they relate to the covenant Name of God and the coming Redeemer. The wordplays on God’s Name began in the Garden of Eden and carry on through the Old Testament.
The Holy Language Spoken from the Beginning
The Hebrew language is the earliest and most original language in the world.
From the Jerusalem Targum of Genesis 11:1, we understand that the whole world spoke Hebrew before God confused their language at the Tower of Babel:
And all the inhabitants of the earth were (of) one language, and of one speech, and one counsel: for they spoke the holy language by which the world was created at the beginning: while their hearts erred afterwards from the Word of Him who spoke, and the world was, at the beginning.
This is not a great claim of the Jewish people—it is the truth of the Bible. In a moment, we shall see that the earliest dialogue of man, recorded in Genesis 3, was undoubtedly in the Hebrew language.
She WAS, the “Mother of All the Living,” and He WILL BE, “the Father of ALL”
In the introduction, we mentioned that the Name YHVH was first used in the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 3:20, we read, “Adam called his wife’s name, Eve (She WAS), because She WAS the mother of all the living.”
Adam compared the name of his wife, She WAS, as “the mother of all the living,” to the Name of God, He WILL BE, as “the Father of all.”
The Masoretic Text of “She was, because, she was the mother,” is shown below and is significant to understanding the development of the Hebrew language.
חוה כי הוא היתה אם
The first word “She was”- חוה – is in the masculine form of Hebrew, as is the phrase, “She” הוא—which actually reads “He.” Even the phrase “mother”—אם—is in the masculine form, as it remains until this present day. The second spelling of the verb היתה “She was” has been updated to the later form of the verb HVH as HYHH and is in the feminine form with ה at the ending. It seems that the earliest form of Hebrew did not differentiate feminine verbs and nouns to the extent it does today.
In Genesis 4:1, the mother of all the living, חוה said, “I have acquired a man from יהוה.”
The Father of “all the living” is יהוה—“He WILL BE,”—“the one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:6).
The significance of these two names, HVH and YHVH, in relation to each other is a proof that the earliest people really did speak Hebrew and they knew the Name of God was YHVH. It is also another proof that the Messenger was referring to Himself when He said, “I, YHVH, appeared to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by My Name, YHVH, I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:3).
In the beginning, YHVH was the Name of God.
And WAS the Word of He WILL BE
The expression “And WAS the Word of HE WILL BE” appears 83 times in the Old Testament, beginning in 1 Samuel 15:10. This described the speaking of the Spirit of Christ to the prophets, from Samuel to Zechariah.
This same expression was first used without the conjunction in Genesis 15:1, when the Word of He WILL BE appeared to Abram in a vision. The phrase “WAS the Word of He WILL BE” appears 27 times in the Old Testament.
This phrase is actually composed of the following:
- The name of Eve, היה as ”the mother of all the living,”
- The Name of Christ, דבר־ as “the Word,” and,
- The Name of God, יהוה as “the Father of all.”
The Wordplay of Exodus 3:12–15
The verb “to be” in Moses’ day was only a simple Qal basic expression, with two tenses, the perfect tense and the imperfect tense. Effectively, the past tense and the future tense.
The most famous wordplay in the verb “to be” begins in Exodus 3:12 with God’s statement, “Surely, I WILL BE with you.”
In verses 14–15, God answered Moses’ question about the Name of the ELOHIM.
He first replied with His own Name saying, “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, therefore you shall say . . . ‘I WILL BE has sent me to you.’”
Then in verse 15, God gave us the Name of the ELOHIM, His Messenger, “Moreover, you shall say . . . ‘He WILL BE, the ELOHIM of your fathers . . . has sent me to you.’”
Then God contrasted His own Name as “He WILL BE” with the Name of His Messenger, saying, “This is My Name forever.” For He WILL BE ELOHIM would become “I AM” when Christ became a man.
Finally, in verse 16, God said, “Gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, “He WILL BE, the ELOHIM of your fathers . . . has appeared to me.” Of course, Christ, as the image of the invisible God, was the ELOHIM who appeared to Moses.
The Wordplay of Hosea 1:7–9
In Hosea 1:7, God promised to save the Israelites by “He WILL BE” their ELOHIM, “I will save them by He WILL BE their ELOHIM.”
Then, in Hosea 1:9, God gave His own Name as “I WILL BE” in the only instance of the Old Testament, other than Exodus 3:14. He said, “I will no longer be their I WILL BE (לא עמי ואנכי לא אהיה לכם).”
- The Divine Name Yahweh, Raymond Abba; Journal of Biblical Literature,Vol. 80, No. 4 (Dec. 1961), pp. 320–328 (9 pages). ↩
- Joüon, P., & Muraoka, T. (2006). A grammar of biblical Hebrew (§111 i,). Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico. ↩
- The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, J. W. Etheridge, 1865, p. 9. ↩
- B. M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible An Introduction to Palaeography (1981), p. 34, footnote 63. ↩
- Ibid., p. 35. ↩
- Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus, Alan Millard, 2001, p. 71 . ↩
- Matthew 27:37; John 19:19–22 ↩
- John 8:28 ↩