God has one name. ‘’I am Yhwh and that is my name’’ (אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה ה֣וּא שְׁמִ֑י Isaiah 42:8).

In the Hebrew Pentateuch the name of God was the Tetragrammaton (the four letter) ‘Yhwh’.

The Jews respected the Hebrew name of God so much to the point of actually using a substitute word for the divine name which was ‘Adonay’ (my Lord) whenever they spoke of it or read of it in the Tanakh. The exilic Jews followed this tradition of using a substitute for the divine name and they translated the name of God as Kyrios in Greek as found in the Septuagint. Kyrios simply means ‘master, owner, lord’.

What was the reason why the Jews specifically used the substitute Adonay/Kyrios for the Tetragrammaton?

  • 1
    God's name is revealed only when he sends his Son into the world. His name is 'Father'. 'I am' only states the fact of his existence. And that he is Lord of all is a matter of logic. But his name can only be revealed when Christ is come into the world.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 2:21

2 Answers 2


Here is an answer from a Jewish perspective.

The Bible calls G-d Y-h-v-h, which is called “the Tetragrammaton,” which means a four-letter word. While the Tetragrammaton appears on Torah scrolls, even today, Jews say it as Adonai whenever they read the Torah (more on that later).

Many think that this is the name of G-d in the Hebrew Bible, but this is not true. It is a description of how G-d functions in the universe. Thus, when Moses asks G-d in 3:13, the people “will say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what should I say to them?” G-d replies, “‘I am that I am’." Virtually all Jewish commentators and rabbis understand verse 14 to be saying that this is describing how G-d functions or acts. It is not a name.

Since ancient times, Jews have avoided using the Tetragrammaton out of respect around 250 BCE. When they translated the Bible into Greek in Egypt, they substituted the Tetragrammaton for the Greek word Kurios, which means “Lord.” Around 250 the Jews began to substitute Kurios for the Hebrew version of Kurios, Adonai, which also means “Lord.” Eventually, Jews began to treat Adonai as the Tetragrammaton and reverted to the new circumlocution Hashem, meaning The Name. Out of respect, Jews no longer use Adonai, substituting Hashem in its place. Yet others went as far as to write the word "God" as G-d.

Similarly, the word “Elohim” is not a name for G-d but a function. In English it is G-d. The word el is the singular of Elohim, which means “powerful.” Idols, too, is called el, because the ancients felt that these idols were also powerful. G-d is called Elohim (plural) in the Bible because G-d is more powerful than anything else.

  • +1 for the history of referring to God's name and the emphasis on function. Very well written answer. Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 19:52
  • @GratefulDisciple Thank you for your comments. I am glad that you liked it.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 19:55

The English word “God” (“got” in German and “Godh” in Iceland) is derived from a root to call, meaning to call upon. It does not denote an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic being. For G-d has no human form and emotion. The Torah describes G-d as a “he” because, as Rabbi Ishmael said, “The Torah speaks in human language,” so that humans can understand. For example, the Torah may say G-d becomes angry if people sin. This is untrue. But it helps prevent people from acting wrongly. The Jewish sage Maimonides partly failed in his mission to remove anthropomorphisms and anthropopathic characteristics of G-d. For example, Ravad criticized him when he said that far smarter men felt that G-d was anthropomorphic (meaning that G-d has a body,) and today, many Jews still think that G-d has emotions.

The name El, which means “powerful”; denotes that G-d is more powerful than anything else. For example, “Elohim,” (Elokim) a plural form of “El” (keil) represents “the most powerful.” This explains why some ancient idolatrous cultures used the term el for their idols because they wrongly believed these statues were powerful. Similarly, it is a misconception that the biblical y-h-v-h is G-d’s name because Y-h-v-h describes G-d’s essence. "Names" in the Torah often indicate “essence” or “power.” They are expressions for a powerful force. For example, when Moses asks G-d's name in 13-15, G-d replies e’ye asher e’ye. E’ye and y-h-v-h share a root which means “being,” G-d is what was and what will be.

When the Jews translated the Bible into Greek called the Septuagint in Egypt around 250 BCE, the 72 scribes substituted y-h-v-h for the Greek curios, meaning Lord. They later substituted it for Adonai, which also means Lord in Hebrew. Some even substitute Adonai for Hashem, meaning the Name. The Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 50a, mandates to read y-h-v-h as Adonai. As time progressed, Jews felt the need to substitute God for G-d in writing (out of respect). When the Masorites added vowels Jews retained the consonants without pronunciation of y-h-v-h, but it is not Jehovah. Thus, the "names" of G-d in the Hebrew Bible are the essences of G-d, not names.

  • "God" in German is "Gott" with two t's - although it was "got" in Old High German.
    – rjpond
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 20:01
  • @rjpond Thank you for telling me about this. I did not know that "Gott" is two ts' but was one in Old High German.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 21:10

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