Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - April 1, 1991 

What Is the Proper Name
for the Father of Jesus?

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1991

 

 

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This is the second part of a trilogy of research studies on the use of the names of Deity in the Old and New Testaments and how we ought to render them in English. Perhaps the most important of all the names is YHWH (Yahweh) whom orthodox Jews refer to as "Ha-Shem" (Hebrew for "the Name"). He is reckoned to be the true and only Supreme Deity who governs not only the nation of Israel but the whole of the universe. This four letter word in Hebrew (called the Tetragrammaton) is written in the Hebrew text without vowels. If vowels are supplied the pronunciation is something close to "Yahweh." This word is used almost 7000 times in the Old Testament as a proper name for the highest authority in the divine hierarchy. In this research report, we will discuss the importance of this significant name and how Christians ought to acknowledge it in view of the teaching and example of Christ Jesus.

The precise name of the Father in heaven is YHWH (which, if the normally expected vowels are supplied, is pronounced something close to "Yahweh"). It has been suggested that the four letters themselves are formed from the initial letters of words denoting the three primary tenses of the Hebrew verb "to be.’ Though modern scholars often dispute this interpretation of the word YHWH, we have the sure account of the Book of Revelation written by the apostle John in the first century which gives us its proper meaning. The Book of Revelation states that YHWH signifies the three tenses of the verb "to be." The Supreme Being is the one who is the "was, is (being), coming one." In simple language, he represents the "past," the "present" and the "future" without any boundaries of time limiting his existence. The intention of the word YHWH is to show that there was never a time when anyone (angelic or human) could imagine him not being in existence. He is reckoned as being continually active. He is the supreme force and power who personally governs and sustains everything that comprises the universe whether those things are visible or invisible. He is (as Prof. James Moffatt translated the word) "the Eternal" -- that is, the "Ever-Existing One." Yahweh always "was;" he always will be "is" (or he always has "being"); and he always "will be" in existence for all future time. This is what the Book of Revelation is telling us about the divine personage known as YHWH (Yahweh).

Let us now notice an important point. The personage known as Yahweh is someone distinct from his first-born son who became Jesus the Christ. The first created being of Yahweh was his son Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul made the explicit statement that Christ was "the first-born of all creation" (Colossians 1:15 -- biblical quotes in this article are from the RSV). Once Christ was created, then all other things in the universe were created by Jesus Christ. "For in him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him [Christ] and for him, He is before all things" (Colossians 1:16,17).

The plain scriptures of Colossians 1:15-21 show quite conclusively that Christ Jesus is a created being. But he is one with the rank and authority of "God." Yet he is not Yahweh. This is shown in the Book of Revelation where John’s salutation states that the message of the prophecy was "from him who is and who was and who is to come [Yahweh]... AND [note the distinction with the word "AND"] from Jesus Christ the faithful witness" (Revelation 1:4,5). Yahweh and Jesus are two separate beings.

Indeed, after Christ’s creation, Christ had a distinct role to play from the Father. At the beginning of the creation of the universe, we find that Christ was with the Father but distinct from him. The apostle John said: "In the beginning" [note that "eternity" is not being discussed here by John -- John said "in the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). This was the position of authority that Christ Jesus had at the beginning of the world’s creation. He was with God the Father (Yahweh) and he was also called a "God" just like the Father. And why not? Christ was created as the first-born son of the Father. He had the right to bear the family name of God (that is, "Elohim" and to speak in the name of his Father "Yahweh"). This is why John said Christ was Deity just like the Father. Though distinct, they are yet one in purpose and action. "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). So inseparable are they in the manner of their divine images that Christ said: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). In their purpose, design and power, Christ and the Father are indistinguishable. "He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3).

Though Christ Jesus is quite distinct from his Father, he has the right to appear before men and angels in the name of his Father. Jesus said: "I have come in my Father’s name" (John 5:43). This simply means that he has personal authority (the legal profession calls it "power of attorney") to speak in the first person as though he were the Father himself. He not only spoke with power of attorney when he was on earth (stating such things as: "Before Abraham was, I am" -- which is an abbreviated way of using the word "Yahweh"), but when Christ returns the second time to the Mount of Olives as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, he also appears using the name Yahweh (Zechariah 14:3).

The matter goes further than that. Not only does Jesus have the power of attorney to come in the personal name of Yahweh, even the Angel of Yahweh (a high ranking angel who gave the Ten Commandments to Moses) also used the personal name Yahweh to Moses and the children of Israel as though he were Yahweh himself. The first two chapters of the Book of Hebrews shows clearly that the Father and Christ Jesus are not angels, yet that book shows that the Law given to Moses was "spoken by angels" (Hebrews 2:2). The New Testament even gets more specific about the giving of the Ten Commandments and the subsidiary laws to Israel. "Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight, and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord [Yahweh in the Hebrew] came. ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob"’ (Acts 7:30-32). It was an angel who made that statement to Moses and he had power of attorney to call himself Yahweh,

This powerful angel, called "the Angel of the Lord [Yahweh]," is referred to on several important occasions in the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament). He appeared to those who heard him as though he were Yahweh himself. [See my booklet titled "Angelic Powers and the Law of Moses" for more in depth information on this interesting and important matter.] And Christ, also, as the first-born son of the Father (being not an angel, but one with the rank of "God") can bear Yahweh’s name in a personal and authoritative manner.

Understanding that both Christ Jesus and the Angel of the Lord have the authority to speak in the personal name of Yahweh (speaking to people in the first person singular) is a most significant teaching of the Holy Scriptures. If those who read the Bible do not comprehend how this is accomplished, they will forever be mixed-up and confused on the manner of Christ’s relationship to Yahweh. This point is so important that it needs emphasizing. Yahweh is actually God the Father (a distinct entity in the divine hierarchy -- he is the Supreme God -- while Christ Jesus is his first-born son -- the first one to be created by the Father (this means that Christ had a beginning). Once created, then Christ himself at a later time was the one responsible for creating the rest of the visible and invisible universe in which we live (Colossians 1:15-21). This is the plain and simple teaching of the New Testament and it appears reasonable to me that Christians should believe it.

With these essential points in mind, let us go on with some more biblical teachings. There is nothing in the Scripture to suggest that Christ Jesus has had a co-eternal existence with the Father or that the Holy Spirit is a third personality of the Godhead who also has co-eternally existed with the Father. It is pure nonsense to believe such teaching. The doctrine of the Trinity (which suggests such absurdities) did not get started in Christian circles until the fourth century of our era. Even then, it was arrived at not by biblical teaching or deduction, but it came about through the application of philosophical speculations of theologians whose concepts were based upon the paganistic thinking of the hellenistic world.

The Trinity doctrine is actually a "church doctrine" devised by men some 300 years after the time of Christ. They derived their interpretations from pagan philosophical reasoning about the supposed need for divine things to have an "eternity" associated with them. While it can be shown from the Bible that the Father has such an "eternity" connected with his person, we are plainly told that Christ Jesus had "a beginning." He was a created being (indeed, the first created being of the Father) and as such there is no "past eternity" attached to his person. Also, the Holy Spirit is not a personality. It is the power of God and Christ to accomplish their divine purposes throughout the universe. [For more information on this fact, send for my new Doctrinal Report titled: "The Holy Spirit -- a Person or a Power?"]

What must be realized by all readers of the Bible is the fact that the Godhead is a single, powerful and unique family of divine beings who supremely govern all matters within the universe - and even beyond our comprehension of the universe! The Scriptures show that this divine family (or Dynasty) is headed by a Father who is called Yahweh. The first-born son of the Father is Christ Jesus. And more than that, the apostle Paul taught under the inspiration of God that all of us who are Christians are also reckoned to be members of that divine family by our being "in Christ" and that we are acknowledged as making up the household of God (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Christ is simply our Elder Brother and all of us are called "brothers" and "sisters" of one another because we are a part of that same divine family. Christ has also created angelic powers and spiritual principalities of various kinds who are subordinate to the Supreme Father and Christ Jesus, and they (in their own way but different from us) are also reckoned as being families. Paul said: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14,15). This is Paul informing us that there are more than one spiritual family in the heavens and on earth, yet they are all under the control of the one divine family (the Dynasty called an Elohim) of which God the Father and Christ Jesus are the top authorities.

The word Elohim in Hebrew (which many English translations render as "God") is a plural word which can be governed by singular verbs and adjectives. It is like a uni-plural word like army (sometimes called in grammar a collective noun). There may be one army, but that army is made up of numerous soldiers. And so is the Godhead. There is one divine family made up of several spiritual personalities. The word "monotheism" can properly describe it as long as one realizes that it is one divine family that is being discussed and not a single personality within that divine family. Even you and I (being Christians) are reckoned as being members of that divine family though we are very subordinate to the Father and Christ at the present time (I John 3:2). There are angelic families that are also called Elohim. [See my three research studies on the "Angelic Powers" which will explain these matters clearly.]

We humans, however, are different from any of the angelic powers because we are destined to become (through Christ Jesus) the very children of God by the resurrection from the dead (I John 3:2). Once our fleshly bodies are changed into ones with a composition made up of spiritual elements (elements made out of spirit but as substantial as our own fleshly bodies now), then each of us will be just like the Father and Christ in bodily composition. We are also promised to inherit the same spiritual qualities of righteousness and holiness that they now possess (I Corinthians 1:30).

The fact that we humans are destined to become the born children of the Father by the resurrection from the dead (and to have bodies made out of spirit) is the very essence of what salvation is all about. Most people in the world today know so little about the New Testament teaching of salvation. They imagine it to be some kind of "never-never" land where we are to "play on a harp" all day (or simply be bowing before the Father and Christ in worship all day). Nothing could be further from the truth. Salvation means to attain to the very position of being a fully mature member of the family of God and to participate in all the activities that dominate that divine family -- and to do so for the rest of eternity. The Christian message of salvation is glorious indeed. [For a full rundown of this plan of God to make us his children, see my research work titled "The Way to Salvation in the Christian Gospel" which can be ordered from A.S.K.]

The August Name of Yahweh

The Father is sensitive to the use of his name. While at one time the Israelites were able to refer to Yahweh by the general name "Baal" (meaning "Master"), the name "Baal" became so associated with heathen deities that Yahweh forbade it to be used to describe him (Hosea 2:16, 17). And when they further misused his name, Yahweh even ordered them not to pronounce it with their lips while they were in captivity in Egypt. "I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord (Yahweh], that my name [Yahweh] shall no more be invoked [shall no more be named] by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, "As the Lord [Yahweh] God lives" (Jeremiah 44:26). Coupled with this was a further prohibition given in Amos 6:10,11. Because of Israelite rebellion to him, Yahweh gave the Israelites a command not to use his name in public in any appeal to him. "Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord [Yahweh] for, behold, the Lord [Yahweh] commands [it]."

Sometime during the sixth century B.C. the Jews and Samaritans (both had formerly pronounced the name Yahweh as freely as they wished) then restricted it only to private use and for use in the Temple. They interpreted Jeremiah 44:26 and Amos 6:10,11 as commands from Yahweh (which, by the way, they are) and they will not pronounce the name Yahweh openly any longer. They always use a substitute name such as "Ha-Shem" ("the Name") or a word like "Lord" or "God." So particular were even the apostles of Christ that when they wrote their Gospels and epistles, they always used substitute words for Yahweh. They used kyrios (Lord) or theos (God). This was the proper thing to do.

Whereas we who are members of the divine family of the Father can call him by his proper name Yahweh if we wish, Jewish folk and those who call themselves Israelites should not use it in public (whether in church, camp meetings or on the streets). Yahweh strictly forbids them to do so. [See my research study "The Suppression of the Divine Name" where all of this is explained. This booklet is now out of print but we hope to bring it up to date and republish it sometime in the future.]

This poses a problem in translating the Old Testament if it is to be read by Jewish or Israelite peoples. Since the commands of Yahweh have not yet been rescinded for them, it appears better to use a substitute word for the almost 7000 occasions the name Yahweh is used. The apostles universally followed this procedure in their New Testament renderings. These are matters to be discussed when it comes to properly translating the Holy Scriptures, but it appears to me that we can hardly improve on the methods of the apostles who (being Jews and writing in many cases to Jews) always used substitute words for Yahweh.

The word "Lord" is indeed a perfectly good substitute and that is what most modern translations use. For Elohim the apostles normally used the Greek word theos. We are told by Eusebius in the fourth century (a fine scholar who spoke Greek as a native tongue) that the word theos came from the early Greek word theonta which meant "running" (Prep. Evang.I.9 29d to 30a). This was Plato’s interpretation and the "running" referred to the "consistent and regular motions associated with the heavenly bodies." In other words, theos in the singular meant the One who was always in action, and One who was always consistent and perfect in his "running" (his motion). This is no doubt close to the original meaning and the apostle Paul believed it was perfectly proper to use it to refer to God the Father (Acts 17:24). There is no reason why we cannot do the same thing.

Ernest L. Martin

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