The Bible uses a variety of names for God that reveal much about our Creator. Some people erroneously assume that His name is "Jehovah" based on the rendering of one of His names found in Exodus 6:3 in old English translations like the King James Version. "Jehovah" is, according to Webster's Dictionary, "an erroneous rendering of the ineffable [inexpressible] name JHVH [also transliterated into English as YHVH, YHWH, Yahweh, etc.] in the Hebrew scriptures."
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary adds: "The divine name Yahweh is usually translated Lord in English versions of the Bible, because it became a practice in late Old Testament Judaism not to pronounce the sacred name YHWH, but to say instead 'my Lord' (Adonai)—a practice still used today in the synagogue. When the vowels of Adonai were attached to the consonants YHWH in the medieval period, the word Jehovah resulted. Today, many Christians use the word Yahweh, the more original pronunciation, not hesitating to name the divine name since Jesus taught believers to speak in a familiar way to God" (1986, "God, names of," emphasis added).
The same article lists several names for God used in the Old Testament that are based on YHWH:
"[Yahweh]-jireh—This name is translated as 'The-Lord-Will-Provide,' commemorating the provision of the ram in place of Isaac for Abraham's sacrifice (Gen. 22:14).
"[Yahweh]-nissi—This name means 'The-Lord-Is-My-Banner,' in honor of God's defeat of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:15).
"[Yahweh]-shalom—This phrase means 'The-Lord-Is-Peace,' the name Gideon gave the altar which he built in Ophrah (Judg. 6:24).
"[Yahweh]-shammah—This phrase expresses the truth that 'The-Lord-Is-There,' referring to the city which the prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision (Ezek. 48:35).
"[Yahweh]-tsebaoth—This name, translated 'The-Lord-of-hosts,' was used in the days of David and the prophets, witnessing to God the Savior who is surrounded by His hosts of heavenly power (1 Sam. 1:3).
"[Yahweh] Elohe Israel—This name means 'Lord-God-of-Israel,' and it appears in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms. Other names similar to this are Netsah Israel, 'The Strength of Israel' (1 Sam. 15:29); and Abir Yisrael 'The Mighty One of Israel' (Is. 1:24)."
YHWH is but one of many names used for God in the Old Testament. Its exact meaning, like its exact pronunciation, has been lost. It appears to be derived from the Hebrew root word meaning "to be." Perhaps the most understandable way to convey its meaning in English is "the Eternal." Genesis 21:33 equates YHWH with "the Everlasting God."
Many other names that reflect God's character or attributes are found in the Scriptures, showing that they are all appropriate. Some names are God's titles of position and authority. He is called the Ancient of Days, Most High, Creator, Father, Lord, King, Redeemer and Savior, among many other names.
Another important name is "Elohim," which is typically used to convey "the sense of the one supreme being who is the only true God" (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, "God, names of"). It is commonly written in many translations simply as "God."
What name should we use? The direction we should take is not as difficult as it might seem, for Christ set the example for us. He used the name for God commonly understood by His audience. Jesus' example should put the question to rest. God inspired all of the writers of the Bible to do the same as Jesus did, using the words for God that their readers would understand. (The original text of the Bible contains not only Hebrew and Greek, but also Aramaic and Chaldean.)
The United Church of God follows that example in our publications and our church services, using the commonly understood name for God, as well as names that refer to His character and attributes.
As we explain in our booklet The Ten Commandments, "God wants us to recognize and acknowledge Him for what He is. Therefore, it is the meaning, not the sound or spelling, of His names that is of greater importance as the Bible is translated from one language to another."