If there ever was a book that would benefit from following uniform rules for names, it is the Bible. The Bible is a book of types and anti-types, of shadows and substance. Names not only bear tremendous meaning in the Scriptures, but they serve as links whereby the natural and the spiritual material in its pages might be connected.
Tragically, there has been no book in history wherein names have been recorded more inconsistently, and rendered more arbitrarily, than the Bible. The mishmash of naming practices has led to the obscuring of many deep and wonderful spiritual truths. If I were to sum up the state of names in the most popular English Bibles, the word “confusion” would accurately describe it.
In an earlier chapter I mentioned the great disservice that copyists and Bible translators have done in removing the memorial name of God (Yahweh) from scriptures. The name Yahweh occurs 6,828 times in the Old Testament. The King James Bible renders the divine name as Lord in nearly every instance. Yet, even in this they were not completely consistent. In four occasions in the Old Testament, the King James Bible renders the tetragrammaton as “JEHOVAH.” These occurrences are found in Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 12:2, and 26:4. I would like to examine the first occurrence where the name Jehovah occurs in the King James Bible.
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
The word JEHOVAH is a translation of the four Hebrew letters Yod He Vav He. The name Jehovah has largely fallen out of favor with Bible scholars, as Yahweh is widely considered to be a better translation. What is being conveyed in the KJV rendering of Exodus 6:3 is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew the Creator as “God Almighty,” but they were not familiar with the name “JEHOVAH,” or other renderings of the tetragrammaton such as Yahweh. Is this is true statement? A good way to check would be to read the book of Genesis, for it is there that the lives of these three men are recounted. The first encounter between Abraham (Abram) and Yahweh is recorded in the 12th chapter of Genesis.
Now the Lord (Yahweh) had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
So Abram departed, as the Lord (Yahweh) had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
And the Lord (Yahweh) appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord (Yahweh), who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord (Yahweh), and called upon the name of the Lord (Yahweh).
In these four verses we find that the tetragrammaton occurs six times. In each instance the KJV Bible renders the divine name as “Lord,” but this is a substitution, rather than a translation. The Hebrew text actually includes the four letters of the tetragrammaton in each instance and Yahweh would be a more accurate translation of the memorial name of God.
What are we to make of the claim in Exodus 6:3 that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know God Almighty by this name? We might reason that perhaps they did not know the name of Yahweh, but that Moses in writing the book of Genesis used this name because God had revealed it to him. This is a possibility, but it becomes untenable in light of a number of verses, such as Genesis 12:8 where we are told that Abraham “builded an altar unto Yahweh, and called upon the name of Yahweh.”
Still, some may argue that this is inconclusive. Maybe Moses was just using a figure of speech here, but Abraham did not actually know the name Yahweh. The matter could be settled if we could find any occurrence in Genesis where Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob used the name Yahweh when speaking to other men, or while in prayer to God. Examples of this are to be found.
And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord (Yahweh), the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:
Here is a very clear testimony that Abraham knew God by the name Yahweh. We find that Abraham not only uses the name Yahweh here, but he describes Yahweh as “the most high God” (El Elyon). There are many more clear examples of this type in Genesis. Consider the following.
And he said unto him, I am the Lord (Yahweh) that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God (Yahweh Adonai), whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
This is quite remarkable. In these two verses we have Yahweh declaring His name to Abraham, and we have Abraham addressing God as “Yahweh Adonai.” The tetragrammaton is found in the Hebrew text in each occasion, and the KJV translators rendered it as “Lord.” Clearly Abraham knew the name of Yahweh! We observe in other Scripture verses that Isaac and Jacob also knew the name of Yahweh.
And Isaac said unto his son (Jacob), How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because the Lord (Yahweh) thy God brought it to me.
How then do we reconcile the statement in Exodus 6:3 with the evidence in Genesis? Did the Holy Spirit err in inspiring men to record conflicting statements? It is far more reasonable to conclude that our English Bibles contain some type of error here. Such an idea is resisted by those who claim that the KJV Bible is inerrant. Nevertheless, the evidence of error is before us. The problem can be resolved by accepting the translation of Exodus 6:3 adopted by The Scriptures, a divine name Bible, published by the Institute for Scripture Research.
And I appeared to Abraham, to Yitshaq, and to Ya’aqob, as El Shaddai. And by My Name, *(Yahweh), was I not known to them?
*(Where I have placed the name Yahweh in parentheses, The Scriptures have the tetragrammaton spelled out in Hebrew letters.)
Ancient Hebrew did not include punctuation like that found in English today. Sentences did not end with question marks, periods, or exclamation points. The reader had to discern what form of statement was being made from the context. A declarative and an interrogative statement could be written identically. W.C. Kaiser, in his writing The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant, agrees that this verse should be rendered as a rhetorical question. This solves the apparent contradiction that arises from the King James rendering of this verse.
One might guess that English Bibles that make such a muddle out of the name of God, will do no better with names of lesser importance. That is sadly the case. The second name in importance in the Bible has to be that of the Son of God. The King James, and every other popular English Bible, renders the name of the Son of God as “Jesus.” This name is now so familiar to English speaking people, and especially to Christians, that adopting another, more accurate rendering, seems to be an insurmountable problem.
Jesus is truly a terrible rendering of the name of the Son of God. It completely obscures the Hebraic roots of His name. The name Jesus also hides from view the type and antitype that exist between the Israelite leader named Joshua and the Son of God. These men shared the same name. The Hebrew name of these men transliterates into English as Yehoshua. Some prefer Yahshua, Yeshua, or some other variant. Whatever name is adopted, however, there is no reason to render the name of the Israelite leader who succeeded Moses, and the Son of God, differently. They shared the same name. The translators of the KJV Bible were well aware of this. In the New Testament the successor to Moses is called Jesus instead of Joshua.
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David…
The Hebrew forefathers brought the tabernacle into the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, who in this verse is called Jesus. It is very poor translation policy to call one man by two different names in the Old and New Testaments. The KJV also renders Joshua as Jesus in Hebrews 4:8. To make an even greater muddle, the KJV renders this same name as Jose in Luke 3:29. The NKJV, NIV, NASB, ESB, and other popular English Bible versions do no better. They all give different names to Joshua, the Israelite leader, and the Son of God.
For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.
Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come.
In the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament from which the translators worked, there is no difference between the name rendered as Joshua above, and the same name rendered as Jesus when it is used as a reference to the Son of God. The translators could have called the Son of God Joshua, or called the Israelite leader Jesus, or called them both Yehoshua. They should not have given them different names when in fact they bore the same name. Doing so hides from the eyes of the people of God the parallels contained between these two men’s lives and ministries. Consider a small portion of the similarities between their lives below. For the sake of clarity I will refer to them as OT Yahshua and NT Yahshua.
Both Leaders of God’s People
OT Yahshua: [Moses said] Yahweh was angry with me also on your account, saying, “Not even you shall enter there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it.” (Deuteronomy 1:37-38)
NT Yahshua: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler, Who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6)
Both Called out of Egypt
OT Yahshua:“None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land… except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed Yahweh fully.” (Numbers 32:11-12)
NT Yahshua: Joseph arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “Out of Egypt did I call My Son.” (Matthew 2:14-15)
Both Filled with the Spirit
OT Yahshua: So Yahweh said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.” (Numbers 27:18)
NT Yahshua: “You know of Yahshua of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 10:38)
Both Appoint Twelve Men
OT Yahshua: “So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe.” (Joshua 4:4).
NT Yahshua: “And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach…” (Mark 3:13-14)
Both Baptized in the Jordan River
OT Yahshua: Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you… It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of Yahweh, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.” (Joshua 3:10-13)
NT Yahshua: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)
Many more parallels could be mentioned. The Israelite leader of the Old Testament who is commonly known as Joshua led the natural descendants of Abraham into their inheritance. This serves as a type and shadow of the Son of God who bore the same name, for He leads the spiritual descendants of Abraham into their inheritance.
This confusion in the rendering of names is not limited to these examples. There is hardly a Biblical character whose name has not been rendered inconsistently in our English Bibles. Consider the case of Jacob. Jacob was the father of 12 sons who became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. In the New Testament there is a book of the Bible written by a Hebrew Christian named Jacob. His book intentionally draws comparisons that point back to Jacob and his sons. The book begins with the following words:
Jacob, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Yahshua Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.
Here is a father in the Christian church, an elder among the body of believers, writing as if to his 12 sons. This is an intentional allusion to Jacob of the Old Testament who also had 12 sons. Yet most believers never make the connection. Why? Because the most popular English Bibles have rendered the New Testament believer whose name was Jacob as James. The name of the book he wrote also bears the name James. People of God, this is Jacob’s book! It is addressed to the 12 tribes.
Tell me which of your English Bible translations has a book in the New Testament bearing the name of Jacob? Why is it not there? Why render it as James, thereby obscuring the link between Old Testament and New, between type and anti-type? Why take the same name recorded in the Greek New Testament and render it in two very different ways? It was quite common for Jewish men to be named after the forefathers whose names are recorded in the Old Testament. The author of the book of James was not the only Jewish Christian who bore the name of Jacob. This was also the name of the brother of John who is similarly called James today.
Following this pattern of being named after Old Testament patriarchs we find that Simon Peter was Simeon, Judas was Judah, both being named after sons of Jacob. In these names as well, we find that the shadows of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New, but the link is lost to most because the names have been altered. It was Judah, the son of Jacob, who suggested to his brothers that they sell Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. In the New Testament it was another man named Judah who sold the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver. Christians seldom make the connection because in the New Testament the name is written as Judas instead of Judah.
And Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; for he is our brother, our own flesh…” So they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.
Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?” And they weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver.
One of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament was Elijah. In the King James Bible, his name is written in two different ways.
I Kings 17:22
And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah…
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
We observed earlier that the name of Joshua is in one place in the KJV Bible rendered as Jose. More confusing still, the name of Joseph is rendered as Joses. It gets worse yet, for the prophet Jeremiah has his name rendered three different ways in the KJV Bible. He is referred to as Jeremiah, Jeremias, and Jeremy. This is horrible confusion.
As a minister appointed by Christ to serve as a teacher to His body, my desire is to make plain the truths found in Scripture. Sadly, the translators of most English Bibles have not followed policies that serve the same end. On the contrary, they have obscured the truth by following arbitrary and inconsistent naming conventions.
There are some lesser known English translations of the Scriptures that follow consistent naming conventions. One of these Bibles is called The Scriptures. It is published by the Institute for Scripture Research, a ministry in South Africa. There are certain translation policies of The Scriptures that I do not like, but I do appreciate the fact that they have chosen to render the names of Hebrew men and women consistently in both the Old and New Testaments. Some of these names require an adjustment for Bible readers who are accustomed to reading popular English Bibles, but they preserve the link between individuals who bore the same name. Following are some examples of these names in The Scriptures.
Ya’aqob for Jacob
Yehudah for Judah and Jude
Mosheh for Moses
Shemu’el for Samuel
Yeshayahu for Isaiah
Yirmeyahu for Jeremiah
Yehezqel for Ezekiel
Obadyah for Obadiah
Nehemyah for Nehemiah
Mattithyahu for Matthew
Yohanan for John
With these renderings, the Hebrew character of these names are preserved. Additionally, one can easily see how the name “Yah” and the Hebrew word “El” were constituent parts of many individuals names. Yah is an abbreviated form of Yahweh that occurs 49 times in the Old Testament, and a great many more times as a part of an individual’s name. The word “El” is translated into English as “God.”
The names of Biblical characters are pregnant with meaning, and for this reason they should be clarified rather than obscured. Surely Satan has worked hard to sow confusion into the pages of Scriptures that truth might be hidden from the eyes of Yahweh’s people. Following are some Bible names and their meanings.
Nehemyah/Nehemiah: comforted by Yahweh
Yirmeyahu/Jeremiah: Yahweh has uplifted
Obadyah/Obadiah: Servant of Yahweh
Shemu’el/Samuel: El (God) has heard
Yehezqel/Ezekiel: El (God) strengthens
This small sampling of names reveals the great importance of Biblical names. The names of men and women oftentimes bore testimony of some aspect of God’s character, or of man’s relationship to his Creator. Many names were prophetic. Ancient cultures set great importance upon names. This is why we observe men like Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael being given new names by the King of Babylon when they were taken into captivity. Their Hebrew names were laid aside and new names honoring the gods of Babylon were assigned to them.
Daniel, whose name meant “(El) God is my judge,” had his name changed to Belteshazzar which means “Bel (Baal) is the keeper of secrets.” Hananiah, whose name meant “Yah has graciously given” had his name changed to Shadrach which is possibly derived from Shudur Aku meaning “command of Aku (the moon god).” Azariah, whose Hebrew name meant “helped of Yah” had his name changed to Abednego which means “servant of Nebo.” Mishael, whose Hebrew name meant “Who is like (El) God,” had his name changed to Meshach which means “who is what Aku is?” We see in these names that both the Hebrews and the Babylonians were fond of choosing names that honored their deity/deities.
The study of Biblical names can be highly rewarding. What is certain is that most of the English Bibles today have hindered, rather than helped, students of the Scriptures to discover the wealth of insight to be gleaned from Biblical names.