A captivating black and white photograph capturing a sacred scroll, bathed in soft ethereal light, revealing the ancient Hebrew name of God, engraved in delicate calligraphy.

The Name Of The Hebrew God: El, Elohim, Yhwh And More

The God of the Hebrew Bible, known to Jews as the Tanakh and Christians as the Old Testament, has gone by many names throughout history. This has led to some confusion over what the Hebrew God’s actual name is.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine the primary names used for the Hebrew God in Biblical texts and beyond.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: YHWH (often pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah) is considered the personal name of the Hebrew God in the Bible. However, God is also referred to by titles such as Elohim, El, El Shaddai, and Adonai in Biblical texts.

The Name YHWH

The Tetragrammaton

The Hebrew name YHWH (also transliterated as Yahweh or Jehovah) refers to the proper name of God in the Old Testament. This name is comprised of four Hebrew consonants – Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh – which is why it is often referred to as the Tetragrammaton or “four letters.”

This name is found over 6,800 times throughout the Hebrew Bible. The first recorded use of the name YHWH is in Genesis 2:4.

Meaning and Origins

The meaning and origins of the Tetragrammaton have been widely debated by scholars over the centuries. Many interpret the name to mean “He who is” or “He who causes to be.” This links YHWH to the Hebrew verb “to be” hayah. The name may imply God’s eternal, self-sufficient existence.

Others suggest the name derives from an old Semitic root meaning “to blow” which would relate YHWH to the storm god imagery found in some passages. Whatever the exact meaning, the divine name YHWH differentiates the God of Israel from the gods of the surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures.

In terms of origins, Exodus 3:13-15 links YHWH with the Hebrew phrase “I AM WHO I AM.” This associates the name with God’s revelation of Himself to Moses at the burning bush. However, some scholars believe the name predates Moses and derives from earlier Semitic origins.

There are various theories, but overall the origins and meaning of the Tetragrammaton remain somewhat shrouded in mystery.

Pronunciation and Spelling Variations

There is debate over how to pronounce YHWH. For many centuries, pious Jews have refrained from pronouncing the name out of reverence. The consensus of scholars is that the original pronunciation included the vowels “a” and “e” resulting in the name “Yahweh.”

However, uncertainty over the vowels led to the substitution of “Adonai” (Lord) when reading the name YHWH in the Hebrew Bible.

Various English translations have adopted different conventions when rendering YHWH in the Old Testament:

  • LORD or GOD – Most translations use small caps when substituting YHWH with LORD or GOD.
  • Yahweh – Some more modern versions actually use this rendition.
  • Jehovah – Derived from a misunderstanding that blended the consonants of YHWH with the vowels of Adonai.

The Names Elohim and El

Etymology of Elohim

The Hebrew word Elohim is the plural form of Eloah, one of the names of God in the Hebrew Bible. Elohim is used over 2,500 times in scripture, starting with the very first verse of Genesis. The etymology and meaning of Elohim have been extensively studied by scholars.

The word Elohim is derived from the Hebrew root El, which means power, strength, or might. Adding the plural ending -im normally indicates a numerical plural in Hebrew. However, when referring to the God of Israel, the plural Elohim has a singular meaning.

This has led scholars to conclude that the plural form is intended to signify the fullness of God’s powers rather than multiple gods.

El as Supreme Deity

Before the revelation of the divine name YHWH, the Patriarchs of Israel worshipped El as the supreme deity. El was the head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon in Ugarit and was described as the “Father of Years” and “the eternal one.” He was considered the creator and master of the cosmos.

In the Hebrew Bible, El is often used as a general term for “god” and as a poetic synonym for YHWH. The name El likely originates from the Proto-Semitic word il, meaning “god.” Cognates of El in other Semitic languages retain the meaning “god,” including Ugaritic il, Akkadian ilu, and Arabic ʾilāh.

Elohim Referring to God and Other Figures

Although Elohim usually refers to the God of Israel, the word is also used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to other figures:

  • The lesser gods of the Canaanite pantheon (Exodus 12:12)
  • Angels or supernatural beings (Psalm 8:5)
  • God-appointed judges of Israel (Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8)
  • God-like rulers or prophets (Exodus 7:1; Psalm 45:6)

The use of Elohim to refer to angels, prophets, and the rare foreign god reflects God’s preeminence. God is Elohim par excellence, and the word’s application to other figures always derives from God’s power and authority.

Other Major Hebrew Names for God

El Shaddai

El Shaddai, meaning “God Almighty,” is one of the most common names for God in the Old Testament. It emphasizes God’s absolute power and sovereignty. The name first appears in Genesis 17:1, when God assures Abraham that He will fulfill His covenant promises.

According to Exodus 6:3, El Shaddai was the name that God used to reveal Himself to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The name highlights that God is all-sufficient and able to nurture His people and keep His promises despite human weakness.

Some key passages that mention El Shaddai include Genesis 43:14, Genesis 49:25, Job 5:17 and Isaiah 60:15. The name communicates that God is the source of blessing, fruitfulness and protection for His people.

He also disciplines those He loves, like a caring parent who knows best what their children need. As El Shaddai, God promised to make Abraham fruitful and multiply his descendants exceedingly (Genesis 17:2). He enabled Sarah to conceive in her old age (Genesis 21:1-3).

And He sustained Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, throughout his travels and trials.

El Elyon

El Elyon means “The Most High God.” This name emphasizes God’s supreme power and sovereignty over all other gods and authorities. It first appears in Genesis when Melchizedek blesses Abram and refers to God as “Possessor of heaven and earth” and “Most High God” (Genesis 14:18-19).

We also see it when God gives Abram a new name, Abraham, as part of reiterating His covenant promises (Genesis 17:1).

The name El Elyon affirms that God is above all other gods – indeed, there is no other God besides Yahweh. He is supreme over all spiritual powers and earthly kings. Passages like Deuteronomy 32:8 and Psalm 82 make this clear, as God divides the nations among the “sons of God,” angelic beings, and retains Israel for Himself.

God warns that taking false gods over Him will lead to destruction (Numbers 24:16). And He promises to make Jerusalem His dwelling place forever as the Most High (Psalm 46:4).

As Most High God, the Lord promised to go with Abraham and bless Him exceedingly (Genesis 14:19-20). When we exalt Him as El Elyon, it frees us from fear and lack, as we take refuge in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:1).


Adonai is Hebrew for “Lord” or “Master.” The plural form implies honor and majesty. It is one of the most common names for God in the Old Testament. Adonai emphasizes God’s lordship and authority over all creation. It reminds us to submit to Him with reverence and humility.

Adonai appears over 300 times in the Bible. Key passages include Genesis 15:2, Deuteronomy 3:24 and Psalm 8:1. It highlights that God is our powerful, loving Master. He calls us to obey His Word and commands. And He cares for us as His servants, providing all we need.

Adonai frequently appears alongside Yahweh, God’s personal name. Used together, they beautifully convey God’s transcendence and immanence – His supreme greatness and intimate nearness.

As Adonai, God chose Abraham and promised to bless all peoples through Him (Genesis 12:1-3). He gave Moses the 10 Commandments to teach Israel how to live as His people. And He disciplined them when they disobeyed, like a Master caring for His servants.

Jesus taught that to love and obey God with all our heart encapsulates all the Law and Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40). When we submit to the lordship of Adonai, we find rest and purpose for our lives.

YHWH in Judaism

YHWH, often pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah, is the personal name of God in Judaism. YHWH originates from the Hebrew verb “to be” and is considered so sacred that Jews traditionally do not speak or write it. Instead, the word Adonai (Lord) is substituted when reading scripture aloud.

YHWH first appears in the Torah, in the book of Genesis, when God speaks to Abraham. From then onward, the name YHWH is used over 6,800 times in the Bible, underscoring its importance in Judaism.

The essential meaning behind the name YHWH is that God is eternal, unchanging, and self-sufficient. Unlike pagan gods that represent different forces of nature and change over time, the God of Israel transcends space and time.

As Exodus 3:14 states when God appears to Moses in the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM.” No beginning or end. YHWH communicates God’s complete unity and reminds believers that all things emanate from a single divine source.

YHWH is central to Jewish liturgy and practices. When reciting daily prayers, writing the name of God, or reading from the Torah during services, certain rituals must be performed. For example, the Shema prayer, which affirms belief in one God, contains the phrase “YHWH is our God”.

Many Jewish practices serve as a reminder of God’s eternal presence in everyday life. Affixing a mezuzah with verses from Deuteronomy to doorposts, wearing phylacteries containing scripture during prayer, and observing holy days outlined in Leviticus all bring awareness to YHWH.

Although the name YHWH may not be spoken, the letters still hold power in Judaism. Abbreviations for religious phrases often incorporate the letters. For example, the customary blessing after meals begins “Birkat Hamazon” (Grace After Meals) with the Hebrew letters Bet, Heh, Nun, which echoes YHWH.

This signifies meals are blessings from God. Names incorporating Yod and Heh pay homage as well. The symmetry between YHWH’s eternal nature and the continuity of the Jewish people through generations is affirmed whenever His name is written or symbols are displayed.

Development of ‘God’ in English Bibles

The word used to refer to the supreme divine being in English Bibles has undergone an intriguing evolution. Originally, in Old English (pre-1066 AD), the word “god” simply meant a “supernatural being.” It could refer to multiple gods in the pagan religions practiced by the Anglo-Saxons.

The capitalized form “God” began being used to refer to the Christian deity in particular in the 1200s AD.

Early Bible Translations Retain Hebrew Words

In some of the earliest English Bible translations, including Wycliffe’s Bible in the 1300s, the Hebrew words for God were actually retained, such as “Elohim” and “Adonai.” Even the early 1500s Tyndale Bible kept certain terms untranslated. But readability eventually became a higher priority.

Keeping these words made the text cryptic for average people. So most references to God were rendered into English as familiar vocabulary.

The Word “Jehovah” Enters English Bibles

An interesting transitional phase came when Hebrew vowel points were added to the divine name YHWH, yielding an anglicized “Jehovah.” This unique name first appeared in William Tyndale’s 1530 Bible. But it was the 1611 King James Version that really popularized it.

For over 275 years, Jehovah was the most common English term used for the God of the Old Testament. But later scholarship determined that it was actually a misunderstanding of the Hebrew text. So modern Bibles have reverted to using “LORD” or “GOD” in all capital letters to translate YHWH instead.

Impact on Theology and Worldview

This linguistic journey has significantly shaped English theological terminology. The use of “God” and “Lord” in reference to both New Testament and Old Testament texts has reinforced a Judeo-Christian concept of continuity between the covenants and the deity the Bible reveals.

Whether using Hebrew or English names, the Bible identifies the one true creator God as the divine being worshipped from Genesis to Revelation. As language continues to evolve, English Bible translators face ongoing decisions about how best to communicate through both faithful translation and widely understandable vocabulary.


As we have seen, the Hebrew God of the Bible has been referred to by several names, most significantly YHWH, Elohim, El, and Adonai. While YHWH is considered the personal name of God, the others are titles that highlight certain attributes.

The lack of certainty around God’s name reflects the mystery surrounding his nature and origins.

This concludes our in-depth look at the primary names used for God in the Hebrew Bible and their linguistic origins. Hopefully this breakdown clarifies the complex relationship between these names and titles and provides insight into how our English word ‘God’ developed from early Biblical texts.

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