The Bible uses a variety of names for God. He calls things what they are, and He calls Himself what He is. Some of His names describe His attributes and characteristics. Others are His titles of position, power and authority. The Bible calls Him “the Ancient of Days” and “the Most High.” He is revealed as our Creator, our Father, our Provider, our Lord, our King, our Healer, our Redeemer and our Savior.
To understand the importance of the meaning of a divine name, let’s examine the most significant name for God in the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is Yahweh, often translated LORD (in capital letters). This name distinguished Him from the false gods of other nations. It set Him apart as the living, true God to the people of Israel. Yahweh is derived from a Hebrew root word meaning “to be.” God used this word in Exodus 3:14: And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. When Moses asked God His name. God responded that His name is “I AM WHO I AM” or, perhaps even more accurately, “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.”
Consider this illustration: God made His presence known to ancient Israel during the time of the Exodus in a pillar of fire by night and a covering cloud by day. He had already made Himself known to Moses through a bush that burned but was not consumed by the fire. This name makes it clear that the living God, as He relates to us, can be — and can do — whatever He desires. He can reveal His power and presence to us in any manner He chooses.
The Bible tells us that the name Yahweh designates “the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33: And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.). In meaning it is similar to “Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” in the Greek language (Revelation 22:13). It can be translated into English as “the Eternal.” These descriptions of God clearly express that our Creator has always existed and will always exist. He not only has everlasting life in Himself, He also has the power to grant immortality as a gift to those who please Him.
In translating God’s names from one language to another, preserving the meaning of the name—not its phonetic sound — is important. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. The names of God are freely translated from the Hebrew into the Greek, setting us a clear example that translating God’s names from one language to another is perfectly acceptable.
Just remember, 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.
Source: “The Ten Commandments” (United Church of God, 1998), page 20.