God has one name. ‘’I am Yhwh and that is my name’’ (אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה ה֣וּא שְׁמִ֑י Isaiah 42:8).

In the Hebrew Pentateuch the name of God was the Tetragrammaton (the four letter) ‘Yhwh’.

The Jews respected the Hebrew name of God so much to the point of actually using a substitute word for the divine name which was ‘Adonay’ (my Lord) whenever they spoke of it or read of it in the Tanakh. The exilic Jews followed this tradition of using a substitute for the divine name and they translated the name of God as Kyrios in Greek as found in the Septuagint. Kyrios simply means ‘master, owner, lord’.

What was the reason why the Jews specifically used the substitute Adonay/Kyrios for the Tetragrammaton?


2 Answers 2


The Bible calls G-d Y-h-v-h, which is called “the Tetragrammaton,” which means a four-letter word. While the Tetragrammaton appears on Torah scrolls, even today, Jews say it as Adonai whenever they read the Torah (more on that later).

Many think that this is the name of G-d in the Hebrew Bible, but this is not true. It is a description of how G-d functions in the universe. Thus, when Moses asks G-d in 3:13, the people “will say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what should I say to them?” G-d replies, “‘I am that I am’." Virtually all Jewish commentators and rabbis understand verse 14 to be saying that this is describing how G-d functions or acts. It is not a name.

Since ancient times, Jews have avoided using the Tetragrammaton out of respect around 250 BCE. When they translated the Bible into Greek in Egypt, they substituted the Tetragrammaton for the Greek word Kurios, which means “Lord.” Around 250 the Jews began to substitute Kurios for the Hebrew version of Kurios, Adonai, which also means “Lord.” Eventually, Jews began to treat Adonai as the Tetragrammaton and reverted to the new circumlocution Hashem, meaning The Name. Out of respect, Jews no longer use Adonai, substituting Hashem in its place. Yet others went as far as to write the word "God" as G-d.

Similarly, the word “Elohim” is not a name for G-d but a function. In English it is G-d. The word el is the singular of Elohim, which means “powerful.” Idols, too, is called el, because the ancients felt that these idols were also powerful. G-d is called Elohim (plural) in the Bible because G-d is more powerful than anything else.


The English word “God” (“got” in German and “Godh” in Iceland) is derived from a root to call, meaning to call upon. It does not denote an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic being. For G-d has no human form and emotion. The Torah describes G-d as a “he” because, as Rabbi Ishmael said, “The Torah speaks in human language,” so that humans can understand. For example, the Torah may say G-d becomes angry if people sin. This is untrue. But it helps prevent people from acting wrongly. The Jewish sage Maimonides partly failed in his mission to remove anthropomorphisms and anthropopathic characteristics of G-d. For example, Ravad criticized him when he said that far smarter men felt that G-d was anthropomorphic (meaning that G-d has a body,) and today, many Jews still think that G-d has emotions.

The name El, which means “powerful”; denotes that G-d is more powerful than anything else. For example, “Elohim,” (Elokim) a plural form of “El” (keil) represents “the most powerful.” This explains why some ancient idolatrous cultures used the term el for their idols because they wrongly believed these statues were powerful. Similarly, it is a misconception that the biblical y-h-v-h is G-d’s name because Y-h-v-h describes G-d’s essence. "Names" in the Torah often indicate “essence” or “power.” They are expressions for a powerful force. For example, when Moses asks G-d's name in 13-15, G-d replies e’ye asher e’ye. E’ye and y-h-v-h share a root which means “being,” G-d is what was and what will be.

When the Jews translated the Bible into Greek called the Septuagint in Egypt around 250 BCE, the 72 scribes substituted y-h-v-h for the Greek curios, meaning Lord. They later substituted it for Adonai, which also means Lord in Hebrew. Some even substitute Adonai for Hashem, meaning the Name. The Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 50a, mandates to read y-h-v-h as Adonai. As time progressed, Jews felt the need to substitute God for G-d in writing (out of respect). When the Masorites added vowels Jews retained the consonants without pronunciation of y-h-v-h, but it is not Jehovah. Thus, the "names" of G-d in the Hebrew Bible are the essences of G-d, not names.

  • "Ravad criticized him when he said that far smarter men felt that G-d was anthropomorphic (meaning that G-d has a body,)" That would seem to be a mistranslation, וטובים ממנו הלכו בזו המחשבה לפי, mimenu actually meaning "from us", not smarter "than him". The evidence is the end of the sentence: they believe this because of מה שראו במקראות ויותר ממה שראו בדברי האגדות המשבשות את הדעות, "seeing Agados that confuse people's minds". He is not complimenting them, just excusing them.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 14:51
  • @MichoelR Good point. Thak you.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 16:11
  • 1
    The answer has a lot of useful information. Thank you!
    – MichoelR
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 16:27
  • @MichoelR Your welcome.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 19:03

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