Hey guys! So today we’re going to be talking about who “God” is in the Old Testament. It can get a little confusing and we’ve got a lot to cover so let’s just jump right in.
Alright, so in the Old Testament, despite a variety of titles for God, there is only one proper name attributed to God. In the original Hebrew, it was this 4-letter word, which is called the tetragrammaton. This word is transliterated into English as YHWH or the variant JHVH. There are no vowels in Hebrew so to make sense of it in English we have to add our own. Thus, YHWH becomes YaHWeH, while the variant JHVH becomes the more Latinized, JeHoVaH.
The tetragrammaton appears in the Old Testament more than 6500 times. Yet, in the English King James Version of the Old Testament, “Yahweh” doesn’t appear at all, and “Jehovah” only appears a handful of times. “This is because the translators generally followed a Jewish practice that developed sometime after 500 BC of not pronouncing the divine name YHWH out of respect for its holiness.”
Instead of Jehovah or Yahweh, the tetragrammaton is translated as the more general title, “LORD”, or, in Hebrew, Adonai. Pro-tip: when “LORD” is used to represent the tetragrammaton, it will be in small capital letters in your KJV Bible. So when you see “LORD”, think, Jehovah or Yahweh. When it’s not in small caps, it refers to other heavenly or earthly leaders.
Now, Latter-day Saints believe that Yahweh, Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was the premortal, unembodied Jesus Christ. We believe that that is what scripture teaches, both ancient and modern.
For example: When Jehovah commanded Moses to free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, Moses says, “Alright, but who should I say sent me? What’s your name?” Jehovah’s response in Exodus 3:14 is, “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” In other words, Jehovah claims the title, “I AM” for himself.
Fast forward to the New Testament, in John 8 Jesus tells the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” Here, Jesus claims the title “I AM” for himself. He’s saying, I am Jehovah, I am Yahweh, I am I AM.
The Jews immediately recognized what Jesus was saying, and considered it utter blasphemy. In the next verse, they tried to stone Jesus to death, which was the punishment for blasphemy under the law of Moses. The Doctrine and Covenants also refers to Jesus as “the Great I Am”.
But the scriptures offer plenty of other clues as well. For example, Isaiah 45 identifies Jehovah as the Creator. John chapter one identifies Jesus as the Creator. The Book of Mormon agrees. Isaiah 33 says Jehovah is our judge. John 5 affirms that Jesus is our judge. The Book of Mormon agrees.
In Zechariah 12 Jehovah prophesies that one day the Jews “shall look upon me whom they have pierced”. In John 19, as Jesus is on the cross, a Roman soldier pierces His side with a spear, and we read, “For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled … They shall look on him whom they pierced.” Jehovah, Christ, is the one who is pierced.
You get the point. There are lots of indicators that Jesus is Jehovah. Now, there are some Latter-day Saints who believe there are a few verses in the Old Testament that may refer to God the Father as Jehovah, but they’re debated, and overwhelmingly, we believe Jehovah refers to the premortal Christ.
All of that said, in Latter-day Saint history, our use of Jehovah as an exclusive reference to Jesus Christ wasn’t really standardized until about 1916 after a statement from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Before that time, some leaders used Jehovah as a reference to God the Father. The 1916 statement says:
“…God the Eternal Father, whom we designate by the exalted name-title “Elohim,” is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of the spirits of the human race …. Among the spirit children of Elohim the firstborn was and is Jehovah or Jesus Christ…”.
In Hebrew, “Elohim” generally means God or gods. In our modern church, you might hear us refer to God the Father as Elohim. But it would be a mistake to project that understanding onto the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word elohim is usually simply another title for Jehovah or Yahweh. For example, Exodus 6:2 says, “And God [‘elohim] spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD [yhwh].” Scholar Dana Pike noted that “…‘elohim … merely provided a generic way of referring to divine beings in the Old Testament, whether YHWH/Jehovah, members of the heavenly council, or non-Israelite gods …. The Latter-day Saint use of Elohim—designating a singular being, God the Father—is based on the prophetic pronouncements of the Restoration, not the use of ‘elohim in the Hebrew Bible as it has come down to us.”
So it’s a helpful tool for us today but be careful when you actually come across it in Hebrew scripture. There’s a lot of other cool stuff and nuance we didn’t get to in this episode. If you want to dive deeper into this, check out the resources in the YouTube description, watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day.
- “Elohim” via the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/303rqh2
- “God the Father” via the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3qnAjd6
- “Jehovah, Jesus Christ” via the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3oduUpJ
- “The Name and Titles of God in the Old Testament” by Dana Pike (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3qmUDPd
- What the Old Testament Student Manual has to say on this: https://bit.ly/3n6MTz3
- “Yahweh” via the Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3knXELn
- “Why do Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ was Jehovah of the Old Testament?” by Michael D. Rhodes (Church’s website, 1988): https://bit.ly/3mVCqX5
- “LORD = Jehovah” by Keith Meservy, Ensign (2002): https://bit.ly/3H97LO3
- “Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism” by FAIR: https://bit.ly/3n6MMU9
- “Is Jesus Yahweh?” via gotquestions.org (this is not a Latter-day Saint website, and I often disagree with what it teaches, but on this subject we’re in agreement): https://bit.ly/3wDjRKs
- “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles”, reprinted in the April 2002 Ensign magazine: https://bit.ly/3n0TZ8a