When was the name of YHWH known? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Last night, I was browsing Facebook and saw that Bart Ehrman had shared something about the Old Testament (Is that going to be the subject of his next book?) and contradictions. One such was in Exodus 6. The name YHWH is shown in the book of Genesis, but then we get to Exodus and we read the following in verses 2-3.
2 God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them.
So which is it? Did Abraham know the name of YHWH or was it not known until the time of Moses? This does seem like it could be an inconsistency, but it isn’t.
First off, when Moses asks the name of God in the third chapter, God gives it. It’s not some unknown there. The whole idea is you go back to Israel and say “YHWH” and they will say “That’s Him.” Not only that, in that chapter, God says He is going to do something great. This will be something unheard of before.
And whether you believe in the account or not, the account does show God consistently letting the people know that something powerful was coming. As He judges Egypt, He keeps pointing out that He is doing something new. When the people are in the wilderness, Moses regularly asks “Has anything like this ever been done before?” Gods were normally localized to certain areas. Egypt already had gods and those gods should have been sovereign there, but YHWH was trouncing their gods regularly.
God was going to then be revealing Himself as a God who keeps His covenants. He would be a God who would bring salvation to His people. Never before had God acted to deliver His people en masse from another empire in order to fulfill His covenant and never before had it been done with such graphic miracles.
It had its effect. This became the defining moment of Israel. It defined them so much so today that Jews today still regularly celebrate the Passover. Yes. I realize that many of them probably don’t believe it actually happened, but this is the moment in Jewish history that is central.
Ehrman’s mistake here is thinking that by name, God means the phonetic name being revealed. He doesn’t. He means the meaning of the name will be revealed in that God will show His reputation and who He is to His people as the God who will deliver and provide salvation in fulfillment of the covenant.
There are plenty of Old Testament scholars who have dealt with this. If Ehrman is going this route, I hope he will interact with them. Sadly, I notice he has a tendency to not interact with his best critics.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)