Jesus taught:

Mat 6:9 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Matthew/Jesus appears to allude to the Torah which provides the name as "YHVH" (perhaps "Yehovah"):

Exo_20:7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD [YHVH] your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

However, Matthew's "Bible" would have been the Greek scrolls, not the Hebrew:

Exo 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord [KURIOS] thy God in vain; for the Lord thy God will not acquit him that takes his name in vain.

And nowhere in the NT is the Tetragrammaton given. Instead God (mostly post-resurrection) is referred to as "father" (as in Matthew 6:9, Romans 1:7, Ephesians 5:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1) and "the God and father of our lord Jesus Christ":

2Co_1:3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

2Co_11:31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.


  • when Jesus addressed the crowds on the mount/plain would they have understood "thy name" to be YHVH?

  • when the gospels were composed would Matthew have expected his audience to understand God's name to be "YHVH"?

  • was "thy name" circumlocution/euphemism to avoid taking the divine name "in vain"?

  • should a link between Matthew 6:9 and the tetragrammaton in Exodus 20:7 be assumed? Or is the evidence that the link only goes back as far as Exodus 20:7 in the LXX?

  • and if the link to the Hebrew is lost, to what name (or "title" or "fame/reputation") did Matthew/Jesus refer?

  • Are you familiar with the Jewish "Hashem" title? Are you basically asking if Jesus is applying the same concept here? aish.com/sp/ph/69739762.html
    – Joshua
    Jul 13, 2016 at 22:39
  • I am asking, "what is the referent of 'hallowed be thy name'?" We know that he was referring to God, but by what (singular) name?
    – user10231
    Jul 13, 2016 at 22:46
  • Yes I understand that. Hashem literally means "The Name" and is used as a proper name to refer to God casually. One could easily hear a Jew today say "holy is Hashem". It is definitely a replacement for the tetragrammaton and even for the more formal Adonai. But it is modern support for the idea of using the term "the name" itself as a replacement for the sacred or formal name.
    – Joshua
    Jul 14, 2016 at 12:46
  • What makes you think that at the time in that region they would only have the greek scrolls?
    – Hjan
    Jul 5, 2020 at 6:41

5 Answers 5

  • When Jesus addressed the crowds on the mount/plain would they have understood "thy name" to be Eil and Elaha (also written as Alaha). See: 'What word did Jesus use for God in Aramaic?'
  • Matthew's Gospel was written in Greek for a Greek-speaking audience. We know that the Old Testament references used in Matthew were from the Septuagint, so the author did not really expect his audience to know either Hebrew or Aramaic.
  • Again, because the Gospel was written in Greek, there was no need for circumlocution to avoid saying an Aramaic (or Hebrew) name. In Matthew 1:23 (and elsewhere) we see the divine name Θεός (Theos).
  • I am not sure what link you are expecting. Clearly as YHWH is (one of) God's name(s) in Hebrew, a link exists.
  • the divine name used in Matthew is Θεός (Theos). When he used "thy name" this would have been seen as a reference to Theos. Those familiar with the LXX may also have seen a link to Kurios.
  • (+1) because this adds to the discussion. Unfortunately I don't know the answer to my question to know if you have provided "the answer". It leaves me "cold" to think that Θεός (Theos) would be considered a "name".
    – user10231
    Jun 18, 2016 at 23:10
  • 1
    For Theos, cf English, where 'God' is considered God's name; also Hebrew, where Elohim is a name given to God by some authors for whom it was God's proper name (Note I said YHWH was one of God's names in Hebrew). Jun 18, 2016 at 23:17


In one respect, you have already answered the first two parts of your own question within the question itself:

God ... is referred to as "father" (as in Matthew 6:9, Romans 1:7, Ephesians 5:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1)

And this is correct. However, "they name" is merely a reference to Πάτερ (Pater), since the sentence states "Father who is in heaven, your name is sacred (hallowed)." As such, "thy name" should be understood simply as a second-person pronoun referring to the noun in the first clause of the sentence. In other words, if anything is going to be understood as being an attempt to avoid "using the of God in vain" then it would be the use of "Pater," (as opposed to Theos or Kyrios) not "your name".

Despite this, the reason for using this phrase has nothing to do with Exodus 20:7

What's in a name?

The way the OP's question is phrased betrays a misunderstanding as to what the author of Exodus meant by "taking the Lord's name in vain." In fact, if the use of πατήρ (Pater) were an attempt to avoid the use of the Divine Name, this would have more to do with Exodus 3:14.

Throughout antiquity, many ancient peoples had a concept of a Divine or Secret Name. This is best illustrated in the form of a legend about the Egyptian god and goddess Ra and Isis. In this legend, Ra becomes injured, and Isis uses this fact as leverage to learn the divine name of Ra. Isis tells Ra that she could only heal him if she knew his secret name. Isis immediately cured Ra, but he could not take back the power that he had granted her by telling her his true name and from that point on Isis was equal even to the sun god in power.

It was believed in most mesopotamian cultures in antiquity that a god's true divine name contained power and that by learning that divine name an individual could control a god and gain power over that god. Therefore, most ancient spells spells and incantations involved some wording along the lines of "By the name of [divine name] I command [action]" - because it was believed that this lent the spell power. For example, on page 124 of Jewish Aramaic Curse texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia by Dan Levene we see a spell in which the canter is instructed to use the name of Hadriel and Shakniel to silence "evil and violent people who stand gainst Berik-Yeheba son of Mama"

In the name of Hadriel, Shakniel, the well, the stone, and the pit, I adjure, I adjure you, in the name of he who is great and frightful, that you may silence from Berik-Yehaba son of Mama the mouth of all the people who write books, who sit in forts, who sit in market places and in streets, and who go out on the roads.

Another on page 46 seems to utilize as many names as possible as a power-enhancement tactic for the spell

I have adjured you by the holy angels, and by the name of Metatron the pure angel, Nidrel and Nuriel and Huriel and Sasgabiel and Hapkiel and Mehapkiel, shose seven angels that are going adn overturning the heavens and the earth and the stars and the zodiac signs and the moon and Plaedes. May you go and overturn evil sorceries and powerful magical acts...

Understanding the power of a Divine Name, it becomes much clearer what is going on in this scene: Moses is fishing for God's divine name and hoping that perhaps Yahweh is one of his lesser names in an attempt to control God. Instead of giving it, God answers with a name similar to his actual name in much the same way Ra answers Isis with his lesser names (notice God's answer to Moses in Exodus 3:14 is only one letter of difference from the spelling of Yahweh). Instead of giving his name, God responds by saying "I am who I am and I will be what I will be." With this one pithy response, God has both answered Moses and signaled to him that he will not be controlled by any mere mortal and that no use of his Divine Name (which Moses already knows; Yahweh) will control him.

You will note from this however, that the use of Πάτερ (Pater) avoids the actual use of the divine name and ensures that this would not be a concern.

Ancient Mesopotamian Contract Law

Within Mesopotamian contract law, many individuals in antiquity attempt to leverage the concept of a divine name to attach a curse clause to contracts as a penalty for the violation of said contract. For example, in Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi Dr. By Gordon P. Hugenberger of Boston's famed Park Street Church, Dr. Hugenberger gives some examples and notes:

...a considerable number of marriage contrats do include an oath. For instance, eight of the forty-five neo- and late-Bayloanian marriage contracts assembled by M.T. Roth invoke a curse against anyone who would violate the terms of the agreement...

...curses are similarly placed after the stipulations and immediately before the list of human witnesses. Although there is significant variety in detail, the curse in No. 5 is typical (lines 26-29):

"May Marduk and Zarpanitu decree the destruction of whoever contravenes this matter, and may Nabu, the scribe of Esagila, cut short his long days. May Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, decree his destruction."


Considering the presence of oaths and curses in contracts which already have human guarantors, D.L. Magnetti notes that while

"contracts were made in a sphere in which men could take care of the situation... the fact remains that evidence indicates that oaths were sworn as part of contract procedure in at least some ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Perhaps this was due to influence by the procedure in the law court [where oaths of clearance or oaths for witnesses were required at times] or to a desire for the additional sanction of the supernatural"91

91 D.L. Magnetti, "The Oath in the Old Testament," 49f

This then seems to be what Exodus 20:7 is oriented towards: it is meant to prohibit this kind of behavior for many reasons. For example, God is encouraging Israel to be a people marked by their integrity and honesty. This can be illustrated in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:33-37

“Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all—not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.

Here, as with preceding subjects in the sermon, Jesus is referring directly to the commandments given to Moses. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be men of integrity who needn't invoke the divine and add curse clauses to their contracts to bolster their reputation.

Similarly, this reflects back on the God of Israel. What would happen if one of the contracted added a curse clause and Yahweh chose not to curse that individual upon violation of his contract? And what would it say if the the people of Israel frequently entered into contracts including penalties from Yahweh and then frequently broke the terms of their agreements? What kind of respect of and fear of their God would this demonstrate to other groups?

This then is the real meaning of "not taking the name of the Lord in vain," and in fact, the Hebrew word שָׁוְא has an alternate translation of "falsehood" which would render the text

You shall not take [use] the name of the Lord your God for falsehoods, for the Lord will
 not hold guiltless anyone who takes [uses] his name for deceptions or falsehoods.

The NET notes also hint at this stating:

שָׁוְא (shav’, “vain”) describes “unreality.” The command prohibits use of the name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 196). This would include perjury, pagan incantations, or idle talk. The name is to be treated with reverence and respect because it is the name of the holy God.

What about Jewish Customs?

One final thing to note is that many would (rightly) point out that it is rabbinical tradition not to speak the name of God. But as Tracy R. Ruich notes,

Jews do not casually write any Name of God. This practice does not come from the commandment not to take the Lord's Name in vain, as many suppose. In Jewish thought, that commandment refers solely to oath-taking, and is a prohibition against swearing by God's Name falsely or frivolously...

Nothing in the Torah prohibits a person from pronouncing the Name of God. Indeed, it is evident from scripture that God's Name was pronounced routinely. ...The Name was pronounced as part of daily services in the Temple.

The Mishnah confirms that there was no prohibition against pronouncing The Name in ancient times. In fact, the Mishnah recommends using God's Name as a routine greeting to a fellow Jew. Berakhot 9:5. However, by the time of the Talmud, it was the custom to use substitute Names for God. Some rabbis asserted that a person who pronounces YHVH according to its letters (instead of using a substitute) has no place in the World to Come, and should be put to death. Instead of pronouncing the four-letter Name, we usually substitute the Name "Adonai," or simply say "Ha-Shem" (lit. The Name).

So as we can see, at the time of Jesus (and Matthew 6:9) and until at least the time of the writing of the Mishnah (circa 217 CE) it was not thought to be prohibited to speak the name of God. This did not arise until some time between the Mishnah and the Talmud (circa 500 CE).


Based on the references you cited (Matthew 6:9, Romans 1:7, Ephesians 5:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1) as well as many other clues of context, when the Gospels were composed, the author of Matthew would have have undoubtedly expected his audience to understand God's name to be Yahweh.

But why did the Author of Matthew choose to use Πάτερ (Pater) instead of "Theos" or "Kyrios"? It seems we can infer this from two simple and obvious possible conclusions. The first is that it makes a theological statement. The term "Father" (Πάτερ [Pater]) is one of Respect, but familiarity and intimacy. It's use makes a theological statement that Yahweh is a relational God who desires to be intimately involved in our lives in a way that could be compared to a fatherly role.

The second possible reason for this is the same reason for using any new term: the existing terminology is not adequately specific or does not adequately describe or embody what the speaker or author is trying to convey. While I know that the OP is not a Trinitarian theologian, under this paradigm, it would be difficult to distinguish between Theos the father, Theos the son and Theos the Holy Spirit. Using Πάτερ (Pater) would be a more succinct and simpler way to distinguish between the members of the Godhead and be a more effective term for communicating the author's meaning (assuming the author of Matthew was aware of the concept of and believed in a Triune God.)

  • 1
    (+1) because this adds a lot of relevant information. I'm confused though by both this answer and Harfield's understanding that the name Matthew is affirming is ABBA. Isn't that speculation?
    – user10231
    Jun 20, 2016 at 16:27
  • What do you mean when you say "affirming Abba"? Do you mean affirming the father or the fatherhood of God (I assume in relationship to Jesus) or affirming "Abba" as Theos/Kyrios? I don't think either is speculation based on the references you cited in the set-up to your question. I'm sure we could find many more verses where Abba and Theos or Kyrios are used to refer to the same entity. I think that that assumption is far more than speculation. Or do you mean affirming that Abba/Theos/Kyrios are Yahweh? If that is the case, your last 2 bullets would make more sense to me. Jun 20, 2016 at 16:56
  • 1
    I meant that the passage doesn't mention "abba" but you both speak as though it does.
    – user10231
    Jun 20, 2016 at 17:05
  • Matthew 6:9 (NET) - So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. So I suppose it doesn't use "Abba" but instead Πάτερ ("Pater") which also means father. So is your question (essentially) isn't this speculation because it uses "father" instead of "dad"? Are you thinking that it might refer to two different entities because of this? Jun 20, 2016 at 17:27
  • I'm saying to stick with the text.
    – user10231
    Jun 20, 2016 at 17:33

God, Theos, Elohim, Kurios, Lord, Adonai, Abba, Father El Shaddai, and Elah are all not names.

  • Theos just means god or deity in Greek.
  • In the Old testament, Elohim can refer to a single deity or to deities in the plural. The word is the plural form of the word eloah and related to el, which means gods or magistrates.
  • Kyrios or kurios is "Lord" or "Master" in ancient greek.
  • Shaddai means Almighty
  • Adonai means Lords or Majesty
  • Elah related to Allah is a word for God.
  • Abba is Aramaic for father

These terms can be used to refer to God or Gods but they are not names. In Matthew 6:9 Jesus specifically mentioned the word name. And you ask to which name he is referring.

Exodus3: 13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (ESV)

where LORD of course was originally YHWH or Yahweh. Now Ehyeh could maybe be considered a name. אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh is often translated with "I am that I am", but since there is no present tens of "to be" so its closer to "I will be what I will be".

In the bible God has made himself known using several titles or descriptions, but only two of these descriptions he linked with the word "name" (see also Exodus 6:3):

  • ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh, and

So there are these 2 possibilities. Personally I would consider the first one could be considered a description of the meaning of the name YAHWEH, so in a way they refer to the same. YAHWEH was used thousands of times in the scriptures of the old testament, from which Jesus regularly quoted, therefore Yahweh seems the most likely name to which Jesus referred to in Matthew 6:9.

  • @Hjan- Welcome to the site.Your answer is spot on. You not only know the difference between a "title" and a "name", but you also know the difference between " I will be what I will be" and "Yahweh" as pointed out in your last paragraph. I have voted you up here and in your previous answer regarding Matt, 6:9. Jul 11, 2020 at 21:52

Bible scholars acknowledge that God’s personal name, as represented by the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), appears almost 7,000 times in the original text of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, many feel that it did not appear in the original text of the Christian Greek Scriptures. For this reason, most modern English Bibles do not use the name Jehovah when translating the so-called New Testament. Even when translating quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Tetragrammaton appears, most translators use “Lord” rather than God’s personal name.The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures does not follow this common practice. It uses the name Jehovah a total of 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In deciding to do this, the translators took into consideration two important factors: (1) The Greek manuscripts we possess today are not the originals. Of the thousands of copies in existence today, most were made at least two centuries after the originals were composed. (2) By that time, those copying the manuscripts either replaced the Tetragrammaton with Kyʹri·os, the Greek word for “Lord,” or they copied from manuscripts where this had already been done.The New World Bible Translation Committee determined that there is compelling evidence that the Tetragrammaton did appear in the original Greek manuscripts. The decision was based on the following evidence:

Copies of the Hebrew Scriptures used in the days of Jesus and his apostles contained the Tetragrammaton throughout the text. In the past, few people disputed that conclusion. Now that copies of the Hebrew Scriptures dating back to the first century have been discovered near Qumran, the point has been proved beyond any doubt.In the days of Jesus and his apostles, the Tetragrammaton also appeared in Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. For centuries, scholars thought that the Tetragrammaton was absent from manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Then, in the mid-20th century, some very old fragments of the Greek Septuagint version that existed in Jesus’ day were brought to the attention of scholars. Those fragments contain the personal name of God, written in Hebrew characters. So in Jesus’ day, copies of the Scriptures in Greek did contain the divine name. However, by the fourth century C.E., major manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint, such as the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, did not contain the divine name in the books from Genesis through Malachi (where it had been in earlier manuscripts). Hence, it is not surprising that in texts preserved from that time period, the divine name is not found in the so-called New Testament, or Greek Scripture portion of the Bible.The Christian Greek Scriptures themselves report that Jesus often referred to God’s name and made it known to others. (John 17:6, 11, 12, 26) Jesus plainly stated "I have come in the name of my Father.” He also stressed that his works were done in his “Father’s name.”—John 5:43; 10:25.

Since the Christian Greek Scriptures were an inspired addition to the sacred Hebrew Scriptures, the sudden disappearance of Jehovah’s name from the text would seem inconsistent. About the middle of the first century C.E., the disciple James said to the elders in Jerusalem: “Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) It would not be logical for James to make such a statement if no one in the first century knew or used God’s name.

The divine name appears in its abbreviated form in the Christian Greek Scriptures. At Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6, the divine name is embedded in the word “Hallelujah.” This comes from a Hebrew expression that literally means “Praise Jah.” “Jah” is a contraction of the name Jehovah. Many names used in the Christian Greek Scriptures were derived from the divine name. In fact, reference works explain that Jesus’ own name means “Jehovah Is Salvation.”

Early Jewish writings indicate that Jewish Christians used the divine name in their writings. The Tosefta, a written collection of oral laws that was completed by about 300 C.E., says with regard to Christian writings that were burned on the Sabbath: “The books of the Evangelists and the books of the minim [thought to be Jewish Christians] they do not save from a fire. But they are allowed to burn where they are, they and the references to the Divine Name which are in them.” This same source quotes Rabbi Yosé the Galilean, who lived at the beginning of the second century C.E., as saying that on other days of the week, “one cuts out the references to the Divine Name which are in them [understood to refer to the Christian writings] and stores them away, and the rest burns.”

Some Bible scholars acknowledge that it seems likely that the divine name appeared in Hebrew Scripture quotations found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Under the heading “Tetragrammaton in the New Testament,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: “There is some evidence that the Tetragrammaton, the Divine Name, Yahweh, appeared in some or all of the O[ld] T[estament] quotations in the N[ew] T[estament] when the NT documents were first penned.” Scholar George Howard says: “Since the Tetragram was still written in the copies of the Greek Bible [the Septuagint] which made up the Scriptures of the early church, it is reasonable to believe that the N[ew] T[estament] writers, when quoting from Scripture, preserved the Tetragram within the biblical text."

Recognized Bible translators have used God’s name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Some of these translators did so long before the New World Translation was produced. These translators and their works include: A Literal Translation of the New Testament . . . From the Text of the Vatican Manuscript, by Herman Heinfetter (1863); The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson (1864); The Epistles of Paul in Modern English, by George Barker Stevens (1898); St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, by W. G. Rutherford (1900); The New Testament Letters, by J.W.C. Wand, Bishop of London (1946). In addition, in a Spanish translation in the early 20th century, translator Pablo Besson used “Jehová” at Luke 2:15 and Jude 14, and nearly 100 footnotes in his translation suggest the divine name as a likely rendering. Long before those translations, Hebrew versions of the Christian Greek Scriptures from the 16th century onward used the Tetragrammaton in many passages. In the German language alone, at least 11 versions use “Jehovah” (or the transliteration of the Hebrew “Yahweh”) in the Christian Greek Scriptures, while four translators add the name in parentheses after “Lord.” More than 70 German translations use the divine name in footnotes or commentaries.

  • Can you please provide ANY evidence for these claims - the tetragrammaton NEVER occurs in the NT - when translating from the OT the Greek ALWAYS has either "kyrios" (= Lord) or occasionally, "theos" (= God). When Jesus spoke of the Name of God, He said, explicitly that it was "Father".
    – Dottard
    Nov 12, 2020 at 21:05
  • Hi Spada, thanks for contributing - as Dottard has said, it would be great to see some evidence for your claims. Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance, to learn more about how the site format works.
    – Steve can help
    Nov 16, 2020 at 14:00

What name was Jesus referring to? The Father has many names: God, Theos, Elohim, YHWH, Kurios, Adonai, and the list goes on. Jesus (God the Son) also has these names, since He and the Father share the Divine Essence (He said "Everything the Father has is mine" or something to that effect in the Gospel of John.) Now, I propose that Jesus was referring in a collective way to all of the Father's names when He said, "Hallowed be thy name."

Why? Well, let's do a little thought experiment. If a man were to say, "Cursed be the name of X" where X is one of the many names of God I have listed above, it seems reasonable to believe that God would take that as an insult and would be very much offended. By similar logic, it would be reasonable to assume that saying "Blessed be the name of the Lord" and "Blessed be the name of God" would both be pleasing to the Father. Remember, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for their hyper-legalism; would He really be so legalistic Himself so as to desire only one particular name of the Father to hallowed but not the rest?

Now, you might object that Jesus says, "Hallowed be thy name" and not "Hallowed be thy names." Why would He do this, you might ask, if He was referring to all of the names? Well, if Jesus said, "Hallowed be thy names," that would cause one praying the Lord's Prayer to think of the diversity of God's names while praying, which is kind of a trivial detail. But by saying, "Hallowed be thy name," He avoids this occasion for distraction and instead allows the person focus more on God Himself and less on His actual name (or names). And note that it is not technically inaccurate to say "Hallowed be thy name" even though God has many names, just as it is not inaccurate to say that I am enrolled in a math class if I am actually enrolled in two.

I hope this helps. I also claim (by similar logic) that using the Lord's name in vain is sinful whether or not one uses the tetragrammaton.

  • I think that on a Hermeneutics site more precision would be expected than ' or something to that effect in the Gospel of John'.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 28, 2018 at 6:58
  • "All that belongs to the Father is mine." (John 16:15) Jan 28, 2018 at 18:58

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