DID ABRAHAM KNOW GOD’S COVENANT NAME?

A RESPONSE TO SHABIR ALLY

This post is intended to complement what I wrote elsewhere in response to Shabir Ally: Did Jesus Claim to be God? Pt. 2.

According to the Holy Bible, the patriarchs knew the Lord as God Almighty but hadn’t known him by his name YHWH:

God (Elohim) spoke to Moses, and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh (ani YHWH). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai); but by my name Yahweh (YHWH) I was not known to them.’” Exodus 6:2-3 World English Bible (WEB)   

Noted Muslim polemicist Shabir Ally, under the influence of liberal critical scholarship, takes this an indication of the Pentateuch being an uninspired editorial patchwork of four conflicting sources, which were combined together sometime after the Babylonian captivity. Two of these alleged sources are labeled by liberal scholars as the Elohist (“E”) and Yahwist (“J”) documents. The Elohist source employs the name Elohim for God, whereas the Yahwist document uses the Tetragrammaton, namely, YHWH.

With this unproven and unsubstantiated presupposition guiding his reading of the Holy Bible, Ally writes:

1. The Yahwist version (Exod 6:28 – 7:7) says nothing about the name of God being revealed because for the Yahwist editors the name Yahweh was already known among the Israelites. They say that this name was being used since the time of Enosh, the grandson of Adam (Genesis 4:26).

2. The priestly version (Exod 6:2-13) contradicts this by saying that this name was not known before (Exod 6:2).

God’s command to Moses here is So say to the Israelites, “l am Yahweh …” (Exod 6:6), and Moses repeated this to them (6:9).

3. But in the Elohist version (Exod 3:13-22) God’s instruction to Moses is different.

This is what you are to say to the Israelites. “I am has sent me to you” (Exod 3: 15).

It would appear from this that God’s name is “I am,” but it is clear upon careful study that in this passage the Elohist scribes substituted “I am” for “Yahweh” in the same instruction given in (Exod 6:6). (Ally, Is Jesus God? The Bible Says No [Al-Attique International Islamic Publications, Toronto, Ontario Canada: Reprinted, 1998], Some Misunderstood Verses of the Bible Now Put Back in Their Contexts, Before Abraham was, I am, pp. 57-58)

Ally, therefore, misuses Exodus 6:2-3 to prove that the Torah is contradictory since there are plentiful verses in Genesis showing that the patriarchs knew and employed the divine name:

“The man knew Eve his wife. She conceived, and gave birth to Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man with Yahweh’s help.’… A son was also born to Seth, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on Yahweh’s name.” Genesis 4:1, 26

Yahweh appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day… Yahweh said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Will I really bear a child when I am old?” Is anything too hard for Yahweh? At the set time I will return to you, when the season comes around, and Sarah will have a son.’” Genesis 18:1, 13-14

Abraham called the name of that place ‘Yahweh Will Provide’. As it is said to this day, ‘On Yahweh’s mountain, it will be provided.’ Yahweh’s angel called to Abraham a second time out of the sky, and said, ‘“I have sworn by myself,” says Yahweh, “because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your offspring greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies. All the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because you have obeyed my voice.”’” Genesis 18:14-18

I have already provided a thorough refutation of Ally’s canard in the foregoing rebuttal. Here, I simply want to present another explanation offered by conservative Bible-believing Christians to explain this supposed discrepancy.

The historic conservative position of both Judaism and Christianity is that God inspired Moses to compose the great bulk of the Pentateuch/Torah. As such, it was God who revealed to Moses the past lives of the historical figures mentioned throughout Genesis.

Since Moses was inspired to write down the words and actions of the patriarchs, God inspired his servant to insert the divine name all throughout Genesis whenever Israel’s ancestors or anyone else referred to the one true God of all creation.

Simply put, it isn’t that Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc., actually knew and employed the Tetragrammaton. Rather, Moses wrote down God’s unique covenant name in place of the words that these figures would have employed.

For example, Abraham may have referred to God as Adon (“Lord/Master/Owner”), which Moses then wrote down as YHWH, in order to insure that his immediate audience and all subsequent generations of his readers would be aware that it is the same one and true God, which is being spoken of.

We find a similar phenomenon occurring within the New Testament and the Quran where these sources employ different names for God in the respective languages, which they were written in, from that used by Moses, whenever they cite or allude to events recorded in the Pentateuch.  

I produce some examples from all three Scriptures to highlight this fact.

The Old Testament

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to God’s mountain, to Horeb. Yahweh’s angel (malach YHWH) appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the middle of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. Moses said, “I will go now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.’ When Yahweh (YHWH) saw that he came over to see, God (Elohim) called to him out of the middle of the bush, and said, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, “Don’t come close. Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing on is holy ground.’ Moreover he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Elohe ‘abika, Elohe Abraham, Elohe Yis’haq, w’Elohe Ya’aqub).” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God (Elohim)… Moses said to God (ha Elohim), ‘Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and tell them, “The God of your fathers (Elohe ‘abotekem) has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, “What is his name?” what should I tell them?’ God (Elohim) said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM (Ehyeh asher Ehyeh),’ and he said, ‘You shall tell the children of Israel this: “I AM (Ehyeh) has sent me to you.”’ God (Elohim) said moreover to Moses, ‘You shall tell the children of Israel this, “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (YHWH Elohe ‘abotekem, Elohe Abraham, Elohe Yis’haq, welohe Ya’aqub), has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations.”’” Exodus 3:1-6, 13-15 WEB

“Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one (YHWH Eloheinu YHWH echad). You shall love Yahweh your God (YHWH Eloheka) with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5 WEB

You shall fear Yahweh your God (YHWH Eloheka); and you shall serve him, and shall swear by his name. Deuteronomy 6:13 WEB

“You shall not tempt Yahweh your God (YHWH Elohekem), as you tempted him in Massah.” Deuteronomy 6:16 WEB

Pay close attention to the fact that the divine names which Moses employed in the aforementioned texts which recount his meeting with God at Horeb are YHWH and Elohim.

The New Testament

In the following examples, the inspired Christians Greek Scriptures substitute YHWH with Kyrios and Elohim with Theos when narrating Moses’ encounter with God in the bush, and elsewhere:  

“Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one (Kyrios ho Theos hemon Kyrios heis estin). And you shall love the Lord your God (Kyrion ton Theon sou) with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.’” Mark 12:29-30 New King James Version (NKJV)

“Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God (Kyrion ton Theon sou).”’ Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God (Kyrion ton Theon sou), and Him only you shall serve.”’” Matthew 4:7-10 NKJV

“But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Kyrion ton Theon Abra’am, kai Theon Isaak, kai Theon ‘Iakob).’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.’” Luke 20:37-38

The Quran

The Muslim scripture does something similar by replacing the Tetragrammaton with the Arabic term Rabb and Elohim with Allah:

Hath there come unto thee the story of Moses? When he saw a fire and said unto his folk: Lo! Wait! I see a fire afar off. Peradventure I may bring you a brand therefrom or may find guidance at the fire. And when he reached it, he was called by name: O Moses! Lo! I, even I, am thy Lord (ana rabbuka), So take off thy shoes, for lo! thou art in the holy valley of Tuwa. And I have chosen thee, so hearken unto that which is inspired. Lo! I, even I, am Allah, There is no God save Me (ana Allahu la ilaha illa ana). So serve Me and establish worship for My remembrance. S. 20:9-14 Pickthall

(Remember) when Moses said unto his household: Lo! I spy afar off a fire; I will bring you tidings thence, or bring to you a borrowed flame that ye may warm yourselves. But when he reached it, he was called, saying: Blessed is Whosoever is in the fire and Whosoever is round about it! And Glorified be Allah, the Lord of the Worlds (Allahi rabbi alalameena). Moses! Lo! it is I, Allah (ana Allahu), the Mighty, the Wise. S. 27:7-9 Pickthall

Then, when Moses had fulfilled the term, and was travelling with his housefolk, he saw in the distance a fire and said unto his housefolk: Bide ye (here). Lo! I see in the distance a fire; peradventure I shall bring you tidings thence, or a brand from the fire that ye may warm yourselves. And when he reached it, he was called from the right side of the valley in the blessed field, from the tree: O Moses! Lo! I, even I, am Allah, the Lord of the Worlds (ana Allahu rabbu alalameena); Throw down thy staff. And when he saw it writhing as it had been a demon, he turned to flee headlong, (and it was said unto him): O Moses! Draw nigh and fear not. Lo! thou art of those who are secure. Thrust thy hand into the bosom of thy robe it will come forth white without hurt. And guard thy heart from fear. Then these shall be two proofs from your Lord unto Pharaoh and his chiefs. Lo! they are evil-living folk. He said: My Lord (rabbi)! Lo! I killed a man among them and I fear that they will kill me. My brother Aaron is more eloquent than me in speech. Therefor send him with me as a helper to confirm me. Lo! I fear that they will give the lie to me. He said: We will strengthen thine arm with thy brother, and We will give unto you both power so that they cannot reach you for Our portents. Ye twain, and those who follow you, will be the winners. S. 28:30-35 Pickthall

These cases demonstrate that it is thoroughly acceptable for a person to substitute the names employed by another individual(s) in a different language for God with words that are synonymous or used by the audience s/he is writing to.

Therefore, it is quite possible that God inspired Moses to insert the divine name all throughout the Genesis account, even though that name wasn’t revealed during that period of sacred history. Moses could have done this to help his audience understand that the God they were worshiping is the same God that their ancestors and the people before them worshiped, even though those who came before them used different names and titles for the Deity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s