JEHOVAH’S WITNESS ARGUMENT: God’s Name was Known Before Abraham
I have a question about Exodus 6:2-3 where God states “I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name, LORD (YHWH), I did not make myself known to them.” When I mentioned this passage to my Jehovah’s Witness friend, he countered by pointing out that all three of these men DID call on God’s Name. Genesis 12:8 says that Abraham “Built an alter there and called upon the name of the LORD (YHWH).” Genesis 28:16 says that “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD (YHWH) is in this place, and I did not know it.’ In my New American Standard Bible, “LORD” is in all capital letters, so I’m assuming that represents the four consonants of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton “YHWH”. Is that right? What is your understanding of how the Exodus passage reconciles with the Genesis passages containing God’s name?
You are correct that in most modern Bibles, the capital letter designations of “LORD” and “GOD” in the Old Testament Scriptures are references to places where God’s Name Jehovah or Yahweh is stated in the Hebrew manuscript.
Your question about why God says that He did not make His Name known before the time of Moses, this is an excellent question and one often comes up when witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses about God’s name. They often bring up these passages in Genesis when they are trying to prove that Abraham and others knew God’s name before God revealed His name to Moses in order support their claim that people cannot know God without calling Him by his personal Name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.”
When they bring up this argument, the first thing I like to do is to ask them how they reconcile that statement of God to Moses in Exodus 6:2-3 with these passages in Genesis.
My experience has been that when I have thrown the ball back into their court, they have a hard time answering and the only answer I’ve heard from them is to claim that the statement that God didn’t make His name known until Moses was merely a reference to the idea that prior Hebrew patriarchs did not experience God’s name at the same personal depth that Moses and his people were about to experience Him.
While on the surface this argument may seem plausible, it doesn’t seem to fit the context of Exodus because if the Hebrew Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) already knew God’s personal name, why would Moses go to the length of questioning God about what His real name was at Exodus 3:13, if he and the people of Israel already knew God’s name before this point in time?
It seems obvious that we should take God’s statement at Exodus 6:2-3 literally and believe that Exodus 3 is where God revealed His personal name for the first time in human History.
So, how do we reconcile God’s name appearing in the text of Genesis? We do so by pointing out that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible so it was easy for him to add God’s name into each passage where Abraham called out to God. While Abraham probably only knew God as the “Lord,” each place were Moses adds a derivative of God’s name to the text, such as “Jehovah-jira” meaning “God will provide,” Abraham probably only said the “Lord provides” or “God provides” in those cases. But since God told Moses that He wanted His name to be known “for ever… unto all generations” (Exodus 3:15), it makes sense that Moses added God’s name “Jehovah” or “YHWH” to the text when he wrote the text of the Old Testament to ensure that all generations would know God’s name forever.