The use of Divine Names has been pointed out as evidence of multiple authorship of the
In Genesis 1, the Hebrew term
Elohim was used to name God. In contrast, Genesis 2
used the Hebrew term Yahweh for LORD God. Destructive critics believe that an
editor used one source for Genesis 1 and a different source for Genesis 2, because each
had a different term for God and each account had a different literary style.
The Problems for Source Criticism
1. The assumption that the manuscript used for source criticism was without error. Proponents
of the Documentary Hypothesis used the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament for their source criticism.
When examining the divine names, Elohim and Yahweh, the Masoretic Hebrew text (MT) differed from the
Greek Old Testament (LXX or Septuagint) in 180 instances and in a variety of different passages within
The scribes of the MT were known to remove the sacred name of Yahweh, and indeed the LXX used the term Yahweh
This called into question the accuracy of the MT’s textual transmission of divine names, and scholars held the
earlier dated LXX in higher regard than the later dated MT in reliability. Because of this, using the MT causes
significant problems for critics who use divine names as the basis to determine sources.
2. The assumption that the terms Yahweh and Elohim were equivalent names for God.
Based on the verb "to be," the Hebrew word YHWH means "He is," and only in
Exodus 3:14 is His full name YHWH
revealed ("I am who I am"). Ancient Hebrew literary tradition had various terms and rules
for their use when naming God, which described specific aspects and characteristics of
God. In English language Bibles, Yahweh is translated as "LORD" because Judaism does not
pronounce the sacred name of YHWH.
Yahweh (LORD) is the covenant name of God and is used exclusively of the God of the Hebrews. It is used
to reflect the context of His intimate and ethical character and personal covenantal relationship with man.
Because Genesis 2 is more specific with
the details of man, his original state, his home, and his helper, Yahweh is used.
Elohim is the plural form of El, which by itself is a generic term for god. While a plural form of El,
Elohim is usually translated in the singular form and alludes to Supreme Being, transcendent, and above
the world. It is used when God is referred to as Creator of the world, Lord of the universe, omniscient,
and omnipresent. Because Genesis 1 is devoted to the Creation account, Elohim is used.
As another illustration of the use of divine names, consider Deuteronomy 5:9,
"…for I, the LORD (Yahweh) your God (Elohim), am a jealous God (El),…"
3. The misunderstanding of Hebrew grammatical context.
Understanding Hebrew grammatical nuances also explains another confusion with divine names, which has
been used as evidence demonstrating another source. In Exodus 6:3,
God reveals his name to Moses, Yahweh, and mentions that the Patriarchs knew him by
another name; however, critics point out that this is a contradiction, because the
Patriarchs in Genesis used Yahweh’s name (i.e. Genesis 4:26;
There are two interpretations of Exodus 6:3
1. The confusion stems from the preposition, beth, found in front of the term
Yahweh in Exodus 6:3. This preposition is known as the beth essentiae, which emphasizes
the character and nature of the name Yahweh; thus, the phrase "by the name" in Exodus 6:3 is better
translated as "in the character of Yahweh."
In this view, Exodus 6:3 would be read as, "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to
Jacob in the character of Elohim, but in the character of Yahweh I did not make myself
known to them."
While the Patriarchs knew of Yahweh, they knew Him as the covenant God; the God
who protects and blesses. It was not until the deliverance and exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt
that God was seen as a savior and redeemer; the Patriarchs did not know God in this context.
The evidence for this interpretation was the Targum of Psuedo-Jonathan which suggested
that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as Elohim and by the name Yahweh as well; however, the latter
was only a word to them without the experience of the Shekinah glory that usually was associated with
that name. Medieval Jewish commentators also took the view that the Patriarchs did not understand the
meaning of the character behind the name. (1)
2. In this second interpretation, the confusion stems from a misreading of Hebrew syntax.
Because of Exodus 6:4, Exodus 6:3 should be taken in a positive, not negative sense. Thus Exodus 6:3
becomes a rhetorical question.
In this view, Exodus 6:3 would be read as, "and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
as Elohim. My name is LORD. Did I not make myself known to them?"
In Exodus 6:3 "my name Yahweh" cannot be the direct object of the verb "made known,"
because it is reflexive in meaning. It is also unusual for a Hebrew sentence to have a subordinate phrase
precede the negative Hebrew word Lό (not) because when used, Lό (not) would normally
be the first word of a Hebrew sentence. (2)
The terms Elohim and Yahweh are not interchangeable or equivalent, and they convey subtlety
different aspects of God. Their use is intentional and provide a context to the passage. Because of the
aforementioned significant issues, Divine Names are no longer considered a reliable basis for identifying
hypothetical sources in the manner of the Documentary Hypothesis.