Chapter 4:

Who Is God?

Is it possible to know God personally? Is it possible to know his true character, his feelings and standards, to speak with him and even to please him, to be his friend? Some religions present God as harsh, sending all who displease him to horrific eternal torture. Others paint him as an all-accepting, all-tolerating deity, who loves us all "just the way we are." Some view him as a lofty and impersonal Force, a mysterious Infinite One, far away and beyond any hope of approach. What is the truth? Where can we find the answers? To find God, should we go meditate in the forest, or search in the desert?

No, he is much closer than that. The Book he has published to tell mankind about himself is sitting on shelves and coffeetables and nightstands all over the world. God also has faithful people actively seeking out and helping those who are searching for Him. (Chapters 7 and 14 will develop this further.) This online book is part of that outreach. We hope you are finding it useful.

The Bible tells us that God wants us to find him: "God made from one man every nation of men to live in all the earth, and he decreed the times and limits of their dwelling, that they might seek God, if they would grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us." (Acts 17:26, 27) No, God does not wish to remain aloof from mankind, a distant mystery, unknown and unknowable. Yet he does remain hidden from those who have only casual interest in finding him, those who do not really search for him. That is his choice. In fact, we cannot find God on our own; he draws each person to himself when he sees what he wants in them. What he is looking for is sincere humility— an earnest desire to know and live by the truth. (Luke 10:21, 22, John 6:44; compare 1 Chron 28:9.)

Are you ready to meet your Maker? When we meet a person for the first time, what do we usually do? We give our name, and learn their name. God knows your name, do you know His? Many think "God" is his name, but that is really just a title. It means "powerful one." People have called many things "god": things that have no real power, such as idols, and things that do have some power, such as kings or judges. The Bible says "there are many gods." (1 Cor 8:5, Psalms 82:6) Satan is called "the god of this world" because he really does have power in this world. (2 Cor 4:4) However, there is only one true God, with supreme power. —1 Cor 8:4.

In Bible times the one true God was known by his personal name. When it was originally written, the Bible used his name about 7,000 times. Despite that, you may never have noticed God's name in your Bible, because in later years superstitious scribes removed it, putting "Lord" or "God" in its place as they made new copies of the scriptures. Can you imagine how God felt about that? If you had written a book for the express purpose of telling people about yourself, and then the publishers insisted on removing your name from every page, would you be happy with them?

Why would anyone dare to do that? Because Satan had convinced them that it would please God! The third of the Ten Commandments reads: "You must not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain." (Exodus 20.7, AV) This meant that God wants his name used respectfully, honorably. In time the religious leaders of Israel came to feel, and teach, that God’s name was too holy for ordinary people to use; such ‘people of the earth’ would surely defile it. So to "protect" the Name, they would not put it into copies of the Bible that would be widely available. As a result, of the many ancient copies of the Bible still in existence, a few have God’s personal name, but most do not. This matter has been known for a long time. Many modern translators have accepted this custom of leaving God’s name out, but a few have had the courage to restore it. For example, in the preface to the American Standard Version we read:

"The American Revisers, after a careful consideration, were brought to the unanimous conviction that a Jewish superstition, which regarded the Divine Name as too sacred to be uttered, ought no longer to dominate in the English or any other version...This Memorial Name...emphasised as such over and over again in the original text of the Old Testament, designates God as the personal God, as the covenant God, the God of revelation, the Deliverer, the Friend of his people, not merely the abstract "Eternal One"... but the ever living Helper of those who are in trouble. This personal name, with its wealth of sacred associations, is now restored [in the American Standard Version] to the place in the sacred text to which it has an unquestionable claim."

As an example of how brazen the "editors" who removed the name were, look at Isaiah 42.8 in the King James Bible (or Authorized Version [AV], meaning authorized by King James of England), perhaps the most popular English Bible of all time: "I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory I will not give to another, neither my praise to graven images." God’s name is not "LORD", yet that is what they have him declaring. Notice here and also in the quote of Exodus 20:7 above that the word "LORD" is in all capital letters. That, or by printing "GOD" in all capitals, is how the King James version marks many of the places where the personal name belongs. (compare the two occurrences of "lord" in Ps 110:1, AV) To their credit, those translators did decide to permit God to have his name in four places in his book. Many Bibles, including the New King James Version, remove even these four.

As you can see, according to the King James Version, God’s personal name is JEHOVAH. Especially notice what Isaiah 12.4 says: "Call upon his name... make mention that his name is exalted." Does that sound like God wants his name to be obscure, known and used by only a privileged few?

The Name in Hebrew letters

There are those who argue that "Jehovah" is a perversion of God’s name. Why so? In Hebrew, God’s name is written YHWH (see the Hebrew characters at right; read from right to left). Those four letters are consonants to us, but in Hebrew they all function as vowels, so that the pronunciation nearest to the ancient original is "Yeh·ho·wah" or "Yeh·hu·wah".*

At the time the King James Bible was being made, the letter "J" had a "Y" sound (it still does in most European languages) and the letter "V" was used interchangeably with "U" ("W" is in fact "double-U" or "dobbelt-ve" [double v]). So the Name was reasonably printed "Jehovah" (pronounced "Yeh-ho-wah"); then the pronunciation shifted as the letters came to have their modern sounds. Add the English tendency to accent the penultimate syllable, and we now have "Jee-HO-vuh". That is quite a shift in pronunciation. What would God have us do about it?

English changes the pronunciation of many foreign-origin words. Look what it has done to the most widely known name in the world: Jesus. In Greek, it is Iesu ("Yeh-soo"). In Hebrew, it was "Yeshua".* Some today insist that we should not call God by any personal name because, they say, we cannot be sure how to say it in exactly the original way. Yet these same people would never consider refusing to call their Lord and Savior "Jesus"! If we believe Yeshwa doesn’t mind being called "Jesus", a sound bearing little resemblance to his Hebrew name, then we can also believe Yehwa doesn’t mind being addressed as "Jehovah." (Or, if our language is not English, in whatever way has become accepted in our language.) What is far more likely to offend Him is for us to refuse to use his personal Name. Jehovah says: "this is my name forever, and this is the memorial of me to generation after generation." We should respect that. —Exodus 3:15.

At Acts 15:14 we read that Jehovah has "turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name." Could these same people then refuse to say the name of their God? Would they go to a church that hardly ever mentioned it? How often have you heard it in your church? Surely God’s people would act according to the prayer that Jesus gave us: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed (held sacred, highly honored) be thy name." (Matt 6.9)

What God’s Name Means

Truly hallowing the Name involves more than merely knowing it or using it only as a sound-label for God. Knowing what the Name means, why His name is Jehovah, enables us to fully honor the One whom it identifies. The Name YHWH is related to the verb "hawah", which means "to become." This stands out in the account at Exodus 3:13-17. Here Moses asks about God’s name, and God explains that it means "I Will Become What I Choose to Become." In other words, He is ‘the One who can be whatever He wills.’ This was particularly meaningful at that moment, because Jehovah was reassuring Moses that he really would be the Deliverer of His people, the Keeper of His promises to Abraham. The name Jehovah is thus the dynamic name of the living God, the true God who does mighty acts. He is able to become many things: Creator, Shepherd, Judge, Instructor, Deliverer, Executioner— as he wishes. (Isa 30:20, Ps 23:1, Judges 11:27, Exodus 6:6-8) This Name continues to give us reason for hope as we anticipate the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

Unfortunately, the King James translators failed to discern the dynamic, forward-looking nature of the Hebrew verb used, and rendered Exodus 3:14 as "I AM THAT I AM." Many modern versions follow that tradition, but comment on the better translation in their footnotes. (It seems the early Greek translation known as the Septuagint rendered Exodus 3:14 as "I am the Being," failing to incorporate the imperfect tense [meaning ongoing, unfinished action] of the verb used. This error has influenced many translators since. But God was emphasizing to Moses what He would yet do, not what He had already done.)

Hebrew scholars also point out that the verb form in the Name is 'causative', that is, it means "cause to become." God has done far more than just cause himself to become; he has caused things to exist and events to happen. So His name fully describes his limitless power: He is the Ultimate First Cause and no one can check his hand. —Daniel 4:34, 35.

Is Jesus Jehovah?

There are those who argue, "Jehovah was God’s name in the Old Testament, but now we are to call him Jesus."* Are they right? If there is one who should know, Jesus should. Did Jesus ever say he was God? You may search the Bible through; he never said that. Rather, he called himself "God’s Son."

Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven. In one prayer, he called his Father "the only true God", and mentioned himself separately. (John 17.3) In another prayer, he said, "Let, not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42) In the Lord's Prayer, he tells us to pray for his Father’s name to be honored. On several occasions he declared that his Father had sent him, and he was obediently doing the work he had been sent to do: see John 6:38, 7:16, 17, 28, 29 and 8:28, 29; Luke 22:42.. Unlike Jesus, God does not obey anyone. He is the Sovereign over all.

You might be asking, why are we proving this rather obvious point? Because for over 1,500 years now the teaching "Jesus is himself God" has been the most important dogma of the traditional churches of Christendom. Many sincere Bible students have been ostracised, persecuted, tortured, even burned alive, for daring to say otherwise. Even in our time people face ridicule and exclusion for not accepting this view of Jesus. This false doctrine has a name: "trinity." As you might expect, this word is not found in the Bible. Put briefly, the "trinity" says God is three persons in one: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, all equal, none above the other. No doubt you have heard the expression "God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost." Contrast that to the Bible, which says that God is head over the Christ (Jesus). —1 Cor 11:3.

Consider this: if indeed Jesus had presented himself to the Jewish nation as their God, this would have caused a sensation and an uproar that would have been part of the gospel record. He caused an uproar, of course, but it was over his claim to be sent by God. If it were critical that people accept him as God Almighty to be saved, he would have spared no effort to prove it to them by teaching it plainly. We find not a trace of such an effort in the life and teachings of our Lord.

Some point to John 10:30 as proof that Jesus openly claimed to be God. There he said, "I and the Father are one." That offended the Jews, so they tried to kill him, saying "[We stone you] for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, have made yourself God." (NLT rendering) But is that what Jesus really said? Remember, the Jewish opposers were not known for understanding Jesus correctly. He answered them by quoting Psalm 82:6 (read verse 7 also), where God himself calls men of authority "gods".* In view of that, he said, "why do you call it blasphemy when the Holy One who was sent into the world by the Father says, ‘I am the SON of God’?" So, in saying he was "one" with his Father, he only meant he was His faithful Son. The truth is very simple and easy to understand. It is the Trinity doctrine that is confusing.

Jehovah declares at Isa 44:6, "I am the first and the last, and besides me there is no God." Other "gods" are as nothing compared to Jehovah, the one and only "God of gods". (Daniel 11:36) Now Jehovah has given his Son "all authority in heaven and on earth." (Matt 28:18) It is therefore correct to call Jesus a god, even a Mighty God (as at Isa 9:6)— but he is not equal to the Almighty God who gave him his power.

Did you know that you too can be one with God in the very same way Jesus is? Jesus prayed for us “I make request... that they [we, his disciples] may all be one, just as you and I are one, Father... I have given them the glory that you have given me, in order that they may be one just as we are one. I in them and you in me, all perfected into one.” We are not to become divine persons in a Trinity. We will be his humble, obedient, faithful, perfected sons.*

Jesus ended his prayer to his Father with these words: “I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.” Clearly, those who dismiss and neglect Jehovah’s personal Name are not close to either Him or His Son. On the other hand, if you let Jesus teach you about his Father, you will come to truly know and love God and will understand and cherish His Name, with all its powerful meaning. —John 17:21-23, 26; see also Psalms 113:2, 3 and 91:14.

The apostle John, who was very close to Jesus and surely knew who he claimed to be, concludes his inspired account of Jesus’ life by saying: "These words have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and, that, because of believing, you may have life by means of his name." (John 20:31) Jesus was by far the greatest man who ever lived, and the Bible tells us he now "sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven"— the highest position possible for one of God’s creatures. (Eph 1:20-22) No, God is not sitting at his own right hand! More on who Jesus is and his position with his Father will be explained in the next chapter, Jesus Christ— "the One Through Whom All Things Are".

So if you are passing along and see a church sign with "Trinity" in it, you know that they subscribe to a false doctrine; you should not look to them for accurate knowledge about God. If you are attending a church, you should ask your pastor where he stands on this. You will likely find it written into the church creed, and subtly woven into sermons, not always being stated outright. It is important for you to accept the truth about this, because error and falsehood can only serve the interests of God’s adversary. Truth sets free, error cannot. —see John 8:31, 32, 36, 42-55. Note especially the question in verse 53.* John 14:8-31 is another interesting study on this subject. The meaning of vss 9, 10 is clear from our discussion above. Note also vss 20, 24, 28, 31.

Where Is God?

You would think the answer to that is simple. "Heaven, of course." That is what the Bible says. (1 Kings 8:43) But where is heaven? As used in the Bible, it has at least three meanings: the air in which clouds float and birds fly, outer space with its stars and galaxies, and the realm of God and the angels. (Psalm 78:26, 79:2, 148:1-5, 8:3, 2 Chron 6:18, Matt 6:9, Mark 13:32) The common thread tying these three together is that they are up, above mankind. But we cannot point to a precise direction and say, "only in this direction are clouds, stars, God." An Australian pointing up is pointing in the opposite direction from an American pointing up. If I point up in the morning and in the evening, I am pointing in nearly opposite directions, because the earth has turned. So to try to mark God on a sky map is meaningless. If we say, "He is beyond the farthest reaches of the Universe*," then what are we to make of scriptures which say, "He is near to all those calling on him"? (Psalms 145:18, Isaiah 57:15) Rather than thinking of God as limited in position, it is more reasonable to say God is wherever he wants to be.

Some philosophers have taught that God is everywhere at once, and is in everything around us. The Bible does not present him in that way. Rather, it emphasizes that He is "above" us, and men turned their eyes "heavenward" (up) to pray. (John 11:41; see also Psalms 103:19, 104:1-3) Yet it says that he is aware of everything that happens. (2 Chron 16:9, Matt 10:29, Jer 23:24)

Heaven, then, is not so much a place as a realm, a state of existence invisible to us. This raises another question:

What Is God?

Once again, the answer to that is simple: "God is a Spirit," the Bible says. (John 4:24) But what is spirit? The word itself is translated from the Greek pneuma and the Hebrew ruach, both of which fundamentally mean "air", specifically "air in motion, wind, breath." Obviously, God is not composed of 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen, the composition of Earth’s atmosphere as we learned in grade school. But think of how air appears to people without a modern scientific background: It is absolutely invisible, yet it undeniably exists. When it moves, it can do tremendous things. If we fail to breath it, we die. What is this stuff? the ancients must have wondered. As is human nature, they named it, which enabled them to discuss it and use the concept in describing other like things. So God is not air, but he is like air: invisible, very powerful, and our life is dependent on him. But we simply do not have the senses or the mind to know what "spirit" actually is. Scientific instruments cannot measure it. We only know God exists because we see the effects of his activity.

The Bible quite often speaks of God as having a nose, a heart, eyes, hands, ears, lips, feet, and arms. (You can use a concordance to find such references.) This does not mean he is material and has a human form; because we are limited, we need these figures of speech to help us understand and visualize invisible, spiritual things. God is really "spirit"; he is not bound by gravity, nor does he have to eat food, drink water, or breathe air like us. "The earth is my footstool," he says. Some feet! Should we search the North Pole for huge footprints? No, expressions like that are just a way of impressing us with his greatness over the earth. —Acts 7:48-50.

The Spirit Of God And Of Man

Interestingly, the Bible not only says God is spirit, he has spirit: "If you send forth your spirit, they are created" (Psalm 104:30; see also 33:6, Gen 1:2). Often we read of "God’s spirit" as something he gives, takes away, uses like a tool to do marvelous things. Sometimes it is called "holy spirit" and sometimes simply "your spirit," as in the reference above.

If you use a concordance to find references to "spirit", you will quickly see that the word is very broadly used. Besides spirit of God, people have "spirit". A person can have "bitterness of spirit" or a "spirit of jealousy". If our spirit "goes out", we perish. We can have a spirit that is faithful, stricken, lowly, haughty, cool, crushed, can be roused, agitated, or faint. These feelings are our own, not those of some other person within us. So our spirit is our motivating or energizing force, so’s to speak. Even the world as a whole has a "spirit", meaning its dominant attitude or way of thinking. (Gen 26:35, Num 5:30, Ps 146:4, Pr 11:13, 15:13, 16:18, 19, 17:27, Ps 34:18, 32:2, Ezra 1:1, Dan 2:1, Ps 143:4, 1 Sam 30:12, 1 Cor 2:12.)

As for God’s spirit, it can be poured out upon us, fill us, "dwell" in us, or be removed. It can be divided, a portion being taken away and given to others. It is even in our nostrils. (Joel 2:28, 29, Acts 2:17, 18, 33, Isa 44:3, 4, Rom 8:9, Num 11:17, 25, Job 27:3) Not all Bibles use "spirit" in all of these references. Some may use the word "breath", which is a reasonable translation within some contexts; yet the original word is the same one they translate as "spirit" in other passages.

Instead of "holy spirit", some Bibles use the term "Holy Ghost", because their translators were influenced by the Trinity doctrine (discussed above). But the original Bible writers did not use two different words, ‘spirit’ and ‘ghost’. Better translations today consistently use one word: spirit.

It becomes quite obvious after comparing dozens of references that holy spirit is not a person, having an individual mind of its own like an angel or a man. However, the Hebrew language quite often expresses abstract things in concrete terms. Jewish writers delighted in personifying impersonal things in order to get a point across. One example is the story at Judges 9:8-20. At Romans 5:21 there are three things personified: death, sin and undeserved kindness. At Genesis 4:7, 10, 11 we see sin, blood, and the ground referred to as if they were living beings. Likewise, God’s spirit is very occasionally spoken of in terms that make it seem to be a person. (John 16:7, 8, 13) These should not be taken literally any more than we should think sin is really a person. If we do take it literally, then we have to explain why so many references present holy spirit as a thing instead of a person. The pronoun most often used to refer to holy spirit is "it". No adult person (other than a demon) is ever referred to as "it" in the Bible.

Nor is the holy spirit given a formal name anywhere in scripture, which we would expect if it were a person of such great importance. In Bible times it was considered very dishonorable to be nameless (Job 30:8). Some point to Matt 28:19 as proving the holy spirit does have a personal name, even though no name is actually given there. But the word "name" can also mean "authority" or "power of" (as in the expression, "open up in the name of the law!"), and that is what makes sense, in light of so many references proving that the spirit of God is a thing, not a person. This may be another reason trinitarians tend to disregard God’s name; by leaving him nameless, and with no name for the holy spirit, it is easier to promote the idea that the spirit is another face of the mysterious Godhead, with the one and only name Jesus. But as we have seen, the Bible prominently glorifies the Divine Name, while leaving his spirit nameless.

Click link to continue at next heading: Foreknowledge and Predestination.

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The review questions are linked to the last section of multi-part chapters.