Problem: God's name Yahweh was or wasn't known
Verses: Genesis 15:7, Exodus 6:3; Status: Serious

Note: It is standard practice in Biblical translation to translate the Hebrew name of God - "Yahweh" - as "the LORD", with capital letters. For the sake of the particular issue I am about to discuss, I shall untranslate it back to "Yahweh" in the relevant Bible quotations. You can verify that the word "Yahweh" does indeed appear in the Hebrew with an online Interlinear translation.

The following (Exodus 6:3) is God talking to Moses:

I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them. (ESV)

Yet in fact, God did use the name "Yahweh" when talking to Abraham (also known as Abram). This is the earlier passage Genesis 15:7:

And he said to him [Abram], "I am Yahweh who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess." (ESV)

That seems as clear as contradictions come.

Nevertheless, the NIV Study Bible has this to say:

This does not necessarily mean that the patriarchs were totally ignorant of the name Yahweh ("the LORD"), but it indicates that they did not understand its full implications as the name of the One who would redeem his people.

I don't see this as a natural reading of the text. I imagine that anyone who was unaware of Genesis 15:7 would think Exodus 6:3 was a relatively simple statement of fact. Still, something along these lines is an inerrantist's best bet. The NET Bible's notes argue for this position, and may be worth reading. I can't totally rule out that this is correct.

Updated: 2010-03-26

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