God’s Name In Exodus 3

Moses saw a burning bush which was not consumed by the fire. Then God spoke to Moses, three times describing Himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses explicitly asked His name, God answered, “I am who I am.” He instructed Moses to tell the Israelites that “I AM” has sent Moses (Ex. 3: 13-14). Pope Emeritus Ratzinger argues in Introduction To Christianity that the purpose of this text is twofold: to “establish the name ‘Yahweh’ as the definitive name of God in Israel …” (117), and to give the name “meaning” (117). The root of the word “Yahweh” is hayah— in ancient Hebrew, “to be.”

It seems, however, that Ratzinger cautions his readers not to be irrationally exuberant about the apparent confirmation of Greek logos, which had led philosophers to conclude, through reason, the existence of an objective good, outside of ourselves, as the ultimate purpose of life. As Ratzinger points out, it seems that Exodus 3 confirms “the unity of belief and thought” (118) The concept of a unity of Plato and Moses, of philosophy and faith, writes Ratzinger, suggested to some that the Greek philosophers were familiar with the God of Abraham.
It is probably the other way around, though, writes Ratzinger. The Hebrew-to-Greek translators “were influenced by Greek philosophical thinking and interpreted the text from this angle” (119). There were many so-called “gods” at the time, and it would have been scandalous to simply attribute another name-among-names for the one true Creator. So, Ratzinger explains, the Greek translations “and the conclusions that the Fathers drew from it” were probably “based on a misunderstanding.”
As we do not really know the origin of the word “Yahweh,” Ratzinger asks us to focus more on the personal nature of the one true God. “He is not the God of a place but the god of men: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (123) His power is incarnational— he is not bound to one spot (like the mountain where Moses first saw him), “but is present and powerful wherever man is” (123).


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