Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Name of God, Pt. 1: Can We Speak God's Name?

This is a piece I've meant to do for a while, and it seems apropos to do it now as a follow-up to talking about the names we use for ourselves.

By now, readers may have noticed my tendency to use the KJV, but to usually replace "Jesus" with "Yeshua" and sometimes replace "the LORD" with "YHVH." The reason I prefer Yeshua to Jesus is very simple: First, it emphasizes His Jewishness. Second, "Yeshua" means "Salvation" in Hebrew, and the longer form, "Y'hoshua," means "Yah is Salvation." "Jesus" doesn't carry that meaning--or any meaning, for that matter--in any language, and I want to preserve the importance of the Messiah's Name. Thirdly, while there is nothing wrong, per se, with saying "Jesus"--God knows your heart, and He knows whose Name you're praying in--it's not a particularly good transliteration of our Master's Name either, having gone from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German before reaching it's English form.

What about the proper Name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as He revealed it to Moshe, Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh (hereafter rendered as YHVH)? Should it be used, and if so, how should it be pronounced?

The Jewish tradition is to never pronounce the Tetragramaton--or rather, that only the High Priest may say it, and only then on Yom Kippur. I'll go into the origin of that tradition another time. For now, suffice to say that when a person reading from the Tanakh came to the Name, he would substitute "ADONAI" (Heb. for "Lord"), which is where our own custom of writing "the LORD" in place of God's Name in our English translations comes from. Some translations of the Tanakh, recognizing the link between YHVH and God's declaration to Moshe, "I AM that I AM" ("Ehyeh asher Ehyeh"), use "the Eternal" instead.

Interestingly, over time ADONAI became too holy to be used in anything but direct reading from the Scripture, and HaShem (the Name) was substituted instead. One wonders what will have to be substituted when HaShem becomes too holy. My siddur (Jewish prayer book) uses a double-yod in place of God's Name rather than write YHVH, Adonai, or HaShem.

But is there any Biblical basis for eschewing the Name of God? None at all. YHVH appears 6519 times in the Tanakh--many of them direct quotes from human beings. For example, shortly after the fall, Havah (Eve) says upon the birth of her son Cain, "I have gotten a man from YHVH" (Gen. 4:1). Moshe continually told Israel, "This is what YHVH has commanded . . ." David used YHVH's Name reapeatedly in his Psalms, which were meant to be sung aloud.

No, clearly Scripture permits saying God's proper Name, YHVH, provided that we do so with reverence. It is something greatly to be lamented, then, that both the Jewish and Christian communities have eschewed using it almost to the point of destroying it from history altogether.

I don't think that there's anything wrong with saying "God" and "the Lord" (any more than there was anything wrong with the Apostles writing "Theos" and "Kurios" in the NT) out of a sense of reverence. (For that matter, while I do not join in the custom, I have no problem with those who omit the vowels of L-rd and G-d for the sake of reverence.) My concern is that those terms have become so generalized today that one can never tell if someone means "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" when they say "God," or if they mean Allah, the Brahman, a deist god, or what. Many Christians sidestep this potential confusion or inaccuracy by saying "Jesus," but that risks confusing the Trinity. I would that we knew for certain how to pronounce YHVH and would do so--with all reverence and awe--even if there were no other reason.

Moreover, I think Scripture encourages, if not commands us, to make God's Name known:
Deuteronomy 32:3-4
Because I will publish the name of YHVH: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.

2 Samuel 22:50
Therefore I will give thanks unto thee, O YHVH, among the heathen, and I will sing praises unto thy name.

Psalm 34:3
O magnify YHVH with me, and let us exalt his name together.
Over the next few articles, I'm going to discuss how the practice of never saying YHVH came about, whether we know the pronounciation today, and how we should avoid misusig it. Until then,


On to part 2.

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