Thursday, April 20, 2017

What's In A Name?

I saw a guy on the bus the other day with a book entitled God Has A Name. It made me think.

Something I've never quite understood. The Old Testament Scriptures are full of the name of God, but serious Jews refuse to use it and it doesn't actually appear in our translations. Why?

Our standard translations use a capital "L" followed by smaller capital "ORD" to give us LORD. Sometimes it's GOD when used together to form the term, "Lord God". If the first term is God's name and the second is elohim (god), then it's LORD God. If, however, the first term is adonai (lord) and the second is the name of God, then it is "Lord GOD" (see, for instance, Gen 15:2). But why? And, more to the point, what's with this name?

The biblical name of God is the Tetragrammaton, that 4-letter sequence1 taken from the Torah. It is a word consisting of four Hebrew letters (that I can't print here) that correspond in English to Y, H, W, and H. In Latin the transliteration was JHVH, but ours is YHWH. Thus we get our name for God -- the Tetragrammaton, the unspeakable name of God. Sticking the "a" from adonai and the "e" from elohim in there, we get a word ... either YaHWeH (English) or JeHoVaH (Latin). And ...?

The name refers to God's self-existence, a unique aspect of God. He alone is actually self-existent. He alone is the Uncreated One. He alone is the Self-sustaining One. To the child's question, "But ... who made God?", the answer is YHWH. He is self-existent by definition. That's His name ... who He is.

Why is it, then, that we never see that word in our bibles? You won't find Jehovah in modern translations. You'll find it in four places in the King James. But in modern translation it's only LORD or GOD. And since God's name appears repeatedly, why only four times in the King James? In two of those four it references specifically His name. In Exodus 6:3 God said "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." In Psalm 83:18 it refers to Him "whose name alone is JEHOVAH". In two places in Isaiah (Isa 12:2; Isa 26:4) we find a unique term: LORD JEHOVAH. In this one there is a contraction for YHWH that is essentially yaw and then the whole name. But our modern bibles don't tell us this except by capitalized "LORD GOD".

Also puzzling to me is the whole problem of pronouncing the name of God. Jewish tradition says that they consider the name of God to be so holy as to be a sin to pronounce. (They won't even write the word, "God", but prefer "G_d" to avoid even that potential error.) Our sinful lips shouldn't even say the name. Now, God's Word has the name in it (as difficult it is for us to figure out how to pronounce), so how is that supposed to work? The pious Jew, conservative or orthodox, will go to the synagogue weekly and hear the Word of the Lord read. They will necessarily come across these very clear appearances of the Tetragammatron. And they will ... not pronounce it. Why? If God saw fit to include it and the authors of Scripture saw fit to include it, why do they not?

History tells us that over time the Jews, attempting to protect the name of God from blasphemy, stopped using it themselves. This is why you read of "the kingdom of God" in Luke's Gospel, but it's rendered "the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew's. When they read the Scriptures in synagogues today, they read it as our bibles do, with "Lord" or "God" in there rather than His actual name. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the translators substituted "Lord" (kurios) for God's name. So that's apparently how we ended up with it, but ... why? Sure, we're not entirely sure of how to pronounce it and, sure, it's all Hebrew to us, but I still wonder why we don't use it.

Now, in truth, there is only one name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12), and that is not YHWH, JHVH, or any version thereof. It's not an issue. So it's mere curiosity about the name of God in our Scriptures, how we pronounce it, how the Jews avoid it, and why it's not in there anymore. Jesus is the sweetest name I know. I guess I just wonder because "LORD" and "GOD" appear to be titles rather than names and we worship a personal God. I'd like to be able to use His name.
1 I found it interesting to learn that these four letters (three letters with the last one a repeat) are the consonants for the Hebrew verb tenses of "to be". These consonants (Hebrew doesn't have vowels) give the abbreviated forms of the imperfect tense, the participial form, and the perfect tense of the verb for existence, giving us "will be, is, and has been" -- the eternal, self-existent One.


David said...

On top of that, today, the nuances of God, god, GOD, LORD Lord, and lord, are frequently lost.

Stan said...

Yes, nuances as well as the impact of many of the names that God Himself provided.