Pronouncing the Name

King David wrote in the psalm that “those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10). What does knowing the name imply?

Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that calling God by His name is essential for salvation. Abraham and Jesus did not think so.

  • In Genesis 1, the author says that YHWH appeared to Abraham. When Abraham saw ‘three men,’ he said, “Adonai,” which in English is translated as ‘My Lord.’
  • There is no single text in the Gospel where Jesus pronounced the name YHWH. Moreover, when He taught His disciples to pray, He clearly said, “Our Father.” On the other numerous occasions where we read a description of Jesus praying, not once does he use YHWH.

Jesus’ example is very important. In most cultures, when a child calls a parent by their first name, it is considered a sign of serious disrespect. Of course, you know your father’s name, but the situations in which you would call your father by his first name are limited. If God is your Father, should you not use the example of His son for our prayers.

In Near Eastern culture, a wife didn’t address her husband by his first name. When Abigail came to David to apologize for her hustand’s conduct, she called him ‘my master’ (1 Samuel 25). Bathsheba addressed her husband David in the same manner (1 Kings 1). This way of addressing the husband existed in the ancient Near East because the man was perceived as the woman’s guardian and guarantor in the legal and moral aspects of life.

While the culture of family relations and our legal system differs today, did the New Testament change the reverent posture we should have in our relations with God? To hallow the name of the Lord requires that the words in which we speak of the Supreme Being be uttered with reverence.

Holy and reverent is His name. Psalm 111:9

We are never in any manner to treat lightly the titles or appellations of the Deity. In prayer, we enter the audience chamber of the Most High; and we should come before Him with holy awe. The angels veil their faces in His presence. The cherubim and the bright and holy seraphim approach His throne with solemn reverence. How much more should we, finite, sinful beings, come in a reverent manner before the Lord, our Maker!

For any religious Jew who understands and appreciates Hebrew, pronouncing the name YHWH signifies grave disrespect to Almighty God. For that reason, the Masoretes, who vocalized the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, intentionally placed the vowels from the word Adonai (my lord) under the consonants YHWH. This was a traditional Jewish reading of the Divine Name based on Genesis 18:2.

Medieval Christian scholars were unaware of this Jewish way of protecting the name from disrespect, so they read the word YHWH using its mnemonic vowel points. Jehovah, though incorrect, has remained the traditional pronunciation in many English speaking Christian churches.

Nobody knows the exact vocalization of the four consonants which constitute the name of God. This was lost with the destruction of the Temple and the priests who were the only ones considered holy enough to speak the name. Today, modern scholars lean toward the conventional pronunciation of Yahweh.

Tradition of Using Adonai

The tradition of reading Adonai when the four consonant name of God appears in the text existed at least since the time of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures). The rabbis who performed this translation work chose the Greek word KURIOS (the Lord) to translate the YHWH tetragrammaton into Greek.

The New Testament writers did the same. They had no problem quoting the Psalms and prophetic texts of the Old Testament from the Greek translation. The word KURIOS appears in their quotations numerous times. The word YHWH never appears in any New Testament book. If the name of God is so important, why does it not appear in the New Testament?

Translators seeking to translate from the original languages into their European tongues followed this example. They felt comfortable translating the name of God into their vernacular languages. This enabled the people to understand it.

Has There Been a Conspiracy?

Proponents of the Sacred Name theory believe that this missing name is a part of a conspiracy in which the church intentionally hid the true name of god from the people. According to this theory, the New Testament had originally been written in the Hebrew language, but the church intentionally hid its original text.

It is true that most of the New Testament writers were Jewish, and their mother tongue was Palestinian Aramaic. Luke was the only non-Jewish New Testament author, who most certainly authored his Gospel and the book of Acts in Greek. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that some of the New Testament books may have been written originally in Aramaic, this does not change the fact that Luke and Acts are both written in Greek.

In all his quotes from the Old Testament which contain the tetragrammaton YHWH, Luke uses the Greek word KURIOS. If the Lord who inspired Luke had a problem with having His name translated into Greek, wouldn’t he have inspired Luke to transliterate the name into Greek? It seems inconsistent to claim that the use of any other name than YAHWEH is profane and leads the user to perdition. It does appear consistent to translate the name of Good into other languages using existing terminology. This is because every Hebrew name in the Bible is translatable because it indicates the character of the individual.

Conclusion

The argument that our salvation depends on the Hebrew pronunciation of the name of God is reminiscent of the medieval alchemists who wanted to obtain gold by doing chemical manipulations. Just as the alchemists failed because they did not know the fundamental laws of the structure of matter, Sacred Name theologians have little understanding of Hebrew grammar and biblical textology. This results in arguments filled with flaws, inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

Of course, we must treat the name of our Lord with respect. Yet salvation is based on our acceptance of the Messiah’s righteousness—the “righteousness of God” Himself (Romans 3:21 NASB)—not upon the proper pronunciation of the name or on the name we use to refer to God.


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