Some have been taught that the names God, Jesus and Holy Spirit have pagan roots and that the proper names should be Yeshua for Jesus and YHWH for God. These ideas were originated by C. O. Dodd of the Church of God (Seventh-day) in the 1920s and 1930s. But is this what the Bible teaches?
Here are two articles that look at what the Bible teaches
- How Should We Address God? by Frank Holbrook
- Proclaim the Sacred Name by Ron du Preez (see below)
But what about “new light?” Ellen White does say that “in every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation” (Christ’s Object Lessons, 127). However, notice this caution: “There are a thousand temptations in disguise prepared for those who have the light of truth; and the only safety for any of us is in receiving no new doctrine, no new interpretation of the Scriptures, without first submitting it to brethren of experience. Lay it before them in a humble, teachable spirit, with earnest prayer; and if they see no light in it, yield to their judgment; for ‘in the multitude of counselors there is safety….’ Men and women will arise professing to have some ew light or some new revelation whose tendency is to unsettle faith in the old landmarks. Their doctrines will not bear the test of God’s word, yet souls will be deceived.… We cannot be too watchful against every form of error, for Satan is constantly seeking to draw men from the truth” (Testimonies, 5:293-295).
In a nutshell, the “Sacred Name” theory is that, unless you use the right literal name of the Creator, you are guilty of breaking the third commandment! Furthermore, in order to be saved, the believer must literally use the right name for both the Father and the Son (and some say the Holy Spirit as well). The Sacred Name promoter then produces a plethora of passages to “prove” the point.
Though I have been reading and reflecting on this issue for quite some time, of late I have done some serious study to see what Scripture rally teaches on this topic. Key to this consideration is the counsel that “Scripture must be compared with scripture. There must be careful research and prayerful reflection. And such study will be richly repaid” (Steps to Christ, 91-92).
Using the method of the Messiah, as located in Luke 24:27, it becomes clear that, from Genesis 1:1 onwards, the Bible uses a variety of ways to refer to the Deity. For example, we find ‘Elohim (“God” Genesis 1:1), or ‘El Shaddai (“Almighty God” Genesis 17:1) – the very appellation given by the Lord Himself when He appeared to Abram, the “father of the faithful.”
Similar to even newspapers in modern Israel, the ancient Hebrew Bible contained only consonants – the reader, knowing the language, supplied the correct vowels. In time, apparently out of fear of taking God’s name in vain, it became customary to substitute another word, usually ‘Adonai (“Lord”) whenever the reader came to the four consonants (YHWH, in English letters), the personal name for God. Since the name ceased to be expressed audibly, its correct pronunciation was eventually completely forgotten.
In the Middle Ages, when Hebrew appeared to be dying out as a spoken language, Jewish scholars invented a system of written vowels that they then added to the consonantal text of the Old Testament. They preserved this custom of not pronouncing the four-lettered name “YHWH” by adding to these four consonants the vowels from the word ‘Adonai, actually creating a completely unpronounceable word. This unique combination of vowels and consonants thus alerted Jewish readers to say ‘Adonai (“Lord”) at those points. In other words, as any honest Sacred Name promoter will admit, the actual pronunciation of the Father’s name is merely a conjecture or an assumption, for no one knows how to pronounce it.
But thankfully, Scripture does not summon us to “pronounce” the name of either the Father or the Son. Rather, consider what it means to “proclaim the name of the Lord.” The very first text that mentions “proclaim the name” is Exodus 33:19: “Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.'”
Just a few verses later this same divine explanation of what “proclaim the name” really means is further elaborated: “Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7).
In other words, as this initial introductory explanation indicates, and as verified by an appropriate understanding of basic Hebrew idiomatic expressions, and as can be seen from a proper contextual study of Scripture, to “proclaim the name” means to demonstrate the wonderful character of our gracious God.
Significantly, our example Jesus Christ did not consider it inappropriate to address the Father by using a name other than YHWH. His call on the cross “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'” …’My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Mark 15:34), was spoken in Aramaic. Eloi is a Greek transliteration of ‘Elahi, which comes from the Hebrew ‘Eli (of Psalm 22:1). Jesus frequently referred to God as His Father, taught His disciples to pray to “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9) and even used the Aramaic Abba, for “father” (Mark 14:36). This reverent example of Jesus indicates that there is no need to use YHWH, for which there in no known pronunciation.
But isn’t the name “Jesus’ derived from the names of pagan gods? Actually this claim is completely contrary to the transliteration techniques required when one moves from the Hebrew language to the Greek, and then into English. Then why nt go back to using the original Hebrew name for Messiah – the same name in Hebrew, as used for Joshua? Simply because this Hebrew name (for which there are two different spelling in Scripture) contains the ‘ayin consonant for which there is “no English equivalent” as Harvard University’s Thomas Lambdin correctly states in his textbook An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. This ‘ayin is a “difficult to describe” sound and “does not exist in any of the European languages” as Menahem Mansoor, another professor of Hebrew studies points out. In brief, it is virtually impossible for almost all westerners to even properly pronounce the supposed Hebrew name of our Savior. Which brings us back to the primary point – nowhere in Scripture is the faithful follower of God ever instructed to properly “pronounce” the name of the Father or the Son. Instead, the Bible’s consistent teaching is that believers are to “proclaim” the name, that is, to “live out Thy life within me” as the hymn-writer so aptly stated.
Let us therefore “proclaim the sacred name” of God! Let us reveal His character by living a Christ-like life through the power of the Holy Spirit.