COGaIC’s Peter Nathan on Sacred Names


Some have alleged that “sacred names” in Hebrew must be used for deity.  Was this the practice of the early Christians?  Here is some of what COGaIC’s Peter Nathan reported yesterday:

Should we use the Greek name Jesus to refer to the Son of God?

A feature of the 20th century has been the rise of a movement known as the Sacred Name Movement (SNM). Adherents believe that the Hebrew divine names are the essential names of God, and that those names should be used and not translated into other languages. For instance, the English name Jesus is considered a pagan name that should only be used in its Hebrew form of Joshua or more correctly Yehoshua.

The past century has seen a bonanza of early texts become available through archaeology. Today we have the benefit of being able to read and analyze texts that were written before and shortly after the time of Jesus Christ. This provides us with a new window into this idea. What do these texts tell us about the question of sacred names?

P52 is a fragment of papyrus that records part of John 18 and 19, while P66 contains most of the Gospel of John. P52 is considered the oldest New Testament text known presently, but both manuscripts have been reliably dated to the early part of the 2nd century. The Gospel of John was not written until late in the first century, so P52 and P66 are very early copies–within 50 years of the original. They show that the Greek name ‘Jesus’ was being used and treated with reverence…

That the likes of P52 and P66 are valid texts to consider is made clear by the way in which they continue to abbreviate the names of the Father, God and Jesus Christ. They are normally reduced to two or three letters in which the last letter changes according to the grammatical use–see above–and the name is highlighted with a line over the abbreviation. Jesus is abbreviated as Ιη-, (transliterated into English as Je- or Ye-).  Christ is abbreviated as Χρ- (literally Chr-). The word God is recorded as Θ- while Father is shown as Πρ- and Lord as Κ-. These abbreviations clearly derive from the Greek terms and not the Hebrew…

This is clear documentary indication that the early followers of Jesus Christ did not place any importance on the Hebrew names as the Sacred Name Movement would claim, but translated the names into the language that was being used for the proclamation of the Gospel and the instruction of the Church.

We can therefore conclude that the earliest available texts of New Testament writings deny the validity of the sacred name concept.

The reality is that the so-called “sacred name movement” has always tended to ignore certain biblical and other manuscripts to support its position.  And that is what I originally concluded when I first looked into this in the 1970s.

And the few times I have looked into it since, I have come to similar conclusions.

For more information on this subject, please check out the following:

Why the Names Jesus and Christ in English? Was the New Testament Written in Hebrew or Greek? Various groups believe that the name Jesus should not be used, but instead other pronunciations and spellings. This is an article, which appeared in the The Living Church News by the late evangelist John Ogwyn, addresses this, as well as if the New Testament was written in Hebrew or Greek.
God’s Names and the Jewish Reading Tradition This article which appeared in the The Living Church News by John Wheeler, addresses this, as well as a few other Hebrew and Greek points.

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