Sacred Names: Appropriate or Required?

The following is a response that Norman Edwards wrote in the Fall 2013 edition of Shepherd's Voice to a question about sacred names:

November 18, 2013

Dear Norm,

Greetings and Salutations to you in the Names of Yahuah El Elyon and His Son Yahusha the Anointed One.

I’d like to address a question to you that I know you’ve been asked many times in the past, and have even been asked by me, and I just wasn’t satisfied with your answers because I felt that they didn’t really address the issue in whole. So, for the benefit of your Sacred Name readers of SVM, I’d like to ask you a few questions regarding the issue of the Sacred Names and hopefully you can see fit to publish these questions in an upcoming issue of SVM’s “Ask Norm!” section. This is inspired by Jim Patterson’s article “The Simplicity and Beauty of the Gospel Message” and his side-bar on page 7 of SVM’s Summer 2013 issue.

  1. In various Encyclopedia’s, i.e. Britannica and Americana, the etymology of the word “God” is given, and is said to be the word that the Teutonic pagans applied to their personal object of worship. On conversion of the Teutonic races to “Christianity” the term was applied to the Supreme Being of the Sacred Scriptures. With this knowledge in mind, are we not in violation of the Torah command found in Exodus 23:13 which says: “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other Elohim, neither let it be heard out of they mouth.” If we call our Elohim by the name “God”?
  2. Many secular and biblical dictionaries attribute the word “lord” to the Hebrew word “ba’al”. With this knowledge in mind and considering verses such as Hosea 2:16-17 in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 11:31, should we not avoid using the term “lord” in referring to our Elohim?
  3. And finally, knowing that the religion of Judaism has made Talmudic laws prohibiting the utterance of the Sacred Name, should we therefore trust Jewish sources such as “The Encyclopedia Judaica” that endorses the pronunciation of “Yahweh”?

I look forward to your answers to these questions as I’m sure that most of your Hebraic Roots and Sacred Name readers will as well. Until then, take care and Yahuah bless you!

In Mashiyach Yahusha,
John J. Adkins #B-235577
Lakeland Correctional Facility
141 First St
Coldwater, MI 49036

Dear John,

Thank you very much for your letter. I realize that this is an important issue to many people.
First of all, I certainly do not have an objection to people using what they feel is the most correctly pronounced or translated form of the name of our Heavenly Father. When I am among individuals who use those names, I use them as well, in order to communicate effectively and non-offensively. I am glad that you still regard me as a fellow-believer, as some who use sacred names do not regard non-users as brethren.

When I write or speak to the general public, I do not use “scared names” because I follow the example of the New Testament writers who had the same problem that we do, today. They took the gospel message to many different peoples whose languages had words for “god” that were often associated with “false gods”. Yet we see no effort whatever to try to teach people to pronounce the name of the Father and Son in Hebrew, or to specifically translate the meaning of the Hebrew names into native languages. Rather, it appears that they used the existing words in the language the people already had. Notice what the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) inspired on Pentecost:

“And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:8-11).

These people were certainly not all born speaking Hebrew or Aramaic. If they were, there would be no miracle here. And since they were hearing about the “wonderful works of God”, they were certainly hearing Him mentioned in their own native language as well. The word translated “God” in Acts 2:11, above, and nearly every other place in the New Testament is from the Greek Theos. This word was used by non-Christian Greeks to refer to their pagan gods (Acts 14:11-12). How did the apostle Paul, when speaking to the Greek leaders in the Areopagus deal with a Greek sign dedicated to the “unknown Theos”?

“for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD [Theos]. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:” (Acts 17:23).

There is no doubt that this sign was in Greek. The question at hand was about the supreme being, the creator of the universe. If Theos was unacceptable, Paul certainly could have ignored this sign and simply declared the Father’s name and title to them. But he felt he could reach them best by comparing the true Father to the “unknown Theos” that they had been ignorantly worshiping. So today, I believe it is much more important to teach people about the true God and His Word, rather than try to teach the pronunciation of His Name in Hebrew. The issue is further complicated by the numerous different pronunciations used by my numerous Sacred Name friends. I have read numerous extensive papers about why various pronunciations are correct—and could not clearly show how only one is right and the others are in error.

I realize that some claim the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic and then translated into Greek. While I have seen some evidence of that for Matthew, Revelation and a few other books, there is very little evidence of it for most of the rest of the New Testament. (I have a copy of Hebrew Gospel of Matthew by George Howard—but that text does not contain the Sacred Names either.) Indeed, there are numerous places where the New Testament writers deliberately give us the Hebrew word for something in addition to the Greek, but they make no effort to tell us to use Sacred Names:

And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).

The Hebrew for “father” sounds like “abba”, so Mark used the equivalent Greek letters to make the sound of the Hebrew word. Then he wrote pater, the Greek word for “father”. He could have done the same thing for the names of the Father and Son at any time, but he did not. Even when our Messiah was dying—and could no longer be judged or condemned for anything—Mark was inspired to record

His saying in Hebrew as well as Greek:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” (Mark 15:34).

Again, Mark uses Greek letters to make the sound of the Hebrew words. Here Christ uses a derivative of the Hebrew El, a short form of Elohim, to refer to His Father in Heaven. But then Mark goes on to use the word Theos in his Greek translation, not indicating that he or his readers commonly used El or Elohim in their prayers. In fact, Christ’s use of Eloi seemed uncommon enough that those standing by thought He said “Elijah”—Eliyahu in Hebrew. There are many other places in the New Testament where the writers include the Hebrew or Aramaic words within their Greek, but none are about the names for the Father or Son (Matthew 1:23; Mark 5:41; John 1:38, 41-42; 5:2; 19:13,17; Acts 1:19; 4:36; 9:36; 13:8; Romans 8:15; 11:4; Galatians 4:6; Hebrews 7:2; Revelation 9:11; 16:16).

I realize that there are a very few New Testament manuscripts that do have Sacred Names written into the margin or even the text. However, there is little evidence that they are the most accurate copies of the original manuscripts, but it is more likely they were produced by an ancient group of “Sacred Name” believers. The vast majority of the thousands of manuscripts have no hint of Sacred Name usage. We are doing a very dangerous thing if we claim that the original New Testament taught the use of Sacred Names, but that it was somehow intercepted by translators who removed the correct names and all the teaching about them. If we claim such, we are teaching that the Scriptures were under complete control of people who could have inserted or removed any doctrine that they wanted. This works against encouraging people to trust and live by the Scriptures.

To answer your questions specifically:

  1. I do not believe that the use of the word “God” today is any different than the use of the Greek Theos in the New Testament. Both these two and even the Hebrew Elohim are assumed to mean the true God to believers, but all three can be used for false gods (2 Kings 19:18; Gal 4:8). I have checked several etymological dictionaries, and they give a variety of sources for the meaning of both “god” and theos. Some trace them to a specific deity and some do not. It is not clear. I do not think we should base a major doctrine on unclear history. The more important point is that virtually nobody in Christian nations today thinks “God” means anything other than the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Whereas, the names of the false Gods that the Israelites were told to avoid were gods that were actively being worshipped by the nations round about them. They were not to adopt the names and practices of those clearly false gods. Righteous men of the Bible use the word ba’al in place names and personal names that may have had their roots in ba’al worship, but which are no longer actively involved in it (2 Samuel 5:20; 6:2; 13:23; 2 Kings 4:42; 1 Chronicles 5:23; 14:11; 27-28; Ezk 25:9).
  2. The word ba’al is usually left un-translated in most Bible translations—it is not translated “lord”. The Hebrew adonay is translated “Lord” over 430 times in the Bible, and refers to our Father in Heaven. It means “master”, essentially the same as our English “lord”. While I do not think “LORD” is the best translation for the divine name (YHWH, Yahuah, Yahweh, Yaveh, Jehovah, etc.), I do not think it is a sin to use it. Our Messiah said “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am” (John 13:13). The Greek for “Lord” here is Kurios, the standard word for “Lord” in the New Testament, and the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew adonay. If our Messiah or John thought it was important to use Hebrew names and titles, this would have been a great place to set the record straight. But instead, our Savior went on to teach a lesson about washing each other’s feet. The scripture you cite in Hosea must be taken in context:

“And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, Of which she has said, ‘These are my wages that my lovers have given me.’ So I will make them a forest, And the beasts of the field shall eat them. I will punish her For the days of the Baals to which she burned incense. She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, And went after her lovers; But Me she forgot,” says the LORD…. “And it shall be, in that day,” Says the LORD, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ [Hebrew Ishi] And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ [Hebrew baali]  For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, And they shall be remembered by their name no more (Hos 2:12-13, 16-17).

The Israelites were clearly involved in the Baal-worship practices, not just having the wrong name. I realize many Sacred Name believers have used this verse to say we should stop using “Lord” because it is like calling Him “Balli,” but I have yet to find one who follows the other half of the verse and begins calling Him “Ishi”—my Husband. I think this is all a reference to the future marriage of our Messiah.

  1. I agree that we should not automatically trust sources such as the Encyclopedia Judaica for the pronunciation of the divine name. On the other hand, I have seen and heard so many other sources on how the name should be pronounced that I cannot authoritatively say which one is right. If our Father wanted to be sure that the pronunciation of His Name was clearly preserved, He could have done it. There are so many things the Scripture clearly commands that I do not believe we will be judged severely—if at all—for things where the Scripture is unclear or totally silent. I would rather avoid “doubtful disputations” (Rom 14:1) and use my time to house the homeless, feed the hungry, preach the Gospel, feed the flock or help people unjustly imprisoned to go free.

In addition to the law of the Old Testament, we have many Scriptural examples of how the law was carried out. We never find a place where people are striving to worship the Eternal, but are punished because they are using a title or name from another language. Those whom the Eternal corrected were those who had false practices and where worshiping false deities and denying our Father’s teachings.
Thank you for your letter. I hope this helps a lot of brethren. By the way, I have heard more than one person say that in prison, where there is often a great Muslim influence, using Yahuah is helpful in drawing a distinction from “Allah”, who also claims to be the “God of Abraham”. If that makes the Gospel easier to preach, then please use it. However, for most of my ministry, I find using the names “God” and “Jesus” are best for bringing the Gospel to people who already have a Bible, but who simply have not read and obeyed it enough. The first thing they need is not a new Bible with different divine names.

I have known John Adkins for years and am sure that he would appreciate mail from any of our readers who might want to write him.

I, Bob Thiel, would add that although various sacred name adherents claim that the New Testament was mainly written in Hebrew, that the available evidence does not support it. And even if that were true, the passage about 'the unknown God" would still have been Greek as that was in Athens, Greece.

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