By Keith Morehead
Deuteronomy 28:58-60 warns us, “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name — the LORD your God—the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses” (NIV). King David proclaimed in Psalm 8:1 “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Samuel told the nation of Israel that “For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own” (1 Sam 12:22-23, NIV). Solomon completed the wish of his father David to build a temple for the name of the LORD and God told Solomon that his father did well to have such a desire. He said to David “Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart” (1 Kings 8:17-19, NIV) even though he would not allow David to complete the construction. David tells us, God’s saints, to “Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name” (Ps 30:4, NIV). But how? How are we to revere his awesome name or sing praises to his name when we do not know what the name of God is?
We were robbed of the opportunity to praise the personal name of God when a plan was implemented thousands of years ago preventing God’s people from remembering or speaking His name. The impact of this robbery extends beyond the ability to praise the name of God, it also inhibits us from understanding who Jesus really is.
When the Bible student reads “LORD” (lord in small caps) in the Bible, they are reading the transliteration* (see footnotes) of the Hebrew tetragrammaton “YHWH,” the personal name of God. Hebrew text in the Bible does not have vowels between the consonants. If this were not the case there would be vowels between the consonants (Yahweh, Yehovah, Jehovah, Jahveh) providing an exact spelling of God’s name. Prior to 300 B.C.E.**, the tetragrammaton YHWH, was known and spoken by all.
Strong’s Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible shows the definition of YHWH as: “3068 יְהֹוָה Yehôvâh (emphasis mine), yeh-ho-vaw´; from 1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jehovah, Jewish national name of God: Jehovah, the Lord. comp. 3050, 3069.” We have no way of knowing if Strong’s pronunciation of Yehôvâh is accurate but it is confirmed later in this chapter by author Keith Johnson. The word which refers to God most frequently in the Old Testament is YHWH occurring anywhere from 5,410 to over 6,800 times depending on what author you read. The Bible student reads a substitution for God’s personal name every time they read “the LORD.” If Strong was correct in his pronunciation of God’s name, then David said in Psalms 135:1-2, “Praise Yehôvâh. Praise the name of Yehôvâh; praise him, you servants of Yehôvâh, you who minister in the house of Yehôvâh, in the courts of the house of our God.” David used the actual name of God. We no longer have that ability.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes the evolution of the tetragrammaton starting with the name of God which the Jews would “avoid uttering” being replaced by the tetragrammaton, which was then “substituted Adonai” before being rendered*** into Kurios:
The technical term for the four lettered Hebrew name of God is יהוה (i.e. YHWH or JHVH). Owing to its sacred character, from bc. 300 the Jews tended to avoid uttering it when reading the Scriptures, and substituted ‘Adonai’ (i.e. the Hebrew word for ‘LORD’), whence the rendering Κύριος [koo rios] of the *Septuagint, Dominus of the *Vulgate, and ‘the LORD’ in most English Bibles. When *vowel points were put into Hebrew MSS those of ‘Adonai’ were inserted into the letters of the Tetragrammaton, and since the 16th cent. the bastard [spurious/false] word ‘Jehovah,’ obtained by fusing the vowels of the one word with the consonants of the other, has become established. The original pronunciation is now commonly thought to have been ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jahveh’ and both these forms (but nowadays esp. the former) are frequently found in scholarly works. The name is undoubtedly very ancient and was certainly in use by c. 850 bc, as it occurs on the *Moabite Stone.
Investigation into the incentive to prohibit speaking the name of God has no conclusive findings. There is consensus that a partial reason is the unwillingness of Jews to risk blaspheming God by pronouncing His name incorrectly. The concern originates from the 3rd commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex 20:7, KJV).
Was this concern an appropriate response to “not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?” Strong’s Hebrew OT dictionary shows the word vain to be OT:7723, aw=v*, shav’ (shawv); or shav (shav).
The following is the discussion of “vain” from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT):
The most familiar use of š¹w° [vain with vowel points] is in the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11). Literally the sentence reads, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God lašš¹w°,” the same construction as (noted above) in the Jeremiah (Jer 2:30; Jer 4:30; Jer 6:29; Jer 18:15 (perhaps); Jer 46:11) passages. Before examining the decalogue reference it will be instructive to observe how the word is used elsewhere.
That the primary meaning of š¹w° is “emptiness, vanity” no one can challenge. It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally. Hence, it is a word for idols (in the same way that
Hebel “vanity” is also a designation for (worthless) idols, for example). Ps 24:4 may then be rendered, “He who has not lifted up his mind to an ‘idol’.” Dahood (Psalms, 1, AB, p. 151) lists the following passages: Ps 26:4; Ps 31:7; Ps 119:37; Isa 1:13; Jer 18:15; Job 31:5 with this implication, although some are dubious, the last one and Isa 1:13 especially.
Not only are idols “deceptions” but so too the words of a false prophet which whitewash and sugarcoat a gloomy situation (Lam 2:14; Ezek 13:6-9,23).
The evidence points to the fact that taking the Lord’s name (i.e. his reputation) “in vain” will surely cover profanity, as that term is understood today, or swearing falsely in the Lord’s name. But it will also include using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote. Perhaps this is captured by the LXX’S translation of lašš¹w° as epimataiœ “thoughtlessly.”
The explanation provided by TWOT shows there is no justification for the edict prohibiting speaking the name of YHWH related to obeying the 3rd commandment (accidentally saying the name of God less than perfectly). The last paragraph of the quote supports this conclusion. To use the name of the YHWH in coarse, vulgar language or with expletives, flippant, or disrespectful manner would apply. It is my belief that if the people of God would seek His direction in articulating His name accurately in praises to Him that He would respond positively and with great pleasure.
These facts are not new. Understanding the definition of the word “vain” in Hebrew is not rocket science, only available to 21st Century PhD Bible scholars. Where does the fault lie for the distortion of the 3rd commandment? I believe we should suspect the involvement of the “father of lies,” the “master of deception.”
The next force restricting speaking of the name of God can be found from the external forces coming from other countries. Keith Johnson, in his book “His Hallowed Name Revealed Again” attributes pressure from the military occupation of Israel by the Seleucid Greeks in 168 B.C.E. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who attempted to Hellenize the Jews,
“outlawed the observance of the Sabbath, the circumcision of children, and speaking the name ho*hy=” (YHWH). He also desecrated the Temple by sacrificing swine to Zeus on the altar and forcing people to eat the unclean meat. Antiochus knew that if he were going to be successful in defeating the Jews, he would need to take away their identity as the people of God, the God of Israel.”****
Johnson goes on to explain that even after the Jews were liberated from the Greeks by the Maccabees, there had been so much destruction to their worship practices that it was difficult to regain their spiritual heritage.
Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian of the first century mentions the prohibition of saying the name of God when he recounts Moses meeting God at the burning bush on the mountain. God charged Moses to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to “let my people go.” Moses, in his last attempt to avoid this task asked to know God’s name so he could tell the people who had sent him.
“Moses having now seen and heard these wonders that assured him of the truth of these promises of God, had no room left him to disbelieve them; he entreated him to grant him that power when he should be in Egypt; and besought him to vouchsafe him the knowledge of his own name, that when he offered sacrifice he might invoke him by such his name in his oblations. Whereupon God declared to him his holy name, which had never been discovered to men before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say anymore”***** [emphasis mine].
Josephus was born after Jesus had died in 37 C.E. and raised in the Pharisaic form of Judaism. Here he acknowledges he had never heard God’s holy name before and confirmed that it was “not lawful to say any-more” with no mention of where the restriction originated from.
The translator of Josephus’ writings, William Whiston, wrote a footnote to this section that sheds more light on the subject:
This superstitious fear of discovering the name with four letters [emphasis mine], which of late we have been used falsely to pronounce Jehovah, but seems to have been originally pronounced Jahoh, or Jao, is never, I think heard of, till this passage of Josephus; and this superstition, in not pronouncing that name has continued among the rabbinical Jews to this day [emphasis mine] (though whether the Samaritans and Caraites observed it so early, does not appear)….It is however no doubt but both these cautious concealments were taught Josephus by the Pharisees [emphasis mine]; a body of men at once very wicked and very superstitious.******
The following two quotes support the position that there was a time when the masses were able to know, speak, and write the name of God in their daily activities, prayers, and worship and there is no command in the Bible to restrict or prevent doing so.
Nothing in the Torah prohibits a person from pronouncing the Name of God. Indeed, it is evident from scripture that God’s Name was pronounced routinely. Many common Hebrew names contain “Yah” or “Yahu,” part of God’s four-letter Name. The Name was pronounced as part of daily services in the Temple. The Mishnah confirms that there was no prohibition against pronouncing The Name in ancient times.*******
As we will read from authoritative sources, there was a time when the Name Yahweh was pronounced by all of Yahweh’s people, in prayers, in blessings, and in greetings. However, by the third century B.C.E., our teachers began teaching that Yahweh, the true Name of our Creator, was too holy to pronounce. This teaching is a practice that was not inspired by our Father, but one that gradually came about due to pagan influence.********
If the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, known also as “the Law” did not prohibit speaking God’s name, and the next quote attributes the restrictions to “pagan influence,” the forces preventing speaking God’s name must have originated from “the powers of this dark world and…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesian 6:12-13).
Keith Johnson shared his findings of the proper pronunciation of YHWH in his book mentioned earlier:
“The English Jehovah is an anglicized form of Yehovah. There are three major differences between the name Yehovah and Jehovah. The first difference is there is no “J” sound in Hebrew…. The second difference is that the name Yehovah in the Hebrew manuscripts always has the accent on the end of the name—Yehovah, with the emphasis on the “vah.” Pronouncing the name Jehovah, with the emphasis on the “ho,” is an English mispronunciation of Yehovah. The third difference is the raised e in the name that focuses on the sound “ye,” which is distinct from the way some people say Jahovah. The Ye sound comes from the sheva under the yod (y=))))))). (When yod comes at the beginning of word it is considered a partial vowel in terms of pronunciation.) …Pronouncing the name of Yehovah is a beautiful and meaningful act of worship that should not be trampled upon or trivialized. The name is pronounced “Ye” with a short half vowel, “ho” just like it is spelled, and “vah” as a breath with an accent—Ye-ho-vah’.*********
Johnson’s conclusions on how to pronounce the personal name of God properly are identical to that of Strong’s Concordance Hebrew Dictionary of the Bible, “Yehôvâh” (yeh-ho-vaw´). These pronunciations have not been universally accepted or caused the people of God to begin speaking the personal name of God. That should not minimize the findings or prevent additional research and study. The problem is the masses don’t care; they are blinded. For the remainder of this study, I will incorporate the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton according to the conclusions of James Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary and Keith Johnson’s book: “Yehovah’,” with the apostrophe showing emphasis on the last syllable.
Thus far, I have tried to establish:
1. When we read the word “LORD” (lord in small caps) in the Bible, we are seeing a substitute of the actual name of God that is taken from the Hebrew tetragrammaton, YHWH.
2. There was a time when everyone knew YHWH represented the name of God and they knew how to pronounce it.
3. No command from God can be found in the Bible, including the 3rd commandment, restricting the use of His name. To the contrary, as the first paragraph of this chapter illustrates, we are commanded to do the opposite.
4. There was a time when it was not prohibited to say the name of God.
5. There came a time, either due to pressures exerted internally or externally to forbid saying the name of God.
6. The ban on speaking the name of God caused the memory of the name to be forgotten.
7. Intense searches of the Bible and manuscripts have revealed what may be the proper pronunciation of how to speak the name of God.
The discussion of the Hebrew tetragrammaton relates only to the Old Testament since the New Testament is translated from Greek. The transition into the New Testament creates a different problem. Let me propose a possibility. Suppose that the name of God in the Old Testament was Yehovah’. If so, then the name of God would be known, established, spoken freely, familiar to all, and revered by all his saints in the Old Testament. Now, when we go to New Testament, the name of God would not change, it would still be Yehovah’. There would be no need to alter the name of God in the New Testament. When the Old Testament prophet Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament, he is still referred to as Isaiah, as is any prophet from the Old Testament. If a New Testament verse referred to Yehovah’, the text would use the name as it was known to everyone, Yehovah’ (this is a hypothetical statement).
The predicament is we are forbidden to speak the name of God, so there must be a different way to refer to God’s name in the New Testament. The Hebrew substitute for YHWH was “Adonai” in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Hebrew word “Adonai” became the Greek “kurios” (koo’ re os, Strong’s 2962), translated Lord and lord. When the New Testament verse is quoting an Old Testament text that contains the tetragrammaton, or is referring to the God of the Jews, it is reasonable that the New Testament verse translated Lord would be describing the use of LORD (YHWH). My favorite examples of this are Isaiah 40:3 in conjunction with John 1:23 and Isaiah 45:21-23 in conjunction with Philippians 2:9-11 found in the “Identifying the Counterfeit” chapter under the heading of “Jesus is YHWH, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father in the flesh, God with us.” The New Testament has numerous texts with Old Testament cross references calling Jesus Lord.
The Christmas story below from the Gospel of Luke clearly announces Jesus as Lord (Kurios/YHWH) but I am confident that very few have ever heard it presented that way.
Lk 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord (kúrios, koo’ re os) appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord (kúrios) shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ (Christos, Messiah) the Lord (kúrios).”
Lk 2:11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem…. NLT
Whose angel appeared to the shepherds in the field? An angel of the Lord. If you look up “angel of the lord” in the Old Testament you will find “angel of the LORD.” There should be no argument that the angel speaking to the shepherds was an angel of Almighty God, Yehovah’. That is neither surprising nor questionable. What is a shock of epic proportions is that the Savior born in Bethlehem, who is the Messiah is also called “the Lord.” As has been discussed, Kurios is the New Testament word for “Adonai,” the Old Testament Hebrew Tetragrammaton for the personal name of God, Yehovah’, which the Jews were prohibited from speaking.
Let us read Luke 2:8-12 again with a revised nomenclature: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of Yehovah’ appeared to them, and the glory of Yehovah’ shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ (Christos, Messiah) Yehovah’.”
The angel of Almighty God is telling the shepherds that the God of creation is the baby born in Bethlehem, their Savior and Messiah.
How many people read this text and come away with the understanding that Almighty God was living in the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes? It is a limited few who understand that Jesus is the spirit of God incarnate. Most people come away believing that the eternal son of God, 2nd person of the Trinity, was sent (delegated) by God the Father from heaven to save the world. Why is that? We have been deceived on multiple levels, one of those levels was when we were prevented from knowing the name of God. If we were able to read: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, Yehôvâh, I am confident most would come away with a different understanding.
I titled this chapter “A Great Deception” with no explanation or discussion to this point. Questions:
1. What was the motivation to prohibit saying the name of God?
2. Did Antiochus IV Epiphanes hope to instigate praise and worship of God by his edicts outlawing the speaking of the name of God?
3. Were the Pharisees commanded by God to enforce the teaching that God’s name was too holy to pronounce?
4. Who had the most to gain when the saints of God were no longer able to recall His holy name in prayer, praise, and worship?
Satan achieved THE GREAT DECEPTION in the Garden of Eden when he asked Eve “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). Eve’s response in verse 2-3: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” To which Satan said, “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
To be clear, Satan knew the rules of the Garden. He either heard them directly from God at one point or he eavesdropped God’s instructions to Adam. He knew that God never forbid Adam and Eve from eating the food provided in the garden except the tree of life. Eve told Satan she was not to touch the fruit of the tree of life, “or you will die.” She was mistaken, whether purposefully, or accidentally, God only knows. God had commanded, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” God never commanded them not to touch the fruit. Then Satan lied to Eve trying to convince her that she will not die but will have her eyes opened to good and evil when the truth was that she had an opportunity to live eternally in the garden. If she sinned her life would end, she would die, maybe not immediately but she would die. True to his form, Satan either omitted the truth, twisted the truth, or resists the truth. Satan’s first deception caused the fall of man, the exile of man from the garden and from God’s intimate relationship.
Adam and Eve are not our enemies. They are perfect examples of the frailty of mankind to resist the temptations of Satan and see through his deceptions. As was already pointed out, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul told the Corinthians “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
THE Great Deception took place in the garden, Satan’s first deception, but not his last. Regarding the earlier questions asked:
1. The only reasonable motivation to prevent saying the name of God was to impair the relationship of God with his saints.
2. Antiochus IV Epiphanes hoped to demoralize the Jewish nation by separating them from their God to accomplish the same thing.
3. God never commanded the Pharisees to restrict the use of his name. The Bible overflows with commands to praise the name of YHWH. If it was such a great concern, they could have focused on teaching the people how to pronounce the name properly.
4. The most reasonable conclusion is Satan had the most to gain by implementing this deception. He was the architect and instigator of every step to remove the name of God from the memory of the people of God. It was not THE Great Deception, but it was A Great Deception. He continues to exert his black power to prevent the discovery of properly speaking God’s name, or God’s people the opportunity to praise Him by saying it out loud.
The Gospel describes what God did to save his creation and restore the lost intimacy with mankind in the garden. The Gospel is not always easy to understand. You will read that Jesus’ own disciples frequently had no clue what He was talking about until he explained his parables to them. The deceptions of Satan working full time to hide the truth from the people of God increase the confusion. The understanding of who Jesus really is has been hampered by the wiles of the devil, one of those being the prevention to know God’s name. “God did not send someone else to save the world, he came Himself.”********** God shed his own blood for his Church (Acts 20:28). Jesus is Almighty God with us, not God, the eternal son, second person of the Trinity (Mat 1:23).
FOOTNOTES (See *)
- Definition Transliteration: To represent or spell in the characters of another alphabet (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).
- BCE (Before Common Era) replaces BC/Before Christ whereas CE (Common Era) replaces AD/After Christ
- Definition Render: to change words into a different language or form, The Online Cambridge Dictionary.
- His Hallowed Name Revealed Again, Keith E. Johnson, © 2010 Biblical Foundations Academy, p. 54-55.
- The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged, translated by William Whiston, © 1987, Hendrickson Publishers, inc., p 71.
- His Hallowed Name Revealed Again, Keith E. Johnson, © 2010 Biblical Foundations Academy, pages 151-152.
- Robert A. Sabin, 1984