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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 23 2021

Is a Christian required to use the sacred name?

YHWH, the Hebrew name for God, is known as the tetragrammaton, which is Greek for "the four letters" or "the four characters." Some believe this is the only correct name for the Creator God, and the only name we should use in referring to Him. But before we accept this argument, or the idea that salvation is only possible through the correct use of this one name, we need to review the biblical evidence to the contrary.

by Ken Graham

There are many names and titles of God in the Bible. When God confused the languages at Babel (Genesis 11:9) He could have seen to it that the correct pronunciation and usage of the name YHWH remained the same in all the languages, but He did not choose to do this.

God first revealed Himself as YHWH to Moses, but told him He was not known by that name to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but by the name El Shaddai or El Shaddee (Exodus 6:3). The people of that time knew God not only as El Shaddai, but also by the name Elohim, as is proven by Exodus 3:15. When we look at this verse in Hebrew, the name for God is Elohim throughout.

In the later books of the Old Testament (such as Ezra and Nehemiah), God is not referred to by the name YHWH at all. By this time the language of the Israelites was Aramaic, and the Aramaic names Elah, Eloah or Elaw are used for Elohim or YHWH. Someone who verbalized the name YHWH at this time would have been arrested, tried and perhaps stoned by order of the Sanhedrin (backed up and supported by the Romans).

The Jews in Jeremiah's time understood the pronunciation of YHWH, but their false teachers misled them into believing YHWH should not be pronounced, as it was too holy a word to be uttered, and with time its true pronunciation was lost. The Old Testament text was preserved for centuries with only consonants, with the exact pronunciation of the words, with their vowels, passed down from one generation to the next only orally.

The vowel sounds were not written down until around the sixth or seventh centuries. At that time, the Jewish scholars, known as Masoretes, created symbols to represent the vowels they were using by oral tradition. Unfortunately, the tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of the Creator, considered too sacred to be uttered, ceased to be pronounced by the Jews long before this time. Whenever the Jews recited the text of the Hebrew Old Testament orally, they substituted the word Adonai ("Lord" in English) for the word YHWH.

Most Hebrew scholars today admit the exact vowel sounds and pronunciation of YHWH are not certain. Even the consonants are uncertain. YHVH or JHVH could be possible, but most feel Yah-weh is a close approximation of the way the word was probably pronounced. However, some scholars disagree and feel it is pronounced Yaho, Yahwo or Yahu.

No Hebrew names for God are to be found in the New Testament. The Greek terms Theos (God) and Kurios (Lord) are used. When passages from the Old Testament are quoted in the New Testament, the word Kurios is substituted for what would have been YHWH in the Old Testament. An example would be Matthew 3:3, quoted from Isaiah 40:3.

In Matthew 1:21 an angel appears to Joseph to tell him to take Mary as his wife, when she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit telling him, "... she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus..." God here chooses His Son’s name, and Acts 4:12 emphasises just how unique and special this name Jesus Christ is: "... for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

It is likely the most common language of the Roman Empire in Jesus and Paul's day was Greek. In John 1:41 we find the Greek-speaking audience was not familiar with the meaning of the Hebrew word Meshiach, meaning "the anointed," so John translates the word into the Greek word Christos, which means "the anointed one." Although the Apostle Paul spoke Hebrew, he didn't use the Hebrew YHWH in any of his 14 letters, and Peter uses the Greek form Yesous Christos for Jesus Christ in Acts 4:10. The Hebrew word Yehoshua or Yahshua is not used here at all.

Unfortunately, there are some who argue the New Testament is corrupted and the Old Testament Hebrew name of God (YHWH) has been removed from all 5,500 or more manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (not to mention more than 8,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in Latin). However, it would not have been possible for editors to have gathered manuscripts from all over the world and carefully remove all traces of the Hebrew tetragrammaton, substituting the Greek Kurios or Theos, without leaving evidence of edits having been made.

Perhaps the strongest evidence against the sacred name theory in the New Testament is that on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter spoke and used the name of God, everyone heard it in his own language. So, before we accept the theories that only the Hebrew word YHWH should be used for the name of God, or that salvation is only possible through the correct use of this one name, we need to recognize the overwhelming evidence in the Bible to the contrary.

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.