Not Forgetting the Name of God
What is God’s name? Why is it vital to honor his name now?
THAT God has a name there can be no doubt. He is not a nameless God. Even though his name is mentioned over 6,800 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is surprising how few persons know of it. The vast majority of mankind call the Creator by his title “God,” and believe this to be his name. Says the Corpus Christi Caller: “Strictly speaking, Christians have no name for the Creator, for the word ‘god,’ an Anglo-Saxon word, literally designates any being or object held to be supernatural, as: pagan gods, the god of war, etc. However, the name God is accepted generally among Christians as the name of the Deity.”
Another striking fact is the absence of the divine name, not only in the extant Greek manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures, but also in the many ancient and modern Bible translations. At the same time, it is impossible to read at any length in the Bible without realizing that God has a name that is to be “hallowed,” “praised,” “exalted,” “made glorious,” and that his name should not be taken in a worthless way. Why, then, is there so much misunderstanding concerning the name of God?
God himself gave his name and revealed the correct pronunciation of it to his prophet Moses. When Moses was sent by God to deliver the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, Moses said to God: “Suppose I am now come to the sons of Israel and I do say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you,’ and they do say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses: “This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel: ‘Jehovah the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name to eternity, and this is the memorial of me to generation after generation.” (Ex. 3:13-15) We, therefore, have the Creator’s own words for it that his name is Jehovah.
It is also clear that the prophets of God were acquainted with the name Jehovah and that they preached in that name. They were Jehovah’s witnesses, as Isaiah 43:10-12 states. At Isaiah 42:8 the Creator says: “I am Jehovah. That is my name.” What could possibly be plainer than that? Why, then, is there so much ignorance concerning the name Jehovah?
Dr. Carlyle Adams, in the Albany, New York, Sunday Times-Union, says: “Ancient people—both Hebrews and others—attached tremendous significance to names. A particular person often had both a ‘primary’ and a ‘secondary’ name. The primary name was often guarded as a secret because to reveal it was to yield something of one’s own personal identity or even one’s personal power. Names of tribal chiefs were held in secret by members of the tribe—used only when needed to work some magic power over an enemy. Pagans did the same with secret names of their tribal gods. So, in the days of persecution, the Jewish people under the Roman Empire guarded the Holy Name.”
After the Hebrew Scriptures were written, superstitious Jews considered the name Jehovah too holy even to be pronounced. They avoided pronouncing it because of fear of violating the Third Commandment. (Ex. 20:7) First the common people, who felt themselves unworthy to mention the name, left off pronouncing it. The priests, however, continued to use it in the temple service. The divine name was spoken ten times on the day of atonement and in prayers after the daily sacrifices in the temple. In time even these few instances were eliminated and the people and the priests left off pronouncing the name altogether.
JESUS USED THE NAME
There is ample reason to believe that Jesus and his disciples used the name of God in their ministry. In the Hebrew Scriptures, which Jesus knew and used, the name of God was represented by its four consonants יהוה (JHVH), called the tetragrammaton. Recent findings of remains of a papyrus roll of the Greek Septuagint Version (LXX) containing the second half of the book of Deuteronomy show the tetragrammaton in it in Aramaic characters. This discovery proves that in Jesus’ day copies of the Septuagint did contain the divine name where it occurred in the Hebrew original. So when Jesus read out of the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, as Luke’s account says he did, would he avoid pronouncing the name of God because of fear of profaning it or because of some superstition or tradition concerning it? We can hardly imagine that to be the case. Matthew says: “He was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.”—Matt. 7:29.
Since Jesus was neither fearful nor superstitious, nor did he have a high regard for human tradition, he most likely did pronounce the divine name in the hearing of all. In prayer to his Father Jehovah, Jesus said: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. . . . I have made your name known to them and will make it known.” The Jewish Talmud indirectly admits that Jesus used the divine name when it asserts that his miracles were performed by his pronouncing the name of God.—John 17:6, 26; Matt. 15:1-9.
We have no reason to doubt that, in their teaching and preaching, the disciples of Jesus followed his example closely, which means that they also used God’s name. When they wrote their books that now form the Christian Greek Scriptures, they made hundreds of quotations from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, and many of these quotations included the divine name. As faithful writers they would be obliged to include the tetragrammaton in their writings whenever they quoted from the Hebrew account. When these letters were read in the Christian congregations, the reader doubtlessly pronounced the divine name.
EXACT PRONUNCIATION LOST
After the death of the apostles, professing Christians left off pronouncing the name. Copyists even removed the divine name in tetragrammaton form from the text. They either did not understand or appreciate the divine name or they developed an aversion to it. The historian Josephus declared that religion forbade him to make known its pronunciation. Superstitious people believed that the one who pronounced the divine name with its own letters would not have a part in the world to come. Philo calls the name “ineffable,” to be spoken only by those whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place. Those who used the name unseasonably were sentenced to death, he says. So those who were assigned to read the Scriptures were careful not to pronounce the divine name. Whenever they came across the tetragrammaton, JHVH, they studiously substituted the Hebrew words Adonayʹ, meaning Lord, and Elohím, which means God. To remind them to make this substitution the vowel points of Adonayʹ were placed under the consonants of the tetragrammaton.
Hebrew, like other Semitic languages, has no vowel letters, but even in early times vowel signs were used. These vowels, according to Adams, “are indicated by ‘points’ or little symbols—usually dots, resembling small periods. So when scholars of the early Modern Age began translating the Bible into English they devised what were sometimes wrong interpretations of the vowels.” The name-form Jehovah came to be when early translators took the vowels of Adonayʹ and inserted them between the consonants JHVH, and then changed the original “a” to “e” to aid in pronunciation of the name. Recent discoveries show this form of the name as early as A.D. 1270 in Raymond Martini’s Pugio Fidei. So the name-form Jehovah is one of long usage.
Notwithstanding, it is almost certain that the name of God was originally pronounced “Yah·wehʹ.” (In “Jehovah” the sound of “Y” is represented by “J” and the sound of “W” by “V,” as in Latin.) The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “It is now generally agreed that Jahwe (Yahwe) is the true pronunciation.” The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia states: “Yahveh is the most probable transliteration of the ancient Hebrew name for God.” Bible translator J. B. Rotherham said: “The true pronunciation seems to have been Yahwe.” The Catholic Encyclopedia declares: “Jehovah, the proper name of God in the Old Testament. . . . Inserting the vowels of Jabe [the Samaritan pronunciation] into the original Hebrew consonant text, we obtain the form Jahveh (Yahweh), which has been generally accepted by modern scholars as the true pronunciation of the Divine name.” The New World Bible Translation Committee stated: “While inclining to view the pronunciation ‘Yah·wehʹ” as the more correct way, we have retained the form ‘Jehovah’ because of people’s familiarity with it since the 14th century. Moreover, it preserves, equally with other forms, the four letters of the tetragrammaton JHVH.”
FORGETTING THE NAME
The first English version of the entire Hebrew Scriptures translated direct from the Hebrew text appears to be that of the popular King James Version, published in 1611. The name Jehovah appears in it only four times. For this reason the name Jehovah has been obscured for many centuries. Recently the translators of the Revised Standard Version have deleted the name from the text altogether.
Since the fourth century the triune-god or the trinitarian concept of the deity has gained ground. It is this mythical or fictitious deity that Christendom’s clergy call “god” and “lord.” Jehovah is looked down upon as the tribal god of the Jews. His name is reproached and vilified. People are doing their best to forget it. But Jehovah, true to his promise at Acts 15:14, has a name people on earth today, namely, Jehovah’s witnesses, who are dedicated to the very purpose of making known Jehovah’s name and purpose in all the earth. And he himself will vindicate it in the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” when he destroys all who refuse to honor his name. Jehovah’s very Word assures us that his name will not be forgotten, for he says: “The earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.” Then none will say: “Know Jehovah!” for “they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,” is Jehovah’s promise.—Isa. 11:9; Jer. 31:34; Ex. 9:16.